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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Natural Resources, Martin Ferris TD, welcomed the announcement that the Government is to set up a forum to attempt to settle the ongoing impasse over the development of the Corrib Gas field.

Deputy Ferris said: "I welcome the fact that the forum is to be set up and hopefully it will contribute to a resolution of the situation. I hope that the body will be a truly independent one.

"The gas would be a tremendous asset to this country especially given the current economic situation. However, there are a number of issues that need to be honestly addressed and resolved before that can take place in the proper environment.

"Firstly, there is the fact that, as the project stands, this country actually stands to gain little in terms of revenue as compared to the fiscal regimes that are in place in other countries which have oil and gas off shore. Secondly, there is the fact that there is nothing to ensure that the gas when it does come on stream will be first of all used to supply domestic requirements and thus potentially reduce costs both to domestic and business users. And finally of course there are ongoing health and safety concerns. All of these issues need to be discussed and resolved before the project can move on with the support of the community." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Policing Board member Martina Anderson has called for full disclosure following revelations that £5 million in police building contracts were awarded to alleged senior UVF members who were implicated in one of the most notorious murders of the conflict.

The Foyle MLA was speaking after Thursday's Policing Board heard that suspected loyalists had been cleared to work on policing contracts despite having failed vetting procedures.

"Since Sinn Féin took our positions on the Policing Board, we have been consistently pursuing the issue of security force contracts being awarded to known and active unionist paramilitary leaders," Ms. Anderson said.

"Over the last 18 months, we have uncovered disturbing evidence of this continuing practice which the nationalist and republican community perceive as one of the ways in which unionist death squads were rewarded by the State for their role in collusion.

"At today's Board meeting, it was confirmed that, between the years 1999 and 2004, £5m worth of police contracts were awarded to two companies belonging to individuals who were widely regarded as leading members of the UVF in Armagh.

"In particular, these individuals have been publicly linked to the horrific UVF double murder of David McIlwaine and Andrew Robb in 2000.

"David's father Paul was at today's meeting and I believe he deserves to know the truth of why the police handed over millions of pounds in public money to the men he believes murdered his son.

"Mr. McIlwaine and the general public also deserve to know why one of these individuals was cleared to work on security contracts.

"At a meeting last week, the Chief Constable informed me that this man was denied security clearance on two occasions after failing police vetting procedures but that this decision was subsequently overruled by the NIO.

"Today, the Chief Constable told me he had been mistaken in his assertion regarding the NIO's involvement and has pledged to personally investigate what had actually happened.

"However, I believe this confusion has only increased the need for full transparency around this issue, including any involvement of the securocrats.

"It has already been widely reported that notorious agent Mark Haddock was linked to the murder of David McElwaine and Andrew Robb and these latest revelations will only strengthen suspicions that the State had a hand in these and many other killings during that period.

"Sinn Féin will continue to pursue this issue because we believe what has been uncovered to date is only the tip of the iceberg with relation to collusion and Britain's dirty war in Ireland.

"This is not a historic issue. Some of these individuals are continuing to win lucrative security contracts. But even if it was an historic issue, the public and, in particular, the families of the victims deserve to know the truth about the State's involvement and why vast amounts of public money was handed over to the people they believe killed their loved ones."

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Sinn Féin Equality and Human Rights Spokesperson Martina Anderson MLA (Foyle) is urging Minister for Employment and Learning, Reg Empey to give urgent consideration to a back to education scheme for unemployed young people and those who have been made redundant as a result of the present economic climate - in particular those who have left school without any qualifications.

Martina Anderson said:

"Sinn Féin has constantly highlighted the need for training and retraining for those unfortunate enough to have been the victims of redundancies in the textiles and manufacturing sectors over recent years. Unfortunately there has been little attention paid to this problem by successive Ministers. Even those limited schemes that are available are seldom pro-actively promoted. Not having learned the lesson of the collapse of the textile and manufacturing base we are once more unprepared for the negative effects of the present economic climate on job retention or creation. Thousands are now being made redundant in the construction and related services sectors and there is no mechanism in place to offer them alternative prospects.

