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


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Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has expressed her sympathies following the death this morning of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Ms McDonald said;

“Mr Annan was a skilled and dedicated international diplomat. He always did his very best through some extremely difficult periods in World affairs including the ongoing challenge of climate change.

“He became the first black African to lead the United Nations and he later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts.

“Mr Annan was an important figure in the history of the United Nations as he pushed for reform and he worked so that more powerful nations would accept responsibility for their actions and the common challenges facing humanity.

“Mr Annan was a self described eternal optimist and a genuine believer in the potential of the international community to rise above our differences. He will be sadly missed.

“On behalf of Sinn Féin, I want to express my sincere condolences to Mr Annan’s wife Nane, his three children and to his extended family and friends.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane has said a call from Fianna Fáil Deputy Leader Dara Calleary for his party to support one more budget from this government shows that that party has prioritised its own self preservation over the interests of the state.

Teachta Cullinane said Fine Gael has proved itself incapable of dealing with the health and housing crises and only an election and change of government can offer hope who are struggling as a result of these crises.

Responding to Dara Calleary’s interview in today’s Irish Times Teachta Cullinane said;

“Fianna Fáil’s Deputy Leader has today signalled the approach his party will take into the review of the supply and confidence agreement which underpins this Fine Gael government.

“It is clear that Fianna Fáil has put self preservation above the interests of the state.

“They know they do not have the numbers to win an election and enter government as a lead party and are therefore prepared to allow the current administration to govern until 2020.

“Meanwhile we have one million people on the hospital waiting list and the housing and homeless crisis spiralling out of control.

“Only an election and a change of government can offer any hope to those struggling under this government and the crisis in our public services but Fianna Fáil has abandoned these people because it is petrified of an election at this time.

“Dara Calleary says Fine Gael needs to be honest about its failings but Fianna Fáil need to take ownership of those failures.  They have kept Fine Gael in office.  Fianna Fáil are Fine Gael’s partners and they must accept their share of the blame for the government’s failings.

“Fianna Fáil now intends to keep Fine Gael in government until 2020 while continuing the pretence of being an opposition party.  That is not honest politics.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has said she received an ‘unsatisfactory response’ from Housing Executive officials on what happened with a property at Ballysillan Avenue in North Belfast. 

The North Belfast MLA said:

“I wrote to the Housing Executive seeking full clarity on exactly what had happened with the vacated property at Ballysillan Avenue. 

“Today I received a response from Housing Executive officials which was totally unsatisfactory and provided no clarity on how these properties became vacant and how one of the vacant properties has already been allocated. 

“I will be submitting a Freedom of Information request in order to get to the bottom of what exactly happened at this property, how information that it would be vacated became available and on the allocation process.”

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Sinn Féin TD John Brady has said that the pay structure of the Irish Defence Forces must be re-examined in the light of the disparity between soldiers’ pay and that of the Gardaí which has emerged as the Pope is due to visit Ireland.

Teachta Brady said that the enormous difference in pay and conditions was only encouraging more and more defence personnel to leave the Defence Forces, leaving the Army in particular at such low staffing level that the Defence Forces are struggling to fill places for upcoming overseas missions, such as UNIFIL.

The Wicklow TD said:

“As the country gears up for the Pope’s visit, it has become quite clear than the Defence Forces are suffering a serious lack of recognition from this government when compared to other branches of the public service.

“When a garda can earn over €30 an hour in overtime, while a soldier earns €23 a day, it is little wonder that the Defence Forces are struggling to retain personnel and attract new entrants.

"The Army in particular is in dire straits with the effective size of the force almost 1,500 below what it should be when those in basic training and on long term sick leave are discounted. Most recently, senior Defence Forces officers have criticised the most recent recruitment as being of ‘a very poor standard’.

“I have received reports from some in the Army which suggest that the lower personnel numbers are now affecting our ability to contribute to overseas missions, with positions still unfilled for the upcoming UNIFIL mission to Lebanon later this year.

"Ireland’s involvement in UN peacekeeping is one of the main reasons that we are so well respected on the global political scene. Government inaction now threatens that.

