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Speaking in the course of the debate on Health Care Delivery during Private Members Business this evening Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris strongly criticised the role of Consultants saying that they cannot be "allowed to promote their interests at the expense of public patients." He was also critical of the centralization that exists within the health system and the concentration of specialist services in certain hospitals.

Full text of speech follows:

One of the most striking features of our hospital system at the present time, is the level at which consultants are using the facilities paid for by the taxpayer, to give preference their own private patients. I can't imagine that this would be acceptable in any other branch of the public services. Would an Iarnroid Eireann driver, for example, be allowed to run excursions at times not covered by the official timetable. Or worse, would he be allowed to do so at the same time as official passengers were waiting for the train? I doubt it.

A recent report by the Health Boards revealed that in some instances over half of all those being cared for were receiving private treatment. At Saint Nessan's Regional Orthopaedic Hospital in Limerick, 68% of day care patients were private while at Saint John's, 57% of elective admissions were private.

Those statistics make a mockery of the guidelines that stipulate that there should be a ratio of 80% public to 20% private. The Department is said to be concerned over this and to be reviewing how best to deal with the problem. Surely it ought not be difficult to ensure that the consultants are held to the terms of their contracts in the same manner as any other public employee and that they ensure that public patients attending public facilities receive the treatment to which they are entitled.

Of course I am aware that the majority of private patients only find themselves in the position which they do because of the inadequacies of the health service. Most private patients are people who have been forced to opt for private care due to waiting lists and other shortcomings in the public system. However, the real issue is that consultants contracted to the Health Boards are abusing that position in order to boost their own practises. As I have said, I doubt that this would be tolerated in any other branch of the public services and it ought not be tolerated in the health service.

I suspect that one of the reasons that the level of private practise is tolerated concerns the power of the consultants. They, in common with any other professional body, are of course entitled to represent their members and to fight their corner. However, they can not be allowed to promote those interests at the expense of a public service to which they are primarily contracted.

Many people will recall that it was vested interests in the medical profession who more than anyone else obstructed the constitution of the public health system when it was first proposed in the 1940s. It was they more so than the Bishops who sabotaged Doctor Noel Browne's scheme, and they had to be faced down by the Fianna Fáil Government in which Doctor Jim Ryan as Minister for Health introduced the beginnings of a modern health service.

It is also clear from the crisis facing the Health Boards that there is a marked centralisation within the system. This is obvious when one looks a the way in which specialist services are being concentrated in certain hospitals with the result that regional hospitals, such as my own local one at Tralee, are in danger of being downgraded.

Over the past year or so I have raised several examples where Tralee is being denied the necessary resources to either maintain existing services or to provide those which it has been promised. It seems as though there is a constant battle to be waged to ensure that existing services are maintained. The level of uncertainty that this creates is unsettling for both the Staff and the people who are relying on the service provided. In fairness, most of the concerns raised result in a positive outcome but Hospitals ought not to have to operate in such an atmosphere of constant uncertainty over resources.

The consequences of centralising specialist services, especially in areas like oncology and radiology is that extremely ill people will have to travel long distances to receive the care which they require. Such facilities are overly concentrated in the main population centres. We have already seen the tragic consequences of this in several parts of the country.

Unfortunately there has to be the suspicion that when reports such as that of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing recommend that services are centralised, that this will not be to the overall benefit of existing services. I have no doubt but that the authors of the report were sincere in hoping that the changes will lead to an improvement in the level of provision. There is the danger, however, that a Government seeking to save money will simply use reports like this as an excuse to make cuts.

Another issue of concern to people is the lack of democratic control over the Health Boards. I do not believe that this is enhanced by removing local elected representatives from the Boards. While the system as it operated was far from perfect there did at least exist the mechanism whereby local people felt that they had some input through people they had elected, on the manner in which the various Boards operated.

In the absence of local democratic accountability, the danger is that Health Boards will come increasingly under the control of the Department and that the purpose of having them in the first place will be lost. It is vital that a mechanism exists with the capacity to scrutinise Departmental directives and provide a coherent opinion independent of the Minister.

If the Health Boards are solely made up of Ministerial appointees, that capacity will be removed. In conclusion I ask the House to support this motion as I believe that it accurately reflects the current crisis in the health service, and the view held by most people in this state that it is the most serious issue of public concern.

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A Sinn Féín spokesperson has confirmed that the Party President Gerry Adams and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness this morning met Tony Blair in London. The spokesperson said:

"This mornings meeting was arranged some time ago.

"It is part of the ongoing contact and dialogue between Sinn Féin, the two governments and the other parties.

"Last week Martin McGuinness met the Taoiseach. The focus of our discussions is on trying to resolve the current crisis in the Peace Process." ENDS

Editors Note: Martin McGuinness will be available to speak to the media at 5pm at the party offices at Sevastopol Street

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Bairbre de Brún has accused UUP leader David Trimble of engaging in 'posturing without substance'. Ms de Brún's comments come after Mr. Trimble announced that the UUP was withdrawing from the Review process.

Ms de Brún said:

"David Trimble signalled last week that he intended to leave the Review. This is part of Mr. Trimble's competition with the DUP. He is attempting to compete with the DUP on Ian Paisley's ground. It is the wrong approach.

"Maybe if Mr. Trimble had been so exercised about the recent murder of a young catholic in Lisburn or the attack last week by unionist paramilitaries on a 105 year old woman in North Belfast then people could take his action today more seriously.

"Mr. Trimble is engaging in posturing without substance." ENDS

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Sinn Féin will tonight during Private Members Business challenge the Government on it's record on health care delivery. Speaking in advance of the debate, where Sinn Féin will call for the resignation of the Minister for Health, the Party's leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

"The government will argue in this debate that they have devoted unprecedented resources to health. And so they have. But this has come after decades of underfunding. At the same time the Government's refusal to challenge the two-tier system means vast amounts of public money continues to subsidise the private healthcare business to the detriment of public patients.

