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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has welcomed confirmation from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) that an island wide approach will be taken to tackle Schmallenberg virus.

The party’s rural affairs spokesperson:

“As of 14 February 2018, 12 cases of Schmallenberg virus, all in sheep have been confirmed by Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

“As Schmallenberg virus is not a notifiable disease under the World Organisation for Animal Health disease listing the Department, is not required to introduce movement restrictions or additional controls and currently there is no treatment for the virus, but commercial vaccines to safeguard against it are available for use in cattle and sheep.

“I had written to the Permanent Secretary of DAERA seeking assurances that all necessary steps are being taken by the Department to address this issue. I am pleased that they have confirmed that they are working alongside their counterparts in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) to jointly tackle Schmallenberg virus on an island wide basis.

“I would urge Farmers be vigilant through the lambing and calving period. It is very important that, if producers encounter lambs or calves with deformities, they contact their vets so post-mortem examination can be carried out to establish whether Schmallenberg virus is the cause.

“Advice is available on the Department’s website on dealing with the Schmallenberg virus, which recommends that livestock owners contact their Private Veterinary Practitioner if they suspect the presence of the disease in their cattle or sheep.” 

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Sinn Féin’s rural affairs spokesperson Declan McAleer has said that Brexit will be disastrous for agribusiness and all steps must be taken to keep farmers farming. 

The West Tyrone MLA was addressing a panel discussion on the impact of Brexit at an Agri-business conference organised by agendaNI in conjunction with Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council and Food Heartland. 

He said: “I made a strong case at the conference that the north voted to remain and should get special EU status to reflect this democratic mandate.  The free movement of goods, services and people is absolutely critical in the agri food industry which relies on workers from other EU countries. 

“The agrifood business, which has an island wide trade of £1.3billion per year is highly integrated across the island.  There are 142 areas of north/south co-operation, underpinned by the ‘All Island Animal Health and Welfare Strategy’.  To unravel this would be a complete disaster for the industry and undermine the tremendous progress that been achieved in making Ireland a world leader for high quality, traceable and tasty food. 

“The argument that Brexit will open up a larger British market for our producers is overly simplistic and laden with danger.  Firstly, even though Britain is not self-sustainable, it still exports around £18 billion of agri-produce per year. 

“A proportion of this will invariably find its way into the home market and combined with the Tories intention to pursue a cheap food policy by entering into trade deals with countries outside of the EU, will create huge market disturbance and put even greater pressure on farmers who will be forced to compete against lower standard, cheaper imports.    

“Sinn Féin recognises this and is advancing the case at all levels that the north should secure special status.  We strongly believe that farmers basic payments should be retained and in light of the seismic market disturbance that Brexit will create we believe that Article 19 of the Common Market Organisation Regulation should be triggered to create a fund to support farmers.  It is vital that all steps are taken to ‘keep farmers farming’.   

“I am both frustrated and intrigued at the Tories and their DUP cheerleaders telling us that Brexit can usher in opportunities for the industry.  I have yet to hear them spell out precisely what the benefits are of extricating us from our nearest neighbours and the largest trading bloc in the world. 

“The reality is that Theresa May and the Tories/DUP Brexiteers are driving us towards the Brexit cliff edge and unless we secure special status with access to the single market within the customs union they will bring the industry down with them.    

“There is too much at stake.  The north needs special status and Sinn Féin will continue to lead the campaign to secure this.”

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All-Ireland connectivity must be enhanced in order to maximise our economic potential, Sinn Féin’s Sean Lynch has told a major policy conference on transport infrastructure.

 

Addressing the ‘Priorities for Transport Infrastructure’ seminar in Belfast today, the party’s transport spokesperson said: “It is essential that we consider our connectivity on an All-Ireland basis. It is simply unacceptable that we do not have a Belfast-Dublin service which arrives in Dublin before 9am. The lack of this service acts a barrier to people who would consider using the Enterprise who have a 9am meeting in Dublin.

“We also cannot discuss transport without reflecting on our roads network and making sure we have strong island-wide infrastructure in place. That is why the A5 and A6 are of such strategic importance in terms of connectivity and growth.”

The Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA added: “Our roads are a vital asset and it is important that we must maintain our roads network and prioritise winter safety measures particularly in rural areas.

“We should also consider the benefits of Active Travel. Cycling is definitely on the rise and with the Greenway Project set to take off we should be asking how can we shape our existing transport infrastructure around this.”

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has written to the Ceann Comhairle calling on him to ensure that the Taoiseach and Minister for Housing correct the record of the Dáil. The government pair misled the House when answering questions on the National Planning Framework (NPF) last week.

Deputy Ó Broin said:

“I wrote to the Ceann Comhairle yesterday to draw attention to the comments made by both the Taoiseach and Minister for Housing last week on the NPF which I believe were designed to deliberately mislead the House.

“The Taoiseach and Minister for Housing both claimed at different stages that (a) no vote was required on the NPF and (b) the vote of October 3 2017 satisfied the ‘approval’ requirement of the relevant legislation.

“The legislation referred to is currently going through the house and Part 3, Section 8, 20(c)(8) of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 (No 1 of 2016) clearly states that:

The Government shall submit the draft of the revised or new National Planning Framework, together with the Environmental Report and Appropriate Assessment Report for the approval of each House of the Oireachtas before it is published.

“The 'vote' that the Taoiseach and Minister Murphy keep referring to as having satisfied this requirement was a vote on motion requesting the Joint Committee on Housing Planning and Local Government to make a submission on behalf of both Houses as part of the public consultation.

“They are both incorrect when they assert that Oireachtas approval was sought and acquired.

“I believe on two consecutive days last week both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing deliberately misled the Dáil when they were questioned on the legal status of the NPF  in order to justify avoiding an Oireachtas vote which is a clear requirement of the legislation."

ENDS//

Note: Please see text of email sent to Ceann Comhairle 

Sean a chara,

I am mailing to draw your attention to comments made by both the Taoiseach and Minister for Housing last week which I believe were designed to deliberately mislead the House.

On Wednesday 14 February during Leaders Questions from Pearse Doherty and Brendan Howlin on the issue of the statutory basis for the National Planning Framework Leo Varadkar said:

The TaoiseachThe way legislation works is that it has to pass through both Houses of the Oireachtas and then be signed by the President before it becomes law. Legislation in the Seanad is not the law. There is no requirement that either the national planning framework or the ten-year infrastructure investment plan be subject to a vote of either House.

The TaoiseachWe got held up with other issues. The legislation the Deputy refers to does not say the final plan has to be approved by the Houses of the Oireachtas. What it says is that Government shall submit the draft of the revised or new national planning framework together with the environmental report and appropriate assessment report for the approval of each House of the Oireachtas before it is published.

The TaoiseachIrrespective of the legislation, which has not yet passed through these Houses, becoming law or being signed by the President, the national planning framework will automatically go onto a statutory footing as a consequence of the fact that the draft motion was adopted in November.

The TaoiseachThe planning framework will be on a statutory footing and that is one of the ways it will be different from the national spatial strategy. It was brought to this House and there was a vote on the draft in November.

On  Thursday 15 February during Promised Legislation Deputy Pearse Doherty and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy had the following exchange on the same issue:

Minister for HousingPlanning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): The Taoiseach yesterday made the process involved clear. The legislation which has not yet been enacted and the spirit of which we have followed provides for consultation with the Oireachtas on the draft of the document.

Deputy Pearse DohertyApproval.

Deputy Eoghan MurphyThat happened in November last year. The legislation also allows for consideration by the Government of the outcome of the consultation process before presenting the final document. The legislation is not yet in place, but we have followed the spirit of it. The draft legislation does not envisage the Oireachtas having a final say on the document.

Deputy Pearse DohertyThe Minister has misled the House. As he knows, the legislation does not talk about consultation but about approval by both Houses. It is disappointing that he has decided to do what the Taoiseach did in response to our questions.

The TánaisteIt was a draft.

Deputy Pearse DohertyThe Minister should acknowledge that he has misled the House.

