Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey today called for a full public inquiry into the proposed runway extension at Belfast City Airport.
Mr Maskey was taking part in a debate on a motion calling for such an inquiry.
Speaking after the debate Cllr Maskey said,
"There are serious environmental, economic and social concerns around any planned extension to Belfast City Airport. These concerns have been highlighted by local residents over a long period of time and also highlighted on the floor of the Assembly during today's debate.
"As someone who uses Belfast City Airport I recognise the importance of having a functioning city airport and commend them for the service they provide, this should not however, be at the expense of public health and safety.
"I have met with Belfast City Airport Watch Group, along with my Party colleague and the party's representative for East Belfast Niall Ó Donnghaile. We share many of their concerns and I believe any planned extension must be subject to a rigorous public inquiry process.
"I welcome today's debate on a planned runway extension at the airport and the decision of the Assembly to support the call from residents for a full public inquiry." CRÍOCH
Sinn Féin MLA and deputy chair of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment committee Jennifer McCann has called for the urgent need to bolster the Small and Medium Enterprise sector. This follows a debate in today's Assembly on the negative impact that the current economic climate is having on the sector
Speaking today Ms McCann said:
Speaking today Ms McCann sa
"The current economic climate and associated factors have hit the small and medium enterprise sector especially hard. We must aim to sustain the businesses and jobs within this sector that are already in existence here and try to offset any further job losses.
"That also includes creating new investment opportunities and training people in the skills that they will need.
"The economic downturn has impacted on the levels of foreign investment and therefore it is even more important in the current conditions that small and medium sized businesses and social economy enterprises are given the resources they need to sustain themselves in the short term and develop and grow in the longer term.
"For example, in an all Ireland context almost 16 billion euro is spent on public procurement each year and most of that goes to companies overseas. This must be redirected to support SME's and indigenous companies.
"SME's account for almost 99% of the businesses in the north and yet almost 3 quarter of small and medium size businesses including those from the social economy sector don't even apply for public procurement contracts as they feels the tendering stage is staked against them and weighted firmly in favour of large companies.
"By incorporating social clauses into all public procurement contracts at the tendering stage we have an opportunity to deliver on the important issues of fairness, inclusion and equality of opportunity by actively and effectively challenging existing patterns of social and economic disadvantage and using any future increased prosperity to tackle ongoing poverty.
"Banks too have a corporate responsibility to ensure lending and borrowing facilities are available and accessible to keep SME's and social economy enterprises going. It is important that banks and other lending institutions are challenged about their current poor levels of lending to this sector."
Sinn Féin Spokesperson, Martina Anderson MLA (Foyle) has called on Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie to state unambiguously that Civil Service jobs and services will not be removed from Derry under a review of the social security system.
Martina Anderson said:
"The Strategic Business Review of the Social Security Agency has the potential to be extremely detrimental to workers and service users alike.
"Face-to-face contact for social security claimants will be removed as services are centralized while hundreds of workers face relocation or even losing their jobs.
"Sinn Féin has already raised these concerns with Minister Ritchie and her response was less than encouraging, stating that the Agency 'faces a very challenging period'.
"However that isn't good enough. We cannot tolerate any dilution of service to people on benefits and neither can we contemplate the potential of further job losses or relocations out of Derry.
"Following the successful 'Project Kelvin' campaign it is imperative that not only do we retain the present level of Public Service jobs in Derry but that we increase our lobbying efforts to have more public sector jobs decentralized to this city. I believe that if we allow Margaret Ritchie's department of Social Development to remove social security jobs from Derry, it would greatly damage our case and send out entirely the wrong message.
"Now with confirmation of the 'Telehouse' for Derry it is essential that we maintain the momentum that that generated and build on our capacity to accommodate large numbers of Civil Service jobs, not reducing it.
"Therefore, I am calling on the Minister to state categorically that no jobs will be removed from Derry as part of her plans. I am also repeating Sinn Féin's call for her to scrap the review of the Social Security Agency altogether."
Sinn Féin Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy has met with the operators of the Lough Foyle Ferry Company to listen to concerns regarding it long term future. The meeting was organised by East Derry MLA Francie Brolly.
Speaking today Mr Brolly said:
"I welcome the chance to bring this issue to the Minister for Regional Development. With me were the operators of the Greencastle to Magilligan ferry service, Mr Jim McClenaghan and Jack McInerny.
"The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of the ferry service.
"For the last two years the ferry has been experiencing some finical difficulty. Among the reasons for this are, the steep rise in the price of fuel over this period, the poor weather last summer and now the downturn in the economy and the near parity of the euro.
"The service is jointly controlled by Limavady Borough and Donegal County councils, whose resources are pressed at the moment given the current economic climate and any hope of subvention to offset running cost has not materialised.
"The ferry company wanted to explore with the Minister the possibility of his department assuming responsibility, shared with his opposite number in Leinster house.
"The Minister undertook to explore the possibilities and clearly understood the importance of this vital link between Co. Donegal, Co. Derry and the North Antrim coast
"Also discussed was the continued presence of a security zone at Magilligan and it negative impact upon ferry users but in particular tourists. It is imperative that this eyesore and hindrance be removed.
"The Minister will be contacting the relative authority in Westminster with a view to having the issue surrounding the ridiculous security point being resolved as soon as possible."
