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Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture and rural regeneration Councillor Gerry McHugh supporting motions 108 & 109 'Securing a future for farming and Rural communities' said "The Irish government has failed to bring out to rural communities the EU policy decision makers so that our communities can engage with them. This can be seen by the failure to make the Irish presidency of the EU accessible and in no way, do the Irish people feel any ownership of the presidency." Cllr McHugh said:

The agriculture industry and rural life in Ireland have been damaged by government, the EU and world economic policies. It is a national disaster that requires an urgent all-Ireland response.

Sinn Féin is committed to keeping farming families on the land and ensuring a good quality of life for everyone living in rural communities. We support agricultural diversification in mixed and organic farming as well as off-farm employment, training and developing rural communities. We believe that agriculture in Ireland can be sustainable with an all-Ireland agricultural policy.

Sinn Féin wants to see viable rural communities with access to all public services, a strong community infrastructure and a sustainable future. Sinn Féin has put the need for a more co-ordinated and coherent strategy for the agriculture and fishing industries and sustaining rural communities, developed on an All Ireland basis high on the political agenda in the Assembly, Executive and Leinster House.

We must ensure an effective policy initiative focused upon the sustainability of Rural communities is under taken, giving rural communities the power and authority over the resources which they need to have, to obtain the same level of provision from basic public services.

Access to these services and the same standard of education, health provision, together with postal services, and electronic communication as those who live in towns and cities.

Rural Ireland has for many years seen a withdrawal of these essential services, resulting in a rural depopulation, further compounding the sense of isolation.

Sinn Féin will ensure that the rural development programmes which the EU brings forth, are based on the bottom up principle. These programmes must have at there core a community led structure, which have in built priorities and measures that address the decline in essential services.

This community involvment in crucial investment decisions is essential if we are to reinvigorate rural Ireland. The West of Ireland and the Border areas have been particularly affected. Sinn Féin will ensure that in any PEACE III negotiations a Border lands priority is included to that the specific needs of the border areas are addressed. One of the crucial needs is to further integrate communities on both sides of the border and the further harmonization of essential services.

Sinn Féin will work to address the remoteness, which that is felt by rural communities in the decisions and day to day working of the EU. The Irish government has failed to bring out to rural communities the EU policy decision makers so that our communities can engage with them. This can be seen by the failure to make the Irish presidency of the EU accessible and in no way, do the Irish people feel any ownership of the presidency. These decision makers still make meet in Brussels where they are less accessible to questioning and the views of Rural Ireland.

Sinn Féin will do what no other political party on this island has done, we will engage with the EU, we will put the concerns and outline the way in which policy change must come about. Sinn Féin will pursue the All Ireland agenda for agriculture in Europe, we will negotiate for the whole island to have the same status in Europe, it is wrong that one part of this island which is artificially attached to the UK has industrial status. All of the produce from this island must be classified as Irish, we will remove the UK status from the North's food production.

Sinn Féin will is about delivering change, these European elections will for the first time see all Ireland representation in Europe, rural communities on both parts of this Island share a common interest what we need now is a common platform, Sinn Féin will deliver that platform, we will ensure that common interests North and South which are particular to Ireland will be represented.

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald speaking during the housing section of the party's Ard Fheis said: 'the right to housing will be brought about through public investment, government regulation of the economy and land market and the incorporation of the right to housing in the overall development objectives of the state.' Ms McDonald said:

Other speakers have outlined the severity of the housing crisis that exists both North and South. I would like to address an element of Sinn Féin's proposals in relation to the resolution of that crisis.

Sinn Féin is advocating a human rights approach to combating homelessness and housing disadvantage. We are not only committed to enshrining the right to housing in the 1937 constitution and in a future constitution of a United Ireland, we are committed to delivering this right to housing in real and practical terms for the people of Ireland.

There is widespread public support for a right to housing and it is a key goal of NGO's working in the housing sector. It is recognised in numerous international instruments and is one of the pillar's of the Council of Europe's Social Cohesion strategy. Sinn Fein introduced a constitutional amendment bill in the Dáil last November which if accepted and then passed in a constitutional referendum would have led to the enshrinement of a right to housing in the 1937 constitution. The Bill received cross party opposition support but was voted down by the coalition government.

While the insertion of a constitutional right to housing will not of itself resolve the complex housing and homeless crisis, it represents a first step which must be followed by legislation which will bring about the progressive realisation of this right. A constitutional right to housing will bring about a fundamental change in how the housing crisis and the housing needs are addressed.

Following the enshrining of the right to housing Sinn Féin would envisage that a national housing strategy, with targets and priorities for the progressive realisation of this new right would then be developed at an early stage. The elimination of social housing waiting lists and homelessness would be prioritised. Legislation would have to be brought forward to support the right to housing and to ensure access to adequate and appropriate housing for all.

The realisation of the right to housing will be brought about through public investment, government regulation of the economy and land market and the incorporation of the right to housing in the overall development objectives of the state.

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel Mc Laughlin speaking in support of motions 81 -- 86 said:' Sinn Féin reaffirms our commitment to the full and faithful implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects and that includes the issue of arms. But Sinn Féin cannot implement its obligations in isolation while the two governments continue to renege on their obligations and continue to indulge the insatiable demands of unionism in their attempts to wreck the Agreement.'

Mr. McLaughlin said:

These motions highlight the fact that almost six years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement that we are still waiting on the two governments to deliver on crucial elements of the Agreement. Listening to the trite indignation of the British and Irish governments and Unionist spokespeople you could be forgiven for believing that it was Sinn Fein that had failed to deliver on its commitments under the Agreement.

Well let me make it clear -- and I hope that those sections of the media that run with every comment and allegation made by the likes of Michael McDowell and Hugh Orde report these facts as diligently -- Sinn Féin has delivered right down to the last comma on every commitment that we have made. Sinn Féin has carried out its obligations at all times in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Agreement. Sinn Féin has never stepped outside of the Agreement or campaigned on any issue that is not enshrined in the Agreement.

The Agreement calls for all parties to use their influence to bring about the disarmament of all armed groups. Can anyone deny that Sinn Féin is the only party to address this issue in a positive and responsible manner?

∑ How has the Ulster Unionists used its undoubted influence with Unionist Paramilitaries? By appointing a senior member of the party (David Mc Narry) to the Loyalist Commission. The children of Holy Cross school and the residents of Garvaghy Road are entitled to more than that.

∑ How has the DUP used its unquestionable influence on Ulster Resistance? Where are its arms dumps and how many has it put beyond use?

∑ What are Peter, Gregory, and Ian Paisley doing to influence those that they were happy to don the red beret with and promised to give whatever 'political cover was necessary'?

