Speaking during the opening session of the 2017 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, party Leader in the North Michelle O'Neill MLA said Sinn Féin is committed to tackling sectarianism, building a just and fair society based on equality and respect and reiterated Sinn Féin's commitment to the restoration of an Executive at Stormont that delivers for everyone.
Michelle O'Neill said:
"A key challenge for us all is to confront sectarianism and the causes which segregate our communities still – 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement.
"The DUP’s denial of rights for all citizens, and the failure to fully implement previous political agreements, the contempt shown for Irish national identity and culture combined with the RHI scandal to tip us into the ongoing political crisis.
"These rights include marriage equality, language rights, a bill of rights and the rights to an inquest in legacy cases.
"An Irish Language Act has both practical and symbolic importance in recognising and respecting Irish national identity."
Michelle O'Neill also repeated that Sinn Féin remain committed to the political institutions.
"Sinn Féin has invested hugely in the peace process and the political institutions for the benefit of everyone and we remain committed to making the institutions work.
"I want to lead Sinn Féin back into a new Executive, which represents genuine equal partnership Government.
"For over 10 months Sinn Féin has sought to resolve these issues through dialogue and political negotiations with the DUP and both Governments.
"However, despite our best endeavours the discussions were unsuccessful. In large part this was pre-determined by the Conservative party’s pact with the DUP to keep them in government.
"Sinn Féin remains committed to the restoration of the institutions and the Executive.
"However, they only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve. For, as Martin McGuinness said, there is no going back to the status quo."
The Sinn Féin leader in the North also said Sinn Féin will continue to work to find a solution to the current political challenges.
"We in the Sinn Féin leadership will continue to play our part to make every effort to find a political solution to the political breakdown. These issues are not going away.
"If the DUP or anyone else wish to exercise political power in Government in the North of Ireland now or in the future, then the cost is to embrace a rights-based society and equal partnership government, which works for everyone. This would pave the way for the Executive to be restored.
"The people voted for the implementation of previous political agreements; they voted for the values of the Good Friday Agreement and they voted for a step change and no return to the status quo.
"That’s what I am about. That’s what Sinn Féin is about."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs Denise Mitchell TD has said the Social Justice in the EU Report for 2017 highlights the urgent need for increased investment in early childhood education, saying:
“Ireland ranks bottom of 28 EU countries in terms of pre-primary education expenditure. Investment in our youngest citizens is not only good for children, families and society, but studies consistently show it has long-term economic benefits for the State as a whole.
“For far too long, successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments have totally ignored the need to invest in early years services. While there has been an increase in focus and investment on these services by Government in recent Budgets, it is simply nowhere near the level required to deliver affordable and high quality early years services.
“I hope that the Government will take heed of this report and take the necessary steps required to deliver high-quality, affordable early years services that are accessible and which see workers paid appropriately for the important jobs they do.”
Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has announced plans to host a delegation of survivors of abuse in state-funded schools in Europe next week as pressure mounts on the Irish Government to remove its inhuman barriers to redress and restitution.
Speaking at a press conference in Cork today with representatives of the VOCADS (Victims Of Child Abuse in Day Schools) group to announce the delegation, Ms Ní Riada said the purpose of the visit was to bring international pressure to bear on the Irish Government to cease their mistreatment of abuse survivors.
“Victims of abuse in any setting carry with them the pain and trauma of that abuse their whole lives,” she said.
“It is society’s duty to help ameliorate that trauma, firstly by acknowledging its how horrifically wrong it was and is, and secondly by making genuine efforts to redress the wrongs done to them.
“Following a heroic legal battle in 2014 by Louise O’Keeffe the state was shown to be liable for abuse that occurred in state-funded schools. Its worth pointing out that Louise was forced to fight her case to the highest levels in Ireland, before getting justice in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
“The modest and belated redress scheme established by Government in the wake of the Louise O’Keeffe case was designed to be inaccessible and to effectively lock survivors out. Many brave men and women, who did a service to the state in seeing their attackers tried and convicted, are now being fought tooth and nail by the state.
