The decision to close the Ardnabannon Outdoor Education Centre and to end the provision of Outdoor Education at Killlowen may be in breach of equality legislation and should be immediately reversed, local Sinn Fein MLA Sinead Ennis has said.
The South Down MLA was speaking after Sinn Féin submitted a detailed response to the Education Authority calling for the decision to be suspended because the relevant equality duties have not been properly fulfilled.
She commented: “It is Sinn Féin’s position that the threatened closure should be suspended until a full equality impact assessment has been conducted.
“We do not believe the EA has fulfilled its own equality duties with regard to this decision and that it may be in breach of Section 75 Equality legislation.
“Our submission makes a very strong case on that basis and we would urge the EA to halt the closure until they can demonstrate there will be no adverse equality impact.
“It is Sinn Féin’s view that this decision is yet another example of poor policy making on behalf of the EA and it is the staff and young people who will yet again pay the price."
Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Karen Mullan MLA has called for teachers here to receive a pay increase.
The Foyle MLA was speaking after the Department of Finance confirmed that uplifts can be approved for public sector workers.
“Teachers should receive a pay increase,” she commented.
“Teachers and other public sector workers provide a vital service and deserve a fair wage for their work in the delivery of vital services which have been subjected to years of relentless Tory austerity.
“John O’Dowd in his role as Education Minister set aside resources for teachers to be given a pay increase but his successor Peter Weir refused to implement it.”
Karen Mullan also reiterated Sinn Féin’s call for the public sector paycap to be lifted altogether.
She said: “The Tory Government should provide additional resources to ensure we have adequate finances to remove the paycap and to protect public services.
“Sinn Féin will continue to oppose austerity, defend frontline services and campaign for adequate funding for our public services and our public sector workers.
“I have personally engaged with representatives of teaching unions on this issue and will continue to do so.”
British government support for the Derry Strategic Growth Plan is needed for the city and district, and the north-west of Ireland, Sinn Féin’s Elisha McCallion MP has said.
The Foyle MP was speaking following a meeting in Westminster with British Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid.
Elisha McCallion said:
“The prospect of a City Deal for Derry city and district has real potential, but must be specific to the longstanding and unique economic needs of Derry.
“These needs have been outlined in a comprehensive Strategic Growth Plan, developed organically in partnership with key stakeholders in Derry city and throughout the district.
“As a result of my meeting today I have secured another meeting between Sajid Javid and these stakeholders in Derry to discuss how a City Deal can support our Strategic Growth Plan
“Any potential investment must address infrastructure deficiencies, and a lack of meaningful employment opportunities.
“The British government must meaningfully contribute to the Strategic Growth Plan to encourage economic development in areas that have suffered under the weight of their relentless Tory cuts, now supported by the DUP.”
British arms sales to despotic and oppressive regimes are fuelling conflict and devastation in vulnerable regions, Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy has said.
The Mid Ulster MP was speaking after chairing a panel of Bahraini opposition figures and anti-arms campaigners such as the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) in Westminster.
Francie Molloy MP said:
“Britain has rarely played a constructive or supportive role in conflict-ridden regions in the world, but it is quite another thing to profit from this war and destitution.
“The British government’s longstanding arms trade relationships with autocratic regimes are an endorsement of the war crimes, repression and human rights abuses they carry out with British weapons.
“If the British government wish to posture as guardians of basic rights and democracy, they must end their complicity in escalating conflicts through sales of British guns and in some of the worst rights abuses on earth.”
A loyalist supergrass and his police handlers have effectively got away with murder in order to protect the State’s role in collusion, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has said.
The North Belfast MLA was speaking as the case of self-confessed UVF killer and police agent Gary Haggarty is due to end on Thursday.
He commented: “Gary Haggarty has pleaded guilty to over 200 offences, including five murders, all of which were committed while working as a police informer. The scale of collusion in this case is appalling yet he has been given a deal which means he will receive a significantly reduced prison term.
“He is effectively getting away with murder but so too are his handlers who have not faced any charges.
“That is unlikely to change while the British Government continues to frustrate all attempts to expose the extent of their collusion with loyalist death squads throughout the conflict.
“They continue to block the establishment of agreed mechanisms to deal with the past and refuse to fund legacy inquests precisely because they do not want the world to know the truth of their involvement with killers like Gary Haggarty.”