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Regional Development and author of the Oireachtas Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Committee report 'Awakening the West' has welcomed a Seanad debate, which will take place today, on the report recommendations recently adopted by the Committee.
The report entitled 'Awakening the West: Overcoming Social and Economic Inequality', is the first report of its kind in decades and has been put together after a major consultation process involving various stakeholders along the Western Seaboard. In a significant move earlier this month Senators agreed to debate the recommendations of the report in the Seanad.
Speaking in advance of this afternoons debate Donegal Senator Pearse Doherty said:
"If this report and its recommendations are properly implemented I believe that we will make serious inroads into addressing and reversing decades of economic and social inequality in the West.
"This report spells out a vision of a confident and vibrant Western region. It is a vision of a region that has access to employment opportunities, to public services and that is provided with the opportunities to maximise its potential. This report demands nothing more and nothing less than fairness. The West of Ireland can no longer be an after thought for political leaders.
"Along the Western Seaboard, from Donegal to West Cork, communities are fighting for their very survival. Government policy has proactively favoured the east coast of the country in infrastructure, job creation and political influence.
"The West has suffered the withdrawal and downgrading of vital services, such as public transport, post offices and Garda Services. The destruction and collapse of traditional employment sectors, such as the textile and fishing industries, coupled with the exodus of small farmers from the land has resulted in depopulation and led to unemployment and poverty.
"The rural West has been losing population at an alarming rate due to the decline of traditional employment in farming and fishing. In recent times this region relied too heavily on employment from construction which is now suffering disproportionately from the dramatic downturn in that sector.
"Given the rural and sparsely populated nature of the west of Ireland, and the isolation experienced by many, communities frequently feel helpless in their ability to halt the decline. Their voices are not being heard in the corridors of power. Their lobbies are too weak to exert the pressure that is needed to bring about change. In many cases, these areas find themselves pitted against each other in an 'either or' battle to retain services or attract investment.
"Our aim with this report was to bring all the disparate groups across the west of Ireland together in one united voice to demand an end to the inequalities in the west and to come up with realistic and reasonable proposals to that end. The west needs an alliance for change. It needs a regrouping of progressive social, political and economic individuals and organisations.
"This report is a call to action. I have been particularly encouraged by the all-party consensus on the recommendations of this detailed and progressive report.
"I would again thank the Senators for their support and I am looking forward to today's debate. Now is the time to address the inequality of the west. We can no longer afford not to do so. Our people deserve better." ENDS
Key issues affecting the West
· Depopulation in rural communities is a major problem which is going un-tackled. The movement of people from rural communities within the West to urban centres between 1926 and 2002 saw a decline of 40% of the populations of Clare, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, Limerick, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo.
· The structuring of state institutions and delivery of public policy have also contributed to the current inequity between the regions. There is limited regional policy co-ordination and insufficient consideration of the goals of the National Spatial Strategy.
· Across the Western region agriculture, forestry, fishing and construction amount to 20% of all employment. Each of these sectors is undergoing serious difficulties.
· In 2007 only 2,400 people were directly employed in fishing. Three quarters of the entire fishing workforce is located in Counties Donegal, Kerry, Galway, Mayo, Clare, and West Cork. The total catch for these fleets has declined from 390,000 tonnes in 1995 to 210,000 tonnes in 2006. The Irish fleet has declined by over 30% since 1993.
· In 2007 just 8.1% of the 9,216 new IDA supported jobs were located in Counties Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Clare, Limerick or Kerry. While Galway and Cork accounted for 21% of these new jobs they were concentrated in the gateways of Galway City and Cork City.
· The retention of graduates is another serious problem. Only 38% of the western region's graduates find their first place of employment in their home counties in comparison with 79.5% for Dublin.
· The North-West has suffered a decline of 30% in overseas visitors since 1999. In 2006, Clare, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal combined generated just 9% of the overall tourism revenue.
· Of the 19 national road projects in construction at the end of December 2007, just two were located in the Western seaboard region, amounting to only 75 out of 458 kilometres of national roads.
· The Western Rail Corridor is the only major inter-regional rail project for the western counties under Transport 21 and is now at risk due to government cutbacks. The Western Rail Corridor will cost less than €200 million, compared to the Metro North in Dublin, which is estimated to cost €3.7billion.
· It is projected that by 2014 there will be a further 1,698 bed closures in public hospitals in the Western seaboard under its 'Regionalisation Scenario' and hospitals in Sligo and Castlebar are facing destabilisation and downgrading if the National Cancer Care Strategy goes ahead as planned.
· Of the 396 applications from primary schools in counties Kerry, Cork, Clare, Galway, Roscommon, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, only 72 (18%) have progressed beyond initial stages.
· In 2007 one in eight jobs were lost in Údarás na Gaeltachta assisted companies. The lack of employment and services in the Gaeltacht is adversely affecting the socio-linguistic environment of Gaeltacht areas.
The report sets out a lot of detailed proposals to deal with the key issues affecting the West. The key proposals include the following:
· A single Government Department should be given overall responsibility for Regional Development.
· All State Bodies should be compelled by law to assess whether policies being developed would create regional imbalance and amend those policies accordingly. A Regional Development Impact Assessment Framework should be established to facilitate this.
