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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson and Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD has said the Taoiseach contradicted himself in the Dáil today when on one hand he welcomed the fact that less people now qualified for medical cards and on the other said he wanted to extend qualification. Deputy Ó Caoláin highlighted the Fianna Fáil pre-election promise of 200,000 extra medical cards and pointed out that two years on, 20,000 less people qualify.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The Taoiseach cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim that less people qualify because there is less unemployment and also claim he wants to extend qualification. Does he deny that those just above the disgracefully low income limit are in real hardship?"

"On Sunday last the Taoiseach addressed some of the Fianna Fáil faithful at Arbour Hill to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Rising. But the 25th of April 2004 marked another anniversary ? a very significant one in Irish politics. I refer to the publication of the Fianna Fáil General Election Manifesto of 2002. The now infamous manifesto stated that "in government Fianna Fáil will permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years through a combination of bed capacity, primary care, secondary care and targeted reform initiatives". Exactly two years on that promise has become due but there are still some 27,000 people on hospital waiting lists. Every one of these is a real person with a real illness and living in pain, discomfort and anxiety for want of the hospital care which they need and deserve but are being denied. The Taoiseach must apologise to the Irish people for misleading them so outrageously two years ago?

"Does the Taoiseach recall that the manifesto he launched with such fanfare two years and three days ago also promised to extend medical card eligibility to over 200,000 extra people with a clear priority being given to families with children? Does he realise that there are now 20,000 less people qualifying for the medical card than there were in 2002?

"Will the Taoiseach also apologise to the Irish people for this broken promise, especially to low-income families who struggle desperately to meet the medical needs of their children?"

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to describe the Taoiseach's response in which he listed off a litany of statistics in relation to healthcare as "meaningless". He said,

"The Taoiseach responds with his usual litany of figures. They are meaningless to the people who look to the government to fulfil the commitments it made - People in desperate need of assistance because they are months or years on hospital waiting lists or are unable to afford medical bills for their families and are earning just above the disgracefully low income guidelines for medical card qualification." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy speaking ahead of the expected publication of the Boundary Commission report has said that any proposed changes must not distort political representation and that Sinn Fein will particularly resist any boundary changes that distort nationalist representation.

Mr Molloy said:

"Sinn Fein will study these proposals in detail on a constituency by constituency basis.

"Given the historic legacy of the Boundary Commission and its role in political Gerrymandering we will be working to ensure that any proposed changes do not distort political representation. Sinn Fein will particularly resist any boundary changes that distort nationalist representation.

"In all constituencies, particularly those with a minority of nationalist representatives Sinn Fein will stand against any changes that minimise or remove nationalist representation. This is particularly significant in constituencies such as Lagan Valley, South Antrim, North West and East Belfast.

"As we saw with the electoral legislation great care must be taken to ensure that changes that affect the democratic process to do discriminate against any section of our society and do not disenfranchise the supporters of any political party." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly has accused the British Prime Minister Tony Blair of 'deliberately dodging the issue of collusion'. Mr. Kelly's remarks come after the British Prime Minister in the House of Commons today again refused to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.

Mr Kelly said:

" Tony Blair today in the British House of Commons again refused to hold an independent, international inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. He is quite deliberately dodging the issue of collusion and the state sanctioned murder of citizens.

" Again Mr. Blair gives the rational for refusing to hold an inquiry as being the charges currently being faced by Ken Barrett in relation to the murder. This despite the fact that he proceeded with publishing the IMC Report last week despite charges being before the courts on a number of the incidents contained within it.

" Ken Barrett will faced trial before a Diplock Court. For decades the British government have repeated the line that Diplock judges could not be influenced by external issues. Indeed the British government repeated this line in the High Court last week at an application to have the IMC Report stalled.

" Tony Blair cannot have it all ways. He will have to faced up to the legacy of previous British administrations involvement in a policy of state sanctioned murder. He will have to face up to the challenge presented by the fact that many of the people involved in that policy are still in place. He cannot continue to dodge this issue." ENDS

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Just over three million workdays were lost in 2002 as a direct result of workplace related injury or illness. Commenting on these startling figures today, Worker's Memorial Day, Sinn Féin EU candidate for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald expressed her shock and outrage at the figures. The figures were released in a response to a parliamentary question put to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment by Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan TD.

