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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann John O'Dowd has called for politicians and communities to stand up and be counted. Mr O'Dowd's comments come after a racist attack on a Portuguese family in Portadown last night.

Mr. O'Dowd said:

" Last night two Portuguese families living in Portadown had their home attacked in what appears to be yet another racist attack. It is vital that the politicians and communities in this area stand up and be counted and make sure that this attack is the last such attack in this area.

" We do not want to see a repeat of the situation in areas of Belfast where a toleration of racist attacks by certain politicians and communities has allowed a disgraceful situation to develop where racist attacks have become a regular occurrence." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Antrim Philip McGuigan said today that nationalists living in Rasharkin are furious after a loyalist band member attacked a young resident in the town last night during a band parade.

Mr McGuigan said:

" Last night 27 loyalist bands where bussed into Rasharkin in order to hold an anti-Catholic parade through the town. Local people were angered by the decision of the Parades Commission to allow this disgraceful parade to happen.

" Local residents had a dignified and peaceful protest at the side of the road as the parade passed. One band member then broke from the parade in full view of the PSNI and attacked a nineteen year old local resident with a flute. The imprint of the flute was left on her head and she required staples to a serious head wound.

" The Parades Commission and the PSNI need to realise that nationalist people in North Antrim are not second class citizens and will not be treated as such. The days of loyalist bands and police forces walking over our rights and entitlements are long gone. The people made that very clear in the Assembly elections last year.

" Those organising this parade through the nationalist part of Rasharkin need to get a clear message that what went on last night is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has today welcomed the opportunity, "to stop the proposals to build an incinerator here in Dublin."

Councillor Doolan said:

"Waste management is one of the most serious issues facing the people of Dublin. It is a challenge for all of us to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste. But the proposal to build an incinerator on the Poolbeg Peninsula only flies in the face of this logic. The current drafting of the City Development Plan gives us the opportunity to rule out the option of the incinerator. To do so I have submitted a motion to the plan which calls on City Council to introduce a new rezoning option that will only allow industry that complies with a non thermal treatment policy and I intend to propose rezoning the Poolbeg Peninsula in line with this."

"A waste management strategy based on incineration is a flawed strategy. We need a policy based on tackling the problem at source. This proposal will rule out incineration and will give us the opportunity to seriously tackle the problem of waste management and implement a strategy that aims to reduce, reuse and recycle our waste."

Mr. Doolan concluded by saying he was, "confident that fellow councilors will rise above party politics and support this motion. The public who elected us continue to voice their opposition to this hazardous incinerator and councilors have a duty to listen to them." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry & Armagh Davy Hyland has spoken of his disgust and anger after the Republican plot in St. Mary's cemetery on the Warrenpoint Road in Newry was completely destroyed overnight.

Speaking from the scene Mr Hyland said;

" This morning local people were horrified to discover that the main Republican plot in St. Mary's cemetery in Newry has been completed destroyed overnight. Sledgehammers were obviously used to smash the headstones and also damage family items placed on the grave. Given the shear scale of the damage caused it is clear that those responsible came prepared and took their time in destroying the plot.

" Local Republicans are outraged at this attack on the graves of our friends and comrades who have given their lives in the pursuit of Irish Freedom. At this stage we do not know who was responsible for this outrage but suspicions will obviously be focused on local unionist paramilitaries or local criminals.

" Whoever is responsible they need to get a clear message that Republicans in Newry will not be intimidated by actions like this. We will rebuild this plot as quickly as possible and once again have it restoredas a fitting tribute to the Republican dead. My thoughts today are of course with the families of those buried in the plot who have had to come here this morning and witness this disgraceful scene."

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Sinn Féin Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has said that the establishment of 5 new Cumainn in Newry town arguers well for the growth of Sinn Féin in the city.

Mr Hyland, speaking at the public launch of the five new Cumainn in the City, said:

"The Newry City area can now boast of five very active and strong Sinn Féin Cumainn, and this political growth reflects the trends throughout Ireland where new members from all walks of life are becoming involved in actively pursuing the Sinn Féin vision of an Ireland of Equals.

"The new structures will be instrumental in the ongoing political development of Sinn Féin.

