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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún this weekend addressed the opening session of the World Parliamentary Forum in Brazil. The World Parliamentary Forum is meeting for two days in the Legislative Assembly in Porto Alegre as part of the World Social Forum.

Speaking at the opening session of the two-day the World Parliamentary Forum, Ms de Brún said:

"In the context of corporate globalisation it is partularly important that we come together as parliamentarians, to promote social and economic equality, to share experiences and analysis of the ways in which we confront the challenges facing us but also quite concretely to take initiatives for peace, justice, and social and economic equality in our regions and beyond.

"We must also remember that the World Parliamentary Forum has grown out of the World Social Forum and that we cannot allow ourselves to become separate from those social movements if we are to have the required strength and purpose to move forward. We must lend our strength to the growing grass roots campaigns and demands for social and economic justice, human rights and equality.

"So our task here today is two fold:

"Firstly our task is to plan to strategise but also to act and to take intitiatives. Secondly our task is to do so as parliamentarians but in dialogue with and in concert with the social movements. It is essential that our work here today should be grounded in these two main tasks."

Ms de Brún also attended the launch in Brazil, by President Lula, of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) - made up of a number of organisations including trades unions, faith-based organisations and other NGOs. The Global Call to Action against Poverty want world governments to implement promises made to fight poverty, including implementation of the Milennium Development Goals. The campaign symbol is a white band which the Global Call to Action against Poverty ask everyone to wear on 1 July to mark the G8 in Scotland and on 10 September to mark the Millenium Development Summit.

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA speaking in his address to the annual Bloody Sunday Commemoration said "Thirty-three years of campaigning has yet to bring out the Truth about the Bloody Sunday massacre. But we must not be deterred from our fight for Equality, Justice, Peace and Human Rights for all by a political establishment that pays lip service to democracy while playing fast and loose with human rights and civil liberties and the truth." He also called for the immediate and unconditional release of Martin Doherty

Full Text

Many of you, as I was myself, were present on this day thirty-three years ago when British Paratroopers were unleashed on the people of Derry. The intention was to teach the uppity fenians that failure to obey British law would have dire consequences. And the result of that policy was indeed dire for the families of the thirteen men murdered in the name of the British government that terrible day and John Johnston and Peggy Deery who later died as a result of the injuries inflicted. But the consequences of the 30th January 1972 were so far reaching that the repercussions catapulted us into a spiral of conflict that left few in Ireland untouched. Because Truth was also a casualty that day and the denial of truth is a denial of justice.

The intention was to teach us a harsh lesson and indeed we were taught a lesson that day. Actually we learned a number of lessons. As we recoiled in shock and horror and began to count and identify our dead and wounded, the British Government was telling the world that a gunbattle had erupted in the Republican stronghold of the Bogside and that a number of republican gunmen and bombers had been killed. We called it Bloody Sunday but many believed the propaganda line and called it Good Sunday. And a compliant media repeated and regurgitated that lie. No need for evidence, as after all, only the IRA could have mounted such an assault on the British Army and only the superior field-craft of the British Army saved them from injury or worse. No need then, for questions.

Yes, we learned lessons that day, but not the one that was intended because we emerged even stronger and even more determined. But we learned that our oppressors owned the law and they owned substantial and hugely influential sections of the communications and media networks, and this is as true on the West bank in Palestine and in Baghdad and Basra as it is in Ireland. We learned that when the lawmakers are the law breakers, then there is no law. We also learned something else that there will be an official version of every single event that is reported in the media and then there is the truth. And that is why we are here today demanding not just freedom for ŒDucksie‚ Doherty, we are demanding that the truth also will be set free.

The theme of this weekend is ŒBogside to Basra‚. Since Bloody Sunday 1972, we have witnessed further erosions of Human Rights on this island and in other conflict areas in the world. The current most graphic illustration of this is witnessed on a daily basis in Palestine and Iraq. We should, but we don‚t hear enough or truthful accounts about Human Rights abuses in Belmarsh Prison or in Guantanamo Bay. The political establishment attempts to criminalise the struggle for self-determination, Equality, Justice and Peace, whilst these same forces and their allies are involved in the criminal invasion of a sovereign nation on the pretext that it was in possession of WMD. They would claim to be bringing democracy to a nation that suffered under a despotic dictator (previously an ally of the West) and that is the justification for British and American troops murdering hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians ˆ men, women and children. We know from our own bitter experience that they killed our friends and neighbours on the same spurious grounds of Œdefending democracy from terrorism‚. We recognise their lies because we have heard them so often. In the meantime the oil has begun to flow again in Iraq under new management and in all of this they have been aided and abetted by the Irish government through the use of Shannon Airport to deliver war to the people of Iraq.

