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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, Foyle representative Mary Nelis commenting on the publication of the 2002-03 housing statistics has said that unless there is a radical rethink about meeting the demand for social housing there will continue to be unacceptable increases in homelessness and increased pressure of Housing Executive waiting lists.

Mrs Nelis said:

"The number of households presenting themselves as homeless is up 16%, mortgage repossessions are up7.5%, the average price of NHBC registered houses is up 10% and Housing Executive stock is down by over 7,000. These figures taken singularly should send out a warning signal but taken together they paint a very bleak picture of our housing market.

"Unless there is a radical rethink about meeting the demand for social housing there will continue to be unacceptable increases in homelessness and increased pressure of Housing Executive waiting lists.

"95% of all new dwellings started in 2002-03 were commissioned by the private sector. This points up a huge imbalance in the building of social housing. We are just not creating enough housing that is affordable to meet the demand.

"There can be no acceptable level of homelessness. It is an indictment on the failure of the homelessness strategy to tackle the problem. Since the collapse of the institutions and the re-introduction of direct rule organisations dealing with the issue of homelessness have reported a lack of political will make progress on this issue.

"However the problem runs far deeper. We need to address the entire housing policy. We need to build more homes and make much better use of existing stock. There are also huge numbers of people on waiting lists classified as A1 priority or in 'stress'." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "totally unacceptable" the latest proposal from European Commission President Romano Prodi for the abolition of the national veto on taxation matters.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also said it was "a vindication of anti-Nice Treaty campaigners" that the Commission was now proposing the retention of the right of every member-state to nominate a commissioner with full voting rights.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"During the first and second referendums on the Nice Treaty, Commission President Prodi and pro-Nice parties in Ireland strongly defended the proposals to remove the right of every member state to nominate a voting member of the Commission. Now the Commission has done a u-turn and has effectively vindicated the argument of anti-Nice Treaty campaigners that this aspect of Nice made the EU less democratic and representative.

"The Commission President's proposals to remove the unanimity requirement on taxation issues should be rejected. The Irish government must oppose this strongly. Once qualified majority voting is allowed on any taxation issue it will only be a matter of time before it is extended and one of the last pillars of national sovereignty - the tax policy-making powers of democratic governments - will be eroded. Sinn Féin regards this as totally unacceptable and the Irish government must defend sovereignty on taxation matters in the EU Constitution negotiations and during its EU presidency." ENDS

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Sinn Fein representative for north Belfast, Gerry Kelly, has slammed the leaving of devices at two schools today. The schools targeted were the Fortwilliam Dominican College in North Belfast and St Comgalls High School in Larne.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"We have seen over the past few months schools being targeted and attacked. Today we have devices being left at two Catholic schools, Fortwilliam College and St Comgalls High School in Larne. This is completely wrong and unjustifiable.

"Those responsible are deliberately selecting the most vulnerable targets to further whatever agenda they have. In the end it is the school pupils and their education that will suffer. Schools like hospitals are cherished by the community and should not be subject to this.

"Any harassment, threats or attacks directed against schools is deplorable and must be brought to an end immediately. All children, no matter what denomination, have an absolute right to education free from these kind of threats." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP this morning led a party delegation, which included Seán Crowe TD and Derry representative Raymond McCartney, to meet with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen in Dublin. Speaking after the meeting Mr. McGuinness said:

"I am here in Dublin today to meet with Brian Cowen and Gerry Adams is meeting with David Trimble in Belfast as part of our efforts and determination to move beyond the current impasse.

"While much of Sinn Féin's focus in recent times has been on trying to ensure that the British Government set a date for an election today's meeting provided an opportunity to remind the Irish government that there are other issues which also need resolved.

"The current crisis within the Human Rights Commission and issues concerning the implementation of the equality agenda and the creation of an acceptable policing service were discussed.