"Over one hundred new members have joined our Party since the last election and the fact that the new Sinn Féin Cumainn are spread over the entire Newry City locality will ensure that there will be a cohesive structured and united political voice for the City. It will be of great benefit to Sinn Féin elected personnel as local networks and expertise are utilised."

The five new Sinn Féin Cumainn will be coordinated through a Newry City Executive. Chairperson of the Newry Executive, Ewan Morgan added:

"The new structures are focused firmly on strengthening the Sinn Féin party throughout the Newry area and will deliver effective and efficient leadership and greatly advance the unique United Ireland vision of our party." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP today addressed the annual Parnell Summer School at the Wooden Bridge Hotel, Co Wicklow, and said that 'Sinn Fein's objective going into the negotiations in September is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions'.

Addressing the gathering Ms McDonald said:

"The democratic position in any society is that the people should govern through those they democratically elect. Sinn Féin‚s primary political objective is a national representative democracy in Ireland. In the shorter term our objective is to see the political institutions, formed as a result of the peace process, re-established. This is the challenge in the months ahead as we attempt to resolve outstanding issues and difficulties. Sinn Fein‚s objective going into the negotiations in September is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions.

"If Republicans and nationalists are to be convinced that the British government is serious about making this process work we need to see evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is being implemented, positively, constructively, speedily. Sinn Fein‚s goal is to achieve a comprehensive definitive agreement on all the outstanding issues. But to achieve that the two governments and the DUP have to play their part. The British government has the pivotal role in creating the context for this. So far we have seen little evidence to suggest that it is up to this challenge". ENDS

Full text of speech:

I want to thank D. PJ Matthews, the director of the Parnell Summer School, for the invitation to speak here and I want to congratulate everyone involved in the Summer School for the impressive success of this year‚s school.

Our discussion in this session is a reflection upon the journey we have made over the past decade and more, and the distance we still have to travel in the time ahead.

The democratic position in any society is that the people should govern through those they democratically elect. Sinn Féin‚s primary political objective is a national representative democracy in Ireland. In the shorter term our objective is to see the political institutions, formed as a result of the peace process, re-established. This is the challenge in the months ahead as we attempt to resolve outstanding issues and difficulties.

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the first IRA cessation. It was a time of great hope and indeed for some a time of great uncertainty. Indeed it was the former UUP leader Jim Molyneaux who described the IRA cessation as the most destabilising event since partition.

The establishments throughout the island were in many ways comfortable with the certainties of conflict and division and in many cases feared and shied away from the challenges presented by peace and the possibility of a developing peace process.

From the beginning it was very obvious that there were those at the very heart of the British system who were opposed to the embryonic peace process and were determined to erect obstacles to dialogue beginning. So-called Decontamination periods and the issue of arms were deliberately introduced into the process in a determined effort by elements of the British system within the NIO to scupper the opportunity for peace before the process could even get moving. Disgracefully the then Taoiseach John Bruton adopted the British and unionist position and fractured the Irish nationalist consensus upon which the opportunity had been built.

But Republicans then, as now, were not naive. We never believed that those people in both states who wanted to defeat Irish Republicanism and the pursuit of Irish unity and independence would simply go away. We knew they would continue their efforts to frustrate progress and ghettoise and demonise our struggle.

But I believe that these people have underestimated the will of republicans to make this process work. They underestimated our absolute commitment to the peace process. When republicans say they are committed to the peace process we have time and again backed it with actions.

After agreement was finally reached in 1998, the Sinn Féin leadership, mirroring the approach adopted by our colleagues in the ANC, went out into the country and actively sold the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement. We had the arguments. We had the debate and we emerged ready to go about the business of seeing the changes demanded within the Agreement implemented.

Others, particularly the UUP, adopted a different approach. They didn't do the job of selling the Agreement. David Trimble knows the Agreement is good for our society. But since April 1998 he has allowed his political compass to be set by Ian Paisley.

This is what has driven his 'in - out' approach to the political institutions. For this has been part of his wider battle within unionism. As Ian Paisley set the unionist agenda of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement David Trimble's biggest mistake was to respond by trying to out Paisley-Paisley. It is therefore not surprising the DUP overtook the UUP in recent electoral contests.

Even when the IRA leadership moved to save the peace process by putting arms beyond use in October 2001 and in October 2003, David Trimble responded in the same vein as before. Mr Trimble's bluff had been called. He was now preoccupied with Mr Paisley at his shoulder rather than the Agreement or the peace process or indeed the issue of arms.

