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The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement today launched its Report on the Implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement.

The Committee has been considering the implications of Brexit for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process on the island of Ireland over a series of hearings from September 2016 to date.

The Committee’s report focuses on a number of interlinked areas that directly impact on the Good Friday Agreement. These include: Cross-Border Cooperation, EU Funding, Trade, Free Movement and Security; Constitutional Issues and Reconciliation and Identity.

Some key findings in the report include:

• Brexit should not distract from any of the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement being implemented. It has never been more important that the institutions and principles provided for in the Agreement are respected, protected and promoted.
• The North South Ministerial Council should meet more regularly providing a forum for addressing emerging aspects of the withdrawal process. The EU focus of the North South Ministerial Council’s work will need to be clarified in the course of the negotiations. 
• It is the Committee’s strong recommendation that a solution is sought that allows the PEACE and INTERREG EU funded programmes to continue as they are. The Good Friday Agreement provides a clear pretext for such an arrangement. One solution could include funds continuing to flow to Northern Ireland on a ‘lean to’ basis post-Brexit via Ireland’s EU membership and through the North South Ministerial Council. This option should be explored further under the Government’s planning.
• The free-flowing movement of business, commerce and people across the border must be protected. Any restrictions would be negative and retrograde. 
• Urgent clarity is required on how a ‘seamless and frictionless border’ as referred to by the UK Government might be possible in the scenario of a UK departure from the Single Market and Customs Union. Creative solutions must be employed to ensure that neither cross-border trade nor intercommunity relations suffer unduly.
• No other cross border model can be transposed to Ireland; a tailored solution for Northern Ireland will have to be developed based on geography, relationships, politics and people on this island. 
• It is essential to invest in informal relationships as the formal ones are withdrawn. This should include at civil society level and in upscaling relationships between councils. In this regard, the Committee acknowledges the important role that the All Island Civic Dialogue has played and urges that it continues to be convened throughout the entire Brexit negotiation process and afterwards if required. 
• Issues of reconciliation and identity are not as tangible as economic issues but must be monitored very closely. In this regard, the Committee calls on the Government to commission a detailed study into the potential implications of Brexit for reconciliation which would set benchmarks and provide a tool for measuring the effect of Brexit on the reconciliation process. This would help identify quantitative and qualitative issues which may impinge on reconciliation and stability in detail.

Committee Chair, Kathleen Funchion TD, said, “The Committee recognises the extent to which the unique situation on the island of Ireland in terms of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a hard border has been recognised by the main parties to the negotiations. However, there is no room for complacency.”

“This report, the result of nine months of consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, highlights the very real and serious concerns that businesses, communities, think tanks, local authorities, the retail industry, environmental actors, and those working on peace, justice, human rights and reconciliation have. Those concerns must be heard and acted upon.”

“One particular concern is around the future of EU funding through the Special EU Programmes Body. Since their inception over 20 years ago these programmes have provided almost 3.5 billion euro to projects focusing on issues such as cross border cooperation, peace and reconciliation; infrastructure development, research and innovation. They have benefited hundreds of thousands of people. The scale and importance of these programmes cannot be overstated. A solution for successor programmes must be found. Ireland’s continued EU membership and the role of the North South Ministerial Council must be explored in this regard.”

“There has been much talk of avoiding a hard border – an issue so central to the peace process - yet it remains unclear how that will be achieved if the UK leaves the single market and customs union, which now seems to be a certainty. Clarity is required. The all island economy must not be affected. A tailored solution, taking into account the very unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, is required.”

“The Committee is keen to see a functioning power-sharing Executive return to the North. This is so important in ensuring the North’s voice is heard as the negotiations get underway. Our Committee uniquely invites Northern Ireland MPs to attend Committee meetings where they have speaking rights to engage with stakeholders and contribute to discussions. The Committee intends to travel to the North in the coming weeks to launch the report there.”

