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Sinn Féin solidarity vigil with the Palestinian people

Sinn Féin solidarity vigil with the Palestinian people as Israel continues its horrific bombardment of Gaza



“HAP is not a solution and if the government succeeds in passing it into law, it will have wide ranging negative effects on the future of housing in Ireland and our ability to tackle housing need in the years to come.”



Nuacht

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Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly has today secured a debate in the Seanad on food labelling.

Senator Reilly welcomed the debate.

She said:

“I welcome the commitment by the Leader of the Seanad to have a debate on food labelling in the upcoming weeks. I asked for the debate two weeks ago and I am glad the Seanad will have the opportunity to discuss this very important issue not just for health, but for indigenous Irish industries.

“Food labelling is the key source of information by which the consumer can determine which food to buy. Therefore food labelling must serve its primary purpose of informing the consumer. Consumers have a right to clear and understandable information on their food products and to know the origin of the food products that they are consuming.

“The absence of definitive country of origin labelling means that many food products are able to masquerade as products of another origin, which leads not only to misinformation for the consumer but also to potential health risks.

“We have seen too many products being passed off as Irish because of ‘substantial transformation’ and this is a particular problem in relation to poultry.

“I look forward to this important debate that will seek to address the difficulties surrounding food labelling.”

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The Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure has praised the partnerships that have been forged across all the public and private sectors to ensure that benefits are achieved from the Olympics.

Chairing the NI 2012 Leadership Group, Carál Ní Chuílin said she was encouraged by the progress made to date. The Minister said: “I am very impressed by the many programmes, initiatives and activities under way that demonstrate the benefits that are being achieved for people particularly young people in our local communities.”

“The Olympics is providing many opportunities for our local communities including securing the Olympic Torch Relay to the North for four days in June 2012. I would encourage everyone to get involved and to nominate torchbearers. These will be ordinary people who do extraordinary things in those communities.

“ I recently visited Lisburn Racquets Club to see and hear how they have attracted a prestigious pre-games qualifying tournament in badminton. This is an example of the benefits for sports. I am confident that further benefits in sport will be achieved ahead of the 2012 Games.

“And it’s not only sport that is maximising the potential of the Olympic Games so close to these shores. There have been business opportunities too with many local companies playing their part in building the Olympic stadium – and whilst 40 local businesses have already secured contracts, there are other contracts available.”

The Minister outlined how the 2012 Games would also benefit other important areas such as the arts, volunteering, tourism, education and skills. She said: “I am pleased with the progress we have made to date and I am confident that we will continue to work together across government and the public and private sector to do the best we can for young people and the economy. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity which will not come around again.”

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast and Policing and Justice spokesperson Gerry Kelly commenting on the CAJ report into the Police Ombudsmans office stated:


“Sinn Féin pressed for the establishment of the Ombudsmans office as a key accountability mechanism and as part of the Patten recommendations. The Office would comprise a body that would represent the public in matters of oversight and investigation into the role of policing in our society. 

“It was envisaged that one of the key elements of this office was to be its independence. If a respected organisation such as CAJ is calling this independence into question well then that is something we need to be cognisant of and such assertions need to be taken seriously. We will be reading this report closely.”

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Sinn Féin group leader in the Seanad David Cullinane today addressed the possibility that the state may be facing a further financial tsunami, in particular relating to personal debt and the Credit Union sector.

Speaking on the Order of Business in the Seanad today, Senator Cullinane highlighted the growing issues which face the credit union sector, as well as the growing amount of household debt.

Senator Cullinane said:

“Household debt now amounts to some 190% of disposable income. This is an incredible figure, which must bring great concern to us all.

“It shows the huge pressures that have been placed on the least well off in this state and it underlines the complete and total failure of both the previous and current governments.

“People are desperately borrowing because they are unable to meet their debts, and pay their bills. This is a direct consequence of government policies of cutting wages, of cutting the hours of workers, of underemployment as well as unemployment. Many of these debts are credit union debts.

“We are now facing the possibility that credit unions may need to be bailed out. This will cost tax payers more money, perhaps as much as €500m.

“Much of the criticism which was levelled at the previous Dáil was on the basis that it was perceived to be asleep at the wheel. Let's not be accused of the same, it is crucially important that we have that discussion, and that debate, and that we do not sleep walk in to a crisis.