"In 2002 Fianna Fáil made a commitment to the electorate to "permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years". That promise becomes due on May 17th next. But there are still over 27,000 people on hospital waiting lists.

"There can be no confidence in a Minister and a Government with such a record on health, not only since 2002 but since 1997. This was their principal mandate from the people. They have failed and we will be calling on the Minister to resign his position." ENDS

Note: Motion attached.

Sinn Féin Private Members Motion Health Care Delivery 2nd March 2004

That Dáil Éireann, recalling:

  • the promise by the Fianna Fáil party prior to the 2002 General Election to eliminate hospital waiting lists within two years;
  • their promise to extend medical card entitlement to a further 200,000 people;
  • that Action 89 of the Government's Health Strategy promised greater equity for public patients in acute hospital services in a revised contract for hospital consultants to be delivered by the end of 2002;
  • the promised delivery in the Health Strategy of a new model of primary care throughout the State;

noting that:

  • according to most recent figures there are 27,212 people on hospital waiting lists;
  • while 36% of the population was entitled to a medical card a decade ago less than 30% are so entitled today;
  • the consultants contract has not been renegotiated nor revised;
  • there has been minimal progress on primary care since 2001;
  • views with concern the continuing drive towards over-centralisation of hospital services including the closure of maternity, accident and emergency and other acute services at hospitals around the State and calls for the restoration of said services at those hospitals affected;
  • deplores the continuing failure to reform and resource mental health services resulting in continuing hardship for people with mental illness and the failure of the State to meet international human rights standards in this regard;
  • urges a reconsideration of the planned configuration of radiation oncology units in Dublin, Galway and Cork only and calls for the acceleration of plans for the overall improvement in cancer treatment services;
  • deplores the mismanagement of our health services at central Government and health board level as shown by the number of investigations into serious incidents, including fatalities, in a number of health board areas, and the delayed and unsatisfactory nature of those investigations;
  • considers that reform of health administration structures as proposed by Government will create a democratic deficit;
  • affirms that the two-tier, public-private system is inherently inequitable and inefficient and, after decades of underfunding of our health services, the two-tier structure is now causing increased resources to be used in an ineffective manner;
  • supports an all-Ireland approach to healthcare delivery to harmonise and maximise resources on an island-wide basis and urges greater priority for this approach by Government
  • asserts the basic right of equal access to the best health services for all regardless of ability to pay and seeks the phasing out of the current two-tier public-private system which subsidises the private healthcare business at the expense of the public system, to be replaced by a truly reformed Health Service with care free at the point of delivery and funded from general taxation;
  • calls for the establishment of a Cabinet Committee on Health chaired by An Taoiseach to spearhead the phasing in of a reformed Health Service; and
  • demands the resignation of the Minister for Health and Children.

- Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Seán Crowe, Martin Ferris, Arthur Morgan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Mid Ulster Francie Molloy along with West Tyrone Councillor Sean Begley today met with the Electoral Commission in Belfast. The Sinn Féín delegation presented the Commission with a number of recommendations designed to restore confidence in an electoral system which now has almost one fifth of the electorate disenfranchised.

Mr Molloy said:

" The Electoral Commission has presided over one of the largest gerrymanders in history. Up to 211,000 people out of an electorate of 1.5million are currently disenfranchised. This is a disgraceful situation and if it were occurring in other countries the British government would be lecturing that country on democracy.

" The current legislation which was enacted at the behest of the SDLP and the UUP needs to be changed. Confidence in the electoral system is plummeting and the Commission need to act to restore confidence.

" Today we presented a number of proposals to the Electoral Commission designed to restore confidence in the electoral process and we expect to hear back from the Commission in the short period ahead." ENDS

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At a meeting with both governments at Stormont today, Tuesday 2nd March, Sinn Féin Assembly Group Leader Newry/Armagh MLA, Conor Murphy protested vigorously about the increased level of British army activity and refurbishment of military bases in south Armagh.

Mr. Murphy said:

"At a meeting with both governments yesterday I raised the concerns of local residents about the increased level of British army activity and the refurbishment of military bases in south Armagh.

"On Monday the area surrounding Silverbridge Road was sealed off by the British army because one of their lorries had overturned into a field. Local residents are angry that British army military bases in Forkhill, Bessbrook and Camlough Mountain are being refurbished. This is clear evidence that the British government has failed to fulfil commitments made to implement a rolling programme of demilitarisation. Instead we are witnessing remilitarisation.

"I have raised these issues with Paul Murphy, British Secretary of State today and I have also urged the Irish government to support residents in my own constituency and use their influence to demilitarise south Armagh, an area whose residents have still not experienced the benefits of an evolving Peace Process." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Bairbre de Brún has welcomed the focus on paramilitarism in today‚s review talks and added that Sinn Fein will raise the campaign of sectarian attacks on Catholics across the north.

Speaking ahead of meeting British and Irish government Ministers in Stormont today Ms de Brún said:

"Sinn Féin welcome the focus on paramilitarism in the review this week. Sinn Féin will raise the ongoing campaign of sectarian and racist attacks being orchestrated by Unionist paramilitaries across the North, particularly in areas like Ballymena, South and North Belfast, South Antrim and Lisburn.

"This focus of today‚s meeting results from allegations of IRA activity. There was, however, no similar focus when a young catholic, James McMahon, was killed in Lisburn, when loyalists, including Special Branch agents, kill within their own communities or when, on the same night, a 105-year-old women and a 4-month-old baby were targeted by Loyalists in separate attacks in North Belfast.