“I am particularly pleased that the Minister was at today’s launch – the Committee hopes this is indicative of the Government’s seriousness in its approach to safeguarding the Good Friday Agreement and taking on board the Committee’s findings. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s initial response to this report and we would urge him to take these findings to Brussels and London as he engages with the EU negotiating team, other EU Member States and the British Government.”

The Committee will also be seeking a Dáil debate on this report.

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Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin TD for Sligo, Leitrim, West Cavan and South Donegal Martin Kenny raised the issue of school transport and the application of the “nearest school rule”.

Deputy Kenny said:

“It has a particular impact on families living in rural parishes.  The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy John Halligan, established a group to deal with the issue, but nothing has come of it. 

 “The parish of Gortletteragh is quite large, with 47 townlands.  The school is smack in the middle.  A number of families live on the periphery and are entitled to a school bus service but not to the school in the parish in which they live. 

“They must travel to the next parish.  In fact, some of them have to travel to Drumlish in the next county of Longford, which is totally inappropriate. 

“When the rule was introduced, there was no consideration given to the impact it would have on people living in rural areas. 

“My understanding is that it resulted from a directive or circular from the Department.  Can an addendum be attached to it to recognise the situation in rural parishes?  Everybody knows that people living in rural Ireland have a particular affinity with their parish. 

“The school in Gortletteragh is holding a meeting next Saturday to discuss the issue.  It is a serious problem throughout the country.”

Afterwards, Deputy Kenny said he was disappointed that Minister Richard Bruton told him that any scheme had to be applied uniformly around the country and that a special scheme could not be designed for Leitrim.

“That was not what I was looking for from the Minister. This is a problem in rural areas all over the country and I hoped that some flexibility could be introduced to the matter.” 

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Sinn Féin TD for Waterford David Cullinane announced today that he will be hosting a presentation in Dáil Éireann on the Waterford cardiac care crisis on Tuesday 4th July. 

Deputy Cullinane said:

“This is an opportunity for Oireachtas members from all parties to hear directly from experts. 

“Representatives of the family of Thomas Power will address the meeting. It will also be addressed by regional clinicians and campaign groups.

“The Minister has said a further review will only take place once a mobile lab has been deployed and has run its course.

“This is kicking the can down the road.

“It will not be in place for four months. This means that the next review will not take place until next February at the earliest.

“The Government and the Minister need to understand the urgency of this issue.

“The presentation on 4th July is an opportunity for the minister and Oireachtas members to hear directly from the professionals on the ground and the families who have suffered as a result of the current failed policy.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Social Protection John Brady TD has called on the newly appointed Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty ‘not to continue the blatant disregard her predecessors have had for lone parents.’

Speaking on the publication of the ‘Report on the Position of Lone Parents in Ireland’, Teachta Brady said:

“The Committee on Social Protection have spent a considerable length of time meeting with stakeholders, listening to the experts and listening to lone parents themselves in producing this report with a number of recommendations.

“There has been a consistent failure by previous Ministers for Social Protection to recognise lone parents as a specific cohort of our population who need additional assistance as they raise their families alone.

“While eradicating child poverty is said to be Government’s priority for some time, latest CSO figures on Income & Living Conditions has contradicted this with an increase in consistent poverty among children in lone parent families to 26.2%. This figure is alarming and is evidence that the issues being experienced by lone parents which have led to this rise in consistent poverty are going ignored.

“The Committee have made a wide range of specific and targeted recommendations including, the full restoration of income disregard for those on One Parent Family Payment and Jobseekers Transitional Payment, making Jobseekers Transitional and Family Income Supplement payable together, and increasing the Qualified Child Increase for teenagers.

“The report also recommends a number of measures to remove barriers to accessing education such as making the SUSI grant and the Back to Education Allowance payable together and removing the requirement for lone parents to be unemployed and in receipt of social welfare for 6 months before being able to access educational grants.

“I am calling on Minister Doherty to read the Committee report and to work to implement the recommendations for the benefit of lone parents and their children across the State.” 