· To address the clear imbalance in job creation along the West there should be regional and sub-regional job creation targets set out for Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and other Enterprise Support Agencies.
· The report calls for the establishment of a self sustaining state agency with a property portfolio to promote entrepreneurial activity at local level in the South West, North West and Western Counties.
· Forfás should carry out an immediate review of the capacity of the Western seaboard region to attract Foreign Direct Investment and the measures which need to be taken at a strategic level to improve its competitiveness and boost employment opportunities.
· The National Development Plan 2007-2013 should re-introduce its policy of having a specific goal of achieving balanced regional development with set targets for each region.
· The Western Rail Corridor is critical to the development of the west. It should not be subject to cutbacks but proceed as planned. There should be a review of the Claremorris to Collooney section as matter of priority.
· The Atlantic Road Corridor, from Waterford to Letterkenny, should be a seamless dual carriageway built under public finance.
· State financial support should be provided to pilot next generation broadband schemes in at least three towns in each of the 10 Western seaboard counties in which broadband infrastructure enables it.
· The Department of Communication, Energy and Natural Resources should identify renewable energy zones on the Western seaboard region and bring forward proposals for the development of community and wider regional renewable energy projects.
· The 1,700 public beds in the region's acute hospitals which are threatened with closure under the HSE's PA Report must be retained.
· National Cancer Strategy should be revised to provide for a balanced regional approach, particularly in relation to surgery and radiology.
· There must be a coherent strategy to maximise Garda visibility in rural areas.
· There is a need for a clear Government policy in relation to the minimum number of post offices that are necessary. In order to save a number of post offices at risk of imminent closure, the Government should intervene in the form of a public service obligation order (PSO).
· The government should bring forward a Charter of Rights, based on the needs of the individual islands, which would be guaranteed in law. These rights would form the basis of a strategy to re-populate the islands and encourage young people to stay.
· All plans and statutory provisions for Gaeltacht areas should be integrated into a comprehensive and cohesive planning process which would include language planning, local and physical planning, education planning, structural planning and social planning including family support services.
Note to Editor: Sinn Féin Agriculture and Fisheries Spokesperson Martin Ferris TD last week submitted a Report on Future Farming and Fishing in the West to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of which he is a member, for their consideration. This report provides an accurate picture of both the current state of the rural economy, particularly in the West and of the sort of strategies needed to move us forward.
Sinn Féin Agriculture and Fisheries Spokesperson Martin Ferris TD last week submitted a Report on Future Farming and Fishing in the West to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of which he is a member, for their consideration. This report provides an accurate picture of both the current state of the rural economy, particularly in the West and of the sort of strategies needed to move us forward.
Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has expressed his hope that issues around bereaved families and Milltown cemetery can be resolved as quickly.
Sinn Féin representatives have been meeting with the families and with the other agencies involved, including the PSNI, Ulster Wildlife Trust and the Catholic Church, on this matter in recent days and months.
Mr. Adams said:
"Following a completion of a recent survey by Queens University we fully expect that it will be possible in the near future to resolve all of the concerns raised by bereaved families.
"We are aware that the survey has identified an issue around a small piece of ground which the PSNI wish to investigate further.
"We hope that this work can be completed quickly with sensitivity and discretion."
Sinn Féin's East Belfast Representative Niall Ó Donnghaile has welcomed today's news that 27 Apartments on the Short Strand in East Belfast will be used by Clanmill Housing association for social units.
Speaking this afternoon Mr Ó Donnghaile said,
"I want to welcome this boost for the local community and in particularly for those currently languishing on the housing waiting list.
"Sinn Féin is constantly campaigning for the development of the necessary social housing for this part of the city. This announcement will come as good news to everyone as there has been, up until now, a degree of uncertainty around the future for the Pottinger's Quay development.
"I look forward to working with Clanmill Housing Association to ensure that this development will be as good as it can possibly be for the residents who will live there.
"Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for social and affordable housing as well as the highest standard of community facilities for this part of East Belfast and beyond." CRÍOCH
Sinn Fein MLA for South Down, Caitríona Ruane, has welcomed the beginning of a consultation process into the regeneration of Downpatrick's town centre.
Speaking today Ms Ruane said:
"Sinn Féin would welcome the beginning of a consultation process into the regeneration of Downpatrick's town centre.
"A similar restoration scheme that was completed in Newcastle significantly helped in both the presentation and regeneration of the town.
"Obviously we would like to see as wide ranging a consultation process as possible involving all the key stakeholders in the Downpatrick area including residents to business owners and anyone else with concerns into this project.
"If implemented this project could see the centre of the town revamped creating further employment opportunities which would be welcomed in this economic climate."
Sinn Féin MLA and spokesperson on Human Rights, Martina Anderson, has welcomed the Assembly endorsing a Sinn Féin motion into the Prison Ombudsman's report following the death of Colin Bell in Maghaberry Prison in 2008.
The motion called for all 44 recommendations in the report to be fully implemented.
Speaking after the motion was passed Ms Anderson said:
"The circumstances surrounding the death of Colin Bell in Maghaberry prison are tragic. They follow a series of grave failings by the prison authorities that have now been highlighted in a report by the Prison Ombudsman that contains 44 recommendations.
"Colin Bell attempted to take his life on four occasions and it actually took 40 minutes before his body was discovered after he died. This was a man who was supposedly on a high risk watch.