"The remaining manufacturing and SME sector is under pressure and in need of support but construction is where we are haemorrhaging most jobs in the present climate. The unsustainable growth in this sector was encouraged by largely unregulated financial institutions with what should have been recognised by government as inevitable consequences. We are now living with the results of unbridled greed by property and land speculators. The indirect taxation revenue that resulted from this speculation acted as a disincentive for Government to intervene with regulation of this sector of the economy. As a result of its growth, thousands of young people opted for the attraction of relatively good incomes in the construction industry in the belief that it would last forever. They realise now that this is not the case. Many left school early with no qualifications and many others left farming and other sectors to their detriment.

"I believe that it is imperative that Minister Empey give urgent consideration to introducing back to education schemes for construction sector workers and other unemployed young people in an attempt to alleviate the difficulties that they are facing seeking alternative employment.

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Speaking in the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD called on Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to ensure that the benefits of the expected European Central Bank interest rate cut are passed on to local authority mortgage holders. He said the benefits of last month's cuts have still not been passed on to local authority mortgage holders.

Deputy Morgan said, "I hope the Minister for Finance's comments on the banks passing on the expected ECB interest rate cut later today is correct. Will he ensure local authority mortgage holders receive the same benefit because as of now, local authority mortgage holders have still not received the benefit of last month's cut?

"Whatever about the grey area of the Minister's authority there is no grey area with regard to local authority mortgage holders. I ask the Minister to assure the House the interest rate cut will be passed on. Will the Minister give that assurance?" ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil today on the decision to axe the cervical cancer vaccination programme Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said the money spent on tax breaks for private hospitals could have paid for the programme. Deputy Morgan also criticised the manner of the announcement from the Department of Health saying it was timed late in the day on the day of the US presidential election when opposition spokespersons would find it difficult to respond.

Deputy Morgan said, "The decision by the Minister for Health & Children Mary Harney to cancel the cervical cancer vaccination programme is an absolute disgrace. The Minister announced this programme only three months ago and now it has been axed.

"The manner of the announcement was also a disgrace. The news was sneaked out under the door on the day of the US presidential election. The press release was apparently timed to go out after Order of Business had concluded here in the Dáil, and of course, late in the day when it would be difficult for Opposition spokespersons to respond.

"The programme was designed to prevent the development of cancer in women and the Minister's hatchet job is another attack on public health by a Minister and a Government whose stewardship of our health system has been disastrous.

"This public health programme is now among the first to go on the grounds of cost. Yet the Budget left intact the tax breaks for the developers of private hospitals. Estimates for the cost of the vaccination programme vary between €10 and €14 million. Yet in the year 2006 alone - the latest year for which figures are available - this Government gave tax breaks worth €10.6 million to the developers of private for-profit hospitals. In a budget that slashed public services those tax breaks were left untouched. They could have paid for this vaccination programme. Also untouched in the budget was this Minister's and this government totally discredited private hospital co-location scheme. The PDs might be about to disappear but their Thatcherite polices are alive and well in this Government.

"Savings could and should have been made on tax breaks for the private health industry, not on programmes that will enhance the health of women and prevent much greater cost in the future both in terms of the well-being of individuals and the cost to the health service of treatment.

"Let us not forget that we are talking here about preventing cancer and saving the lives of women." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, has welcomed the statement on education issued by the four main churches.

The Minister said:

"This is a helpful intervention from the church leaders and is to be welcomed.

"Over many months I have been working to build a consensus and have met people from all sectors involved in education, including the churches. The proposals I have put forward recognise the different positions of people I met and offer a compromise through the three year transition period, during which academic selection could be used.

"I welcome the recognition from the Churches that academic selection at 11 could be replaced with the identification of educational pathways at 14.

"There is still time to reach a consensus, but we also need to bring an early conclusion to this debate and bring clarity to teachers, parents and pupils." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Roads Minister Conor Murphy today warned motorists to take extra care while driving as the winter battle with the elements and cold weather arrived earlier than usual last week.

The Minister congratulated Roads Service's operational staff who kept the road network open, during the early winter period last week.

Mr Murphy said:

"Based on information from the Met Office, Roads Service were prepared and reacted well to the first reports of snow and frost. The winter service operation has started a little earlier this year than usual and 288 personnel are on standby every night to salt main roads across the North, from now until the beginning of April.

"Roads Service's winter gritting service is a massive logistical undertaking that involves salting approximately 7,000 kilometres of roads, in just over three hours, across the North, at a cost of around £74,000 per night. However despite the high quality of the salting operation, ice-free roads cannot be guaranteed. Extra care is needed when driving during cold weather,'' said Mr Murphy.