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Speaking today after announcing that Sinn Féin will be using its Dáil Private Members’ time next Wednesday to debate its motion to ban the anti-malaria drug Lariam for members’ of the Defence Forces, Sinn Féin TD and Defence spokesperson  Aengus Ó Snodaigh said:

“The refusal of successive governments to provide a safer alternative to Lariam continues to place the health and wellbeing of Irish Defence personnel serving overseas at risk. 

“The Sinn Féin Motion, which has the support of Fianna Fáil and opposition TDs from across the political groupings, would force the Department of Defence to stop administering Lariam and replace it with a safer alternative such as Malarone or Doxcycline.

“It also acknowledges the suffering of military personnel and the fact that many who were prescribed this drug have experienced prolonged psychotic and psychiatric behaviour and suicidal tendencies which has led to the possible death by suicide of a least eleven military personnel in recent years.

“It is inexplicable that, despite the publication of UN guidelines on the dangers of Lariam, Ireland has failed to follow the lead of nearly all the world’s major military powers who have completely banned its use, or prescribe it only as a drug of last resort.  

“The fact that this has not happened shows a worrying level of disregard for Defence Forces personnel and I hope that after next week’s debate, our motion will be passed and that finally, the government will do the right thing and ban this controversial drug and start to address the consequences of having administered it for years.” 

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Sinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams has called on the government to commit to additional funding for the new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy for the years 2017 – 2021 which was published last week by the government.

The Louth TD expressed concern that the new strategy does not include any penalties against those Councils that make no effort to draw down available money for the provision of traveller accommodation.

 Addressing Leo Varadkar on Tuesday in his first Dáil Leaders and Taoiseach’s Questions Gerry Adams said:

“While the recognition of Travellers ethnicity on March 1st was an important symbolic gesture the then Taoiseach, Teachta Kenny pointedly said that it would create no new individual, constitutional or financial rights. The Minister of State Denis Staunton was even more explicit saying that it would have no implications for public expenditure.

 “If these assertions are accurate then we should hold no great expectations from the new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy. Without additional financial resources how can such an inclusion strategy hope to address the many issues, including inequality, poverty, institutionalised discrimination, and homelessness, that Travellers traditionally and currently suffer from?

“In addition, we know that many local authorities have failed to draw down the money available for Traveller sites. There is no penalty included in the new strategy to penalise councils who refuse to do this.

 “We need to know that the government will provide additional funding in Budget 2018 to resource the Inclusion Strategy. It also needs to publish the review of funding for Traveller accommodation that is due to be published this month by the Housing Agency.

 “The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy contains much that will be helpful to both ethnic groups but implementation and funding will be crucial. This is especially important in the context of the levels of disadvantage faced by the Traveller community.

“According to the new Inclusion Strategy Traveller mortality is three and a half times higher than non-Travellers overall while infant mortality is three and a half times higher among Travellers than among the general population.

“The average expected age of a Traveller man is 61.7 compared to 76.8 for the rest of the male population and the figure for women is 70.1 compared to 81.6.

 “The strategy also acknowledges that there is a large disparity between Travellers and non-Travellers in the level of education completed and the ability of Traveller’s to access jobs is largely linked to educational disadvantage.

“The problem is most stark with children. 13% of Traveller children complete second level education compared to 92% in the settled community and the number of Traveller children who progress to third level education represents just 1% of the Traveller community.

“These statistics of inequality and deprivation demand action. The responsibility rests with the government.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Seanad Spokesperson for Education Paul Gavan has called on the government to address the chronic lack of mental health counselling available to students at third-level. 

Speaking in the Seanad earlier today, Senator Gavan said:

“There is a crisis in counselling services at third-level. Yesterday, I met with the USI and one representative informed me of a college in Dublin which had only one mental health counsellor, despite a campus of 12,000 students. 

“There is evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, that students are suffering each year from severe periods of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and substance abuse. This is supported by the HSE's vision for change document which states that 75% of all mental health issues first emerge between the ages of 15 and 25. 