∑ What is Tony Blair doing to carry out the commitments to demilitarisation that he has made on numerous occasions?

∑ Where is Bertie Ahern's delivery of his obligations under the provisions on the release of Prisoners, northern representation and the Irish language.

Sinn Féin reaffirms our commitment to the full and faithful implementation of the Agreement in all its aspects and that includes the issue of arms. But Sinn Féin cannot implement its obligations in isolation while the two governments continue to renege on their obligations and continue to indulge the insatiable demands of unionism in their attempts to wreck the Agreement. The patience of the republican and nationalist community is being continually dissipated.

Last October we had an agreement between Sinn Féin, the UUP and the two governments that would have moved the process forward substantially. It was signed off on by all four parties. All parties knew and had sight of what the others had agreed to do. Sinn Féin stood up to the mark and our Party President; Gerry Adams made a keynote speech that was acknowledged as significant. The IRA issued a statement saying that Gerry Adams' speech reflected accurately its commitment to the process. It followed this statement up with a third act of putting beyond use what General de Chastelaine described as a substantial tranche of weaponry and explosive material.

Enter David Trimble declaring that he was now putting the sequence on hold. Some people were charitable and said that he must have come under pressure from hardliners in the party. Others having observed his antics in the past believed that this was the way he had planned it all along. Whatever the truth of the situation it did not excuse the two governments in reneging on their parts in the sequencing as agreed. Once again the only party that delivered on its word was Sinn Féin. I call on the two governments to now do the honourable thing and deliver on the joint declaration.

The imposition of the International Monitoring Commission, which is outside of the Agreement, was introduced solely to placate rejectionist unionism.

This is not the only area where the British government has acted outside the Agreement with the full connivance of the Irish government. It has unilaterally taken powers on itself to suspend the political institutions, postpone and cancel elections and introduce draconian legislation that inhibits, discourages and removes electors from the electoral register. These are all breaches of the Agreement by the British government and must be rescinded.

This Ard Fheis is correct to remind the Irish government that the Agreement is an international agreement between two sovereign governments and it must act and be seen to act as a co-equal partner in that Treaty. To date it appears to act as a junior partner subservient to the whims of a British government. The Agreement was endorsed in referenda on this island and involved constitutional change in the expectation that the Agreement would be implemented in all its aspects without undue delay.

In supporting these motions (81 -- 86) we therefore call on the Irish government to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities and robustly defend the rights and entitlements of all Irish citizens on this island and to resist the demands of rejectionists.

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Fra McCann in support of motions 101 & 103 Housing called for an urgent review into all aspects of social housing in the north and we call on the Department of Social Development to carry out that review.

In motion 101 we ask for your support for an urgent review into all aspects of social housing in the north and we call on the Department of Social Development to carry out that review.

But I believe the review now needs to include a review of the Department of Social Development record as the people responsible for the management and delivery for a social housing programme -- they have failed miserably in this task.

The decision 5 years ago to turn the Housing Executive role as a housing provider into that of a housing advisor has been a disaster.

We are just not building enough new houses for the social housing market. In every year 90% plus of all new homes are built by private contractors.

As the stock of social housing decreases every year new homes are just not coming back on stream.

At the same time the cost of new homes continues to rise and there are more and more mortgage repossessions every year.

Whilst Housing Associations have a role to play in housing, to give them the sole responsibility to provide social housing was a mistake.

Housing Associations have failed to deliver the social housing programme and over the past 5 years these associations have fallen short on targets. Year on year hundreds of houses that they should have built - that should have come on stream did not.

Because of this inability to oversee the social housing programme, Sinn Féin have for years said that this legislative change on who can provide social housing would prove disastrous; and it has.

What it ahs shown up is the incompetence of the Department of Social Development in being he managers of social housing.

At a time when waiting lists are growing and more and more people are being put into hostels for the homeless, where some are living for 4 years, the people who have a responsibility to provide the houses fail and those who are supposed to manage don't; then urgent questions need to be asked.

Only a far-reaching review into every aspect of social housing will get to the bottom of this mess.

There is a right to affordable housing. And I want to also take this opportunity to commend our TDs and their initiative to have the right to housing enshrined into the 1937 Constitution

I also ask people to support motions 102, 103 and 104.

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Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris introducing an Ard Chomhairle motion on CAP reform said 'We need to use the reform of CAP to move Irish farming from its traditional role of supplying bulk and relatively low value live and raw produce to other markets, to a new one based on high quality and oriented towards an expanded domestic processing sector.'

Sinn Féin was the first party in this country to come out in favour of full decoupling as part of the proposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. We engaged with the debate on reform when all of the other parties and indeed the Irish Government were either stating total opposition to any change or afraid to say anything for fear of offending someone.

The attitude of some farmers leaders was similar. They refused to countenance any change to the CAP and appeared to believe that everything would be fine if we continued as we had been for the past 30 years. If everything had been fine, we would not be in the current situation where the number of family farms has been decimated, farm incomes falling and many farmers trying to cope with massive debts.

The CAP had undoubtedly brought benefits but it had been at the expense of smaller farmers, and a distortion of Irish farming. Farmers were producing in order to draw down subsidies as they retained less and less control of the decisions they had to make in order to survive. Sinn Fein had always been critical of CAP from that point of view and we had no problem in pointing out where we believed change could be implemented.

What was also clear from our own contacts with farmers was that most farmers also realised that something had to be done. They knew that and were light years ahead of both the Department here, of the other political parties and of many of their own leaders. We don't claim to have had any crystal ball. But what we did do was to examine the proposals, listen to people involved in farming, and were not afraid to put forward our own proposals.

Unfortunately because the Department and others here refused to engage in the debate -- something that the Agricultural Commission told us in Brussels last May was baffling to them -- many of the issues of importance to Irish farmers went by default. Sinn Fein, on the other hand, put forward detailed proposals regarding the upper and lower limits on modulation, on rural development and decoupling.

Indeed I have to laugh when I hear some of our political opponents talk about our lack of impact in Leinster House because on this and many other issues we are the only party that is actually saying anything of importance. The fact that certain newspapers choose to conceal that fact is another issue.

Of course the final CAP reform package that emerged contained elements that we did not like, but we were prepared to give decoupling a chance and again during the course of the consultation process argued in favour of full decoupling as we also did in the consultation held by DARD in the Six Counties.

Decoupling is not a panacea. It does however, for the first time since 1973, open a window of opportunity through which farmers may be able to guarantee a set income through the single farm payment, and with that security go forward and develop production systems that will be of more benefit both to farmers themselves and to the overall interests of Irish consumers and Irish food processing.