“I would ask the Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe to put forward what proposals he has to alleviate the disparity between the Defence Forces and other branches of the public service in terms of pay and allowances and to confirm that the staff shortages are leading to difficulties in preparing for missions overseas and how he plans to address that.

“Fine Gael seem quite content to disregard Irish neutrality to engage in EU military projects such as Pesco, but they won’t make sure that soldiers at home are well trained and fairly paid.” 

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It will be the people of North Antrim who decide whether or not Ian Paisley resigns as their MP and not the man himself, Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has said.

The North Antrim MLA was speaking after Ian Paisley today told the BBC he did not believe he had done anything that warranted his resignation.

“Unfortunately for Ian Paisley, it won’t be him that makes that decision, it will be the people of North Antrim by signing the recall petition,” Philip McGuigan said.

“And I am sure they many of them will have a different opinion on recent events when they consider that their MP has been subject to the most severe sanction handed down by Westminster in 70 years.

“At the heart of this scandal isn’t the fact that Ian Paisley received lavish holidays from the Sri Lankan government. As wrong as that was, the real scandal is the fact that he lobbied to prevent the UN investigating the mass murder of Tamil civilians by that same government. That is what he should be apologising for and that is what he should be held to account for in the current Recall Petition.

“Ian paisley may not feel any of that is a resigning matter but I have no doubt that many people, both here and internationally would see it very differently.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Sinéad Ennis has welcomed the completion of super-fast broadband in the Atticall area of South Down.

Sinéad Ennis said:

“I am delighted that BT have completed the upgrade of the broadband network in the Atticall area.

“Atticall is an extremely rural part of the Mournes so the fact that super-fast broadband will be available in around 90 premises will be a huge boost for local homes and businesses in places such as Tievedoo, Tullamona, St Patrick's Terrace, Atticall Road, Ballymageough Road, Livings Road, Bog road and Tullyframe Road.

Councillor Sean Doran added:

“When Sinead Ennis and I were canvassing in the Mournes broadband was the major issue which people were concerned about especially for children doing homework and studying and also businesses.

“Chris Hazzard, Sinead and myself have worked tirelessly to bring this to fruition and welcome that BT have listened to our concerns.

“Residents should be soon receiving letters to notify them of this system and a list off communication providers is available and people can check if and what they can get at www.nibroadband.com.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said addressing skills provision is key to unlocking the potential of the economy in the north.

Commenting on a report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research on the Skills System in the north, the Party's Further and Higher Education Spokesperson said:

"The IPPR report has identified some of the keys challenges facing the north in terms of skills.

"It highlighted that the economy here is very strongly weighted towards SMEs, and that both qualifications levels and career progression levels are lower in the north than the average for England, Scotland and Wales.

"Therefore interventions are necessary to ensure skills provision is addressed.

"The report outlined some skills programmes currently in place such 'Assured Skills', 'InnovateUs' and the knowledge transfer programme 'Connected' are approaches aimed at developing skills which can be built upon.

"There needs to be increased availability of apprenticeships including for those aged over 25, as well as apprenticeships in more diverse sectors.

"Addressing the training needs of those at mid-career stage including retraining and upskilling must become a higher priority into the future to meet changing labour market demands.

"Automation, global uncertainty and Brexit are all challenges which mean a particular focus on upskilling our workforce must be a priority.

"Ensuring high quality training and skills provision will be key to unlocking the economic potential of the north." 

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Louth and East Meath TD Gerry Adams has described the Daft.ie report published today as “deeply worrying for those seeking to rent property in Louth".

Teachta Adams said:

“According to the Daft.ie Rental Price report Louth has witnessed the greatest increase in rental costs in the state in the last year.

"The average monthly rental for Louth is €1161 which is a 13.4% increase on the second quarter of last year.

"The report also reveals that rents have almost doubled in Louth, increasing by a staggering 90% since 2011.

"This is an unsustainable burden on those renting or trying to rent. Clearly, rents across the state are spiralling out of control and they show no sign of slowing down.”