"It normally takes just over three hours to salt a route, a journey could start or end on an untreated section of road. Also, salt does not act immediately, it needs vehicles to turn it into an effective solution and it can refreeze after spreading, particularly in showery conditions.

"I appeal to all motorists to heed the advice in the Highway Code. Drive with care. Even if roads have been salted, be prepared for road conditions changing over short distances and take care when overtaking gritters. The salting operation is vital to keep main road traffic moving in wintry conditions and is carried out in line with the procedures agreed by the Assembly. Just under £5million is set aside for this essential work each year. On average there are around 75 call outs each year and a massive 52,500 tonnes of salt is spread by Roads Service to help drivers cope with wintry conditions.

"However, even with the most careful and thorough planning and use of state-of-the-art technology, winter service is a battle against nature and in exceptional winter conditions there is bound to be some disruption."

Engineers use state-of- the-art technology to assist with the operation including ice sensors linked to 21 weather stations across the North, installed in conjunction with the Met Office, and thermal mapping of all roads on the salted network. The Met Office uses information from the stations along with their own data to provide forecasts, which are transmitted to engineers' computers.

Roads Service ensures that motorists are kept fully up to date with road conditions when ice or snow is forecast. Information on salting activities is relayed electronically to the broadcast media, to ensure that the latest news on road conditions is available to motorists. A winter service leaflet is also available to help inform the public about winter driving.

Mr Murphy added:

"It is Roads Service's policy to salt main through routes carrying more than 1,500 vehicles per day and other busy through routes carrying more than 1,000 vehicles per day, where there are difficult circumstances, such as steep hills. In applying the criteria, buses get a high weighting. For example, a 40 seater bus is counted as 40 vehicles. Efforts are also made to ensure that small settlements of more than 100 dwellings have a treated link to the salted network and consideration is given to placing grit piles or salt bins at hills, bends or junctions on roads that are not salted."

During long periods of heavy snowfall, maximum effort will be concentrated on the key traffic routes. Clearing snow from motorways and the trunk roads will be given priority, before moving to other main roads and the busiest urban link roads. Once these main routes have been opened to traffic, Roads Service's resources will be diverted to the less heavily trafficked roads, especially in urban areas, and will continue until all roads are cleared. In very deep snow, Roads Service will use its 11 snow blowers, the latest of which can shift 1,600 tonnes of snow per hour. Arrangements are also in place to enlist the help of contractors and farmers to clear blocked roads.

"Roads Service's resources are targeted on busier routes carrying most traffic and while I can understand the concerns of those who use the more lightly trafficked roads that are not included in the salted network, it is simply not practical to salt all roads,'' said the Minister.

Note to Editors

The Roads Service winter service leaflet is available by calling 028 9054 0540 or from the website at www.roadsni.gov.uk

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The Sinn Fein Education Minister has highlighted the importance of human rights education at a cross-border conference in Belfast today.

Addressing the 'Mainstreaming Human Rights Education in Schools Conference' organised by Lift Off, Caitríona Ruane said:

"Lift Off is a great example of how the important subject of Human Rights can be taught in our classrooms.

"My vision for education is rooted in equality of opportunity and opportunity to succeed regardless of background, gender or race. Equality has to mean respect for each other's culture, nationality, language and ethnicity. The Lift Off programme and the work being carried out in schools across this island by teachers and youth leaders must be commended for helping to promote tolerance and understanding based on mutual respect."

The conference has been organised by Lift Off, a human rights education initiative involving Amnesty International, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) and the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU). The aim of Lift off is to provide teaching materials to schools to help promote an understanding of human rights issues.

"I am committed to seeing human rights embedded further in our schools. Teaching our children and young people about human rights will help them become global citizens, respecting their neighbours and counterparts from around the world.

"It is a basic human right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated. Teaching resources which teach compassion and respect such as the Lift Off initiative, will help our young people understand the importance of respect.

"Amnesty International, INTO and UTU must be commended for bringing this very important subject to schools on the island of Ireland." ENDS

Note to Editors

  1. The Lift Off programme began in 2001 and is a cross-border partnership between Amnesty International, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation and the Ulster Teachers' Union.
  2. Lift Off received funding from the Department of Education and the Department for Education and Science.
  3. The programme materials have been developed to support the revised curriculum and are included in the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment's list of suggested resources to support the teaching of Personal Development and Mutual Understanding in primary schools.