"On the issue of demilitarisation there has been much hype and talk but we have seen very little signs of progress on that front, likewise with respect to the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

"While much of the two governments focus has been on what republicans are going to do we need to hear from Mr. Trimble that he is fully committed to this process and to making the institutions work." ENDS

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin Representative Barry McElduff has welcomed indications from the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen that the pilot programme enabling people to apply for Irish passports through six county post offices will be extended to Omagh.

Cllr. McElduff said:

"I have been in communication with the Irish government for some time regarding an extension of the pilot scheme launched last year which enables people to apply for Irish passports from five designated post offices.

"The figures released by the Minister indicate that this pilot scheme has been an unrivalled success and show that 23,000 Irish passports were issued in 2002 to Irish citizens in the six counties.

"The Minister has now indicated to me that he envisages an extension of the programme and that Omagh will be in the next wave of post offices eligible to deal with Irish passport applications. Over the past number of months my own office has issued almost 500 passport application forms in the Omagh area clearly demonstrating a high level of demand.

"However the issue of passport rights for Irish citizens living in the six counties is not a matter of commercial viability, it is a matter of right and I would hope that is the direction the Irish government will go in the time ahead." ENDS

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East Antrim Sinn Féin Representative Cllr. Oliver McMullan has said that a bomb alert at a Catholic school in Larne this morning is the latest incident in an increasing sectarian campaign being waged by unionist paramilitary gangs.

Cllr. McMullan said:

"Over the past few weeks there has been an escalation in the ongoing sectarian campaign being waged by the various unionist paramilitary gangs. This has witnessed threats being issued to a priest, a cemetery being desecrated and a religious service disrupted in Glengormley. It also has involved bombs being left outside Catholic schools in Limavady.

"It would appear that this tactic has now been adopted in Larne. Information suggests that some sort of device has been left in the vicinity of St. Comgalls catholic school in the town. As we witnessed last year at Holy Cross the unionist paramilitaries have little or no regard for schools or school children. They are quite happy to threaten and intimidate the most vulnerable members of society simply because they are Catholics.

"It is up to the unionist political leadership in this area to stand firmly with their catholic neighbours in the face of this vicious sectarian campaign being waged from within their community." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, has strongly condemned the decision of the Minister for the Marine, Dermot Ahern, to introduce vastly increased rates for the use of ports from October 1. The increases will apply to fishing boats using Howth, Dumore East, Killibegs, Castletownbeare and Rossaveal.

Deputy Ferris said:

"Since this increase was first threatened last May, I have raised it a number of times in the Dáil and at Committee meetings and have called on the Minister to not to impose the increases. While the Minister did respond positively to the request made by myself and others to consult with those involved in fishing, he has decided to proceed against their advice and judgement.

"I know from my own home area in Kerry, and from speaking to fishermen from the other ports concerned, that the charges will add to what is an already difficult time for fishermen. Incomes have been falling, and the industry is faced with a range of threats to which these exorbitant charges have now been added. I would call on the Minister, therefore, even at this late hour, to reverse his decision."ENDS

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Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights Bairbre de Brún has expressed concern that the approach of the Human Rights Commission to fair employment and parity of esteem could put future investment in the North at risk.

Bairbre de Brún said:

"The actions of the Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson, with regard to the Holy Cross school situation and the approach of the Commission to fair employment and parity of esteem may now impact to the detriment of the local economy. This must serve as a wake up call to everyone with an interest in the economic development of the North.

"Confidence in the Human Rights Commission has been eroded. Sinn Féin has argued for a programme of reconstruction in order to restore public confidence. It is imperative that the requirement under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement for an independent and effective Human Rights Commission is fully realised. The fact that continued failure to deliver on this requirement could now effect potential inward investment opportunities renders delivery all the more urgent." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness and Dublin South West TD Seán Crowe will meet Foreign Minister Brian Cowen in Iveagh House on St. Stephen's Green tomorrow, Thursday 18th, at 11.30am.

Mr. McGuinness will be available to talk to the media afterwards.