"Unionist leaders need to accept their responsibility to use their influence to bring an end to sectarian attacks on Catholics emanating from their community.

"The reality is that the IRA poses no threat to the peace process. The only threat comes from unionist rejectionists, Unionist paramilitaries and elements within the British security system who are uncomfortable with the peace process."ENDS

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Sinn Féin East EU Candidate John Dwyer has today urged cautioned against what he referred to as the 'pro-nuclear stance of the EU'. Mr Dwyer was speaking ahead of a European Commission decision on whether to fund a nuclear reactor in Romania, which is likely to become a member of the EU by 2007.

Speaking today, Cllr Dwyer said:

"Sinn Féin is extremely concerned at the drive towards further extending the use of nuclear power within the EU. The discussions around whether or not to fund a nuclear reactor in Romania are only a small part of a much larger problem. There are a number of issues at stake here.

"Sinn Féin wants a nuclear free EU, indeed, a nuclear free world. There are also major issues surrounding safety, or lack there of. Europe has already witnessed the tragic events of Chernobyl, and the world is still dealing with the environmental fall-out two decades later. Concerns have been raised about the nuclear reactors in a number of the new accession states. The safety of existing reactors must be addressed immediately.

"In 2002, the EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio had proposed that the EU Commission would supervise the safety of nuclear reactors. However, both the British and French vehemently opposed these plans. It is no coincidence that these two member states are amongst the biggest users of nuclear power in the EU.

"Sinn Féin calls for a tightening of safety within those member states with nuclear reactors. The Euratom nuclear treaty is a discredited treaty that was signed in 1957 and has never been reviewed. It must be scrapped and replaced with a credible treaty that has safety at its core.

"Sinn Féin will continue to demand for an end to the pro-nuclear stance of the EU"ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has added his voice to those offering their sympathy to the family of Tyrone Senior Football Captain Cormac McAnallen who died overnight.

Mr Adams said:

"Cormac McAnallen was an inspirational young man who had achieved so much in his short life to date. His untimely passing has robbed this island of one of our greatest talents.

"On behalf of Sinn Féin and the three MPs who represent County Tyrone, Martin McGuinness, Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew, I would wish to offer my sincere sympathies to the McAnallen family and to Cormac's friends, team mates and to all Gaels in Tyrone at this most difficult time." ENDS

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Speaking during the Sinn Féin Private Members Business debate on Health care delivery Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said, "The government will argue in this debate that they have devoted unprecedented resources to health. And so they have. But this has come after decades of underfunding. At the same time the Government's refusal to challenge the two-tier system means vast amounts of public money continues to subsidise the private healthcare business to the detriment of public patients.

"In 2002 Fianna Fáil made a commitment to the electorate to "permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years". That promise becomes due on May 17th next. But there are still over 27,000 people on hospital waiting lists.

"There can be no confidence in a Minister and a Government with such a record on health, not only since 2002 but since 1997. This was their principal mandate from the p model defended by Minister O'Hanlon in 1991 and by all his predecessors and successors has been maintained. This is the Government's preferred model for healthcare delivery in the 21st century. The core of the motion before you is the rejection of that model, the identification of many of the inefficiencies and inequities that flow from it, and the presentation of a radical alternative.

The government will argue in this debate that they have devoted unprecedented resources to health. And so they have. But this has come after decades of underfunding and because of this Government's refusal to challenge the two-tier system vast amounts of public money continue to subsidise the private healthcare business. Meanwhile public patients suffer.

In 2002 Fianna Fáil made a commitment to the people to "permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years". That promise becomes due on May 17th next. But there are over 27,000 people on hospital waiting lists and as the Minister stated in his reply to my Dáil Question last week, this is a decrease of only 7% since 2002. That's 93% short of what the people were promised. If that rate of decrease were maintained it would take more than 14 years to end waiting lists.

The lack of coherence in Government policy is shown by the Treatment Purchase Fund. This was supposed to be a temporary measure yet now the government relies on it as its primary means of addressing waiting lists. It is a perfect illustration of the inefficiency that this government is funding. While beds in public hospitals remain closed due to lack of resources in the public system, treatment is being purchased in the private system. It is a short-term fix while the need to increase bed numbers and staffing levels in the public system is neglected. It is the patients of the future who will suffer as our public health infrastructure is allowed to wither.

The National Economic and Social Forum Report 'Equity of Access to Hospital Care' states that structural change is necessary to address the two-tier public/private system in hospital care and, most significantly, it states that this system is left unchanged in the Government's Health Strategy. Yet in its amendment to this motion the Government relies on that strategy to deliver equity of access.

The failure to renegotiate the consultants' contract and to require all new consultants to work exclusively in the public system is, in many ways the key to all the other failures in health of this Government. It is above all a failure of political will to challenge vested interests and to put the public patient first. I am not advocating a policy of confrontation. But I am asserting that fairness and equity must be at the heart of the system. The privileged position of consultants, their undue power in determining policy, their lack of accountability for work in the public system while profiting from private practice are all inherently unfair and inequitable.

The Minister has described consultants as "kings in their own domain". He has been thwarted by them on many occasions, for example in the disgraceful delay in proceeding with the investigation of difficulties between consultants in Cavan Hospital. More seriously, the victims of malpractice in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, have been disgracefully treated directly as a result of the lack of accountability of the professional bodies. But what has the Minister done to challenge this? Precious little.

The Minister's party also promised "to extend medical card eligibility to over 200,000 extra people, with a clear priority being given to families with children". In their 2002 Programme for Government Fianna Fáil and the PDs promised to "extend medical card eligibility in line with the recommendations of the National Health Strategy". The Strategy promises to increase medical card income guidelines. Once again there has been zero delivery and low income families with children who do not qualify for the medical card are now worse off than they were two years ago.

