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


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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson MLA will hold separate meetings with the Construction Industry Training Board and the Federation of Small Businesses to discuss the disarray that epitomises Apprenticeship Programmes at the present moment.

Michael Ferguson has discussed the matter with a number of Training Organisations and the Further Education Sector and has called on the Government to give leadership by establishing a Government Insurance Plan to support small businesses and a strategy that has at its core a Government driven Partnership with Employers that addresses Insurance and also identifies the projected needs for the Trades and Vocational Sector ensuring adequate placements for Apprenticeships.

Commenting upon his round of meetings Michael Ferguson said,

"The Construction Industry Training Board and the Federations of Small Businesses are key players in the delivery of any Skills Strategy.

"It is clear from Government Consultation Papers that the Government has no idea of what skills and trades are required.

"Small Businesses can not afford to meet rising insurance costs. Apprentices on a Job Skills rate of £40 are not enticed onto hostile building sites in all weathers. Trainers cannot find placements for Modern Apprenticeship schemes and this year the Lisburn Institute for Further and Higher Education cancelled an entire course for Electrical Installation because while the young people were willing no placements could be found.

"This is a sad state of affairs for all concerned. We want to support Small Businesses, Training Organisations and Apprentices and doing so will support our local economy. This round of meetings are to discuss further the difficulties faced by these key stakeholders.

"But the Government also needs to get real with a real budget that supports economic development for young people leaving schools and colleges and small businesses wanting to develop by employing trainees and all of this needs partnership and an appropriate investment strategy." ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley has hit out at those responsible for an attack on the Whiterock Orange Hall last night.

Cllr. Hartley said:

" Despite the behaviour of the Orange Lodge who operate out of the Whiterock Hall over recent months in trying to force an unwanted sectarian parade through the local nationalist community and the subsequent violence and intimidation which resulted there can be no justification for an attack of this kind.

" Sectarian attacks on churches, schools, businesses and homes from whatever quarter are wrong and should be condemned." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said the rejection by Fine Gael and Labour of the Taoiseach's proposal to provide for participation of Six-County MPs in a Committee of the whole Dáil "exposes these deeply partitionist parties for what they are. They want to keep the Oireachtas as a cold house for Northern nationalists." Deputy Ó Caoláin is to seek clarification from the Taoiseach about the status of the proposal, including the attitude of his Coalition partners the PDs, and has urged Bertie Ahern to proceed with the plan.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "Before the ink was dry on the Taoiseach's letter to them Fine Gael and the Labour Party have rejected the proposal to provide for participation of Six-County MPs in a Committee of the whole Dáil. These deeply partitionist parties have been exposed for what they are. It also exposes the hollowness of their oft-repeated praise of the SDLP. They want to slam the door in the face of that party's MPs so that Sinn Féin can also be kept out. And of course this proposal would provide for all MPs to participate, including unionists, but Fine Gael and Labour want to rule out any possibility of such participation as well.

"Above all, the stance taken by the leaderships of Fine Gael and the Labour Party is an insult to the nationalist community in the Six Counties. They want to keep the Oireachtas as a 'cold house' for Northern nationalists.

"I have written to the Taoiseach seeking clarification on the status of his proposal now, in particular if it is the case that the Progressive Democrats have vetoed it. In his letter to the party leaders the Taoiseach stated his intention to invite Six-County MPs to participate in a Committee of the whole Dáil. The agreement of other parties was sought on the format and agenda of such meetings. Therefore the Taoiseach should proceed with his proposal.

"Serious questions have been raised for the rank and file membership of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. Are Fianna Fáil members content to see Michael McDowell and Mary Harney vetoing this modest and reasonable proposal? Are the rank and file members of Fine Gael - the 'United Ireland party' and Labour, the party that claims the mantle of James Connolly, content to allow their leaders to turn them into fully fledged unionist parties?" ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Collusion, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that the decision of senior Special Branch officers to refuse to participate in to a Police Ombudsman investigation into a string of UVF murders involving a Special Branch agent will only make nationalist more determined to expose the true nature and extent of collusion between the RUC and British Army and Loyalists.

Mr Doherty said:

"The reality is that Ronnie Flanagan transferred much of the RUC Special Branch structures responsible for directing the policy of collusion into the PSNI. These people need to be weeded out of the PSNI if we are to have any chance to realising a new beginning to policing that is free from partisan political control.

"However, the evidence to date is that political policing is alive and well within the PSNI and other agencies that are contaminated by former RUC Special Branch officers.

"The refusal of senior Special Branch officers to co-operate with a Police Ombudsman investigation into UVF murders and the revelations surrounding Eric Anderson and the theft of files only further exposes the fact that many of these people know that they have something to hide because they know that what they were involved in was wrong." ENDS

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Following a decision by the European Union to ban imports of captive live birds from outside the bloc to strengthen its fight against bird flu, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún said, 'I welcome this week's move as a positive step and one of a series of sensible measures that can be taken, focussing on prevention and the supply of accurate information'.