The mechanism for providing a statutory underpinning for the National Planning Framework is set out in Part 3, Section 8, 20(c)(8) of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 (No 1 of 2016). 

This section states: 

The Government shall submit the draft of the revised or new National Planning Framework, together with the Environmental Report and Appropriate Assessment Report for the approval of each House of the Oireachtas before it is published.

A draft of the National Planning Framework was laid before the Oireachtas for debate in October and a motion was adopted by both houses on October 3rd. The motion did not approve the draft of the NPF as required by the legislation. Rather as detailed below it requested the Joint Committee on Housing Planning and Local Government to make a submission on behalf of both Houses as part of the public consultation.

requests the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government to collate and submit any observations or recommendations during this final consultation by the Government, with the approval of the Committee on behalf of both Houses of the Oireachtas for the proposed strategy of the National Planning Framework.

The Taosieach’s claim that there is no requirement for a vote on the National Planning Framework is contradicted by the requirement of Section 20(c)(8) of the Planning and Development Bill 2016 for Oireachtas approval of the Draft prior to publication.

The Taoiseach’s claim that this requirement was satisfied by the October 3 2017 resolution is contradicted by the text of the motion which does not constitute ‘approval’ of the draft framework by’approval’ of a submission by the Committee on behalf of both Houses.

The Minister for Housing’s claim that the November vote, which I presume refers to the October 3 vote, satisfied the ‘approval’ requirement of Section 20(c)(8) of the Bill is likewise contradicted by the text of the motion passed by both Houses.

On this basis I believe that both the Taoiseach and Minister for Housing knowingly and deliberately misled the House last week by claiming that (a) that not vote was required on the NPF and (b) that the vote of October 3 2017 satisfied the ‘approval’ requirement of the relevant legislation.

I am of the view that the clear intention of the legislation, drafted at a time when the Government had an overall majority, was for the final draft to be put for a vote to both of the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval prior to publication. 

However the changed political circumstances of the Oireachtas since the last general election has led the Government to avoid an Oireachtas vote on the matter contrary to the requirement of the legislation.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of this decision it does not provide any justification for the Taoiseach or Minister for Housing to deliberately mislead the House on the matter and on those grounds I am asking that you use your position as Ceann Comhairle to have the Taoiseach and Minister correct the record of the House.

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 Reacting to Minister Halligan’s announcement of an Irish space strategy today Lynn Boylan has condemned the Minister’s support for the arms industry.

 Ms. Boylan said;

"Not only has Minister Halligan announced a space strategy that will see the Irish state giving public money to multinational arms companies under the guise of space exploration but he announced the strategy from the headquarters of one of Ireland’s largest arms companies. Innalabs’

"While announcing the space strategy Halligan praised several companies which are involved in the production of navigational systems and other components, used in drones, missiles, and other weapons systems.

"Ireland cannot claim to be a neutral nation if the government is funding the development of arms companies who profit from the imperialist actions of NATO and produce parts for weapons systems used to spread death and destruction around the world. 

"Minister Halligan seems to be completely unaware of the overlap between space exploration technologies and the arms industry, the fact is that the companies likely to benefit from this space strategy are ones who produce dual use military goods which are marketed as military products at arms fairs around the world.

"It is clear that the Minister has not bothered to take the necessary steps to ensure that the space strategy does not benefit arms companies. In fact, it is clear that Minister Halligan is not even aware of the scale of the Irish arms trade. Before announcing any space strategy the Minister needs to ensure that no company profiting of war and death receives public funding."

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Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Deputy Louise O’Reilly has said that it is a disgrace that child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) still have barely half the necessary staff despite the issue being raised with Minister Harris last June.

Speaking this morning, Deputy O’Reilly said:   

“Last June I submitted a number of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Health given the worrying developments regarding bed closures are at the Linn Dara child and adolescent mental health centre and reports from a number of parents in Fingal that CAMHS teams were drastically understaffed in the area.