“Furthermore the Government's gross misinterpretation of the outcome of Louise's trial, in which a previous complaint against her abuser helped her achieve a ruling, means the Government is, unbelievably, telling abusers that they get their first victim for free.
“It is an appalling abuse of justice and insult to victims.
“Instead of acknowledging the wrong done to these survivors and seeking to make right the injustices of the past, the Government is perpetuating the pain. I am outraged beyond belief that in the wake of the many painful revelations around abuse over the past decades our Government continues to maintain a confrontational outlook to those it has failed in the most grievous way possible.
“Next Tuesday a delegation of 17 survivors of abuse in state-funded schools will travel to Brussels as my guests, where I will facilitate a hearing in the European Parliament. The delegation will have an opportunity to give their testimony before a panel of MEPs and international human rights NGOs.
“It is hoped that with mounting political pressure at home and abroad these brave men and women will get the justice and redress that they deserve.”
The British Army and State must accept responsibility for the death of 11-year-old Francis Rowntree following today’s damning verdict at Belfast Coroner’s Court, Sinn Féin Victims Spokesperson Linda Dillon has said.
The Mid-Ulster MLA was speaking following the conclusion of the legacy inquest into the death of Francis Rowntree who died two days after being struck by a rubber bullet while walking close to the Falls Road in April 1972.
“Today’s ruling is a damning incdictment of the British State and its use of so-called non-lethal weapons,” Linda Dillon commented.
“The coroner ruled that there was no justification for the use of lethal force which cost the life of Francis Rowntree, an innocent boy of just 11 years-old.
“He also found that it was the ‘deficiencies of the State’ which led to the firing of such a lethal weapon at a child.
“The acknowledgement of rubber bullets as lethal weapons is a vindication of the campaign to ban all baton rounds and an indictment of the state’s continued use of them. The PSNI should withdraw them immediately as a consequence of today’s ruling.
“The British State and armed forces must also accept their culpability for the death of Francis Rowntree. His family had to wait over 40 years for the truth. They should not have to wait for justice.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Brexit David Cullinane TD has said today that the Tory government must deliver on no return to a border on the island of Ireland.
Speaking today, Deputy Cullinane said:
"Honey words and hollow promises from Theresa May and Boris Johnson do not wash when set against the stated position of the British Government."They are engaged in fantasy politics and are without credibility."They say that the North will leave the European Union but there will be no hardening of the border.
"They say the North will leave the customs union and single market but they claim it will have no impact on trade and the all-island economy.
"They say they will protect the Good Friday agreement, but are supporting the Good Friday Agreement leaving the legal framework of the European Union."Any commitments given to move on from phase one need a solid basis.
"We cannot have a situation arise whereby a vague and non-binding formula of words proffered by the Tories is accepted as sufficient progress.
"Both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs must hold firm and use the veto on the talks unless the interests of the people of Ireland are addressed."
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture Food and Marine Martin Kenny TD is calling for Government policy on afforestation to be amended to benefit both agriculture and the environment.
Deputy Kenny said;
“We understand that there is currently a review of the forestry programme taking place and that now is the time for the government to rectify the mistakes of the current programme.
“Sinn Féin would like to see more focus on hardwoods and native species instead of the mono-culture where the landscape is covered with Sitka Spruce. This type of blanket planting while unsightly is not as beneficial to the environment.
“It is well known that the environmental benefits from hardwoods far out way that of Sitka Spruce forests.
“Sinn Féin want to see stricter conditions placed on those receiving the top level of grant aid, namely that it should only be available to a farmer engaged in mixed farming practices that extend beyond forestry.
"We also want to see the farmer should live within a 50km radius of the plantation so that the local economy would also see some benefit from the grant aid.
“There was a pilot programme for Agro Forestry introduced which was limited and had low grant aid. We would like to see this extended with higher levels of forestry grant with premiums for at least 15 years, so that forestry and grazing can work together and provide a mixed income for farmers.