Ms de Brún said:

'We need to ensure that the general public has access to credible and accurate information. This is the best way to avoid unwarranted anxiety and panic. This is a disease that affects mainly poultry at present and there are some sensible measures that can be taken to hamper its spread.

'The announcement about a ban on the import of exotic birds is a sensible precautionary measure.

'Sinn Féin agrees with the RSPB that measures to control the spread of the virus should focus on improved bio security, particularly in the international poultry industry, and an immediate ban on imports of wild birds into the EU.

'We also agree with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that culls of wild birds would be ineffective in tackling avian influenza, and could in fact make the situation worse.

'There is a value at a global level of those countries currently free of the disease considering a ban on imports of domestic poultry and wild birds for the pet trade from affected regions. Culling infected poultry flocks in the event of an outbreak would also seem sensible, and preventing public access to infected sites is also clearly a wise precaution.

'Finally, while we are not dealing with a disease that can transmit easily from human to human at this time, the EU and EU member states need to have co-ordinated plans to deal with such a situation should it arise.' ENDS

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Government must accept recommendations of Human Rights Commission on Execution of Sentences Bill – Ó Snodaigh

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said that the Execution of Sentences Bill is not ready to be signed into law as key amendments regarding human rights have yet to be incorporated into the Bill.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “This government have failed yet again to human rights proof their legislation and to take on board the proposals of the Human Rights Commission.  Over a year ago the Human Rights Commission made a total of 8 specific recommendations, for amendments to the Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill, aimed at ensuring that the fundamental rights of sentenced persons are protected.   Minister McDowell has not taken a single one of these recommendations on board. This is not good enough, what is the purpose of this Commission if not to advise the government in this regard.

“I tabled a series of amendments which would explicitly ensure that no person sentenced by an Irish court will be forced to serve that sentence in conditions incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.  I also proposed safeguards to prevent this state recognising the judgements of countries where judicial systems are not up to international standards or where due process is not fairly applied.”    

“Regarding the question of the Colombia 3 Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “This is a complete red herring as the cases of Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley would clearly not be affected by this legislation because from the very moment of their arrest the three men were not subject to due process.  There was massive interference from senior Colombian military and politicians including the then President Andres Pastrana.

”Despite this following a lengthy trial the men were acquitted, with the trial Judge Jairo Acosta suggesting that the two main prosecution witnesses should be investigated for perjury.

“However through the use of a procedure which would not be tolerated in this country, a secret tribunal, sitting in private, where the men were not allowed to be represented, - this verdict was overturned.

“These three men have no case to answer.  They should be allowed to get on with their lives.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Employment and Workers Rights Arthur Morgan has said, “A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create.” Speaking on the Parental Leave Bill in the Dáil today he said, “This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis.”

Deputy Morgan said, “This Government lacks an overall vision as to how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.   Rather this issue is considered purely from a business and economic perspective – what to do with the children while their parents are performing their duties as cogs in the economic machine.  A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create.   

“Parental care for children must be a key element in childcare strategy.  We must work to enable parents, where it is their preference, to care for their children in the early years of their lives.   This is in the interest of both children and parents.   Parental Leave is an important tool in the attempt to help workers achieve a balance between work and family life.  It is also plays an important role in an overall childcare strategy.  This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis.  

“The failure to introduce payment in respect of parental leave in this state contrasts with the situation in many other EU member states. This is the case in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and Sweden.   Why is this state so backward.  Is it because of the excessive influence of business on government?

“The inability of workers to achieve work life balance and the failure of the state to enable them to achieve this is a growing cause of workplace stress.  This is ultimately bad for business, bad for employers and of course bad for workers.”

On the issue of Paternity leave Deputy Morgan said, “It is quite incredible that in this day and age there is no legal entitlement to Paternity Leave, paid or unpaid, in this state.   A new father cannot take as much as one day off when his child is born.  This is truly scandalous and I find it hard to understand how the government can stand over this situation.  Then again when Frank Fahy is responsible for the equality portfolio what should we expect? A man was never more unsuited to his portfolio of equality.” ENDS

Full speech follows: 

Delay in bring forward legislation

Why has it taken so long for this legislation to come before the Dáil?  This legislation seeks to implement a commitment made under the Sustaining Progress Agreement 2003-2005.  The term of that agreement is now over.  Negotiations on a new agreement were due to start shortly.  What is the point of commitments in partnership agreements if these commitments are not going to be met within the timeframe of the agreement?  It is no wonder that the unions are more reticent than ever to enter partnership when they have to wait this long for the implementation of such a meager commitment.

Vision for how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.