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Sinn Féin representative in Dublin South East Daithí Doolan has expressed anger and disappointment that government cutbacks in education are starting to take their toll on Dublin's inner city, an area originally protected under the government's own RAPID programme.

Christian Brothers School, Westland Row, Pearse Street has been forced to cutback by 20 hours, despite the fact the Pearse Street community is an area identified as one of the most disadvantaged in the state under the RAPID programme.

Mr. Doolan said:

"To cut teaching hours in an area that can ill afford any cuts, flies in the face of the RAPID programme.

"I am calling on Minister Noel Dempsey to immediately restore the teaching hours as a matter of urgency. The Minister has been promising since he came to office that educational disadvantage would be addressed. If this is his way of dealing with disadvantage then the man needs to resign.

"I have contacted the Minister with a view to discussing the critical situation facing our community. I would hope that Minister Dempsey has the courage to at least meet with those who will be further disadvantaged by his cutbacks."ENDS

A meeting of parents and politicians has been called for tomorrow, Wednesday September 17th at 8pm in Christian Brothers School, Westland Row.

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Sinn Féin northern Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone representative Cllr Gerry McHugh has challenged the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development over manipulation of Peace II monitoring.

Cllr McHugh said:

"It is important that DARD's Permanent Secretary Pat Toal come clean about his department's commitments in relation to spending in the current PEACE II programme. DARD is required under the PEACE II rules to spend by December 2003 £12.755 million. To date DARD has spent £883,284.

"I would like to clarify for him that money committed, which means money issued under a letter of offer DOES NOT qualify for spend under EU rules. I also want to point out to DARD civil servants that DARD are totally responsible for the failure to spend money. They dragged their feet and worked at a snails pace to draw up programmes. They have given the farming community NO help or support in the lengthy and extremely complicated application process.

"Farmers which I have spoken to are very disillusioned with the entire process, and tell me on a weekly basis that they are unable to understand the complexity and the criteria required.

"DARD have now announced a service review of its customers, but I would question if this is just cosmetic exercise, to paper over the structural failure of a top heavy, out of touch, civil service?

"I believe another announcement is expected in the near future of some re-organisation of the Rural Development department. This will be another cosmetic exercise if DARD does not make money available for help with applications for funding.

"The future for Irish agriculture is in developing a partnership between farmers, the agri-processing industry and the responsible government department.

"DARD has failed to develop that partnership with Irish agriculture, they have failed over many years to eradicate both TB and BR, we still have no lifting of the beef export ban, the current fiasco with the OTMS scheme, wet weather aid case in flux, a zero tolerance attitude of the least mistake, a rural development programme that very few can access, farm debt at over £600 million, incomes on farms at £88 per week, a British minister who's boss (Margaret Beckett) couldn't care less about farming, not forgetting that DARD costs over £4000 per farm to run.

"It beggars belief after all of these criticisms that farming here actually sustains over 70,000 jobs, how long can a department try to gloss over the cracks and when will they engage in proper and meaningful debate? If DARD worked to the high standards that it expected its farmers too, wouldn't all farm families be much better off." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly is travelling to London today, Wednesday 17th September to support Westminster by-election campaign of Kelly McBride, the sister of murdered north Belfast teenage of two Peter McBride who was killed by Scots Guards Fisher and Wright.

Speaking ahead of travelling to London Mr Kelly said:

"The McBride family have fought a long, determined and dignified campaign to get justice for Peter McBride.

"Sinn Féin support their campaign for justice. Sinn Féin support the McBride family's campaign for justice and we will offer whatever help we can in support of Kelly McBride's election campaign.

