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No alternative to dialogue and agreement , says McGuinness in major statement on 20th anniversary of IRA cessation

Delivering a keynote address in Derry on Sunday morning on the 20th anniversary of the IRA announcing “a complete cessation of military operations”, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said there is a real threat to the political institutions in the North from political stagnation and the absence of progress.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD in a keynote statement today has warned that the “political process faces its greatest challenge since the Good Friday Agreement negotiations in 1998.”


Sinn Féin solidarity vigil with the Palestinian people as Israel continues its horrific bombardment of Gaza



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Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph newspaper Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Declan Kearney said:

"A lazy narrative has gained increased currency over recent months about the political situation in the north. Disagreement on welfare cuts is portrayed as the cause of the current political impasse.

"That distracts from any real examination of the serious political situation.  

"The avoidance of proper analysis was reinforced by two recent public interventions – from Peter Robinson and Charlie Flanagan, the new Irish Foreign Affairs Minister.

"The DUP leader asserted the political arrangements set up under the Good Friday Agreement and other Agreements, were no longer fit for purpose, and wants new negotiations. 

"Charlie Flanagan said there was a failure by parties to deliver basic services.

"Both ignored that the political process faces its greatest challenge since the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) talks in 1998. Peter Robinson's call for new talks is code for removing the safeguards and protections enshrined by all of the agreements. 

"The DUP leadership's position is now completely subordinate to an anti-Agreement axis within unionism. 

"Charlie Flanagan's comments ignore that the democratic core of the GFA is now being hollowed out by this anti-Agreement axis; which includes important DUP figures, the TUV, Ukip, others in the Orange Order, and loyalist paramilitaries.

"The DUP leader asserted the political arrangements set up under the Good Friday Agreement, and other agreements, were no longer fit for purpose, and wants new negotiations. Charlie Flanagan said there was a failure by parties to deliver basic services.

"The political landscape is being polarised between pro and anti-Agreement positions. Disagreement over welfare cuts is a by-product of that; but also reflects an ideological division on socio-economic issues. 

"Democracy in the north is now under direct threat from the unionist anti-Agreement axis. This reality goes to the heart of the impasse, which increasingly exhibits the potential for developing into a full crisis.

"There is an urgent need for popular and democratic opinion, along with the Irish, British and US governments to develop a pro-Agreement axis as a counter to the extremists. 

"The model and momentum used in the past should become the strategy to empower the positive constituencies which support political stability."

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Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has criticised the European Union's reaction to the Ebola outbreak in west African and called for the deployment of immediate medical aid. 

Speaking after voting for for immediate action on Ebola in Strasbourg, Ms Anderson said; 

"The Ebola virus is now affecting the whole west African region yet the response from the international community has been dangerously inadequate. 

"We are in the grip of a public health crisis of international concern. 

"Sinn Féin is concerned about the slow and derisory reaction from Europe to this Ebola outbreak. 

"The European council of ministers need to meet and mobilise an immediate medial response to provide humanitarian aid by deploying medical staff. 

"The EU could learn  from Cuba which has already deployed 165 specialised medical staff. Europe needs to at least match that response before it is too late."

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Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew speaking at a Labour Party Conference fringe meeting told her audience that ‘our political process is in a perilous – I would actually say untenable – position’.

Addressing the theme, "Labour, Ireland and defending the peace process" the Fermanagh South Tyrone MP said:

“Much work was put in by many people to get the Good Friday Agreement.

“However its implementation is far from over – but to continue the task needs momentum. At present, our political process is in a perilous – I would actually say untenable - position.

“Over the last two years, political unionism has clearly moved into an anti-Agreement mode.

“In 2012 we saw the violent unionist and loyalist reaction to the lawful, democratic decision of Belfast City Council to reduce the flying of the union flag to ‘designated’ days – the same as in the Assembly.

“In 2013 we saw the violent unionist and loyalist reaction to the lawful decision of the Parades Commission preventing an unwanted Orange Order march to pass nationalist Ardoyne in North Belfast.

“And then in 2013, DUP leader Peter Robinson reneged on the agreed Programme for Government commitment to develop the Long Kesh/Maze site – by way of a letter sent from Florida, not to his joint First Minister Martin McGuinness, but to DUP party colleagues.

“This approach has increasingly defined the nature of DUP participation in the political institutions in the north. We see no genuine willingness to share power with republicans in a real partnership government, or to embrace things like mutual respect, parity of esteem or reconciliation.

“Since the May elections, we have seen the makings of a pan-unionist coalition of the unionist political parties – including those aligned to the paramilitary UDA & UVF. It is an anti-GFA axis, aiming to subvert the GFA’s principles and processes.

"So we have seen a refusal to agree the compromises emerging from the talks chaired by Richard Haass & Meghan O’Sullivan later last year; a walkout from reconvened party leaders’ talks in July, and threats to bring down the institutions over the issues of ‘On The Runs’, the Parades Commission decision, and now most recently on the issue of cuts.