This Government lacks an overall vision as to how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.   Rather this issue is considered purely from a business and economic perspective – what to do with the children while their parents are performing their duties as cogs in the economic machine.  Progress on work life balance takes place at a pace dictated by shadowy figures from within IBEC.   The ultimate problem is that leave entitlements and childcare policies are driven not by a social vision of the kind of society we want to create.

A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create. 

Parental care for children must be a key element in childcare strategy.  We must work to enable parents, where it is their preference, to care for their children in the early years of their lives.   This is in the interest of both children and parents.   Parental Leave is an important tool in attempt to help workers achieve a balance between work and family life.  It is also plays an important role in an overall childcare strategy.  This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis. 

Paid parental leave

According to the MORI MRC survey, which was carried out as part of the review carried out by the Maternity Leave working group established in 2001, almost 7% of the labour force were eligible for parental leave in 2001.  Only 20% of eligible employees were estimated to have taken up the parental leave

This very low take up rate should be of concern to government.  If the government was genuinely committed to parental leave and believed in its beneficiallity  for both children and parents it would promote it and seek to encourage maximum take up. 

According to the MORI MRC survey employees rated spending more quality time with their children as the biggest advantage in taking parental leave, while the biggest disadvantage was the lack of payment.

Clearly then the absence of a payment in respect of parental leave is the primary factor in the lack of take-up. 

So why then is the government not amending the legislation to introduce payment in respect of parental leave.  This is the biggest barrier to take up of the leave.  It is also the case that the current situation favours the better off who can afford to take the leave. It is of no value to low income families for whom it would be unimaginable to forgo income for the duration of the leave.

The failure to introduce payment in respect of parental leave in this state contrasts with the situation in many other EU member states,.  This is the case in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and Sweden.   Why is this state so backward.  Is it because of the excessive influence of business on government?

The research referred to above also found that employers considered that the biggest advantage  of parental leave to them came from happier, more contented employees.  The inability of workers to achieve work life balance and the failure of the state to enable them to achieve this is a growing cause of workplace stress.  This is ultimately bad for business, bad for employers and of course bad for workers. 

Paternity Leave

The Review group report stated that paternity leave should be dealt with as part of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act.  Yet this Bill does not deal with it.

It is quite incredible that in this day and age there is no legal entitlement to Paternity Leave, paid or unpaid, in this state.   A new father cannot take as much as one day off when his child is born.  This is truly scandalous and I find it hard to understand how the government can stand over this situation.  Then again when Franck Fahy is responsible for the equality portfolio what should we expect?

A man was never more unsuited to his portfolio of equality - his ties to business are a little too close to think he would ever wish to put up any challenge to IBEC.  It is not hard to guess whose interest he serves.  And let me make it clear now that I am not interested in hearing waffle from Minister of State Fahy regarding why we cant do this because of social partnership. 

Ireland ranks bottom of the list in terms of Paternity leave. Most countries in the EU offer paid paternity leave, from two days in Spain to two weeks in France, while in Norway new fathers are entitled to a full four weeks. Fathers north of the border are entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave yet in this state there is no entitlement at all. 

This situation simply cannot be allowed to go on.   Sinn Fein is demanding the immediate introduction of 2 weeks paternity leave.  This is the minimum of what father should be entitled to. The reality is that we are talking of very little time.  Given that most families nowadays only have 2 children, we are talking of 10 days twice in a lifetime.  Yet these days are vital to allow fathers to offer necessary support to mothers in the first days of their children lives and in giving fathers the time to bond with their children.  We should be facilitating fathers playing an active role in their children’s lives.  Are we to persist in being backward in regard to this because IBEC doesn’t like the idea of paternity leave? 

Increased flexibility in the manner which parental leave can be taken

The element of greater flexibility in how parental leave can be taken is to be welcomed though it does not really go far enough

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions are proposing that the legislation be amended to provide employees with a right to request more flexible parental leave arrangement  and to oblige employers to seriously consider the request and further provide that refusal of the employees request should only be permitted where the employer can provide evidence of a compelling business case for refusals.  This is an eminently reasonable proposal which I would expect the Government to accede to.

Other issues

There are a number of other brief points which I would like to make in relation to the Bill

With regard to force majeure leave workers who are in same sex relationships should be entitled to the force majeure leave from their employers  in the vent of serious illness to their partners in the same way as other couples.  Sustaining Progress has committed that “steps necessary to give effect to the issue of force majeure leave for same sex partners will be addressed”.  It is utterly unacceptable that this Bill fails to fulfil that commitment. 

Also force majeure needs to be extended to deal with other situations where parents must leave work where issues arise in relation to children and childcare. Given the time constraint I will deal with this issue in greater detail at Committee stage.  