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said his party cannot support the Tribunal of Inquiry Bill 2005 as it is currently drafted. He said the Bill is very similar to the British Inquiries Act which is widely viewed to have been constructed to act as a barrier to a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

He went on to accuse Governments past and present, both here and in Britain, of colluding in deep cover ups which have masked the truth and compounded the suffering of victims and their relatives.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "It must be clear to everyone that spiralling legal costs and the refusal of witnesses to co-operate with tribunals needs to be addressed. Unfortunately however, as the Bill is currently drafted Sinn Féin must oppose it. We are concerned that the proposed legislation could be used by future governments to stop public inquiries from delivering the truth to the public and to the families of victims of collusion in particular.

"The Bill as currently drafted is very similar to the British Inquiries Act. That Act is widely viewed as having been constructed to act as a barrier to a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. This Bill if passed would not only jeopardise the ability of any future tribunal to uncover the truth surrounding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the murders of Seamus Ludlow, Cllr. Eddie Fullerton and Martin Doherty amongst others. It would also undermine the cases of all those in the Six Counties who are seeking inquiries into state collusion because the British government could point to this legislation in order to justify their own. This government signed an all-party demand for a full inquiry by the British authorities into the collusion surrounding the murder of Pat Finucane - this Bill would gravely undermine that demand.

"Governments here and in Britain, past and present, have colluded in deep cover-ups masking the truth and compounding the suffering of victims and their relatives. Recovering the truth is essential if that suffering is to be lessened.

"The Bill before us would effectively give the government power over whether to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry at all, its members and crucially its terms of reference. It would also effectively give the government the power to suspend or dissolve a Tribunal for unlimited reasons and to prevent the publication of a Tribunal's report. In our view this is completely unacceptable and will not instil any confidence amongst either the general public or more crucially those who have been specifically affected and are seeking the full truth about events.

"It will not be lost on the general public that a Fianna Fáil led government, the political party most associated with being on the wrong side of tribunal investigations, is seeking the power to stifle such processes with the support of the Green Party. In the interests of justice and truth I am again calling on the Taoiseach to withdraw the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh's contribution follows:

Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005

6th November 2008

We are in need of new legislation to govern the work of tribunals. The existing legislation dates back as far as 1921. And it must be clear to everyone that spiralling legal costs and the refusal of witnesses to co-operate with tribunals needs to be addressed. Unfortunately however, as the Bill is currently drafted Sinn Féin must oppose it. We are concerned that the proposed legislation could be used by future governments to stop public inquiries from delivering the truth to the public and to the families of victims of collusion in particular.

The Bill as currently drafted is very similar to the British Inquiries Act. That Act is widely viewed as having been constructed to act as a barrier to a full public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. This Bill if passed would not only jeopardise the ability of any future tribunal to uncover the truth surrounding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the murders of Seamus Ludlow, Cllr. Eddie Fullerton and Martin Doherty amongst others. It would also undermine the cases of all those in the 6 counties who are seeking inquiries into state collusion because the British government could point to this legislation in order to justify their own. This government signed an all-party demand for a full inquiry by the British authorities into the collusion surrounding the murder of Pat Finucane - this Bill would gravely undermine that demand.

To quote British Irish Rights Watch:

"Our fear is that, if the [Tribunal of] Inquiries Bill 2005 is passed, it will seriously undermine the Irish government's support for the Finucane family, and other families who equally deserve a proper public inquiry".

Governments here and in Britain, past and present, have colluded in deep cover-ups masking the truth and compounding the suffering of victims and their relatives. Recovering the truth is essential if that suffering is to be lessened.

Last year Sinn Féin held a conference on Collusion in the 26 Counties. Speakers representing the families of collusion victims participated in this very well attended event including speakers from Justice for the Forgotten, the Pat Finucane Centre and Relatives for Justice and from the families of Eddie Fullerton, Séamus Ludlow, Martin Doherty and Pat Finucane. I want to pay tribute to them again for their courageous and enduring efforts to uncover the truth and achieve justice for their loved ones.

The Bill before us would effectively give the government power over whether to establish a Tribunal of Inquiry at all, its members and crucially its terms of reference. It would also effectively give the government the power to suspend or dissolve a Tribunal for unlimited reasons and to prevent the publication of a Tribunal's report. In our view this is completely unacceptable and will not instil any confidence amongst either the general public or more crucially those who have been specifically affected and are seeking the full truth about events.

