Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said the fact that there are only five centres in the state providing sexual assault forensic testing is "a barrier to justice" and the Government must now take responsibility.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "This Government has failed to ensure the most basic facilities for women who have been sexually assaulted or who have experienced domestic abuse. It is not acceptable that many counties lack a women's refuge service. It is beyond belief that women in parts of the country have no local access to forensic testing for sexual assault because this is a totally unnecessary barrier to justice. Despite increasing demand, organisations such as Women's Aid have been subjected to a funding freeze since 2002, and this has resulted in cutbacks of the limited essential services that are available.
"Inter-departmental responsibility is not a legitimate excuse. The fact remains that there is widespread, consistent and persistent underfunding of frontline women's services. This Government must now take responsibility because this situation is reaching a crisis point. Domestic violence and sexual abuse of women are hugely prevalent crimes in Ireland, and it is my view that the Minister for Justice should use his considerable energy and cabinet influence to get the needed resources released now.
"Sinn Féin fully supports the call for a €7 million increase in funding to the women's frontline services sector, for funding for these and related services to be ring-fenced, and for multi-annual planning and financial support commitments from the Government. At the very least we need an urgent commitment to make sexual assault forensic testing available in every county.
"I challenge Michael McDowell to take us out of the dark ages on this issue and to make this his lasting legacy as Minister for Justice." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today paid tribute to the work of local communities in combating the drugs scourge in Dublin.
Ms McDonald was speaking before she attended the launch of the Mulhuddart/Corduff Community Drug Team Project. Ms McDonald attended the event along with Dublin West Sinn Féin Councillor Felix Gallagher. President Mary McAleese will also be in attendance at this afternoon's event.
Speaking today Ms McDonald said:
"I want to take this opportunity to wish the Mulhuddart/Corduff Community Drug Team Project the very best in the coming years. I also want to pay tribute to the invaluable work undertaken by many community organisations in drug rehabilitation projects throughout Dublin.
"Many working class communities have been ravaged as a result of the drugs epidemic in this city. Projects like the one in Mulhuddart/Corduff are an indication of the determination of local communities to provide help and support to those who live with drug addiction.
"Local communities deserve better from the Gardai and statutory agencies if we are to tackle this problem. We need the Gardai to work in partnership with communities and for statutory agencies to initiate a strategy to eliminate social deprivation.
Councillor Gallagher said:
"I want to pay tribute to the management, staff and all of the volunteers at the centre who carry out such fantastic work.
"Sinn Féin is calling for a complete overhaul of the National Drugs Strategy. It is clear that the policing aspect of the strategy has failed. Sinn Féin is calling for more resources for the Drugs Task Forces and Garda Drug Squads and the formulation of new strategies for dealing with increasing levels of cocaine and crack cocaine use." ENDS
Sinn Féin newly appointed Assembly group leader, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has said that the £53 million cost in maintaining the institutions are a result of the British government's unilateral suspension the institutions.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"The political institutions were brought down by the British government 27 months ago amid allegation of a Stormont spy ring. 27 months ago the institutions were brought down by unfounded PSNI allegations.
"Today the prospect of a quick return is again at risk because of PSNI allegations which have not been supported by any evidence.
"It is a disgrace that in effect the British government has spent £53 million to maintain the fiction of the Stormont spy ring. It is the British government that are denying our elected politicians the right to get on with the job they were elected to do. It is a disgrace that £53 million that should be used to make good decisions based on the democratic will of the people here is instead being used to disguise the undemocratic and bad decisions being made by unelected direct rule ministers." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Tourism, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan, has said that the loss of the Belfast to Scotland and the Dublin to Liverpool service will have far reaching consequences for the local tourist industry.
Speaking after a meeting with the management of SeaCat in Stormont today Mr McGuigan said:
" The loss of the SeaCat service will have far reaching consequences for the local tourist industry.
