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 Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard said the results of an international study into primary school education, has shown that the North has been served well by three Sinn Féin education ministers.

He was speaking after the publication of the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which saw pupils in P6 assessed against counterparts internationally.

The South Down MLA and Sinn Féin spokesperson on education said:

“These results of this study clearly show that our primary school children are performing well above the international average in literacy, numeracy and science.

“This is the first time that the primary school system in the North has been evaluated against international standards.

“This is a great endorsement of the teachers, parents and off course pupils that we have. What we need to do is ensure that this level of ability is carried on into post primary system and that our children continue to flourish.

“It is a true source of pride that our local school children are performing well above the international average.

“Indeed with the right policies and effective leadership shown by successive Sinn Féin Education Ministers, the future of our young people's education is looking increasingly brighter and it's fantastic to see the early signs of a world class education system coming to fruition."

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Sinn Féin Councillor for Armagh City Roy McCartney has slammed the loyalists behind an attack on the Cuchulainn bar in Armagh city.

Speaking following the incident Cllr McCartney said:

“Tonight in Armagh city loyalists gathered for a protest which turned into an impromptu march with no police presence.

“During that march masked protestors attacked the Cuchulainn bar in the city smashing windows and throwing lit fireworks into the bar. These very easily could have set fire to the bar or injured those inside.

“During all of this there was no police presence whatsoever and the PSNI must answer to the community why this was the case.

“The protests, intimidation and violence needs to end and Unionist politicians need to be to the fore, using whatever influence they have, in ensuring this happens.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the revelation that the RUC destroyed vital evidence in the Pat Finucane case, shows why there is a need for a public inquiry.

The North Belfast MLA and Sinn Féin policing spokesperson said:

“Clearly from reading this small part of the Stevens report the investigation carried out by the RUC into Pat Finucane’s killing was a disgrace.

“In this chapter terms like ‘inadequate, poor, evidence gone missing and no records being kept’ are all the terms that jump out of this revelation.

“Crucially when referring to the gun used in Pat’s Finucane’s killing and which was handed back to the British army, the report states that it was a ‘clear and deliberate decision’. Not an error or oversight but deliberate action that saw the destruction of crucial evidence.

“If ever a case cried out for a public inquiry, this is one. The British government need to abide by the commitment they made at Weston Park and hold a public inquiry into this murder, this latest revelation reaffirms that.”

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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Deputy Jonathan O’Brien has published a Bill in the Oireachtas to provide a legal footing to the existing guidelines that are used by schools when addressing incidents of bullying.

The Cork North Central TD believes that bullying in schools is a serious and growing problem that greatly impacts on the mental well-being and physical health of pupils and teachers alike. He is calling on the government to support the Sinn Féin Bill that if enacted will greatly strengthen the existing legislation and help schools better deal with the issue.

Deputy O'Brien said;

“Bullying is a complex and difficult problem that can manifest itself in many different ways and inflict long lasting scars on its victims. At its worst, the physical and psychological damage to an individual can, as we have sadly seen in recent months, be a significant factor that leads to self-harm and/or death by suicide.

“We can no longer therefore, pay lip service to what is happening and we need to strengthen the laws so schools are better equipped to deal with this issue.

“The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 in order to provide for binding, mandatory measures that will have to be adhered to by the boards of management of each school in order to ensure that the welfare of children and teachers are adequately safeguarded when reported incidents of bullying occur.

“It also attempts to provide a clear definition of bullying and seeks to address the different forms it can take as well as the motivations that influence this type of behaviour. By placing a greater onus of responsibility on school boards of management, through the mandatory implementation of recognised ‘anti-bullying’ policies, it will establish a standardised code of practice that must be adhered too.

“Sinn Féin has introduced this Bill in the hope that the Minister for Education will enshrine in legislation the existing mandatory guidelines which also need to be reviewed regularly and enhanced. This is necessary if we are to better deal with bullying including the growing incidents of online abuse resulting from the popularity of social media websites.

“I hope all of the political parties who sit in the Dáil, and who have on many occasions made clear their concerns about the impact of bullying on society will support this Bill which will if passed will provided enhanced protection for school children and teaching staff.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann has called on the British Government to stop blocking a Bill of Rights for the North.