“The Minister for Agriculture has the opportunity here to get a forestry programme that is both good for Agriculture and the Environment.”
Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has called for greater resources for the European Court of Auditors to ensure transparency, compliance and performance in spending of EU funds by Member States.
The Ireland South MEP, who sits on the EU Budgets Committee and is Budgets Co-ordinator for the GUE/NGL group, dsaid the court had a track record in ensuring the proper spending of funds.
“The non-implementation of recommendations determined by the European Court of Auditors is leading to large amounts of EU funding not being spent by Member States in many funding programmes,” she said.
“The European Court of Auditors has an extremely high record of report publication and oversight on the spending and indeed non-spending of European funding.
“Cohesion funding particularly is not being spent on a level anywhere near what is available. In 2017 alone, almost €10 billion remained unspent.
“This is leading to the non-implementation of key EU policies which have a direct impact on Ireland in the areas of jobs, growth and investment.
“With the onset of Brexit and an already developing black hole in funds for future European budgets post 2020, it is incumbent on Member States, and I specifically aim this towards the Irish Government, to draw down all European Funding that is available and ready to finance badly needed projects throughout the island of Ireland.
“In order to ensure this happens, the EU itself needs to properly resource the European Court of Auditors from a staffing and budgetary point of view. This will in turn pressure Member States, including Ireland, to up their performance, deliver more projects and meet the needs of all sectors in society.”
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Business, Enterprise and Innovation Maurice Quinlivan TD today criticised Fine Gael for trying to block a Sinn Féin Bill that would bring an end to the use of zero hour contracts.
Deputy Quinlivan was speaking in a debate on the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation’s Report on Sinn Féin’s Banded Hours Bill, which supports the progressing of the Bill and suggested amendments to it that would be accepted.
Speaking today Deputy Quinlivan said;
“There is a very simple agenda behind this proposed piece of legislation; to give workers more security about the hours they work, and the amount they will get paid as a result.
“It does not seek to give workers additional hours or more pay; it just aims to give employees an entitlement to know the hours they will be required to work, based on their usual work pattern. That is not too much to ask.
“It is incredibly unfair that currently some workers do not know how many hours they will receive from week to week, and so cannot budget for simple everyday expenses, or plan how many hours childcare they will need, or apply for a loan because they don’t know what their income will be.
“I am a member of the Business, Enterprise and Innovation Committee, which gave this Bill a great deal of scrutiny and debate over a number of months this year. Our Committee heard from a broad range of representatives from both sides. In fact we heard from 44 different individuals, from over 20 separate organisations over a 5 month period.
“After hearing all the arguments, I am in absolutely no doubt that the benefits this Bill would bring to workers, far out way the small inconvenience employers would face in giving workers contracts with hours that reflect the hours they work anyway.
“The Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation, concluded that it is ‘fully supportive of the stated aim of the Bill and is of the opinion that employees’ contracts should reflect the hours they habitually work. This would allow workers increased security of income and allow them to better plan their lives and futures.’
“The Committee made a number of recommendations of changes to the Bill, to ensure it is constitutionally sound and fair. These amendments would be accepted by the Bill’s author Deputy David Cullinane.
“The government today are rejecting the report into this Bill, and as a result throwing months of work and scrutiny by the Oireachtas Committee back in our faces. They are belittling the legislative process.
“The Minister now says she wants to introduce a brand new piece of legislation, and apart from this being a total waste of time, it will be significantly weaker than this Bill, as it will exclude ‘casual workers’, which constitutes most employees affected, therefore resulting in a piece of ineffective, symbolic legislation that will be of no help to workers. “
Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane today welcomed the decision by the National Transport Authority to award the Waterford bus routes to Bus Éireann.
Deputy Cullinane said:
“This is a vindication of the Bus Éireann funding model.
“It challenges the myth that public transport companies are not competitive.
“Bus Éireann is an essential part of our public transport network.
“It provides a good quality service to a huge number of towns and villages that would otherwise be isolated.
“The private model that the Minister and the Government really want will not work in the interests of rural communities.