"This service carries 300,000 passengers each year and over 72,000 vehicles each year. This number cannot be met by other existing services. Therefore there will be less people coming to the North. This will impact on the economy locally and the tourist potential in the North. Tourist businesses will be affected and I have already been speaking to tour operators who have lost business.
"The result will be that jobs will be lost and that the potential to develop the tourism industry is weakened. It will also mean less competition which again will impact heavily on consumers." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today welcomed a commitment by Commissioner Marcos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection to tackle mental ill health, with a particular emphasis on suicide. Commissioner Kyprianou has said that tackling mental ill health will be one of his priorities in his term of office.
Speaking from Brussels Ms de Brún said:
"I want to welcome Commissioner Kyprianou's recent remarks around the issue of mental ill health. It is estimated that every year throughout Europe approximately 58,000 lives are lost as a result of suicide or intentional self inflicted injury, with no signs of this figure decreasing in the short term.
"Suicide in Ireland still remains largely a taboo subject even though it accounts for many tragic deaths. A recent report has revealed that one third of deaths in the age group 15 - 24 are a result of suicide. This is an absolutely shocking statistic. In areas such as North and West Belfast the statistics are even more worrying. In these two areas the rate of suicide is as much as 50% higher than average and the people most at risk are our young people.
"In meetings with both Lenadoon Counselling Project and PIPs (Public Initiative for for the Prevention of Suicide) I have heard at first hand the difficulties of those trying to provide help and assistance in this regard.
"Much greater resources are needed to provide support for those experiencing mental ill health and for those at risk from suicide, particularly young people. If real and practical support is forthcoming, then we may begin to address the problem of suicide.
"I hope that Commissioner Kyprianou's welcome commitment will provide new impetus and lead to a practical EU strategy that can address this problem with the seriousness it deserves. I will now contact the Commissioner for further details on how he hopes to move this forward from here.
"At national and local levels, government agencies and employers must invest in services that promote positive mental health and which support people in distress and support the families affected by suicide and self-harm." ENDS
Note to Editor: Bairbre de Brún is a member of the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
A cross Party Delegation accompanied by representatives from Training Organisations will meet with the Department of Employment and Learning on the 19th of January at 11am at Adelaide House, Adelaide Street, Belfast to challenge the Department's decision to end the very successful Worktrack & Learndirect training programmes.
These were programmes aimed at tackling long-term unemployment, by reducing the skills deficit through the enhancement of numeracy, literacy and IT skills.
Commenting upon the meeting Sinn Fein's Spokesperson for Employment & Learning Michael Ferguson said:
"Worktrack has been the most successful programme that has ever been designed, to address long-term unemployment. (54% success rate across the Six Counties).
"Its closure will have long-term consequences not only for the individual unemployed but also for society because it will generate greater intergenerational unemployment that will be more expensive for society to deal with.
"The end of Learndirect will undermine attempts to promote Life Long Learning and contribute to the knowledge based global economy." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has this evening said that "the anguish and hurt caused as a result of the retention of patients' organs without fully informed consent should never be allowed to happen again".
Ms de Brún was speaking as a memorial stained glass window was unveiled at the Belfast City Hall this evening, in memory of those whose organs and tissues were removed without their consent following post mortem examinations.
Speaking from Brussels Ms de Brún said:
"Many people have been touched by the suffering that these families have had to go through over the past few years. Not only did they have to contend with the death of a loved one, but they were subsequently informed that organs had been removed without their consent. The anguish and hurt caused as a result of the retention of patients' organs without fully informed consent should never be allowed to happen again.
"I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the families who have organised this memorial service. My deepest sympathy, and that of my party goes out to all of those who have been affected in this way. I hope that this evening's event will help bring some measure of comfort for the families" ENDS
Dublin South East Sinn Féin representative, Councillor Daithí Doolan has called for the Government to "step in and save the jobs at the Smurfits paper mill in Clonskeagh while at the same time making a valuable contribution fledgling recycling industry."