Speaking ahead of an event at Parliament Buildings, which will celebrate International Human Rights day she said:

"Today as we celebrate International Human Rights Day it is important for us to ensure the Human Rights of all are protected.

“The Good Friday and St Andrew's Agreements provided the basis for a comprehensive Bill of Rights to reflect the particular circumstances of the North, and to ensure that mutual respect for all traditions
will be taken forward in legislation.

“Equality and social justice have to be at the heart of any democratic society and it must respect the human rights of all of its citizens.

“To date, while there has been years of consultations, we still don't have a comprehensive Bill of Rights. Politics on the island of Ireland have been transformed and it is time that the British Government stopped blocking a Bill of Rights."

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has said students from low and middle income families have been unfairly targeted in cuts announced in budget 2013 and that access to higher education has become even more difficult.
The Cork North Central TD has said the increase in the €250 increase in the third level contribution fee to €2,500 will hit students particularly hard and with additional hikes of €250 to be made in 2014 and 2015 many simply would not be able to afford to attend college.
“Despite all of the hardship that students and their families have faced over recent months as a result of flawed SUSI system and the resulting debacle in processing grants Education Minister has pressed ahead with increasing the contribution fee.
“It is a decision that will result in additional hardship for students from lower income families and in addition to this has been the decision to reduce by 3% the eligibility threshold for student grants which is estimated to affect 8% of students who otherwise would qualify for a grant.
“This means thousands of additional less well-off students will be denied a the type of essential financial supports that are necessary for them to participate in higher education.
“These increases of fees and changes in the eligibility criteria will succeed in making access to college much too costly for many students and it makes a mockery of the concept of free, universal access to third level.
“Yet again it is poorer sections of Irish society who are bearing the brunt of the Government’s austerity agenda.”
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On Wednesday the de Silva review into the papers linked to the killing in 1989 of Belfast human rights lawyer Pat Finucane will be published.

Speaking today at the unveiling in west Belfast of a mural to Pat Finucane who was killed by a unionist death squad in collusion with British state forces, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD described him as a “remarkable, extraordinary and courageous Irishman.” 

The Sinn Féin leader condemned the British government’s repudiation of the 2001 Weston Park agreement between the Irish and British governments which endorsed a public inquiry and their setting up of the de Silva review.

Teachta Adams said:

“The Irish government should have prevented this. 

“The role of the Irish government in all of this has not been helpful, strategic or as consistent as it could be.

“The British government are in breach of an agreement with the Irish government. The Taoiseach has repeatedly said that he wants the British to fulfil their Weston Park Commitment but he has done little about it despite my raising this with him regularly in the Dáil.

“However, apart from an occasional conversation with David Cameron on the margins of meetings there has been no consistent, planned strategy by the Irish government to mobilise international and diplomatic support for this.

“This is not good enough.

“Whatever the outcome of the de Silva review all of us have a duty to fully support the Finucane family’s response to it. The family’s demand for a full, transparent and accountable public inquiry is reasonable.”

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Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster, Martin McGuinness has expressed his sympathy to the families of the two young people tragically killed in a car accident near Pomeroy.

Speaking today Mr McGuinesss said:

"I wish to express my deepest sympathy to both the Conway and O’Donnell families following the tragic loss of both Kevin Conway and Lisa O’Donnell, two young people with so much ahead of them.

“Their loss is undoubtedly a sad and tragic occasion but given its closeness to Christmas such a loss will be all the more sorrowful. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these two young people.  

“I would urge people to take extra care on the roads over the coming weeks. Sadly we have seen too many deaths on our roads in recent weeks and we must do our utmost to ensure that care is taken on the roads in the Christmas period.”

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Speaking from Dublin today the Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has accused the Labour party of displaying a deeply cynical attitude to democracy.

Deputy Doherty also accused Labour of not taking their pre-election promises seriously and of playing on the fears of an electorate dealing with the effects of recession.

Deputy Doherty said:

“It is clear now that the Labour party have torn up their contract with the electorate.

“Their supposed red-line issues of protecting citizens from cuts and of not bailing out banks have been reduced to nothing.