It must be stressed however, that this will not be sufficient in itself. For Irish agriculture to prosper requires a radical overhaul of the current strategy being pursued on both sides of the border. Minister Joe Walsh has recognised that to the extent of appointing a group to review the Vision strategy but the composition of that group does not inspire confidence that they will come up with anything innovative.

We need to use the reform of CAP to move Irish farming from its traditional role of supplying bulk and relatively low value live and raw produce to other markets, to a new one based on high quality and oriented towards an expanded domestic processing sector. That will pay dividends in terms of the survival of the family farm, in boosting farm incomes and in creating jobs in processing. It will also have benefits for consumers if we can replace processed food imports with those made at home.

That is the strategy that Sinn Féin will be pursing over the coming years, and which we will implement when in a position to do so.

However, as other motions here indicate, rural Ireland is not simply a collection of economic units. It is a community of communities that must be sustained through a period of radical change.

Not everyone in rural Ireland is a farmer and that must be borne in mind when framing the type of policies that we recommend here. Policies which we believe can not only help rural communities to survive, but to prosper in a manner where real decentralisation can take place and Ireland becomes a more balanced society in which urban squalor and rural isolation are a thing of the past.

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Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan Moving motion 93 on housing said 'There are those who refute the fact there is a housing crisis in the 26 counties, despite 48,000 families on housing waiting lists, and aprox 6,000 homeless people in the State. The reality which every Sinn Féin representative encounters on a daily basis is vastly different.

Housing is one of the most fundamental necessities in enabling people to live their lives with dignity. A lack of adequate housing and homelessness are inextricably connected to increased levels of mental illness, unemployment and marginalisation. This is why housing is a priority for Sinn Féin and will remain so until everyone on this island has access to adequate, affordable and appropriate housing.

There are those who refute the fact there is a housing crisis in the 26 counties, despite 48,000 families on housing waiting lists, and aprox 6,000 homeless people in the State.

Prominent among those currently claiming that there is no housing crisis, is the 26 County Minister for Housing, Noel Ahern.

The Minister has made astonishing suggestions over the last year claiming that there is only a tiny number of people sleeping rough on Dublin's streets despite the testimony to the contrary from those providing services to the homeless; he has argued that people living in emergency B&B accommodation and sleeping on the floor of relatives houses are not really homeless!

He has suggested that those seeking disabled persons housing grants are often involved in making false and exaggerated claims; he has argued that houses in this state are more affordable than they were 5 or 10 year ago; he has disputed the very fact that there is a housing crisis. And he's the Minister for housing!

The reality which every Sinn Féin representative encounters on a daily basis is vastly different.

The reality is that at a time of lengthy social housing waiting lists, some councils such as Dublin City Council, are indicating their intention to withdraw from the provision of housing altogether; the reality is that many young couples are dangerously over-borrowing in order to buy over-priced houses; the reality is that house prices have continued to rise despite government claims that prices are beginning to fall; the reality is that many people in the private rented sector pay over 50% of their wages to landlords because the Government has failed to tackle rack-renting landlords; the reality is that there is a growing homelessness crisis accentuated by the restrictions introduced on housing support measures such as rent allowance; the reality is that traveller accommodation strategies have yet to be implemented

I move motion 93 and call on all delegates to support the policies outlined therein which seek to address the most critical aspects of the housing crisis.

The housing needs of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable must be given priority.

That is why this motion calls for a target for the elimination 70% of local authority housing waiting lists within 2 years and the placing of homeless strategies on a statutory basis to ensure that housing targets for the homeless are delivered as part of main stream housing strategies. This motion also seeks to protect the rights of those experiencing housing disadvantage by opposing any attempt to reduce the state's role in the provision of social housing, by way of local authority seeking to abandon their responsibilities in this matter.

By June next, Sinn Fein will have many more County and Borough Councillors in place and through these new "Agents for Change", Sinn Fein must mount a stronger, more focussed campaign than ever before in defence of those people in need of housing.

I know we can count on you to do this important work.

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Tá géarchéim ann i gcomhphobail feirmeoireachta na hEireann. Tá ioncaim fheirmeoireachta, taobh ó thuaidh agus taobh ó dheas, níos lú ná mar a bhí siad le deich mbliana anuas. Ar fud an oileáin, tá an earnáil talmhaíochta ag brath go hiomlán ar dheontais AE, tacaíocht praghasanna, agus cabhair eile faoin bPolasaí um Thalamhaíocht Choiteann. Tá an tionscal ag streachailt anois le brabúis ísle agus praghasanna margaidh neamhchinnte. Ag cur san áireamh an éagothroim a d`eascair as an bPTC (CAP), tá na mílte de fheirmeoirí anois ar ioncaim atá glan ró-íseal agus iad beagnach ar an gcaolchuid. Chomh maith leis seo, tá próiseas leanúnach ar siúl a dheighiltíonn feirmeoirí ó ghnó na feirmeoireachta i gcoitinne.

Tá ról lárnach ag an talamhaíocht i ngeilleagar na hEireann

Tá sé mar bhunpholasaí ag Sinn Féin, teaghlaigh fheirmeoireachta a choinneáil i mbun an talún, agus deá-chaighdeán maireachtála a dheimhniú do gach duine i gcomhphobail iargúlta. Tá na fadhbanna céanna ag na comhphobail iargúlta ar dhá thaobh den teorainn i gcoiteann, agus caithfear dul i ngleic leo i dtionscnamh aontaithe amháin.

Tá cur chuige uile-Eireannach i dtaobh na talmhaíochta ag teastáil níos géire anois ná mar a bhí riamh. Go dtí seo, bhí imeachtaí na struchtúr a cruthaíodh faoi choimirce Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta, iontach dearfach ar fad.

Glactar go forleathan anois go bhfuil marthannacht fhadtéarmach thionscal talmhaíochta na hEireann ag brath go mór ar chothú an tionscail ar bhonn uile-Eireannach.

Caithfear dul i bhfad níos faide chun tosaigh ná an leibhéal comhoibrithe atá ann i láthair na huaire.

Tá straitéis raidiceach nua de dhíth go mór orainn chun na hacmhainní cuí a thabhairt do thionscal talmhaíochta na tíre seo, ionas go mbeifear in ann dul i ngleic leis na dúshláin uile ata os ár gcomhair go cuimsitheach.

Tá clár oibre de chéimeanna chun tosaigh ag teastáil go mór anois, céimeanna a chruthós straitéisí forbartha éifeachtacha do gach comhphobal iargúlta faoi seach. San áireamh in aon chlár oibre mar seo, bheadh sé barr-thábhachtach go mbeadh an deis ag comhphobail áitiúla a gcuid stráitéisí féin a chruthú.