Ms McDonald said: "It is an absolutely shocking statistic that 3.156 million workdays were lost in 2002 due to workplace injury or illness. It is also unsurprising that one of the industrial sectors hit hardest is the construction injury, where almost 100,000 workdays were lost in 2002.

"But statistical analysis can only tell us so much. It can‚t show us the shattered limbs and torn muscles that result from injuries on the job. It says nothing about the suffering of families where the wage earner is crippled because his or her employer decided to cut corners on safety. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that two million workers die a year and for every fatal accident there are 1,000 non-fatal injuries.

"Today is Worker‚s Memorial Day, recognised by the ILO. On the 28th April each year trade unionists around the world commemorate workers who have been killed, injured or made ill because of their work. It is an occasion to remember - but also to campaign for the living, to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace accidents and work-related diseases, and fight for improvements in workplace safety. Hence, "remember the dead and fight for the living".

"Unscrupulous employers putting profits before the safety of their employees, or exploiting the fears and vulnerabilities of employers who are not in a trade union, are putting lives at risk every day in Ireland. Sinn Féin is committed to the principle of mandatory trade union recognition, and I am determined to work towards this aim if elected to the European Parliament." ENDS

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The home of West Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Chrissie McAuley has been attacked with ball bearings overnight. The front window of the home was damaged. Speaking today after the attack Cllr. McAuley said:

" The attack on my home last night is the latest in a series of such attacks on the homes of republicans throughout West Belfast. Only last week the houses of my party colleagues Paul Butler and Fra McCann were targeted in similar attacks.

" The individuals carrying out these attacks are furnished with accurate and up to date information on the addresses of republicans in West Belfast. One obvious source of such information is the PSNI Special Branch. These attacks are not random, they are co-ordinated and well planned.

" Sinn Féin representatives will not be deterring from representing our electorate by attacks of this kind. However what I would say is that if this was happening to any other political party the great and the good would be making their voices heard. So far we have had nothing but silence from other political representatives or the governments." ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU Candidate for the North West Constituency Pearse Doherty, has demanded that An Tánaiste Mary Harney T.D. explain why she failed to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers. Mr Doherty was speaking following the publication of the Prime Time Investigates Programme which showed that expoliation of migrant workers was widespread within the State.

Mr Doherty said:

"The Prime Time programme last night was a timely reminder of the failure of this Government and An Tánaiste in particular to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers in this State.

"This Government's lack of concern for the welfare of migrant workers is clear from their refusal to sign the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and their Families.

It is clear from their rejection of repeated demands from Sinn Fein and voluntary groups working with migrants, for work permits to be issued to the worker rather than the employer to prevent the type of bonded labour that was evident in many of the cases shown on last night's programme.

"An Tánaiste has also done nothing to address the problem of migrant workers being charged for their work permit by unscrupulous agencies. She is offering no assistance to workers who find, through no fault of their own, that they have been made illegal as a result of their employers failing or refusing to renew work permits or because they have been brought here under false pretences by agencies.

"My party colleague Arthur Morgan T.D. has questioned Mary Harney on this issue and has been told that she is unaware of any particular instances where workers are being charged for work permits. Deputy Morgan brought one of the instances referred to in the programe (involving the exploitation of South African workers) directly to the attention of An Tánaiste and her Department. Migrant workers are being exploited on a massive scale and the blame lies with the Tánaiste who has failed to make any effort to protect these vulnerable workers." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Bairbre de Brún has called for urgent action to be taken to plug a loophole which will see former asylum seekers from the 10 new EU accession states evicted from their accommodation and at least in the short term denied the ability to work legally.

Ms de Brún said:

" As it currently sits those claiming asylum here come under the jurisdiction of the Home Office in London. However with the 10 new EU accession states joining the EU on May 1st the status of people from those countries who were claiming asylum has now changed. From Monday they are EU citizens.

" The Home Office therefore are arguing that they are no longer their responsibility and the people concerned have been notified that they are to vacate their accommodation which is paid for by the Home Office before Monday. Many of these people will not have had the opportunity to receive the necessary paperwork to begin work immediately. They will also not have the necessary money to put down a deposit and advance rent on new accommodation and they are denied access to the benefit system through recently passed legislation.

" In short people will be made homeless. This situation can I believe be remedied if the necessary political will is shown. A mechanism for a number of weeks grace could surely be put in place to ensure that people are not thrown onto the street unable to support themselves.

