Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD and Vice President Michelle O’Neill MLA will meet with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney in Dublin on Monday to discuss the DUP’s decision to collapse the talks process in the North.
Ms McDonald and Ms O’Neill will then tavel to London later in the week to meet with Theresa May.
Speaking this afternoon, Teachta McDonald said;
“The decision by the DUP to walk away from a draft deal and collapse the talks process cannot be allowed to further impede the rights of citizens and the implementation of existing agreements.
Language rights, marriage equality and access to inquests are rights available to everybody else on this island and in Britain. They are not republican issues. They are people issues. These rights are for the whole of society.
“Michelle and I will be telling the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister it is the responsibility of the two governments to implement the agreements on legacy and an Irish Language Act and to provide for marriage equality.
“We will also make it clear to both government that a return to direct rule from London is not an option.
“Sinn Féin remains committed to working for an agreement. However, any return to talks must be progressive and ultimately they must deliver for citizens.”
Sinn Féin MLA John O'Dowd has condemned the petrol bomb attack on the home of a vulnerable young man in Banbridge in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Mr O'Dowd said :
This attack on a vulnerable young man has to be condemned.
"The perpetrators could have killed this young man and others.
"I would appeal to anyone with information to bring it forward to the PSNI immediately."
Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion has said the Irish government’s National Planning Framework must not neglect the economic needs of the North West of Ireland.
The Foyle MP said:
“Sinn Féin will be carefully analysing the Irish government’s National Planning Framework (NPF) over the coming days and a considered response will be delivered in the Dáil next week.
“However initial impressions indicate that the north of Ireland is merely an add-on to the economic and infrastructural priorities of the Irish government identified in the NPF.
“The greater Dublin area appears to be the focus once again, leaving the gaping regional imbalance between the North West region, in which Derry city is a major hub of activity and population, unaddressed.
“The economic potential of Derry City, as an integral part of a wider strategy for the North West, has not yet been realised.
“Without Irish government support and the possibility of British government contributions to Derry’s Strategic Growth Plan, which we continue to explore, the longstanding regional imbalances, deprivation and economic deficiencies of the North West will remain unaddressed.
“The Irish government must bring an end to Dublin-centric planning, and support the economic activity of North West.”
Responding to Theresa May’s speech in Munich today Sinn Féin spokesperson on Brexit David Cullinane TD said we are entering into a crucial phase of negotiations and that the Irish Government needs to be ‘robust and assertive’ in protecting Ireland’s interests.
He said Brexit was bad for Ireland and no paper backstop agreement will protect the Good Friday Agreement or avoid a hardening of the border.
Speaking after a meeting of the party’s Ard Comhairle today Deputy Cullinane said:
“Theresa May’s speech today was underwhelming. It provides little clarity for Ireland and reinforces a view that she is leading a divided party pandering to hard Brexiteers.
“If Britain and the North leave the Customs Union and single market it will be impossible to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. It will also be impossible to avoid a hardening of the border in Ireland irrespective of regulatory alignment in certain areas.
“The Tories are divided on what type of final deal they want. Theresa May’s approach is self serving and designed to placate hard Brexiteers. She is weak and indecisive and this is causing confusion. Her government is in bed with the DUP in Westminster and as such it is not focused on protecting Ireland against a hardening of the border.
“Sinn Féin’s position is clear and consistent. The vote of the North on Brexit must be respected. The North must stay in the Customs Union and single market and the GFA must remain in the legal architecture of the EU.
“The rights of Irish and EU citizens in the North must be fully respected. This presents challenges for the Irish Government. They must rise above Tory divisions and ensure the interests of all the Irish people North and South are protected in full.”
Speaking ahead of a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle in Dublin this morning Party President Mary Lou McDonald said, after thirteen months of talks it is now up to the two governments to implement the agreements on legacy and an Irish Language Act and to provide for marriage equality.
Teachta McDonald appealed to the DUP to reconsider its position but said if that is not a runner then the show must go on and we have to move forward.
“Sinn Féin have worked for the past 13 months to reach an agreement to re-establish the Executive.
“We reached an accommodation and draft agreement.
“The DUP failed to close the deal and collapsed the talks.
“Our appeal to the DUP is fairly straight forward. We had a draft agreement, we have a draft agreement, I would appeal to the DUP to at this juncture to reconsider their position, come back and talk to us and get that over the line. But I would also say to the DUP, if that is not a runner and I suspect at this moment its not, we’re not standing still, the show must go on and we have to move forward.
“After thirteen months of talks it is now up to the two governments to implement the agreements on legacy and an Irish Language Act and to provide for marriage equality.