I want to put some of our concerns on the record more specifically now.

"Section 34(7) allows the government, acting on the opinion of the responsible Minister, to direct that the report or a specified part of it not be published for a specified period or until the government otherwise directs, where such publication would not be in the interest of State security, or the interest of the State's relations with other states or international organisations." (Explanatory Memorandum).

Arguably certain collusion findings, which should be made public in the interests of truth and justice etc., may damage the States relationship with Britain and the EU of which both states are members - the government should not have the broad discretion to suppress findings on these grounds. Further, it is likely that with regard to Inquiries into collusion the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would be the 'responsible Minister'. Since the establishment of the free state Justice Ministers have established a track record of mis-using and abusing their powers on purported grounds of State security.

Part 4 includes provisions for appointments to Tribunals. Appointments do not require Oireachtas approval. The Minister has too much discretion in the making of appointments. The Bill lacks and would benefit from the inclusion of explicit progressive criteria for suitable appointees and a transparent merit-based mechanism for identifying and approving the appointment of members of the tribunal.

The government can dissolve a Tribunal with the approval of the Oireachtas. While the government must state its reasons for dissolving the Tribunal the Bill as drafted does not limit what these reasons may be. The Bill should explicitly provide that a Tribunal of Inquiry may only be dissolved prior to the submission of its final report for extraordinary and compelling reasons that clearly outweigh the public interest in the Tribunal completing its work.

The Bill would also benefit greatly from the inclusion of provisions allowing for an international dimension to the Inquiries in particular where there is a possibility of state collusion in serious human rights abuses.

Back when the Bill was first published I wrote to the then Minister for Justice Michael McDowell outlining our concerns and I know that the government have discussed the matter with Sinn Féin's leadership team. Despite our best efforts to have the Bill withdrawn the government seem determined to press ahead. It is an astonishing affront to democracy that Fianna Fáil with the support of the Greens are continuing with this Bill.

It will not be lost on the general public that a Fianna Fáil led government, the political party most associated with being on the wrong side of tribunal investigations, is seeking the power to stifle such processes.

In the interests of justice and truth I am again calling on the Taoiseach to withdraw the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill.

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Sinn Fein's East Belfast Representative Niall Ó Donnghaile has praised all those involved in making sure that last night was a peaceful one for residents living in the Short Strand and Lower Newtonards Road.

Speaking this morning Mr Ó Donnghaile said,

"Monday and Tuesday night saw an increase in the scale of attacks on the Short Strand and potentially could have set the great work undertaken by community and political groups back a great deal. This was not helped by inaccurate and ill-conceived statements from some political representatives who frankly, should know better.

"Thankfully last night passed peacefully, I and residents on the ground are truly grateful for that fact. Last night didn't happen by accident however, it was down to all of us working together to ensure the best quality of life for all of our people. No one wants to see a return to the darker days witnessed by these same communities and the onus is on all of us to show the necessary amount of political leadership in order to send out a very clear message that this type of activity on the interfaces will not be tolerated.

"This can only be done by building on the good work that has already begun and collectively working together to make sure that our communities can thrive and live in peace without fear of attack."

CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Bloody Sunday Trust Raymond McCartney has expressed his concern and disappointment on the news that the Saville Report has been delayed for at least another year.

Mr McCartney said,

"I share the frustration of the families and the concerns of the greater Derry public on the news that the Saville Report has again been delayed for at least another year. This inquiry concluded four years ago and the families have waited with patience and dignity for its publication.

"This latest delay is a blow to the families confidence that the report will reach a just and truthful conclusion and there is a growing fear that political interference on behalf of the British Government is adding to the delays.

"I have already spoken to the speaker of the Assembly and intend to raise the matter on Monday in the Assembly under matters of the day and submit a motion for a full debate at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime I will be giving my full support to the families and I am calling on the people of Derry to remain steadfast in their support of the pursuit of truth and justice for the Bloody Sunday families.

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Sinn Féin Chairperson of Strabane District Council, Cllr Jarlath McNulty has said that with the Review of Public Administration proposals to amalgamate Strabane and Derry City Councils there is an urgent need to ensure that a proper 'equalisation grant' be made available to the new enlarged Council body given that it will be a merger of two areas with the lowest rates income base and highest levels of deprivation in the six counties.