Caithfidh muid todhchaí dhaingean a dheimhniú don tionscal feirmeoireachta in Eirinn. Beidh sé de dhualgas orainn mar sin, gach gné, ó shláinte na n-ainmhithe go margaíocht tairgíochta bia, a bhrú chun cinn go díograiseach. Ar ndóigh, b'fhéidir gurb é an rud is tábhachtaí fós chun é seo ar fad a chur i gcrích, ná go mbeidh guth láidir aontaithe ann ar bhonn uile-Eireannach, taobh ó thuaidh agus taobh ó dheas, i gcroílár an Aontais Eorpaigh.

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Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast Alex Maskey MLA speaking to motions 89 & 90 said "I want to say from this platform, to the unionist community in particular, and ask for your endorsement, that Sinn Féin is committed to building the peace, promoting national reconciliation, developing our own party's consciousness and structures which will enable us to genuinely reach out to unionists and the broader protestant community."

Unionist Outreach

Members are aware that last year the Ard Chomhairle established a unionist outreach committee and appointed myself to head up this work.

I am happy to say that since last year the party has intensified our engagement with the protestant and unionist people. Our committee has just reported to the Ard Chomhairle with proposals to expand and develop this engagement.

The unionist outreach committee which is handling this area of work identified a number of areas which require ongoing and special attention if we are to see progress being made with this important work of peace building.

The first and we believe important addition to this area of work over the last year has been to involve all levels of the party from the cumainn activists through the party's management structures to the Ard Chomairle, the leadership of the party.

Up until recently a small group within Sinn Fein were dedicated to developing this area of work. However as you know it was recognised that the workload involved and the objectives we set ourselves demanded the party at all levels be active in this engagement.

Another concern was that the engagement was primarily confined to the unionist and protestant people in the six counties. We believe this is an all-Ireland project and Sinn Fein has to engage with protestants who live on the rest of the island as well.

This is what we mean when we talk about working for national reconciliation.

I believe this area of work is a central and indispensable part of the peace process.

I also believe that the engagement to date has benefited ourselves as well as those who we are in contact with.

Now, it is obvious that there is a huge gulf of distrust, mis-understanding and suspicion on all sides.

Indeed ten years on in the peace process with all the initiatives taken by republicans and the policy changes that republicans have made, unionists remain sceptical about our sincerity.

How much of this has to do with the failure of the leaders of unionism over the last ten years is of course a matter for debate.

There is no doubt that many unionist leaders are either opposed to change or are reluctant to embrace it. They certainly do not encourage dialogue between communities.

There is also no doubt that many of the people we engage with are much more open minded about the need for change and dialogue than their political leaders.

This proves for me the potential there is for change once real dialogue takes place.

I want to say that while we are committed to developing dialogue. I am also struck by the fact that there is unfortunately a blind spot among all shades of unionism about their role in the conflict.

They seem not to realise the impact on northern catholics and nationalists of the years between 1920 and 1969 when a protestant and unionist state was imposed on us and those who lived through those years, never mind the role of unionism right up to this very day

In my opinion these are just some of the difficult realities that we have to deal with.

But no matter how difficult are the obstacles to dialogue they are they need to be tackled; they need to be overcome.

We republicans know that the task is not easy; indeed it is formidable.

We are trying to unravel centuries of conflict; centuries of living separately on a very small island.

We republicans know it is going to take time and political change before we arrive at a satisfactory point where we can say we have really begun the journey of genuine national reconciliation.

I want to say from this platform, to the unionist community in particular, and ask for your endorsement, that Sinn Féin is committed to building the peace, promoting national reconciliation, developing our own party's consciousness and structures which will enable us to genuinely reach out to unionists and the broader protestant community.

The first and important step to that end is open-ended dialogue and I am glad to say that we at least have that.

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Sinn Féin representative for Ballyfermot Tony Smithers, speaking to Motion 93 in the Housing section of the Clár and also supporting Motions 95, 98 and in support of the amendment to Motion 100.

Regarding Section 1 of the motion, there are approximately 1,600 people on the housing waiting list for my own area of Ballyfermot. Since January 2003 around 100 families have been housed. At this rate it will take several decades to clear the waiting list! This is the extent of the housing crisis in Ballyfermot alone.

The situation, rather than improving, is actually going backwards. The current government and the incompetent Minister responsible for housing, Noel Ahern, has plunged this city back to the bad old days of the Tenements with families again living on top of each other in dreadful conditions through no choice of their own.

When given the opportunity of relieving pressure on the waiting list through state property and land becoming available, such as Clancy Barracks, this government was more interested in placing profit before people and has sold off such lands to speculators. It is these same speculators and their friends in the political establishment who have destroyed this city through bad planning and who are appearing in front of the various Tribunals on a daily basis.

In relation to Section 2 of the motion I believe that the people of Dublin need to be told what the City Council is trying to do in relation to its responsibility for housing provision. City Council officials are on record as stating that their policy is to get rid of its Housing Stock and to end its involvement in house building and housing maintenance. This is an outrageous proposal and should never be allowed to happen. Let there be no doubt that all of the councillors who will be elected for Sinn Féin in this city next June will fight this policy tooth and nail and we will stop it!

Regarding the proposed amendment to Motion 100, the City Council are refurbishing boarded up houses but the problem lies in the amount of time taken to do this. This is due to the under-resourcing of the Dublin City Council Maintenance section. The Amendment proposes a 3-month limit, which I believe, is long enough to get these houses back on stream and ready for families to be housed. Please support this amendment and vote in favour of Motions 93, 95 and 98.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

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Sinn Féin has a radical vision for the EU. It is a vision which seeks to restore Ireland‚s national sovereignty while at the same time operating on the basis of equals with other nations in the region - for our good and theirs.

Sinn Féin wants an EU of equals. A globally responsible EU. An economically and socially just EU.

We want to be part of an EU with institutions that promote national, collective and individual human rights. A Union that works towards full employment, housing, health and education for all its citizens. We want to build a Europe that leads the way in the cancellation of debt in the developing world, that is nuclear free, that protects the environment and that welcomes and trades fairly with other regions.

Unfortunately, this vision is far from the current reality. Instead we have an EU where more than 55 million people still face poverty and social exclusion. We have an EU where decision makers are more concerned with slamming shut the doors of Fortress Europe rather than dealing with the endemic poverty and conflicts that exist across the world and that drive refugees and others to seek a better life within the borders of the European Union.

But this Europe is not inevitable. It only reflects the political agenda of the most powerful in the EU - big business, the big states, and through them the Commission. It can change and it should be changed.