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald said the findings of the Further Education College Leavers Survey show the important role Further Education plays in our education and training system.
The Party's Further and Higher Education spokesperson said:
"The FE College Leavers survey highlighted a number of important benefits for those who studied further education courses, both economic and non-economic.
"Six months after their courses ended, almost 85 percent were in either employment or further learning. Of those in employment, over half said their qualification was applicable to their job, while almost a quarter said they couldn't have obtained or stayed in their position without their qualification.
"As important are the non-economic benefits, 95% said their course had a positive impact on them including boosted confidence, increased self-esteem and making new friends.
"Further education is a vital pathway, often for technical and professional qualifications, alongside higher education. The two must go hand in hand, be properly resourced and be prioritised equally to provide opportunities for all in society to access education and to achieve."
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has warned that the communiqué agreed last Friday means that Irish citizens living in the North will be stripped of their right to access the European Court of Justice after eight years.
The Sinn Féin leader said that when taken with the British government’s determination to scrap the Human Rights Act and end its involvement with European Convention on Human Rights that these actions are a direct attack on the human rights safeguards of the Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking during pre-EU Council statements in the Dáil today, Deputy Adams said:
“Last Friday’s communiqué recognises the unique and special circumstances of the North, the importance of the peace process, and the need to ensure no hard border.
"The Communique also asserts that the Good Friday Agreement will be at the heart of any eventual agreement. But there are also some very important contradictions in the communiqué, including about the Good Friday Agreement.
"Paragraph 53 of the communique states that there will be no diminution of citizen’s rights caused by the departure of Britain from the European Union. However, when I pressed the Taoiseach on a number of occasions on the communiqué’s possible impact on the rights of Irish, and therefore EU citizens living in the North, and in particular whether they would have access to the European Court of Justice, he wouldn’t answer and didn’t answer. There was no clarity.
"It took until yesterday, Tuesday, to get that clarity. And then we learned that after am eight-year period the British will not allow the European Court of Justice to apply to the North. And the Taoiseach has apparently agreed to that.
"In his statement today the Taoiseach said under the Good Friday Agreement people in the North have the right to Irish citizenship, which includes the right to European Union citizenship and that that has to include access to European institutions. Yet the Irish government has signed up to an agreement which will strip Irish citizens living in the North of their EU rights.
"The Good Friday Agreement is the defining document and agreement which sets out the relationship between the people of this island and the people of these two islands and that includes the people in the North who the Taoiseach said an Irish government would never leave behind again.
"We need to be very clear about this. I could give ten examples of agreements in the last 20 years that the British made and have not honoured and have poked holes in in the intervening period.
"The British government is also planning to withdraw from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights; and to repeal the Human Rights Act, by which the European Convention of Human Rights is incorporated into British law.
"These decisions directly threaten the role of the European institutions and the Human Rights elements and safeguards which are fundamental to the Good Friday Agreement.”
Sinn Féin leader on Belfast City Council Jim McVeigh has welcomed news that Belfast City Council will restore the wooden benches in the City Centre used by homeless citizens which were removed just days ago by Belfast City Council.
Jim McVeigh said;
“Sinn Féin has pressed the council to reinstate the benches that have been removed.
“The majority of parties in the council have backed this restoration of the benches.
“This should never have happened in the first place and this city needs to do everything in its power to get homeless citizens off the streets and into shelter.
“One homeless person is one too many.
“The restoration of these benches, while welcome, is not enough and more needs to be done on top of the incredible work already being done by homeless support groups in Belfast.
“Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to doing everything we can to end homelessness in Belfast and across Ireland.”
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly TD has said that the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth amendment represent “a massive step forward for the repeal of the Eighth amendment” and the finalising of the Committee’s work represents a “welcome day for the women of Ireland”.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“Today is a welcome day for the women of Ireland, who have been let down by the political system for decades in providing for their medical needs.
“The recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth amendment represent a historic step forward in correcting that injustice and are a step forward for the campaign to repeal the Eighth amendment.
“The challenge now is to have that referendum as soon as possible and to win that referendum.
“Sinn Féin has been unambiguous and consistent in our opposition to the Eighth amendment.
“The Constitution is not the place to deal with any issues relating to women’s health and we are glad that there has been support for that proposition at today’s Committee deliberations.