Cllr McNulty said:

"There are many practical implications and issues to be worked through as a consequence of the pending amalgamation. One of the main issues is undoubtedly the financial implications of merging two areas with the lowest rates income base and highest levels of deprivation in the six counties.

"Unless there is an appropriate level of subvention from the Assembly and Executive to take account of this inequality it will have major implications on the ability of the new Derry/Strabane Council to deliver the full range and level of services that other more 'affluent' council areas could deliver.

"Therefore, in a coordinated move the Sinn Féin council groupings in Derry and Strabane are seeking the support of both Councils for a motion we have submitted calling for 'the Minister to introduce an "equalisation grant" for councils to take into account their ability to raise finances and their levels of need and deprivation.

"The motion that will be up for debate at Strabane District Council on Tuesday 11th November will also call for recognition to be given to the large disparity between councils in the amount of income they can raise and in the levels of need and deprivation within their boundaries and for recognition to be given to the fact that the new Derry and Strabane council will be among the lowest areas in terms of income whilst experiencing one of highest in terms of need and deprivation.

"This is one of the key issues that need to be addressed to ensure that we have a level playing field of opportunity when the new Derry/Strabane Council area becomes fully operational in 2011 and I am hopeful that this motion will receive cross party support next Tuesday night." ENDS

Notes to editors:

The Sinn Fein motion has already been passed unanimously by Derry City Council. Below is full text of Sinn Fein Motion to Strabane District Council:

Aithníonn an Chomhairle seo an difríocht mhór idir comhairlí sa mhéid ioncaim ar féidir leo tógáil agus sna leibhéil riachtanais agus díothachta laistigh dá dteorainneacha.

Nótálann an Chomhairle seo fosta go mbeidh Comhairle úr Dhoire agus an tSratha Báin ar na ceantair is measa ó thaobh ioncaim de agus ar cheann de na ceantair is mó riachtanais agus díothachta i ndiaidh don dá Chomhairle teacht le chéile.

Mar sin de, glaonn an Chomhairle seo ar an Aire, deontas cothromaíochta a thabhairt isteach chun aird a thabhairt dá gcumas airgid a thógáil agus a leibhéil riachtanais agus díothachta.

This Council recognizes the large disparity between councils in the amount of income they can raise and in the levels of need and deprivation within their boundaries.

This council further notes that the new Derry and Strabane council will be among the lowest areas in terms of income whilst experiencing one of highest in terms of need and deprivation.

This council therefore calls on the Minister to introduce an equalization grant for councils to take into account their ability to raise finances and their levels of need and deprivation.

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Sinn Féin representatives in West Tyrone believe that proposals from Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew for the roll out of DARD Direct services and re-location of DARD offices in Omagh will benefit farming and rural communities throughout the District as well as in its Strabane hinterlands.

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Peter Kelly said,

"The Minister has stated that one of the key issues informing her proposals was the location and accessibility of offices. For years we have been flagging up the total unsuitability of the current location of the DARD office on the Gortin Road given the major problems of parking and access.

"It is now clear that the Minister has taken this issue on board and there will be a feeling that there is at last light at the end of the tunnel with the news that the new DARD Direct Services in Omagh are now to be re-located to the Mart Premises on the Drumquin Road. This location would be ideal in every respect."

Further commenting on the proposals West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP MLA and Assembly Agriculture Committee member Pat Doherty said,

"The re-location of the DARD Office in Omagh will be a long overdue and welcome step and Sinn Fein has lobbied for this to happen for a long time. I also believe that the setting up of the DARD Direct ensures a more integrated and strategic approach to service provision.

"This should ensure a much improved service all round for stakeholders in the farming and rural community. DARD Direct will ensure that there will now be a one-stop-shop facility in 12 locations throughout the six counties whereby a holistic range of DARD services can be accessed by farming and rural communities including Veterinary, Grants and Subsidies, Countryside Management, CAFRE Development Advisers, Rural Enterprise and Quality Assurance Services into single sites." ENDS

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Sinn Fein members from the Derg Electoral area of Strabane District Council will meet in Castlederg tonight to select a candidate to replace Cllr Charlie Mc Hugh who died early last month.

A joint statement from Derg Sinn Fein councillors Gerard Foley and Kieran McGuire said:

"Sinn Fein Cumann members from throughout the Derg Electoral Area will be meeting in Castlederg tonight to select a candidate to replace our esteemed colleague Charlie who died last month.

