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A Fair Recovery Is Possible

Sinn Féin has launched a state wide campaign for a Fair Recovery. The campaign will involve a series of public meetings and the distribution of close to one million leaflets door to door.

This campaign is about setting out some of Sinn Féin’s priorities and to start a debate about the future, about what type of country and society we want to live in, about equality, and the type of recovery we want.

Visit our special web section A Fair Recovery Is Possible here

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Some sights and sounds from the Annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration in Bodenstown, Co. Kildare on June 21, 2015. Main speaker Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald TD. During the course of her speech she talked about the need for a fair economic recovery north and south; demanded the British to come clean about collusion; and expressed solidarity with the people of Greece.


Martin McGuinness speaking at Stormont said that Sinn Féin's conditional support for the budget bill will create the space to resolve outstanding issues and ensure the executive has workable and sustainable finances and see the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.



Nuacht

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Sinn Féin MLA and Education Spokesperson Chris Hazzard has welcomed the recent visit by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to look at progress in our education system.

 Mr. Hazzard said,

 “We want to develop a world class education system and while results continue to improve year upon year there is still more work to be done.

 “The OECD Directorate of Education is the eminent worldwide source of research and information on effectiveness in education.

 “The visit by OECD will allow us to exchange ideas on improving the educational system and bring better outcomes for our children.

 “I am delighted to hear that the OECD will be returning to carry out a full independent review of our education system and the Minister John O’Dowd must be congratulated for engaging with such an eminent body.

 “I am sure that the OECD will not only bring new ideas and strategies to the table but will also learn form our experience in educating our young people.”

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Dessie Ellis closed this evening’s debate on his party’s private members’ motion on social housing and mortgage distress by calling on the government to revisit the personal insolvency act and remove the final say from lenders and to embark on a building programme to deliver 9,000 social housing units within two years.

Deputy Ellis’ speech follows:

Today it was reported that AIB is to increase its variable interest rates that will affect 70,000 households. If proof was needed that the banks are immune to the difficulty faced daily by struggling mortgage-holders then this is it. This move by AIB should be a call to action by this government to allow an independent body to impose settlements on banks.

Action has been promised again and again but the figures show these promises have not been lived up to.

Sinn Fein has repeatedly showed there is an alternative. We are nearly tired of reminding the government that there are alternatives and we have worked hard to present them to this government, to give them options we felt they could support. But these proposals have fallen on deaf ears. Last night and tonight we make that plea again for government benches to listen, to work with us to put its focus on finally beginning to resolve these outstanding issues which worry the people of this state every day.

Equivocation by the government and its failure to take decisive action has unfortunately added to the crisis.

Action is required. The first step now must be to revisit the Personal Insolvency Act and remove the final say from the lenders. As long as the lenders have a veto there is little reason for them to seek fair compromises.

We are calling for ‘independent agreements on mortgage distress’ to be decided by ‘a mortgage restructuring panel’ appointed by the Minister.

This panel would be empowered to act as an arbitrator with the authorisation to impose on both parties agreements aimed at prioritising the protection of the family home.

We of course accept that Fine Gael and Labour, or certainly this government did not create the serious problems we face particularly in the case of the social housing shortage but it falls on them now to address the problem. The crisis was a collaboration of most governments since the early 1980’s who sought in the best traditions of Thatcher to push private ownership over public provision, not in the interest of improving the conditions of housing for working people but in order to remove the states responsibility for housing.

In fact the Labour Party just five years ago co-signed a motion in this house along with Sinn Féin which called for the construction of 10,000 social housing units a year for the following three years. This was against the back drop of falling revenue and a housing crisis which was moderate by comparison to the one we face today, with 60,000 on waiting lists rather than today’s 100,000.

The Labour Party had not then given up on large scale social housing projects, but of course they had not yet been shackled and dragged to the right by Fine Gael. It is hard to believe we are dealing with the same party.

Last night Joe Costello told us that the government was on target to deliver numbers similar to that called for in this motion. That is not correct. The numbers may be similar but what they represent is completely different. Joe Costello’s numbers represent more stop gap measures but no solutions.