The negation of Human Rights is also being perpetrated daily by the Israeli government against the Palestinians. Since the second Intifada there has been eight times more Palestinians killed than Israelis. Now that is not to dismiss the suffering on all sides but listening to media coverage one would be led to believe that the Palestinians are terrorists responsible for every death in the region. Mind you we are no strangers to that approach where the deaths of nationalists and republicans were always treated with less importance ˆ almost to the point of contempt - than that of British soldiers, unionists or RUC personnel.

The families of the Bloody Sunday victims are acutely aware of this depiction of their loved ones. Thirty-three years of campaigning has yet to bring out the Truth about the Bloody Sunday massacre. But we must not be deterred from our fight for Equality, Justice, Peace and Human Rights for all by a political establishment that pays lip service to democracy while playing fast and loose with human rights and civil liberties and the truth.

I take this opportunity to recommit myself and the republican community to continue our support and solidarity for the families campaigning against Collusion, the Thompson family here in Derry and the many hundreds of other families seeking Truth and Justice about the murder of their family members. We are here to stand by the Bloody Sunday Families in their determination to achieve Truth and Justice for their loved ones. We await, of course with great concern and not a little scepticism, the outcome of the Saville Inquiry. Many of us, when Tony Blair announced that he was setting up the Inquiry and that it would receive the full co-operation of his government and its agencies took a very sceptical view of such an announcement. Experience had taught us that British governments and their agencies did not have a history of co-operation with inquiries into their activities and particularly when it concerned their involvement in Ireland. And so, events during the Inquiry ˆ the mysterious disappearance of evidence, the destruction of the weapons used that day which was carried out immediately the Inquiry was announced, the issuing of Public Interest Immunity Certificates, Edward Heath‚s contemptuous treatment of the Inquiry and the families. Many other events during the tenure of the Inquiry and indeed much more proved that our scepticism was well founded.

The disgraceful imprisonment of Martin ŒDucksie‚ Doherty was just further evidence of the British government and its agencies determination to criminalise republicans rather than expose the truth of its dirty war in Ireland. It is a scandal that Ducksie, an unapologetic Irish Republican who wasn‚t even present at the march should be the only one to see the inside of a prison because of Bloody Sunday. We are here today demanding the Truth about Bloody Sunday and we are here in solidarity with ŒDucksie‚ and his family and we demand his immediate and unconditional release. I reject from this platform Paul Murphy‚s claim that he has no powers to intervene. Does he think that we cannot remember when British Ministers intervened to release British soldiers convicted of murder here in the North?

Ducksie‚s offence, for which he now has a criminal record, was to challenge the British judiciary and their demand that he attend the Saville Inquiry. Not because he was in any position to help the search for truth about Bloody Sunday, but because he was expected to acquiesce under pain of imprisonment, to play a part in a comprehensive conspiracy to hide the truth about Bloody Sunday. He on a point of principle refused to answer allegations made by a perjurer about events that were separate in time and location from the murders on Bloody Sunday. British justice is blind alright, when it suits.

People will wonder and ask, will Saville be different, will he look at the evidence without prejudice and come to a conclusion based solely on the evidence presented to his panel of Inquiry, or will he too, like Widgery be influenced by his political masters and make his determination based on the effect it will have on the reputation of his government? We will just have to wait and see. If the treatment of Ducksie Doherty is an indicator, then it doesn‚t bode well for the outcome. But one thing is for sure, whatever the result, we will take our lead from the decision of the families and support them in whatever avenue they decide to travel. I commend all those people and organisations that have shown solidarity and support for the families down through the years and I am sure that they too will continue that support through this time of limbo.

The battleground, as always is about Truth and I would like to share with you and in particular all of the families who are searching for Truth and Justice, a little verse written by a South African poet that may be of comfort to you.

It is titled simply:

Memory.

Gone!

Buried!