Sinn Féin will engage constructively but critically with the EU institutions. We do this not only because of our international vision but also because up to 70 per cent of the legislation across this island has its origins in the EU. Our agenda is broad ranging and demands a radical reform of the orientation of the European Union.

Sinn Féin put forward a 15-point plan of priorities for a positive progressive EU Presidency. While these points were aimed at pressing the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to focus his term as president in a positive and progressive way, they also indicate Sinn Féin's broad agenda within the EU itself.

Among our key objectives are:

Global Social Justice

The initiation of a Global Social Justice Agenda (Dublin Agenda) equivalent to the Lisbon Agenda whose priorities would include UN reform and fulfilment of Millennium Development Goals including cancellation of developing country debt.

The initiation of a process for human rights proofing of all EU policies.

Economic Sovereignty

We need to confront the problems caused for particular Member States by the fact that some states are in and some are out of the Euro zone.

We need to press for a renegotiation of the Stability and Growth Pact in order to allow member states to deal effectively with the specific problems facing their own economies.

Revitalised Rural Economies

It is important that we ensure that CAP reform proposals agreed at Luxembourg in June 2003 are fully implemented, including full decoupling, and ensure that the accession states enter the CAP on an equal basis.

Likewise there is a need to establish a full range of complementary rural development programmes to aid farmers and rural communities in adapting to changes brought about by the CAP reforms.

We must also put complete reform of the Common Fisheries Policy on the EU agenda.

Environmental Protection

We must:

Campaign to make the EU a GM-free zone; and

Initiate a programme for targeted reduction of emissions on an EU wide basis.

Social Protection

There is a need:

To campaign against the EU privatisation programme in the Lisbon Agenda and for the defence of public services.

To push for EU-wide upwards harmonisation of workers‚ rights, including trade union recognition, workers‚ health and safety, and protections for temporary and migrant workers.

To prioritise commitments to eradicate poverty and homelessness within the EU.

To push for further EU equal rights instruments including a specific Gender Equality Directive and a Disability Directive; and

To initiate a process for equality and poverty proofing of all EU laws and policies.

Irish Language Rights

It is vital that Irish is recognised as an official and working language of the EU.

In addition to this broad-ranging, progressive agenda for change, Sinn Féin will also place our all-Ireland agenda at the heart of the EU. We are the only political party who organise on an all-Ireland basis, at every level of government and in every political institution on the island. We are the only party standing and intending to elect MEPs north and south of the island. This will put Sinn Féin in a key position to develop the all-Ireland agenda at the heart of the European Union.

Sinn Féin MEPs will also bring an added value to the EU. One of the central features of Sinn Féin's involvement in political institutions over the past 20 years has been the impact on the ways these institutions function. We have reversed the trends of bureaucracy, inequality and distance from ordinary people. We have done so because our political representatives approach their work as committed political activists, intent on bringing about social, economic, political and cultural change.

Sinn Féin will bring to the EU the same agenda for change and the same added value that we have brought to local and national government. Our focus will be on tackling bureaucracy, exclusion, inequality and discrimination. We will work to open up the institutions, making them more transparent and democratic. We will work to make the political institutions more real for people in their everyday life.

We believe that another Europe is possible and that electing Sinn Féin MEPs can make a difference. This June, Sinn Féin and the Irish electorate can elect - and I believe will elect - a number of Irish republican MEPs. That is the task in front of us. Working together across the island, we will build our party and strengthen our mandate for change both in Ireland and internationally. ENDS

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Monaghan Sinn Féin Councillor Brian McKenna speaking on Development charges at the party's Ard Fheis this evening said: "Having underfunded local government for decades, central government is now using development charges as a form of taxation which takes no account of ability to pay."

Councillor McKenna said

Ba mhaith liom tacú le rúin 23 agus 26.

Throughout this State as we speak new house builders and buyers are receiving demands from local authorities for massive development charges.

Under the Planning and Development Act these charges were intended not for individual first-time home buyers or for people building their own homes. They were intended for housing developers and industrial developers so that they would pay their fair share for local authority services.

Instead what we have now are local authorities imposing these charges on individuals and families and adding yet another crippling burden to the already massive cost of housing in this State, thanks to the market-driven so-called housing policy of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

This is the same Government that brought in a Bill to require developers to devote 20% of housing developments to social and affordable housing and then after a massive lobby from their developer friends they changed the law to allow them to duck out of their obligations.

Motions 23 and 26 mandate this party and our elected representatives to oppose the use of development charges in this cynical way. For cynical is exactly what it is. Having underfunded local government for decades, central government is now using development charges as a form of taxation which takes no account of ability to pay.

These motions give our councillors a clear policy position. Many councils have already decided on this, either for charges or for modified charges at varying levels. I am happy to report that on Tuesday past Monaghan County Council voted unanimously against the development charges. Without doubt that was because of the presence in strength of Sinn Féin on Monaghan County Council.

Support the motions and reject these unjust charges.

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald speaking at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this evening said. "Positive Neutrality in Action is also about rejecting any EU role in security and defence and instead actively promoting the United Nations as the only fully inclusive and thereby only legitimate forum for resolving international conflict, recognising that significant capacity-building and reform are urgently necessary to strengthen the UN's capacity to uphold international law." Ms McDonald said:

Support for Irish military neutrality has been a core republican value since the time of the United Irishmen. In keeping with this tradition, we in Sinn Féin have committed ourselves to a policy of Positive Neutrality in Action.

This policy goes beyond mere non-membership in formal military alliances. It is about actively asserting Ireland's rights and duties as a neutral state. This includes the responsibility NOT to collude in war by allowing our airports to be used as refuelling bases for foreign armies. It includes the responsibility NOT to profit from war and to end Irish involvement in the arms trade. It is about actively promoting and participating in conflict resolution and making politics work to redress legitimate grievances and achieve needed social changes at both state and international levels.

It is about actively promoting demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament , especially in Europe. Positive Neutrality in Action adopts a "human security" approach which recognises that the world's most deadly weapons of mass destruction are poverty, hunger, disease and injustice, and commits to tackle the social, political and economic roots of insecurity and conflict. Positive Neutrality in Action is also about rejecting any EU role in security and defence and instead actively promoting the United Nations as the only fully inclusive and thereby only legitimate forum for resolving international conflict, recognising that significant capacity-building and reform are urgently necessary to strengthen the UN's capacity to uphold international law.

Sinn Féin's policy of Positive Neutrality in Action is unique in Irish politics. It also offers an example to the world as a genuine policy alternative, a way of pursuing a global social justice agenda through peaceful means.

