Speaking in a Private Members debate on the Nitrates Directive, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, criticised the lack of consultation with farmers on its implementation. Deputy Ferris also claimed that the problems surrounding the Directive were yet another example of the manner in which EU regulations are approved with minimal input from the Irish Government.
In part of his speech, Deputy Ferris said: "One of the main issues which this debate highlights once again is the lack of real input from this state into decisions made at EU level. Once again we have a situation where people in this state are expected to comply with a regulation made without any consultation with local stakeholders, and without any specific research into local conditions.
"The fault in the case of the Nitrates Directive rests with successive Irish Governments since 1991. There are numerous other examples of a similar attitude that has led to Irish farmers being faced with fait accompli and only discovering after the event the numerous problems that they are presented with, and which might have been addressed had Irish officials paid closer attention to what was going on.
"Minister Cullen stated last night that any member state, including Ireland, will have to present detailed scientific arguments in support of a claim for derogations above the 170kg limit. Why has it taken until now to do so, and is it not the case that the ability to present that type of argument has been damaged by the cutbacks in agricultural research over the past number of years.
"As Deputy Upton pointed out last night, Teagasc has indicated that the preparation of the case that is required is still not complete. In response, the Minister stated that Teagasc has accepted an invitation to appear before the Environment Committee to discuss the Directive. That is all very well and good, but surely the fact that this is only taking place now highlights the lack of urgency with which the issue has been treated.
"What the controversy over this issue has proven is the clear need for local research into the manner in which the Directive is applied based on local conditions. As other Deputies have pointed out, there is no agreement on a number of issues including the relationship between current nitrates use and water pollution levels and the manner in which the restrictions on spreading will be applied in different parts of the country.
"Unfortunately the ability to do conduct such research has been hampered by the cut backs in Teagasc. To give just one example, it is clear that the closure of Ballinamore will mean the loss of valuable research into soil conditions in the North West. Such facilities are vital to the provision of up to date knowledge regarding farm production systems, and in the case of Ballinamore could make a contribution to the future survival of dairying in that part of the country."ENDS
Sinn Féin MLA for North Antrim, Cllr Philip McGuigan, has slammed the DUP on Ballymoney Council for appointing their own councillors to the positions of Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson for the fifth year running.
Cllr McGuigan said:
"Yesterday, at the Annual General Meeting of Ballymoney Borough Council, the DUP used their mandate to squeeze out all other political parties from holding the top two posts in the council. This is the fifth time this has happened in the past five years and shows how power-hungry and opposed to equality the Democratic Unionists are.
"Given our mandate, Nationalists should be entitled to hold the post of Chair or Vice-Chairperson at least once during the lifetime of this council. By setting up d‚Hondt we can ensure that all shades of political opinion can be represented in elected positions in the council.
"This is the attitude that the DUP has in every council, not just Ballymoney‚s. It further highlights the need for safeguards to be introduced to protect nationalist ratepayers, especially if the Review of Public Administration places us in a larger, more Unionist dominated council."ENDS
Former Education Minister Martin McGuinness has welcomed the announcement from the current Minister Barry Gardiner introducing significant changes to both primary and secondary curriculum's.
Mr McGuinness said:
" Today's announcement from Barry Gardiner is very welcome and follows through on work commenced while I was Education Minister. These are crucially important curriculum changes and are the result of meticulous research aimed at focusing our education system on the needs of our children.
" Those giving a knee jerk negative response to these proposals would be better off working with the Department and supporting our schools and teachers in delivering this new scheme." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, called on people to come out in large numbers to protest against the US Governments brutal occupation of Iraq. The people of Ireland need to send a "powerful message" of opposition to the current policies of the US administration in relation to Iraq, he said. Deputy Ó Snodaigh was speaking a press conference organized by the 'Stop Bush Campaign' in advance of protests to mark the visit to Ireland by the US President this weekend.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Sinn Féin has given its support to the 'Stop Bush Campaign' as a legitimate movement to oppose the policies of George Bush and his administration concerning the continued occupation of Iraq.
"We will be encouraging our activists and supporters the length and breadth of the island to mobilise and participate in the various protests, organised by the Campaign, that are scheduled to take place over the coming days.
"We want people to send a powerful and peaceful message to George Bush and his Administration that the Irish people, who mobilized in such large numbers last year, remain fervently opposed to their illegal war and brutal occupation of Iraq and the massive suffering, including the deaths of thousands of men, women and children it has caused.