“We are satisfied that the Committee’s report reflects our party policy insofar as possible and for that reason we will be supporting the final report of the Committee.
“There are aspects with which we don’t agree. We have made that clear, but that is the nature of Committee reports, and we must look ahead to the next step in process in righting the historic wrong of denying women adequate healthcare.”
Matt Carthy said:
"After six months of negotiations, the British finally put their signature to something that recognises that different arrangements need to be put in place for the North of Ireland - a form of special status if you like. But they are already trying to go back on it. I’m pleased that this resolution calls them out on it.
"However we need to remain vigilant - the European Parliament, the EU negotiators, and the Irish Government. We all need to make sure that there is no going back on the commitments of last week’s communique.
"The North of our country cannot be pushed back or placed under the yoke of British self-interest once more. This resolution gives us the means to ensure that doesn’t happen. It gives us the means to protect the Good Friday Agreement, including trade and open borders, as well as rights and equality.
"We’re not there yet. We haven’t achieved the full outworking of ensuring that all of Ireland remains together within all EU frameworks, yet. The agreement provides the scope to achieve that. We must redouble our efforts if we are to get to that essential position."
Speaking from Strasbourg Lynn Boylan MEP condemned two votes in the European Parliament which call for greater militarisation.
“Today the European Parliament voted in favour of two reports calling for greater European militarisation. By voting in favour of the annual reports on Common Foreign and Security Policy and Common Security and Defence Policy the European parliament has endorsed increased EU military spending, and further European defence integration.
“The wording in these two reports is clearly laying the groundwork for an EU defence union and the creation of an EU army. These two reports were fully supported by the three Fine Gael MEPs.
“Today the Fine Gael MEPs have voted in favour of the creation of EU military units as part of PESCO, spending 2% of our GDP on defence, and for the free movement of military equipment and troops within the EU.
“Not only have the Fine Gael MEPs voted in favour of the militarisation of the EU and shown their commitment to increased defence spending, they have also voted in favour of removing the national veto on common foreign and security policy decisions. This would make small member states like Ireland virtually powerless when it comes to foreign policy decisions.
“Fine Gael need to be clear with the Irish people about the militarised, undemocratic Europe that they are helping to build.”
Dúirt urlabhraí Gaeilge Shinn Féin, an Teachta Peadar Tóibín, go raibh an Roinn Oideachais ag déanamh neamart ar chearta Gaeilge daltaí an Stáit uilig. Léirigh an Roinn mar fhreagra ar cheist pharlaiminte inniu nach raibh “aon phlean ann chun beartas ar leithligh a leagan amach don ghaeloideachas.”
Dúirt an Teachta Tóibín:
“Tá sé dochreidte nach bhfuil plean ar bith ag an Roinn Oideachais maidir leis an ngaeloideachas i gcoitinne, agus nach bhfuil sé beartaithe plean a chur le chéile amach anseo.
"Tá éileamh as cuimse ar Ghaeloideachas sa stáit – tá breis is 23% tuismitheoirí á éilimh dá bpáistí, ach níl ach 5% de bhunscoileanna ina scoileanna lán Ghaeilge mar shampla.
“D’fháiltíomar go mór roimh an Polasaí don Oideachas Gaeltachta a bhí go mór de dhíth. Ach tá fís, creatlach, agus stiúradh ag teastáil le cur leis an ngaeloideachas go ginearálta.
"Ní dhéanann sé ciall go bhfuil an roinn, atá freagrach as dul chun cinn na Gaeilge sa chóras oideachais, sásta treabhadh leo gan treoir.
“Deir an Roinn go bhfuil siad ag rannchuidiú le roinnt gníomhaíochtaí sa Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge agus léiríonn sé seo tiomantas na Roinne sa réimse seo.
"Tá an Straitéis ina cheap magaidh gan spriocanna, gan aidhmeanna nó amscálaí coincréiteacha. Táimid ag fanacht le foilseacháin plean ghnímh ina leith ó rinneadh athbhreithniú air bhreis is dhá bhliain ó shin. Níl sé sásúil go bhfuil roinn ag leanúint go treallach plean gan téagar.