Covered in the dust of defeat

Or so the conquerors believed

But there is nothing can be hidden

from the mind, nothing memory

cannot reach, touch or call back

We know the truth and we will stack our truth against their propaganda and lies until we prevail and the world also comes to know that there can be no Justice without Truth.

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East Councillor Daithí Doolan has said, "this is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. Today, here in Dublin, we commemorate all the victims and survivors of those camps."

Speaking ahead of the commemoration in Dublin Cllr. Doolan said:

"As we prepare today to remember all those victims of Nazi concentration camps we must also use the opportunity to to learn from the Holocaust and what it can tell us about the best and worst of human behaviour. We should not simply remember the Holocaust, we must ensure that the thinking and behaviour that lead to the Holocaust is stamped out once and for all. Where ever there is sectarianism, racism, anti Semitism or homophobia we have a right and responsibility to challenge it and confront that bigotry.

"Today is a chance for us all to remember those who suffered and rededicate our selves to the task of creating a society based on equality and justice. The best memorial we could leave behind is a world where lessons are learnt and children of all nations are cherished equally.‰

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan called on, „people here in Ireland to make a special attempt to challenge the current rise of racism we see in our own communities. This has become today‚s challenge and all of us must rise to it."

Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration, today Sunday 30th January 2005,City Hall, Dame Street, Dublin 2.ENDS

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The official launch of Aoutu, the Sinn Féin strategy group for cross border integration took place in the Clinton Centre, Enniskillen today. It is one of the party's major initiatives to advance the all-Ireland agenda and advance preparations for Irish reunification.

Aontu was set up by the party leadership to bring forward and implement plans for the integration of services, developments and infrastructure throughout the border region.

Today's meeting, hosted by Sinn Féin spokesperson on All-Ireland Integration, Barry McElduff, pulled together almost 40 representatives from the three cross-border corridor groups,the North West Region Border group, the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) and the Eastern Region Border group along with Sinn Féin councillors from Sligo and Donegal where the party has been denied access to the corridor groups. Local Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew along with party chairperson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA also addressed the meeting.

Mr. McLaughlin described the launch as a ''very valuable exercise" saying the party's work on the various border groups and bodies was a perfect "strategic fit into our overall objectives" as republicans. He dismissed the work of the "so-called constitutional nationalists" on the various bodies of being "fine on rhetoric but miserable on action". "Sinn Féin is and will be the potent driving force in all of this," he said. "It is part of our project to achieve unity and sovereignty as well as to make the lives of those who live along the border better."

During the plenary session of the meeting many of the representatives present told of the practical difficulties people sffered as a result of the border. Michelle Gildernew spoke of the problems faced by working parents in accessing childcare services when taxation issues arose, with Revenue on one side of the border not recognising payments for services on the other. Gerry McHugh spoke of the problems faced by the farming community on the northern side of the border who receive grants in euro but are forced to transfer them to sterling accounts at a significant loss. Currency harmonisation was a key feature of many of the contibutions.

The poor provision of health services and the "appalling" lack of public transport were also highlighted.

Telecommunications and the issue of mobile phones and roaming charges in particular were also raised. One representative complained that is was "ridiculous" that using mobiles along the border often meant you were being charged to be told you were leaving or entering Ireland.

Cllr. Padraig MacLochlainn from Donegal for him "this was the most important work he could be involved in" and urged his fellow councillors to make it their priority." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today said that "women parenting alone deserve to be treated with respect".

Ms McDonald was responding to recent comments by Dr Edward Walsh of Limerick University after he made negative comments about women parenting alone.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"Irish society is littered with examples of whole groups of people being actively discriminated against. Ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, the gay community, women, people with disabilities, travellers and single mothers have all been the targets of discrimination. Why have these people become the focus of hate and discrimination? Because they are easy targets and because they are groups who have been kicked around and demonised by sections of society.

"It is only a few months since an EU Commissioner-elect was quoted as saying that children who only have a mother and no father were 'the children of a not very good mother'. Both myself and my colleague Bairbre de Brún actively opposed the Commissioner's views and misconceptions. Since election to the European Parliament, Sinn Féin has consistently stood up for the rights of some of the most victimised people within our society. We have been pro-active in challenging discrimination.

"Dr Walsh's comments are both ignorant and wrong-headed. He suggests that the state has encouraged women parenting alone through "incentives". According to a recent report by the Central Statistics Office, one-parent families are 3.5 times more likely to experience poverty than any other group within society.