"Sinn Féin supports this initiative. It provides the McBride family with an opportunity to raise their demand that the two Scots Guards convicted of murdering Peter McBride should be removed from the British Army." ENDS

Note to Editors

Gerry Kelly will attend an event organised by the Kelly McBride campaign today at 1pm outside the British Ministry of Defence, Whitehall

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An Inclusive Seanad - Sinn Féin submission to the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform June 2003

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Summary of recommendations for reform of Seanad

3. Composition of Seanad

4. Nomination Process

5. Functions of Seanad

6. Summary of recommendations of functions of Seanad

1. Introduction

Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad as it is currently constituted is fundamentally undemocratic and elitist. It duplicates the role of the Dáil. Sinn Féin envisages the creation of a reformed, democratic, transparent, accountable, and relevant second house of parliament.

Sinn Féin envisages a democratically elected Seanad which would afford a role for civic society, and provide for fuller representation of all sectors of society in the legislative process.

Beyond Abolition

In examining options for reform of the Seanad, we re-considered as a first option the abolition of the Seanad. This option was rejected on the basis that one house does not adequately represent all sections of the Irish population and a second house could be constituted so as to represent those not adequately represented in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin believes that it is beneficial for the democratic nature of government to have an upper and a lower house of parliament in that it provides a system of checks and balances on government legislation and policy.

Beyond Party Politics

The option of a national list system, as recommended in the 7th Progress Report of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution was also considered. Arguments in favour of this option included that it would allow all parties to present themselves as an option nationally thus benefiting smaller parties who would not necessarily have the resources to run in all constituencies. The argument was also made that a benefit of this method of election would be that it would be non-clientelist.

The national list system was rejected on the basis that it would not involve a radical reform of the Seanad, would not provide for greater representation of civic society and would result in a Seanad which would in its composition be a duplication of the Dáil.

A new beginning

Sinn Féin asserts that the Seanad should be elected on a sectoral panel system. There are a number of advantages to this system. It would be radically different in composition to the other house of parliament i.e. the Dáil, thereby ensuring that civic society and specifically those marginalized in society, would have a role in the legislative process. An outline of our proposal for a Seanad elected on a sectoral panel system follows.

2. Summary of recommendations for reform of Seanad

· The Seanad would be elected by universal suffrage of citizens of the 32 counties of Ireland and those resident therein for more than 5 years who are over the age of 16 years. Pending the reintegration of the national territory citizens resident in the 6 counties would cast their ballot by postal vote.

· Emigrants registered with their appropriate Irish Embassy or consulate would be entitled to vote.

· The election would not take place on the same day as the Dáil election.

· There would be no provision for nomination by An Taoiseach.

· Senators would be elected from sectoral panels rather than on a party political basis.

· Election would be by proportional representation single transferable vote on each panel.

· The main function of the Seanad would be scrutiny of national and EU legislation.

3. Composition of Seanad

The current system is legislated for under the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947 and the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1954.

Sinn Féin proposes a Seanad based on a sectoral panel system elected by universal suffrage of citizens of the 32 counties of Ireland and those resident therein for more than five years, who are over the age of 16 years.

The Seanad is currently elected by an undemocratic limited franchise panel system and the panels are constituted as follows:

· Cultural and Educational

· Agriculture Panel

· Labour Panel

· Industrial and Commercial Panel

· Administrative Panel

There are also reserved seats for those elected by graduates of certain third-level institutions.

Sinn Féin proposes retaining a 60-member assembly. The outline of panels would be as follows

1. Community and Voluntary Panel (including geographical communities and communities of interest)

2. Cultural and Educational Panel (including but not limited to arts, language, sports and students organisations)

3. Local and Regional Panel (for example representatives of community councils as recognised under Better Local Government, regional bodies etc.)

4. Labour Panel

5. Industrial and Commercial Panel

6. Agricultural and Fisheries Panel

In order to address the under-representation of women, quotas of at least 30% would operate across each panel.

4. Nomination Process

All organisations who seek accreditation as a nominating body must apply to a 'Seanad Panel Accreditation Committee' before they can nominate a person to stand in the appropriate panel. It should be open to all bodies, other than political parties, to apply for such accreditation. An organisation would have to seek accreditation at least six months prior to an election.