"Instead prison wardens were watching TV, lying on a camping bed, or smoking and having tea breaks. There can be no excuse for this behaviour while in any form of work, never mind a job where those working are charged with serious responsibilities.
"This is not an isolated incident. There is in fact a culture within the prison service that is tolerated to the highest levels. For the Governor and deputy Governor not to know what was happening within their prison is gross incompetence.
"I am glad that the Assembly have endorsed the Sinn Fein motion today calling for all the recommendations in the report to be fully implemented. It is the Assembly placing what pressure we can on those responsible, namely Paul Goggins and the NIO, to make sure that they are implanted with the utmost of urgency.
"This would ensure that no other family will have to endure the suffering and the searching for answers that the Bell family have had to following the loss of a loved family member within prison."
Sinn Féin MLA and spokesperson on Policing and Justice Alex Maskey has rejected that the claims today by the SDLP's Alex Atwood and labelled them disingenuous.
Speaking today Mr Maskey said:
"Sinn Féin firmly reject the comments by Alex Atwood. They are an example of the SDLP trying to score political points by being wholly disingenuous and lack any substance.
"Who the British government shared the detail of this legislation with is a matter for themselves. For our part we strongly believe that nobody should be excluded from this process. The SDLP have attended the meetings on the transfer of Policing and Justice powers and clearly know this position.
"Sinn Féin have said that we would support the SDLP for the position of Justice Minister. That remains our position. It must be asked have the SDLP even bothered to arrange specific meetings with any other parties to seek their support or do they expect Sinn Féin to conduct that negotiation for them also.
"The latest 'poor me' statement from the SDLP is fairly typical of the malign approach that they are taking to anything that the Assembly or the Executive are doing. Having previously argued that the transfer of powers on Policing and Justice could not happen, they now sit on the sidelines and criticise Sinn Féin for bringing it about."
Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA today met with a delegation from the Agricultural Stakeholder Forum on Renewable Energy to discuss progress to date.
The delegation was led by Pearse Buckley, Chair of the Forum, and two of the Forum's members, Michael Doran, Rural Generation, and Michael Harnett, Ulster Farmer's Union. The Forum is tasked with advising on a new departmental strategy on renewable energy. They will also review the DARD Renewable Energy Action Plan in light of changes to the opportunities within the renewable energy environments, alongside that of new opportunities within the renewable energy market since the Action Plan was completed.
Following the meeting the Minister said: "I took the opportunity today to meet with representatives of this Forum to discuss what progress they have made to date at this half-way stage. I am encouraged that they are on target to advise on a refreshed departmental renewable energy strategy by the summer of 2009.
"Their report will focus on opportunities for renewable energy within agriculture, establishing key objectives, targets and time frames. The agricultural sector has a key role to play in supporting production of renewable energy and it is important that our land owners take full advantage of the opportunity it presents."
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay has made a formal complaint against DUP Members Sammy Wilson and William Irwin to the Assembly's Standards and Privileges Committee. Mr McKay has accused the Environment Minister Sammy Wilson of being in breach of the Members' Code of Conduct, the Ministerial Code of Conduct and the Seven Principles of Public Life when he said that job preference should be given to people from the Six Counties over anybody else.
Mr McKay said:
"If all governments were to adopt the ridiculous stand being put forward by Sammy Wilson Irish workers would ultimately be worse off. Such comments will only serve to scare off inward investment and sends a negative narrow-minded message out to the rest of Europe.
"As a Minister he should not be making such statements which encourage people to break the law. If an employer were to give preference to workers who were born in the Six Counties over other workers as a result of Mr Wilson's comments they would be breaking the law. As such Mr Wilson has failed in his "duty to uphold the law".
"Sammy Wilson needs to acknowledge what he said was wrong and irresponsible. If his proposals were to be implemented the Assembly's Ceann Comhairle, Willie Hay, might even be out of a job because he is originally from Donegal.
"Mr Wilson's party colleague William Irwin has been found guilty in the courts of polluting a river and putting fish stock at risk. It is important that the Committee investigate this complaint and put down a marker that environmental crime is just as serious as any other type of crime and should be treated as such." ENDS
Below are the two complaints submitted by Mr McKay to the Assembly's Standards and Privileges Committee:
Letter of complaint against Mr Sammy Wilson MLA
Re: Complaint against Mr Sammy Wilson
I would like to lodge a complaint against Mr Sammy Wilson MLA.
On Sunday 25th January 2009 Mr Wilson, the Minister of the Environment said:
"However, when it comes to a downturn, I think if jobs are becoming vacant and you've got people with equal skills, and can do the job, etcetera, then I think preference should be given to people from Northern Ireland."
Mr Wilson is a Minister and as such oversees a Department which must abide by all employment law. By saying that preference for jobs should be given to people within the Six Counties over those who were not born here but may reside here during "a downturn", Mr Wilson is stating that employment law should be broken during a recession. As a Minister he should not be making such statements which encourage people to break the law. If an employer were to give preference to workers who were born in the Six Counties over other workers as a result of Mr Wilson's comments they would be breaking the law. As such Mr Wilson has failed in his "duty to uphold the law".
Under the heading 'Public Duty', the Code of Conduct states that:
"Members have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them.
