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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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PTSB securitisation deal to become the norm with EU debt proposal – Carthy

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has said that the Permanent TSB deal to sell thousands of mortgages in a securitisation deal will become the norm under a new proposal from the EU. The Commission’s proposal for an EU Directive on developing a secondary market for non-performing loans 

Speaking from Strasbourg, Carthy said: “PTSB’s move to offload thousands of mortgages in a securitisation deal is an indication of what is to come if the EU Directive on credit purchasers, credit servicers and the recovery of collateral proceeds.

“The PTSB deal is an absolute disgrace. The PTSB split mortgages are classified as non-performing due to incompetence by the bank in designing the contracts, not through any fault of the borrowers. What we have here is a majority publicly-owned bank, that was rescued in a bailout, selling out thousands of its customers to debt vultures – including more than 4,000 customers who engaged with the bank in restructuring agreements. 

“We can already see how opaque the securitisation market is through this deal. PTSB refuses to inform Irish elected representatives of the owners of the purchasing fund, though Pimco is thought to be the buyer. Company records show that the securitisation vehicle, Glenbeigh Securities 2018-1 DAC, is administered by Wilmington Trust SP Services, which specialises in providing secretive Delaware-based trust services. The director of this shell company, Alan Geraghty, also finds the time to hold the directorship of 269 other companies.

“This proposed EU Directive is designed to promote the use of vulture funds and securitisation vehicles in order to move this bad debt off the banks’ balance sheets and into the opaque and unregulated shadow banking sector. 

“For several years, we have witnessed the ECB and Commission peddling securitisation as the  solution to all of the EU’s economic woes. Moving hundreds of billions of euros of bad debt into the shadow banking sector through the securitisation of non-performing loans is incredibly misguided, and will cause major new risks to financial stability. Mortgage-backed securities in particular played the key role in the 2007-2008 crisis.

“This proposal from the Commission is extremely concerning. It will empower banks to seize there customers’ collateral through an out-of-court recovery mechanism, and will result in borrowers, including mortgage-holders, being pursued more aggressively by vulture funds and debt collectors.

“The Commission has clearly not taken consumer protection issues or fundamental rights into consideration when conducting its impact assessment. The proposed Directive should be withdrawn, and I will be organising a campaign for its withdrawal together with allies across the EU in the coming months.” ENDS

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Mhol an Seandóir Niall Ó Donnghaile mic léinn Ollscoil na Ríona i mBéal Feirste as vótáil i bhfabhar oifigigh Gaeilge agus Trasinscne i reifrinn champais.

Arsa Niall Ó Donnghaile:

“Fáiltím roimh thorthaí na reifreann. Aithníonn na torthaí an ról dearfach atá á imirt ag Gaeilgeoirí agus ag saoránaigh Trasinscne inár sochaí agus ar champais ollscoileanna agus is céim chun tosaigh é.

“Aithníonn sé fosta an t-éileamh fáis i measc daoiné óga agus mic léinn don chothromas.

“Tá Gaeilgeoirí i dteideal na gceart céanna atá ag saoránaigh eile agus is céim fhorásach é seo ag Aontas na Mac Léinn in Ollscoil na Ríona. 

“Leanfaidh Sinn Féin linn ag tacú leis an fheachtas ar son Acht Gaeilge agus ar son chothromas don phobal LADT do na cosainti dlíthiúla agus do na cearta céanna atá ag saoránaigh eile ar fud na n-oileán seo.”

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Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald and Deputy Dáil Leader Pearse Doherty this evening had a phone call with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Speaking after the conversation Mary Lou McDonald said;

“Myself and Pearse Doherty spoke with Theresa May for 20 minutes this evening during which we raised concerns about her course of action.

“We told the British Prime Minister that the basic protections contained in the backstop are non-negotiable and cannot be unpicked or diluted.

“We raised concerns that we are facing into a no deal or a crash brexit which would be a disaster for Ireland.  And we reminded Mrs May that, in those circumstances, a Unity Referendum must be called as a matter of urgency.

“As I told the Taoiseach today, Irish Unity is the ultimate contingency to protect our interests in the event of a crash brexit.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has expressed sympathy for those caught up in a shooting incident at a Christmas market in Strasbourg. 