“There are questions to be asked about whether or not the Labour Party ever intended on meeting the commitments they made pre-election and if this is the case I believe the party is displaying a deeply cynical attitude towards democracy.

“Sinn Féin has no confidence in this government. Their budget has been rightly criticised as unfairly targeting people on low and middle incomes and the vulnerable.

“There were choices to be made with this budget. There was a fairer alternative but the government parties refused to acknowledge this.

“Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence this week gives voice to the deep anger within communities. We want a change of political direction and for this to be brought about there needs to be a change of government.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on environment, community and local government, Brian Stanley TD, has accused Minister Phil Hogan of holding local authorities to ransom.

Deputy Stanley said:

“Minister Hogan is reported to have withheld a further €900k in funding from local authorities because of the non-payment of household charge. His actions are nothing short of extortion. 

“This coupled with the budget cuts to local government Funding of 25%, 2013 will see many local authorities being forced to cut local services.

“Minister Hogan's household charge has been a disaster for his department and he is now attempting to shift the blame onto councils the length and breadth of this state. The charge is unjust and as predicted it has proven to be unworkable. The public responded to his unjust tax by engaging in a legitimate form of protest. He is now bullying local authorities into squeezing the public for the outstanding millions.

“The household charge should never have been introduced. Sinn Féin has actively opposed it since its introduction last year and we will continue to do so.”

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Sinn Féin councillor Conor Maskey has questioned the differential treatment by the PSNI following the arrest of a nationalist youth today in Carrickhill.

The North Belfast councillor said:

"Following a week of illegal protests by unionism and loyalist paramilitaries the arrest of a nationalist youth in Carrickhill today is in stark contrast of the softly softly approach adopted to people blocking roads and generally terrorising the public for the last several days.

"Residents have told us that the PSNI were heavy handed in their action. The PSNI can not differentiate between anyone breaking the law or approach how they deal with the nationalist community differently than how they police the rest of the community.

"On a day when unionism and loyalist paramilitaries brought chaos to Belfast city centre where masked men openly marched and where a tricolour was burned, the only known arrest is that of a nationalist youth from Carrickhill.

"The toleration of mass illegal marches and blocking of roads has not gone unnoticed by nationalists and questions need answered about this approach by the PSNI. This community demand civil, accountable, impartial policing and will settle for nothing less."

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said that following another night of riots and trouble after the so-called peaceful protest in Belfast today, that political unionism must exert itself, show leadership and work to end this situation.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

“Political unionism has failed. It has sent muted words and mixed messages which has seen loyalism come on to the streets and a continuation of road blocks, riots and intimidation for nearly a week now.

“Within the space of this week we have seen attacks on Belfast City Hall and Alliance party members homes and offices, death threats against elected representatives and many protests turning violent.

“Only last night 600 people, including many children were trapped inside Newtonabbey council as loyalist burnt cars and rioted with clear paramilitary involvement.

“The scenario is nothing new. We have seen the orchestration between political unionism and violent loyalism many times before when they did not get their way.

“We saw it in 1969, The Ulster Workers Council strike, the Anglo Irish Agreement and Drumcree to name a few occasions.

“But times have changed. Belfast is a shared city. It needs to represent all sections of the community that live in it and not have one identity stamped over all others. Unionism needs to accept the need for, and the reality of, equality.

“Unionist politicians calling for the protests to be suspended and not called off all together while pressing for an increase of flag flying days at Stormont, set alongside the burning of the Irish tricolour by masked men oustise the City Hall, is not showing leadership and will not de-escalate the situation.

 “We need to see much more from unionist political leaders at all levels of representation across the north. They must exert themselves by standing firmly against the ongoing situation and taking real and meaningful steps to end the violence and intimidation on our streets.”

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Responding to reports that the European Commission is urging the ECJ to fine Ireland on December 19th for not implementing EU directives, Sinn Féin environment spokesperson Brian Stanley described the fines as “Fianna Fáil’s legacy”.

Deputy Stanley said these fines must be “robustly challenged by the current government.”

He said:

“Non-compliance with both The Waste Water Directive and the Environmental Impact Assessment directive is a legacy of Fianna Fáil’s so-called ‘light touch regulation.’ Both directives were introduced under the Fianna Fáil government, but now it is the ordinary tax payer who will be paying for their poor governance.