"Members have a general duty to act in the interests of the electorate and the community as a whole; and a special duty to their constituents."
Mr Wilson has clearly not acted "in the interests of the electorate and the community as a whole" as part of that community was not born in the Six Counties and by stating that employment law be breached during a recession in such a way will lead to part of the community and part of the electorate being discriminated against.
The Code also states that:
"Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly and never undertake any action which would bring the Northern Ireland Assembly, or its Members generally, into disrepute."
His comments have clearly brought this Assembly into disrepute and have weakened the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of the Assembly. We have a duty to represent all of the people of the Six Counties and all of the electorate, not just those who are born here or who are indigenous.
I also believe that Minister Wilson has breached the Ministerial Code's Pledge of Office in the following areas:
(c) to serve all the people of Northern Ireland equally, and to act in accordance with the general obligations on government to promote equality and prevent discrimination;
(ca) to promote the interests of the whole community represented in the the Northern Ireland Assembly towards the goal of a shared future;
(cd) to uphold the rule of law based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts as set out in paragraph 6 of the St Andrews Agreement;
(g) to comply with the Ministerial Code of Conduct.
Mr Wilson has broken the Ministerial Code of Conduct in the following areas:
(iv) follow the seven principles of public life set out by the Committee on Standards in Public Life;
(vi) operate in a way conducive to promoting good community relations and equality of treatment;
Under the Seven Principles of Public Life he has breached the Principle of 'Leadership' as it clearly states that "Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example." Given that Mr Wilson does not promote and support the principle of 'Objectivity' he is in breach of the 'Leadership' principle.
He does not promote or support the principle of Objectivity as it clearly states that:
"In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit."
Mr Wilson has clearly indicated that appointments should not be made on merit but on the basis of where a person was born. Therefore he has not promoted and supported the principle of 'Objectivity' as is required under the principle of 'Leadership'.
Therefore it is quite clear that Mr Wilson has not upheld the Seven Principles of Public Life, which is a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct and also a breach of the Ministerial Code's Pledge of Office.
I would ask that the Committee launch a full investigation into all of the matters that I have raised above.
I look forward to your response.
Daithí McKay MLA
Letter of complaint against Mr William Irwin MLA
Re: Complaint against William Irwin
I would like to lodge a complaint against Mr William Irwin MLA.
Please find attached an article from the Belfast Telegraph dated Thursday 22nd January 2009 which discusses the prosecution of Mr Irwin for polluting a river. Environmental crime in my opinion is just as serious and reprehensible as any other crime and should be treated as such.
The discharge from Mr Irwin's farm was poisonous and "would have been potentially harmful to fish life in the receiving watercourse."
According to the MLA Handbook, Section A8 under Public Duty, it states that "Members have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them." Mr Irwin has failed to uphold the law and has been prosecuted by the Environment Agency for polluting discharge into a waterway last year.
I believe that Mr Irwin has failed to adhere to the principles identified by the committee on Standards in Public Life. He has failed to uphold the law.
In my opinion Mr Irwin has broken the Code of Conduct and I would ask that the Committee launch a full investigation into this matter.
I look forward to your response.
Daithí McKay MLA
Sinn Féin MLA for Newry/Armagh Cathal Boylan told Sinn Féin's Ard Fheis on Saturday that the Cavan to Tyrone Interconnector cannot go ahead as planned.
During his speech to the Ard Fheis Mr. Boylan said,
"Sinn Féin supports the proposal for an all-Ireland energy system that will benefit the consumer. That can best be met by putting any proposed interconnector underground, and Sinn Féin supports the public, through groups like NEPP and SEAT, in its call for that.
"The Cavan to Tyrone electricity interconnector has been a worrying and emotive subject for the public who live along the proposed route. The reason for that concern is the fear of health risks connected to overhead power lines that carry up to 400 kV. In Ireland, no such voltage has been carried by overhead power lines before.
"The public not only needs reassurance on health issues, but there are also concerns of the detrimental environmental impact of 40 km of pylons - irrespective of their size - in the North and 40 km in the South, which will cut across the drumlins of Monaghan, Armagh and the other counties.
"Any planning applications must take into account that these pylons will be visibly intrusive and impact adversely not only on the environment but on property and land prices in the affected areas.
"The concerns are not about cost. They are about the health of future generations who will live near the interconnector. Although we do not have a crystal ball, we know that future generations will judge us on the decisions that we make in the coming months." ENDS
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams also spoke on the motion and pledged his support for NEPP and SEAT in their campaigns.
Commenting on today’s (Monday) crisis meeting of the Health Service Executive and the possible shortfall of over €1 billion in its budget, Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said that strategic decision-making should be taken from the HSE and that the Dáil is the place where the future of the health services should be planned.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“The Health Service Executive faces a possible shortfall of over €1 billion in 2009 due to the Government-created economic recession and due to the disastrous policy failure to successive Fianna Fáil-led governments to truly reform our health services. Our inequitable health system is now faced with even more savage cuts that will drastically affect the care of patients if the Government is allowed to continue to hide behind the HSE which will wield the knife on behalf of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.
“Real savings need to be made and can be made by ending all State subsidies for the private for-profit health sector, reining in those consultants who profit from both the private and public systems, cutting the drugs bill through the use of generic drugs and the establishment of state pharmaceutical procurement and distribution company.