Our motion calls for the commencement of a building program to deliver 9,000 homes within roughly two years. These are not new social leasing opportunities which will be private profit at public expense and revert back into the hands of developers, these are not voluntary bodies renting or buying properties taking on credit they cannot be sure they can afford or shared ownership homes which are surrendered, or new rent supplement recipients or people on RAS.

This is a proposal to build real bricks and mortar social housing which will remain social housing indefinitely and create a sustainable and secure home for families across the state.

This is a real proposal to compliment short term measures like those I previously mentioned which house people but do not solve or go any way to solving the housing crisis.

In short, it is time for the government to get involved and get real and face up to its responsibility to those in mortgage distress and those lingering on waiting lists which will only get longer if nothing is done.

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Speaking in the Dáil this evening on Sinn Féin’s Private Members’ Motion on social housing and mortgage distress Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín unmanageable mortgages are costing the state money. He said the personal insolvency bill will not make a significant impact and Labour and Fine Gael are providing words but no action.

“Some 23.5% of those with domestic mortgages are in mortgage distress. Most of these homes are in negative equity and so downsizing is not an option. These people are trapped in homes they cannot afford.

“The Central Banks has said that the banks need to do more. Fiona Muldoon has asked, what are the banks waiting for? The governor of the Central Bank has said, if the banks don’t deal with it they will need to extra capital from the state. Yet this problem has doubled in the two years since Labour and FG came into power.

“The personal insolvency bill is not going to make a significant impact as under this system Richie Boucher has said that there is going to be no write-down.

“While more of our citizens slide into debt we have typical Fine Gael and Labour dysfunction; words but no action.

“It is Sinn Féin’s policy to establish an independent statutory distressed mortgage resolution process that can reach a legally binding resolution of mortgage distress on a case-by-case basis. This would protect the family home through a variety of measures including write-downs, shared equity and transferring tenure type to social renting.

“Even if the minister is oblivious to the human suffering and his political ideology is based on the size of his wallet there is a significant benefit to the economy with Sinn Féin’s policy. If you can take a mortgage out of risk, bring the mortgage down to a payable amount, you will actually save money. Unmanageable mortgages cost the state money. The banks are required to raise more capital if they do not deal with distressed mortgages.

“Also the policy of government inaction creates enormous economic problems by literally taking a large section of the population out of the spending economy further depressing the domestic economy.

“A Functional government would direct the banks to deal with the issue in a proactive manner. It would introduce legislation that gives the Central Bank Governor the power to ensure banks passes on interest rate reductions from the ECB. Ensure all Budget-related decisions regarding mortgages are passed on immediately by banks. Ensure that mortgage lenders and inter-bank commercial lenders share a portion of the burden involved in the problem of mortgage distress.”

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Sinn Féin President and Louth TD Gerry Adams speaking during tonight’s Sinn Féin Private Members Business in the Dáil launched a scathing attack on the record of the government in tackling distressed mortgages and accused the Labour Party of breaking more pre-election promises.

The Sinn Féin leader pointed out that exactly two years ago to the day Labour told people in mortgage distress that, ‘if Labour is in government, they will enjoy peace of mind.’

The Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore said ‘the banks have already received thousands of millions in taxpayers money. There has to be a quid pro quo for that, and that is to give people who are in mortgage distress a breather …’

Deputy Adams described this as more broken promises from Labour.

Teachta Adams said:

“Minister, the government is failing the tens of thousands of families in mortgage distress and on the social housing waiting lists.

“Last October Fiona Muldoon, the Head of Banking Regulation at the Irish Central Bank was scathing in her criticism of the bankers and their failure to address the issue of mortgage distress.

“This morning AIB indicated that they plan to increase their variable interest rates once again – a move that will directly impact on 70,000 customers.

“Every 0.25pc rise in rates adds €30 a month to the cost of repayments on every €200,000 borrowed. That’s €30 that many of these families simply don’t have.