Speaking from Strasbourg, Martina Anderson said: 

"Tonight's shooting incident at the Christmas markets at Place Kleber in Strasbourg has shocked the city. 

"I was in the city centre at the time and heard the gunfire and people, including young children, running away in panic. 

"This incident has caused panic in the area with crowds of people out enjoying the Christmas markets. 

"Details of the incident are still emerging but my thoughts are with those injured and all of those caught up in this incident."

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Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin TD for Sligo, Leitrim, North Roscommon and South Donegal asked the Taoiseach what the government would do to ensure that young people can get affordable car insurance.

Deputy Kenny said:

“Where I live in the North West, and in many parts of rural Ireland, when jobs become available, young people often have to drive because there is no other way of getting to work. 

“When they try to insure a car, they find themselves being quoted €8,000 or more.  I met one young person who was quoted €4,000 to get on their mother's car insurance as a named driver, which is ridiculous. 

“A programme was set up to examine this issue but we are back to the same position again. 

"Insurance companies are closing down opportunities for young people to get insured and get on with their lives. It is time to take a firm hand with this.  Something must be done to ensure that people can get insurance so that they can drive cars in rural Ireland.

I was disappointed today in the Dáil when the Taoiseach washed his hands of the matter and said that insurance is regulated by the Central Bank and not by government, claiming that premiums have reduced in price. I have to admit, this is not what I am hearing in my constituency, especially for young drivers.

“It is time that government ministers opened their eyes to the reality of rural Ireland. There is no public transport for commuters and workers have to drive.

"A progressive government would take action to ensure this can happen, but with the costs involved now, it is not an option for a young person to take out insurance."

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Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has welcomed confirmation that some of the restrictions on Epi-pens have been lifted.

The Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA said:

“The Department of Health have told GPs that some of the Adrenaline Auto-Injector stocks have improved, therefore some of the restrictions on prescriptions have been relaxed.

“This will be welcome news for many families, the Department must ensure there is no further disruption to supplies. 

"I have been raising this issue consistently and it remains unclear what the problem was.

I will continue to press the Department of Health on the longer term stability of supply for such an important medication.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has congratulated Queen’s University students who voted in favour of Irish Language and Trans officers in a campus-wide referendum. 

The party’s Further and Higher Education spokesperson said:

“Today’s referendum results are a welcome step forward in recognising the role that Irish speakers and Trans citizens play in our society and on university campuses.  

“This is also reflective of the growing demand from students and young people for equality.

“Irish speaking students are entitled to the same rights as enjoyed by citizens who live their daily lives through the medium of English and this is a progressive move by QUBSU. 

“Sinn Féin will continue to support the campaign for Acht Na Gaeilge and full equality for our LGBTQ community which includes rights and legal protections, just as exists elsewhere on these islands.”

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Speaking in Dublin today Sinn Féin’s Agricultural spokesman, Martin Kenny TD, welcomed the news that the Organic Farming Scheme has been very successful, attracting more new applicants than any previous scheme.

Deputy Kenny said:

“More and more farmers want to convert to organic farming systems. Latest figures indicate that there are now some 72,000 hectares under organic production, an increase of nearly 50% on the position at the start of the Programme in 2014.

“The Organic Sector Strategy Group, established in early 2018, has recommended re-opening the Organic Farming Scheme, but the window of opportunity is short with applications accepted on from 19 November to 19 December this year.

“There is an allocation of just €1.25m and those interested should get their applications completed and delivered before next Wednesday, 19th December 2018.

"Applications must be made online but there is no need to have an agricultural advisor. All registered organic farmers are eligible and priority will be given to those areas which are considered to be in deficit: horticulture, tillage and dairy.

"The size of holdings and the kind of production involved with determine the number of farmers who will be accepted into the scheme."

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Sinn Féin MLA Órlaithí Flynn has said residents are rightly frustrated at the ongoing security alert at Upper Dunmurry Lane and Old Golf Course Road which has caused significant disruption and forced residents to be evacuated from their homes overnight. 

The West Belfast MLA said:

“This ongoing security alert at Upper Dunmurry Lane and Old Golf Course Road has caused major disruption and inconvenience for the local community. 