“I am not against private operators but, first and foremost, I am for public services and a public transport system.
“The government should now abandon plans to outsources routes and allow Bus Éireann to continue to offer public service routes.”
Imelda Munster TD, Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson for Transport, has welcomed an announcement that Bus Éireann has been awarded the contract relating to the operation of five city bus routes in Waterford City which had been put out to tender by the National Transport Authority.
Deputy Munster said:
“It is fantastic news for Bus Éireann that they have retained the contract to run bus services in Waterford City.
“This gives merit to the notion that Bus Éireann, as the national carrier, has the skills and experience to continue to run bus services across the state, and should be facilitated in doing so by the state.
“I would like to see more investment in the company, especially given how Bus Éireann suffered from serious neglect during the recessionary years and has been struggling in recent times as a result.
“The company needs support from the state to ensure that buses and services are first class, and are providing an excellent service across the state. This also rings true for our rail services.
“With sufficient investment and support our national transport network can be hugely successful, and there is no justification for government to steer us down the route of privatisation.
“With targeted state investment both Iarnród Éireann and Bus Éireann can thrive and provide first-class services that we can all take pride in.”
Sinn Féin MEP for Ireland South, Liadh Ní Riada, has called on the Irish Government to draw down EU funds in order to upgrade Ireland's water infrastructure.
Speaking from Strasbourg Ms Ní Riada said;
“In Ireland, our water infrastructure is simply put, outdated and in serious need of an upgrade.
"This upgrade can be funded through EU programs, such as European Structural and Investment Funds or Horizon 2020. The government is duty bound to upgrade the system, which is failing to meet standards and is putting the public at risk.
“Construction of waste water collection and treatment infrastructure requires important investments, for which there are funding opportunities under the European and Structural and Investments Funds.
“Just last week we saw reports that a microscopic parasite that can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness has been detected in the drinking water supplies of two areas in north Cork.
“I will be writing to the Minister responsible, Eoghan Murphy, in the coming days asking him about our failure to meet the highest standards in waste-water treatment,
"I call on him here to today to explore avenues of funding that he and the Government avail of to upgrade our water system and protect the public's wellbeing."
Communities and statutory agencies must work together to combat suicide, Sinn Féin’s mental health spokesperson Órlaithí Flynn MLA has said.Addressing Contact’s annual suicide prevention conference in Belfast today, she also highlighted the success of united community and statutory responses following a spate of suicides in the Colin area.
Órlaithí Flynn commented: “The plan involved all agencies working together to ensure that as a result of one incident that we didn’t end up with a cluster of suicides.
“It involved counselling services, children’s services, youth providers, women’s & men’s groups, schools, churches and any other group that had a role to play.
“It was a joint community and statutory response - that was one of the things that worked.
“Since then, I’m glad to report, suicide rates have fallen dramatically in the Colin Area and so far we have not experienced a repeat of that terrible period.
“It just shows that action can be taken and deaths can be avoided and that should encourage us as we move forward.”
Sinn Féin has welcomed today's confirmation that a controversial proposal to close St Mary’s High School in Brollagh has been withdrawn.
Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Jemma Dolan said the news was welcome but also called for immediate steps to safeguard the long-term future of the school.
“Today’s news is fantastic for all those involved with St. Mary's and the campaign to retain the school,” she commented. “I want to commend everyone who worked so hard to prevent the closure.
“What we need to see now is an end to the uncertainty surrounding St. Mary’s and Sinn Féin will continue to engage with the Department of Education and the CCMS towards that end.
“We also repeat our call for CCMS to recognise the unique issues facing St Mary’s and, rather that constantly seeking its closure, work with the local community to develop feasible alternatives to sustain the school into the future.”
Sinn Féin infrastructure spokesperson Philip McGuigan has welcomed the announcement of a further £20 million from BT in ultrafast broadband in the North.
The North Antrim MLA said:
“The investment of £20 million will see 25 per cent of homes and businesses in the North scheduled to have access to ultrafast broadband by March 2019.