"In a more recent survey, it has emerged that the gender pay gap has substantially increased for Irish women and they are now the most discriminated against within the EU. Irish women are paid 17% less for the same work as Irish men. This reopens the wider debate regarding the treatment of women within society.

"This society must reject the notion held by some, that women parenting alone are somehow bad people and women in general are somehow less equal. Sinn Féin believes in bringing about fundamental change within society to both mindsets and social conditions." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the launch of the Government's first National Action Plan on Racism as "long overdue", but also said he treats the Government's commitment to fight racism "with skepticism".

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Sinn Féin must of course welcome the long-overdue publication of the first National Action Plan on Racism, as we have been calling for this for years now. However I remain skeptical about the Government's commitment to anti-racism.

"This is a Government that has criminalised Travellers and taken no action against local councils who failed to reach Traveller Accomodation Plan targets. This is a Government that has cut funding to anti-racism organizations and educational initiatives. This is a Government that has stripped children of non-national parents of their equal right to citizenship. This is a Government that has whipped up hatred against non-national women who are pregnant, or young mothers. This is a Government that has recently amended the equality legislation to legalise discrimination against non-nationals.

"How can we take the Government's commitment to fight racism seriously when they have appointed and reappointed an anti-immigration Minister who has also stated on record that he is opposed to equality as the Minister with responsibility for equality. The mind boggles.

"In all, I cannot take this Government seriously on this issue. They are not committed to ending racism in Ireland. I desperately hope that I am wrong in my prediction that this strategy will join the others on the dusty shelf-full of unfulfilled commitments." ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Cllr John O'Dowd MLA, has expressed his concern over the reasons behind the increasing number of delayed discharges from hospitals of patients who have been declared medically fit for discharge in the North.

He said, "I had recently written to the NIO health minister, Angela Smith, asking for a breakdown on the numbers of delayed discharges of patients from hospitals and the reasons for those delays. In her reply to me, the minister has provided information which shows that half of those delays are caused by the fact that there is either no funding available to put in place appropriate care packages either at home or in a residential care setting, or that no appropriate place or care package is available. Indeed, the number of delayed discharges from acute hospitals has risen from a monthly average of 313 in 1999 to a level of 435 in 2004.

"This totally avoidable bed-blocking situation within acute hospitals is obviously something which neither the patients, their families or hospitals wish to be in, but it is a situation that is directly attributable to government under-funding of the community care programmes provided across all Health and Social Services Trusts. Indeed, the real knock-on effect of this under-funding is felt right across the health service in the unacceptably high number of patients who are regularly forced to lie on trolleys until such times as a bed becomes available, and is also visible in the form of the wider number of patients presently on hospital waiting lists for treatment.

"Clearly, there needs to be a commitment from government to increase dramatically the amount of funding needed to address this totally avoidable situation. I, along with other party colleagues, will be due to meet with minister shortly to discuss the proposed budget for the North's health service over the next three years. We certainly will be making a case for increased funding across all programmes of care within the health service in order to ensure that both patients and health service staff can have access to the quality health provision they deserve." ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA, Alex Maskey, has described as "hysterical" the reaction of unionist politicians to the comments of President Mary McAleese.

Mr Maskey said,

"No-one has done more than President Mary McAleese to build bridges between unionism and nationalism and between our tragic past and a new future. But Unionism is in total denial about the history of this state. The most senior leaders of Unionism routinely practised and encouraged institutionalised anti-catholic discrimination. Unionist leaders to this day refuse to acknowledge that discrimination ever happened.

"There are, of course, many people, including many unionists, working to overcome these out-dated attitudes but the leadership of Unionism, particularly of the DUP brand, needs to face up to the fact that its has, both past and present, promoted the anti-catholic bigotry and prejudice which has characterised the 6 county state since its creation". ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will today (28 Jan) address a meeting of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on the topic of privatisation and globalisation.

Others addressing the meeting will include Meena Menon of the Social Forum of India and Francois Houtart of Cetri (Centre Tricontinental based in Belgium).

Speaking in advance of the meeting Ms de Brún said:

"It makes absolutely no sense for anyone who claims to have a social conscience to plan for the wholesale privatisation of services and at the same time talk of introducing measures to alleviate the hardship that such privatisation will bring, especially for the poor. Better by far to defend the provision of quality public services and to promote a positive social and environmental agenda.