Cllr Doolan was reacting to news today that the plant is to close after 51 years in operation with the loss of 70 jobs. Over the years the company has provided local employment while playing its part to help the environment by using recycled paper. It is now due to close because the company claims the facility is no longer viable.
Speaking in Dublin today he said:
"Management at the plant have allowed a month for consultation with employee representatives and business partners. The Government must use this month to step in and save the jobs at the Smurfit paper mill in Clonskeagh while at the same time making a valuable contribution to the fledgling recycling industry.
"The lack of a market for recyclables has often been stated as an obstacle to recycling. Central government must intervene to create markets for recyclables. The Minister for Environment, Heritage & Local Government must introduce regulations under existing legislation to require a producer of a product to use recycled materials in the productions of the product, or by limiting the use of virgin material in such production.
"I would call on the Minister apply these regulations, in the first instance, to the use of used newsprint in the production of new newspapers. Creating such specifications will serve to create a market for recyclables therefore create a market for companies such as Smurfits while at the same time saving the state and councils the expense incurred in disposing of this waste.
"The bottom line is that the Government must learn from their mistakes of the past when dealing with companies such as the IGB in Ringsend when they failed to step in and missed the opportunity to save jobs and while at the same time helping the recycling industry." ENDS
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has called for a halt to the practice of cutting annual hospital budgets as a penalty for alleged inefficiency. Commenting on figures released by the Department of Health and Children showing hospitals have had their budgets cut by €7.5 million, Deputy Ó Caoláin said that the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney was "penalising patients and plunging struggling hospitals into further trouble".
Deputy Ó Caoláin pointed out that the North Eastern region (Cos. Cavan, Monaghan, Meath and Louth) had suffered more proportionally than any other region. Budget cuts for hospitals in Monaghan, Cavan, Navan and Drogheda amount to over €1 million. When the extra funding for Louth General Hospital is taken into account the net loss to the hospital services in the region is over €650,000. Describing this as "punitive in the extreme", Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"Minister Harney is effectively punishing patients for the alleged inefficiency of hospitals and plunging struggling hospitals into further trouble. The North East region is suffering more than any other region in proportion to its population. Monaghan General Hospital has seen service after service taken away from it and its budget has now been cut by €368,606. Cavan General Hospital, which has had to cope with the added burden after the closure of the Monaghan maternity and A&E units is to be cut by €346,384.
"The staff working in these hospitals have been heroic in their efforts to cope with the healthcare needs of the region in the face of Government neglect. This has included cuts in services in the region as well as the State-wide shortage of nurses, the under-provision of acute beds and ongoing problems with deployment of consultants. In this context how can it be fair and in the interests of patients to deem certain hospitals inefficient, cut their budgets and award that funding to other - and mostly larger - hospitals?
"This system is more akin to awarding bonuses and penalties to production managers in factories than to a health system and for that reason is much favoured by Minister Harney. It should be scrapped." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on all-Ireland development, West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff has welcomed the announcement of details of an accord between major US and Irish research institutes north and south.
Mr McElduff said:
"Across the island it is vital that we develop deeper links and greater co-operation, particularly economic links and between learning and research centres.
"The signing of this accord on all-Ireland - US research and development links is also important given the precarious nature and unsustainability of the northern economy in the medium to long term and given the worrying trends that are emerging showing a downturn in 6 county R&D expenditure.
"While there has been greater investment by the universities and greater numbers of people employed in R&D in the north there is no escaping the consequences of an overall 6.6% decrease in R&D expenditure.
"The fact that there is a fall of £40 million in R&D within the business sector, particularly within manufacturing should send out a very serious warning to government that there is a sustained drift away from investment in these key areas in R&D. There needs to be a coherent strategic focus on how business is supported and encouraged to invest more in R&D.
"The future economic success of the economy demands that there is greater government led action to ensure that innovation can be developed and fully realised, particularly within indigenous businesses and within the manufacturing sector." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has this morning said that if the European Union is serious about addressing racism then it must "tackle individual, societal and institutional discrimination rather than focussing exclusively on hate symbols".