While our policy is the product of a developed and coherent republican position stretching back over 200 years of history, it has never been more relevant than in the 21st century - in this time of great volatility in international relations, of accelerating militarisation in the EU, and of multiple threats to the exercise of Irish independence in foreign policy.

Positive Neutrality in Action is a policy we have used in Leinster House to challenge the misguided betrayal and abandonment of neutrality by the present Government. It is a policy we will present to the Irish people in this election as an alternative to both the Fine Gael rejection of neutrality, and the Fine Gael-Labour embrace of the EU's metamorphosis into a military superpower. It is a policy that Sinn Féin MEPs will take with us to the EU to actively promote as an alternative to militarisation and to promote a globalisation of social and economic justice and human rights. And it is a policy that the Irish people can expect Sinn Féin to follow in a future Government of a United Ireland. I commend to the Ard Fheis the motions reaffirming the republican commitment to the policy of Positive Neutrality in Action." `ENDS

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Motion 39

This Ard Fhéis condemns the unacceptably slow processing of the claims by schools for special needs and resource teacher funding. Applications received by the Department of Education at the end of he school year should be processed and in place by the start of the new school year.

Seán Crowe, speaking in favour of Motion 39.

The issue of education for persons with special needs has been at the forefront of education policy for the last year, both because 2003 was the Year of the Disabled, though the Government paid little more than lip service to that fact, and because of the focus generated by the legislation introduced to change the education system for persons with a disability.

Of course the sad reality is that this Government is not implementing the legislation it already has inacted. One of the key delays in the processing of claims by the Department has been the chronic underfunding of the National Education Psychological Services, or NEPS. Huge sections of the country, predominantly in rural areas, are not covered by this service at all. 57% of schools in the north-west, even worse for the mid-west.

If a school is not covered by NEPs, it is allocated a certain amount of visits to a private psychologist. But the list of approved psychologists contained only 137 names, over a third of whom are based in Dublin. There are none from Cavan or Monaghan. None from Leitrim or Carlow. One for Kilkenny and one for Laois. In other counties a mere handful.

This is just one part of the assessment process the Department has in place and it is clearly not working. The Education Ministers solution?

A derisory increase of 1% in funding for this service.

When legislation to do with the issue of education for disabilities came before Leinster House late last year, we received over 50 submissions from individuals, support groups, unions and professional organisations, all of whom know the massive problems facing people on the ground trying to work with the system as it exists.

And yet this legislation is, like everything else to do with Education, and Health, and Transport, subject to the whim of the Finance Minister

There is no question of a rights based approach being taken to the education of people with special needs.

No sign of the administrative support school principals will need to enable them to implement the positive aspects of the plan such as individualised education plans for each child.

Yes the processing of claims is unacceptably slow. If this Fianna Fail PD Government is not willing to invest in this area, it will undoubtedly get worse.

Can I also make a brief comment on Motion 35.

Last year the Government received a bloody nose when it tried to bring in fees for third level education.

Students and their Union played a key role in inflicting one of the most serious U turns that the Fianna Fail/PD Coalition has suffered since coming back to office.

In the process the Union of Students in Ireland has nearly become bankrupt.

We commend them and Students throughout this Country and recommit this party and its activists to resist their reintrodution

I raised this with OECD experts carrying out a review of third level education this week. I also emphasised our opposition to the half baked proposals to privatise third level colleges and institutions in this state.

It is clear to me that fees, the privatisation of our universities and equity of access will dominate politics both on and off the campus in the nex 12 months.

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP speaking at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this evening said that the British government are presiding over the biggest gerrymander in the Six Counties since they imposed partition.

Mr. Doherty said:

The British government are presiding over the biggest gerrymander in the six counties since they opposed the expressed wishes of the people of this island and partitioned this country.

And that gerrymander is every bit as public as was the act of partition. And the consequences could be every bit as far reaching.

In May 2002 the British government in a gross interference in the electoral process, introduced restrictive electoral legislation for the six counties.

This legislation was introduced on foot of false claims by Sinn Fein's political opponents that the party was involved in electoral fraud.

These allegations are not only untrue they hide the real reason behind the legislation which was to remove the number of actual or potential Sinn Fein voters on the electoral register and erect barriers to those who want to exercise their right to vote.

This legislation is primarily aimed at trying to ring fence the electoral growth of Sinn Fein in the six counties. Of trying to prevent what unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson described last November, after the Assembly election results, as the unionist's 'worse nightmare scenario' but which is really Jeffrey's 'nightmare' scenario, that is Sinn Fein becoming the largest political party in the six counties.

And if this means that the British government have to drive a horse and four though the democratic process at its most important point: the exercise of a person's right to vote, then they will do so.

This legislation has resulted in 211,000 people being denied their right to vote. This represents 16.5% of the overall electorate in the north.

Those people denied the right to vote are not just potential voters for Sinn Fein. They are potential voters for all the parties‚ nationalist and unionist.

And not surprisingly those most affected by this legislation are working class people in both unionist and nationalist areas.

If you live in Ballybeen in East Belfast or Derry's Bogside and you want to vote you better be able to jump to get over the hurdles on your way to the polling station.

In this part of our island, across Britain and indeed most of Western Europe, governments are devising ways of making it easier for people to directly participate in the democratic process.

They are trying to find ways of ensuring that people vote during elections.

In the six counties the people there keenly exercise their franchise. The turnout at elections is the envy of many governments across the EU because it is very high.

This legislation threatens that participation. At a meeting in January, Denis Stanley, the north's Chief Electoral Officer, freely admitted that the number of people registered to vote by his office will fall annually and there was nothing he could do to rectify this situation.

This is an appalling admission by the person who is employed by the British government to ensure that the maximum numbers of people are registered to vote.

He is administering the annual shredding of the electoral register.

For decades republicans were lectured to from on high that their objectives could be achieved exclusively through the democratic process.

That in changed political circumstances there would be no barriers to the peaceful pursuit of a united Ireland.

That the British and indeed the Irish governments would guarantee a level playing field would be created where everyone would be treated equally.

And what do we now have?

Having failed to get the election results that they want in the north of Ireland, the British government and Sinn Fein‚s electoral rivals are now trying to get the electorate that they want.

But for our part facing into elections across this island in a few months time we will do our level best to ensure that on the 10th June Jeffrey Donaldson awakens to his worse nightmare, Sinn Fein as the lead party in the six counties.

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Head of Sinn Féin all Ireland group, Martina Anderson speaking at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this evening said "Collectively, All Republican Activists from Kerry to Derry have a duty and a responsibility to cultivate that demand by showing through the All Ireland Strategies now in place, how a new Ireland of equals can be achieved". Ms Anderson said:

Republicans have always had vision — and our vision of a new Ireland of equals is not based on discrimination, but a society of equals, which respects and implements HRs and which advocates equality of outcome — not equality of opportunity.