"It is especially important that we oppose any attempt to put the privatisation of services at the heart of future relations between the EU and the developing world. This issue is of particular concern to those who have spoken to the MEPs attending the World Social Forum in Brazil this week."

Ms de Brún and the other MEPs in Porto Alegre this week have also met party leaders of the government party of Brazil (PT), and of other parties participating in the World Social Forum. Ms de Brún has also carried the SF 100 message to the World Social Forum (Sinn Féin is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2005). She has also attended meetings with a number of social movements and has carried out a number of television and radio interviews. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Human Rights, Equality and Women's Spokesperson, South Down MLA Catríona Ruane commenting on the ruling that indefinite detention without trial was a fundamental breech of human rights laws and on the decision of British Home Secretary Charles Clarke to replace this with a form of house arrest has said that this is also an affront to international human rights standards.

Ms Ruane said:

"The ruling that indefinite detention without trial is a fundamental breech of human rights is positive. It was the only decision that could have been reached.

"However the decision to introduce a form of house arrest without any recourse to due process of the presentation of evidence as to culpability is an affront to international human rights standards.

"Only last week the British government renewed the temporary emergency powers legislation that has been in force here in one form or anther for the past 84 years. The UN Committee Against Torture has made it clear that there is no justification for the continued use of such emergency powers that throughout the history of their existence have been used against the nationalist community.

"None of these development do anything to promote the creation of human rights culture in this part of Ireland.

"Human Rights must be based on due process and the ability to scrutinise evidence that is used to deny people the right to liberty." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today said that the horrors of the holocaust must be used to "educate young people and remind them of the dangers of racism".

Ms McDonald was speaking on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, were a special ceremony took place today, to remember millions of Jews exterminated during the Second World War. Ms McDonald made her comments following the passing of a resolution in the European Parliament to remember all the victims of the holocaust.

Speaking from Brussels Ms McDonald said:

"We should not consign the horrors of the holocaust to the pages of history or commemoration ceremonies. The holocaust should be used to educate people, particularly the younger generations of the immense suffering of the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, people with disabilities and all of those whom the Nazi's deemed inferior and worthless. Even after the most unimaginable human suffering, neo-nazi and fascist groups flourish in some areas of Europe today.

"We must also remember that racism and intolerance are alive and well in Ireland. Violent attacks against ethnic minority communities are on the rise today. Eliminating such abuses of human and civil rights is the responsibility of us all, and I would call upon all political and civic leaders to reaffirm their commitment to this.

"The legacy of the holocaust should be about reflecting on a dark past but also a determination to oppose racism and intolerance wherever we may come across it in our daily lives. Education remains the key to much of this." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today accused the Irish government of failing to properly communicate the content and ramifications of the EU Constitution to the Irish people. Ms McDonald said that "the government had been more concerned with concluding negotiations on the EU Constitution than communicating its content to the people".

Ms McDonald made her comments after a European survey revealed that nearly 50% of Irish people were not even aware of the existence of the EU Constitution. The survey was carried out by "EU Barometer".

Speaking from Brussels Ms McDonald said:

"During Ireland's Presidency of the European Union, Sinn Féin consistently called upon the Irish government to effectively communicate the content and ramifications of the proposed EU Constitution to the people. The results of this survey show that nearly 50% of Irish people are not even aware of the existence of the EU Constitution.

"Considering agreement on the EU Constitution was reached during Ireland's stewardship of the European Union, then clearly this represents a monumental failure on the part of the government. It became increasingly clear during that period that the government was more concerned with concluding negotiations on the EU Constitution than communicating its content to the people.

"The government has a duty to inform citizens in a non-partisan manner regarding fundamental changes which may effect them. It is not good enough for the government to only communicate the contents of this far-reaching document in the period leading up to the referendum on the issue. By that stage it will be much too late." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP is in London this afternoon briefing British MPs and the international media on the peace process. Accompanying Mr. Adams are Martin McGuinness MP, Michelle Gildernew MP and Cllr Joe Reilly. The Sinn Féin delegation will meet with Tony Blair tomorrow morning.

Responding to questions from the media today Mr. Adams said:

"It is obvious that electoral and party politics, plus a view that no progress is possible before the upcoming elections, is impacting on the behaviour of the Irish government and the outrageous commentary which we have witnessed from them in recent days. By taking up the Michael McDowell line, the Taoiseach is sending a clear signal of how he sees the future of the process at least in the short term.