“The government’s policies are having the opposite effect to what was intended. We are facing another potential financial tsunami if corrective action is not taken.”

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Speaking in the Dáil on the Sinn Féin Motion against the introduction of water charges, Laois-Offaly TD Brian Stanley called on members of the Labour Party who would have previously been against water charges before they entered Government to keep the promises they made to the electorate.

Deputy Stanley said;

“The purpose of this Private Member’s Motion is to restate Sinn Féin’s opposition to the Government’s proposed introduction of water charges. People should not have to pay for this essential public service which is a recognised as a basic human right.

“It is our belief, one which is not shared by the Government parties, that there should be equitable access to water without discrimination – including discrimination based on grounds of income. We are calling on all Members of the House to support this motion – including those in the Labour Party who would have previously been against water charges before they entered Government; those who told the electorate before the elections that they would help them out of the hopeless economic hell-hole that they now reside within.

“Little has changed between then and now except for the dates, the currency used, and the eradication of the principles of certain TDs, combined with a wholesale disregard for the promises they made to the people who gave them the votes that enabled them to drive home in the comfort of their Ministerial cars.

“People cannot afford another charge on top of the money they are already forking out. They are caught with the Universal Social Charge, Levies, PRSI, increased fuel bills, mortgage increases, plus the proposed utility charge, and all on top of absolutely brutal pay cuts and hours being cut back in their precarious jobs.

“It is easy for the Government to introduce a flat-rate water charge and say that it will be a small amount of money for the public to pay – not one of them are lying in bed at night having nightmares about their home being repossessed and dreading what’s around the corner in the next budget. No, they are sleeping not at all bothered that they have cynically transformed a crisis of private greed in to a crisis of public spending.” ENDS

The purpose of this Private Member’s Motion is to restate Sinn Féin’s opposition to the Government’s proposed introduction of water charges. People should not have to pay twice for this essential public service which is a recognised as a basic human right.
It is our belief, one which is not shared by the Government parties that that there should be equitable access to water without discrimination – including discrimination based on grounds of income.

I think that everybody recognises that water is a valuable resource, and it is clearly expensive to treat, however this must be paid for through the central domestic taxation system. The operational responsibility for water production, treatment and distribution must remain with local authorities. They must remain within full public ownership. This is not a resource that we can take chances with.

We are calling on all Members of the House to support this motion – including those in the Labour Party who would have previously been against water charges before they entered Government; those who told the electorate before the elections that they would help them out of the hopeless economic hell-hole that they now reside within.

I am calling on those Members who spoke out against water charges in the 80s and 90s to speak out against them now. That includes the Táinaiste Eamon Gilmore who produced a leaflet at one stage that denounced water charges as “just another tax on workers on top of PAYE, PRSI and Levies.” Also contained in that same leaflet is a criticism of the then Government for attempting to make people pay for water while they were “still looking after tax dodgers.”

Little has changed between then and now except for the dates, the currency used, and the eradication of the principles of certain Members of the House combined with a wholesale disregard for the promises they made to the people who gave them the votes that enabled them to drive home in the comfort of their Ministerial cars.

People cannot afford another charge on top of the money they are already forking out. They are caught with the Universal Social Charge, Levies, PRSI, increased fuel bills, mortgage increases, plus the proposed utility charge, and all on top of absolutely brutal pay cuts and hours being cut back in their precarious jobs. It is easy for the Government to introduce a flat-rate water charge and say that it will be a small amount of money for the public to pay – not one of them are lying in bed at night having nightmares about their home being repossessed and dreading what’s around the corner in the next budget. No, they are sleeping not at all bothered that they have cynically transformed a crisis of private greed in to a crisis of public spending.

Of course, ideologically speaking, the Government *must* introduce a flat rate charge for water – to do otherwise would be to explicitly acknowledge that those who have more should pay more. As George Orwell noted in ‘Animal Farm’ -“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Would Fine Gael privatise daylight if science found a way to allow them to do so? The introduction of water charges is a carry-on from the creeping privatisation process started by Fianna Fáil with the introduction of Design, Build and Operate Schemes.