“Minister, clearly the banks have learned nothing and care less. But worse, AIB is a fully owned state bank and the government is refusing to tackle this issue head on.

“It’s alright to give €64 billion to the banks but it’s not alright to helps citizens in mortgage distress. Minister, the Government should intervene directly and tell AIB that their planned rates increase is not acceptable.

“It is a fact that the government’s failure to deal firmly with the Banks has only added to the mortgage crisis. Fine Gael and Labour came to power promising to prioritise those in mortgage distress – it has abandoned them.

“Exactly two years ago to the day Labour told people in mortgage distress that, ‘if Labour is in government, they will enjoy peace of mind.’

“The Labour Leader Eamon Gilmore said: ‘The banks have already received thousands of millions in taxpayers money. There has to be a ‘quid pro quo’ for that, and that is to give people who are in mortgage distress a breather …’

“More broken promises from Labour. Today, there are more citizens than ever in mortgage distress.

“There are 180,000 households currently in trouble with 115 additional homeowners falling into distress every day.

“Minister, all of this is a shocking indictment of the Labour Party in government and of this government’s record of failure on this issue

“Minister, when are you going to realise that the banks are the problem? The Personal Insolvency legislation will not fix this problem. It hands a veto over any Personal Insolvency Arrangement to the banks.

“As long as the Banks have a veto, and the government refuses to face them down, there is little prospect of real progress for struggling homeowners.

“Minister, I also want to deal briefly with the issue of social housing.

“The policy of Fine Gael and Labour in depleting the social housing stock is exacerbating the crisis in housing and the numbers of citizens on waiting lists.

“My constituency offices, like many other TD’s offices, are dealing with increasing numbers of people who have been forced to leave what was the family home.

“Sometimes this is because of relationship breakdowns and in some cases it is due to domestic violence.

“These same citizens then have difficulty accessing Supplementary Welfare Allowance or Rent Allowance.

“They are often not accepted onto Local Authority Housing lists as they are deemed to have vested financial interests in family homes which they no longer occupy.

“There is a lack of clarity in this area and a disparity in procedures between local authorities.

“Minister Hogan needs to empower and resource local authorities to effectively assess such applicants.

“He needs to set out a clear policy to deal with such applicants and to establish mechanisms to allow for compassionate and psychological factors to be part of the assessment process.

“In a republic citizens should have the right to a home. This is not a real republic but it should aspire to protecting citizens, safeguarding their rights, and ensuring that they have a home.

“This motion proposes measures that can significantly contribute to ending the current crisis in housing. I commend it to the Dáil.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann has called on parents, carers and stakeholder organisations who are committed to the development of a childcare strategy, to take part in the consultation events.

Speaking ahead of the first public consultation tonight at the MAC in Belfast the West Belfast MLA said:

"Good childcare services can help provide the care and support that a child needs for their development. The Executive is committed to bringing forward a childcare strategy, which
will be flexible, affordable and have the best interests of the child at its centre.

“It is essential that the views and experiences of parents, carers and stakeholder organisations are heard. There will be a number of consultation events taking place throughout the North to ensure that those who have the expertise in the sector will be able to have an input on the development of the childcare strategy.

“The first of these events will be at the MAC in Belfast tonight (Wednesday 20th February 7pm) and then followed by a series of other consultations throughout the North. I would urge everyone with an interest in Childcare to attend one of the events." CRÍOCH/END

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Speaking today, after the Joint Committee on Social Protection heard stark figures from Social Welfare Appeals Office of the length of time social welfare applicants are waiting for their appeals to be assessed Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said;

“The delays are unacceptable and need to be addressed immediately. Of the 37 social welfare schemes under which appeals are made, 23 have an average waiting time of over 40 weeks, and appeals in nine schemes are awaiting oral hearing decisions for over a year.

“This is a living disgrace and it is adding to the distress of many of families who are now dependant on social welfare payments, full or partial payments which are being denied them.