“Instead the Government and the HSE are preparing to cut services for patients and the pay of front-line healthcare workers. If they proceed in that way the damage to our public health services will be catastrophic and will exceed the damage caused by cuts in the 1980s.
“It is now time for strategic decision-making to be taken out of the hands of the HSE and placed where it belongs – with the elected representatives of the people in the Dáil. Any revised Service Plan and Budget for the HSE must be placed before the Dáil so that the Taoiseach, the Health Minister and their colleagues can be fully accountable. Equally importantly, the Government must listen to and take on board the constructive proposals of all parties.” ENDS
Sinn Féin MLA's Raymond McCartney and Martina Anderson will present a motion at tomorrows sitting of the Assembly calling for the full implementations of the recommendations of the report made by the Prison Ombudsman into the death of Colin Bell in Maghaberry Prison.
Speaking ahead of the motion Mr McCartney said:
"This report from the Prison Ombudsman came about following the tragic death of Colin Bell in Maghaberry Prison. The findings highlighted misconduct and failure to do the duty that prison staff and their bosses are charged with.
"If the quote by Fyodor Dostoevsky , "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats its criminals.", is to read true then the series of events that failed Colin Bell, and continue to fail other prisoners, is a glaring example of how we need to push foreword on this issue and deliver basic human rights within our prisons.
"Sinn Féin have been raising the issue of self harm and suicide for may years yet the Prison service and the NIO have been extremely slow to act.
"The purpose of the motion that we have brought forward is to place the relevant pressure on the NIO and the Prison service to ensure that the far reaching recommendations are acted upon.
"We are very sensitive the hurt caused to the Bell family and would like to ensure that no other family will have to endure the suffering and the searching for answers that the Bell family have had to go through.
"This report has a ream of serious findings and includes 44 recommendations. Those who hold the authority and responsibility for our prisons need to enact fully these recommendations without further delay."
The motion reads:
That this Assembly calls on the Prison Service to implement in full the recommendations made by the Prisoner Ombudsman in the report into the death of Colin Bell in Maghaberry Prison on 1 August 2008.
Ard Chomhairle Motion 109.
This Ard Fheis recognises the centrality of equality within the Office of the First and deputy First Minister and calls on it to ensure that the Programme for Government commitments to tackle poverty, disadvantage and regional disparities are delivered.
Speaking in favour of Ard Chomhairle motion 109.
I would like to assure Ard Fheis that the Sinn Féin Assembly team are committed to supporting our Ministers in the Executive and particularly deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness to deliver on commitments in the Programme for Government on tackling poverty, disadvantage and regional disparities.
Some of the measures that I believe would greatly progress this project would be directing our energies into efforts to ensure that 75% of all first time inward investment projects and jobs be directed towards those areas of greatest disadvantage and that Invest NI be instructed to prioritise this direction.
In order to achieve this goal it will be necessary to devise a time-tabled investment strategy that will attract cross-party support that will address regional disparities tackling the legacy of institutionalised disadvantage in Derry, West of Bann, and in other deprived areas such as north and west Belfast.
We need to encourage decentralisation of public sector jobs to redress historical disparities and disadvantage and to support balanced regional development. And I believe that where possible our Ministers should be giving the lead in this strategy. An important if modest beginning would be for the Executive to implement the Bain Report on Decentralisation of Government Departments.
Implementation and resourcing of the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Taskforce recommendations need to be progressed as a matter of urgency to inject some impetus into revitalising and regenerating the greater West Belfast area.
A vital component of investment planning specifically for the North West is Transport and infrastructure development along the entire border corridor. Despite the fact that we are experiencing economic difficulties, I am confident that Conor Murphy, our Minister of Regional Development will intensify his efforts to identify and progress joint projects with his counterpart in the Irish government. We need to be giving the lead on these issues by identifying projects that we can collaborate on to the benefit of citizens whether they live in Derry or Donegal, Cavan or Fermanagh. Martina Anderson, Raymond McCartney, Padraig MacLochlainn and Pearse Doherty showed what can be achieved by working together when they delivered 'Project Kelvin' to Derry despite the shenanigans of some Stormont civil servants who attempted to locate it in Coleraine. Of course their campaigning on this issue was powerfully reinforced by the efforts of deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness and his interventions with the Office of an Taoiseach, First Minister Peter Robinson and DETI Minister Arlene Foster.
This is a clear example of Sinn Féin taking responsibility in ensuring that regional disparities are addressed by delivering for disadvantaged areas.
Where additional resources can be found they must be directed towards tackling poverty and regenerating the most disadvantaged areas. Movement on issues such as the Tax Credit system, the harmonisation of benefits and the minimum wage for all young people, intervention to address the 'benefits gap', programmes to ensure full uptake of benefit payments and increased affordable childcare must be prioritised. While tighter regulations on mainstream Financial institutions is crucial, I believe that expansion of financial services available through Credit Unions would help empower local communities especially in underprivileged areas where the local Credit Union is regarded as the 'People's Bank'.
Another issue that is exacerbating poverty and disadvantage and which requires our attention is the whole area around the growing use of agency workers. Agency workers are often employed for several years yet do not receive the same remuneration as directly recruited workers. They are seldom eligible for company benefits such as sick leave or holiday pay and when it comes to redundancies they are the first to be laid off. This is an intolerable situation. All workers should be entitled to equal pay and conditions for equal work and we must work towards that goal if we are to have any affect on poverty and discrimination in the workplace.