It is however, important to first set out the political context in which all of this was and is taking place: that is, a political crisis in the process which has existed in its current acute form for well over 2 years now. This crisis has essentially two different but related elements, one is the refusal or inability of unionist leaders to come to terms with the changes heralded by the Good Friday Agreement, and the other, and deeper element of the crisis, is the failure of the British Government to fulfil their obligations and commitments which have flowed from the Agreement.

It has left us in a situation 6 years on from the Good Friday Agreement where we have no political institutions, policing is still not right, the criminal justice system in the six counties still has not been transformed. Basic equality and human rights entitlements have been stalled and nationalist and border communities are still blighted by the British apparatus of war. In short the governments have allowed large sections of the Agreement to be filtered through an increasingly right wing and reactionary unionist prism. This approach is completely unacceptable.

Republicans are rightly impatient. We want equality now. We want human rights now. We want maximum political and constitutional change now. Others are opposed to this. Our challenge is to be imaginative and determined in delivering on the Agreement's agenda for change. Despite the protestations of the DUP and others it is the delivery of the GFA agenda which will be at the core of any political deal.

Sinn Fein's objective going into the negotiations in September is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions.

However, republicans are not convinced of the commitment to progress by the two governments, especially the British government, and the DUP. Indeed, given the British governments track record of failing to implement the Agreement, its breach of commitments made last October, its creation of the IMC and much more, there are many who believe it is failing the peace process.

The British government therefore faces a major challenge in the immediate time ahead. Either it stands with the Good Friday Agreement, and builds a bridge toward democracy and equality, or it sides with the forces of reaction as successive British government's did for decades.

The reality at this time is that elements within the British system, the securocrats and the faceless pro-union bureaucrats of the NIO, are doing their best to subvert progress and to encourage the backward slide.

If Republicans and nationalists are to be convinced that the British government is serious about making this process work we need to see evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is being implemented, positively, constructively, speedily.

In our discussions over the summer with the two governments we have focused on the key problem issues which we believe all of the participants have a duty to resolve. These include:

The need for all parties to participate fully in the political institutions;

The issues of policing and justice, and especially agreement by unionists on the transfer of powers to the Executive and Assembly within a specific timeframe.

The issue of armed groups and of arms

And, the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.

The British and Irish governments also have responsibility for other matters.

However, the fact is that the DUP is refusing to talk directly to Sinn Féin and has set so many pre conditions for progress is a challenge for that party but also for the two governments if the institutions are to be restored.

We also raised with the governments but particularly the British government the Pat Finucane case and its reneging on its commitment to hold an inquiry, as well as the wider issue of collusion.

Sinn Fein's goal is to achieve a comprehensive definitive agreement on all the outstanding issues. But to achieve that the two governments and the DUP have to play their part. The British government has the pivotal role in creating the context for this. So far we have seen little evidence to suggest that it is up to this challenge. ENDS

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Sinn Fein's spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women Caitriona Ruane MLA has expressed deep concern at the level of discrimination Nationalist employees of the Northern Ireland Fire Service are currently subject to as a result of the introduction in 2002 of stand-by maps.

Ms Ruane was speaking after taking on the case of Warrenpoint man John Allen who has served in the Fire Brigade for 18 years. In August 2003 he was offered the post of Divisional Officer on the condition he move to a specified geographical zone that was within a 30 mile radius of Lisburn.

Mr Allen was subsequently forced to decline the position because as a resident of Warrenpoint he lived outside of the stipulated area. The exception to this rule applies to people living in Belfast who despite their close proximity to Lisburn are still prevented from obtaining senior positions within the Fire Service because of the stand-by map rule.

Ms Ruane said:

"Sinn Fein fully supports Mr Allen who in October of last year contacted the Fair Employment Tribunal alleging unlawful discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion. He was prevented from accepting the position of Divisional Officer because of where he lives. The introduction of this geographical catchment area encompasses a number of predominantly Unionist areas, such as Craigavon and Portadown, yet areas, such as Newcastle, Armagh, Warrenpoint, Newry Belfast and Downpatrick, are excluded.

"This case has wider implications. The Good Friday Agreement created a statutory obligation under, Section 75, on all designated public bodies have a to equality proof all policy. It is clear these maps were introduced by the Fire Authority without any screening for their equality impact.