The potential of all-Ireland structures for Governance as outlined by the strategies of Sinn Féin's All Ireland Agenda — and the motions before us this evening, make reference to national reconciliation, the expansion of all Ireland institutions and areas of work, cross border corridor strategy and Presidential voting rights - all of which suggests that new political all Ireland frameworks could map out the route for social, political, economic and cultural re-unification — all influencing the need for constitutional reunification. In this period of transition, with all its challenges, Sinn Féin's all Ireland strategies aim to ensure that the people of Ireland are involved in determining this new society. Whether the Northern Assembly is functional or not - our All Ireland activity can forged ahead.

Comrades we are not just a party that is a bit different than others with a Charismatic Leader — yes we have the most popular leader in Ireland, but he knows that he has a party of Activists who passionately want to improve their lives of the people of Ireland. He knows that we are embracing the programme of work that facilitates a process of engaging the people in shaping and building this New Ireland that will bring about this vision of an Ireland Of equals.

Indeed, we recently embarked upon a process of consultation with civic society across Ireland on Sinn Féin's Rights for All Charter, which was influenced by the South African Freedom Charter. Through this process of engagement and discussion, we are actively involving people in formulating their own vision of an alternative society and by so doing they will begin to see how far away Ireland, divided as it is, is from what they want.

Even if we took power tomorrow we could not give people an Ireland of Equals — People have to want it and demand it. Collectively, All Republican Activists from Kerry to Derry have a duty and a responsibility to cultivate that demand by showing through the All Ireland Strategies now in place, how a new Ireland of equals can be achieved. From Cumainn to AC Activists, we all need to priorities and coordinate All Ireland activity. Our primary objective of reunification of equals, does not and must not compete with any other demand — it is the overarching project that must permeate throughout our activism in a way that reminds us daily - why we are here — why we work 24 - 7 - and what it is we are out to achieve. And that is not a 32 county corrupt-ridden Free State shaped by successive Irish governments that have rolled out an agenda of minimising the role of the state in providing services and facilities to which everyone is entitled.

Our commitment to all-Ireland activity is not unconditional. It is primarily guided by our progressive agenda for social justice - a value that is not part of the British or Irish Governments' physhe. With the conviction that underpins our movement we must collectively strengthen our party structures and forge external links with civic society that will advance the logic for an Ireland of Equals. To that end, our party structures must reflect consolidation and coordination between SF elected and non-elected Activists so that we channel our collective energies, establishing Joint Working Mechanisms, pursuing joint working initiatives which will make reintegration and reunification an actionable reality.

We are the only All Ireland Party, and comrades we are the generation that carries the duty to drive a republican all-Ireland agenda forward. We have a vision of a new and different Ireland, which itself can only be achieved with the participation of the People of Ireland. It is after all the people of Ireland who are sovereign. Indeed through greatly superior numbers, we can move though contest, to achieve an Ireland where for the first time the voice of the marginalised ceases to be ignored. It is a path to inspire us; as well as to show that a new Ireland of equals — another world, another Ireland can be achieved.

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Motions 1 to 7 deals with National and Democratic Rights and of all the Parties on this island Sinn Féin is best placed to speak to these issues from the point of view of experience on the ground in every part of our Country. We are the only Party with strategies and policies that are designed to assist people in every town and village in the 32 counties. We are the only national party on this island. Our policies don't stop at the British imposed border. They are not 6-County specific or 26 County specific. Our policies are developed with an all-Ireland content and it is for this reason that I stand in support of motions 1 to 7.

Sinn Féin sets the pace in the all-Ireland Agenda — others follow

And while there is good work being done both through the All Ireland bodies and in the agreed areas of co-operation there is considerable scope for building on that work. Sinn Féin continues to lead in this in this area.

Last week we put detailed proposals to the two governments for the consolidation and expansion of All-Ireland activity. These proposals contained in a 72 page document include developing areas of co-operation and the establishment of additional all-Ireland Implementation bodies covering pollution control, Agriculture and Rural Development, Poverty and Energy that would bring tangible benefits to all the people of Ireland. But it should not stop there. There is a need for co-operation and development on a wide range of issues on an all-Ireland basis. Some that are contained in this series of motions but there are others as well in areas of Justice, the standardisation of Taxes, fuel duties, the abolition of ground rents throughout the country. There are numerous areas that we as an all-Ireland party can co-ordinate campaigns on a 32-County basis. For instance, why should people in this part of the country pay 40% more for home heating oil than those of us in the North? Or why should people in the North pay almost double for petrol and diesel than you here in the 26? Only with the expansion of the all-Ireland aspects of the Agreement can we address these problems and harmonise taxes and living conditions island wide.

I call on Bertie Ahern to implement his claimed intention to provide for representation in the houses of the Oireachtas for the people of the North. But I call on him to introduce the relevant measures now before the European and Local government elections. Or is his comments only rhetoric designed to keep the lobby for Northern representation quiet until after the elections when he will forget this promise just as he forgot all the promises his party made to the electorate prior to the last election.

We also published a discussion document recently entitled 'Rights for All'. Everybody should familiarise themselves with this document and engage community, church, trade unions and any other activist or community groups in your areas about their thoughts and suggestions on this subject.

I commend Motions 1 to 7 to this Ard Fheis and urge delegates to support them.

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Opening Address by

Mary Lou McDonald, EU Candidate for Dublin and Ard Chomhairle

Ba mhaith liom táilte a chuir ioimhe gach uile duinne anseo anocht ag ár Árd Fheis.

Friends I would like to begin of offering a comradely and warm welcome to all of you here tonight in this the 99th year of existence of the Irish republican movement known as Sinn Féin.

A few weeks ago I listened to a political discussion on a Dublin based radio station. On the panel was a TD from the Coalition Government parties and a TD from the so-called 'alternative coalition' parties. Tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. The discussion took place in the aftermath of the most recent opinion poll by the Irish Times and followed a few weeks of unrelenting and unsubstantiated attacks on our party by the establishment parties. Despite a few moments of denial the two guests on the show were eventually brought around to discussing the fact that Sinn Féin were not only steadily increasing the level of their support throughout this state but were now running neck and neck with both Labour and Fine Gael in this the capital city of our island. In the words of the presenter "Sinn Féin was the story of the day."

To which the green-eyed representative of the 'alternative coalition' in an increasingly shrill tone said - "this is what I am talking about -they are on the news day in and day out - they are constantly being talked about - if we just stopped talking about them they wouldn't be so popular".