“This investment is significant and will help to further future proof the North’s internet economy and society, infrastructure and will see it rank favourably among the best fibre networks in Europe.
“However, it is essential there is additional investment in the future to ensure regional balance in access to broadband in rural areas and West of the Bann.
“Another welcome part of this investment is news that BT will recruit additional apprentices and graduates with 42 apprentices and graduates being recruited over the next 10 months.
“Roll-out of this latest phase of network will begin immediately and run until March 2019. The areas to benefit will be announced on a rolling basis and published on www.nibroadband.com.”
Speaking after visiting the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston to discuss the plight of the Undocumented Irish, Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir pledged “unstinting support” for efforts to have the status of the undocumented regularised.
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said:
“While the entire issue of immigration remains a volatile one in the US, it’s crucial that the plight of the undocumented Irish who are living in a limbo in their adopted country is not forgotten about.
“An estimated 50,000 Irish citizens — from right across the island — have been left in an immigration no-man’s-land due to circumstances beyond their control. All are contributing to the US with their skills and taxes but find they can’t leave the US to attend a funeral or wedding or to visit relatives back home in Ireland without giving up their residency in the US.
“I applaud the Irish International Immigrant Center, under the leadership of Antrim-native Ronnie Millar, for providing support for the undocumented Irish but also for their commitment to provide sanctuary to immigrants from around the world who make their home in Boston.
“Their vision of 'a shared society where all people are welcomed and valued and enjoy equal opportunities and protections’ is one which is shared by people of goodwill in their sister city of Belfast.
"It was inspiring to hear how immigrant and refugee families are contributing to Greater Boston's economy and vibrancy.
"I was also delighted to hear that the Ulster University's US Intern Placement Program is going strong and the J1 interns I met this morning are doing amazing work here in Boston.
"What a nice outcome of the Belfast-Boston Sister City Partnership.
“I will be meeting with senior State and national politicians over the next 48 hours and have pledged to raise the case of the undocumented Irish with them again."
The Dáil has today accepted the Multi Party Action Bill, proposed by Deputies Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire and Pearse Doherty. The Bill was supported by Fianna Fáil, Labour, Solidarity & People before Profit as well as Independents.
Speaking today, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, said that this was significant news for those who had been ripped off in the tracker mortgage scandal.
“I am delighted the Dáil has passed this bill, and I believe it is a very significant statement in favour of this model of litigation.
“For far too long the law has been balanced in favour of the powerful and the wealthy. This bill redresses that Balance significantly.
“Powerful bodies have advantage of the fact that those affected are often not in a position to take an action themselves, because of the financial cost in doing so alone.
“People, who have been ripped off by banks, or who have suffered due to negligence or fraud or malpractice on the part of individuals or institutions, can now come together and move forward on the basis of strength in numbers.
“It allows people who have been affected by a similar injustice to take an action together.
“We want to give those affected by scandals like the tracker mortgage scandal the tools to take on the banks, and the passing of this bill is a significant step.
"The bill will now proceed to committee stage, and I look forward to engaging with other deputies on improving the bill and making it law."
The West Belfast MLA also said an urgent review must be held regarding PIP assessments which are unfairly disadvantaging claimants:
"From the start, the implementation of Universal Credit has been a disaster that has only caused more hardship in areas where it is now operational.
"The six week waiting period is a shameful policy designed to punish vulnerable welfare recipients. It should be scrapped immediately.
"Extortionate helpline charges, which are often the only means by which recipients can make benefit queries, are unfair and should also be scrapped.
"Sinn Féin will also be pressing Capita, a private firm conducting reassessments, to review their assessment process which has proved restrictive and unjust.
"The fact that so many claimants are unfairly rejected, only to have these decisions overturned on appeal, signals a deliberate attempt to drive away citizens from benefits to which they are entitled."
Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that this Government has, like its predecessors, has not taken enough action on tackling White Collar Crime.
Speaking last night during the second stage of the Criminal Justice (Corruption) Bill, the Cork South Central TD said that there was significant areas which had been neglected in this legislation, though Sinn Féin would be supporting the modest measures.