Ms McDonald made her comments after reports suggested that the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU was planning to begin negotiations on a law to combat racism and xenophobia within the EU.
Speaking from Brussels Ms McDonald said:
"Racial intolerance is all too prevalent within society today. In fact, a recent report by the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI), has clearly shown that within the past six months there has been a worrying upsurge in the reported incidents of racist attacks in Ireland.
"The onus is on each and every one of us, but particularly on public representatives and opinion leaders to work together to find the most effective ways of tackling the rise of racism.
"Reports that suggest that the Luxembourg Presidency of the EU is to begin negotiations on a law to combat racism and xenophobia should be welcomed. However, Sinn Féin believes that that if the European Union is serious about addressing racism then it must tackle individual, societal and institutional racism and discrimination rather than focussing exclusively on hate symbols.
"If only it were a simple matter of banning a hate symbol to effectively address the root causes of racism and xenophobia. But a symbol or insignia is not capable of carrying out a racist attack, it is the person or group who wears or uses such a symbol. Therefore it is about challenging mindsets and speaking out against racism wherever we find it - whether from neighbours or colleagues or powerful policy-makers or the media. It also means ensuring that anti racism legislation is effective and providing adequate resourcing and support for ethnic minority communities and their support groups.
"On this, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the condemnation of racist attacks is not enough. We need to actively work for the removal of racism from our society. I would call upon the EU to pursue a multi-faceted approach to tackling discrimination." ENDS
Sinn Féin Vice President, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that sanctions and the politics of exclusion will not move the peace process forward.
Mr Doherty said:
"Does anyone seriously believe that sanctions, exclusion or discrimination will do anything to move us forward? Of course not.
"Those advocating exclusion are working to their own narrow agendas. They are ignoring the reality that Sinn Fein's right to participation in the political process stems from our substantial electoral mandate. In contrast to Sinn Fein, the British government has no mandate in Ireland and it has no right to sanction or discriminate against those chosen by the Irish electorate to represent them. These are the failed policies of the past.
"Whatever about the current situation the reality is that we will only make progress on the basis of dialogue, inclusivity, negotiation and accommodation." ENDS
Sinn Féin Upper Bann MLA John O Dowd has said a mood of shock has descended over the Co Armagh town of Lurgan at the news of 250 jobs are to be lost in a medical production plant in the town.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"The 250 workers in RUSCHE are not being paid off because there is no market for the product but because the plant owners are moving these jobs to Mexico and Malaysia, where they can use low wages.
"The loyalty of RUCHES workers is of no value to the employers. These 250 jobs will be lost only because of the desire to maximise profits. The Lurgan workers have now been given 3 months notice. Yet it is difficult to see where will they find work in an area, which has already seen its manufacturing industry collapse. ENDS
Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin commenting on the publication of the twenty-fifth annual Review and Prospects for the Economy from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said that it only confirms that urgent action is required to address the East West Divide to stop the ineqaulities widening.
Mr McLaughlin said:
"The patterns of disadvantage and discrimination in policy and investment that have created and maintained the East West Divide are as evident today as at any time since the inception of this state. It is sectarian in nature and has resulted in huge deficits West of the Bann that are compounded by the border.
"It is a damming indictment that despite a clear policy objective of Targeting Social Need (TSN) since the 1990's and a large quantity of evidence highlighting the need to address patterns of disadvantage and discrimination West of the Bann that this divide is getting greater. It is evidence that the commitment to tackle inequality West of the Bann have not been taken seriously by government.
"West of the Bann unemployment is higher, investment in transport infrastructure is lower and there is an almost total local of political will from government to act to address high level of social and economic disadvantage that exists within both the urban and rural centres.
"The huge inequalities that exist cannot be explained by geography. The level of disparity and under development is a direct consequence of the absolute failure of government.