"The Taoiseach, of course, has to stand over his remarks but he will know that the tremendous progress achieved thus far in the Peace Process flowed from a general consensus among parties with a broadly nationalist outlook. That meant that party political and other differences were subordinate to the national interest.

The process has been in greatest difficulty when disunity among Irish parties allowed the British system and it‚s allies in Ireland to set the agenda. That is what is happening at this time.

When the integrity of the Sinn Féin party is being attacked we will defend ourselves robustly. When the rights of our electorate are being threatened, Sinn Féin will defend those rights.

We have no apologies to make to any political party or leadership for our stewardship of the Peace Process. We have never said we had all the answers. If others think they can do better then they are welcome to try. But would any sensible Irish person trust Michael McDowell with the Peace Process?

"The Taoiseach may have deflected media and opposition attention from the Ray Burke affair, but he needs to consider where this takes the process in the longer term."ENDS

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Foyle Sinn Féin MLA, Mitchel McLaughlin has called on British Secretary of State, Paul Murphy to close his deliberations on City of Derry Airport and release the funding urgently required for safety improvements and development.

The Foyle MLA said:

"Despite the pressing need of improvements and development of City of Derry Airport it has succeeded in increasing its throughput by more than 10% during the past year with more than a quarter of a million passengers now using the airport annually.

"This is a gauge of how important the facility is to Derry and the North West Region and it flags up the damage that will be done not just to the future of the Airport but to the potential regeneration of the NorthWest if the planned developments do not take place without further delay.

"There is growing evidence that officials in the DRD are briefing against investment in the NorthWest in general and Derry Airport in particular. It is totally unacceptable that these officials are permitted to engage in this activity unchallenged. Mr Murphy established a joint working group to prepare the case for the development of City of Derry Airport. That body has now reported and Mr Murphy needs to respond to its recommendations immediately.

"I am concerned that those in positions of influence and who are charged with development of this area, actually seem to be undermining the development of the NorthWest Region by grossly understating its requirements for growth in order to justify their own policy of neglect and east of the Bann bias.

"The infrastructure of this city has been neglected for decades and we have consistently been told that there is insufficient demand to justify such infrastructural investment in our roads, railway or airport. This never was justifiable, is not acceptable and the fact that the NorthWest is the fastest growing region in the 6 Counties exposes this reasoning as demonstrably false.

" I have written to Mr Murphy today to call for an urgent decision on the release of the necessary funds to allow the development work at City Of Derry Airport to proceed. I have also requested of the Mayor of Derry, Gerry Ó hÉara that he convenes the City's Civic Regeneration Forum to develop a cross-party and civic intervention." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew commenting on the publication of the estimates for farm incomes has welcomed the increase in total farm incomes but warned that the low base means that many farm families are still struggling on incomes of £160 per week or half the average industrial wage.

Ms Gildernew said:

"It is good news that for the second year running that there is a real increase in farm incomes although the growth seen in 2003 has slowed considerably. This is driven by increases in output values across the board and increased subsidy receipts.

"Increases in farm incomes are expected for the key dairy, pig and poultry sectors yet they will come under threat in the future from the nitrate and water framework directives. Unless there is co-ordinated action the expected decline particularly in beef and lamb farming incomes will also continue. The fact that across all types of farming that net farm income has shown no signs of improving is very worrying. A net farm income of £8,500 hardly provides a sustainable basis for future development. Many farm families are still struggling on incomes of £160 per week or half the average industrial wage and many are also carrying huge debt.

"It is clear that farmers are doing their best to increase productivity and generate higher prices but we are yet to see real action in tackling the difficulties that the nitrates directive and the move over to decoupling will bring.

"It is important that we move away, as a matter of urgency, from any linkage to the tarnished image of British farming and make progress on the campaign to lift the beef ban, as well as develop greater co-ordination across Ireland to find more effective ways to challenge the implementation of the raft of EU directives that will have a massive impact on the future of farmers.

"I believe that central to any long-term strategy to build on high value produce must be a commitment and the political will to build on the well-established internationally recognised Irish brand. This demands that the potential of the all-Ireland agenda is realised. Market development also demands that we give a priority to moving towards a single all-Ireland system of traceability in order to bring as much confidence as possible to potential markets.