“Residents are understandably angry and frustrated - people have been evacuated from their homes two weeks before Christmas and schools and roads have been closed. 

“People struggled to get medication and pets from their homes, thankfully this was facilitated to a certain extent by the PSNI and local Sinn Féin representatives. 

“I strongly condemn those responsible for ringing in this suspicious device and causing this major disruption. 

Sinn Féin Councillor Charlene O’Hara added:

“The PSNI informed me this morning that the security alert continues, but the safety of the local community is paramount and they hope to have the alert ended swiftly.

“It’s crucial the police inform and update residents and local representatives as a matter of urgency as people need to know if they can return to their homes.

“I would appeal to any residents who need help or assistance to contact me or any local Sinn Féin representative.”

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has commented on reports on the content of the new Residential Tenancies amendment Bill. The Bill grants some much needed additional powers to the Residential Tenancies Board, extends notice to quit periods for tenants, provides for an annual registration of tenancies and the publication of a register of rents.

Deputy Ó Broin said:

“This Bill is long overdue. The granting of additional powers to the RTB to investigate and sanction landlords for breaches of rent pressure zone caps and rent reviews is welcome. Sinn Féin has been calling for this for some time.

“However I am very concerned that the sanctions will be criminal in nature rather than civil as requested by the RTB. Pursuing criminal sanction is expensive and leads to time consuming court action.

“Giving the RTB the option to issue civil sanctions would be quicker, cheaper for state and would be a more effective deterrent against breaches. There is no point giving the RTB new powers if they are difficult to enforce.

“While I welcome the extension of the notice to quit periods I suspect that this is little more than an attempt to slow down the flow of families into homelessness. 

“If the Minister genuinely wants to keep people in their homes he should look at ways of amending legislation to bar the use of vacant notices to quit when a buy to let property is being sold.

“Sinn Féin will be seeking full legislative scrutiny of the Bill and will be seeking the views of the RTB, the Housing Agency and the Law Reform Commission as to whether civil or criminal sanctions are more appropriate.”

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has said the €23,000 fine received by Tom Mc Menamin for his role in Irish Nationwide is a “joke”.

Teachta Doherty contrasted the cost to the Irish people of the collapse of Irish Nationwide with the minimal fine levied on Mr. Mc Menamin.

The Donegal TD said reckless lending must be made a crime through legislation to ensure that in future bankers are held individually and criminally responsible for their actions.

Deputy Doherty said

“To be blunt the penalty imposed on Tom Mc Menamin is a joke which played on the Irish people. It sends out a message to bankers that no matter what they do there is ultimately little consequence for them.

"Mc Menamin was the most Senior Manager of Commercial Lending at INBS and the Central Bank have said he acted recklessly.

"It is time for reckless lending to be made a crime with a sentence which includes jail time. The cost to the people of this activity means this is a necessity. I have repeatedly called on the government to bring forward for legislation on this issue and will do so myself.

"Indeed former Governor Patrick Honohan has called for such legislation and it is already on the books in Britain.
 
"The focus must shift from the Central Bank’s administrative sanctions to full criminal sanction as legislated for by the Oireachtas.

"The failure to grasp this nettle will leave us back in the same space next year, or years down the road with bankers having the last laugh.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney has slammed comments from a former British soldier, who has been arrested over Bloody Sunday, in which he described the massacre as a ‘job well done’.

The Foyle MLA who is a member of the Bloody Sunday Trust, said the comments in a BBC Radio Four programme had caused renewed hurt to the families and betrayed an ongoing attitude within the British establishment ‘which seeks to blame victims for their own murder’.

“These comments are offensive and extremely hurtful to the families of those who died on Bloody Sunday,” Raymond McCartney commented.

“They also fly in the face of the findings from the Saville Inquiry which clearly demonstrated how the victims had been murdered by the British Army. This was not a job well done. It was a massacre of innocents.

“The very fact that someone who was involved in the events of that day, and has been arrested by the PSNI team investigating Bloody Sunday, should feel justified in making these comments also goes a long way to explaining the kind of attitudes that still exist within the British military and establishment.