The failure to extend medical card qualification and the failure to develop Primary Care as promised makes the closure of services in local hospitals even more grievous. Look at how communities have united in defence of these hospitals. Listen to their voices as you have failed to listen in the past. The Hanly report is a recipe for the closure of more services and quite possibly hoswealthy in our society will be required to contribute more in taxation than they do at present. All taxpayers should be guaranteed that the best use is being made of their money. That is not the case at present. Instead we are funding inequity and its twin - inefficiency.

It must be acknowledged that progress has been made in recent years and tribute should be paid to all those people throughout the health services who have contributed to progress. For a transformed health service we need to harness their talents and their dedication. But they need leadership with vision and a strategy based on equality. This Government has given them neither and has broken its commitments to the people.

There can be no confidence in a Minister and a Government with such a record on health, not only since 2002 but since 1997. This was their principal mandate from the people. They have failed and the Minister should go.

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness has written to the two governments in relation to their proposal to restrict the Review meeting tomorrow to the single issue of paramilitarism. Mr. McGuinness has informed the governments that Sinn Féin welcomes this opportunity to discuss matters relating to this subject which are of concern to us.

Mr. McGuinness said:

"Tomorrows meeting of the Review will focus solely on the issue of paramilitarism. The approach of single agenda meetings may well prove to be a success and certainly we will be seeking single issue meetings during the Review on a number of issues including the Electoral Register and the issue of collusion.

"For some time now Sinn Féín have been highlighting the effects of the orchestrated campaign being conducted by unionist paramilitaries against the nationalist community and against members of their own community. In fact unionist paramilitaries killed two people during the recent Assembly election campaign alone. The two governments have up until now resisted holding a special meeting on this topic. Tomorrows meeting will now provide that opportunity.

"We will also be seeking to raise with the unionist parties the links between the DUP and Ulster Resistance and the role of the UUP on the Loyalist Commission while a violent anti-Catholic campaign was underway. Our delegation will also be raising directly with the British government the continuing activities of their agents within the various unionist paramilitary gangs." ENDS

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Speaking after the withdrawal by the DPP of a case against seven PSNI members today, Gerry Kelly MLA for North Belfast said.

"This is not the first time that the D.P.P. has refused to pursue important cases against members of the RUC or PSNI.

It raises questions about the independence and lack of public accountability in the prosecution service. Who will police the prosecution service and their relationship with the PSNI and the Forensic services.

Sinn Féin argued for a new Criminal Justice system and it is crucial that the new Criminal Justice Bill now going through Westminister makes the DPP accountable, especially in decisions not to prosecute in controversial cases such as the Raymond Boyle case. To quote the old maxim 'Justice does not just need to be done - it needs to be seen to be done'.

"The independence of the Forensic Science agency is also in question. It depends on the PSNI for 75% of its workload and should not be housed on the same premises as the PSNI. The cosy relationship between these three agencies must come to an end. Accountability is the key to this"ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Bairbre de Brún has accused the DUP of 'living in a political fantasy land'. Ms de Brún's comments come after the DUP held a series of meetings today with the Alliance and the SDLP stating that their intention was to achieve the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the process.

Ms de Brún said:

"The DUP must be living in a political fantasy land if they think that people will accept the exclusion of the largest pro Agreement and the largest nationalist party in the six counties from the political process.

"An aim of any process of conflict resolution is to end second class citizenship not underscore it. Any successful process demands inclusivity and respect for party's electoral mandates. Sinn Féin's commitment to this process cannot be questioned. Unlike the DUP whose agenda is to wreck the process, Sinn Féin will continue to promote and defend the Good Friday Agr

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A Sinn Féín delegation led by South Belfast Assembly member Alex Maskey will meet with the Electoral Commission tomorrow at 10.30am. The meeting is being held in the Electoral Commission Offices on Alfred Street and will discuss the disenfranchisement of up to 211,000 people.

Speaking today before the meeting Mr Maskey said:

"It is of serious concern to Sinn Féin that up to 211,000 people in the six counties are being denied their right to vote. This is the direct result of the legislation passed two years ago by the British government at the behest of the SDLP and UUP.

"The legislation has targeted in particular the young, those living in the most disadvantaged communities and those with disabilities and Special Needs.

"It is quite clear that unless the legislation is changed then the register will continue to shred year on year and confidence in the electoral process will fall further." ENDS

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South Armagh Sinn Féin Councillor Elena Martin has hit out at the disruption being caused by an ongoing military operation being carried out by the British Army at Silverbridge outside Crossmaglen.

Cllr. Martin said:

"It appears that a convoy of British Army vehicles were making their way from Newry to Crossmaglen in the early hours of this morning when what appears to be a tanker left the road. The area is sealed off and a crane is at the scene. British Army helicopters have been flying low over homes in the area since around 3am this morning.

"This sort of disruption is unfortunately not an unusual occurrence for people living in this area. However this does not make it any more acceptable. Ten years into a peace process people could justifiably expect that the days of low flying helicopter activity and military convoys to be at an end. They could justifiably expect the days of British Army road closures and harassment of local people to be a thing of the past.

"This incident is a timely reminder for people outside South Armagh that the days of military occupation are not over. That the British government continues to default upon its Good Friday Agreement commitments on demilitarisation at a time when they lecture republicans about alleged IRA activity.

"It is time for the British government to honour its commitments and removed the scourge of its military from this area and other areas across the six counties." ENDS

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Commenting today as members of the Finucance family take court action in a bid to force the British government to publish the Cory Report, Sinn Féín President Gerry Adams MP said 'that the British government must end the stalling and implement its obligations'.