“The provision of counselling services by the state has not kept pace with the expansion of third level student numbers, and right now students are typically waiting up to six weeks to be seen. If you personally have a crisis in mental health, you need to be seen sooner than 6 weeks; at that very vulnerable stage in your life, that sort of waiting time could be fatal.

“The psychological counsellors in higher education report has stated that there is a link between their clients mental health and the negative impact their conditions has upon their studies. Students are not being supported by this state and we are all the worse off for it.

“There is a crisis here and I would request that the recently appointed Super Junior Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, to come into this chamber to debate the issue.” 

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Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy says the EU Competition Commissioner had thrown doubt over a proposed merger of Dawn Meats and Dunbia.

Speaking from Brussels following the hearing in the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, Carthy said:

“On Friday negotiating parties for the Dawn Meats/DunbiaMerger officially notified their intentions to swallow up remaining scraps of the processing market to competition authorities.  

“Unfortunately, the Commission hasn’t set a very reassuring precedent when it comes to reigning in this complete usurpation of the meat processing market by these top actors. 

“Last year Competition authorities spent a mere five weeks assessing the impact of the ABP/Slaney merger before authorising it.

"It is wholly inadequate to expect that a full picture of the bargaining position of Irish farmers could be deemed to be assessed in such a short period of time.  

“At the time, it was argued that this merger was “needed” in order to compete on international markets.

"If farmers were to follow this line of reasoning then it would seem a done deal that the Dawn Meats/Dunbia merger would be approved. 

“In response to my questioning today however the Commissioner threw doubt on this latest merger, which would see over 50% the national cattle kill in Ireland controlled by two processing giants and price setters.

“I urged the Commissioner to stop and look at the effect these mergers were having on farmers’ incomes and bargaining position.

"It is important that the Commission takes a much stronger position on what is happening in this sector before all independent processors are forced out of the market.

"The fact that the controllers of these companies are pocketing upwards on three quarters of a million euro in Direct Payments, means that farmers have every reason to be suspicious of the prices they are being offered.  

“Commissioner Vestager said that the starting point for assessing the Dunbia/Dawn Meats merger would be the situation the ABP Slaney merger had created.

"She assured me that her assessment would assess the dangers of a duopoly effect in the Irish situation and that the prices farmers would be get as a result.

“Although this is promising, the effects of Brexit put Irish farmers in a precarious situation.

"The Commission appears to be ready to assess mergers in an EU context, while the reality is that Irish farmers operate in a geographically peripheral context.

"If the Commission is not prepared to assess the Irish situation through a special lens, then we need to look at reforming the way these mergers are authorised.”

 

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Maurice Quinlivan TD, today criticised the level of staffing at the main state jobs agencies, particularly in this post-Brexit era. Figures released to Deputy Quinlivan show that staffing levels at the three main jobs agencies have fallen significantly over the past decade. 

Speaking from Leinster House today, Teachta Quinlivan said;

“These figures released to me in response to a Parliamentary Question shows that, Enterprise Ireland have lost 273 staff since 2007, the IDA has 33 less staff than it did in 2008 and InterTradeIreland has its lowest level of staffing in the past decade, despite the huge challenges Brexit is posing for companies and jobs in the border region. 

“These figures are disgraceful. These are the agencies on the front line of assisting businesses in this post Brexit era, and they simply do not have the staffing to meet this challenge. 

“Enterprise Ireland is tasked with assisting businesses diversify their markets to reduce reliance on Britain, how can they do this effectively, in addition to their other work, while having their staff reduced by 32% over the past decade?

“A recent survey from InterTradeIreland shows that 98% of businesses have no plan in place to deal with Brexit. Having this level of unpreparedness for Brexit, one year on from the vote, is totally unacceptable. InterTradeIreland has only 33 current staff, 14 below 2011 levels and less staff than it had in 2016, despite the vote for Brexit. 