"For 18 years Mr Allen has been a hard working member of the Fire Service and his talent, experience and dedication should be rewarded. It is wrong the he is now subjected to this type of discrimination. Why is it that the 'stand by' area for headquarters in Lisburn stretches as far as Loughgall in the west and Islandmagee in the east but excludes Belfast, with its substantial nationalist population, even though it is much closer to Lisburn.

"Sinn Fein are concerned because it appears that Fire Service are determined to implement regressive criteria which is designed to discriminate against specific sections of our community. This is unacceptable. We need to take steps to address the levels of discrimination that currently still exist here in the Six Counties.

"Make no mistake, this appears to be designed to prevent Catholics obtaining top positions within the Fire Service. This is blatant discrimination. The purpose of it might be to discriminate against Nationalists but it is actually discriminating against everyone living outside 'call out' areas; Catholics, Protestants, women, members of ethnic minorities, all the areas the equality legislation was set up to deal with. It is not acceptable.

"There needs to be an immediate investigation into this case. We are also calling on the Equality Commission to speed up the case because as time goes on John Allen is being further discriminated against.

"It is outrageous that senior officers within the North's Fire Service believe they have the right to exclude fire fighters with years of experience and exemplary records because they live in places like Newcastle, Downpatrick, Armagh Warrenpoint, Newry, Rostrevor, North Belfast, West Belfast or South Belfast. I have now written to the Fire Service expressing my deep concern about this case, which also violates statutory requirements and I am waiting for a response. I have also written to Direct Rule Minister Angela Smith expressing my concerns about the fact that the maps were not put through equality impact assessments and about the level of discrimination that is going unchallenged." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly group leader Conor Murphy has said that the leaking of a memo from the NIO to DUP politician Peter Robinson on Water Charges follows a well worn path of leaks from within the NIO to prominent anti-Agreement figures.

Mr Murphy said:

" The NIO is hostile to the peace process and is hostile to the Good Friday Agreement. Throughout this process sensitive information and memos have been deliberately leaked by the securocrats at the core of the NIO to leading anti-Agreement politicians.

" Indeed at one stage the then Irish Minister for Foreign Affair David Andrews described those within the NIO as 'sneaky little people' and accused them of attempting to 'obstruct us in the pursuit of a permanent peace on the island of Ireland'.

" So it should come as no surprise that elements within the NIO wishing to leak information would use the channel already established to the anti-Agreement parties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today accused the Irish government of neglecting their responsibilities under EU law in regards to implementing EU environment legislation on time.

A survey looking at environmental law in 2003 found that throughout the old 15 member states, there were 88 separate occasions when EU environment legislation was not implemented in national law within the specified time. Ireland was amongst the worst offenders.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said:

"The recent EU report on the implementation of EU environmental law in 2003 makes for grim reading. Ireland was amongst the worst offender in converting EU environment legislation to national law within the specified time limit.

"We should be both embarrassed and concerned that laws relating to water, waste, nature protection and environmental impact assessments had been the most neglected by member states, including our own. Neglect of the environment is unacceptable and the Minister for the Environment has questions to answer regarding our non-compliance with vital legislation within the specified timeframe.

"In an era when the general public are rightly concerned about issues such as global warming, the government have a duty of care to implement progressive environmental legislation both in Ireland and from the EU. This report will not instil confidence in the Irish public that this government are up to the challenge of protecting our environment.

"All of this points to a sloppy half hearted approach to the environment by this government. It is not as if these EU laws mysteriously appeared last week, the government have known about their duty of compliance for a considerable time.

"I am calling upon this government to take the protection of our environment seriously and to implement progressive legislation speedily. Sinn Féin believes that a clean environment is not only a public good but also a fundamental social right in need of protection. " ENDS

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Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew commenting on the contents of leaked correspondence between NIO Ministers and British Treasury officials about the introduction of water charges has said that the privatisation agenda is now out in the open.

Ms Gildernew said:

"From day one it was clear that the introduction of water charges was the first step in the process of privatising our water services. Direct rule Ministers have been dishonest in the handling of the consultation process. It was clear from the very narrow terms of the first consultation process that the NIO and British Treasury had made up there mind that there were going to introduce the water tax to make the water services a more attractive option for privatisation.