"Unless there is a decision at the heart of government to live up to clear equality commitments and obligations West of the Bann the current pattern of discrimination and disadvantage will of get much worse much faster. We need balanced development urgently. Sinn Féin believe that only within a single all-Ireland framework will balanced development be achieved." ENDS
Sinn Féin has described Tony Blair's decision to grant rate exemptions to Orange Halls while making no such provision for the halls of sporting and cultural organisations across the six counties as discriminatory.
West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty has now written to the Direct Rule Secretary of State Paul Murphy demanding that the rates exemption measure for halls be implemented impartially.
In his letter the West Tyrone MP questions the equality implications of Tony Blair's decision to grant "Rate Exemptions" to Orange and Independent Orange Order Halls following on from Unionist demands at the Leeds Castle Talks.
"We are told that the rates exemption has been granted because Orange Halls fulfil an important social function in the community.
"If this is the criteria for rates exemptions for halls then I believe that a wide range of sporting and cultural organisations, including the GAA, must also now be deemed eligible. Failure to extend this measure would be in breach of equality legislation and undoubtedly lead to legal challenges.
The local MP concluded his letter by demanding that the situation be standardized as soon as possible.
Omagh Sinn Féin Councillor Begley echoed these demands by saying,
"The special dispensation being given to Orange halls is completely unbalanced. It fails to take into account the fact that there is a wide spectrum of sporting and cultural organisations right across the community who are equally if not more deserving of a rates exemption if we are talking about the contribution they make in terms of improving the social fabric of communities on a day-to-day basis.
"This move by Tony Blair to single out Orange Halls for preferential treatment is totally discriminatory. It runs contrary to Section 75 of the Good Friday Agreement and other equality legislation.
"However, the decision to exempt Orange Halls from rates creates a precedent which now opens the door for other groups like the GAA to demand that the same exception criteria be applied to its halls.
" Sinn Féin is determined to pursue this issue and I would encourage all appropriate sporting and cultural organisations to do likewise." ENDS
Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson, Aengus O Snodaigh TD has rejected the proposed national ID card scheme as it has "massive implications for civil liberties and privacy rights on this island."
Speaking in Dublin today he said: "The Minister indicates that he believes that he must introduce compulsory ID cards once the British have done so.
"The Minister says that such ID cards may contain biometric data and other information such as a person's PPS number. He has not indicated what the scope would be of the card's use, or the organisations that could demand its production. This proposal has massive implications for civil liberties and privacy rights on this island. The necessity of this infringement has not been demonstrated, and it should not go ahead.
"Furthermore, the Minister cannot force Irish people to carry national ID cards for the convenience of the British Government. What the Irish Government should be doing is seeking an exemption from this requirement for all those living on the island, and the failure to produce a national ID card must not be allowed to hinder freedom of movement on the island." ENDS
Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson, Aengus O Snodaigh TD has rejected plans for electronic tagging of public order offenders and called for increased resources for probation and welfare.
Speaking in Dublin today he said: "The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, wants to introduce electronic tagging of offenders, initially for public order offenders and first-time offenders. But his claim that this will keep prison numbers down is a total red herring. Public order offenders generally do not receive a custodial sentence under present practices according to research by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, and are a category already at very low risk of re-offending. Indeed the Minister himself previously admitted in the Dáil that the effectiveness of electronic tagging schemes has not been proven.
"I fully agree that many non-violent and minor offenders are needlessly committed to prison in this state, and that this must change, but I do not accept that this scheme represents a viable solution. We know that the ideologically?driven PD Minister is dying to privatise and outsource as many justice system services as possible, despite the lack of proof of cost-savings in this or other jurisdictions. Electronic tagging is nothing more than a costly make-work project for the Government's private sector pals.
"Instead of wasting money on costly gimmicks of dubious value, the Minister should instead address his Government's persistent starving of the Probation and Welfare Service, as recommended by the Auditor General's 2004 report which examined the cost-effectiveness of present prison policy, and the potential cost-savings of a beefed-up Probation and Welfare Service.