“In addition to the low levels of staffing, a large number of posts remained unfilled in these bodies. Enterprise Ireland has a huge number of current vacancies; 81, 45 based in Ireland and 36 based abroad. The IDA currently has 24 vacancies. 

“These agencies and their staff all do a fantastic job in creating employment and assisting businesses, but they can only do so much with what they are given.

“Sinn Féin put down an amended motion in the Dáil today, containing a call for more resources to be made available to Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and InterTradeIreland. This motion was defeated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. 

“We will continue to press the Minister for more staffing and resources for these agencies to ensure that SMEs and exporters get the assistance they need in sustaining and growing their enterprises.” 

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has said he is “disappointed, but not surprised” that the government failed to meet its own deadline to end the use of emergency hotel accommodation for homeless families. 

Deputy Ó Broin said: 

“Minister Eoghan Murphy confirmed today what Sinn Féin has being saying for months, that the government will not meet its deadline to ensure that all homeless families would be out of hotel accommodation by the first of July.

“Sinn Féin is on the record stating that the former Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had not been forthcoming with any updates on how he planned to reach his target. When we discovered that family hubs were being introduced, it became clear that the government knew that it would not meet its deadline. 

“Not enough is being done in order to bring enough social housing on-stream. Central government needs to provide enough funding to buy, refurbish, and build more houses.” 

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has said data he has received through a Freedom of Information shows that Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) which are buying up huge amounts of housing that are paying only a tiny percentage of tax are 85% foreign owned.

Deputy Doherty said: 

“It is a scandal that foreign investors in REITs earned €238 million in profits from their Irish property holdings in 2015, but in the same year, these investors only paid €5.27 million tax to the State, an effective tax rate of 2%.

“Foreign investors in REITs are not taxed on their property rental income or capital gains upon the disposal of properties held within a REIT.

“There is no doubt that these funds are driving up house prices at time when supply is at critically low levels. Recent CSO data shows non-household buyers (a large component of which is REITs, QIAIFs & ICAVs) purchased more homes than first time buyers in the first four months of this year.

“In the first four months of this year, they accounted for 62% of new home purchases in Dublin and 44% of new home purchases nationally.  They are buying up what little housing stock is becoming available. 

“These funds are in direct competition with first time buyers and families seeking a move yet they are a huge advantage because of this government tax policy decision. 

“The only tax paid by foreign REIT shareholders is Dividend Withholding Tax (DWT), when dividends are paid to them. The rates of DWT for foreign investors vary from 20% to 15% to 0%.   

“The Department of Finance’s assertion that these REITs minimal taxation is down to a timing issue does not stack up, given that the majority of the value of REIT dividends for 2015 were paid in 2015.

“You can see in their 2015 accounts the three REITs proposed dividends of €29 million in relation to their respective 2015 year ends and actually paid dividends worth €23.8 million during the course of 2015. 

“The €5.2 million, which was not paid in 2015, translates to €1 million at most in extra taxation, when a 20% Dividend Withholding Tax is applied. This is not going to change the fact that these REITs are a gigantic tax dodge, as even with this €1 million included, it only brings their effective tax rate to 3% for 2015.

“Furthermore, foreign investors are not liable to Capital Gains Tax on the disposal of REIT shares, this means that the proportion of the annual uplift in the valuation of REITs properties held by foreign investors, seen in REIT accounts as ‘Revaluation of Investment Properties’, is outside of the Capital Gains Tax net, given that there is also no CGT when property is disposed when held within a REIT, the potential loss of CGT is huge.   

“Given that we now know from this FOI that the proportion of foreign ownership of REITs is 85% and these three REITs now own Irish property valued at €2.6 billion, with 85% of REITs owned by foreign investors who made €238 million profit per accounts in 2015 and only paid €5.27 million in tax. 

“The Government need to immediately act to change its tax policy to level the playing field for ordinary people who are being priced out of the market by billion euro funds which are getting massive tax breaks from the State. 

“The Government need to introduce a minimum Dividend Withholding Tax Rate of 25% on dividends from REITs and abolish the CGT exemption for foreign investors on their REIT shares.” 