"Water taxes and increased rates are inextricably linked to the privatisation agenda of the British Labour Party and a logical part of the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative so eagerly accepted by some members of the previous Executive, particularly David Trimble and Mark Durkan. At the time Sinn Féin warned that the RRI would lead to water taxes, huge increases in rates and privatisation of public services. It appears that that analysis has unfortunately proved to be correct.

"The NIO have failed to put in place the funding our public services require for decades and this has created a huge deficit that the NIO are now attempting to force us to pay. It is wrong to force people in the Six Counties to pay for the failure to invest in our infrastructure and services.

"Sinn Féin will make sure that financial issues are dealt with in the September talks. The NIO and British Treasury should be warned that they will face concerted pressure to rethink their position on water charges, privatisation and the entire issue of the finances. While the SDLP and UUP settled for the RRI, Sinn Féin will settle for nothing less than a real and substantial Peace Dividend." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Councillor Killian Forde has expressed concern over the Dublin City Council proposal to delist more than 500 Georgian houses as protected buildings. The proposal to delist these structures has been submitted in the Draft Dublin Development Plan for 2005-2011.

Councillor Forde said:

"This proposal is a step backwards in the promotion and retention of Dublin City‚s historic building heritage.

"I am urging all parties on the Council to reject this regressive step and support a Sinn Féin proposal to retain the 500 buildings in question. I am also calling on the Council to carry out a full inventory of some 4,000 remaining Georgian and Edwardian buildings currently not included on the Record of Protected structures." ENDS

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Dúirt úrlabhraí Gaeilge Sinn Féin Aengus Ó Snodaigh inniu go raibh sé "scannalach" nach raibh aon colún Gaeilge anois san RTÉ Guide tar éis na blianta fada. Bhí colúnaí ann i gcónaí go dtí an Gheimhreadh seo caite.

Dúirt an Teachta Ó Snodaigh:

"Bhain a lán daoine taitneamh as an colún Gaeilge a bhíodh san RTÉ Guide le tamall fada agus nuair a chríochnaigh an iriseoir sin (Pearse Hutchinson) an bhliain seo caite, gheall an eagarthóir go mbeadh colún Gaelach eile chomh tapaidh agus a bheadh siad in ann colúnaí eile a fháil. Breis is naoi mí níos déanaí níl aon colúnaí nua aimsithe acu.

"'Sé an RTÉ Guide an iris is mó a dhíol gach seachtain in Éirinn agus ba chóir go mbeadh ar a laghad colún amháin as Gaeilge ann. Níl sé chomh deacair sin teacht ar Ghaeilgeoirí cumasach chun an colún seachtainiúl, nó fiú breis, a scríobh.

Tá sé scannallach go bhfuil eagras stát bheith ag loic ar ár dteanga náisiúnta mar seo, in áit bheith chun tosaigh ag léiriú do na heagrais stáit eile go bhfuil tábhacht leis an Ghaeilge, go bhfuil tacaíocht á thabhairt do Ghaeilgeoirí agus do fhoghlaimeoirí mar aon. Shíl mé go raibh sean ré frith-Ghaeilge RTÉ thart, ach de réir cosúlacht is ann dó fós. Impím ar an eagarthóír beart a dhéanamh de réir a bhriathar, ach, muna ndéanann, beidh mé ag ardú na ceiste seo leis an Aire Gaeltachta agus leis an Aire Craolacháin. DEIREADH

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today called upon the European Union to abandon its Fortress Europe approach to asylum policy and instead 'treat refugees with the respect that they deserve.' Ms McDonald's call comes after Italian EU Commissioner Rocco Buttiglione, who is due to take up the EU Justice and Home Affairs portfolio on November 1st, suggested that a refugee processing zone should be set up in North Africa to prevent asylum seekers from entering EU member states.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said:

"The plan to create asylum quarantine centres in North Africa was originally mooted by Britain in 2003, supported by Germany, and has now been endorsed by the incoming Italian Commissioner Rocco Buttiglione. The proposal cannot be supported by Sinn Fein and I call on the Government and all Irish MEPs to vigorously oppose it.

"The proposed quarantine centres have been criticised by human rights groups as inconsistent with the EU's international obligations to protect refugees. It would represent a total abdication of the EU's responsibility to shoulder its fair share of the load in the global challenge of refugee protection - a burden primarily and unjustly carried at present by developing world countries.