"But the people also need to send another and probably more important message to those closer to home. That message needs to be directed at our own Government who have shamefully assisted in this war and occupation against the wishes of the majority of Irish people.
"By allowing US troops transport through Shannon Airport and by allowing US forces to train in the Curragh this Government of crooks and gombeens has undermined Irish neutrality like no other in Irish history. To their eternal shame they have colluded by their actions in facilitating the US war machine on Irish soil and indeed by their inactions in failing to use the period of the EU Presidency to promote the primacy of the UN over US unilateralism in the disaster that continues to unfold in Iraq on the daily basis.
"The simple and unassailable fact is that the war on Iraq was unjustified and the ongoing occupation of the country is wrong and must end. This weekend's protests must make that message loud and clear and leave both the US Administration and the Irish Government in no doubt as to the views of the Irish people." ENDS
Sinn Féin's health spokesperson, John O' Dowd has said the recent verdict in the Barnardos carers case highlights the urgent need for a Government strategy covering the needs of Survivors of Sexual Abuse.
Earlier this year Mr O Dowd criticised a government decision to postpone publication, until June 2005 at the earliest, of a consultation document regarding proposals for services for the survivors of sexual abuse.
Mr O'Dowd said,
"There can be no valid reason for such a lengthy delay in progressing this issue given the recent court cases this surely should be any Governments priority.
" Des Browne, the former direct-rule Minister for Health, had already brought forward a number of proposals in relation to the commissioning of this report to establish the full extent of sexual abuse in the Six Counties several months ago.
"Yet following repeated calls on the Department of Health by Sinn Féin, it appears that we are no closer to having any effectively audited actions taken in order to determine the real extent of the long-term problems caused by sexual abuse, or to identify ways and means of providing properly resourced services for the survivors of such abuse.
"This delay will do nothing to alleviate the ever growing waiting list of survivors of such abuse who wish to access proper counselling", said Mr O‚Dowd, "I am sure that survivors of abuse, their relatives, and those in support groups such as Nexus, will be extremely disappointed and frustrated, if not angry, at this unnecessary delay. " ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin today sought a special Dáil debate on the "continuing gross violation of Irish neutrality" by the Irish Government in the context of what he described as the "unwanted visit" of President George Bush. He highlighted the admission by the Minister for Defence Michael Smith TD that the Government had allowed US troops to train on the Curragh for the past five years.
Deputy Ó Caolain said:
"The Government is responsible for continuing gross violations of Irish neutrality by facilitating the use of Shannon Airport by US troops. This week they are placing County Clare and its citizens under a state of virtual martial law in order to facilitate the unwanted visit of US President George Bush to which the vast majority of people in this country are opposed. The admission by the Minister for Defence Michael Smith that for the past five years the Government has authorised members of the US Marine Corps to train on the Curragh of Kildare is a damning indictment. This undermines any claim for an independent Irish foreign policy when it becomes known throughout the world that this State allows a power currently at war to train in its territory and under the supervision of its military." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP last night met with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens in London. The meeting discussed the Stevens investigation into the killing of Pat Finucane and the wider issue of collusion.
The Sinn Féin President told Mr. Stevens that it was the Sinn Féin view that the British government is using his inquiry and the trial of Ken Barrett (who is facing charges relating to the case) as excuses to obstruct the establishment of a Public Inquiry into Pat Finucane's death as demanded by the Finucane family and Judge Cory.
Mr. Adams said:
"The institutional use of collusion for over 30 years has led to the deaths of hundreds of people, the maiming of thousands more and the terrorising of an entire community. The Pat Finucane case is at the heart of all of this. That is why the British system is so determined to block a Public Inquiry."ENDS
The Minister for Health and Children has admitted that income thresholds for medical card qualification are too low. He was replying to a Dáil Question from Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who challenged the Minister to act on his statement and extend medical card qualification to all under 18 during the lifetime of this Government.
Deputy Ó Caoláin described as "another snub to the people, another broken promise" the Minister's failure to commit to the extension of medical card cover as promised before the last General Election. The Minister would only say that "hopefully" there would be an extension during the remainder of the Government's term.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"When I last raised this matter the Minister stated that, due to the prevailing budgetary situation, it was not possible this year to meet the commitment in the Government's health strategy to increase the number of people eligible for a medical card. Since the Minister made that statement, the budgetary situation has greatly improved as have the general economic trends.