Guidelines for accreditation would be laid out in legislation i.e. amendments to the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Acts.

Each nominating body would only be permitted to nominate one person to one panel.

Arguments will be made by opponents of this system that it is cumbersome, however we contend that it is possible to overcome these difficulties. Any difficulties arising are far outweighed by the democratic and inclusive benefits of the sectoral panel system.

5. Functions of Seanad

Sinn Féin envisages that the main role of the Seanad would be scrutiny. It would scrutinise draft domestic legislation and furnish reports to the Dáil, including specific recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment, fast-track progress, etc.

It would be responsible for checking legislative proposals against the constitutional and other rights of citizens, and also against Ireland's international obligations.

Sinn Féin proposes significant changes to current legislative stages. Prior to consideration by the Dáil, all proposed legislation would first pass scrutiny by the Seanad, to be known hereafter as the 'Seanad Stage'.

All legislation would pass through the following stages:

· First Stage Publication (Dáil)

· Seanad Stage (Seanad) ? see below

· Second Stage Debate (Dáil)

· Committee Stage (Dáil)

· Report Stage/ Final Stage (Dáil)

The new "Seanad Stage" would include a community consultation process. Following this consultation, the Seanad would debate the bill and consider amendments. At the conclusion of this Stage, the Seanad would agree the amendments it would recommend to the Dáil.

The Seanad would have a responsibility to equality-proof and human rights-proof proposed legislation.

The Seanad could recommend withdrawal of legislation.

The Dáil must take cognisance of the Seanad Report when debating the bill in Second Stage, and subsequently.

If the Government ignores the Seanad recommendations, this could be grounds for a no-confidence vote. The President can also use this as a reason to refer legislation when presented.

The Seanad would have the right to question Ministers on legislation.

The Seanad would also scrutinise proposed European legislation and furnish reports to the Oireachtas including recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment, fast-track progress, etc.

The Seanad would have the ability to permit MEPs to attend and speak, without voting rights, at Seanad debates on European issues or on legislation resulting from the transposition of EU directives.

Legislation which needs to be amended: 1947 Act (sections 33 & 43) Seanad Electrol (panel members) act 1954

6. Summary of recommendations on functions of Seanad

· The main role of the Seanad would be scrutiny.

· The Seanad would be required to furnish reports to the Dáil on all legislation it has scrutinised, including the equality-proofing and human rights-proofing of all legislation.

· Significant changes to current legislative stages would be necessary.

· The Seanad would have the right to question Ministers.

· The Seanad would have the ability to permit MEPs to attend and speak.

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty, speaking about the weekend hoax bomb attack at the home of SDLP Cllr Tom Mc Bride and today's (Tuesday) arson attack on the car of another DPP member said:

The local MP said,

"This has undoubtedly been extremely traumatic experience for all those affected by these attacks.

"Such acts of intimidation are completely unjustifiable. Those responsible, devoid of any support or coherent political strategy are merely involved in squalid effort to undermine the Peace Process. It is ironic, but perhaps not co-incidental, that these micro-groups are joined by certain elements of the British Intelligence Services in this aim.

"There are major issues yet to be addressed before we have a new beginning to policing, including the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly, and Sinn Féin has been and will continue to seek to have these major issues addressed through the political process.

"Sinn Féin and the people we represent have legitimate problems with major shortcomings in the current policing set up but we will continue to push for and are determined to achieve a new beginning to policing which is democratically accountable, representative and totally free from partisan political control." THE END

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Speaking during the oral presentation of Sinn Féin's submission on Seanad Reform to the Seanad Reform Sub-Committee today Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

"There is a strong view within our party that the Seanad should be abolished altogether and that was for long our party policy. This was changed in recent years to a policy of democratic reform of the Seanad but it must be noted that many people remain convinced that a second chamber is unnecessary and wasteful. I believe that is reflected widely in Irish society.