Mr Adams said:

"It is now 15 years since Pat Finucane was murdered by a unionist death squad in Belfast. There is no doubt that this gang was being controlled and manipulated by British Agencies including the Special branch. All of those involved have subsequently been exposed as agents. The case for an independent, international, judicial inquiry into this killing is undeniable.

"It is a disgrace that the Finucane family are being forced down the road of court action by the British Government. After the Weston Park talks Tony Blair publicly committed himself to publishing Judge Cory's Report and more importantly acting on its recommendations.

"The British Government have been in possession of the Cory Report since last October. They are hiding behind security and legal matters in yet another stalling exercise to prevent the truth about their involvement in a collusion policy from coming out. This situation is not tenable. The British Government need to realise that the families of those killed through collusion will not simply stop demanding answers and demanding the truth." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh speaking at the Ard Fheis said 'The Fianna Fáil-PD Government is anti-immigration and anti-refugee full stop. As virtually his first act as Minister, Michael McDowell ordered pre-dawn raids to round-up illegal immigrants ˆ except that as it turned out nearly half of those he rounded-up were totally legal, and their arrests were arbitrary.' Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

Sinn Féin has identified three areas of Justice policy in this state that are in urgent need of reform on a human rights basis. You have heard me today promote the need for fundamental Garda reform. You have heard me speak of the need for fundamental prison reform. The third area needing fundamental reform on an urgent basis is the immigration policy of this state.

The Fianna Fáil-PD Government is anti-immigration and anti-refugee full stop. As virtually his first act as Minister, Michael McDowell ordered pre-dawn raids to round-up illegal immigrants ˆ except that as it turned out nearly half of those he rounded-up were totally legal, and their arrests were arbitrary. Since then, the Minister has introduced not one but two Immigration Acts that were the subject of intense criticism by the human rights sector and which contained elements that were denounced by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This Minister is so intent on ridding this state of immigrants and refugees that he has issued deportation orders to the families of 11,000 Irish citizen children ˆ a policy that will result in the de facto expulsion of 11,000 Irish citizens on the basis of their ethnic background. Michael McDowell‚s actions are nothing short of outrageous. He has proven himself UNFIT to guide the immigration policies of this state ˆ much less to guide the development of a Common Migration and Asylum Policy for the European Union, as he plans to under the Irish Presidency

Most recently this week we were subjected to a deplorable and irresponsible compact between the Government and the media to whip up a xenophobic hysteria about phantom floods of migrants from Eastern Europe, based on no evidence whatsoever, and in direct contradiction to the Government‚s arguments during the resale of the Nice Treaty in the referendum re-run. But republicans aren‚t fooled. We recognise that this is nothing more than a pre-election scapegoat ploy to deflect criticism, buy votes and sell news.

The Government's whole immigration policy is hypocritical. It is built on lies. It is racist and it is wrong.

Comrades, once again the motion I commend to you is self-explanatory. That this Ard Fheis calls for an end to the Irish Government's war on immigration, and for the Minister for Justice to stop his criminalisation of immigrants and refugees.

We call for fundamental and comprehensive immigration policy reform in this state including the repeal of present unjust laws and the introduction of a positive immigration policy underpinned by respect for human rights and a humane ethos that more appropriately reflects an empathetic understanding gained through the experience of Irish emigration, and that recognises the massive potential contribution of migrants (including refugees) and migration to the Irish economy and society. To this end, I ask the Ard Fheis to endorse the very sound recommendations of the Immigrant Council of Ireland‚s report on Labour Migration Into Ireland and pledge that Sinn Féin will work with others to see these recommendations implemented. We must also call for the introduction on an urgent basis of a proper system of complementary humanitarian protection such as exists in other jurisdictions, so that people who do not fit the strict definition of „Convention refugee‰ but who nevertheless have a genuine fear of returning to their country of origin can be allowed to remain in Ireland. We must strongly reject and deplore as racist the Government‚s policy of deporting Irish child citizens along with their non-national parents, and to call not only for the deportation orders in such cases to be vacated, but also for the Government to introduce legislation affirming the equal right of all citizen children to remain in Ireland in the care and company of their parents regardless of the national or ethnic origin of their parents. BECAUSE WE CANNOT TOLERATE THE EXISTENCE OF SECOND CLASS CITIZENSHIP ON ANY BASIS WHATSOEVE

The only appropriate legacy for a nation scarred by emigration is a positive immigration policy that recognises the dignity and rights of migrants, and that also recognises that immigration is an enormously constructive social and economic force whose potential must be harnessed in the best interests of our future. Sinn Féin is calling for such a positive immigration policy for this state and for a United Ireland, and so I urge you to send a clear message that our party is promoting the best alternative.

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Ruane calls for Bill of Rights

Sinn Féin MLA for South Down Caitríona Ruane said 'we need a Bill of Rights can protect the most vulnerable, most marginalised and most disempowered in our society. And that is why unionism and the British Government are blocking, stalling a Bill of Rights and the All Ireland Charter of Rights.'

Dearcadh and stat seo go fol na coir do an finin bheith timpeall na haite.

That is why we need a Bill of Rights can protect the most vulnerable, most marginalised and most disempowered in our society. And that is why unionism and the British Government are blocking, stalling a Bill of Rights and the All Ireland Charter of Rights.

Do any of us believe that if we have a Bill of Rights or a Single Equality Act or a perfect human rights commission that we will wake up in the morning and everything will be alright -- of course we don't. But we need the tools to fight what is still a very sectarian state and a very cold house for Nationalists and Republicans.

We need to fight for an effective human rights commission that protects and promotes human rights. It needs to be restructured, it needs a new chief commissioner, it needs more powers and resources and should be governed under the Paris Principles.