“These rights cannot be held hostage by the failure of the DUP to sign off an agreement.
“We will be briefing the Ard Chomhairle on the draft agreement and way forward.
“We will be meeting the Taoiseach and the British Prime minister in the coming period.”
Sinn Féin South Antrim MLA, Declan Kearney has recorded local shock and solidarity following the news that one of the victims of the Florida school massacre is 14-year-old Cara Loughran whose family has local connections to Toome.
Mr Kearney said,
“I was saddened to learn that a local Toome family has been tragically touched by the awful school massacre which took place in Parkland, Florida.
“Anyone watching the news footage from the scene of the massacre could not fail to be moved by the sheer horror of what took place there. The local connection to this tragedy is a reminder that the world truly is a global village.
“My sincere sympathy is with Cara’s extended family and friends and I trust they will receive all the support and solidarity they deserve to get through the difficult time ahead."
Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called on Kerry Group to exhaust all avenues possible before proceeding with 31 redundancies at Kerry Foods in Carrickmacross.
Carthy said the loss of these jobs would have a severe, negative impact on the workers, their families and the local community. He said that if job losses were inevitable the company should introduce a voluntary scheme rather than the mooted forced redundancies.
“Kerry Foods has been a stable employer of local people in Carrickmacross for many years and a vital component of the local economy. Therefore I have written to Kerry Group urging that all avenues are exhausted before they proceed with lay-offs which will, of course, have a severely negative impact on the workers affected, their families and the local community.
“As an MEP for Midlands North West and a previous Carrickmacross based Councillor, I know too well of the devastation that high numbers of redundancies can have. There will naturally be concerns that other redundancies may follow. As a member of the European Parliament I am eager to be of any possible assistance and I have offered to do anything I can politically to avoid any lay-offs at this crucial time.
“If the loss of 31 jobs is unavoidable I would urge the Kerry Group to put in place a voluntary redundancy scheme as opposed to the mooted mandatory redundancy scheme. It is clear that a voluntary scheme is the preference of the local workforce and will ensure a healthy and productive atmosphere among the remaining employees.
“Kerry Foods is held in high esteem in Carrickmacross and surrounding areas and with the maintenance of good will, the Kerry Group could significantly limit the potential for distress and disruption among employees and the local community.
“I am also calling on the government and particularly the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys to intervene in this situation. I have been highlighting regularly that border counties such as Monaghan are particularly vulnerable to the threat of Brexit. The Kerry Foods factory in Carrickmacross is right in the Brexit firing line, as it produces frozen prepared meals which are sold directly to Britain.
“It has been clear for some time that the Government has no strategy to create or retain employment in the border region. There was only one IDA visit to Co. Monaghan last year. Recently, Minister Humphreys recently stated that the Government had contingency plans for Brexit and that the scale of forecast shocks to the Irish economy would not be realised. Many people living in the border region are not yet convinced.
“I am calling now on the Minister to directly engage with Kerry Group to offer any support necessary in order to protect all jobs at the Carrickmacross plant. An intervention from the Minister joining my call on the company to avoid forced redundancies would also be helpful at this time.”
Health capital projects just repackaged and relaunched under Project Ireland 2040
Sinn Féin health spokesperson deputy Louise O’Reilly has said that a huge amount of the commitments in the area of health under Project Ireland 2040 were already announced and many are projects have already begun.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“The health capital projects under Project Ireland 2040 consist primarily of repackaged and relaunched projects, many of which are already under way.
“Of those new projects many are long overdue. For example, a ward block was announced for Limerick Hospital even though it was needed years ago.
"Limerick consistently sees around 40-50 patients on trolleys in the hospital each day and last year in Limerick alone there were 8,869 patients left on trolleys.
“Two of the headline announcements were the National Children’s Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital, despite these being announced years ago.
“A new endoscopy suite was announced for Naas General Hospital. While this is welcome I do hope it fares better than the surgery theatre there that has not been used once in 15 years because they don’t have the staff to run it, even though nearly 7,000 people are on waiting lists there.
“Similarly, there is an endoscopy suite lying idle in the Midlands Regional Hospital Portlaoise as well because of staffing issues.
“If a new hinge was to be put on a hospital door they’d nearly have announced it.
“I do welcome the commitments to genuinely increase capacity, but capacity is a twofold issue and it means nothing without the recruitment and retention of staff.
“The plan was heralded as preparing Ireland for the future; all the while the health announcements in it will barely see us meet current demand and unmet demand.
“When it came to the health service today, the only thing the Minister for Finance had up his sleeve was his hand.
Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has commented on the launch of the National Planning Framework by the government today.
Deputy Ó Broin said:
“Sinn Féin will carefully study the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the National Development Plan over the coming days and will give our considered response during Dáil statements next week.
“We need to separate out genuinely new announcements from the repackaging of existing or already announced commitments.
“The government will be judged on delivery, not poetic launches and elaborate web sites that could have been delivered a bit better themselves.
“I do acknowledge that there are changes in the NPF from the earlier drafts especially in terms of regional development, the North West & the All-Ireland dimension and we will study these changes carefully.
“I am however concerned that population growth is still focused on Dublin and the Eastern Midlands region which effectively means the Dublin commuter belt. This is not sustainable.
“The plan also remains blind to spatial dimension of deprivation and inequality and the public transport and climate change mitigation measures remain relatively weak.
“I am disappointed that the North has been treated as a neighbour rather than an integral part of the plan distinct from other EU member states.
“In relation to the housing elements announced today, the Land Regeneration Agency has potential if it is designed properly, has real powers and focuses on delivering Council led social and affordable housing on public land. We also need more detail on the public transport and climate change mitigation measures.
“There is still a need to clarify the legal status of the NPF as it is not yet on a statutory footing and contrary to government claims this can only be done following votes in the Dáil and Seanad. This needs to be teased out during the Dáil statements next week.”
Speaking in Sligo today, at the government launch of the National Development Plan which promises investment of €116 billion over a decade, Sinn Féin's Martin Kenny TD said that he welcomes the plan, if the North West gets its fair share of the development it needs.
The Sinn Féin TD for Sligo, Leitrim, North Roscommon and South Donegal said:
“Any commitment to invest in infrastructure and prepare for the future is to be welcomed, but I am very disappointed to see no mention of the Western Rail Corridor, which with EU funding could almost be cost neutral.
“The EU Low Carbon Transport Initiative will provide 75% funding for such projects and could introduce an efficient electrified rail network in the West which would enhance the Atlantic Economic Corridor.
“I am glad to see mention of funding for rural areas and it is now up to us in the North West to keep up the pressure and ensure that this area receives the necessary funding to redress the neglect of past decades and to bring this area into the 21st century in terms of infrastructure.”
Sinn Féin has published its submission to the Commission on the Future of Policing.
Sinn Féin TD and Justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said that the Commission on the Future of Policing need to show significant ambition.
The Cork South Central TD said:
“We are at a critical juncture in relation to policing and the future role of An Garda Síochána. Regrettably, public confidence in An Garda Síochána has been shaken by scandal after scandal, controversy after controversy, including the inflation of Mandatory Alcohol Tests, financial irregularities at Templemore, and most of all, the failure to support whistleblowers.
“So, the Commission on the Future of Policing is Critical, and like Patten Commission in the north, it must address issue of Public Confidence. The plan produced and implemented going forward is not something we can afford to get wrong.
“However, if it is successful and properly implemented, it is possible to deliver both a radical new departure in policing policy and a policing service which enjoys a high degree of public confidence, trust and esteem.
“Sinn Féin believes that everyone is entitled to policing that serves the people, that serves the Community as a whole. Since the introduction of the Garda Síochána Act in 2005, we have seen significant changes in how the structures of policing operate in the state. However, some of those changes have been piecemeal, and incomplete, and a great deal more is needed.
“We have outlined in our submission how we would like to see the oversight bodies have much greater powers, including full capacity for the Policing Authority to Hire, and remove from position Senior officers.
“The policing Authority must also have a much more direct role, in directing and guiding Garda Policy, including in the allocation of its budget.
“It also should not need the consent of the Minister for any of its functions, and we would propose expanding the Policing Authority to 21 to make it more representative, and to take in Political Representation.
“The Policing Authority has now begun the process of recruitment of a new Commissioner. Our view that this appointment is a process that should not be rushed, should be comprehensive, and that the appointment of a new Garda Commissioner, ideally from outside of the state, with a proven track record in the area of reform, is crucial to ensure far reaching reform of An Garda Síochána in its entirety.
“Our submission contains 77 specific Recommendations, which we feel are essential to the historic transformation of Policing in Ireland.
“Some of our key recommendations to the Commission are:
· GSOC needs to be fully empowered and independent, it must be given the right to make unannounced visits to Garda stations, its access to PULSE must be placed on a statutory footing, and it should have power to investigate retired Gardaí, if it is in public interest to do so
o Serving officers of An Garda Síochána should not be seconded to GSOC and it should have powers of investigation in respect of the work of the Garda Commissioner.