“The Government’s strategy for tackling the housing crisis has failed at every level. Homelessness is getting worse, not enough social housing is being constructed and the government’s reliance on the private sector has failed.

"The Rent Pressure Zones which were established by the government have also failed to improve the housing crisis.

"The Daft.ie report also confirms the conclusions of this week’s report from the Simon community and the difficulties many households are having securing a rental property.

"The Simon report -  ‘Locked Out of the Market XI’ - revealed that many properties available for rent are outside the price range of those households receiving Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rent Supplement.

"The report found that, out of 530 properties available to rent, 489 of these were above the HAP/Rent Supplement limits.  This is the lowest recorded point in a downwards trend that has been declining since Rent Supplement and HAP limits were increased in July 2016.

"The fact is that this Fine Gael led government which is maintained by Fianna Fáil, has abjectly failed to meet the challenge of the housing crisis created by the bad policies of successive governments.

"There is a need for a radical change of policy. This requires rent certainty that keeps families in their homes.

"It is also demands an increase in the supply of real social housing units. The government must at least double capital expenditure in social and affordable housing in Budget 2019."

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Sinn Féin TD for Louth and East Meath Gerry Adams has reiterated his concerns about the resourcing and staffing of the disability division of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in Louth and East Meath and of the Meath Paediatric Psychology service.

Teachta Adams said:

“In a recent response to me, the Chief Officer for Midlands Louth Meath Community Health Organisation (CHO) detailed some of the serious resource difficulties that this CHO is currently experiencing. 

“Children who present with moderate to severe mental health problems are seen by the CAMHS service. It is a multi-disciplinary service and the psychologists involved work alongside other related disciplines. Currently only one of the three psychology posts is currently filled.

“Psychologists who work within the disability division work with children aged from 6-18. They have responsibility for seeing children with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities, including autism. According to the CHO, there are usually over 400 referrals each year to psychologists working in this area. There are currently five WTE (whole time equivalents) posts of which one is vacant.

“The young child whose case Cllr Ferguson and I have been raising has been on the children’s disability waiting list for over one year. According to the Chief Officer of Midlands Louth Meath CHO, the waiting lists can vary from between 18 months and two years.

“The reason for this is ‘down to a significant increase in referrals over the last six years to this service in Meath. Also, there have been four staff departures and three staff maternity leaves within the last two years. Due to a shortage of psychologists nationally, and the demand for vacancies to be filled across the country, this has resulted in service gaps over a long period of time with the difficulties being experiences in filling these posts’.

“The CHO Chief Officer also revealed that the primary care psychology service which usually receives over 800 referrals each year and provides therapy for child victims of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, is short three posts out of seven.

“I have written to the Minister for Health Simon Harris. Very clearly, there are very significant gaps in service provision within the Meath Paediatric Psychology service and the CAMHS division. I have asked Minister Harris what plans he has to address the obvious gaps in service provision and to fill the staff vacancies that currently exist.”

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Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey has welcomed the decision by the Diocesan Trust to put the former site of St Patrick’s training school in West Belfast up for sale commenting that this could be of benefit to the whole community.

 The West Belfast MP said,

 “The sale of this site unlocks potential for much needed development in both social and affordable housing in West Belfast.

 “Used as a mixed site, this sale also has the chance to develop educational, health and retail opportunities bringing jobs and prosperity to the area.

 “We must now ensure that the infrastructure for this to happen is put in place and that the buyer of this site consults with and takes account of the wants and needs of the local community.”

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Sinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams has written to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Regina Doherty asking about new claim forms that have been introduced for the illness and injury benefit schemes.

Deputy Adams said:

“Recently one of a number of constituents who have raised concerns about the new forms was handed a letter by her GP practice in which she was told that this new scheme had been introduced at short notice. The new scheme requires two forms to be filled in, one of these by the doctor.

"The letter from the practice said that there is a ‘significant amount of work involved in the changeover’ and that it is not ‘achievable on the ground at such short notice.’