"The agri-industry is vital to our rural communities which play and should continue to play an important role in our economy." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Community and Family Affairs, Seán Crowe TD has questioned the Minister for State for Community Affairs, Noel Ahern TD about his decision to axe funding for the Community Workers Co-operative, an organisation that works on the ground fighting poverty, inequality and injustice.

Speaking in the Dáil last night he said "The Combat Poverty Group's most recent assessment of the Community Workers Co-operative at the end of 2003 acknowledged the quality of their work and their focus on poverty and exclusion. In fact the quality of their work and their commitment to addressing poverty is recognised locally, nationally and indeed internationally.

"Their provision of quality information, policy analysis, strategy guides, resources, and training are invaluable to thousands of local groups struggling to work against poverty. These groups are outraged about the negative impact the closure of the Community Workers Co-operative will have on their work.

"The Community Workers Co-operative has been a critical voice of Government policy on anti-poverty and equality issues for the last 24 years. The decision by Minister for State Noel Ahern to axe this funding has been described as a sinister move to silence an effective critical voice.

"The process by which this decision was made must be questioned. There was no discussion with the organisation.

"Were evaluation and assessment reports of the 10 networks considered in the decision? Apparently not, as the Community Workers Co-operative has consistently performed well, particularly in relation to its anti-poverty focus.

"Were others renowned for working in the field of anti-poverty work consulted? Again apparently not, as witnessed by the statements such as that of Helen Johnston of the Combat Poverty Agency or from the European Anti-Poverty Network.

"What is happening here appears to be political vetting of community work. The government clearly doesn't like what this organisation says, or its ability to bring diverse groups experiencing poverty together to work collectively."

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Commenting on the Report on Minister Martin Cullen and Leech Comunications Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said it "cannot be taken as anything other than an indictment of Minister Cullen himself and of Government practice in general, even though the Report baulks at such a conclusion".

Deputy Ó Caoláin stated, "What will rightly strike most people as scandalous is that a Minister or a Department can award such a contract. When this is for public relations which could and should have been done by the civil service itself the scandal is compounded.

"This report highlights the increasing practice of Ministers over recent years in employing highly paid public relations consultants and other consultants as illustrated by the use by Minister Cullen of Leech Communications.

"The report shows that the value of the contract given to Mrs. Leech turned out to be well in excess of the EU threshold for advertising in the Official Journal of the EU and should have been put out to tender.

"The Report shows that the OPW contract awarded to Mrs. Leech as Project Information Co-ordinator was unique to Waterford and was unprecedented for any other major OPW project, apart from Farmleigh House.

"Mrs. Leech was awarded a tender at the exorbitant rate of £650 per day and the report finds there is "no comprehensive inventory of work done under the contract and monitoring and recording of the work was not satisfactory".

"This cannot be taken as anything other than an indictment of Minister Cullen himself and of Government practice in general, even though the Report baulks at such a conclusion. Whether Minister Cullen was required to resign or not there would still be an urgent need to end the over-use of consultants by Ministers and Government Departments at huge cost to the taxpayer.

"Q4, owned by former Fianna Fáil general secretary Martin Mackin along with former government advisor Jackie Gallagher and former Eircom Director of Corporate Affairs Gerry O'Sullivan, was given the €4m contract to promote the failed electronic voting system. That was also on Minister Cullen's watch.

"It's time the government called a halt to these gravy trains." ENDS

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This week Sinn Féin will unveil the first in a series of major initiatives to advance the party's all-Ireland agenda and advance preparations for Irish reunification. The launch of Aontú (Uniting), the Sinn Féin strategy group for cross-border integration, will take place in the Clinton Centre, Enniskillen tomorrow Friday, 28th January at 10am. Sinn Féin chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin will speak at the event. It will be followed in February with the launch of the party's Green Paper for Irish Unity.

Aontú has been set up by the party leadership to bring forward and implement plans for the integration of services, developments and infrastructure throughout the border region. It will be headed by Sinn Féin spokesperson on All-Ireland Integration, Barry McElduff MLA and will be made up of Sinn Féin's representatives on the various cross-border groups, like the North West Region Border Group, the Irish Central Border Area Network and the East Border Region Group, along with the party's MLAs, TDs, council group leaders and Sinn Féin councillors from both sides of the border. Although denied access to membership of the North West Region Border Group, Donegal Sinn Féin councillors Pearse Doherty, Padraig MacLoughlainn, Tomas Pringle and Tony McDaid have joined Aontú to address the specific problems of social and economic marginalisation suffered by the people of Donegal as a result of partition and the decades of inaction by establishment politicians in the County.