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has strongly criticised the government’s lack of preparedness for the impact of Brexit on Ireland and expressed his disappointment regarding the Taoiseach’s shift of position in relation to status of the North in the wake of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Teachta Doherty made the comments during Leaders’ Questions today and he cited the latest ESRI report which warns of a €600 million reduction in the government’s spending ability in the event of a hard Brexit.

Deputy Doherty said;

“There is no indicator that the government has grasped the magnitude of the economic, social, and political threat arising from Brexit.

“This reality is underscored by the warning delivered by the ESRI today.

“Its latest report states that a hard Brexit will reduce the state’s spending ability by €200 million per year for the first three years following Brexit.

“It could cost us 49,000 jobs.

“That means €600 million less for the government to spend on ending the crises in our public services.

“Just 1 in 20 firms has a plan in place to deal with a potential customs Border with the North following the Brexit vote.

“The Taoiseach is attending his first European Council meeting today.

“The people deserve to know which Leo Varadkar is attending and what position he is advocating.

“Is it the tough-talking Leo Varadkar who, during the Fine Gael election contest, promised to campaign to ensure that the North remains with the Customs Union, the Single Market and that there would be no economic border on the island of Ireland?

“Or is it the weak Leo Varadkar who, after one meeting with Theresa May in Downing Street, became over-awed, and emerged talking about an ‘invisible border’.

“If the North is dragged out of the Customs Union by the Tory government, that means an economic border on our island.

“The government must be clear.

“Is its position for the North to remain in the Customs Union and for no economic border to be imposed on the island of Ireland or is it now acquiescing to the complete opposite?” 

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Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile today questioned the Minister for Justice about the potential for amending the 2004 Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act in order to take into consideration the specific needs of new communities in the North whose status is uncertain as a result of Brexit.

Speaking after his Commencement Debate on the matter this morning, Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile said;

“The decision taken in Britain to drag the North out of the EU against our will has created huge uncertainty in many areas of life in this country and throughout Britain and Europe.

“One area which has been overlooked in the cut and thrust of the debate so far has been the status of those from ethnic minorities who live in the north.

“As a result of Brexit, the uncertainty in their residential status is particularly pronounced and adds extra pressure on a vulnerable section of people living in Ireland. This uncertainty is particularly pronounced although not exclusively, within non-EU citizens who are long-time residents in the North.

“The current arrangements that would see non-Irish or non-EU citizens resident in the North qualify for Irish citizenship and passports is often costly and complex.

“Many of our ethnic minority communities have been resident in Ireland for a long number of years, many of them have children born and reared here and they identify as Irish; they have built business and help secure our peace and reconciliations process. They deserve equality in accessing their Irish citizenship.

“Since Brexit, I have met the representatives of the ethnic minorities in the north on a number of occasions to discuss their concerns. I appreciate the Minister engaging on this issue today also and also committing to engaging with me further.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Public Expenditure and Reform David Cullinane today welcomed the acceptance of his amendments to make the new shared services office answerable to the Public Accounts Committee. 

Deputy Cullinane said:

“Today, a Bill to establish that shared services office was before the Committee and I tabled a number of amendments to ensure that proper public oversight would be in place.

“The shared services offices, once established, will have significant power in the issuing of public procurement contracts.

“It is vitally important that those who spend public funds, in whatever manner, are answerable to the Oireachtas, not just the Minister.

“Public trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. Either we recognise this and work to build it up again or we abdicate our responsibilities as legislators and feed the apathy.

“The government had initially excluded this new office from the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee.

“This was unacceptable to me and so I tabled a number of amendments to address this issue.

“I am happy to say my amendments were accepted and the national shared services office, once established, will now be fully answerable to the Public Accounts Committee.

“Another of my amendments, which would have seen the pay of board members subject to review by the finance committee, was rejected by the government.

“I will be resubmitting this again at report stage as we have had too many scandals involving pay and allowances above and beyond ministerial guidelines to simply ignore the issue.