“The responses I got from the Minister for Health and the HSE were extremely worrying. At that time CAMHS teams were operating with just 53% of the staff necessary under a ‘A Vision for Change’,  the strategy document which sets out the direction for Mental Health Services in Ireland. 

“A lot of talk followed about addressing these shortfalls, especially after the Seanad Public Consultation Committee Report on Children’s Mental Health Services found that the increase in mental health problems and in child population had not been matched by an increase in services. 

“Therefore, it was shocking to learn that by December 2017 the HSE responded to a PQ outlining how the staffing levels for CAMHS has only increased by 3.1% to 56.1% of the total staff needed.

“Only a number of days ago the Children’s Rights Alliance revealed that nearly 7,000 children under the age of 17 were waiting for a community based psychology appointment at the end of last July — with one third of those waiting for more than a year. 

“It is impossible for these children to get the help they need when “A Vision for Change” recommends that youth mental health services be fully staffed at 1,047 whole time equivalent staff, yet as of December CAMHS teams had just 587 whole time equivalent doctors and nurses. 

“That this is happening at a time when we are more aware than ever of the complexities and difficulties for people, particularly the young, who suffer with their mental health further compounds this state of affairs."

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Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called on MEPs and national parliamentarians from across the EU to work together to pressure the Commission and the Council to improve public transparency and accountability. Carthy was addressing MEPs and representatives from the Commission and national parliaments at a conference on the European Semester in Brussels on Monday.

Addressing the representatives, Carthy said: “All of us who were members of the European Parliament's Panama Papers inquiry into corporate tax avoidance experienced the obstacles put up by the Commission and the Council when it came to MEPs having access to relevant documents, particularly from the Council’s Code of Conduct group on tax issues.

“Time and time again we were met with stalling, foot-dragging and redactions. There is a real sense of frustration among MEPs about this as these obstacles keep us from doing our job of representing our constituents effectively.

“It’s not only the PANA committee that has experienced this problem. MEPs working on dangerous EU trade deals such as CETA, TTIP & Mercosur, on environmental regulation – on practically all of our work as legislators – have experienced this secrecy in the institutions.

“No doubt many will have noted the results of the EU Ombudsman’s report last week calling for the Council to record the positions taken by the Member States and ensure these and the documents used to prepare for the Council meetings are made public.  It is wholly unacceptable, for example, that the Irish government continues to take positions behind closed doors at an EU level that the Irish people are not informed of.

“I’m glad to see that the new special committee in the European Parliament being established to continue the work of the Panama Papers inquiry committee will pay special attention to the Commission and Council’s  process of screening and selection for the EU’s tax haven blacklist and list of high-risk third countries under the Anti Money Laundering Directive.

“The members of the national parliaments here have a major role to play in assisting in the push for more transparency and accountability in the decision-making process. The national representatives obviously need to hold their governments to account in terms of the positions they take in the Council and it seems as though there is room for more collaboration between MEPs and national MPs on this issue.”

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Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD,  party Vice President Michelle O’Neill MLA and Conor Murphy MLA  met tonight with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste  Simon Coveney to discuss the DUP’s decision to collapse the talks process in the North.

Speaking following the meeting Mary Lou McDonald said:

“Over the past 13 months, Sinn Féin has been engaged in negotiations to implement previous agreements, secure the rights of citizens and re-establish the power sharing Executive on the basis of equality and respect.

“We reached a draft agreement with the DUP leadership. We were disappointed that the DUP walked away from that draft agreement and ended the talks process.

“We cannot allow a political vacuum to develop or tolerate the continued denial of rights of citizens. The talks process has been collapsed.  Direct rule is not an option.  The two governments must now act.

“The Good Friday Agreement provides for a British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to reflect the co-equal and co-guarantor status of the two governments.

“The two governments must initiate this conference as a matter of urgency and move to implement previous agreements. These include an Irish Language Act, the release of funds for legacy inquests and progress the legacy mechanisms, as well as safeguarding the rights of citizens including the right to marriage equality.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Brexit David Cullinane TD said today that he is worried by reports that the EU Commission is ready to once again fudge the issue of the Irish border and that the Irish government must not allow this to happen again.