"The European Union could be leading the way in presenting a progressive, compassionate and fully human rights-compliant approach to asylum. Sadly, the reality is much different. This abhorrent proposal is indicative of the kind of Common Migration and Asylum policies coming out of the EU under its present regressive direction.

"The Fortress Europe school of thought is now not only guiding EU migration policy but is also becoming progressively institutionalised. This must be challenged by all of us who care about human rights and expect the highest standards of human rights compliance by the EU. It will be challenged by Sinn Fein in the coming session of the EU Parliament." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Education Spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has welcomed the excellent A level results as testament to the hard work of teaching staff and students but warned against those who would seek to use these results as an argument to retain academic selection at 11.

Mr Hyland said:

"The excellent A level results are testament to the hard work of teaching staff and students.

"However, it should be remembered that many young people do not sit A levels or even GCSEs. There is a very long tail of academic under achievement. Too many young people are branded a failure at 11 and this is wrong. Ending academic selection at 11 is just one of the ways that we can tackle this problem.

"Those who support academic selection will undoubtedly seize on these results are to justify their support for the 11+. But this opportunism will not allow us to address the wider needs of our young people or indeed contribute to the needs of our society as a whole.

"Only last week it was reported that we need 18,000 people going into the construction industry to support the building programme across the Six Counties. It is time that we began to realise that the needs of a modern economy and a society emerging from decades of conflict and disadvantage will not be best served by academic selection." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has appealed to the Irish Government to intervene to bring about a speedy and just resolution to the mass Palestinian hungerstrike commenced Sunday last.

Speaking before today's protest at the Israeli Embassy in Ballsbridge organised by the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The decision by thousands of Palestinian political prisoners to embark on a hunger strike is a stark indication of the level of desperation, frustration and anger that they are experiencing as a result of the Israeli government's continuing brutality and denial of even their most basic of human rights - not just in Israeli prisons but right across occupied Palestine.

"Irish republicans recognise from experience the age-old terror tactic of an occupying power which targets political prisoners with brutality and torture in an attempt to break the resolve and resistance of an occupied people. Israel must be made to recognise that it didn't work in Britain's prisons in Ireland and it won't work in Israeli prisons.

"I extend my solidarity to the prisoners and their families as they embark on what will likely be - judging from Irish experience and from the intransigent, Thatcherite public comments of the Israeli Minister of Internal Security - a traumatic and devastating form of non-violent protest.

"It is time for the international community to act decisively to prevent more unnecessary hungerstrike deaths. I therefore appeal to the Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen and the Irish Government to immediately intervene with the Israeli Government to bring a speedy and just resolution to the Palestinian hunger strike." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has called on whoever succeeds Charlie McCreevy as Minister for Finance to use the budget surplus expected at the end of the year to address the growing divide between the affluent and the less well off in Irish society.

Deputy Crowe made his call following reports that the Government's Economic Review and Outlook, due today, will show a healthy budget surplus of between one and two billion euro by the end of 2004.

He said:

"Some of this surplus is expected to come from the millions in unpaid DIRT taxes recovered by the Revenue Commissioners this year. It is only right that his money goes back into the community, helping to reverse the legacy of inequality that Charlie McCreevy is leaving behind.

"This state is lapsing in many sectors, but its biggest failing at the moment is the divide that is growing between the affluent in society and the less well off. The decision to make cuts in welfare and community enterprise schemes such as VTOS and FÁS, have contributed to this.

"As well as these direct attacks on the less well-off, the Government has also failed to come through on its own promises, made when it came to office. For example, it has now rescinded on its decision to increase child benefit over three years and is dragging out the increase over five years.

"The cost of living in Ireland is soaring. We have seen increases in all the essentials for living, like electricity and healthcare, but there have been no comparative increases made in any social welfare benefits. The most vulnerable in society, such as the elderly, the unemployed, and single parents, are being left to struggle with these increases with little or no help.

"I'm calling on the next Minister for Finance to use this budget surplus to tackle the policies that are breeding disparity throughout this state. This money must be used to roll back the community enterprise schemes, make immediate increases in social welfare benefits, reverse the savage 16 cuts imposed by Mary Coughlan, and to create a proper education service, all of which will help to close the gap between the rich and the poor." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Mid-Ulster Geraldine Dougan has praised Nationalist Residents in Maghera after they took an initiative aimed at resolving a contentious RBP parade in the town planned for Saturday 28th August.