“This situation is untenable, and it is for the British and Irish governments – with support from the US – to step up, get engaged positively and get things moving again.” CRÍOCH/END

 The full text of Michelle Gildernew's speech tonight

This year marks the 16th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a watershed in Irish politics and surely one of the British Labour Party’s greatest recent achievements.

Much work was put in by many people to get the Agreement and to slowly and painstakingly work to get it implemented.

That implementation is far, far from over – but to continue with that task needs momentum – the bicycle syndrome where at least slow pedalling is needed to keep moving forwards.

However at present, our political process is in a perilous – I would actually say untenable - position.

And this is because not only is the bike not being moved forwards, but there are significant elements looking to find a reverse gear.

Over the last two years, political unionism has clearly moved into an anti-Agreement mode.

In 2012 we saw the violent unionist and loyalist reaction to the lawful, democratic  decision of Belfast City Council to reduce the flying of the union flag to ‘designated’ days – the same as in the Assembly, where unionists accept this state of affairs quite quietly.

In 2013 we saw the violent unionist and loyalist reaction to the lawful decision of the Parades Commission to prevent an unwanted Orange Order march to pass nationalist Ardoyne in North Belfast.

And then in 2013, DUP leader Peter Robinson reneged on the agreed Programme for Government commitment to develop the Long Kesh/Maze site – by way of a letter sent from Florida, not to his joint First Minister Martin McGuinness, but to DUP party colleagues.

This approach has increasingly defined the nature of DUP participation in the political institutions in the north.

We see no genuine willingness to share power with republicans in a real partnership government, or to embrace things like mutual respect, parity of esteem or reconciliation.

And the reasons for this are clear. Many in the DUP entered the arrangement unwillingly back in 2007, and are still lukewarm – to say the least - about the new dispensation. But since the May elections, we have seen the makings of a pan-unionist coalition of the unionist political parties – including those aligned to the paramilitary UDA & UVF.

It is primarily focussed on the parades issue, and trying to reverse the Ardoyne decision - but it’s wider than that – it is an anti-GFA axis, aiming to subvert the GFA’s principles and processes.

So we have seen a refusal to agree the compromises emerging from the talks chaired by Richard Haass & Meghan O’Sullivan later last year; a walkout from reconvened party leaders’ talks in July, and threats to bring down the institutions over the issues of ‘On The Runs’, the Parades Commission decision, and now most recently on the issue of welfare reform – or what are in reality welfare cuts.

I will return to welfare cuts in a minute, but what does need said very clearly is that all of this unionist obstruction, delaying, sitting on their hands and seeking reverse gear back to the 1960’s is being facilitated and allowed to happen by the behaviour of the government in London.

It has repeatedly shown its willingness to capitulate, and an unwillingness to stand up to unionist threats and intransigence. Reasons or explanations are various – a total lack of interest or engagement? Possibly, but it can be argued they are engaged – engaged in doing the wrong things. An ideological sympathy with where unionists are at? Remember, the Tories did not negotiate the GFA or St Andrews – to them republicans are still the enemy. And the small matter of eight DUP seats – and votes – post 2015 general election cannot be ignored.

As I said earlier, this situation is untenable, and it is for the British and Irish governments – with support from the US – to step up, get engaged positively and get things moving again.

We need to talk - there are too many issues sitting unresolved and unagreed - and I welcome signs in recent days that we may be moving into full and inclusive negotiations on all of this.

To return to the issue of welfare reform, let me be brief and clear.

The British Welfare Reform process has not been implemented in the north.

This is due to our party stalling the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill, which the Assembly must pass.

We had hoped for much more cross-party efforts to fight the London government on this.

This has not happened. Unionism are content to bring this insidious Bill into force, and all that flows from it – and I do not need to tell people here just what welfare “reform” really means.

Last week Martin McGuinness made it clear – the DUP minister responsible should bring the Bill to the floor of the Assembly for debate and votes, and let them explain how foisting this welfare cuts agenda on their own working class constituents, as well as everyone else, is in any way desirable.

If they refuse to bring the Bill, then this issue should go to the people, by way of an election to the Assembly.

We fear no election.

Sinn Fein will not deliver the cuts demanded by a cabinet of millionaires in London, who have not one vote in Ireland, and we stand alongside the poor, the low paid and the disadvantaged in this battle.

So things are not good. What unionism’s aim is is not always clear – to collapse the institutions so as not to be handcuffed to Sinn Fein in the run-up to next year's general election?

Possible, but again let me be clear, that is not our agenda. We do not want direct Tory rule from London. We want local politicians making the decisions and doing proper government and delivery.

These institutions are part and parcel of the Good Friday arrangements, and those need developed and strengthened, not thrown to the side.

To conclude, as I remarked at the start, the GFA must be seen as one of Labours biggest achievements, and we certainly believe that there is a big onus on the present Labour party to help in ensuring that things do not go down.

And I know Ivan and his colleagues have been at the heels of Theresa Villiers and the government here to step up and to engage positively – in an even-handed way. That is sorely needed as we find ourselves in the choppiest of political waters, and those demands need to be louder and stronger.