The Waterford TD said:

“The Irish border is not a political football, nor can it be treated as such.

“Reports have emerged that the EU and Britain have agreed a protocol that will kick in if Britain leaves the customs union and single market.

“However, this protocol will exist outside of the final agreement and will apply only to certain areas covered by the Good Friday Agreement.

“We know from Michel Barnier and from EU Commissioner Phil Hogan that anything short of a full customs union will result on a border on the island of Ireland.

“If Britain and the North leave the Customs Union and single market, it will be impossible to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. 

“It will also be impossible to avoid a hardening of the border in Ireland irrespective of regulatory alignment in certain areas.

“I call on Taoiseach Varadkar and Tánaiste Coveney to stand firm, to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts and to ensure there is no return to a border on this island.

“This means, in practical terms, the north staying in the customs union and single market, both the Assembly and the Good Friday Agreement staying in the legal framework of the European Union and the European courts, as well as the protection of the rights of citizens and people who live in the north of Ireland who are Irish and European citizens and who should be able to enjoy the same level of rights after Brexit.

“The sooner the Government realises this and works towards it, the better.” 

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Sinn Féin equality spokesperson Megan Fearon has said that discrimination against pregnant women should not be tolerated.

The Newry and Armagh MLA was commenting after a poll by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in Britain showed that a significant number of pregnant employees and working mothers continue to face barriers to equality of opportunity in employment.

“It is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant. It’s clear that many employers need more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers,” Megan Fearon said.

“The poll of 1,106 male and female decision-makers showed that 36 percent of employers thought it reasonable to ask a woman about her plans to have children with some 59 percent agreed that a woman should have to disclose during the recruitment process whether she is pregnant.

“It also showed that about one third of those questioned believed that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are 'generally less interested in career progression' with 41 percent of employers saying that pregnancy in the workplace puts 'an unnecessary cost burden' on the workplace.

“Following these finding its comes as no surprise that the EHRC in Britain is calling for companies to sign up to its Working Forward initiative which aims to stamp out pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

“The Equality Commission here in the north produced a report entitled Pregnancy and Maternity Rights after conducting an investigation under Sex Discrimination legislation to assess and evaluate experiences of pregnant workers and mothers in employment here in the North.

“The most common cause of complaint on grounds of gender is from women who feel they have been treated unfairly either when they became pregnant or on their return to work after maternity leave.

“The rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace should be protected and the view that pregnant and new mothers feel they are being discriminated against is unacceptable.  Discrimination against pregnant women should not be tolerated.

“Sinn Féin remain committed to equal rights for all and to reducing discrimination and inequality in the workplace.”

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has expressed disappointment at the defeat of Philip Lane’s nomination for the position of ECB Vice-President.

Deputy Doherty said:

“I am disappointed at the failure of the campaign to elect Governor Lane.  Ireland‘s representation at the senior level of the ECB is pitiful and has been since the euro was set up.

“In light of Brexit, another chance for the government to cash in actual concrete solidarity from other EU members has passed us by.

“The perception of the ECB as a club dominated by the interests of bigger countries won’t be helped by the appointment of the Spanish appointee over Ireland’s.

“The incredible power of the ECB and its unaccountable nature mean it needs reform, including in how smaller countries are represented.” 

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Local TD and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called on the Government to deliver on all outstanding commitments made to the surviving women of the Magdalene Laundries by the Taoiseach in his state apology five years ago today.

The Dublin Central TD said:

“Today, 19 February, marks the fifth anniversary of former Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology on behalf of the state to the woman incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries.

“Five years later, a number of commitments arising from the apology remain outstanding.

“Enda Kenny outlined in his speech the establishment of Mr Justice John Quirke’s review with recommendations to be provided to Government regarding the provision of payments and supports, including medical cards, psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs for the women.

“The Government would go on to commit to deliver the Quirke Report recommendations in full. This has not happened.

“In his speech, the former Taoiseach committed to the establishment of a permanent memorial to the women financed by the Government.