And we have a message for the establishment -- North and South -- Sinn Fein is the largest nationalist party and largest pro -- agreement party in the Nroth of Ireland. It is the fastest frowing party on the island, the party that young people are looking to. All nationalists and republicans regardless of their party affiliation want to see change and sinn Fein will deliver change. The message is discriminate at your peril because Sinn Fein will stand up for people who are discriminated in Ireland. We are building an Ireland of equals and human rights and equality are at the heart of that vision.

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh addressing the party's Ard Fheis on prison reform said 'That this Ard Fheis opposes the Minister for Justice‚s prison restructuring plans as they are not evidence-based, do nothing to address the conditions urgently requiring change as outlined by the Prison Inspector, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Irish Penal Reform Trust, and also do not address the primary source of overspending on the prison service which is unnecessary incarceration for minor non-violent offences such as non-payment of fines.' Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

No less a person than Nelson Mandela said that we must judge a society not by how it treats its most powerful citizens, but by looking inside its prisons to see how it treats its least powerful citizens. How true this is.

Historically, republicans have always been in the forefront of exposing unacceptable conditions and practices in prisons, jails, and places of detention throughout this island. Our concern about prison conditions extends beyond our immediate preoccupation with the conditions of republican prisoners and POWs. We recognise that general prison conditions are a major human rights concern in this state, and something that needs to be tackled. These conditions have been criticised by major human rights organisations including Amnesty International and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture but also by the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Prison Inspectorate here at home.

In the face of these widely criticised conditions does the Minister for Justice take the necessary steps to change this situation, to end human rights violating conditions in our prisons and jails? No. As we see from his closure of Loughan House that was scheduled for this very weekend as the last in the recent series of announced closures under this Government that will eliminate open institutions, we have a Minister who is intent on prison restructuring without reform, who is making prison policy not based on evidence or best practice, but his own right-wing ideology ˆ effectively, he is making prison policy on the back of a bar matt. That is not acceptable to Sinn Féin.

The motion I commend to you is self-explanatory. That this Ard Fheis opposes the Minister for Justice‚s prison restructuring plans as they are not evidence-based, do nothing to address the conditions urgently requiring change as outlined by the Prison Inspector, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, and human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Irish Penal Reform Trust, and also do not address the primary source of overspending on the prison service which is unnecessary incarceration for minor non-violent offences such as non-payment of fines. That the Ard Fheis asserts its belief that the Minister is exploiting the prison officer overtime issue as a decoy to cover his plans to privatise or partially privatise the Prison Service, and expresses its opposition in principle to prison privatisation. That we believe that the most effective and socially responsible way to reduce prison spending is to reduce recidivism through state investment in programmes and services in deprived communities, for prisoners, and for ex-prisoners, and to introduce appropriate alternatives to custody in suitable cases to eliminate unnecessary incarceration. And that therefore this Ard Fheis calls for a transparent review of the prison system in the 26 Counties with a view to comprehensive reform and modernisation of the prison service based on international best practice and in keeping with human rights obligations. That we call for the reversal of funding cuts to the Probation and Welfare Service, the ringfencing of any savings from prison officer overtime for redeployment to rehabilitative services for prisoners including education and training, and an assurance from the Minister that no jobs in these areas will be lost as a result of his restructuring plans.

I believe that even after all republican prisoners are released, republicans will continue to be in the forefront of fighting for improvements to prison conditions and the human rights of prisoners because we are committed to human rights for all. Sinn Féin is the only party that can produce real, effective alternatives to the failed prison policies of successive Governments and so I seek your mandate to authorise the party to begin the process of developing a more comprehensive all-island prison reform policy that can deliver the necessary change, and that will provide the basis for a future justice policy for the United Ireland we are seeking to build.

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In my political report to last year‚s Ard Fheis I set out in some detail what progress had been made in what was then an ongoing and protracted negotiation with both the British and Irish governments and the various political parties aimed at resolving the political impasse.

One year on I want again today to set out where things are at on the negotiations front.

I want to focus on two particular negotiations over the past year - one which was ongoing at the time of our last Ard Fheis and which ended a short time afterwards and the negotiations which led to the events of 21 October last. I want also to deal with our approach to the Review of the Good Friday Agreement which is presently underway.

It is however, important to first set out the political context in which all of this was and is taking place: that is, a political crisis in the process which has existed in its current acute form for almost 2 years now. This crisis has essentially two different but related elements, one is the refusal or inability of unionist leaders to come to terms with the changes heralded by the Good Friday Agreement, and the other, and deeper element of the crisis, is the failure of the British Government to fulfil their obligations and commitments which have flowed from the Agreement.

David Trimble knows the Agreement is good for our society. But since April 1998 he has allowed his political compass to be set by Ian Paisley.

This is what has driven his 'ducks into the water, ducks out of the water' approach to the political institutions. For this has been part of his wider battle within unionism. As Ian Paisley set the unionist agenda of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement David Trimble's biggest mistake was to respond by trying to out Paisley-Paisley.

Even when the IRA leadership moved to save the peace process by putting a first tranche of arms beyond use in October 2001 David Trimble responded in the same vein as before. Mr Trimble‚s bluff had been called. He was now preoccupied with Mr Paisley at his shoulder rather than the Agreement or the peace process or indeed the issue of arms.

So while he initially responded positively to the IRA initiative he soon chose instead to up the ante at his Party Conference in March ‚02. Putting arms beyond use was no longer good enough. He reverted to the old demand of a complete surrender and he got the support of Tony Blair and John Reid for this. The British system after all had been trying to get an IRA surrender or defeat for decades.

Anti-Agreement unionist political forces with the assistance of sections of the British system were now setting the political agenda. At the UUC meeting in September ‚02 Mr Trimble signed up to an anti-Agreement motion tabled by Jeffrey Donaldson. This was the point when the political process tilted into political crisis - September ‚02, a full one and a half years ago; when David Trimble signalled his intention to pull the institutions down in January ‚03.