"Charlie served this community with tremendous commitment and determination for 23 years and we are confident that the candidate selected tonight will build on his legacy.

"Sinn Fein will be proposing that the candidate selected tonight be co-opted un-apposed at next Tuesday night's Council meeting.

"There have been indications from some Unionist councillors that they will force a by-election. Such a move would be in extremely bad faith as it would be unprecedented in the history of this council and would go against the unwritten understanding that parties be allowed to co-opt in the event of the death of party colleague. Given the short tenure left in this Council term, ratepayers would also be angry that they would be forced to foot a considerable bill for a totally unnecessary by-election.

"However, if either the UUP or DUP oppose the co-option and force a by-election, Sinn Fein will leave no stone unturned to make sure that the seat held by our late colleague Charlie Mc Hugh is not only retained, but retained handsomely." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Louth TD Arthur Morgan has described as 'deeply disturbing' that hundreds of women who were referred by their GPs to the Beaumont Hospital Breast Clinic have not been given appointments as there was no-one available to set them up.

The issue was brought to Deputy Morgan's attention by a Drogheda woman who contacted Beaumont two weeks after being referred by her local GP to be told by the person who answered the phone that there was nobody available to deal with the letter and there were a pile of referral letters on the desk which had to be dealt with.

Deputy Morgan said:

"It is deeply disturbing that hundreds of women who were referred by their GPs to the Beaumont Hospital Breast Clinic have not been given appointments as there was no-one available to set them up. An unknown number of women are waiting for appointments.

"It is obvious that there should be no transfer of services from Dochas Centre in Drogheda to the Beaumont Breast Clinic until such time as proper arrangements are in place.

"The HSE is in a shambles. Do they not understand that when the women went to their GPs they were concerned, do they not understand that the GPs were sufficiently concerned that they thought they should go to a Consultant, do they not believe that they should be capable of responding to this with the urgency it deserves.

"I intend to raise this matter with Health Minister Mary Harney and demand that she makes a statement on the matter and deals with it urgently." ENDS

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Sinn Féin disappointed at Uel Adair's comments.
Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson MLA (Foyle) has expressed disappointment at accusations by President of the Irish League of Credit Unions, Uel Adair that the organization has been snubbed by the Assembly.

Martina Anderson said:

"I am disappointed at the sweeping accusation by Uel Adair that the 'Assembly' has snubbed the Credit Union Movement. If Uel was paying attention instead of using the scatter-gun approach in his criticism he should be aware of the consistent and persistent efforts of Sinn Fein in the Assembly to have barriers to Credit Unions ability to offer wider Financial Services removed.

"In October 2007, May 2008 and again in June 2008, Sinn Féin called on the DETI Minister 'in the interests of offering our communities access to key financial services at an affordable rate and in a more consumer friendly atmosphere that the Minister should listen to the proposals by Credit Union of Ireland President, Uel Adair, for the provision of a wider range of services for Credit Unions.'

"Sinn Fein called on DETI Minister, Arlene Foster to introduce measure that would allow Credit Unions here to offer similar Financial Services to their counterparts in England and the South of Ireland.

"I believe that in the interests of offering our communities access to key financial services at an affordable rate, particularly in the present adverse financial conditions, and in a more consumer friendly atmosphere that the Minister should listen to the proposals by Credit Union of Ireland and Ulster Federation of Credit Unions for the provision of a wider range of services and investment opportunities to be made available to Credit Unions

"This would relieve the anxiety that many people have about banks. It would also ensure that any profits accrued from such transactions would benefit the local community rather than the Banks who are already making substantial profits.

"Although accepting that Uel, as is his right, may not share the Sinn Féin political analysis it would be nice if he could at least acknowledge the efforts that we are making in support of the Credit Union Movement

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Sinn Féin MLA John O'Dowd has slammed the decision by the British Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, rejecting the High Courts request to include the DPP in the terms of reference for the inquiry into the killing of Robert Hamill.

Speaking today Mr O'Dowd said:

"The Hamill family in their bid to establish the truth about the murder of Robert have had obstacle after obstacle placed in their way by the British Government. Today, the British Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, has placed yet another in their way.

"This is further evidence of the unwillingness of the British government to get to the truth of this killing and exposes yet again the policy of cover up by the securocrats in Britain.

"The question is clear. How can Shaun Woodward state that the extension of the remit of the enquiry to allow evidence to be heard from the DPP on the killing of Robert Hamill is not in the public interest? It beggars belief.