“No memorial has been delivered on, nor has the staffed consultative unit Mr Justice John Quirke recommended been established.

“An opportunity has now arisen for the establishment of a consultative process for the women and a memorial at the former Sean McDermott Street laundry site. The Justice Minister is responsible for the oversight and delivery of the Quirke recommendations, but has made little effort to progress the proposed memorial and has failed to offer up the committed funding for the project.

“The Ombudsman’s recent investigation into the Department’s administration of the Magdalene Restorative Justice Scheme exposed significant flaws including the failure to provide redress entitlements to women who lack capacity to look after their own affairs.

“Most damning of all, the Ombudsman investigative report found that the Government’s scheme, intended to bring healing and reconciliation has for some served instead to cause further distress. 

“Government should now commit to undertake an independent implementation audit of the Quirke Report recommendations and commit to deliver on outstanding commitments within an agreed timeframe.” 

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Speaking after the findings announced today by NUI Galway scientists which discovered the majority of North Atlantic fish studied had ingested plastics, Sinn Féin Environment Spokesperson Brian Stanley TD said the growing problem of plastics is getting worse and the lack of interest from Government is getting clearer.

The Laois TD said:

“Of the fish analysed in the study, some 73% contained plastics. It was found that there was a ‘much higher occurrence of microplastic fragments’ in the fish studied. Of the 260 million tons of plastic the world produces each year, about 10% ends up in the Ocean and there will be more plastics than fish in our ocean by 2050.

“There seems little attention from government to address this issue. Sinn Féin and others have introduced bills on reducing plastics, such as calling for a deposit return scheme for plastic drinks containers. There have been opposition Bills in relation to a ban on microbeads plastics, used in cosmetic products which enter our water courses and are ingested by marine life, these need to be taken from the shelves now.

“Plastic production is expected to double in the next 20 years but the pollution of our environment is coming to a critical point. China, which takes 95% of this States plastic waste, will be banning imported plastics. There needs to be polices in place to address how we are dealing with our plastics waste and waste in general. To change our environment will need a change in mind-set and a change in government policy immediately.” 

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Speaking after The Arts Debate event in Stormont, Sinn Féin Arts Spokesperson in the North Sinéad Ennis said:

“Today, the Arts Council, arts organisations and artists spoke with one voice to oppose any further cuts to the arts. Sinn Féin echoes that view.

“Arts is an economic driver. The return to society from investment in the arts is manifold  and self-evident, not just in building positive, cohesive communities but in attracting foreign businesses and boosting tourism.

“However, we should never lose sight of the intrinsic value of arts and the key role of artists in creating a society where arts act  to improve health, wellbeing, the cohesion and sharing of space regardless of peoples opinion.

“I have written to the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Communities voicing our strongest opposition to any proposal to cut the Arts Council budget.”

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Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has said power shortages in Gaza are adding to the growing humanitarian crisis for many Palestinians. 

Martina Anderson said: 

"The escalation of tensions and Israeli military operations in Gaza in recent days is exacerbating an already dire situation for the Palestinian people. 

"For months Gaza has been crippled by power shortages but on Thursday the only remaining operating power station in the area shut down. 

"This has left two million people in Gaza without power, including schools, hospitals and healthcare facilities. 

"This lack of power is adding to the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and increased tension in recent days will only make matters worse. 

"The international community, and the EU in particular have a responsibility to act in the interests of the Palestinian people and ensure they have access to basic facilities such as power, as well as challenging Israel over its ongoing blockade and abuse of the human rights of Palestinians."

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The privatisation of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments should be immediately ended, Sinn Féin Anti-Poverty and Welfare Rights spokesperson, Alex Maskey MLA, has said.

The West Belfast MLA commented:

"A decade of a Tory austerity agenda has inflicted severe cuts to the welfare system and on support across society for vulnerable citizens.

"In the same period, the outsourcing of welfare provision has added further stress and complication to claimants, making it increasingly difficult to access benefits.

"As the evidence mounts, it is clear the privatisation of the assessment of people's entitlement to benefits, and specifically to PIP, is unjust and unnecessary.