“It must also be noted that the ongoing conflict surrounding the implementation of 53 bogs declared as Special Areas of Conservation is another failure of Fianna Fáil.

“I am urging Minister Hogan to defend Ireland's interest and ensure no fines are imposed.

“The €11 million fines would be far better spent on meeting the needs of those suffering from the recent harsh budget.”

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Commenting on news that a Department of Health report presents the prospect of a further cut of 3,500 jobs from the health services, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

“The Department of Health presents the prospect of a further 3,500 jobs from the health services being cut.

“This comes the week after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation published a report showing that Irish hospitals are seriously under-staffed and that under-staffing is affecting patient care.

“With the recruitment ban still in place the health service has been using expensive agency staff, which is a false economy, and now faces even further staff cuts.

“Like the nearly €800 million to be cut from the Health Budget by the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition in 2013, staff cuts on this scale are not sustainable.” 

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Sinn Féin will table a Dáil motion of no confidence in the Government next week.

Publishing the motion in Dublin today, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said:

“Fine Gael and Labour have broken their contract with the electorate and torn up their election promises. During the election these parties stood on a platform of standing up for Ireland’s interests in Europe; of ‘not one more red cent’ to be given to the banks; of protecting child benefit.

“The government not only failed to keep their promises but they have taken the extreme opposite approach. They have introduced a savage, regressive budget which among other measures sees a new tax on the family home, cuts to child benefit and payments to carers.

“The budget targets ordinary working families and the most vulnerable in our society and further damages the potential for economic growth and recovery.

“The Sinn Féin motion gives voice to the feeling of deep anger that exists across this state at the choices this government is making.

“This Government is implementing socially and economically disastrous policies for which they have no mandate.

“A change of political and economic direction is urgently needed. There is another, fairer way forward. It is clear that this requires a change of government.”

Text of motion to be debated on Tuesday and Wednesday:

That Dáil Eireann;

-          Calls on this House to vote no confidence in the Fine Gael and Labour coalition government who have failed  to fulfil their obligations to make political decisions and choices which benefit the citizens of this state.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald, Michael Colreavy, Seán Crowe, Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Sandra McLellan, Jonathan O'Brien, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Brian Stanley, Peadar Toibín

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Sinn Féin MLA for South Antrim Mitchel McLaughlin has stated that the sudden erection of Union flags in Antrim town following the democratic decision by Belfast City Council is an act of intimidation.

Speaking today Mr McLaughlin said:

"Over the past number of days reams of union flags have been erected in Antrim town. In particular the areas around the Antrim Forum and the Junction One shopping complex have had particular attention paid to them. These are places that are used by all sections of our community.

"This is not about identity or rights, this is purely about intimidation and marking out territory. Those putting up the flags know this. They so far refuse to accept the democratic decision of Belfast City Council and are using the union flag to intimidate people.

"Unionists have a very low opinion of their flag if they believe it should be used in this way. I would hope that someone within political unionism will now step forward and call for the erecting of these flags to stop."

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Dublin City Councillor Anthony Connaghan has slammed the recent announcement by Greyhound to charge for recycling bags.

Councillor Connaghan said this new charge will just add to the huge financial strain on people in the Dublin region.

The Finglas Councillor said:

“Some years ago I warned about opening up waste collection to private interests. Now all of our initial fears have come to fruition. The market has been privatised and the cost of waste collection has increased dramatically for people.

“The recent announcement by greyhound to charge for recycling bags is just compounding the financial strain on citizens and adding to the hardship that families are going through in the current economic climate.

“Many people only got a day’s notice of these increases which flies in the face of one of Greyhounds ‘4 Promises’ to their customers on their website.

“Sinn Féin’s position has always been for local government to be adequately funded so that funding can't be used as an excuse to sell off public services to private interests. We would like to see the waste collection service back under the control of the local authority so that citizens get a better deal.”

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Sinn Féin activists across the 26 counties will mobilise against the family home tax introduced by Fine Gael and Labour in Budget 2013.

Elected representatives, activists, supporters and ordinary people who are angry at the cuts and stealth taxes contained in the budget will take part in protests, information stalls and leaflet drops today, Saturday to show their opposition.