Speaking in advance of the conference Aontú spokesperson, Barry McElduff said, "Life along the border for many people is characterised by poor planning, inadequate transport systems, insufficient energy supply and ICT (broadband) networks and, critically, by a duplication of services that is uneconomic and inefficient.

"Government discrimination, inadequate representation and poor planning have ensured that the border corridor is less developed and growing more slowly that the rest of the economy. It is also poorly serviced by bus and rail links, the energy infrastructure is not capable of supporting significant economic and social development, the agriculture sector is in difficulty and, despite having excellent natural resources, the proportion of tourist expenditure in the border corridor area is low and falling in many areas.

"In 2003, Sinn Féin brought forward a document "Reunification Through Planned Integration" which set out innovative solutions to these problems and this is already impacting on debate and planning at local government level.

"It is clear that only co-ordinated cross-border integration that creates common systems and shared infrastuctures and services will deliver the balanced development needed for people living and working within the Border Corridor. The need for greater Cross-Border Integration will require local government councils and departments working together for the benefit of all communities.

"Sinn Féin, as the only all-Ireland party with a dedicated cross-border strategy and councillors in every county in the Border Corridor Area, is ideally placed to develop the dynamic cross-border links between councils - links that are essential for the development and long-term prosperity of the border region.

"The formation of Aontú illustrates Sinn Féin's absolute commitment to achieving real progress not just in the Border Corridor Area but beyond. The Strategy Group will ensure that we use our political strength to promote dynamic and productive cross-border links between councils and government departments to deliver cross-border integration. The group will also engage with civic society, trade unions, business community and farming organisations, disadvantaged communities and groups who are marginalised to ensure that process of cross-border integration is an inclusive one.

"On Friday we will set out proposals our representatives will be seeking support for in the time ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD, Martin Ferris today demanded the release by the British Government of the only man jailed as a result of the activities of the British Army on Bloody Sunday in Derry. Deputy Ferris made his call during a Order of Business in the Dáil this morning and will again raise it in the Dáil with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern this afternoon. Describing it as an "absolute outrage" he said "in this the anniversary week of the murder of 13 civilians by the British Army's Parachute Regiment in 1972 it is a scandal that Martin Doherty is now the only person to have been sent to jail because of his refusal to testify at the Saville inquiry."

Speaking in the Dáil today he said, "Martin Doherty was jailed on the 19th of this month for refusing to testify at the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

"Mr Doherty maintains he has nothing to offer the inquiry as he was not there on the day and now he has been imprisoned for not testifying about events he knows nothing about.

"In this the anniversary week of the murder of 13 civilians by the British Army's Parachute Regiment in 1972 it is a scandal that Martin Doherty is now the only person to have been sent to jail because of his refusal to testify at the Saville inquiry. It is not acceptable and is an absolute outrage.

"I am calling on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern to demand the release by the British government of Martin Doherty and for him to be returned to his family immediately." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has been participating in the opening of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil (26 January/27th January). Ms de Brún along with fellow MEPs, joined hundreds of thousands who marched through the streets of Porto Alegre carrying the message of the World Social Forum - that another world is possible.

The opening demonstration had a carnival atmosphere with artistic contributions from as far afield as India, Brazil, Uganda, Argentina, Australia, Haiti, Peru, France and Italy. Tickertape flew from the windows of buildings along the route as the march passed by. Those participating in the opening ceremony come from political groups, religious and environmental organisations and many community and campaigning groups from around the world. At one point participants laid stones, books and banners as symbols of the diversity of the World Social Forum process. There was also a minute‚s silence in memory of all those who suffered from the tsunami in Asia and Africa.

Speaking from the opening of the WSF, Ms de Brún said:

"This truly diverse gathering has an upbeat carnival atmosphere and is a real celebration of the diversity of the World Social Forum. Behind the carnival atmosphere, however, lies a serious message that we must all act to create a fairer and more sustainable world. That is the real work that will take place in the meetings and seminars in the coming days." ENDS

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