Ms Dougan said:

"Over the summer a number of contentious loyal order parades have taken place through the nationalist town of Maghera. A loyalist band parade with the direct involvement of unionist paramilitary organisations was also forced through the town centre in late July. This came against the backdrop of an ongoing orchestrated campaign of violence and intimidation against the catholic population in South Derry.

"Nationalists in the town are justifiably angry at these recent events. Despite this anger Maghera Residents today met with the Parades Commission and offered a compromise plan which if embraced would see the issues around the RBP parade resolved. The offer of an alternative route and the commencement of immediate dialogue with the parade organisers is a genuine attempt to resolve this potentially serious situation.

"I wish to praise local residents for taking this initiative in what is a difficult climate and I would urge both the Parades Commission and the RBP to grasp this opportunity to find a local resolution to this particular parading problem." ENDS

Statement From Maghera Concerned Residents Group

Appeal To Loyal Orders and Commission To Embrace Local Plan

Spokesperson for the Maghera Concerned Residents, Paul Henry said:

"Nationalist residents in Maghera today proposed to the Parades Commission an alternative route for next weekends RBP parade in Maghera. We have also offered to meet with the RBP and other parades organisers to discuss the issue of loyal order parades in the town.

"This is a genuine effort on our behalf to seek a local resolution to the issue of loyal order parades through Maghera. Our offer of an alternative route for this parade is another example of a town with a large nationalist majority showing tolerance in the face of provocation and puts to bed the lie that nationalist residents are simply opposed to loyal order parades.

It is my hope that the loyal orders and the Parades Commission respond to this initiative in the same spirit. It is our view that this initiative, if acted upon, has the potential to help rebuild community relations in Maghera which have suffered greatly over the summer months due to both loyal order and loyalist band parades through the nationalist town." ENDS

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Recently elected Deputy Mayor of Belfast Joe O‚Donnell speaking this morning, to an invited audience of community groups and representative organisations, said that he would be guided in his year in office by a desire to give a platform to those in this city from various backgrounds, who are doing sterling work yet often their "voices are not heard".

He said:

"I am deeply honoured and proud to have been elected as Belfast's Deputy Mayor.

I am mindful of the high standards that the citizens of Belfast expect from their elected representatives and the civic responsibilities that go with the position of Deputy Mayor.

In my year of office I intend to represent all the people of Belfast regardless of class, creed or ethnic origin and to fulfil this role to the best of my ability.

Belfast is a city emerging from years of conflict and we are dealing with a long legacy of division.

This is the context within which I as Deputy Mayor will be working.

By facing into this reality it does not mean that I or anyone else with civic responsibility should lower our horizons or fail to push out the boundaries to meet people at the point where they live their day to day lives.

I have a duty of office to do this and I can assure you I will do it.

However I would like my year in office to be marked by the representation I make on behalf of the people who work very hard for this city yet are seldom recognised.

The theme of my speech today is "Unheard Voices". I deliberately chose that theme because I want those people who live in this space to hear what I have to say to them and on their behalf, to others of influence in Belfast.

I know only to well what it is like to be part of a community whose voice is not heard. I grew up in the Short Strand in East Belfast. The people of that area have lived an isolated existence for many, many years. They like many others in our city who live in interfaces (regardless of whatever religious background they come from) want and need their quality of life to improve.

Recently I launched a public initiative in East Belfast with David Ervine, in an attempt not only to address the issues which affect cross community violence at interfaces but also the many social, environmental and economic problems that continue to afflict these areas.

I will vigorously pursue that issue over my term in office and beyond.

The Short Strand community is vibrant, multi-talented and has made a great contribution to the life of Belfast, yet they have received little recognition.

There are many other vibrant and multi-talented communities who make a great contribution to everyday life in Belfast yet receive little or no recognition. I believe this can be said of the elderly, the disabled, the many ethnic peoples, gay people, homeless, women, travellers, those living in working class unionist and nationalist areas and those who work in the community and voluntary sector.

When all of these groups are taken together they make up a considerable portion of the people of Belfast.