" I have been in touch with a number of refugee support organisations and I will be making representations to the British government to get this anomaly in the regulations sorted out." ENDS

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Speaking after a Sinn Fein delegation including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP, Michelle Gildernew MP, Bairbre de Brún MLA, Gerry Kelly MLA and national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA met with US envoy Mitchel Reiss, Mr Adams said:

"This mornings meeting was a good meeting.

"We expressed the opinion to Mr Reiss that in recent months there has been a dangerous sense of drift and crisis within the process.

"In our view much of this is down to the failures of the two governments to deliver on their commitments under the Agreement and following on from last October.

"The failure of the British government to honour their commitments on the Cory report and the Pat Finucane case, the publication last week of the discredited so-called IMC report, and the cancellation of this weeks Lancaster House talks, have all added to the negative climate, as well as to the sense of anger and annoyance that exists among republicans and nationalists at this time.

"We put to Mitchel Reiss our view that the two governments need to refocus on the peace process. That has been our objective in our discussions in recent days with the Taoiseach Mr Ahern and the British Prime Minister Mr Blair. Both meetings were significant. We argued for a period of focused discussions and I believe that we will see that happen in the time ahead.

"The US can play an important role in this, as it has in the past.

"Sinn Fein are problem solvers. There is nothing more important than the peace process and our collective responsibility is to do all we can to ensure that progress is made." ENDS

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Speaking after meeting with the two governments to discuss the review of the working of strand 2 and 3 of the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy said:

"The stop-start approach to the review by the governments is reducing it to the point of farce.

"If it is to serve the purpose for which it is designed there must be a time-tabled focused discussion of a range of issues. This has not happened to date.

"We have previously identified for the two governments a comprehensive range of issues which the review must address including those issues which would benefit from single issue discussion.

"Today we again asked the governments to respond to our proposals on the expansion of the All-Ireland agenda. We also raised particular concerns we have about the failure to deliver the HQ for Waterways Ireland and All Ireland Autism Centre of Excellence."

Mr Murphy continued:

"In the light of the British Secretary of State's decision to go ahead with the imposition of penalties against both Sinn Féin and, in effect against those we represent, on the basis of a disgraceful and discredited report by the International Monitoring Commission we believe the review should convene a dedicated session to address the issue of breaches to the Agreement. Sinn Féin are not in breach of the Agreement. Others are." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Education Spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has welcomed the announcement of investment in the schools estate but expressed concern that the majority of the programme particularly for secondary schools is dependent on Public Private Partnerships.

Mr Hyland said:

"There is still a considerable way to go in order to deliver the schools that our children deserve. This announcement builds upon the foundation laid by Martin McGuinness.

"Of the £222 million announced today the reality is that only £107 million is currently in place under conventional building plans. The bulk of the money announced today is for the building of new schools, mainly secondary schools, through the use of Public Private Partnerships.

"While using private money may seem an easy way to get quick investment, the costs both in terms of long-term payments and the standards delivered may be considerable.

"Sinn Fein share widespread concerns about the pay and conditions of ancillary school staff. There are also dangers that profits are put before important issues such as community access to schools. In the past these issues have been properly recognised. It is crucial that they are not lost in the bid to secure greater private investment." ENDS

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Commenting on the publication today of the latest report by the Policing Oversight Commissioner, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly said that it was 'significant that the report still indicated that Patten had not been implemented five years on and showed the level of resistance to change which still exists'.

Mr Kelly said:

"The Oversight Commissioner is correct to state that the current policing arrangements do not enjoy the support of the nationalist community. The onus is on those who have delayed the new beginning to policing, especially the British government, to fulfil their responsibilities and deliver the acceptable policing service demanded by the Good Friday Agreement.

"We are now entering the fifth and final year of the Oversight Commissioners tenure and it is a measure of the resistance to policing change that he is still unable to report that the Patten recommendations have been fully implemented. The Oversight Commissioner again in this report highlights the outstanding issues. These include:

  • Special Branch
  • Demilitarisation of policing
  • Disbandment of the Full Time Reserve
  • Human Rights training and culture
  • Plastic Bullets

"Progress has been made in recent years on this issue in our discussions with the British government. Since the Oversight Commissioner's first report Sinn Féin has secured amending legislation on policing and amending legislation on justice issues. We now need to see legislation brought forward to transfer powers on policing and justice, as Patten recommended and was agreed in principle by the British government. This is a critical issue in terms of achieving democratic accountability and one which continues to be frustrated by the British government's suspension of the political institutions." ENDS

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Sinn Fein disability spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Geraldine Dougan has expressed anger at the response of British NIO direct rule Minister John Spellar to the issue of All Ireland concessionary travel for people with disabilities.