“They want to blame victims for their own murder rather than accept British culpability for crimes committed in Ireland. This is an attitude which has been actively promoted at the highest levels of the British Government – including by the British Prime Minister – through false claims that legacy investigations are skewed against former state forces.

“Those lies cannot go unchallenged and there can be no immunity or impunity for British soldiers guilty of murdering Irish civilians.”

ENDS/CRIOCH

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said any Brexit outcome that does not maintain the benefits of EU membership will be damaging for the education and research sectors.

Speaking after meeting the Vice-president of the Royal Irish Academy Prof Gerry McKenna, the party's Further and Higher Education spokesperson commented: 

“A key part of my discussion with Prof McKenna focused on the implications of Brexit on further and higher education.

“The benefits of EU membership cannot be underestimated and any outcome to Brexit which does not maintain the benefits of EU membership will be damaging, particularly to the education and research sectors.

"Loss of vital EU funding, not just research funding, but also the structural funds which have been an enabler for research and innovation will have a detrimental impact.

“Researchers are already being impacted by the Brexit uncertainty in terms of accessing collaborative programmes and also for EU researchers considering their future. 

“Mobility of staff and students and potential immigration requirements and access to the Erasmus plus programme are issues of concern. 

“Another key concern centres on the rights of Irish citizens residing in the north and the potential for northern students to be treated as international students to attend universities in EU states including south of the border.

“Many students north and the south cross the border to attend further education colleges and universities, any barriers to this would be damaging to institutions and limit the opportunities of students on both sides of the border.

“Sinn Féin will continue to highlight all these issues and keep the rights of citizens here centre stage in the Brexit process.”

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> The offensive decision to order cakes celebrating the roll-out of Universal Credit shows the Department for Communities is living in denial over its impact of benefit cuts on vulnerable people, Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey has said.

> The party’s Welfare spokesperson was commenting after officially complaining to the department after it spent over £1000 on 40 cakes to celebrate the introduction of Universal Credit.

> He said: “I consider this action as evidence the department has little understanding how offensive this ‘celebration’ will be to those who have suffered hardship with the introduction of Universal Credit.

> “Real people are suffering real consequences as a result of Universal Credit and other benefit changes.

> “That is not something to be celebrated, it is something to be challenged and amended. That is the message which I have been consistently taking to the department but decisions such as this show they are living in denial as to the impact of welfare cuts on vulnerable people.”  

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EU institutions must hold firm on backstop – Matt Carthy MEP

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy spoke on the issue of the Brexit backstop this morning, Tuesday, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Addressing assembled MEPs, and representatives of the Council and the Commission, the Midlands North-West MEP said: “Once again the European Council will meet to respond to the British government’s shambolic Brexit process.

“And, once again, the Council must remain resolute that the Irish backstop cannot be re-negotiated.

“Brexit, any Brexit, will be bad for Ireland, north and south.

“The backstop is a mechanism to reduce the damage – nothing more.

“But, the clear lesson learned from this process, is one that many of us already knew – that British leaders do not give a damn about any part of Ireland, including the part in which they hold jurisdiction.

“Evidence of this was seen once more in the recent comments from a Tory MP that Britain should threaten Ireland with food shortages – another attempt to starve us once again?

“So, the Commons vote can be postponed but the backstop cannot be altered. We need the continued support of this House to ensure that is the case.

“And we will need the support of this House to move towards the inevitable outworking of the lesson that has been learned from the Brexit process. 

“As more and more people across Ireland recognise that Irish Unity is the ultimate response to British political failures, we will seek the support of the EU to help us deliver that solution.” ENDS

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The political process here faces the most defining period since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill has said.

Addressing the Welsh assembly in Cardiff today, the Sinn Féin Vice president also described the backstop in the Brexit withdrawal agreement as “an Irish solution to an English problem”.

Michelle O’Neill said: “Make no mistake - this is the most defining period since the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998.

“We will defend our interests at every turn and the withdrawal agreement is the least bad option for Ireland.

“The four Remain parties, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and Green Party represent the majority in the North and we believe that there is no such thing as a good Brexit.

“We recognise that the majority of people, businesses and civic society do not want Brexit either.

“We have a shared responsibility to protect jobs, economic stability and people’s livelihoods.