"If we really want to both cut the fat out of the prison budget and get tough on crime and repeat offending, what we need is significant investment in crime prevention, community supervision and in restorative alternatives to custody for appropriate offenders." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has called on the Government to clarify if the additional €10 million promised by the Government in Tsunami aid was in fact "new money" or just diverted from elsewhere.
The Dublin South Central TD was responding to reports that the extra €10 million would actually come from the existing Emergency Humanitarian Assistance budget. He also asked for the Government to say how much money had already been provided.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Following the tremendous generosity of the Irish people over the last couple of weeks in terms of donations to the various charities the Government upped it's commitment in aid from €10 million to €20 million. This was a very welcome development.
"It was generally understood that this would be new money. However, it is now being reported that the extra €10 million is to come from the existing Emergency Humanitarian Assistance budget.
"I would call on the Minister responsible to clarify this situation immediately. If it is not in fact additional monies, this would be completely at odds with the spirit of generosity shown by the Irish public.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to call on the Minister to say how much money the State has already provided for humanitarian aid for the victims of the Tsunami." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today called upon the European Union to 'lead by example on the protection and promotion of human, civil and political rights'. Ms McDonald made her comments after a report by Human Rights Watch criticised the EU and its member states for rolling back human rights protections for its citizens.
Speaking from Brussels Ms McDonald said:
"The report by Human Rights Watch confirms what Sinn Féin has been saying consistently in regards to human rights protections by member states. We have consistently argued that present EU policy is focussed upon, and fixated with security to the detriment of freedom, justice and rights.
"We continue to see a rush towards an EU security and surveillance state which is obsessed with gathering data about citizens. Of particular concern are measures such as universal mandatory data retention and the introduction of biometric identifiers on passports, visas and residency permits - and now, potentially, national ID cards if Michael McDowell has his way. We oppose this approach, not only because they are draconian measures, but because they will not make communities or member states any safer.
"According to the findings of the Human Rights Watch report 'regional and national policies and practices have focussed on keeping migrants and asylum seekers out of Europe. Sinn Féin is concerned at the evolution of a 'Fortress Europe' with many member states actively working toward this.
"In the Six Counties, asylum seekers 'lucky' enough to reach our shores are detained in prison facilities whilst their applications are being processed. The practice is immoral and locking asylum seekers in prison is a disgraceful practice, which clearly breaches human rights standards and must be ended. In the 26 Counties the Government continues to detain deportees in overcrowded prison conditions in Cloverhill, despite a recommendation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture that this practice should cease.
"The European Union is quick to criticise the human rights records of nations beyond its own borders when they are perceived to be at fault, therefore it is imperative that the EU leads by example on the protection and promotion of human, civil and political rights." ENDS
Sinn Féin Derry City Councillors Lynn Fleming and Barney O'Hagan accompanied by Mitchel McLaughlin MLA and Director of Elections Gary Fleming are today meeting with Denis Stanley, Chief Electoral Officer and his staff to discuss the possible closure of polling stations in Derry.
Councillor O'Hagan said:
"The Sinn Féin delegation will be meeting with Denis Stanley today to discuss the siting of polling stations in the Derry area. There has been a concern that some of these stations will be closed due to trouble that occurred at the close of polling at the last election.
"Sinn Féin will be opposing any attempt to close these stations and will be reinforcing that message to Mr Stanley
"Sinn Féin believe that the PSNI have been the root cause of the trouble when they arrive to remove the ballot boxes from the stations. The young people in several areas have developed a culture of attacking the PSNI when they arrive at close of polling. By developing alternatives to the PSNI collecting the boxes we believe we can break this cycle of violence.
"There is nothing within the current legislation that states that the PSNI needs to be involved in the polling operation unless summoned by an electoral officer. Sinn Féin will be asking Mr Stanley to explore some of these alternatives so that we can make polling stations accessible to the electorate.
"Any move to make it more difficult for people to access the democratic process can only serve to disenfranchise people. The Electoral Office should consider all solutions that protect the right of people in these areas to vote that protect the democratic process." ENDS