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Sinn Féin Lisburn Council group leader, Cllr Paul Butler commenting on the decision of Lisburn council to ban civil partnership ceremonies from the Cherry Room on the back of an Alliance party motion has said that Sinn Féin fully support the rights of the gay and lesbian community to have civil marriages on council premises and offered the party's full support for Robert Toner, who is challenging the decision.

Cllr Butler said:

"We want to keep the spotlight firmly on Lisburn Council and the way they are treating same sex marriages, and are calling on the gay and lesbian community to challenge the ban.

"Lisburn have now added the gay and lesbian community to the list of people they discriminate against.

"Whether in the social, political or cultural spheres it is wrong that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people should suffer discrimination." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Victims and Truth, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has welcomed the additional £1.5 million for the Memorial Fund but also urged the British government to address problems faced by groups trying to access the fund.

Mr McGuigan said:

"Sinn Féin welcome extra money allocated to the Memorial Fund. However, we have been made aware of difficulties that groups have been facing in accessing the fund and in the distribution of existing funds.

"The British government need to act to address these difficulties. It is essential that this money gets to where it is needed and is evenly distributed across the board." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Collusion, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that the revelations a report from the Police Ombudsman will implicate at least 6 RUC Special Branch Officer in a number of UVF murders through Special Branch agent Mark Haddock will come as no surprise to the hundreds of victims of British government policy collusion.

Mr Doherty said:

"It is now undeniable that there was a widespread and systematic policy of collision between the RUC and British Army and Loyalist paramilitaries, particularly involving RUC Special Branch.

"It will come as no surprise to the hundreds of victims of the British government's policy of state sanctioned murder and collusion that this report will implicate a number of RUC Special Branch officers in UVF murders.

"Indeed reports that RUC Special Branch stepped in to protect one of its' agents, Mark Haddock, from investigation is part of a well established pattern. The fact that it is claimed that this RUC agent then went on to commit a number of further murders makes the Special Branch directly complicit.

"Sinn Féin is determined to achieve a new beginning to policing. This means that the British government must come clean on its' policy of collusion and that the RUC human rights abusers who transfer ed en masse into the PSNI should be weeded out." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin Spokesperson on the Environment, Councillor Daithí Doolan has called on Dublin City Council, "to take action to avoid another fire tragedy which is waitng to happen in one of their flat complexes."

Speaking ahead of tonight's public meeting with residents, Cllr. Doolan said:

"Since 2002 three people have died as a result of fires in Council flats in the Ross Road, Bride St & Nicholas St area. Following the tragic death of two children in 2002, Dublin City Council said that they would immediately take action to ensure that all possible fire prevention procedures were put in place, including installation of fire doors, fire alarms, training and support for local residents.

"But local residents are not happy with the lack of work to date. They brought in their own independent fire prevention consultant who has voiced serious concern and said that the flats in this area do not even meet Dublin City Council's own fire regulation standards. The consultant disputes that any real work has been done to prevent further tragedy.

A public meeting organised by the lcoal Residents Association will take place in Whitefriar Street Community Centre, Aungier Street this evening (Thursday 27th October) at 7.30pm.

In conclusion Cllr. Daithi Doolan demanded that "Council officials meet with the residents, listen to their concerns and carry out all work necessary to ensure these people's homes meet fire prevention standards and further tragedy is avoided." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has today called for an EU budget which prioritises combating poverty, social exclusion and regional disparities. Speaking after the first reading of the EU budget for 2006, Ms McDonald has said that that "unfortunately, the proposed Budget does not reflect these important objectives".

Ms McDonald made her comments as an informal EU summit in Hampton Court, England got underway to discuss the economic future of the EU.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"Today there are 98 million people living at risk from poverty across the EU. There are more than 20 million people unemployed. Huge disparities continue to exist across the Union and within each member state in terms of infrastructure, economic development and standards of living. Inequality and discrimination continue to scar the lives of millions.

"Despite all of this the political and economic priorities, as laid out in the proposed EU budget for 2006, are not geared towards tackling these problems. Indeed, the main thrust of the budget is to follow those economic and social policies which are partly to blame for this situation.

"We are now half-way thought the 10-year ŒLisbon Agenda‚, the EUs principle economic framework. The Lisbon Agenda promised to 'make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty' by 2010. However there has been little meaningful progress. Indeed much of the contents of the proposed budget will actively undermine this goal.

"Sinn Féin wants to see a budget which shifts the priorities of EU economic policy away from the sectional interests of big business or the larger member states, and towards the needs of people across the region. Such a policy would require a rebalancing of priorities in such a way as sustainable development and social cohesion are given equal weight to economic competitiveness." ENDS

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Speaking at the start of Tony Blair's informal EU summit in Hampton Court today, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has called for 'an end to the double speak on the issue of a social Europe and for more action on tackling the core social and economic problems which affect Europe's member states'.