“At the very least, this means avoiding a hard border, protecting the Good Friday Agreement and hard won peace of the past twenty years, and staying within the Single Market and a Customs Union.

“Therefore as a basis for this, we maintain that there is a pressing need for the backstop as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement to be banked.”

The importance of building an all-Ireland economy has also been hastened by the Brexit process, Michelle O’Neill continued.

“I firmly believe that we need to develop and nurture, build and grow the All-Ireland economy where we develop closer regimes and models of integration,” she said.

“In light of Brexit it is imperative that the island of Ireland redoubles our efforts to develop and rebuild a modern, competitive and sustainable economy where we open doors to trade, investment, tourism and jobs but also develop and invest in our indigenous industries.

“We need to improve our competitiveness through investing in our public services and infrastructure on an All-Ireland basis.” 

PUBLIC LECTURE BY MICHELLE O’NEILL MLA, SINN FÉIN VICE-PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSEMBLY WALES, 10TH DECEMBER 2018

INTRODUCTION

Thank you.

It is a special honour to be invited to join you here in Cardiff and to address you this evening.

I would like to thank Richard and his colleagues at the University for the invitation, and for your hospitality.

Before I get into my main remarks, I wish to acknowledge that these past 20 years since 1998 have seen Irish-Welsh relations enter into a whole new and entirely positive era.

The advent of devolution and the emergence of the Welsh Assembly have provided a focal point for political relations.

Since then Ministers and politicians from Ireland North and South have had Welsh counterparts with whom we could work with through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and Ministerial-level meetings of the British-Irish Council, where friendships have been fostered and strong partnerships built.

Beyond politics our two Celtic nations share a strong and historic culture, heritage and tradition which I believe we all value and cherish very much.

These relationships I feel now more than ever, need to be prioritised, safeguarded and nurtured as we face the present realities and challenges to come with Brexit.

BRITISH-IRISH RELATIONS

During the course of this decade from 2012-2022 we are marking the centenaries of key seminal events which have shaped modern Irish history over the past century and defined our relationship with Britain during this time.

A relationship characterised by colonialism, rebellion, partition and political division, towards peace, reconciliation and renewed co-operation and mutual respect.

Let me put this in context.

While the devolution settlement ushered in by New Labour in 1998 was a Welsh, Scottish and Irish phenomenon – how we reached this point in Belfast was very different and historically painstaking.

Because it was in fact the culmination of a peace process where after decades of political conflict the IRA announced ceasefires to enable All-party talks to begin, including the British and Irish Governments with critical support from both the Clinton Administration and the EU, which eventually led to a new political, constitutional and institutional context and framework being negotiated – known as the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998.

The only party not to support the Agreement and who actively campaigned against it was the DUP.

This Agreement provided an alternative to conflict and the basis for building a new democratic society and the peace and reconciliation of a deeply divided society.

The declaration by the parties at the start of the Agreement says, “We are committed to partnership, equality and mutual respect as the basis of the relationships within Northern Ireland, between North and South and between these islands.”

The agreement was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of citizens across the island of Ireland, in referenda held North and South.

The Agreement enshrines the ‘principle of consent’ which affirms the legitimacy of the aspiration to a United Ireland while recognising the status quo to remain part of the “United Kingdom”.

It states that...

“it is for the people of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a United Ireland, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”.

The Agreement allows those born in the North to be British, Irish, both or neither.

The Agreement is made up of three strands, together representing the relationships that exist within and between the islands of Britain and Ireland.

Strand One provides for the NI Assembly and Executive at Stormont where elected political parties could share power.

Strand Two provides for an All-Ireland North/South Ministerial Council and 7 cross-border bodies. All Ministers in the North and all Ministers in the Irish Government meet in plenary and sectoral formats to develop co-operation between both parts of Ireland. These institutions were predicated on both the British and Irish Governments being members of the EU.

Strand Three provides for the British-Irish Council to promote relationships between Ireland and Britain and includes the Governments of Wales, Scotland, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, the North of Ireland and the British and Irish Governments.

Prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, security checkpoints existed on the border between the North and South of Ireland.

British Army military installations, which had been built and reinforced from the 1970s onwards, were symbols of division and conflict.