When Pearse Doherty delivered the introduction to the Presidential Address at last year's Ard Fheis, launching the West's Awake campaign, it was clear that something special was afoot.
That day, he spoke of the frustration of so many of us in the West coast of Ireland at years of neglect by Government. He talked about how the West was dying a death by a thousand cuts. But more importantly, he gave hope. Hope that by working together from Kerry to Donegal, we could reverse the neglect.
Since then, Senator Pearse Doherty and Deputy Martin Ferris have compiled two Oireachtas reports on the regeneration of the West of Ireland.
Pearse's report, "Awakening the West: Overcoming Social and Economic Inequality" has already received the support of all parties on the Oireachtas joint committee on Arts, Sports, Tourism, Rural, Community and Gaeltacht affairs. Martin's report on the needs of the fishing and farming communities in the region will soon go before his Oireachtas committee.
The methodology deployed by Pearse and Martin in drawing up these reports was a truly republican one. They could have just taken the usual approach to Oireachtas reports of appointing someone to sit at a desktop in Leinster House and pull together census or central statistics office data.
However, they were determined to give ownership of the reports to the communities they hope to assist. They both engaged in a comprehensive series of face to face meetings with community development groups, trade unions, farming organizations, fishing organizations, chambers of commerce, and state agencies in every county along the West coast.
I was privileged to attend many of those meetings and witness the extent of the engagements and the breadth of information and expertise forthcoming from every group.
That is what makes these reports special. They have proven beyond dispute that the systematic neglect of the West of Ireland is not a perception but rather a reality.
They have demonstrated the decline of traditional industries such as farming, fisheries, and textile manufacturing in the West and the recent over reliance on the construction industry for employment in the region.
They have exposed the "brain drain" of young people out of the West where only 38% of third level graduates from the region find work in their home counties compared to a figure of 80% on the East coast.
They have outlined the removal of services such as Post Offices, Garda stations, schools, and public transport in rural areas.
They have shown how the full implementation of the Hanly Report will lead to the closure of around 13 hospitals in the Western Region. Up to 8 A&E public hospital departments, two inpatient maternity facilities and 12 inpatient psychiatric units are set to close.
Up to two thousand acute public hospital beds in the West are earmarked for closure over the next decade. The PA Report (2008) envisages closing 1,698 public patient beds by 2014, while acute public hospital bed losses under the Hanly Report, excluding inpatient psychiatric and long-stay beds, are estimated at 1,965.
These hospital closures will leave hundreds of thousands of people two hours' drive or more from inpatient care. Withdrawing public services, such as hospital A&E and maternity care, will lead to needless deaths and disability and threaten the social and economic sustainability of communities in the West.
They have shown how public hospitals such as those in Sligo and Castlebar face destabilisation and downgrading, if the national cancer strategy is implemented as planned.
Most importantly, they have set the scene for a fight back of communities along the West coast and have provided a platform for regeneration that is about fair play and equality. In their reports recommendations, they have provided solutions that have the ownership of all of those they met and who made submissions. They have called for one Western voice working together.
The West's Awake campaign is a template for republicanism in the 21st century and this Ard Fheis should commend Pearse Doherty and Martin Ferris for their sterling efforts.
Over the past year I have travelled the length and breadth of the west of Ireland from west cork to Donegal. I have meet with communities who are fighting for their very survival, communities that have witnessed over previous decades the withdrawal of vital services and in theses economic circumstances are seeing further cuts in services, further cuts in funding and further deepening of regional inequalities.
Many of the communities feel helpless in their ability to halt the decline. Their voices are not being heard in the corridors of power. Their lobbies are to weak to exert the pressure that is needed to bring about change.
In my journeys I was privileged to meet with those that are working day and night for the advancement of their communities. I listened to their fears and their hope.
I heard from cancer patients of their fear of the withdrawal cancer services from communities such as Sligo, Castlebar and Tralee and their outrage that under a HSE report 1698 public patient beds will be lost in hospitals in the west by 2014.
I heard from the business community who face daily challenges due to the lack of support, due to the fact that basic infrastructure such as broadband is still not available in most of the west and where it is it is overpriced and of low speed.
I heard how the lack of investment in our roads and rail are negatively impacting on their business.
I listened to the unsung hero's in these communities who talked to me about the closure of their post offices, their Garda Stations, their local shop and local pub. They talked about the isolation that many people face in rural communities particularly our elderly.
A chairde the west of Ireland is facing a death by a thousand cuts. At last years Ard Fheis I called for the west of Ireland to come together to agree a common platform and begin the fight back for the west of Ireland. To create a new vision for the west.
That fight back has begun and that vision is being provided by this party.
Our 'West Awake' campaign has give hope where previously there was none.
Joined by Cllr Pádraig MacLochlanin and Ruadhan Mac Aodhan and assisted by our representatives along the west coast I have complete a report for the Oireachtas on the needs of the west of Ireland. 'Awaking the West: Overcoming Social and Economic Inequalities' is an economic recovery strategy for the west, it a vision of a vibrant and confident region, it is a call to action.