Global Water Intelligence analysts believe that the water supply market will grow by 20% over the course of the next five years. Water is big business, and for a Government intent on feathering the nests of the haves rather than the have-nots it is unsurprising that they would wish to facilitate a situation where water is dealt with solely by the whims of market forces – the same market forces which have led us to the situation we are now in.

Market-led solutions completely undermine the provision of essential services and have a negative impact on the poorest and most vulnerable communities – water privatisation is the most notorious example, and you only have to look across to England to see how that turned out there, with local authorities having to take court action to ensure people have a water supply. Private companies exist to make a profit. They are not going to maintain a profit while allowing for this mythical “free allowance” that Fine Gael have talked about. The Tories told the British people that the privatisation of telecoms, electricity, gas and water was for their benefit. Now the utilities are owned by companies making vast profits at their expense – the bills they all receive bear witness to that.

What I want the Government to tell us is; how is this water charge going to operate? What exactly is going to happen to the person who receives a water bill in the post who can’t pay? Will they be issued with a fine and how much will that fine be? And when they can’t pay that fine, will they be jailed? I presume so – because this is another act in the criminalisation of poverty.

Private companies operating water plants are a millstone around the necks of local authorities. They do not have full control over what happens within them. Local authorities are locked in to contracts with companies that they have to abide to the terms of. Take for example, the Local Authority who enters in to a DBO contract with Company X for 25 years, and the EU issues another water directive in five years’ time. The trend with these directives is that they will increase the standards of water – which we would support.

However, this is now outside the terms of the contract signed by Company X and the Local Authority has no option but to pay this corporation more money to operate the plant – it is a contractual obligation. This is too valuable a resource to play around with. We do not want to see the Irish public vulnerable to the price hikes and water poverty witnessed elsewhere in the world – particularly in countries that have been under strong IMF influence such as Argentina and Bolivia.

Despite the need for local authority funding, the Councils have for the most part proven themselves in the provision of water – they have local knowledge, expertise of water services and in most cases a proven track record. The reason we are losing half the water that is being produced at the moment because of the fiscal ineptitude of this and previous Governments. When there was money to put in to fixing pipes – the Government wouldn’t touch it, instead preferring to give tax breaks to developers. This Government plan to take extra money from the taxpayer without putting it back in the system to repair it. It is farcical.

Of course, Local Authorities have substantial funding in their Water Services Capital Accounts which could be used to fund repairs and replacements to the antiquated pipe network, but they are prevented from using it due to Government’s compliance with the terms of the EU Growth and Stability Pact. Louth has €10m, collected from development levies but they can’t touch it. In Laois there’s €7.5m, that can’t be utilised.

You don’t have to be beholden to the market. We are asking this Government to, for once, put the needs of the Irish people, ahead of the wishes of private interests and I strongly urge all Members of the House to support this motion.

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Sinn Féin TD for Sligo / North Leitrim Michael Colreavy has called for a radical change to the revenue and licensing terms governing oil and gas exploration.

Deputy Colreavy said there are “increasing concerns about the drilling technology apparently to be deployed in the Lough Allen Basin.”

He said:

“I understand the companies licensed to explore the Lough Allen basin intend to use a technology called fracing to access the underground gas. This involves putting millions of gallons of water containing over 600 chemicals through underground channels to fracture rocks. There is ample evidence that this technology is causing severe and extensive environmental damage in several states of the USA.

“The film “Gasland” was shown to several local community groups recently and I have arranged for it to be shown in Leinster House today between 10am and 12 noon.

“I hope there will be a good attendance - particularly of local TDs and Senators – as the Lough Allen Basin covers parts of Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, Cavan, Roscommon and Fermanagh. I have been in contact with Sinn Féin Energy spokesperson in the north Phil Flanagan MLA to ensure there is a coordinated cross-border community response to the threats posed to the area and people of the Lough Allen Basin.

“Sinn Féin is not opposed to exploiting our natural resources for the benefit of the people. We believe there is massive potential in our oil and gas reserves; but there must be a radical change to the entire exploration sector. We would welcome an open, transparent system of oil and gas exploration and extraction that would:

Benefit the Irish people as well as the companies granted exploration / extraction licenses
Ensure there is no long-term environmental damage, and no potential damage to animal or human health resulting from the drilling processes used and
Ensure the Irish Government has available the required technological and scientific expertise to calculate resource reserves and ensure compliance with proven good practice”

“In 2006, the Irish Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources estimated off-shore oil and gas reserves of approximately €700 billion. Imagine the difference safe, democratic and accountable of that resource could make to this state” concluded Deputy Colreavy.

