Sinn Féin today tabled a motion in the Dáil seeking to strengthen the protection of human rights in the State in line with commitments made by the Irish government in signing the Good Friday Agreement. The Party's five TDs have called for the repeal of the Offences Against the State Acts 1939-1985 and accused the Government of refusing to live up to it's commitments to reform by dispensing with these draconian laws.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said:
"In signing the Good Friday Agreement this state committed itself to 'further strengthen the protection of human rights in this jurisdiction' and to 'initiate a widespread review of the Offences Against the State Act with a view to both reform and dispensing with those elements no longer required as circumstances permit'.
"It is now five years since the signing of that Agreement and instead of reforming the emergency legislation as required the Government has done the exact opposite and expanded the draconian measures in 1998.
"These laws have had a corrosive effect on human rights, civil liberties and democratic life in this state. They are not warranted and the Minister for Justice has utterly failed to demonstrate that the operation of this legislation is necessary for the security of the people.
"In the interests of justice and to honour the Governments own commitments under the Good Friday Agreement these laws must be repealed. Sinn Féin is seeking through this motion to have this done at the earliest opportunity." ENDS
Speaking during a Dáil debate on the Report and Final Stages of the Protection of the Environment Bill Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. called for an All Ireland environmental protection agency.
Deputy Morgan said: "I wish to address the issues of dumping and incineration in terms of waste management plans. Its central thrust is that we should avoid having a line of incinerators across the State that will require a constant feed of waste, thus providing no incentive for people to produce less waste. The incineration industry, as I have already outlined, is a dirty one. It is harmful to health and, more importantly, it is totally unnecessary. The Minister knows that communities and councils across the State recognise the futility of incineration and are opposed to it.
"A recent report demonstrated to the Minister that the worries about the safety of incineration have not been fully addressed. The report does not even consider the US Environment Protection Agency's findings in this regard.
"There is a need for an all-Ireland strategy for dealing with waste issues and for a single agency on the island to deal with environmental protection. The Minister is moving ahead of himself considerably by forcing his incineration policy on the people without having first considered the other safe options.
"There is an opportunity for the Minister to realise, at this late stage, that there is no need to poison the people through mismangement or to be so narrow-minded as to have an environmental protection agency with responsibility for a little over half of the island and another one with responsibility for the rest. There are waste streams and pollution crossing the Border. I dealt with an incident in this respect in Louth County Council last Saturday morning and I mentioned another incident to the Minister on the issue of waste pouring across the Border into County Fermanagh. If there were one agency, this issue could be dealt with very comprehensively."
Sinn Féin put forward amendments for the development and implementation of an All-Ireland waste management plan; the establishment of an All-Ireland Environmental Protection Agency; the prohibition of the inclusion of the option of incineration or thermal treatment in regional and central waste management plans and strategies; to delete the sections which provide for the imposition of the service charges and to transfer authority over waste management plans back to elected members of local authorities. ENDS
At 7:00 this evening, Sinn Féin will be staging a protest outside the gates of Leinster House. The protest will coincide with the debate on the Environment Bill.
Dublin EU Candidate Marylou McDonald, said that if passed the Bill will overturn the Supreme Court decision that Councils must collect household waste from those who have not paid the Bin Charges.
Ms McDonald said:
"If passed this Bill will overturn a Supreme Court decision stating that Councils must continue to collect household waste from those who have not paid the bin charges.
"It will also transfer more powers away from elected councillors to unelected city and county managers. Sinn Féin have put down a number of amendments to the Bill, and these need to be implemented.
"We will be protesting tonight against this Bill, and we are asking all those opposed to the bin taxes to join us." ENDS
Sinn Féin's Six County Agriculture Spokesman Cllr Gerry McHugh today warned of potentially heavy fines, which will be imposed on farmers, from Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Grants and Subsidies Division.
Mr McHugh said:
"Since the introduction of new EU regulations in 2002 for any irregular animal found in a cattle claim, the fine will be aggregated across all cattle claims, lodged by that farmer. In effect this means that if one animal is irregular then a fine will be imposed on the total amount the farmer claims, which could run into thousands of pounds.