“Tá eagrais Gaeilge ar nós Gaeloideachas agus Foras na Gaeilge ag éileamh polasaí cuimsitheach don Ghaeloideachas. Chuirfeadh a leithead de phlean leis an bPolasaí don Oideachas Gaeltachta ó thaobh acmhainní a roinnt, oiliúint múinteoirí agus pleanáil fad-théarmach.
“Más é go bhfuil an Roinn ag iarradh a chuid ‘tiomantas leanúnach’ d’fhonn an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn is gá dóibh dul i ngleic leis na fadhbanna atá ann i dtaobh an ghaeloideachas go macánta, deireadh a chur leis an gcur i gcéill agus plean sonrach agus cuimsitheach a leag amach.”
Department admits no plan exists for Irish language education – Peadar Tóibín TD
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Irish language, Peadar Tóibín TD, has said that the Department of Education are neglecting the Irish language rights of students of this state. The Department stated in an answer to a parliamentary question today that they had “no plan for drawing up a policy for Irish language education”.
Deputy Tóibín said:
“It’s unbelievable that the Department have no plan at all regarding Irish-medium education in general, and that they have no intention of putting one together in the future. There is a huge demand for Irish-language education in the state – for example, there are over 23% of parents seeking Irish language for their children, but only 5% of primary schools are Gaelscoil schools.
“We warmly welcomed the Policy for Gaeltacht Education, which was so badly needed. But vision, structure and steering are needed to improve Irish-medium education in general. It makes no sense that the department, who are responsible for the progress of the Irish language in the education system, are happy to plough away without direction.
“The department says that they are helping with some of the aims of the 20 Year Strategy for Irish Language, and that this demonstrates their dedication to this sector. But the Strategy in itself is a mockery - without aims, goals or concrete deadlines. We are waiting for the publication of the action plan in relation to the Strategy since a review was initiated over two years ago. It is not satisfactory that the department are sporadically following a plan without substance.
“Irish language organisations such as Gaeloideachas and Foras na Gaeilge are seeking a comprehensive policy on Irish-medium education. A plan of this nature would add to the Policy for Gaeltacht Education in terms of shared resources, teacher training and long-term planning.
“If the Department are trying to progress their 'longstanding dedication'” to the Irish language, it is necessary that they stop the pretense, genuinely tackle the problems that exist within Irish-medium education and lay out a detailed, comprehensive plan."
Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has said action is needed to turn the British government's commitments on Brexit into a legally binding agreement.
Speaking in Strasbourg, where the European Parliament voted on a resolution to allow the Brexit negotiations to move to the next phase, Martina Anderson said:
"In today's debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg it was clear that MEPs are concerned about the British government attempting to renege on its commitments made last week.
"I made it clear to MEPs that this is what the British government does. It makes promises necessary to get others to move forward and then they start to row back and negotiate downwards.
"We know that from years of experience of negotiations with successive British governments and their failures to implement agreements entered into.
"This resolution which was overwhelmingly passed by the European Parliament says that 'full enforcement' regarding Ireland is key in relation to last week's communique.
“The continued application of the European Court of Justice and Charter of Fundamental Rights would assure this.
"We also heard pledged today to turn what was in the communique last week into a binding legal text and that needs to happen as a matter of urgency.
"The EU and the Irish government cannot simply take the British government at their word.
"The Irish government in particular need to act on its recent public utterances and push to protect the rights of all Irish citizens by ensuring the ECJ continues to have jurisdiction in the north through securing special status within the EU."
Sinn Féin health spokesperson Pat Sheehan has welcomed confirmation from the Department of Finance that all public sector workers are to receive a one percent pay uplift.
Pat Sheehan said:
“This move is long overdue but is still a welcome step in the right direction towards recognising the invaluable contribution of public service workers.
“Our party leader in the north Michelle O’Neill recently told the acting Head of the Civil Service that the latest budget allocations allowed for this payment to be made so we are pleased that it has now been approved.
“All public sector workers provide vital services and deserve to be paid accordingly. They are the biggest asset we have in the public services and should be invested in.
“Sinn Féin will continue to oppose the Tory/DUP austerity agenda. We are calling for the cap on public service pay to be scrapped and are pressing for a fair deal for all public sector workers.”