"The letter from the GP practice said that the doctors’ representative organisations – the IMO and NAGP - were meeting the Department to ‘try to sort out this mess.’ Until that was done the doctors were returning all of the new forms to the department. 

"They said that they intended to continue issuing the old certificates in accordance with the contract they have with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection ‘until a satisfactory solution is found.’

"For patients who are ill – some of them very seriously ill – to discover that their illness benefits forms are being suddenly changed and they are caught in a dispute between doctors and government is a matter of great stress and concern.

"I have written to the Minister asking if there was any consultation with the NAGP or IMO before this changeover was introduced and what progress if any has been made? I have also asked if the Department will accept the old certificates and if the new arrangements have had any impact or delay in the payment of the illness benefits?

"I have also asked the Minister if she has allocated any additional personnel or resources to processing forms?”

Teachta Adams concluded:

“The manner in which this issue has been handled is a source of concern. Patients need urgent and immediate reassurance that claims for illness benefit will not be adversely impacted.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Employment Affairs & Social Protection John Brady TD has warned that Minister Doherty has made a mess of changes to the application process for Illness Benefit.

Illness Benefit is payable to those who cannot work due to illness once they have the necessary PRSI contributions.

Teachta Brady said:

“Last Monday saw the quiet introduction of changes to the way in which individuals apply for Illness Benefit. The old MC1 form has been replaced by a new claim form called IB1 and a new medical certificate called MED1. Both forms are said to be available through the local GP.

“However, it has come to my attention that a number of GPs are not making the new forms available to patients citing the short notice from the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection in introducing the new application process. GPs have cited a “significant” workload involved in the changeover.

"In response to this, a number of GPs intend to return the new forms to the Department and instead, continue to use the old forms.

“It is clear that the Department failed to consult GPs ahead of introducing these changes and is now playing catch up to try and get them on board with the new process. This mess has left patients in limbo.

“This is not the first time that we have seen a situation like this involving the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection. The announcement of the extension of dental benefits to the self-employed caused a dispute with dentists last year.

“I am aware of ongoing negotiations between GPs and the Department on the changes to the Illness Benefit scheme. However, the question has to be asked as to why Minister Doherty went ahead and introduced these changes without agreement from those expected to provide the forms.”

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has stated that the foot dragging and delaying of Insurance Ireland has stopped delivery of such a Unit.

He was speaking after Sinn Féin received documents under Freedom of Information which documented a serious of missed deadlines by Insurance Ireland, since early 2017, to progress the proposal to set up an Insurance Fraud Unit within An Garda Síochána funded by the Insurance Industry.

The Freedom of information request relates to all records related to the establishment of a Garda Insurance Fraud Unit.

The Cork South-Central TD said:

“Insurance Ireland have been shown clearly to be dragging their feet here. The proposal to create an Insurance Fraud Unit has been on the agenda since early 2017 and is identified in the Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance in January 2017. An Garda Síochána had submitted a mechanism for further cooperation to Insurance Ireland in the first quarter of 2017.

“Since then, there has been delay after delay after delay, and we are at the point where we have a vague commitment from Insurance Ireland but no detail.

“Firstly, this was due to be discussed at June 2017 meeting of Non-Life Council of Insurance Ireland. This was deferred until September 2017. The decision was due then to be communicated to an Garda Síochána in October 2017. By December 2017, Insurance Ireland came up with the proposal for a full cost benefit analysis on the proposal to be subject to approval by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice.

“This Cost Benefit analysis, as well as a definitive response to the proposal from An Garda Síochána, was to be due before the end of quarter 1 2018, by 6th March was due to be completed within a month or so of that date. However, by 12th April 2018, Insurance Ireland was stating that it expected to be in a position to provide an update on its cost benefit analysis by end June. Given that Insurance Ireland have made such a point of identifying fraud as a cause of insurance premium increase, one would have thought a cost benefit analysis would have been relatively straight forward.

“A briefing note prepared for Minister of State Michael D’Arcy, ahead of an Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting on May 29th, states that Insurance Ireland expects to be able to provide an update on this by the end of June 2018, but that no preliminary outcome of this analysis has been provided. As of 31st May and correspondence between Department of Finance and Charlie Weston of INM, the CBA was still awaited.