"It has come to my attention that failure to notify DARD when purchasing cattle is creating fines. A No Notification (NNO), a No Movement Notification (NMN) and a Late Movement Notification (LMN) is also causing some farmers to lose hundreds of pounds.
"It is vital that before any farmer puts in a claim for Suckler Cow premium that they get a herd print out and check for the status of their animals. If the status cannot be changed then the farmer should not claim for that animal. This fine may also apply to Slaughter Premium and to Beef Special Premium.
"I have written to the head of the Grants and Subsides Division, with a series of detailed question's on this issue and will be requesting a meeting in the near future to demand that farmers are informed of these new rules; that they are told of the amount they will receive in the year and the amount of the fine imposed. It is totally wrong for a farmer to be fined across his or her total claim when only two or three animals are affected.
"This is another example of DARD's obsession, with oppressive and negative implementation of rules, at time when farm incomes are at £88 per week." ENDS
Newry/Armagh Sinn Féin Spokesperson, Conor Murphy said he has received numerous complaints from people living in south Armagh that British army bases are being refurbished despite the promise of a rolling programme of demilitarisation in this area.
Mr Murphy said;
"The British army have almost completed the removal of two watch towers from Cloughogue and Tievecrum in south Armagh. However people are angry that whilst this work was being carried out the British army have begun to strengthen and refurbish other bases in this area. During the last week I have received numerous complaints from local people that a fleet of lorries and increased helicopter activity have been working at Forkhill Barracks. We are now lead to believe that 2 aerials have been removed but are being replaced by one larger aerial with satellite dishes and electronic equipment.
"The promise to implement a rolling programme of demilitarisation gave people hope that the British army presence in this area would be removed in it's entirety. However our experience to date has been that the watchtowers have now been replaced by frequent checkpoints on roads in the area. During the weekend residents reported helicopters landing in fields near Lisbeg Park, Crossmaglen in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning. People are justifiably angry that the British army leave one area but yet are engaged in strengthening their bases in other parts of south Armagh." ENDS
Commenting on the judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Pat Finucane, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that 'the verdict was a vindication of the position adopted by the Finucane family' and he called on the British government to end the stalling and set up the independent, judicial inquiry necessary to find the truth.
Mr McLaughlin said:
" The identities of those involved in the killing of Pat Finucane are well known. The fact that agencies of the British State used the UDA to carry out this killing is beyond doubt. What is required now is a full independent judicial inquiry to establish exactly who authorised and planned this killing - where the chain of command leads.
" Today's judgement is a further vindication of the position of the Finucane family and is the latest in a line of European Court Judgements against the British government regarding this issue of state collusion in the murder of citizens.
" Sinn Féin will continue to highlight this issue and will continue to support the Finucane and family and others in their demand for full disclosure and the lid to be lifted on the collusion scandal." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Social Affairs, Seán Crowe, speaking in the Dáil today called for an urgent debate about the mounting job losses taking place across the state. Referring to the fact that jobless figures have increased every month this year, Deputy Crowe said it was clear the Government had no plan to halt this decline and questioned the wisdom of abolishing 5,000 Community Employment places at a time of rising unemployment.
The Dublin South-West TD said: "The mounting job losses across the state particularly following the announcement yesterday of the closure of Navan Carpets with the loss of 200 jobs and Powerscreen Ltd in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, with the loss of another 118 jobs are bad enough, but the numbers seem set to increase. 190 jobs are now under threat in Gweedore in Donegal.
"In our own area we have seen the effects of these jobs losses with the closure of the HB plant in Rathfarnham and Gallahers factory. Unemployment figures have increased every month so far this year and there is no sign yet of the Government coming forward with a plan to halt this decline.
"The Government must face up to the fact that more and more people are being laid off and they must reveal what measures, if any, the Government is prepare to take to deal with rising unemployment.
"At a time of rising unemployment to be going ahead with widespread closing of Community Employment Schemes at the cost of 5,000 places seems little more than madness. Hundreds of families are being plunged into real hardship on a weekly basis now and the Government cannot be allowed to stand idly by." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Arthur Morgan TD, reacting to the latest figures on house prices and mortgages, accused the main lending institutions of "fuelling the fires" of unacceptable house price increases. He said that the main banks, building societies and other lending institutions had a "moral and social obligation" to curb the excessive and potentially ruinous amounts that are currently being given out as mortgage loans.