“Much of the problem is with the initial assessment of the applications for a social welfare payment. This is shown blatantly by the fact that a high percentage of those refused welfare have had successful appeals. For example, in the case of invalidity pension 76% of appeals are granted in full or partially, or in the case of disability allowance 57% are successful and 60% for appeals of carers’ benefit/allowances or domiciliary care allowance.

“Today’s figure show that the initial assessment in local social welfare offices is wrong in over 50% of cases appealed. That has to change immediately for benefit of all.”

“While I welcome the commitment to prioritise supplementary welfare allowance appeals the five month delay is not good enough given that the applicants have no other form of income.

“The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, needs to ensure greater care is taken by social welfare inspectors at the initial application stage, because the incorrect or rushed decisions are causing months of stress and hardship for people who are totally dependent on the payment they have applied for. Failure to act is leaving many families in dire straits, destitute and distressed.”

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Speaking today after the OFMdFM Committee meeting, Sinn Féin MLA, Megan Fearon said:

“The recent Inquiry and report carried out by Senator McAleese into the “Magdalene Laundries” has highlighted the suffering and exploitation of many women across the island. 

"Whilst the report focuses on those institutions in the 26 counties there can be no doubt that such institutions also operated here in the 6 counties but the plight of women here was not covered in Senator McAleese’s report.

"The women who ended up on these laundries did not do so of their own volition so there is a duty and responsibility on the state to investigate and report on what happened in these institutions.

"Whilst those under 18 will be able to go to the Acknowledgement Forum and the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry those who were aged over 18 and in the laundries have no place to go to have their suffering investigated.


"When the issue of child abuse in institutions was brought to the attention of the First minister and deputy First minister and the Executive as a whole they responded by establishing the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. 

"We believe that there is a compelling compassionate case for the abuses suffered by those women, who were in the laundries, to be given the same consideration and compassion, whether that is through the Executive or the Assembly”.

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Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast Alex Maskey has welcomed the next step in the advancement of the Stadia projects for Windsor Park, Ravenhill and Casement Park.

This follows the announcement that planning permission has now been granted for the development at Windsor Park.

Speaking from Windsor Park Alex Maskey said:

“The granting of planning permission for the development of Windsor Park is an important next step in the Stadia projects brought forward by the Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.

“The investment of £110m for the three projects, Ravenhill, Windsor Park and Casement has lifted sport from the three major codes across the city and indeed the north and is one of the biggest capital projects that the Executive is bringing forward in the current term.

“This is a huge boost for South Belfast and the local economy and we look forward to the development of the three sports grounds.

“I have already recently met with senior officials from the IFA to discuss the plans and how the local community and those living in the vicinity of Windsors Park can benefit from this project.”

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Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey has said major investment and a multi agency approach is needed if we are to comprehensively tackle child poverty in West Belfast.

 West Belfast MP Paul Maskey said:

 “Low wages as well as high unemployment is contributing to the poverty faced by entire communities in West Belfast due to generational neglect by successive British Governments.

 “It is unacceptable that children in a modern society are going hungry or parents cannot afford to heat their homes due to lack of money.

 “It’s clear that all agencies and government departments have a duty to tackle child poverty as it is a main objective of the Programme of Government in the Assembly.

 “The Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) which is an initiative set up by the joint First Ministers office which is set up to tackle poverty will be ready to be rolled out within months.

 “There has already been a lot of ground covered by the West Belfast SIF Committee and this work needs to focus in bringing meaningful changes to the lives of people who are suffering the most.

 “I met with the Children's Commissioners office a few months ago on this issue and have arranged to meet again within the next few weeks I have also requested a meeting with Barnardo's to discuss the report and work out an action plan.

 “I have been meeting with Invest NI and DEL to discuss investment in West Belfast and in my opinion if high unemployment is reduced it will go a long way to reducing the child poverty statistics. We will continue to engage with all the relevant agencies to improve the standards of living for the people of west Belfast”.

Videos

Sights and sounds from Bodenstown 2015


Photos

Palestinian minister Mohammad Shtayyeh addressing the hearing in Brussels.