"The Seanad as currently constituted is undemocratic and elitist. It is elected on a very restricted and in some aspects, perverse franchise. The franchise granted to some but not all third-level graduates is a notorious example. Instead of a Seanad franchise for local authority members we would like to see real empowerment of local government.

"The bottom line in our submission is that the Seanad should be elected by universal suffrage of citizens throughout the 32 Counties and those resident in Ireland for more than five years and over the age of 16. Representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties is a huge issue. Our proposals would give them a direct input. It would go side by side with the right of those elected to Wesminster constituencies in the Six Counties to participate in Dáil debates.

"Emigrants should also have a vote. This is provided for by many states throughout the world without difficulty. It could be done by postal ballot, as would voting in the Six Counties, pending Irish reunification. It is ironic that a State which repeatedly praises the contribution of the Irish Diaspora denies emigrants a right that many other states grant their citizens.

"Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad should be an elected forum for civic society, particularly for those sectors who are not adequately represented in the Dáil and for the marginalized in society. For example the tremendous energy of the community and voluntary sector is not given a direct voice in the Oireachtas."

Deputy Ó Caoláin was joined by Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy and Sinn Féin EU Candidate for Munster David Cullinane.

Mr. Murphy called for proper northern representation in the Seanad so that people across the island of Ireland could play a full role in the political life of the nation. He rejected proposals put forward to allow for a small number of representatives from the Six Counties in the Seanad as "tokenism". He said,

"At the moment playing a part in the nation is only a vague assertion for people from the North and one that has no outworkings in terms of the institutions of this State. There are no rights for me or hundreds of thousands of others to play a part in the nation as it currently exists.

"The Seanad has an opportunity to decide between whether it allows token representation of northerners here or we give an opportunity for all the citizens who live on this island to play a part in the Irish nation."

Advocating a community consultation process during the progression of legislation at 2nd Stage Sinn Féin's Munster EU candidate David Cullinane said:

"Clearly the system we are proposing will have many community and social organisations represented and accredited, but we acknowledge that there will be some that will not be accredited and believe that they should be given the opportunity to make submissions in terms of legislation.

"We believe that these can be made primarily in written form and if necessary be followed up by an oral presentation so that their concerns and interests can be addressed. This is crucial in making the Seanad more democratic, accountable and open to all of Irish society." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has welcomed the ruling ordering solicitors acting for the British MoD and PSNI in the inquest into the deaths of 10 people killed in Tyrone including Roseanne Mallon, to produce "unredacted" or unedited evidence within 21 days.

Ms Gildernew said:

"This ruling is an important step forward in the search for truth for the families of those people killed in questionable circumstances by British State forces or where there is evidence of collusion between British security agencies and unionist paramilitaries.

"The refusal of solicitors acting for the British Ministry of Defence and the PSNI to give the families access to unedited evidence has been detrimental to these inquest proceedings.

"The British state will go to any length to prevent the truth about the policies of collusion and shoot-to-kill coming out into the public domain. However, they the momentum for the truth about the policy of collusion is unstoppable.

"Sinn Féin will continue to support the families and relatives of all victims who have suffered as a result of this conflict. The British government must also play their part. Their responsibility in the peace process and in resolving this conflict demand nothing less." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson, EU candidate Bairbre de Brún has called on the British government to "take urgent steps to rebuild public confidence in the Human Rights Commission". Her call comes after a thorough discussion by the party‚s national executive, the Ard Chomhairle, which examined the range of issues that are causing both political and public concern.

Ms de Brún said:

"The Ard Chomhairle considered the range of issues which over some time now have undoubtedly contributed to the Commission‚s independence and effectiveness being seriously damaged.

"These issues are in relation to the Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson's inappropriate handling of the Holy Cross case and the fact that to date three Commissioners have resigned over their concerns at the Commission's approach to key equality matters regarding the Bill of Rights. Over the weekend it was revealed that two additional Commissioners have withdrawn from the workings of the Commission.