Deputy Morgan said:
"The latest house price figures make for depressing reading as do the latest figures for mortgages. That the two are inextricably linked is not hard to see. The ever-spiralling house prices, with the exception of last months blip in the chart, shows that the lending institutions are continuing with a reckless if not criminal policy of providing excessive mortgages, especially to first time buyers. This is fuelling the fires of the unacceptable house price increases and cannot be allowed to continue. The banks, building societies and other lending institutions are giving away mortgages in some cases of up to five and six times the amount of annual income coming into a home.
"They must realise that their drive for profit and greed must be tempered by their social and moral obligation not to allow people to borrow beyond their means. The excessive and potentially ruinous amounts currently being given away as mortgages must be curbed. If the lending institutions aren't willing to police themselves in this matter then the Financial Ombudsman and the Central Bank must step in and take immediate action." ENDS
Sinn Féin Upper Bann representative Dr Dara O'Hagan has welcomed the determination of the Parades Commissions on the Orange Order march in Portadown.
Dr O'Hagan said:
"This is the right decision. The nationalist community living on Garvaghy Road have the right to live free from sectarian harassment. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not want Orange Parades through their area and past their homes.
"The Orange Order either fail to understand or refuse to understand how objectionable nationalists find their insistence that they march through nationalist areas.
"It is unacceptable that this issue raises its head year after year. The Orange Order should abandon their attempts to seek a march through Garvaghy Road. If they persist with a demand for these marches then they must engage with the residents and seek to persuade them of their case.
"Ultimately a resolution to disputes of this kind can only be achieved through agreement between the parades organisers and the host communities. This requires direct dialogue between the residents and the Loyal Orders. This is the very minimum requirement of a process premised on mutual respect."
Commenting on weekend media speculation about this specific issue, Dr O'Hagan
"Sinn Féin has been involved in a range of meetings with a range of people and I am not going to get involved in the detail of this.
"But, lets be absolutely clear, there has been no effort by the Orange Order in Portadown to talk directly to nationalist residents to date, so it is fairly clear that the media suggestion that agreement on a march was close was not just totally wrong but most likely an exercise of mischief making,
"Our position on Orange Order marches is well known. We support their right to march. But where there are contentious parades, and there are only a small number, there is an onus on them to get the agreement from the host communities." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries Martin Ferris TD has welcomed today's decision by the Minister for the Marine, Dermot Ahern, to defer the imposition of the massive planned increases in harbour rates and charges.
Deputy Ferris said:
"I asked Minister Ahern to withdraw the Fishery Harbour Centres (Rates and Charges) Order three weeks ago in view of the added burden which the 500 and 800% increases would impose on fishermen. I am glad to see that he has decided to defer the imposition of these charges pending a review of submissions from those involved in fishing. I have already called on Minister Ahern to consult the fishing organisations prior to any change and hope that he will now take their recommendations on board". ENDS
"Early this last month the southern employers organisation IBEC has said that the removal of economic and social barriers between the north and south could create 3,000 jobs.
"We need to urgently address the removal of all social, economic and geographical barriers which act as an impediment to the development of all-Ireland trade. We also need to see the synchronisation of professional qualification and harmonisation of tax, wages, transport and housing costs on both sides of the border." ENDS
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Cllr Sue Ramsey has said that the Royal represents the only logical option for the site of the new maternity hospital.
Cllr. Ramsey said:
"The new maternity hospital should be built at the Royal site. It is the only logical option and represents the best option for parents and new born babies.
"This decision has taken far too long. The campaign by groups and politicians in South Belfast, that delayed Bairbre de Brún's original decision, has in my view only served to put back the start date of work on building the new maternity hospital.
"The staff who have been working throughout this uncertainty have maintained the highest standards. It is vital that the decision taken today is not again frustrated by groups, whose concerns I understand, but which have held back progress.