The Common Travel Area, full EU membership, and the peace process combined have meant that for the past 20 years both customs posts and immigration checkpoints on the Irish border have become unnecessary.

People’s daily lives in the border region have been transformed.

The invisible border on the island of Ireland has become the greatest symbol of peace.

Any reversal will have huge adverse economic, social, political, security impacts on people both in border communities and on the island as a whole.

This was recognised by all parties across the political divide on the back of the referendum in 2016.

The irony today is that DUP Leader Arlene Foster along with the late Martin McGuinness wrote to Theresa May on 10 August 2016.

This is part of what they said which in fact sums things up well…

“Dear Prime Minister,

“Firstly, and most obviously, this region is unique in that it is the only part of the U.K. which has a land border with an EU member state.

“There have been difficult issues relating to the border throughout our history and the peace process.

“We therefore appreciate your stated determination that the border will not become an impediment to the movement of people, goods and services.”

They go on…

“It is equally important that the border does not create an incentive for those who would wish to undermine the peace process and / or the political settlement.”

BRITISH WITHDRAWAL FROM THE EU

It is clear to everyone that when Brexit was conceived by the Tories, Ireland was never considered.

The implications of dragging the North out of the EU while the South remains did not feature in the 2016 debate.

Now the consequences have become clear.

The return of a hard border in Ireland has become the main obstacle to the deal which is on the table.

Tory Brexiteers, the DUP, and the parliamentary Opposition at Westminster are all opposing that which avoids a hard border - the “Backstop”.

The backstop is an insurance policy and our bottom line.

From my perspective the “backstop” is an Irish solution to an English problem.

We do not want Brexit.

There is no good to come from Brexit.

Make no mistake - this is the most defining period since the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998.

More than 30 million people voted and 51.9% voted Leave.

I fully respect the right of the British people to leave the EU, including 52.5% here in Wales.

But we in the North of Ireland voted by a cross-community majority of 55.8% to Remain.

The DUP do not speak for the people of the North.

We will defend our interests at every turn.

This deal is the least bad option for Ireland.

The four Remain parties, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and Green Party represent the majority in the North and we believe that there is no such thing as a good Brexit and our preference is for no Brexit at all.

We recognise that the majority of people, businesses and civic society do not want Brexit either.

We have a shared responsibility to protect jobs, economic stability and people’s livelihoods.

At the very least, this means avoiding a hard border, protecting the Good Friday Agreement and hard won peace of the past twenty years, and staying within the Single Market and a Customs Union.

Therefore as a basis for this, we maintain that there is a neccessity for the backstop as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement to be banked.

We support the ‘Backstop’ contained within the Withdrawal Agreement because it gives a legal guarantee that ‘…unless and until’ a subsequent agreement is in place in regards to the future relationship agreement by 2020 the backstop kicks in.

Let me be clear - the Withdrawal Agreement, and its impact on Ireland, in particular the North is by no means any more than a moderate and primitive deal. 

By contrast, we believe that a no deal situation would be catastrophic for our economy and society.

It would mean us all crashing out of the EU on 29 March 2019 with no terms of departure, and literally over a cliff-edge with supply shortages and many businesses unable to trade, resulting in job losses and a serious economic downturn.

We become a “third country” with practically no access to the EU single market; a physical hard border or EU frontier being put in place in Ireland; and World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules being applied.

All of this presents a serious threat to business and households, and creates an uncertain future for everyone.

The underlying strength of the Welsh economy will be tested to the limits as will our own as we face the inevitable chaos a No deal would force upon us.

I firmly believe that we need to develop and nurture, build and grow the All-Ireland economy where we develop closer regimes and models of integration.

In light of Brexit it is imperative that the island of Ireland redoubles our efforts to develop and rebuild a modern, competitive and sustainable economy where we open doors to trade, investment, tourism and jobs but also develop and invest in our indigenous industries.

We need to improve our competitiveness through investing in our public services and infrastructure on an All-Ireland basis.

Now, they say a week is a long time in politics, and it is of course only Monday!

So, with all eyes fixed on Westminster tomorrow – when we will see whether the Withdrawal Agreement stands or falls when MPs vote.

What matters is where we go to from here.

And there are a number of scenarios that could unfold and cannot be discounted. 