“Overall, we need more openness and transparency in our public sector and I will continue to work towards that goal.” 

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has this morning published Sinn Féin's submission to the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy on the vacant homes strategy. The submission outlines how up to 36,000 vacant units can be brought into use through a range of measures. Some of these initiatives include a statutory vacant homes register, a vacant homes tax and encouraging greater use of compulsory purchase orders, and the appointment of vacant homes officers.

Speaking after the launch, Deputy Ó Broin said:

“The CSO statistics have told us that there are currently 183,000 vacant homes across the state. The three government schemes currently in place aimed at bringing vacant units back into use are good schemes but are not ambitious enough and are inadequately funded. In fact, combined they would only bring 3% of the total vacant stock back into use in six years. 

“Our strategy would aim to return to active use a minimum of 20% of the current vacant stock, 36,000 units, over a period of six years, delivering approx. 6,000 units per year. The funding for this would come from within the capital funding allocation as outlined in government’s housing action plan.

“To help reach this target, local authorities should be instructed to complete a vacant home register which should include all properties that have been vacant for six months or more. The appointment of vacant homes officers would help to oversee the register and would also engage with vacant home owners.

“Sinn Féin is of the view that in order to maximise the return of vacant units to active use we need incentives for those who require assistance to bring these units back to use and penalties for those who wilfully leave properties empty. The government should introduce a vacant homes tax applicable to properties vacant for more than six months within DEDs or LEAs determined by local authorities as having a high level of housing need and a high level of vacancy. This would be subject to certain exemptions including homes in probate and in the Fair Deal scheme. 

“We have submitted our proposals to the Department of Housing and I hope they will inform the government’s long –awaited vacant homes strategy. We are in the midst of a supply and affordability crisis and turning around vacant units is the quickest and most cost effective way of providing more homes.” 

Note: Please see attached the document in question 

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Sinn Féin is to nominate Cllr Mícheál Mac Donncha for the position of Ardmhéara (Lord Mayor) of Dublin at the City Council Annual Meeting next Monday 26 June.

Confirming the nomination the leader of the Sinn Féin group on the City Council, Cllr. Séamus McGrattan said: 

"Under the City Alliance agreement between Sinn Féin, the Independents group, the Labour Party and the Green Party, Sinn Féin holds the Ardmhéara position in 2017/2018 while the Labour Party holds the Deputy Lord Mayorship. 

"We will be nominating Cllr. Micheál Mac Donncha for Ardmhéara. Micheál has been a member of Dublin City Council since 2011 and before that he served for 17 years as Dáil Assistant to Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. We look forward to Mícheál continuing the great work of the first Sinn Féin Ardmhéara, Críona Ní Dhálaigh in 2015/2016."

ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for Meath West, Peadar Tóibín has said that there is the chronic understaffing of mental health services for children and teenagers in Meath.

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health CAMHS teams, which come under the auspices of the HSE in the Meath and Midlands region, have just over half of the staff they need to fulfil their duties.

An Teachta Tóibín said:

“Community teams for child and mental health services are desperately short of staff. The Community Health Organisation Area which contains Meath, has only 57% of the necessary staff in this area.

“This information, released to my colleague Deputy Louise O’ Reilly by the HSE, is very distressing. It comes only days after a Unicef report highlighted that Ireland has the fourth highest teen suicide rate the in the EU.

“There is not a community in the area that hasn’t been affected by the tragedy of teen suicide. Yet it’s clear that the government are unequipped to tackle this devastating problem. Nationwide the picture is similarly bleak with 583 posts in the CAMHS services unfilled.

“A Vision for Change, published eleven years ago, was seen as the elixir for the mental health services and became government policy. However, the progressive proposals are not being implemented – owing partly to a broader problem of recruitment and retention of nurses, doctors, and other healthcare staff.

“Young people, families and communities are being failed. We are calling on the government to resolve staff recruitment and retention issues and to tackle key issues such as working conditions, facilities, supports, training opportunities, and pay as a matter of urgency.” 