“I support the creation of an Insurance Fraud Unit. Insurance fraud is theft and must be pursued rigorously and prosecuted.  However, we still have concerns at the proposal for a section of an Garda Síochána being funded through Industry.

“The independence of An Garda Síochána is essential, and a direct funding relationship with private interests undermines that independence. This is in a context where the insurance industry is under investigation by the competition authorities in the State and at EU level over anti-competitive practices. Any such unit should be funded by the State and, at a cost of approximately €1m, this is more than within the capacity of Government.

“Government have let this proposal slip off the agenda; by abdicating the states responsibility for tackling Insurance Fraud, and by allowing Insurance Industry Ireland to string the rest of us along.

It is clear now that Insurance Ireland have, despite their protestations that fraud is a cause of increased premiums, decided that. In fact, tackling fraud is not an important part of their agenda.” 

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Sinn Féin TD for Fingal Louise O’Reilly has said that the latest Daft rent report has only confirmed that which we all know; that “rents have spiralled out of control and show no signs of slowing down”.

Teachta O’Reilly said:

“Rents have risen 13.2% in a year in Fingal and north county Dublin, with the average rent here now standing at €1,615.

“The government’s reliance on the private sector to solve the housing crisis and the Minister’s light touch philosophy has had no impact.

“The Rent Pressure Zones were unambitious to begin with and demonstrated the reluctance of Fine Gael to interfere with a market that is dysfunctional at best, fundamentally broken at worst. Similarly, the lack of construction of social and affordable housing is simply driving people towards that private sector market, driving up rents for all.

“There are a number of policy objectives that the government would be better served in pursuing, such as rent certainty and increased investment in social and affordable housing. However, their default response has been to appear in the media to tell the people that it’s not as bad as it looks. Such insulting and embarrassing actions are an indication that the government truly doesn’t know how bad the housing emergency has become.

“It is clear that this government, backed to the hilt by their default coalition partners, Fianna Fáil, are doing more harm than good when it comes to the housing crisis. They have no plan and it seems they haven’t a clue either.” 

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Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy has urged everyone who believes in a rights based society to attend Sinn Féin’s re-enactment march this Saturday.

 The Mid Ulster MP said,

 “Fifty years ago people who believed in civil rights took to the streets and first marched from Coalisland to Dungannon to protest against inequality and discrimination. 

 “Today in the North we still have an unacceptable blockade on rights by the DUP as facilitated by the British government. 

 "Fifty years on, Sinn Féin have organised this march to celebrate the cvil rights movement and the progress we have made. But rights are still denied so this march also provides an opportunity for rights groups and campaigners to demand equality and respect for all in our society."

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Sinn Féin MEP for Midlands North-West Matt Carthy, has accused Fianna Fáil of playing political games in a desperate attempt to be relevant on Brexit. Carthy was responding to remarks by Lisa Chambers TD at the Parnell Summer School where she accused both the DUP and Sinn Féin of an abdication of responsibility relating to the collapse of the Stormont Executive implying that this had an impact on Brexit.

Matt Carthy said:

“Throughout the period leading up to and following the Brexit referendum Sinn Féin have been diligent, constructive and committed to addressing the needs of the Irish people and to finding solutions to minimise the potentially devastating impact Brexit would have for our island.

“Through our work in Ireland, Britain and Europe we helped ensure that Irish issues became central within the Brexit negotiations and we have been central in arguing for a special status within the EU for the north as the most realisable and practical compromise to avoid any hardening of the border in Ireland.  Our efforts have been acknowledged by several key players in the talks.

“We have worked with the Irish government, supporting their position when in line with the best interests of all the people of our country and being critical when necessary

“All the while Fianna Fáil have been playing political games from the sidelines, desperate to be noticed with little consideration for the validity of their comments. They have often become the advocates for the DUP and Tory party simply so they could say something different. 