Deputy Ó Laoghaire said:
“Corruption, whether in Public Life, or in Business and Commerce, has been a part of the History of our state. We have had Tribunals into various issues, we have had Planning corruption, zoning controversies, bribery, corporate fraud, and more.
“Yet, the Governments attitude towards corporate fraud and corruption has been casual and slack, and although not exclusively confined to white collar crime, it appears to date where the Government have been most passive.
“This legislation has some significant and obvious gaps. In particular, it is incredible that there is nothing on the issue of reckless lending. There is little about individuality accountability, or liability, beyond what the EU had recommended and the consolidation of mostly already existing offences here.
“Even issues raised by the Central Bank, such as the need for a new offence of giving misleading information to the Central Bank, are not addressed which is very disappointing; that could and should have happened. We also need Class Action type legislation, which Sinn Féin proposed this week in the Dáil.
“We need a major cultural shift, but this Bill won't deliver that or the legal changes we need. Today’s plan would not have prevented the banking crash or brought more of those responsible to Justice.
“These cultural issues reflected in a study conducted by EY in June of this year, which saw some 47% of Irish employees interviewed believed bribery and corrupt practices were widespread, while 22% said they would be prepared to act unethically to improve their career progression or remuneration package. These are much higher than other countries.
“To tackle this, we need changes in legislation, but also an overhaul and more funding for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The ODCE has brought no prosecutions and achieved no convictions in this state in the past two years. Only 43 prosecutions have been brought by the ODCE in the past decade, a shockingly low amount over this period of time, and given the context of all that has gone one since 2007.
“It has also recently come to light that the most senior Garda position in the ODCE has been vacant since September 2016. Why is this? In addition, the annual reports of the ODCE show that almost €6 million in its allocated funding has been returned to the state over in the past three years alone, including €2.7 million in 2016, in the same year when no prosecutions or convictions were achieved by this agency.
“That simply isn’t good enough. One of the things that frustrated the population most over the course of the recession was that while people suffered, and people suffered grievously, that it appeared that no one was being brought to justice. We did not see the level of court cases that were brought in the US, or in other jurisdictions, where corrupt and immoral practices took place, and reckless to the point of wrongdoing practices, took place. Yet, they did not see the people who many felt were responsible, brought to Justice.
“We will be supporting this legislation, however, the Government has not, and is not doing anywhere near enough to tackle White Collar Crime - and it is not a victimless Crime.”
Speaking after a meeting with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this evening, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the Taoiseach should stop pretending the current crisis in the North is because of a row between Sinn Féin and the DUP and called on the government to seek a formal meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to secure rights and the implementation of previous agreements.
The Sinn Féin delegation to the meeting included Mary Lou McDonald TD, and MLAs Michelle O'Neill and Conor Murphy.
Speaking today Gerry Adams said:
“Since the resignation of Martin McGuinness Sinn Féin has sought to have the rights of citizens in the north of Ireland respected and previous agreements implemented.
“This is a completely reasonable ask and expectation.
“These rights include marriage equality, language rights, a bill of rights and the rights to an inquest in legacy cases. These are enjoyed here and across Britain.
“For over 10 months Sinn Féin has sought to resolve these issues. The move by the British Government to impose a budget was an acknowledgement that no agreement with the DUP was possible.
“The DUP have, so far refused to respect these rights and honour the previous agreements. The British Government, led by Theresa May, is prepared to put up with this for her short-term electoral survival.
“The DUP cannot be given a veto on rights and previous agreements.
“It is now time for the governments to act. If we are to re-establish the Executive, the role of the Irish Government will be decisive.
“The Irish Government are neither neutral or neutered on this matter. They need to make clear that the way forward is the full implementation of the agreements and the rights of citizens.
“These issues are not going away. Irish Government must now seek a formal meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to secure rights and the implementation of previous agreements.
“Sinn Féin will also be meeting the British Prime Minister Theresa May on these issues next week.”