· We support the establishment of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate, replacing the Garda Inspectorate and cover all policing and justice related agencies.
· We do not support the separation of the Gardaí in to two Policing Bodies. We believe in a Unitary Police force, with a single Garda Commissioner above it.
· We want the Commission on consider extending the application of the Freedom of Information Act to the Garda Síochána.
· The establishment of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate, replacing the Garda Inspectorate and cover all policing and justice related agencies.
· The next Commissioner should be somebody from outside the jurisdiction that has no connection to the ongoing controversies or current An Garda Síochána structures.
· Reverse the reduction in Community Gardaí, and bring the number from 744, back up to 2010 levels of 1,200, and a return to the principles in ‘The Community Model of Policing’
Note: Please see the document attached
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said today the British government has a responsibility to release funding for legacy inquests and begin the consultation on the legacy structures agreed at Stormont House.
The north Belfast MLA said:
“Despite the fact that the DUP Leadership collapsed the talks to restore the political institutions victims and survivors of the conflict should not be punished by their failure to close an agreement.
“The British government has a responsibility to start the consultation on the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House more than three years ago.
“They should furthermore release the money requested by the Lord Chief Justice to deal with the backlog of legacy inquests.
“This issue should not be allowed to remain a political football as the role of the Lord Chief Justice is simply about running the courts in the interests of all.
“It is unacceptable that some families have waited more than four decades for this most basic of human rights and the British government should move immediately to bring their suffering to an end.”
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has called for the publication of the Crowley Report into the death of Aidan McAnespie.
The Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA said:
“Wednesday (21st February) will mark the 30th anniversary of the killing of Aidan McAnespie.
“His family have waited too long for the full details of his death to be released.
“I attended Crowley enquiry to give evidence as I was there on the day Aidan was shot and was one of the first on the scene.
“I gave evidence in the hope of helping the family get truth and justice in relation to Aidan's killing.
“I am happy to have the evidence I supplied made public and I would encourage others who participated to call for the release of this information.
“Next Saturday (25th February) will see the ‘Time for Truth Legacy March’ organised by the Time for Truth Committee and I would encourage all families and victims to attend.”
Paul Maskey has said that the self-styled NIAC inquiry into Devolution represents a thinly veiled attack on the political institutions established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Maskey said:
"This Committee is a pro-unionist talking shop dominated by the DUP and their allies at Westminster.
"It has never made any positive contribution to reconciliation or the peace process.
“It was set up as a sop to extreme unionism and its political bias is confirmed in its invitation to a loyalist flag protester to give evidence to its self-styled inquiry.
"The NIAC's so-called inquiry into Devolution represents a thinly veiled attack on the political institutions established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement."
Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd has welcomed news that 9-year-old Conor Creaney has been found.
John O’Dowd said:
“Conor had been missing from 3pm on Thursday and many people were involved in searching for him.
“I want to commended the efforts of the community in Lurgan and indeed the PSNI in looking for Conor and ensuring he was found safe and well.”
Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Fingal Louise O’Reilly has challenged the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten to increase broadband provision and speeds for Fingal.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“There is a serious problem with broadband in Ireland. We are 21st out 25 EU member States in terms of broadband speeds, behind Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, and Jersey.
“In Fingal, there are severe connectivity problems. This is particularly acute in Balbriggan where the issue of the availability of broadband is preventing the town and the rural area from achieving its potential economically.
“Even on a social level, it is having a devastating effect. The people of Fingal want to be able to Skype their parents or children or book tickets for a concert or to go see the Dubs online, but the connectivity problems are restricting what they can do.
“The Minister needs to make sure that under the National Broadband Plan that Fingal, Balbriggan, and other broadband black spots in north county Dublin get access to high quality broadband and that they get it as quickly as possible.
“High speed broadband has the possibility of transforming Ireland, but we can’t just bring it to big population centres, the small towns and countryside needs it too.”
Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy has rejected a claim from DUP Leader Nigel Dodds that his party would never have agreed to an Irish Language act as part of a draft agreement to restore the power-sharing institutions.
The Newry Armagh MLA, responding to Nigel Dodds, said:
“The DUP leadership were at all times aware that an Acht Gaelige was required as part of a draft agreement.
“It was the DUP themselves who made it essential through their deliberate disrespect and abuse of the Irish language and culture. Legal protections were necessary to prevent any repeat of that abuse.
“But having eventually conceded to its inclusion in the draft agreement, the DUP then decided to renege on this and collapse the talks.