Westminster votes down the 585 page withdrawal agreement?

Theresa May withdraws the Agreement and attempts to reopen negotiations on the political declaration?

She seeks to extend the Article 50 process?

Tory MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in her and have a leadership contest?

She calls a snap General Election or a Second referendum/People’s vote?

The DUP collapse the Confidence and Supply Agreement?

None of the above and by 29th March we face a No deal crash out?

I do not believe that any of these options offer anything other than uncertainty and chaos to what is a deepening crisis.

REFERENDUM ON A UNITED IREAND

I have been meeting with the Prime Minister since she took office to make our voice heard, and make it count throughout these negotiations.

I have also met a number of times with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier alongside the other pro-remain party Leaders in the North to make it clear that we speak for the majority of citizens and businesses and that the DUP do not.

I have lobbied the member states of the EU27 for two years.

I met the Ambassadors of the current EU28 to Ireland on Friday in Dublin, including British diplomats.

And what I have said to them all is that Brexit and the GFA are mutually incompatible.

And that a referendum on a united Ireland is an obvious option to be on the table.

We have told Mrs May that the constitutional question must be put to the people by way of a unity referendum contained within the Good Friday Agreement if the onset on her Brexit disrupts the finely balanced arrangements agreed and endorsed in 1998.

There is a growing sense that circumstances are now rapidly changing which will inevitably lead to the final break-up of the constitutional structures of the United Kingdom which Theresa May and the DUP say they are committed to preserving.

People from across society in the North, including those of a British identity, are now seriously questioning what will be the merits, benefits of staying within the union after Brexit.

Recent polling data tells us that almost half of voters in the North would support a united Ireland if Britain leaves the EU under the current Withdrawal Agreement, and that 1 in 4 unionists think the DUP would be wrong to reject Theresa May’s deal.

We see the vast numbers applying for Irish passports as a practical example of how people will move to rightly look after their own economic self-interests and those of their families.

The Good Friday Agreement provides a peaceful democratic pathway to Irish Unity.

The issue of Irish Unity has taken on a new dynamic because of Brexit.

Demographics are changing and so too is the political landscape.

This cannot be ignored.

The former Leader of the DUP Peter Robinson back in June acknowledged this in remarks he made giving a public lecture at Queens University back in June.

The Good Friday Agreement gives people the opportunity and choice to decide our future together.

How we live together.

How we work together.

How we share our island together.

The political momentum on change is moving in that direction.

Sinn Féin wants a New Ireland, a fairer Ireland, and a united Ireland.

But let me be clear – Sinn Féin does not own this debate. 

There are many, many within the unionist community who look at Brexit with the same fear and trepidation as nationalists and republicans – because I am engaging with them.

The EU has declared that in the future, and in the event of Irish reunification the North would automatically re-join the EU.

So I think it is fair to say that those of a British and/or unionist identity are starting to assess all of this.

This is not to say they are not British or have given up their allegiances, but I do believe that they are being challenged to rethink their economic future.

Be in no doubt that a Unity Referendum is coming, and we are preparing for it.

I see no contradiction in declaring and delivering on our firm commitment to power sharing with unionism in the Stormont Assembly – and I hope we can get into talks and find a way back there soon - while also initiating a mature and inclusive debate about new political arrangements which better serve all of us who share this island.

Similarly, there is no contradiction in unionism working the existing constitutional arrangements while taking its rightful place in the conversation about what a New Ireland would look like.

It is a time to hear all voices within this debate. 

As an Irish republican leader part of my task is to give leadership, win elections, to increase our political strength to realise our ambition of being in government north and south, to win progressive political victories every single day, and ultimately to win Irish unity.

But I must persuade our neighbours of the benefits, rights and entitlements they could enjoy – and far from me being prescriptive about what they can or cannot have – I want to shape, build and share power not only at Stormont, but on all All-Ireland basis alongside them – in their own right.

This Conservative Government and the DUP have weakened the Union and are its greatest threat.

This unprecedented folly has created the biggest constitutional crisis in a century.

It has exposed the undemocratic nature and failure of partition in Ireland which created an artificial future which has and will remain contested.

The fulcrum of the Brexit crisis is the border in Ireland.