"The department must, in taking this decision, publish a timetable for the completion of the new maternity hospital so that everybody knows when the work will be completed."ENDS
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said the Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin should not authorise the 8% fee increase being sought by VHI. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"This proposed hike of 8% would add greatly to the burden of those families with little choice but to take out health insurance because they do not qualify for the medical card. Providing such cover for themselves and their families is a major challenge for those on lower incomes. Having broken its promise to extend medical card cover to a further 200,000 people the Government must not allow what would in effect be a 26% rise in VHI fees since the General Election - 18% last year and 8% this year. Such increases will leave more people in the income gap where they do not qualify for a medical card but cannot afford health insurance." ENDS
Sinn Féin newly appointed Irish language spokesperson, Magherafelt councillor Sean Mac Giolla Cheara has called on the British government to act on implementing its' commitments on the Irish language. Speaking after a protest organised by Irish language groups outside the Headquarters of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure at the Interpoint today, Cllr Mac Giolla Cheara said:
"Both the Irish government and the British government made specific commitments to support and promote the use of Irish language in the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration. We now need to see action, particularly from the British government.
"Cuts to the budget of Foras na Gaeilge must be reversed. Irish Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv has already indicated that the Irish government will reverse the cuts it made to the budget of Foras. We now need to see similar commitments from the British direct rule minister.
"Five years after the Agreement was signed we also need to see resolute action to promote the language. This requires a sea change in the attitude of the British government. It means that they must act to ensure extension of coverage TG4 throughout the north. It means a fund for Irish language TV, radio and film production. It also means that all government forms and communications be routinely available in Irish." ENDS
Sinn Féin's Upper Bann representative, Dr Dara O'Hagan, has reiterated Sinn Féin's support for the residents of the Garvaghy Road in Portadown in their opposition to an Orange march through the area.
Dr O'Hagan said:
"Sinn Féin's position in relation to this issue is clear. I met the Parades Commission last week and put forward the Sinn Féin position that the march should be re-routed away from the Garvaghy Road. The situation has not fundamentally changed since 1998 when the Parades Commission first turned down an application from the Orange Order to march along the Garvaghy Road. Since that time, Portadown District Orange Lodge have consistently refused to meet directly with the representatives of the Garvaghy Road community with a view to working towards a resolution of the marching issue in Portadown. Indeed, the Orange Order has even refused to meet with the Parades Commission itself.
"In the absence of local agreement and given the Orange Orders intransigent stance the only correct decision is to re-route this march. There is an alternative route. The Garvaghy Road community should not be held hostage to wider political fortunes. The right of that community to live free from sectarian harassment and intimidation must be upheld." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking at a meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle in Dublin this morning said that the only way to fill the dangerous political vacuum which has been allowed to develop is through the implementation of the Agreement and the setting of a firm date for the Assembly elections
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"For some time now the British government has allowed the process to drift into a dangerous political vacuum, through the suspension of the institutions, the cancellation of the elections and the failure to implement the Agreement. And the only thing that is guaranteed, if we continue with this policy, is that there will be no executive, no power sharing and no political progress.
"The Irish government needs to use the opportunity of next week's meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to move the British government from this negative position into supporting a renewal of the peace process.
"There can be no preconditions placed on peoples democratic right to vote. We need to see the continued implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, we need to see politics working and central to this is the setting of a firm date for the Assembly elections in the Autumn."ENDS
Commenting on the resignation of Justice Flood as Tribunal chairperson, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:
"Justice Flood deserves praise for his conduct of the Tribunal which has helped expose much about the corrupt nature of planning in this State over many years. Despite its duration and cost the tribunal has also ensured the return of much taxation revenue both directly and indirectly as a result of its activities.
"The Government has indicated that it will have to legislate to ensure that challenges on costs because of the resignation of Justice Flood do not succeed. The Government should also introduce separate legislation to properly regulate the exorbitant fees of legal teams involved in tribunals.
"Minister McDowell's proposal to bring in private inquiries behind closed doors should be rejected. While he claims this would reduce costs it would be at the expense of transparency." ENDS
Speaking during the course of this afternoon's Statements on the World Trade Organisation Talks in the Dáil Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said that Ireland must be a voice for justice and fairness. "The only proper policy this government should adopt in the negotiations at Cancun is one of moral leadership," he said.
Deputy Morgan said: "If we are to believe media reports, the coming WTO talks are crucial to not just the future of the Irish economy, but that super omnipotent force "international financial markets" and the cause of "free trade".