Sinn Féin President and Louth/East Meath TD Gerry Adams has called on the government to do more to support those living with a disability and those who provide care. He urged the Taoiseach to release the details of the proposals published on Tuesday by Minister McGrath and to ensure that “the new services are put in place go gásta.”
The Sinn Féin leader was speaking during Leaders' Questions this morning in the Dáil where he raised the provision of services for carers and the announcement of an additional ten million euro by Minister McGrath.
Teachta Adams raised the urgent need for additional respite care for Louth which has an estimated 20,000 citizens with a disability.
The Sinn Féin leader said:
“On Tuesday Minister Finian Mc Grath announced that he has secured an additional €10 million euro’s for respite services. I welcome this announcement. According to Census 2016 over twenty thousand people in my constituency of Louth /East Meath have a disability.
"At this time there are only 9 available respite beds for adults with intellectual disabilities. There are no emergency services. So there is a lot of work to be done to rectify this.
"The new services involved need to be put in place go gásta, and the details of the plan need to be revealed as quickly as possible. Much more needs to be done to support those living with a disability and those who provide care.
"For example, only 25% of full time carers will be eligible for the free GP card announced yesterday. This is because this card will be given only to carers getting the carers allowance. They should all be allocated Medical Cards.
"The issue of in-home respite hours is crucially important for some families. I reminded the Taoiseach of one case – that of Brendan who has got no in-home respite hours in the last five months.
"I also pointed to a parliamentary response from the HSE received by Teachta Louise O Reilly which revealed that the HSE will be providing 14,293 fewer overnight respite sessions this year and 591 fewer day respite sessions.
"The ten million additional euro announced by Minister McGrath is supposed to provide 19,000 respite nights. That means in effect that the HSE will only be providing an additional 4,707 respect sessions on what it was providing in 2016.
"This is not good enough. Citizens with disabilities and their carers have rights and the responsibility of the government must be to support those rights and to resource them.”
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“We have all read newspaper articles, seen news reports, and watched Primetime programmes in 2017 about the difficulties people with disabilities and their families face in the battle to get respite care.
“Only last week RTÉ Primetime broadcast “Carers in Crisis” which highlighted the difficulties for those who provide care for a family member or loved one face in the absence of adequate care and respite sessions being provided by the state.
“It is therefore beyond belief that in spite if the demand and need for respite sessions increasing across the state this year that the provision of respite sessions has actually decreased by nearly 15,000 sessions on what was provided last year.
“Through a response to a Parliamentary Question I submitted, Minister Harris outlined that there will be an estimated shortfall of 14,293 overnight respite sessions for 2017 compared to what was provided in 2016 and a shortfall of 591 day respite sessions.
The PQ response stated:
“While I welcome yesterday’s announcements that €10million in additional funding will be provided for people with disabilities and carers, the fact is that of the approximately 19,000 respite nights per year that this is to go to providing, it is in fact just an estimated increase of 4,707 respite sessions on what was provided in 2016.
“The Health Service cannot wait for RTÉ to broadcast a programme to shock the Government into action to do the right thing and increase respite care. What would the case have been if Primetime had not broadcast that programme?
“We need year on year increases to provide for those who currently need respite care as well as those who will need it in the future.
"The Government cannot slash respite care sessions by nearly 15,000 sessions and expect things to work the same and only increase the hours after their cuts have been exposed on Primetime."
Sinn Féin MLA John O’ Dowd has urged everyone opposed to the undemocratic imposition of Brexit on the island of Ireland to remain steadfast in their opposition and to continue to campaign whenever and wherever they can.
The Sinn Féin Brexit spokesperson commented:
“While the focus has shifted to Brussels and the role of EU leaders the opposition to Brexit on the streets of Ireland was the driving force which secured commitments to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, no Brexit border and the protection of rights.
“The next phase must be about turning those commitments into legally binding international agreements and I welcome the recent statement from the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt that the British Government will not be allowed to renege on any final agreement.
“The EU, the British and Irish Governments must be left in no doubt the opposition to Brexit in Ireland has not waned and we will not accept a fudge on our future peace and prosperity.
“The wide and diverse spectrum of groups, businesses and individuals who have opposed the imposition of Brexit must continue to campaign, lobby and protest. Whether it is an email campaign or a street protest the message must be heard in Dublin, London and Brussels, we will not accept anything less than full protection and implementation of our democratic and civil rights.