"The considered view of the Ard Chomhairle is that the Human Rights Commission is in serious difficulty and requires a programme of reconstruction in order to restore public confidence in this key mechanism of the Good Friday Agreement.

"In our meetings with the British and Irish governments we have called for the Commission to be provided with the powers and resources it requires to carry out its remit. Most important however is the need for the Commission to be effective, to be fully independent and for its composition to be representative.

"British government plans to advertise for further appointments in the middle of this deepening crisis without ensuring the independence of the selection panel and an appointment process based on the international standards required for Human Rights Commissions is unhelpful. The British government should postpone making any further appointments.

"Sinn Féin's overall concern in all of this is to ensure that the requirement in the Good Friday Agreement for an independent and effective Human Rights Commission is fully realised." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Economy Spokesperson and Upper Bann representative Dr Dara O'Hagan, along with Craigavon Council Group Leader, Cllr John O'Dowd, met with Invest NI over the relocation of AnswerCall Direct from the Garvaghy Road in Portadown to Armagh and the loss of around 50 jobs at its Armagh call centre.

Commenting after the meeting Dr O'Hagan said:

"Sinn Féin requested the meeting with INI as a matter of urgency after it emerged that on top of the relocation from its Garvaghy Rd operation announced at the beginning of last week, around 50 employees at its Armagh Call centre were also informed that their employment had been terminated.

"The latest revelation of these job losses, on top of its loss to the Portadown area, is a matter of huge concern. In April this year AnswerCall Direct received £2.8 million in financial support from Invest NI for its Armagh operation. This was in addition to receiving £360,400 from INI'spredecessor, the IDB, in September 2001 when it moved into the Mayfair Business Centre on the Garvaghy Road.

"While I appreciate the difficulties in the ICT sector and the unstable nature of the market, the fact remains that this company has received more than £3m of public money to create jobs in the Portadown and Armagh areas. To date the company is operating at under capacity. The relocation from Portadown and the job losses at the Armagh operation are further worrying developments.

"This adds to the growing concern that companies, and call centre companies in particular, are taking advantage of the financial support on offer to set up in the north without firm commitments to long term investment.

"While today's meeting with INI proved useful and went some way to addressing the questions that Sinn Féin raised, this is a situation that we will be monitoring very closely." ENDS

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Speaking after the announcement that for the first time ever Sinn Féin will open a party stand at the All Ireland Ploughing Championship in Meath, Sinn Féin Agriculture spokesperson, Cllr Gerry McHugh said:

"The National Ploughing Championships has for many decades been an important shop window for Irish Agriculture. As the only all-Ireland political party, Sinn Féin wants to extend an invitation to those attending the event to visit the Sinn Féin stand.

"Ireland as a food producer, and a food exporting country, is facing huge change at present, through CAP reform and the global competition. If Ireland is to have a future agriculture and food industry, it is vital to take into account the needs of the rural community. Without immediate and proactive policies in terms of supporting the development of a strong agricultural and agri-business base in rural areas, their decline will continue to the detriment of the nation as a whole.

"High profile members of the party will attend and will be seeking people's views on all issues with a view to lobbying on their behalf in Europe and elsewhere. In particular, the party is committed to pursuing progressive agendas in terms of changes to EU Structural Funds, the whole issue of Funding after 2006, Food Safety and the threats from Genetically Engineered Foods and Waste Incineration.

"Agriculture and Agri-business are key elements to the Irish economy, North and South. It is vital that we develop all-Ireland Agricultural Policies and Strategies for future food production. Sinn Féin would like to see the island build on our existing clean green image of high quality, safe food production meeting changing consumer needs - it is clear that this can only be delivered on the basis of an all island-based approach." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will meet SDLP leader Mark Durkan tomorrow, Tuesday 16th September, at 9.30am at Stormont. Gerry Adams will be available to speak to the media after the meeting

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