But rather than having the UUP seen clearly as responsible for this the British security system in the form of the PSNI stepped in with the Stormontgate charade. This was pure street-theatre. In the past few week it has been exposed as no more than an attempt to provide a spurious validation to David Trimble and provide a pretext for British Government suspension of the institutions again. That is the second and deeper part of the crisis.

Instead of holding up its end of the Agreement and in a vain attempt to preserve him as the leader of unionism the British Government chose to cosset David Trimble. Even when 'saving Dave' meant following him onto Paisley‚s political ground

Our job however is to confront setbacks, to deal with them and move on.

This is the approach which underpinned the two mammoth negotiations we were engaged in throughout 2003.

At the time of last year's party conference we had been locked for a period of months in discussions with the two governments which centred around their failure to faithfully implement the Agreement and we had also begun what we considered to be a significant and meaningful engagement with unionists.

At that time we had secured commitments from the governments on a range of issues, many of which I reported to you at the time. Many of these commitments were brought together in a Joint Declaration by the two governments which was eventually published at the end of April. But lets be absolutely clear about this declaration. Although it deals with many of our concerns, it is a bilateral position agreed only by the two governments. It is not a Sinn Féin position. It does not and cannot supplant the Good Friday Agreement. The validity of any aspect of its content only obtains insofar as it matches or is consistent with the Agreement. Sinn Féin has rejected those elements of the Joint Declaration which do not meet this test.

We had of course sight of the content of the Joint Declaration in its early draft form and well in advance of its eventual publication. And as I have just said, we were not totally happy with its final form. It contains difficulties, some of which were then and remain wholly unacceptable to Sinn Fein. We believed nevertheless that it committed to significant progress across a range of issues. Indeed it showed just how much of the Agreement the two governments had failed to implement. These commitments, if and when acted upon by the two governments, would see the commencement of a process that could see the implementation in full of the Good Friday Agreement.

Consequently, the IRA leadership was persuaded to take yet another initiative to support and inject momentum into the peace process.

On Sunday, 13 April, Gerry Adams and I passed the final copy of a proposed IRA statement to the two governments.

It contained several highly significant and positive elements unparalleled in any previous statement by the IRA leadership.

A copy was also shown to the Ulster Unionist Party leadership.

Ten days later the British Prime Minister publicly raised three questions about the proposed IRA statement.

There is little point in rehearsing the detail of what amounted to an exercise in political scrabble by Mr. Blair. Other than to point out, firstly, that the IRA statement was clear on each of the issues raised by Mr Blair, and secondly, lest there be any doubt, each and all of the questions were subsequently, publicly and clearly, answered by the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

In an attempt to break the stand off the IRA leadership had authorised a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified by the IICD.

The UUP responded in the negative. In doing so they made it clear that their primary concern was the forthcoming election battle with the DUP and conceded that this battle would be fought on the political ground of their opponents within unionism. With unionists rejecting the IRA initiative both governments reneged on their commitments and we were back to square one, stalemate.

Fast forward to October last year and the script is the same. Protracted negotiations, Sinn Féin secure commitments from both the Governments and the Unionists, the IRA are persuaded to take yet another initiative ˆ which they do ˆ David Trimble reneges, the Governments in turn renege and the process is put on hold. Back to square one, stalemate.

Again I have no wish to rehearse the twists and turns in the October negotiations. But I do want to make some things absolutely clear.

At Hillsborough castle, in the early evening of Sunday, October 19th Sinn Fein and the UUP reached agreement on a sequence of events. That night I asked David Trimble for his word of honour on this agreement and he gave Gerry Adams and I his solemn word.

When the two governments were informed that we had reached agreement they also signed on for it.

This agreed sequence was the product of many weeks of intense discussions involving Sinn Féin, the UUP and the British and Irish governments and would allow for the restoration of the political institutions and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and allow elections to be held in a positive context.. It involved many hours of direct engagement between ourselves and the leadership of the UUP.

Everything you have heard which seeks to explain the breakdown in the sequence as something to do with misunderstanding, ambiguity, confusion, lack of clarity, deception or non delivery by republicans is absolute rubbish.

There was no confusion, no ambiguity and not the remotest possibility of misunderstanding.

All elements of the sequence were agreed in advance, including the public statements containing the commitments, which we would all make as part of this agreement.

The sequence involved:

  • An announcement by the British Government confirming the date for an Assembly election.
  • A statement by Gerry Adams
  • A statement by the IRA
  • A further act of putting arms beyond use by the IRA, and verified by the IICD.
  • A report by the IICD
  • A statement by David Trimble
  • A joint statement by the two governments.

Gerry Adams and I have in our possession copies of the statement that Mr Trimble was to make. We have copies of the Joint Statement that the two governments were to issue.

In fact because Mr. Trimble wanted to ensure that everything was done quickly to create a political momentum, Gerry Adams agreed, at David Trimble‚s request, to bring forward his remarks by one hour.

Sinn Féin delivered our part of this sequence as agreed. The IRA delivered their part of the agreement as agreed. The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. The UUP however, at the point of delivery on their side, effectively walked away. Only they can explain why they did so.

And likewise with the two governments. They failed to publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of this agreement.

So where does this leave us? Two protracted negotiations culminating in each instance in Republicans stretching ourselves in an effort to save and advance the peace process and, also in each instance, a negative response or reneging on commitments by both the governments and the leadership of unionism. Stalemate.

Are we any further on? Is it time to think anew with respect to our approach, our strategy? What have we to show for our efforts. Some might think - not a lot. I take a different view. But these are all legitimate questions. Not just for now. These are the questions we must ask ourselves on a regular basis.