“The remarks by Lisa Chambers attacking both the DUP and Sinn Féin is another pathetic attempt to grab headlines in the hope that people will share her ignorance relating to the current impasse in the North. The Stormont institutions collapsed because of serious questions of corruption and the failure of the DUP to address issues pertaining to the rights of citizens.  They can only be restored in the context of those issues being addressed. 

“Sinn Féin is committed to addressing these matters and to continuing our work to defend the interests of the people of Ireland in the Brexit talks.  We will not be distracted by Fianna Fáil’s desperate attempts to be relevant”.

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Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane has said that the latest Daft report has only confirmed that which we all knew; that “rents have spiralled out of control and show no signs of slowing down”.

Teachta Cullinane said that it was clear that the meagre government efforts to date have had no impact and it was time for Minister Eoghan Murphy and the government to take strong, definitive action to address the housing situation which has descended far past crisis point.

Rents have risen 12.4% in a year, with the average rent now standing at €1,304. Limerick City and Waterford city has seen rises of 20% since last year.

The Waterford TD said:

“The Government’s reliance on the private sector to solve the housing crisis and the Minister’s light touch philosophy has had no impact.

“The Rent Pressure Zones were unambitious to begin with and demonstrated the reluctance of Fine Gael to interfere with a market that is dysfunctional at best, fundamentally broken at worst. Similarly, the anaemic level of construction of social and affordable housing is simply driving people towards that private sector market, driving up rents for all.

“Rent certainty, the Focus Ireland amendment that would keep families in their homes, an ambitious and necessary investment in social and affordable housing; these are the policy objectives that the government would be better served in pursuing. Media appearances telling the people that it’s not as bad as it looks are insulting and an embarrassing indication that the government truly doesn’t know how bad the housing emergency has become.

“It is clear that this government, backed to the hilt by their partners in Fianna Fáil, is doing more harm than good when it comes to the housing crisis. They have no plan and it seems they haven’t a clue either.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has told students to explore all their options after results day.

The Party's Further and Higher Education Spokesperson said, "Firstly, congratulations to everyone who has their received results in A' Levels or other courses."Whatever the results, this is a milestone as you move onto the next phase and decide what to do next."If you have not got the results you hoped for or are unsure of what to do next, take time and don't rush into a decision."There are many options in education, training or employment, so seek out advice from different sources and explore all that the universities, regional colleges and others have on offer including apprenticeships and 'earn while you learn' opportunities. 

"There are many different pathways, it is not a 'one size fits all'; so choose the path that feels right for you." 

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Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan held a meeting of Derry school principals with Education Authority officials to discuss school transport provision. 

The party’s Education spokesperson said:

“Today’s meeting gave school principals the opportunity to speak to the EA’s Director of Transport with views about the current school transport provision. 

“We also mapped out potential ways to improve and update how school transport currently works, including potential new routes for school buses. 

“This is important feedback and we also welcome that the Department of Education will begin further discussions with schools across the north to review the school transport system. 

“I would reiterate the call for anyone starting school in September wishing to avail of home to school transport, to apply through the online application process at the following link: https://transport.eani.org.uk/HomeToSchool/.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has said Saturday’s reenactment of the first Civil Rights march is an opportunity to stand up for rights.

The march will take place on Saturday 18 August along the original route from Coalisland to Dungannon. 

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said:

“Fifty years ago, likeminded people from all communities came together to form the Civil Rights movement, they took to the streets and marched for rights and against inequality, the first of these marches took place from Coalisland to Dungannon. 

“In the north today, we are experiencing an unacceptable blockade on rights-based issues by the DUP, facilitated by the British government, including Irish language rights, marriage equality, women’s health, and the rights of victims.

“People also have huge concerns arising from the potential impacts of a Tory Brexit and the recent Boundary Commission proposals, seen by many as a new attempt to gerrymander the north. 

“I am calling on people to use Saturday’s reenactment of the first Civil Rights march to promote rights, equality and respect for all in our society today.

“This is the opportunity for our generation to speak out and stand up, to achieve and assert these rights. We cannot allow the progress of previous generations, sorely won, to be undermined and diminished in today’s Ireland.”

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