"Yet the fact remains that a married couple with two children with a miserly income of E260 per week will not qualify for free GP care for their children. That is scandalous in the Ireland of 2004 - the Ireland of a booming private healthcare industry, the Ireland of record sales of the most expensive cars, where many can afford multiple annual foreign holidays, where there is a new landlordism. At the other end of the scale are the families who suffer real hardship in order to meet the medical needs of their young children.
"The Government's Health Strategy repeatedly stresses the vital importance of primary care and the Minister rightly repeats that at every opportunity. Yet many, many of the children of the nation are being denied proper access to primary care. The principle of universal qualification, regardless of income, is applied to people over 70 but not to those under 18. Because of the total inadequacy of the income guidelines there is a vast pool of unmet need." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe today raised in the Dáil the urgent issue of the threat of imminent closure of Carmichael House in Dublin and urged the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to intervene to ensure the survival of small NGOs like the Coeliac Society of Ireland which provides a "vital role for the thousands of coeliac sufferers in Ireland".
Deputy Crowe said:
"There is an urgent necessity for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to make a commitment to provide the necessary funding to keep the Carmichael Centre open and running at its current level of professionalism. The Centre currently hosts 45 volunteer groups, including the Coeliac Society of Ireland who service and provide support to 7,500 coeliacs.
"The services that the Carmichael Centre provide to community groups and NGOS is invaluable with many people dependent on the support and networking that is provided from advocacy groups to disability groups to lobby groups. The services and work that the 45 small organisations in the Centre provide cannot be underestimated. The Coeliac Society has played a vital role for the thousands of coeliac sufferers in Ireland - this disease was largely ignored for years and now that so many people yearly are diagnosed as sufferers, it is vitally important that they have access to the information and support that the Coeliac Society offers.
"With all the money flowing around this country, we should be seeing upgrading, not downgrading, of services. If we have a department for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, then they should certainly sit up and pay attention to this very important issue for community affairs with wide-reaching effects amongst the members and supporters of these 45 essential groups, now threatened with homelessness." ENDS
At tonight's meeting of Lisburn City Council a motion calling for power sharing to be introduced into the Council is being debated.
The motion urging Lisburn to introduce such a policy was recently passed by Fermanagh Council and then sent on to Lisburn.
Council protocol compels Lisburn councillors to debate the motion tonight.
There is a counter proposal before the Council from the Council's Chief Executive, Norman Davidson, rejecting Fermanagh's motion accusing Fermanagh Council of 'unprecedented and unwarranted interference'.
The motion from Fermanagh arises from a lobby carried out by Sinn Féin Councillor, Paul Butler, following the decision at last year's AGM of Lisburn Council to exclude Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance from positions of authority on the Council.
The meeting will take place tonight at 7pm in the Council Offices in Lisburn
Cllr. Butler can be contacted on 07961577811 for further details
Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP has expressed his concerns that the British government are dragging their heals on establishing the public inquiries demanded by Judge Cory into a number of high profile killings.
Mr Doherty said:
" The British government received Judge Cory's Report last October. They sat on it for months before finally publishing a censored version. At that time they committed themselves to holding three public inquiries but have repeatedly failed to give such a commitment in relation to the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
" Yet months on it seems that little actual progress has been made on establishing the three inquiries which the British government have announced are to go ahead. I would share the concerns raised by these families over the current slow pace being adopted by the British government.
" Given the record of the British government in these maters and the culture of concealment which exists at the heart of the British system there is obviously real concern that there are those within that system who are determined to continue to suppress the truth. That would be completely unacceptable.
" Sinn Féin will continue to support the families of those killed through the British State policy of collusion and murder in Ireland as they search for answers from the British government and we will continue to raise these maters with both governments in our ongoing discussions." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly members Alex Maskey and Kathy Stanton today met with the British and Irish governments as part of the ongoing Review process. Speaking after the meetings Mr Maskey said that 'the Review agenda could not be allowed to be narrowed to suit the agenda of the DUP or any other single party'.
Mr Maskey said:
" As far back as last December Sinn Féin presented the British government with an extensive list of issues which needed to be addressed as part of the Review process if it was to make a positive contribution to overall efforts to see the process put back on track and the political institutions re-established.
" That agenda remains the template for the Sinn Féin team involved in the Review meetings. We are not interested in a process which is narrowly focused or focused on the particular agenda of one party or another. The two governments have a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen to the Review process.