Brexit, alongside socially progressive campaigns for women’s abortion rights, the campaign for marriage equality and the campaign for Irish language rights have opened up a new political space and new conversations about the future.

The DUP are on the wrong side of it all.

But, these are not traditional orange and green issues.

These are the spaces between, and across, traditional constitutional positions.

Citizens are looking to the future to see where there best interests are served.

Change is in the air.

Over the past two elections in the north the unionist majority has gone.

The notion of a perpetual unionist majority - the very basis of partition - is gone.

It is no longer autonomy through devolution that people are considering, but Irish unity - not to become republicans, but to remain Europeans - and the opportunity to stay in the Union, through separation from Britain.

Not only is this possible, but quite probable in the time ahead.

CONCLUSION

At the beginning of this address I spoke of the fact that during the course of this decade we are marking key seminal events which have shaped modern Irish history over the past century.

As we approach the centenary of the partition of Ireland let’s not refight old battles of the past.

Let’s create a new relationship between Britain and the New Ireland, and our people.

Make partition history and let the people decide our own future.

Thank you.

I am now keen to hear your perspectives and over the next 30 minutes have an exchange.

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Speaking this evening Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan said that this week the Seanad is faced with the last opportunity to improve the Termination of Pregnancy Bill before it becomes law, in order to ensure it delivers for women, that it works for women, and that it is safe for women.

 Senator Gavan said: 

“The Termination of Pregnancy Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that will be passed by the Dáil and the Seanad.

 "However, as things currently stands the legislation is extremely restrictive is some of its core parts.

 "In the main these pertain to the onerous waiting period incorporating numerous visits to a doctor and the continued criminalisation of doctors acting in good faith and others who may help the woman access abortion.

 "This means the Seanad has a unique opportunity this week as it debates and vote on the Bill and the amendments which have been submitted to it.

 "We have the opportunity to improve the legislation regarding the Termination of Pregnancy to ensure that it delivers for women, that it works, and that it is safe.

 "This is the last chance the Oireachtas will have to improve this Bill before it becomes law and we must be certain that it is got right.

 "The reason this is so important is because right across the world we have seen that once abortion laws are passed it is sometimes very difficult to revisit them.

 "The women of Ireland have waited a very long time for this piece of legislation, but as it currently stands, it leaves a lot to be desired.

 "We are well aware of how difficult it is for opposition parties to amend existing legislation; therefore, it is vital that Minister Harris take on board constructive amendments from progressive TDs who seek to make the legislation delivers for women, that it works for women, and that it is safe for women.”

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Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Carál Ní Chuilín MLA has described an increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets of Belfast as extremely worrying. 

Carál Ní Chuilín said: 

“The latest survey found sixteen people sleeping on the streets of Belfast the early hours of last Tuesday, compared to five last year. 

"This sharp increase is extremely worrying. 

"One person rough sleeping is one too many, particularly in this winter weather. 

"No one should find themselves without somewhere to call home. The right to shelter is a fundamental human right and its timely that this survey has been released on international World Human Rights Day."

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Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has said Theresa May and the British government are deluding themselves if they think Irish interests will be cast aside to facilitate their fantasy Brexit. 

The Sinn Féin President said:

"Today's announcement from Theresa May to delay the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement is the latest chapter in the Brexit shambles saga. 

"There is no good Brexit for Ireland, north or south. What we have after two years is a deal which is the least worst option.

"There can be no rolling back on the commitments and safeguards for all Ireland, our economy and our agreements. 

"Theresa May and the British parliament are deluding themselves if they think that Irish Interests will simply be cast aside to facilitate the fantasy Brexit they are pursuing.

"The Irish government and the EU need to stand by their commitments and defend Irish interests; there can be no hard border, no diminution of our rights and protection for the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts."

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Sinn Féin MLA Emma Rogan has expressed shock after a man’s body was found in a flat in Newcastle, County Down on Saturday afternoon. 

Commenting after police launched a murder investigation, the South Down MLA said: 

“There is shock in the local community and right across the constituency on hearing this shocking news. 

“My thoughts and sympathies are with the family of this young man.

“I would urge anyone with information to bring it to the PSNI.” 

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