Yes, eleven months on, with the political institutions in continuing suspension and no movement on issues of equality, human rights, and demilitarisation you could be forgiven for concluding that we have made little progress or that we have nothing to show for our efforts of the past year.

There is certainly no getting away from the fact that the process is in serious crisis. Gerry Adams has told it as it is in his presidential address yesterday. This is a dangerous crisis.

But remember, at the time of our last Ard Fheis the governments were declaring that there would be no further negotiations. Despite their assertions we have, over the past year, engaged both governments on a continual basis on what is required to move the situation forward.

And more importantly we do have something to show for it. In the course of our engagements with both governments and on more than one occasion we have frustrated their attempts to sell the Agreement short, we have resisted their efforts to impose a deal which allows them to evade or dilute their obligations. And we have managed to hold the two governments to the Good Friday Agreement as the template for change.

And crucially we have built and continue to build our political strength which is the only guarantee that the process of change will continue.

We have reminded them again and again that the commitments they made in the Agreement, in last years Joint Declaration and in subsequent discussions, commitments on prisoners, on OTRs, on demilitarisation, on policing, on the rights of Irish citizens in the north to representation in the Oireachtas haven't gone away, not will we allow them to go away.

I want now to turn now to the Review

So how have we approached this review and what of its prospects?

Despite the negative context within which it is set Sinn Féin is bringing a positive attitude to the review.

We submitted a comprehensive agenda for discussion to the governments covering a range of issues under the broad headings of Stability of the Institutions; Equality and Human Rights; Expansion of the All Ireland Elements; Demilitarisation, and Policing and Justice.

We have prepared detailed positions on all of these including specific proposals for action to advance the equality and Human Rights agenda, to increase the number of Implementation Bodies and Areas of Co-operation, to establish an All-Ireland Inter-Parliamentary Forum and All-Ireland Consultative Forum, to enable the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

We have also raised the disgraceful situation of electoral registration in the north and the resulting disenfranchisment of over 200,000 voters.

The issue of collusion is on the agenda, including the refusal of the British government to publish the Cory report and their failure thus far to initiate independent inquiries demanded by families of those killed by State forces or through collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitaries.

We have argued also for a genuine and substantial social economic peace dividend for deprived working class areas, both unionist and nationalist.

These are all matters directly linked to the Good Friday Agreement and which require focussed discussion and action.

While we have adopted a good faith approach to this review we are under no illusions with regard to its prospects.

We are very mindful of the inconsistency between the British Government's assertion that the Agreement cannot be renegotiated and their failure to restore the political institutions which are the democratic core of the Agreement.

We are equally mindful of the contradiction in the Democratic Unionist Party‚s position of taking part in a review which is about determining how best to implement the Agreement when they have declared their intention to subvert it.

The DUP tell us all, in their published documents, and I quote, „Any agreement must command the support of both nationalists and unionists‰.

Sinn Féin emerged from the recent Assembly election with 60% of the nationalist vote.

Surely the logic of the position outlined by the DUP must mean that they graduate now from sitting in councils with Sinn Féin or sitting in TV studios with Sinn Féin to face to face negotiations with our party. The logic of their position is, as Gerry Adams put it yesterday, they should be in government with Sinn Féin.

Of course, neither the British Government nor the DUP has attempted thus far to explain the contradictions in their respective positions.

And everyone knows the Ulster Unionist position. Last week David Trimble threatened to walk out of the Review. He declared that any further participation by his party would only be on the basis of discussions around the issue of paramilitary activity.

And what is the governments response to this? Well, lo and behold, Review business on Monday has been cancelled and Review business on Tuesday is now scheduled to be focussed on what the governments describe as „paramilitarism and its detrimental impact on our collective efforts to find a basis for sustainable devolution‰.

We, of course, have no difficulty with such a focus. In fact we welcome it. We have many many questions with respect to paramilitary activity.

We know that the PUP for example during last summer used their influence to help bring about a decrease in loyalist activity on their side. We hope to hear that this will continue.

We don‚t know as yet whether or not the announcement last week by the UDA that they are extending their ceasefire will mean anything. However we are prepared to wait and see. We certainly welcome the UPRG signalling an intention to work towards this end.

But there are other issues of concern to us which we intend to raise in next weeks discussions. There is the very big issue of the continuing British Government involvement in loyalist paramilitary activity. And of course there is ongoing concern about the DUP involvement in Ulster Resistance.

So, it will be interesting to see how the respective parties address these particular concerns about their connection to paramilitary activity, and also about their future intentions in this regard.

As to the prospects of the Review - well, we can be certain of one thing, it won‚t lead us out of the current stalemate. It was not designed to deal with a crisis in the Agreement.

Yes, the current stalemate is a crisis, a dangerous crisis. But it is not a crisis that - began one week ago outside a bar in Belfast. It is not a crisis around the IRA or IRA intentions. The institutions have been suspended now for almost 18 months. This is the 4th suspension. In the same period the IRA have taken a number of initiatives to move the process forward, whereas both governments, and particularly the British Government, have failed repeatedly to deliver on their commitments. In the same period the securocrats have succeeded in stalling the process of change. But that is all they have managed to do. They have not halted this process, nor have they reversed it. Nor will we allow them to.

We have negotiated, and campaigned and argued to have the Good Friday Agreement implemented not only because that is our obligation, not only because it is the right thing, but also because it fits into a strategy of providing and maintaining a political alternative to conflict, a means of sustaining and anchoring the peace process and a transition to the free independent Ireland we have worked long to achieve. That is what our negotiations strategy is about. That is what we will continue to do. Sinn Féin is in this process to the end

Our intention is clear.

Our intention is peaceful.

Our intention is to succeed.

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