Ms de Brún said

'During this week's sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg MEPs listened to British Prime Minister Tony Blair outlining his vision for the future of European economic policy. His speech on the one hand stressed the importance of the European social model and on the other hand prioritised economic policies which would do little to resolve the problems of unemployment, poverty, social exclusion and unsustainable development.'

'During the debate which followed his speech many MEPs argued the need for a new economic policy based on social and economic justice, environmental protection, respect for human rights and sustainable development.

'We are now half-way thought the 10-year 'Lisbon Agenda', which promised to 'make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty' by 2010. This has not happened and recent signals from the European Council seem to undermine this goal. If his speech in Strasbourg this week is anything to go by, Tony Blair's informal summit on the social model will do little to redress this imbalance.

'In Sinn Féin's view it is vital that the informal summit commits the EU to the basic principles of the European Social Model, ie solidarity, social rights, a strong social protection system and re-distribution of wealth. With more than 20 million people currently unemployed across the Union and 98 million people living at risk of poverty, the urgency of this task cannot be underestimated.

'Our party is committed to building and Ireland of Equals in a Europe of equals. If we are to eradicate the scourge of poverty in Europe, and allow people the resources and access to services needed to live life in dignity, we need to strengthen the 'social Europe', not undermine it'. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Waterford City Councillors David Cullinane and Joe Kelly have reacted furiously to news that four councillors and a number of officials are traveling to Europe to attend Sail Training Internationals Annual Conference. Both councilors Cullinane and Kelly only found out about the trip through a third party not connected with the council. Four city councillors, the City Manager, a number of officials and the city councils tall ships event manager are all traveling courtesy of the taxpayer.

Cllr David Cullinane said:

"The Tall Ships event was a hugely positive one and was beneficial to the people of Waterford and beyond. On the back of this success it is important that we maintain good relations with Sail Training International. It is also important for Waterford to be represented at its annual conference but I fail to see the need for so many people from the city to attend. Is it really necessary for eight council representatives, including four city councilors to travel? Surely it would be more than suffice for the City Manager, the Tall Ships event manager, the event chairperson and one councillor to attend.

"This is another example of wasting taxpayer‚s money. There isn‚t a week goes by when the council is not citing resources as an impediment to delivering on much needed local projects and services. There seems to be no accountability and transparency when it comes to foreign trips. At the end of the day it is our money which is being spent and wasted. Those responsible for organizing this trip have succeeded in turning what would have otherwise been a worthwhile beneficial trip into a questionable junket. It is my view and the view of Councillor Joe Kelly that the City Council and the City Manager have serious questions to answer in relation to this." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD, and Michelle Gildernew MP have welcomed the fact that Agriculture officials on both sides of the border have met to discuss their response to any possible threat from Avian Flu.

Deputy Ferris: "In a response to a question of mine, Minister Coughlan has said that officials have met and will continue to meet to discuss their positions on any possible threat posed by this disease. I welcome that, but am slightly concerned that such contact has been described as "informal" and that the Minister refers to their "respective positions". Any co-operation is much to be encouraged, but it would be preferable if a formal group was established with a joint contingency plan."

Ms Gildernew also welcomed the response. "As was proven during the Foot and Mouth crisis, the border means nothing. Any threat from this disease will not recognise the border so it is crucial that there is a common approach. I would therefore like to reiterate Martin Ferris' call for such co-operation to be placed on a formal and ongoing basis". ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has welcomed the decision of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to invite MPs from the Six Counties to participate in the Dáil through “a Committee of the whole House” beginning in early 2006.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, “The Taoiseach has informed me, together with other party leaders, by letter this morning that he is to invite MPs from the Six Counties to participate in the Dáil through ‘a Committee of the whole House’ which will discuss matters relating to the Good Friday Agreement and the North of Ireland. It would meet at least every six months.

“This is a very important development and represents welcome progress. Throughout the peace process Sinn Féin has been campaigning for Dáil representation for people in the Six Counties. While this proposal does not involve full representation it is clearly a step forward. Full representation and full participation remains Sinn Féin’s goal.

“It is now for the parties in the Oireachtas to agree the format of this special committee of the whole Dáil and I urge them to do so as soon as possible so that the first meeting can go ahead on the resumption of the Dáil after the Christmas recess. I look forward to welcoming representatives from the Six Counties to Leinster House in 2006.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, speaking on the Employments Permits Bill today, has said, “Those of us who wish to see substantive changes that will provide real protection for migrant workers in this State must, unfortunately, continue to wait because they are not provided for in this legislation.” He said, “The Bill does not address one of the issues of greatest concern to migrant workers:  the issue of whether they will be allowed to have their spouses and children with them in the State.” 

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, “Those of us who wish to see substantive changes that will provide real protection for migrant workers in this State must, unfortunately, continue to wait because they are not provided for in this legislation.