"Statistics reveal that the number of claims rejected within the current assessment process, which are subsequently reinstated on appeal, remain high.

"Sinn Féin believes the Department for Communities should end the provision of welfare assessments by a private company, and return this crucial function to Department officials and health professionals."

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Sinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams has welcomed the additional funding announced last Thursday by the Minister for Environment Denis Naughten to tackle illegal dumping. However, the Louth TD said that “the government’s response to this serious rural and urban problem has been woefully inadequate”.

The Louth TD said:

“This government has a shameful habit of repackaging the same measures and announcing them as if they are new. Last year, the government announced a relatively small amount of new funding to prevent illegal dumping but claimed that it would allow for so-called ‘smart enforcement interventions’ such as overt and covert CCTV, satellite imaging, and drones.

“Last Thursday, the statement issued by the Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring was almost identical. He said that the money would be used to support the use of smart technology such as CCTV, drones, and satellite imagery.

“Any additional funding which can deter illegal dumping is to be welcomed but the government’s response – an allocation of €2 million across the state – does not match the scale of the problem.” 

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Sinn Féin TD and Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has said that political pressure is needed to prevent the sale of loans to vulture funds and called on the Minister for Finance Pascal Donohoe to tell state owned banks that, as a majority shareholder, he will not permit the sale of these loans.  He also called for support for his legislation which would regulate the vultures.

The Donegal TD said:

“In 2015, Fine Gael and Labour failed to put in place the proper regulation of vultures. Their legislation regulated only the middle man (the “Credit Servicing Firm”).

“Sinn Féin attempted to make sure that the owner, the vulture, were fully regulated but our amendment was voted down at Committee in May of that year by Fine Gael and Labour, with Fianna Fail not present for the vote.

“Sinn Féin have tabled legislation the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) (Amendment) Bill 2017 which is now desperately needed to protect the homeowners affected by sales to vultures by fully regulating the actual owner of the credit. The Central Bank have called for this course of action.

“Regulating the vulture is not a silver bullet although it would add much needed protection. The issue is that long term products are being sold to short term entities. As a result, these vultures aren’t interested in sustainable solutions, just in cashing in one way or another.

“What is needed in the here and now is for the Minister Donohoe to pick up the phone and tell PTSB and any other State Bank that as a shareholder he refuses to permit any sale to vultures.

“Unfortunately, the Confidence and Supply Arrangement is silent on this issue of banks selling as many loans as they like to vultures.

“Political pressure is required and we stand ready to support any moves that will prevent these sales.” 

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The Housing Executive should end the outsourcing of maintenance contracts in light of the Carillion collapse, Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Carál Ní Chuilín has said.

The North Belfast MLA was commenting on new claims that investors knew Carillion was heading for disaster up to two years before the company collapsed.

She said: “Carillion is the latest in a series public sector outsourcing disasters. As a way of doing business, outsourcing, is in crisis.

“The model is broken. Outsourcing to companies like Carillion, favour the short term interests of shareholders and investors over the long term interests of decent wages for workers and sustainable services for citizens. It’s time to change.

“That’s why Sinn Féin is supporting the call for the Housing Executive to reject a takeover by another company, end outsourcing the maintenance of its housing stock and bring it back in-house by expanding its direct labour force.”

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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Karen Mullan MLA has urged schools which still use transfer tests to show leadership and end them altogether.

The Foyle MLA was commenting after the publication of the latest exams performance list for post-primary schools.

“What these tables do not show is the long tail of underachievement which a selective system creates by effectively leaving many children behind,” Karen Mullan said.

"School transfer tests continue to drive educational inequality and are a barrier to parental choice. This has been confirmed yet again in the latest Executive Office report Investigating Links in Achievement and Deprivation (ILiAD) which concluded that transfer tests exacerbate educational inequalities and damage the confidence and self-esteem of children.

“A publicly-funded education system should be providing the same opportunities and support to all children, not just a select few. I would commend those schools which have moved away from academic selection and urge those yet to do so to show some leadership and end these tests which only serve to perpetuate inequality and disadvantage.”

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