“As a result, instead of being back in a reformed Executive, the DUP have walked away from the process. In so doing, they have abandoned their responsibilities to our public services, leaving them at the mercy of their partners in the Tory Party with their twin agendas of a hard Brexit and harder austerity.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Employment Affairs & Social Protection John Brady TD has criticised the government for continually failing to act in support of lone parents despite the growing evidence as to the issues they face.
Speaking on the debate into a Committee report on lone parents, Teachta Brady said:
“There is now so much evidence as to the difficulties facing lone parents and their children, that it is difficult to comprehend the Government’s indifference to the issues. This Committee report provides only a snapshot as to these issues.
“Aside from this Committee report, we have seen a damning indictment of government policy when it comes to lone parents through a variety of reports such as Millar & Crosse, Indecon, Survey on Income & Living Condition data and most recently, from the ESRI.
“It beggars belief as to how much more evidence this government actually needs before they will act. It also raises the question as to how much longer this government will continue to neglect lone parents and their children.
“We need targeted measures across all government departments if we are to improve the lives of lone parents and their children from education to housing to social protection. There has to be a whole of government approach if we are to tackle the issues facing lone parents and their children.
“Central to all of this must be the establishment of a child maintenance service, as recommended by the Committee Report, which has been proven to play a role in reducing child poverty. Sinn Féin has given the proposals to establish such a service to the government, it is achievable and it will make a difference.”
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said today:
"The DUP leader brought this phase of negotiations to a close and said “there is no current prospect of these discussions leading to an Executive being formed.
"It is up to Arlene Foster to explain this given that the DUP and Sinn Féin leaderships had achieved an accommodation across the issues involved.
"In fact we had a draft agreement by the end of last week. At that time we advised the DUP leadership that the deal should be closed before those opposed to it could unpick what we had achieved.
"We made it clear that if there was a delay there was every chance that the package would unravel.
"The DUP failed to close the deal and went on to collapse the talks process.
"The first point I want to make is an obvious one; this phase of the negotiations is over.
"Sinn Féin has worked diligently with the governments, the DUP and others to restore the political institutions.
"We did so because the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are in the best interests of all our people, our economy, our public services and building reconciliation.
"However, these institutions must operate with respect, equality and integrity.
"That was Sinn Féin’s approach and that remains our approach.
"There has been a lot of speculation about what was in the draft agreement between us and the DUP.
"There have been calls for it to be published.
"Sinn Féin at this time will not be publishing the draft agreement.
"This is in keeping with our obligations to ensure that any future phase of negotiations has the best chance to succeed.
"However, this will not happen unless the unionist parties embrace the need for a rights-based society and for citizens' here to enjoy all those rights available across these islands.
"In keeping with our commitment to transparency we will provide copies of the draft agreement text to the two governments and we will brief the other parties in the Assembly and the Oireachtas.
"Let me also say that a lot of mistruths and inaccuracies have been peddled about the content of the draft agreement.
"For the record the draft record included an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a Respecting Language and Diversity Act.
"The Irish Language Act included provision for official recognition of Irish, the creation of an Irish Language Commissioner. The repeal of the ban on Irish in the courts was also to be legislated for.
"It did not involve at any stage making Irish compulsory or applying quotas to public services. This was not a consideration.
"There has been no meeting of minds on Marriage Equality.
"We anticipate that this issue will be fully considered by the Assembly in the form of a Private Member’s Bill and it is acknowledged that no party alone can table a Petition of Concern.
"There was also agreement to review the abuse of the Petition of Concern and establishing a committee to look at the Bill of Rights.
"Separate from the agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin we had a commitment from the British government to put to consultation the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House and release the funding requested by the Lord Chief Justice for coroner’s courts.
"Sinn Féin accepted the DUP proposals on sustainability of the institutions.
"There was agreement that the British government will legislate so that the Justice Minister is elected in the same manner as other ministers for the Assembly elections in 2022.”
Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O’Neill added:
“If the DUP leadership had closed the deal last week the Executive would be on the cusp of being re-established to implement the agreement, set a budget and work to deliver for all.
"Given that the DUP leadership has now prevented this the two governments must now move ahead to implement existing agreements on legacy and an Irish Language Act and meet their obligations for equality, by bringing forward legislation on marriage equality.
"We will be speaking with the British Prime Minister later today and with the Taoiseach.
"We are calling upon them to establish the British Irish inter-governmental conference as soon as possible.
"We are also very conscious that the Tory government supported by the DUP are set on taking this part of Ireland out of the European Union despite the vote of the people of the north to remain and regardless of the damage this will do to the people of the island of Ireland.
"Sinn Féin will continue to oppose this and to argue for designated special status for the North.”