" We made this clear to the British government yesterday and reinforced this point to both governments in our discussions today. It is the responsibility of the two governments to take the lead in the Review and ensure that it results in the maximum benefit possible for the overall process. This will not happen by narrowing the focus of the discussions resulting in a failure to address other crucial matters which fall under the Review remit." ENDS
Commenting on the resumption today of inquests into the deaths of ten people killed in Co. Tyrone by the Crown Forces, including pensioner Roseanne Mallon, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has said, 'that there is a growing belief amongst the families that the only avenue which will deliver the truth will be a public inquiry'.
Ms Gildernew said:
" After years of stalling and years of PSNI cover up the inquests into these ten killings resumed today. However given the experience of the families up until now people are not confident that the PSNI and the British State will allow the truth to be uncovered through the inquest route, despite the best efforts of the Coroner.
" There is a growing belief amongst the families that the only route which will deliver the truth and answer the many unanswered questions will be through a full public inquiry.
" These cases are an acid test of the British government's recently stated commitment to achieving the truth for those bereaved through the conflict. However at this stage the PSNI and the British government do not even class many of these deaths as amongst what they term as unsolved killings. Those victims of British State violence in Ireland are deemed second class even in death. This situation is unacceptable and has to change." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly has appealed to people on all sides to ensure that this weekends re-routed Orange Parade in West Belfast passes off without incident.
Mr Kelly said:
" It is my view given the history of this particular parade and the wholesale breaches of previous determinations, that the Parades Commission came to the correct decision in altering the route of Saturday's planned march.
" I also believe that much of the commentary made by unionist political representatives in the days since the decision was taken will not benefit efforts to ensure that the march passes off peacefully, and is in contrast to earlier statements from prominent unionist politicians committing themselves to working for a peaceful summer in the city.
" The nationalist community living on the Springfield Road want simply to be allowed to get on with their lives without massive disruption from a PSNI operation or from an unwanted parade being forced through their area.
" I would appeal to people on all sides to ensure that every effort is made in the coming days and on Saturday itself to ensure that community tensions are not raised further and that the day passes off peacefully." ENDS
Sinn Fein Councillors Jonathan O Brien and Annette Spillane will tonight meet with the technical group on Cork City Council to oppose attempts to form pacts which do not include all elected councillors.
Jonathan O Brien said: "The politics of exclusion do not work. I am saddened to see that three parties have got together in an attempt to freeze out other parties and independent councillors. In doing so they are ignoring the voters who elected these councillors, four of them poll toppers in their own constituencies."
"We in Sinn Fein attempted to meet all parties over the past week to try and form a democratic and inclusive method of electing mayors and committee chairs. Tonight we will be meeting with the technical group to formulate a strategy to make Cork City Council more democratic and representative of all its constituents."ENDS
Sinn Féin's newly appointed Group Leader on Dublin City Council Christy Burke today thanked all those who helped to elect Mary Lou McDonald as MEP and to elect fourteen Sinn Féin Councillors across Dublin City and County. He said that Sinn Féin's priority was to implement our agenda for change and to deliver for the people of Dublin.
Cllr Burke said:
"The election of fourteen Councillors across Dublin City and County and the election of Mary Lou McDonald as MEP signals a major transformation in the political landscape of the City.
"The election results on Dublin City Council, in particular, must ensure that there is real change on the City Council and not just a continuation of the policies which have failed this city for the last five years.
"It is clear that the people of Dublin want change and Sinn Féin will continue to meet with all parties and groups in City Hall with a view to building a left wing alliance that will strengthen the social agenda and address the many problems facing the city. These include the housing crisis, traffic chaos, bringing forward a proper waste management strategy, supporting public services, addressing the causes and consequences of drug addiction. We will also be discussing these matters with the City Manager.
"Sinn Féin is calling for real changes in City Hall. Local communities must have a real say in the development of the City. The previous administration of Fianna Fail & Labour became a faceless bureaucracy which failed to connect with the people of Dublin, starting tonight Sinn Féin intends to change all that."ENDS
Speaking from the Review talks at Stormont today, Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that 'efforts to find a resolution to the impasse in the peace process should not be put off until the autumn'.
Mr Murphy said:
"Sinn Féin's focus is on restoring the political institutions and ending the crisis in the process. Consequently, Sinn Féin has been pressing for a comprehensive and holistic package which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive.
"Before last Christmas and again before Easter Sinn Féin presented to the two governments with a detailed list of the outstanding areas which needed to be addressed including of course the sustainability of the political institutions.
"It is our view that with political will we could make progress this week and especially in Friday's talks in London. However the decision by the governments to put off intensive negotiations until September means that they have bought into the timeframe set down by the DUP.