We have got rid of the myth that the west is neglected and established that in cold hard facts. We have identified the problems and proposed the solutions. These solutions are based on republican politics.
A Chairde agus Chomrádaithe.
I want to take this opportunity to present the progress our Party has made in the year since we last gathered at our Ard Fheis in Dublin.
Sinn Fein as Irish republicans are committed to delivering political, social and economic change.
We do not underestimate the challenges ahead.
As Minister for Transport, Roads and Infrastructure I have since our last gathering introduced;
• Taisteal saor in aisce do shaoranaigh 60+ chomh maith le maoiniu do phinsineiri fa choinne taistil uile-Eireann
• Free travel for those aged 60+ along with funding for Senior Citizens to travel free on an All-Ireland basis.
• The continued deferral this year of domestic water + sewerage contributions saving households around an average of £300
• An investment of around £1m per day in the modernisation of our water + sewerage infrastructure -- creating and sustaining jobs in the construction sector
• £150m to introduce a modern, high quality and affordable rapid transit system for Belfast city
• Increased funding for an urban door-to-door transport service for the disabled across 29 urban towns and cities and to over 9,000 users; and
• 30 new fully accessible buses delivering rural community transport across 18 rural areas
• A new central government policy for Rathlin as one of Ireland's unique off-shore Islands in the North-East
• The new M1/Westlink motorway upgrade has open; and there has been continued investment in bus, train and rail modernisation
I will continue to make progress on the some of the largest and most important road schemes ever undertaken in Ireland including both the A5 Aughnacloy to Derry road and the A8 Belfast to Larne through the All-Ireland Ministerial Council.
The importance of such projects and our strategic focus in delivering projects on an All-Ireland basis cannot be overstated.
Is e an focas staitiseach s'againn na tionscadail uile-Eireann a chur chun chinn i gconai.
I am taking forward a fundamental review of the North's Regional Development Strategy which will provide us with a unique opportunity to take decisive action.
Any new Strategy must include the North-West with Derry at its centre, Belfast as an economic driver as the islands second largest city, and also our rural communities which account for the vast area of this region who require sustainable growth including that of the border corridor.
This will open up enormous opportunities for economic development between Belfast and Derry and between Derry and Dublin.
I will also take forward a fundamental reform of our public transport services which will refashion how things are currently done, introducing less systematic bureaucracy, more efficiency and accountability ultimately delivering better transport provision for the travelling public who we will attract from the private car by providing an affordable, reliable and modern alternative.
These, comrades are the challenges that lie ahead. I am confident that this Party will continue to deliver for the people and communities now and in the future.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leor.
This Ard Fheis welcomes progress by Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Michelle Gildernew in assisting farmers and rural communities by:
• Adopting a "Fortress Ireland" policy approach to animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue.
• Advancing the All-Ireland Animal Health Strategy, moving towards the free movement of animals on the island of Ireland.
• Developing a Rural White Paper.
• Investing 10 million to tackle rural poverty through fuel support, rural transport and rural childcare initiatives.
• Mainstreaming equality within the Department's delivery and screening mechanisms.
• Pursuing a new relationship with the EU Commission, unshackling Six County agriculture from representation in Europe by the British.
• Initiating the process of decentralisation of civil service jobs by committing her Department headquarters to move out of Belfast.
Michelle speech -- Ag section (500 words max) 428 words (suggested Irish in italics)
Agriculture, Fishing, Rural living are essential components of Irish life.
Yet across Ireland our rural communities are suffering. Jobs losses particularly in the construction sector have hit our rural communities hard. Incomes are falling.
But we cannot just stand back and let that happen.
Sinn Féin will not let that happen.
Rural interests are not being advanced by Dublin or London.
There must be a future for Rural Ireland.
We are facing many economic challenges -- and the rural economy is a key part of the wider Irish economy. Its future and all our futures are bound together. Without vibrant rural communities Ireland will suffer.
At the heart of our rural communities are rural families, small farm families and local indigenous small businesses.
We need to harness them and particularly to ensure that needs of the small farmer or small business are not swallowed up by the demands of the big farmer.
At the heart of the Sinn Fein approach has been the further advancing of the all Ireland agenda.
Systematically putting in place new policy built upon the all-Ireland infrastructure of the Good Friday Agreement and pushing out beyond that.
We have shown farmers in the North the benefit of the all Ireland approach in adopting the "Fortress Ireland" policy in relation to animal diseases such as Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue.
We are now advancing the All-Ireland Animal Health Strategy, and moving towards the free movement of animals on the island of Ireland.
We are developing a new relationship with Europe and the EU Commission, unshackling agriculture in the Six County from representation in Europe by the British government and British farming policy.
We are putting rural regeneration at the heart of our programme of work; regeneration built on getting money into rural communities; empowering people in rural communities and tackling inequality and disadvantage.
We are investing 10 million to tackle rural poverty through fuel support, rural transport and rural childcare initiatives
I am pumping £530 million into rural areas of the north over the next five years to tackle these issues and will work with the Department in the south join up our rural development programmes to the benefit of rural communities in border region.
We have also prioritised funding that will support the construction industry and local manufacturers and engineers.
We face many challenges in the time ahead but I am confident that together we can ensure a bright future for Rural Ireland; that we can work towards a new horizon and build towards a deeper understanding of the value and necessity of Irish Unity.