Ms Dougan said:

"Sinn Féin are not alone in calling for concessionary travel arrangements to be made available throughout the island of Ireland.

"At present Dublin funds travel concessions for people living in the south holding a Travel Pass anywhere throughout the island, including the Six Counties. They also meet the costs of people from the north holding senior, blind and war disabled SmartPasses travelling in the south.

"The introduction of concessionary travel for certain groups of people with disability in April is welcome however it has created a loophole in that these people cannot access reduced travel across the island.

"The arrogant response of John Spellar to the issue of expanding travel opportunities for people with disabilities throughout the island of Ireland is disgraceful. Yet again Mr Spellar has shown that he is a man of limited ability and vision when it comes to developing services within the All Ireland context that could potentially make a huge contribution to the lives of disabled people.

"I would remind Mr Spellar that the equality agenda demands that all people have equal opportunities to realise their potential. This does not mean that everyone gets equal resources; it means that in some cases that extra, additional resources are required to create a level playing field." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture Martin Ferris TD has called on the Government to vote against a proposal to lift an EU embargo on a genetically modified maize. Deputy Ferris was speaking as EU agriculture Ministers prepared to meet today to decide on the issue. To date, the proposal has failed to win a qualified majority at committee level. Irish representatives were among those who have voted in favour of ending the embargo and Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh had indicated that he again intends to vote in favour of GM.

Deputy Ferris said:

"I am making this call on Minister Walsh at the eleventh hour in the hope that he will recognise the huge level of public disquiet here and in the other member states regarding the safety of GM foods. I do not accept that those concerns have been properly addressed nor do I believe that there is any economic case to be made for GM. It is particularly important given this country's reputation for high quality food production that this image is not tarnished by opening up to GM. If Minister Walsh votes against and helps to prevent this, then I am confident that he will be reflecting the views of the majority of Irish farmers and consumers."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has welcomed this evening's news from Colombia that Martin McCauley, Jim Monaghan and Niall Connolly are to be freed. He called on the government to ensure that the men get home safely to their families.

Mr. Adams said:

"This evening's news from Colombia that Martin McCauley, Jim Monaghan and Niall Connolly are to be freed is very welcome and we now need to ensure that the men get home safely to their families.

"The last three years have been very difficult for the men and their families. They have been pilloried in the media, their case subject to huge prejudicial commentary and the mens lives have been in constant danger. And of course this case has been used to try and destabilise the Irish peace process.

"I want to congratulate the families, those involved in the Bring them Home campaign and the International Observers, all of whom campaigned to ensure today's verdict happened." ENDS

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Sinn Fein TD Sean Crowe, who attended the trial of the Colombian Three, has this evening expressed his relief and delight for the men and their families that the three have been found not guilty of the serious charges levelled against them and will soon be home.

Deputy Crowe responding to the verdict said:

"On the basis of the evidence I heard while attending the trial this was the only verdict that could have been reached. I am delighted and relieved for the men and their families who have been through hell in the last three years.

"There was never an justification for this trial in the first place and it is clear that there were those who were intent on using these three men for their own political agenda - an agenda which at its core was about damaging the Irish Peace process.

"I would call on the Irish government to do all they can now to ensure the men are safely and speedily returned home." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has described the decision to free the three Irishmen, who have been detained in Colombia for almost three years now, as welcome but said that there was a lot of anger that the process had taken so long and had been subject to such political interference. Mr. Kelly said "it is vital that the men now have safe escort out of the country to come home to their families."

Mr. Kelly said:

"Today's verdict from Judge Jairo Acosta is welcome and will come as a huge relief to the men's families and friends and to those who have been campaigning for their release for almost three years now. Despite the obvious collapse of the prosecution case last year it was never certain that the men would be released and sent home, there was always a concern due to the pressure on the Judge from the Colombian government and the military.