"Once again the governments are allowing unionism and, in particular, a party which has clearly declared itself against the Good Friday Agreement and which refuses to accept and respect the mandates of others to set the pace in the process. This is unacceptable.
"There is no reason why the effort to resolve this should be put off for the summer and we will put this directly to the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach." ENDS
As part of ongoing Sinn Féin efforts to ensure a peaceful summer in interface areas Assembly members Alex Maskey and Kathy Stanton this afternoon met with the British Security Minister Ian Pearson. Speaking after the meeting Mr. Maskey said:
" Over the weekend there were worrying incidents in Belfast following the Tour of the North Orange parade. This included the disgraceful attack on the Mater Hospital by a gang of youths following the Orange parade.
" I was present in North Belfast throughout the evening and I was disturbed by the policing operation which was put in place. The PSNI riot squad was deployed in nationalist areas of North Belfast while the policing operation in unionist districts was visibly more relaxed. I challenged the PSNI personnel on the ground and actually alerted them to problems in various areas including the vicinity of the Mater Hospital. However no action was taken and the results were evident for all to see.
" I raised this issue with the Minister today and I also alerted him to serious concerns being expressed by nationalists living in mixed areas about the ongoing erection of unionist paramilitary flags.
" All of us in political and community leadership need to continue the work undertaken over recent weeks to overcome these difficulties and ensure that the peaceful summer which communities are demanding is delivered." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has welcomed the European Council's call for the EU Commission to examine the possibility of extending the PEACE II Programme for two years. Ms de Brún has also called for a separate Peace III programme for the post 2006 EU funding cycle.
Ms de Brún said:
"A number of months ago Sinn Féin launched a discussion paper on the future of EU peace funding for Ireland. The intention of the paper was to initiate discussion and to act as an impetus for political activists, community workers and others to debate and mobilise around the need for the continuation of such funds.
"At the core of that document was recognition of the need for continued financial support for peace building across the island.
"Sinn Féin welcomes the European Councills call for a two year extension to the Peace II programme. This would allow much of the good work which has taken place to date to continue. It would also bring the peace funds into line with existing EU funding cycles.
"There is also a rationale for the creation of a Peace III programme, which would fund organisations from 2007 through to 2013. Sinn Féin‚s all Ireland team of MEPs will continue to lobby for this end both within the EU and with the Irish and British governments.
"Clearly there have been many benefits arising out of the work funded under Peace I and II. However there are many lessons to be learned, and criticisms to be made, which if approached in the appropriate way can ensure that an extension of the Peace II programme can allow community activists to deliver more effective programmes.
"The EU and the British government need to listen to the voices of local communities if they are to learn these lessons.
"The process of designing any future fund needs to be inclusive. Indeed such an inclusive approach to the design of the programme measures could be a beacon for the type of participatory models of preparing for change which we have advocated in this paper. There is need for a much more 'hands-on' role from the European Commission. There willbe a need for greater openness and transparency. There is a need for less bureaucracy and complexity in the application and processing procedures. There is a need for the special inclusion of the Irish speaking community and the promotion of the Irish language as a means of encouraging reconciliation. The principle of 'Social Inclusion' should be central to any programme." ENDS
Sinn Féin's Dublin City Councillors will meet this afternoon at 4.30pm in City Hall, prior to the inaugural meeting of the Council, to discuss their political programme for the upcoming term and who they will support for the position of Mayor.
They will be available to talk to the media at 4.15pm at City Hall where they will announce the Sinn Féin Group leader for Dublin City Council.
Dublin Sinn Féin Chairperson Justin Moran speaking ahead of tonight's City Council meeting, said:
"Sinn Féin is determined to deliver for the people of Dublin. We are now in a unique position to deliver on our election manifesto, having made major gains here in Dublin in the recent elections. We stood on a platform which was based on delivering change and providing leadership in our communities and that is what we aim to do.
"We will continue to speak to all parties and groups in City Hall with a view to building a left wing alliance that will strengthen the social agenda. The incoming administration must tackle the issues of housing, the environment, the causes and consequences of drug addiction, and the waste management crisis.
"We will forge a unique coalition with local communities to ensure their voices are heard and that people remain at the centre of any plans for this city. Unlike other parties Sinn Féin is firmly rooted in our communities and that is where we intend to stay.
"Sinn Féin is calling on the City Manager to respond in a positive way to this social agenda. The previous administration of Fianna Fail & Labour became a faceless bureaucracy which failed to connect with the people of Dublin, starting tonight Sinn Féin intends to change all that."ENDS