“The present system is a two-tier system in which certain categories of migrant workers have considerably greater rights and freedoms than other categories.  This Bill does nothing to change that.   The right to change employer will still belong only to the workers in the top tier.  The workers in the bottom tier will still be bound to their employer.   The Bill indicates the Minister’s intention to retain categories of employment deemed ‘ineligible’ for new work permits.   I am sorry to see this.  I know from the testimony of my constituents that this is causing great difficulty for migrant workers, as it makes it all but impossible for most of them to change jobs.” 

On the issue of the families of immigrant workers he said, “The Bill does not address one of the issues of greatest concern to migrant workers:  the issue of whether they will be allowed to have their spouses and children with them in the State.  The Minister has indicated that the present situation will continue, in which workers must meet a certain income threshold before they can bring their families over.   This is discriminatory and degrading.  Workers on lower incomes are just as entitled to the care and companionship of their families. 

“The Bill also fails to address the issue of employment rights for spouses of work permit holders.   Again, the Minister has indicated that the present situation will continue, in which only the spouses of top tier employees may work without restriction.   This policy is one of the reasons lower tier employees often cannot rise above the income threshold required to have their families with them.  If their spouses were given the same rights as those of top-tier migrant workers – and there is no legitimate reason why they should not be - this problem would far less often arise.” ENDS 

Full speech follows: 

Employment Permits Bill – Second Stage

I welcome this debate.  It is long overdue.  I am sorry it took so long to publish this Bill, which we have been promised in every legislative programme going back as far as the Spring 2003 Session.  I am not sure why it took the Government so long to come up with this Bill, which does little more than put the current regime on a statutory footing.   Those of us who wish to see substantive changes that will provide real protection for migrant workers in this State must, unfortunately, continue to wait because they are not provided for in this legislation.

The present system is a two-tier system in which certain categories of migrant workers have considerably greater rights and freedoms than other categories.  This Bill does nothing to change that.   The right to change employer will still belong only to the workers in the top tier.  The workers in the bottom tier will still be bound to their employer.   The Bill indicates the Minister’s intention to retain categories of employment deemed ‘ineligible’ for new work permits.   I am sorry to see this.  I know from the testimony of my constituents that this is causing great difficulty for migrant workers, as it makes it all but impossible for most of them to change jobs.  I note that the Department’s Expert Group on Future Skills Needs and Forfás has recommended that the ‘ineligible’ designation be abolished.  I hope that the Minister will give that proposal serious consideration.

Under this legislation, only top tier workers will have the right to avail of the new scheme which is being misleadingly referred to as a 'green card' scheme.  This is, of course, nothing like the green card system used in the United States and the Government and media should stop trying to confuse the public by referring to it as such.   In the American system, 'green card' is an informal term for the status which is officially called 'permanent residence'.  It is granted once and it is permanent.  It does not need to be renewed after a few years, as the scheme on offer here will.  The lack of permanence is a real problem for migrant workers.  Many have found it difficult to open bank accounts or take out mortgages because they could not prove to the bank's satisfaction that they would be here in a few years' time.  There is also a psychological factor which should be taken into account.   I have spoken to many immigrants in my constituency who have conveyed to me their sense of insecurity and instability arising from their 'temporary' status.  It is as if there is a voice in the back of their head, constantly reminding them of the uncertainty of their future.   Under this legislation that uncertainty will remain.

The American green card scheme is also not limited to workers in a certain category, or above a certain income level, as this one is.    It is doubtful that many of our own Irish emigrant relations could have qualified if it was.   The Minister stated in his opening remarks that the only eligible occupations will be those in a salary range above the average industrial wage, and that most of the eligible occupations will, in fact, involve salaries of twice the average industrial wage.  This will exclude large numbers of migrant workers.   The implication of such a policy is that workers earning below these levels are expendable, that their contribution to our economy and our society is minimal.  The truth is that we are reliant upon these workers, many of whom are doing jobs that few of us would be willing to do.  

            The Bill does not address one of the issues of greatest concern to migrant workers:  the issue of whether they will be allowed to have their spouses and children with them in the State.  The Minister has indicated that the present situation will continue, in which workers must meet a certain income threshold before they can bring their families over.   This is discriminatory and degrading.  Workers on lower incomes are just as entitled to the care and companionship of their families.  Furthermore, the Migration Policy Institute has identified the absence of provision for family reunification as one of the key factors encouraging illegal immigration.  This policy therefore is also short-sighted.  It will only cause us problems in the long run.

            The Bill also fails to address the issue of employment rights for spouses of work permit holders.   Again, the Minister has indicated that the present situation will continue, in which only the spouses of top tier employees may work without restriction.   This policy is one of the reasons lower tier employees often cannot rise above the income threshold required to have their families with them.  If their spouses were given the same rights as those of top-tier migrant workers – and there is no legitimate reason why they should not be - this problem would far less often arise. 