Yet rarely do they receive due recognition beyond the group they are working in.

Belfast City Council should take the necessary steps to recognise this work.

I believe they have gone some way in doing so, the council's equality officer is already involved in the process of setting up an Equality Consultation Forum which will involve most of the section 75 groups I have mentioned. It will initially meet on a quarterly basis and then bi-annually as required. I will work with other councillors and parties to ensure that this becomes adopted policy, as a matter of urgency.

I also think the City Council should formally acknowledge the work of these groups by making an annual Council award for services rendered.

Again the Council has gone some way to addressing this issue with a report due to go to the good relations steering panel next month. I will do my best to persuade the Good Relations Committee that the nominations should come from the Equality Forum.

The purpose behind the approach I am taking as Deputy Mayor is to validate the work that is being done everyday of the week across this city but it is unseen except by those directly involved.

This situation has to end and I believe that those like myself with civic responsibility have to help bring about the required change.

I believe Belfast City Council should see this area of work as central to its year long programme.

I have outlined what I think Belfast City Council should do to promote the voices of those who I have described as 'unheard'.

There are others who can also help put substance to this idea.

We live in a media age. The media has a responsibility to reflect the lives of the people of Belfast in all its diversity.

I believe it would help if we saw on television, heard on radio or read in the newspapers about:

The elderly talking about their contribution to this city on daily and with a lifetime of experience to draw on.

The people from the many ethnic communities in our city describing the great diversity of history, culture and economic benefit that they bring to society.

Travellers and the struggle they face just to survive because they have chosen an alternative lifestyle.

Working class people from Sandy Row, Short Strand, Tigers Bay, Newtownards Road, and Lower Falls telling us why they are not enjoying the economic benefits of a growing city economy.

The gay community on their struggle to be recognised for the contribution that they make in many walks of life.

In conclusion I want to reaffirm that I will use my term in office to engage and connect on a regular and informal basis, with the many groups and organisations that I have already outlined.

I give an understanding that I will do my very best to persuade the relevant council committees to take action and that I will pursue ways in which the council can deliver on their needs.

I also hope that others with responsibility, use that responsibility to ensure that we hear and see the faces behind the 'Unheard Voices" ENDS

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Sinn Fein West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has accused SDLP MLA Alasdair McDonnell of supporting racist attitudes after receiving a number of complaints after the SDLP deputy leader complained that Eastern European workers were stealing jobs from 'people here'.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Alasdair McDonnell is guilty of spouting the same sort of racist gibberish used by bigots and thugs to justify attacks on ethnic minorities. It is unfortunate that these comments have come so soon after the racist remarks made by his colleague Tommy McTeague at a Newtownards Council meeting.

"The reality of the situation is that people from Eastern Europe, the Philippines or wherever play a vital role in our economy. Nurses from abroad fill a huge gap in our health services, and other workers from places like Portugal take on jobs, that are often very low paid and difficult, that employers are unable to fill. Many people from ethnic minorities also bring vital skills and their enthusiasm and hard work to this island that add real value to our economy.

"Tackling the rise in racism demands real political leadership and it requires all of us to challenge head on intolerant and ignorant racist attitudes. This is a particular problem in Alasdair McDonnell's own South Belfast constituency.

"While there are very serious concerns about the impact of globalisation not just on our own economy but also the rights and conditions of workers elsewhere in the world it is simply not good enough for the SDLP deputy leader to be appearing to give political cover to racist attitudes that can lead to attacks on ethnic minorities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has today proposed that "any money raised from the proposed sale of City Council flats must be ring fenced and used for social housing."

Councillor Doolan said:

"This city is in the depths of a housing crisis with the numbers needing housing growing daily. The proposal by City Manager, John Fitzgerald, to sell City Council flats will generate an estimated 3 billion euros. It is crucial that this money not go to central government but is ring fenced and used to replenish housing stock that will be lost through the sale of council flats. If necessary this money must be matched by funding from the Department of Environment to guarantee proper and adequate housing. The City Council is currently not meeting the housing needs of those in Dublin, so to allow its housing stock to be simply sold off and not replenished contradicts logic.

Mr. Doolan concluded by calling on the City Manager to, "immediately engage with those who have a democratic mandate and ring fence the money to ensure the sale of City Council flats does not leave the city deeper in crisis than it already is."ENDS

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