Note: Please see the PQ information in question attached

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for the Arts Peadar Tóibín TD has expressed his disappointment at Minister Heather Humphreys and the lack of oversight regarding access to the arts for people with disabilities.

In response to a parliamentary question the Deputy put to the Minister, the Minister has said that there has been no audit of state institutions in receipt of public funding to measure their levels of access to arts audiences and practitioners with disabilities.

Deputy Tóibín said: 

“We are disappointed that the Minister for outsourcing her own responsibilities. She is the head of the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht and despite all her effusive claims to support the arts, the rights of arts access for those with disabilities is not being monitored by the department.  

“The Minister has said that the Arts Council policy is due to be reviewed and that an audit of this nature is a ‘matter for the Arts Council to consider in the context of its policy’. Surely the Minister must have some influence on whether or not the rights of those with disabilities are being considered in this regard?

“According to the latest census, 13.5% of the population have a disability. That is approximately 600,000 people who are potentially affected from being able to engage with and enjoy the arts with no mechanisms in place to ensure that access levels are adequate.

“There are many easy ways for venues to improve access to the arts, and many venues do indeed offer excellent facilities. However I am concerned by the fact that state funded institutions and organisations simply are not being assessed, and even more concerned by the ease with which the Minister can dismiss her own responsibilities in this regard.” 

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Sinn Féin TD and spokesperson on Education and Skills Carol Nolan has today said that the School Admissions Bill must protect the rights of all children to receive an education. Teachta Nolan was speaking following the Committee’s report on the Bill and as the deadline for amendments passes this morning.

Teachta Nolan said:

“The right of all children to receive an education on an equal basis is our primary focus in determining our approach to this Bill.

“I, along with a number of colleagues on the Oireachtas Committee, fought hard to ensure that recommendations on the Baptism Barrier, the rights of children with special educational needs, and the rights of native Irish speakers were included in the Committee’s report on this Bill.

“I have submitted a number of amendments to the Bill including one to prohibit publicly funded schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their religious beliefs.

“I have also sought to extend statutory powers to the National Council for Special Education to establish an autism or special class where there is local demand.

“In terms of native Irish language speakers, I have sought to ensure that those who are brought up through the medium of Irish at home will retain the right to access education through the medium of Irish.

“I hope that my colleagues on the Education Committee will work with me to help ensure that this bill enhances the rights of children to receive their education.

“I also hope that the Minister will consider the recommendations of the Committee Report and use this opportunity to reflect these views in the Bill.” 

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Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has stated that the provision of 24/7 Cardiac Care is a human rights issue and that the Government may be in breach of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Liadh Ní Riada said:

"The lack of 24/7 Cardiac Care has been brought back into sharp focus following the sad and untimely death of a 38 year old man last weekend whilst being transported to Cork University Hospital following a cardiac arrest.

"I would like to extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased and commend them on their courage in speaking out at this difficult time. 

"The European Charter of Fundamental Rights states that 'everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment under the conditions established by national laws and practices. A high level of human health protection shall be ensured in the definition and implementation of all Union policies and activities.'

"While other parts of the country have access to 24/7 cardiac care, the people of the South East are expected to make do with an office-hours service. This is totally unacceptable. 

"Almost 600,000 people are affected by the lack of 24/7 cardiac care across the South East region. The most recent Herity report on cardiac care was deeply flawed and totally miscalculated the total number of citizens affected by the lack of this vital lifesaving service”.

“Following this tragedy, it has now been proven that this issue is a matter of life and death. I have attended public protests, lobbied the authorities with my constituency colleague David Cullinane TD. 

Today I have posed a simple and clear question to both the European Commission and the European Council: is the Government in breach of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights by its failure to provide the same level of cardiac care to patients in the South East as it does in other parts of the country?"

“The people of the South East cannot wait for another tragedy. One death is too many and this urgent service needs to be put in place without delay”.

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