"The continued efforts by the British Sectary of State to hamper a fully Independent Inquiry must end and they must allow the Hamill family to obtain the truth." CRÍOCH

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Sinn Fein says that elements within the PSNI are protecting Stoneyford loyalist Mark Harbinson. Sinn Fein's claims come after it was revealed by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) stated that they did not proceed with charges against Mark Harbinson due to the failure of the PSNI to submit their investigation file on time.

Sinn Fein's Lagan Valley MLA Paul Butler said:

"I received a letter from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) informing me, that they were not prosecuting Mark Harbinson who was involved in intimidating me from Stoneyford village last February, because the PSNI failed to send their investigation file to the PPS within the six month time limit.

"At the time of the intimidation I was being filmed by a UTV crew about a Catholic family who were also being forced out of the village by a group of loyalists who live in Stoneyford. Mark Harbinson is captured on television verbally abusing me in the village and again when he followed me out of the village and continued the abuse.

"It is incredible to believe that the PSNI failed to send this file to the PPS on time and the conclusion that many will come to,is that there are elements within the PSNI who are protecting this person and that the delay in sending this file to the PPS was deliberate

"During the ten year campaign of intimidation by Stoneyford loyalists of Catholics who live in the village the PSNI have not arrested or charged a single loyalist nor have the PPS prosecuted a single loyalist.

"The PPS letter is further confirmation, if any was needed, that those behind the sectarian campaign of intimidation are being protected by the police and prosecuting authorities."

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Speaking this afternoon in Brussels Sinn Fein Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has called on member states to respect the Maritime Labour Convention deadline of December 31st 2008 stating “the provisions of the Convention will enhance the future of the maritime sector and in turn help create much needed employment and protections.”

The Dublin MEP was speaking to a motion before the EU Parliament urging member states to ratify the Convention. In March of this year an EU Parliamentary report headed up by Ms McDonald, calling on the EU ‘to enforce minimum employment standards and wages for all vessels operating in its waters, and in particular calls on the European Commission to re-table the proposals for an EU Ferries Directive’ which could directly address all issues raised during the Irish Ferries dispute, was adopted. In May the social partners represented by the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers Federation (EFT) agreed to the implementation of the International Convention.

Ms McDonald said:

“The Maritime Labour Convention has the potential to improve the lives of millions of sea farers worldwide. It will address employment terms and conditions for seafarers and will level the playing field for the sector internationally. Without it shipping in Europe will find it difficult to compete as the sector is increasingly undercut by ships flying flags of convenience.

“If ratified by the EU member states and a small number of additional countries the Convention will be binding on an international level and will apply to all ships even those flagged by countries which have not individually ratified it. Critically it has the potential to introduce a culture change within the industry by creating minimum standards and addressing social dumping.

“Ratification by the 2008 deadline is strongly supported by Employers, Trade Unions, the European Commission and, following the adoption of the McDonald Maritime report, by the European Parliament.

“By ratifying the Convention as a matter of urgency Brian Cowen has an opportunity to lead by example. Regrettably the Taoiseach has shown no appetite for leadership in the EU since taking office earlier this year, and on this issue Irish seafarers are paying a heavy price for his inaction.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Mid-Ulster Martin McGuinness has called for the extension of measures to the North of Ireland that will guarantee that patients suffering from serious illness' and choose to pay for additional will continue to receive NHS treatment.

Speaking today Mr McGuinness said:

"I am calling on the Health Minister to extend the measure introduced in Britain this week that secures treatment by the NHS for those who suffer from serious illness even if they choose to pay for additional treatments or drugs.

"The current system sees patients who avail of private drugs being excluded for any further treatment by the NHS. This cannot be allowed to continue and I have written to Michael McGimpsey to urge him to move on this matter .

"An example is that if someone suffering from cancer were to avail of a drug that would see their lives extended then they would have to pay for any further chemotherapy or other related treatments. This would place a massive financial burden on the patient amounting to thousands of pounds.

"However this week saw the removal of such barriers to treatment by the British Health Secretary, Alan Johnson. He has brought forward a package of measures including the continuation of treatment of patients who pay for additional drugs by the NHS.

"If we are to seek to deliver a first class heath service where we safeguard the rights of people with serious illnesses the logical next step for Michael McGimpsey is to extend these measures for patients in the north."

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