"As a republican it reminds me of the Irish Volunteers who in the 1780s used their military strength as a bargaining chip to force the British Government to repeal the repressive Corn Laws and allow free trade between Ireland and Britain. It wasn't just our trade that was held to ransom by this and other British economic policies - it was our people who were forced to endure poverty, deprivation, malnutrition, starvation and death. Looking today at the realities of international financial markets we can clearly see that other nations, other peoples of the world are now enduring the same type of economic oppression.
"It is for this reason that the only proper policy this government should adopt in the negotiations at Cancun is one of moral leadership. We must be a voice for justice and fairness. We must be a voice for redressing the inequalities that our economic policies are imposing on other nations today. This means taking positive steps like acting on food export subsidies, taking down tariffs on goods exported from developing states and making our international companiesresponsible." ENDS
Reacting to the news that former Minister for Education Michael Woods prevented news being issued to schools around the country because he believed it would undoubtedly harm Fianna Fáil's election chances Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Seán Crowe described the party as "morally bankrupt" and stated that it is a party willing to say, do or promise anything to get elected.
The Dublin South-West TD said: "I am beginning to wonder whether there was a single piece of honesty in Fianna Fáil's entire election campaign. Since the Government was re-elected it has broken promises it made to the people on an almost daily basis. It now transpires that they were lieing to children and their parents across Ireland as part of a campaign of deception and misinformation that is breathtaking in its cynicism.
"Fianna Fáil is a party that is clearly ready to say anything, do anything or promise anything in an effort to get elected. It would appear they care for nothing but gaining power and holding it. Once they have it, as we have seen over the last number of years, they do not demonstrate the will to use it effectively.
"Fianna Fáil has long been bankrupt of ideas. The revelation that former Minister Woods instructed civil servants to prevent news and information going to schools because he feared it might have a negative effect on his party's election prospects show that they are morally bankrupt as well." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, speaking during Statements on Audit of Health Structures, today accused the Government of embarking on administrative change rather than real reform. He said, "the two-tier health care system is inherently inefficient and no amount of better financial management or administrative restructuring can change that reality". He went on to say that the Governments proposals will mean less democratic accountability and that Sinn Féin would continue to campaign for a truly reformed health service.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "It is a tragedy and a scandal that healthcare in this State is delivered by means of a fundamentally flawed two-tier public-private
system. The Government's Health Strategy opted to retain this system. The two reports do not challenge it either, although they do expose some of the unfairness and inefficiency of the two-tier system. Health apartheid divides our society on income lines. The contribution to the common good which those on higher incomes could make is lost to the public system. As the Brennan Reports again exposes, many hospital consultants very profitably straddle the two systems and it is the public patient who loses out. The two-tier system is inherently inefficient and no amount of better financial management or administrative restructuring can change that reality.
"The vision and the political will to fundamentally reform that fundamentally unequal and inefficient system is absent from this Government.
"One of its key policy objectives and targets of the Health Strategy was for all additional beds to be designated solely for public patients. But instead of additional beds we are seeing bed closures, over 500 this year. At the same time public money is going to buy treatment in beds in the private system under the PDs' cherished Treatment Purchase Fund. This is a classic example of the piecemeal and contradictory approach of this and previous governments.
"The Government is embarking on administrative change rather than real reform. The most important recommendation of the Brennan Report is that all new public consultant appointments be on the basis of a commitment to work exclusively in the public sector. But the Government has chosen not to include that essential reform in its package of measures. We are urged to wait on the Hanley Report. But I suspect that the powerful consultants lobby has been at work and unless the government champions this proposal it will be shredded in negotiations with Finbarr Fitzpatrick and his colleagues.
"The administrative changes will mean less democratic accountability. Few will lament the passing of the existing health boards but where will the democratic input be? There is a reference in the Prospectus Report to Oireachtas representation at the level of the four Regional Health Offices but there is no detail and the Minister would not indicate in his response to my question on Tuesday what the composition of the Health Services executive will be.
"These reports come at a time of escalating government cuts. As beds are closed,as queues lengthen, as services for people with disabilities diminish, as people just above the income limit struggle to pay for GP visits, the Government will wave these reports at us and make more promises of a world class health service ? but not yet. It is not good enough and we will not stand for it. We in Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for a truly reformed health service which cherishes all of our people equally." ENDS