"From the very moment of their arrests Martin McCauley, Jim Monaghan and Niall Connolly were not subject to a fair legal process. Their basic rights were denied, there was extensive false reporting in the media and the investigation was closed before key witnesses were interviewed. There was also ongoing political interference in the trial.

"It is vital that the men now have safe escort out of the country to come home to their families.

"This whole episode has been a travesty for the men and their families and they should now be allowed to get on with their lives in peace." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Newry Armagh MLA Pat O'Rawe has welcomed the decision of Armagh Council to step in and purchase the Navan Centre and called on the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to re-evaluate its' original decision to withdraw funding from the centre.

The Mayor of Armagh, Ms O'Rawe said:

"This is a bold initiative. Armagh Council has purchased the Navan Centre and has pledged to find resources from within its own tourism budget to keep the centre open.

"I also welcome the council's commitment to ensure that this initiative will not impact on local ratepayers.

"However, this puts an onus on DCAL to re-evaluate their original decision to withdraw financial support for the Navan Centre. The decision three years ago led to the centre's closure. It was the wrong decision and this initiative paves the way for a departmental rethink.

"The Navan Centre is not only an important part of the attraction that Armagh has to offer local and international visitors, it is also a vital resource in discovering Ireland's rich history and heritage. It was a disgrace that DCAL withdrew funding from this centre in the first place and forced it to close.

"The Departments original decision to withdraw funding on the grounds of insufficient visitor numbers does not stand up to scrutiny. I challenge DCAL to publish a comparison between Navan and the other visitor attractions that it has continued to give financial support to." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation including Michelle Gildernew, Conor Murphy and Alex Maskey today met with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy at Stormont Castle. Speaking after the meeting Conor Murphy said:

" Today's meeting with Paul Murphy was at the request of Sinn Féin and predated the publication of the IMC report. However we used the opportunity to make it very clear to Mr Murphy that his decision to take discriminatory action against Sinn Féin was totally unacceptable.

" Sinn Féin, unlike the British government, are not in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. We have fulfilled all our responsibilities and obligations and will continue to do so. Sinn Féin will not be held responsible for any words or deeds other than our own.

" The decision to remove block assistance from our party is discriminatory. It discriminates against both our party and those we represent. The British government have no right to penalise political parties or elected political representatives in Ireland. We reminded Paul Murphy that he does not have any elected mandate in this country.

" Sinn Féin will continue to demand for our electorate the same democratic rights, entitlements and treatment as all other sections of the electorate." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation including Michelle Gildernew, Conor Murphy and Alex Maskey today met with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy at Stormont Castle. Speaking after the meeting Conor Murphy said:

" Today's meeting with Paul Murphy was at the request of Sinn Féin and predated the publication of the IMC report. However we used the opportunity to make it very clear to Mr Murphy that his decision to take discriminatory action against Sinn Féin was totally unacceptable.

" Sinn Féin, unlike the British government, are not in breach of the Good Friday Agreement. We have fulfilled all our responsibilities and obligations and will continue to do so. Sinn Féin will not be held responsible for any words or deeds other than our own.

" The decision to remove block assistance from our party is discriminatory. It discriminates against both our party and those we represent. The British government have no right to penalise political parties or elected political representatives in Ireland. We reminded Paul Murphy that he does not have any elected mandate in this country.

" Sinn Féin will continue to demand for our electorate the same democratic rights, entitlements and treatment as all other sections of the electorate." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has said that the decision of the PSNI to invite Ian Paisley Junior to address the graduation ceremony for new recruits sent a clear message that the force 'was ultimately Anti-Agreement in its political outlook and unionist in its ethos and make up'.

Mr Maskey said:

" The decision of the PSNI to have Ian Paisley junior address their graduation ceremony for new recruits shows just how far this force will have to move before they become an impartial and acceptable policing service.

" The PSNI are sending a very clear message to the nationalist community that ultimately they are a force which is anti agreement and unionist in its ethos and make up. They are a force who continue to protect within its senior ranks those who carried out and initiated the collusion policy. They continue to refuse to co-operate with inquests and continue to place obstacles in the way of families like the Finucanes who are seeking the truth.

" The PSNI are not an acceptable policing service. That is the bottom line. Having a leading anti-Agreement unionist fronting their graduation ceremony is simply another manifestation of that fact." ENDS

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