Speaking in the aftermath of Budget 2013 Mary Lou McDonald TD said that “the campaign against this unfair tax on the family home has already begun.

“Sinn Féin will be active across the state today and throughout the days and nights of next week.

“We are also calling for a major mobilisation at the Dáil at 2pm on Friday 14th December when the legislation is being debated.

“I would encourage as many people as possible to get out on the streets and show your opposition to this unfair tax before the government rushes it into law.”

List of areas campaigning today:

Clare

Ennis – Stall with leaflets, PA system, SF representatives will make addresses

Tipperary

Tipperary Town – Information stall in the town centre

Thurles – Leaflet drop at Liberty Square

Neenagh – Information stall

Clonmel – Information stall

Carrick On Suir – Information stall on main street

Cashel – Information stall and protest at Fine Gael constituency office (Tom Hayes)

Roscrea – Information stall at shopping centre on Friday evening

Cork

Cobh – Information stall

Youghal – Leaflet drop

Mitchellstown – Leaflet drop

Mallow – Information stall

Cork City – Rally at Dawn Square 1pm

Charleville – Information stall

Kenturk – Leaflets

Ballincollig – Information stall

Bantry – Information stall in the square

Dunmanway – Information stall

Bandon – Rally at 12 noon at the bridge

Clonakilty – Leaflet drop

Limerick

Limerick City – Leaflet drop

Newcastle West – Leaflet drop

Abbeyfeale – Leaflet drop

Dublin

Inchicore – Protest

Ballyfermot – Information stall

Crumlin – Information stall

Walkinstown – Information stall

Dundrum and Rathfarnam – Information stall at Nutgrove shopping centre

Blanchardstown – Protest/leaflets at Blanchardstown shopping centre

Kerry

Tralee – Lunchtime leaflet canvass

Waterford

Waterford – Leaflet canvass

Mayo

Castlebar – Leaflet canvass, Market Sq 1pm

Ballina – Leaflet canvass 1pm

Galway

Galway City – Leaflet canvass, Shop St 1pm

Donegal

Leaflet canvass in Carndonagh, Buncrana, Donegal Town and Stranorlar

Dungloe – Public meeting, Ionad Timpeall Croine 8pm

Wicklow

Bray Town Hall 1pm

Protest at Simon Harris TD Office and leaflet canvass on main street

Baltinglass  1pm

Protest at Billy Timmins TD Office

Wexford

Gorey Main Street  1pm

Protest and Leaflet canvass

Kilkenny City 12pm

Leaflet canvass

Louth

The Square, Dundalk 12 noon

Ardee – Leaflet canvass

Meath

Kells, Ashbourne, Trim, Athboy – Leaflet canvass

Westmeath

Mullingar, Athlone – Leaflet canvass

Offaly

Birr, Edenderry – Canvass

Laois

Portlaois – Leaflet canvass

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Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster, Martin McGuinness has expressed his sympathy to the Doherty family who at the loss of two family members who were killed tragically in a car accident last night close to Magherafelt.

Speaking today Mr McGuinesss said:

"I wish to express my deepest sympathy to the Doherty family following the loss of two family members who were tragically killed in a road traffic accident late last night.

"I'm sure they will be  in the thoughts of many people. To lose two members of a family through a road traffic accident is always a tragic, sad occasion, it is especially more acutely felt at this time of year in the weeks before Christmas.

"This now brings the number of people killed in the area to four over the past number of weeks. We need to examine why this is the case and ensure that care is taken to ensure that we see no more dreadful occasions such as this."

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Sinn Féin MLA for South Antrim, Mitchel McLaughlin said those who painted sectarian graffiti on the Church of Ireland in Glenavy are sectarian bigots and will not succeed in driving a wedge between the good community relations that exist in the town. 

Speaking today Mr McLaughlin said:

“There have been a series of sectarian attacks in Glenavy. In this latest one graffiti has been painted on the Church of Ireland and its church hall. 

“No place of worship should ever be targeted in this way. “This is completely wrong and those behind it are sectarian bigots.

“It should never have happened and whoever is responsible will not succeed in driving a wedge between the good community relations that exist in the town.”

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