            And it is not just the spouses of work permit holders who are suffering under the present regime.  I am increasingly hearing of the problems being faced by the non-national spouses of Irish citizens due to restrictions on their employment while their residency application is pending.  I have put in a number of questions on this subject recently to the Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Justice, because I have heard so often of the difficulties it is causing.  At present an application to remain in the State based upon marriage to an Irish citizen is taking sixteen to eighteen months for approval.  During this time the non-national spouse cannot work without a work permit.  Sixteen to eighteen months is a long time for two people to live on one income.  I understand that there are concerns about fraudulent marriages but quite obviously other countries have the same concerns and nonetheless many of these countries, including the US and Britain, allow spouses to work while their applications are being adjudicated.   My latest reply from the Minister for Justice indicates that the large majority of such applications are eventually granted in any case, and the number of fraudulent marriages is small enough to make entirely unjustified the serious difficulty these couples are forced into during that sixteen to eighteen month period.  These spouses should also be able to avail of the relaxed scheme that currently exists for the spouses of highly skilled migrant workers. 

Some aspects of this Bill are welcome.   It is a good thing that the work permit will now be issued directly to the employee, although giving an employee a document is not the same thing as giving them control of their labour.  It is not what we asked for and I believe the Government has acted somewhat cynically in its use of language around this feature.  That said, it is a positive step forward as far as it goes.  It is also a good thing that information on the employee's rights will be included on the permit.  This will make it more difficult for unscrupulous employers, and regrettably there are far too many of them, to exploit and mistreat their workers – at least the ones who can understand English or have access to a translator.  I do not doubt that some exploitation will continue to take place and there is still no sign of adequate measures to deal with it.   It is not enough simply to pass laws without making statutory provision for resources to enforce those laws, and there is no such provision in this legislation.

I hope that the Minister will take some of these points into account at Committee Stage.  I do not want to have to go back to my immigrant constituents when this Bill has passed and say to them 'it took us two and a half years and this is the best we could do'.   I know that we can do much better.

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson and Dail leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has questioned how progress can be made "when the two parties in Government disagree fundamentally in their diagnosis of what ails the system." Deputy Ó Caoláín pointed out that the Fianna Fáil said, before the lst general election, that it wanted "the end of the two-tier health system" yet the PD Táiniste Mary Harney denies that we have a two-tier system.

Speaking on the Private Members Motion this evening he said, "Sinn Féin want to end the two-tier public-private system, the apartheid in the Irish health services. Before the last General Election Fianna Fáil said it wanted "the end of the two-tier health system". This year, the Tánaiste has introduced a scandalous plan to give land on public hospital sites to the developers of private hospitals. And in so doing the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, denied that we have a two-tier system. How can we make progress when the two parties in Government disagree fundamentally in their diagnosis of what ails the system?

"It is by no means the only inconsistency. If the principle of universal access to the General Medical Services Scheme is accepted for the over-70s, why is it not accepted for those under 18, or for the whole population? According to a reply to my Dáil Question today the Tánaiste's Department estimates that the additional cost of granting medical cards to all those under 18 years of age would be €223 million. The total cost of the PPARS and FISP fiascos, plus the useless electronic voting machines is €245 million - well in excess of what would be needed to give medical card cover to all those under 18 and at 2005 prices.

"This Government has had eight years to put right the fundamental inequality and inefficiency that blights our health service and for which successive governments are directly responsible. They have failed. Unlike the many dedicated healthcare workers who care for patients against the odds, the FF/PD government has let patients down." ENDS

Full speech follows:

Ba mhaith liom tacú leis an rún ar mo shon féin agus ar son Teachtaí Shinn Féin. Arís eile táimíd ag plé géarchéim sa chóras sláinte. Arís eile, nl ag an Rialtas mar freagra ach féin-mholadh.

I support the motion and I oppose the Government amendment. I challenge the Government to go to the doorsteps of Ireland and ask the people to sign up to the hymn of praise of its health record and of the performance of the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children that they has been presented here tonight.

They will receive a very cold reception in the households of County Monaghan. Once again, a tragedy in my native community is the focus of a motion on health before this House. The death of Pat Joe Walsh outraged people throughout Ireland. It was needless. It was avoidable. And it was the system which killed him -- a system that dictates that emergency surgery cannot be performed in Monaghan General Hospital. The doors of the operating theatre were literally locked against Pat Joe Walsh. Those with the skill to save his life were prevented from doing so in that hospital.

I want to emphasise again that no matter what the inquiry finds out about the availability of beds in other hospitals, the fact remains that it was in Monaghan that this man could and should have been operated on, if only the staff had been allowed to do so.