Next year could see Labour return to power, and of course there are many issues we would wish to see them working on in preparation for that, and once in power – the transfer of more fiscal powers to the Assembly, the completion of the many (still) outstanding elements of our Agreements and much else, including Labour's previous public commitment to a public inquiry into the assassination of Pat Finucane.

So we have much to deal with – crunching down on all the difficult issues; ensuring the very survival of our institutions, and standing up against the Tory cuts.

I’ll leave you with all of that, and I look forward to Ivan’s contribution and to the discussion.

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has today condemned racist attacks on Eastern European families living in the Hesketh area of North Belfast over the weekend.

Gerry Kelly said:

“These attacks were carried out by a gang of men brandishing knives and a hatchet.

“Thankfully no one has been seriously hurt in these attacks so far.

“I condemn outright those behind these latest disgraceful racist attacks.

“I am also calling on unionist politicians and on people with influence in the community in Glenbryn and Hesketh to do all in their power to prevent any further attacks.

"Racists who carry out such despicable actions in an attempt to instill fear into families living here need to be taken off our streets.

  “Anyone with any information on those involved in the attacks should bring it immediately to the PSNI.”

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Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to engage directly with British Prime Minister David Cameron in relation to the political impasse in the North.

Speaking in Dublin today to a delegation of Irish-American supporters of Sinn Féin and in advance of a trip to the United States where he will attend the Clinton Global initiative, Gerry Adams said:

“Now that the Scottish Independence referendum is over, I am calling on the Taoiseach to engage directly, as a matter of urgency, with British Prime Minister David Cameron in relation to the political impasse in the North which has resulted from the failure of unionist leaders to honour agreements reached.

“The refusal of Downing St to fulfil its obligations, which has contributed directly to the current difficulties, highlights the urgent need for the Taoiseach to hold the British Government to account.

“The Irish Government is co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. The Taoiseach needs to be a champion for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process.

“I believe that negotiations should be convened immediately by the two governments with the support and assistance of the US administration.

“The context for this must be the Good Friday Agreement which the Irish people democratically endorsed.

“In any negotiations Sinn Féin will defend that agreement and the all-Ireland and power-sharing institutions.”

ENDS

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Speaking at a conference on the housing crisis organised by Impact trade union, Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh, chair of Dublin City Council's Housing Committee, said there must be immediate Government action. 

She said:

“Our current housing crisis is a man-made crisis. It could have been avoided had the right choices and policies been made. Instead the responsibility for providing social housing was abandoned by Government to the speculators, the private developers and unaccountable landlords.

“By drawing €1 billion from the Strategic Investment Fund an additional 6,600 local authority homes could be built within 18 months. These would be additional to the homes which the Government have already committed to providing. If 6,600 rent supplement recipients were housed it would represent a saving of €29 million on the scheme based on the average payment.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s newly elected Councillors from across Dublin are on the campaign trail in Tallaght today to help Cathal King become TD for Dublin South West.

Speaking from the canvas in Killinarden by-election candidate Councillor Cathal King said that the biggest issues for people in this community are housing, unemployment and water charges.

Councillor King said:

“Fine Gael and Labour don’t have a clue.  They have no idea what it is like for the vast majority of families out there who are struggling to survive.  Many are living on less than €10 a week after bills are paid, they cannot afford to pay €500 a year for water.

"Sinn Féin has made our position clear.  We are opposed to water charges and we will reverse them in government.  We have a strong track record on this issue.  It was Sinn Féin Minister Conor Murphy who blocked domestic water charges in the North.

“There is no acceptable reason for water charges to be included in this year’s budget.  The government has a choice. They can either continue to help those at the top or they can ease the burden on struggling families.  Sinn Féin has produced detailed costed proposals to prove there is an alternative to water charges.”

ENDS

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Speaking in Roscommon today at a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle, Party Leader Gerry Adams TD said;

"Despite the result, the Scottish Independence referendum will mean profound change for the Union and have major implications for the North of Ireland.

"Sinn Féin will seek to ensure that the British PM follows through on commitments to transfer significant powers to the Executive.

"We will also hold the British Government to account in relation to its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement and will defend the all-Ireland and power-sharing political institutions.”

In relation to the forthcoming by-elections Gerry Adams said:

"Sinn Féin is out to win the vacant seats in Roscommon/South Leitrim and Dublin South West.

"Voters have a clear choice between candidates that represent the 'Consensus for Cuts' of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour or the fairer alternative being put forward by Sinn Féin.

"A vote for Martin Kenny and Cathal King is a rejection of water charges, property tax and the continued penalisation of those on low and middle incomes.

"It is a vote to defend services and communities in rural Ireland.

"I believe voters in both constituencies are responding to Sinn Féin's message and that there is growing and widespread support for a fairer way of doing things."

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD has congratulated Kevin O 'Malley on his appointment as US Ambassador to Ireland.

Gerry Adams said:

"I wish to congratulate Kevin O'Malley on his appointment as US Ambassador to Ireland.

"I look forward to welcoming Mr O'Malley in person and to working with him on the many issues of mutual interest between Ireland and the United States of America."

ENDS

Videos

Peace and Reconciliation discussed at Féile


Photos

Mary Lou McDonald and Cathal King