Ah bless him - in other words if we just ignore them they might go away.

Well I'm afraid I got some bad news for you. We're not about to go away. We are here to stay.

It is remarkable that exactly ten years ago this week the same denunciations, the same unsubstantiated and unfounded attacks on Sinn Féin that are dominating the headlines this week were taking place then. Those attacks while mainly focused on Sinn Féin also took in any individual, organisation or any community that dared to have anything to do with Sinn Féin or Irish republicanism.

So it was ten years ago this week that the people of Tallaght and Killinarden in particular were subject to a vicious and sustained onslaught against their decision to allow Sinn Féin to hold it's 1994 Ard Fheis in the Killinarden Community Centre. Vilfied and ostracised the people stood firm against this malign and anti-democratic onslaught.

The attacks then, highlighted the gulf that exists between the vision of ordinary working men and women and the political elite in this country. In Tallaght, as it was across a number of communities where Sinn Féin held its Ard Fheisenna, it was ordinary people who knew what could be possible and were willing try and achieve what the elite claimed was impossible.

And this comrades is the crux of the matter. This is the context we should be viewing recent events. And this is the context in which we should be looking forward beyond this Ard Fheis weekend.

We are the ordinary people of Tallaght, the ordinary people of Derry, Belfast, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Wexford, Cork and Kerry and all across this island and we have a vision for the future. We reject the status quo. We reject the lazy self-serving, self-promoting egomaniac politics of Fianna Fail, of the PDs, in Fine Gael and of the Labour Party in the South and the DUP, UUP and SDLP in the north who think they have fooled the people of this island in to believing that there is no alternative.

We know differently. And we know because we have already forced dramatic changes across all 32 counties of Ireland. Back in Killinarden Community Centre ten years ago who could have believed the progress that would be made over the following years. Who would have dared to dream of where we are now to where we were then.

It was you people who dared to dream - you and a lot of other ordinary people the length and breath of this island who dared to dream. You saw an alternative way and you grabbed it with both hands. You grabbed that alternative to the selfishness that permeates through the body politic in the 26 Counties. The politics that favours million euro racehorses over people on hospital beds. The politics that promotes the enrichment of property developers over providing housing for its people. The politics that encourages greed and corruption over social justice and community care.

You rejected the politics of exclusion in the Six Counties. You have rejected the notion of 'thus far and no further' that was long passively accepted by the so-called constitutional nationalists.

The people saw the alternative Sinn Fein is providing and have rewarded the party with increased electoral support that continues to expand and grow. The recent elections to the Assembly returned Sinn Féin as not only the largest nationalist/republican party but also the largest pro-Good Friday Agreement party. It wasn't a fluke?it wasn't an accident? It happened despite the best efforts of the British Government in disenfranchising over 200,000 voters because the people support our vision for the future.

This weekend we will continue to develop our policies over a wide range of issues. We will continue to look to the future. We will be launching numerous discussion and policy documents on subjects as varied as Garda Reform, a Charter of Rights for All and combating poverty. We will debate over 300 motions and receive a political update from the outgoing Ard Chomhairle. Above all we will rededicate ourselves to our Irish Republican objectives of establishing and Independent democratic socialist republic.

I would like to conclude by wishing you all a very productive and comradely weekend and say that I look forward to meeting friends old and new over the next three days.

Thank you.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education and Science Seán Crowe, speaking following a meeting with between the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science and theOECD review team for third level education has underlined Sinn Féin's opposition to the privatisation of universities in Ireland.

Deputy Crowe said: "The global trend in education these days is based on the primacy of the market economy and other consumerist and commercial values. Some of the submissions made to the OECD have argued for the privatisation of universities. This would make those universities far more dependent on financial support and donations from the private sector than they currently are.

"I would have grave concerns for the independence of academic research carried out in universities that are dependent on corporate donations and there are several examples of this sort of conflict of interest in American and Canadian universities. The HEA has pointed to colleges like Yale and Harvard as examples of what they wish to 'evolve' into. Personally I do not see universities where undergraduate fees are $40,000 a year per student a step forward in the evolutionary process.

"While there is a widespread and generally accurate perception the education system has driven our economic boom, we cannot ignore its failures. There are high rates of adult illiteracy and drop out rates among young people. Universities, many of them located in or near disadvantaged areas need to build closer links with the communities around them. Sinn Féin has put forward the idea for Learning Neighbourhoods in our Education policy documents, copies of which I gave to the review team, and I hope they take note of the suggestions." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment Arthur Morgan TD has called on the Minister for Justice to explain how documents apparently from his office ended up in an illegal dump in Co. Tyrone. The Sinn Féin deputy made his comments after it emerged that numerous pages of briefing notes from the Department of Justice were found in an illegal dump in Eskra, Co. Tyrone.

Deputy Morgan said, "It is absolutely unacceptable and a scandal that documents from any Government Department should end up in an illegal dump on either side of the border. But for these documents to come in the form of rubbish from the Minister for Justice's office is extraordinary.

"Michael McDowell never tires of lecturing the rest of us on law and order issues and has been to the fore in introducing draconian and regressive new legislation on an almost weekly basis since he became Minister. It is ironic that in the last six months we have seen many ordinary people put in jail because of their refusal to pay an unjust bin tax while at the same time McDowell's papers have been turning up in illegal dumps in the Six Counties and god knows where else. It is especially ironic considering I have on a number of occasions raised, to no avail, the issue of illegal dumping in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh with the Minister for the Environment. I also raised the matter with the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Michael McDowell and indeed the Minister for the Environment, Martin Cullen should get their own house in order before lecturing the rest of us.

"We need to know from the Minister for Justice how this could have happened. We need to know if the Minister, who always claims to be so well informed, was aware of this problem before it emerged and what action he has initiated to ensure that it never happens again." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Euro Election candidate Mary Lou McDonald and the party's Spokesperson on International Affairs and the EU Aengus O Snodaigh TD will join a picket organised by PANA outside the Portmarnock Hotel this afternoon where a meeting of the EU Defence Directors is taking place. The picket is to be held between 12pm and 1pm.

Speaking before leaving for the protest Ms McDonald said: "The Irish presidency is being used to further the militarisation agenda of the European Union. A Government that claims to be committed to some sort of ill-defined idea of military neutrality is facilitating the construction of a European Army and a military industrial complex through many of the meetings taking place during this Presidency.

"Sinn Féin is committed to a policy of positive neutrality and to non-membership of military alliances. I will be attending along with my colleague Deputy O Snodaigh and members of PANA to register our anger at the continuing erosion of Irish neutrality facilitated by this Government." ENDS

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