I tabled a Dáil Question on the inquiry into the death of Patrick Walsh. I asked for the terms of reference. The Tánaiste replied today that the Terms of Reference are still being finalised. The report is for completion within a timeframe of eight weeks. I would like the [Minister/Minister of State] to tell me, in replying to the debate this evening, if that is eight weeks from the date of the initiation of the inquiry or from the completion of the terms of reference. I also want to put on record for the notice of the HSE and the Minister that the terms of reference should include investigation of the policies at HSE and Governmental level that contributed directly to the latest tragedy. It should not be confined to the immediate circumstances of the admission of Patrick Walsh to Monaghan and his subsequent death.

The Taoiseach stated here last week that no protocols would prevent a medical person doing his or her duty. But they do, and have done repeatedly in the case of Monaghan and other hospitals where services have been taken away needlessly. The Taoiseach met the Community Alliance on the day of Patrick Walsh's death. He surely knows the depth of feeling in County Monaghan about the downgrading of our hospital. There is also a determination and I can assure him and this Government that we will not rest until the downgrading of the hospital is halted and services are restored.

It was revealed last week that a patient with a life threatening vascular swelling had to be taken by his family from Our Lady's Hospital in Navan to a Dublin hospital because of the unavailability of vascular cover in the North East region. The patient was operated on in St. Vincent's Hospital and was told later by the surgeon that if he had not been brought to Dublin he would not have survived.

This is yet another case which shows that people in the North East region -- Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath -- are being treated like second-class citizens where acute hospital services are concerned. News of the plight of this elderly man and of his family came less than a week after the death of Patrick Walsh. It reinforces the demand for a complete revision of acute hospital policy so that life saving services can be accessible to all, regardless or geographic location or ability to pay.

Sinn Féin want to end the two-tier public-private system, the apartheid in the Irish health services. Before the last General Election Fianna Fáil said it wanted "the end of the two-tier health system". This year, the Tánaiste has introduced a scandalous plan to give land on public hospital sites to the developers of private hospitals. And in so doing the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, denied that we have a two-tier system. How can we make progress when the two parties in Government disagree fundamentally in their diagnosis of what ails the system?

It is by no means the only inconsistency. If the principle of universal access to the General Medical Services Scheme is accepted for the over-70s, why is it not accepted for those under 18, or for the whole population? According to a reply to my Dáil Question today the Tánaiste's Department estimates that the additional cost of granting medical cards to all those under 18 years of age would be €223 million. The total cost of the PPARS and FISP fiascos, plus the useless electronic voting machines is €245 million - well in excess of what would be needed to give medical card cover to all those under 18 and at 2005 prices.

This Government has had eight years to put right the fundamental inequality and inefficiency that blights our health service and for which successive governments are directly responsible. They have failed. Unlike the many dedicated healthcare workers who care for patients against the odds, the FF/PD government has let patients down.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has today said the refusal of the US authorities to grant Frank McBrearty and his family entry to the United States yesterday, raises "very serious questions" about how data concerning individuals is retained in this country and exchanged with other foreign agencies. Mr. McBrearty was refused entry to the US because, according to US Immigration Records, he had a conviction for assault, despite the fact that the conviction had been overturned and he was found to be innocent of the charges levelled against him.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "While it has to be welcomed that the Department of Foreign Affairs intervened very quickly to sort this mess out, it nonetheless raises very serious questions about how data on individuals is retained in this country and exchanged with agencies from other jurisdictions.

"People found innocent of charges made against them, especially malicious charges as in the case of Frank McBrearty, have a right to have their whole character vindicated and to have any records in either electronic or other form relating to such malicious charges completely removed from their record.

"It is totally unacceptable that anybody should be subjected to any form of punitive or discriminatory action because false allegations against their character are being retained in some State database. This has implications not only for travel to other jurisdictions but also in terms of employment opportunities and issues such as adoption and fostering children here in Ireland. It is also unacceptable and even reprehensible that it appears that no effort was made to correct the outdated and erroneous information that had been passed on to the US Authorities until it was too late.

"A series of measures under the EU's Hague Programme involving further operational cooperation between law enforcement authorities including information exchanges are being pushed by the government with the agreement of Labour and Fine Gael. In the Hague Programme measures dealing with this issue there are no safeguards and protocols in place to ensure that erroneous or outdated information is not exchanged on any individual." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on disability, Geraldine Dougan MLA, has welcomed the publication of the North's first ever report on an inspection of services for disabled children in hospital and said that its recommendations require an urgent response.

Ms Dougan said:

"Everyone should be working towards ensuring that the health service provide best care and best practice for children in hospital. This applies to all children, but it is particularly true in the cases of the children with disabilities.

"Proper clinical and social care networks, both before and after any admission to hospital are obviously necessary to make the child's stay in hospital as effective and as short as possible. That includes ensuring that proper support for families are put in place, including respite care where it is felt needed by families.

"I welcome this report and hope that it leads to a greater awareness, both inside and outside the health service, of issues surrounding the needs of disabled children and their families." ENDS

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