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Speaking at Leinster House today, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD said that the first 100 days of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government has been littered with broken promises and u-turns.

He said that: “The most serious u-turns were the decisions by the government to continue with the EU/IMF bailout and to hand billions of taxpayers’ money over to the banks.

“There is an understandable suspicion that yesterday’s u-turn on imposing burden sharing on senior bondholders: to burn these bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide is a stunt to mark the 100 days of this government.

“But there are dozens more damaging u-turns in health provision and education, the introduction of water and household charges, and more,” he said.

“Fine Gael and Labour have adopted almost the entire economic policy of the failed and rejected Fianna Fáil-Green government.

“They have failed to protect the most vulnerable, cut essential services and been at the beck and call of the EU/IMF.

“The government has demonstrated no leadership out of the crisis which is destroying the lives of working people.

“In just 100 days it is clear that the people deserve better than what this administration has to offer,” he concluded.

Mr. Adams was speaking outside the gates of Leinster House, where members of Dublin Sinn Féin were protesting to mark the government’s first 100 days. He was accompanied by Pearse Doherty – SF Finance Spokesperson, Mary Lou McDonald – Public Expenditure and Reform, Peadar Tóibín – Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation and Padraig Mac Lochlainn – Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA, was today briefed on plans by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to combat the spread of ramorum disease of larch trees, P ramorum.

The Minister met with her officials, who will be taking part in a two day helicopter survey of local forests, to survey for likely symptoms of the disease caused by the fungus like organism, Phytophthora ramorum.

Eight infected sites have now been confirmed in woodlands on the Antrim Plateau and one in mid Down since the disease was first diagnosed in August 2010. Since then, felling has been completed in approximately 300 hectares of public forest estate and a further six hectares of private woodland to combat the spread of this disease. The disease has also been discovered in larch woodland in the south of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

Speaking ahead of the helicopter survey, the Minister said: “The aim of this survey is to quickly identify any new suspicious symptoms on larch, which can then be followed up by a more detailed ground inspection of the suspect sites. The helicopter team, including two DARD staff, will use an on board digital SLR camera to record larch crown condition, in both public and private woodland, in all six counties.”

She added: “The helicopter survey will help us to focus subsequent ground inspection of suspect sites, and DARD staff will examine and record symptoms in more detail, which together with field and lab tests and proximity of earlier outbreaks, will help us determine whether a new site is infected or not.”

Stressing the need for ongoing vigilance against the disease, the Minister concluded: “Following bud burst in spring and the growth of new larch needles and shoots in early summer, all woodland owners and managers must renew their vigilance for symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, identifying symptoms of the disease will be made more difficult this year because of widespread browning of many trees, including larch, which we believe is associated with the exceptionally strong winds of 23 May.

“In most cases, we would expect these trees to recover during the year, unless they suffer further extreme events. However, if you observe symptoms unrelated to wind exposure, such as small groups of trees browning in otherwise healthy woodland, or resin bleeding from the tree crown, or failure of larch trees to recover from browning, report your concerns to the Department.”

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Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (Sinn Féin, South Antrim) has welcomed commitments from the Environment and Agriculture Ministers to examine alternatives to the chicken waste incinerator proposed for Glenavy.

Mitchel McLaughlin said:

 “I asked the Minister for the Environment (DOE), Alex Attwood during Question Time in the Assembly on June 14th if he would ‘consider it helpful to commission an objective study of alternative means (to the incinerator) of treating poultry waste’? The Minister replied, that he would ‘ ask my officials to investigate that proposal to see whether it would enhance the information available to me as Minister in making an assessment of the matter’.

“I welcome the Minister’s willingness to consider alternatives and also the commitment from the Minister for Agriculture, Michelle O’Neill that she would cooperate with DOE in examining alternatives on a cross-Departmental basis if Mr. Attwood is agreeable.”  ENDS

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