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Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Social and Family Affairs Seán Crowe TD has called on the Minister for Finance to put tackling poverty at the forefront of the forthcoming budget. Deputy Crowe attended the launch of Combat Poverty's Pre Budget Submission earlier this week

The Dublin South West TD said:

"Almost 6,000 people die prematurely in Ireland as a direct result of poverty. Three hundred thousand Irish children live in poverty and one in five Irish people live in poverty. These are the real achievements of the Celtic Tiger. Poverty levels in Ireland have risen from 18.1% to 20.9% since Fianna Fáil and the PDs came to power.

"Many of the cuts the Government has made in public services have fallen heaviest on people struggling to get by. The massive cuts in Community Employment for example devastated community resources on which thousands of people had become reliant.

"This state is one of the most unequal in the developed world and it is time the Government took steps to seriously address this. The past seven budgets have redistributed the wealth of the state to the well-off and wealthy in Irish society. Over the last six years the gap between rich and poor has widened by €276 as a result of this Government's Budget decision.

"Tackling poverty should be at the core of this year‚s Budget. The thousands of people getting by and raising a family on less than €150 a week, hit hard by stealth taxes and services charges, need for once, to have their concerns addressed by the Budget." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on International Affairs and Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the confirmation by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Dáil today that the Common Defence provisions of the draft EU Constitutional Treaty will be revised. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "Ireland must now seize this opportunity to show progressive leadership in the EU and to exercise its responsibility as a militarily neutral state, by seeking changes to draft Article I-40 on Common Defence, the provisions of which significantly further militarise the EU and undermine Irish military neutrality by association with and complicity in the European militarist project.

"Today I urged the Government once again to instruct the Irish negotiators to protect Irish independence in defence policy, and specifically the traditional policies of military neutrality and UN primacy, by at minimum securing a specific article explicitly recognising the rights and duties of neutral states within the Union and explicitly recognising the right of those states requiring a UN mandate for military operations.

"I also urged the Government in line with its policy on nuclear disarmament to take up Sinn Féin's challenge of Positive Neutrality in Action and use the opportunity of the IGC negotiations to argue for a new Treaty Article committing to the objective of a Nuclear Weapons-Free EU, as a concrete step towards making this world genuinely safer for all.

"We want Government commitment to activism on the issue of neutrality and demilitarisation, in the same way that they have actively campaigned for the retention of unanimity in decision-making on taxation. There is no reason why the Government shouldn't fight as hard to protect Irish neutrality as Spain and Poland have to protect their favourable voting weights in Council. And I don't accept the false choice offered by the Government-Fine Gael-Labour axis - that an EU Common Defence is inevitable, and the only option before us is to either fully commit by sending troops or else limit our participation to EU defence policy making. There is another way, and that is to actively campaign against an EU Common Defence and in favour of UN primacy and a demilitarised EU, and to also ensure that Ireland and other militarily neutral states are accorded equal status and explicit recognition in the Union." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe TD has expressed his support for striking workers at Aer Lingus and called on the airline's management to "end its game of brinkmanship and to start negotiating with their workers instead of prolonging industrial action by their intransigent and inflammatory actions."

The Dublin South-West TD said:

"Aer Lingus have refused to pay two pay rises due under social partnership agreements to the very workers who have turned this company around from a loss maker in 2001 to a profit of €35.3 million last year and which is on course for increased profits this year. Workers in Aer Lingus made huge sacrifices for the company to keep it afloat, including accepting pay freezes and redundancies.

"Aer Lingus have until the 27th to see reason and deliver the pay increase these men and women have worked for and certainly deserve. They have delivered for our national airline, now it's time for their efforts to be rewarded. I would call on the Management of Aer Lingus to end its game of brinkmanship and to start negotiating with their workers instead of prolonging industrial action by their intransigent and inflammatory actions." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has praised the bus drivers and their Union after they suspended tomorrow's planned strike action and demanded that Translink management now make a realistic offer to the drivers.

Ms Gildernew said:

" The Translink drivers have traditionally used over time to supplement their very low level of basic pay. A new European Directive on working time has limited the number of hours they can work and therefore slashed their take home pay drastically.

" Translink have an obligation to their workers to increase substantially the basic level of pay in order to ensure that drivers are taking home a decent wage.

" I supported the drivers in their action last Friday and I praise them today for the initiative they have taken in suspending tomorrows action. The onus is now on Translink to come forward to the drivers Trade Union with a decent offer which can settle this dispute once and for all." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. reacted angrily to plans by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Martin Cullen T.D. to "fast track" the construction of poisonous incinerators by way of the proposed National Infrastructure Board.

Deputy Morgan said:

"The proposal to "fast track" the construction of poisonous incinerators is in stark contrast to the painfully slow provision of recycling facilities. It appears that the only section of the Waste Management Plans being implemented is the incineration element, other than the provision of a small number of bring banks.

"Where for example is the plans for separated waste collection in urban centres of 500 or more houses? A token "green bin" is no substitute for a proper separated waste collection. Why is Minister Cullen not "fast tracking" this important element of waste management plans? Why is there no "fast tracking" of proper civic amenity centres in all major towns and cities?

"It is clear where this Government's priorities are. Minister Cullen is bowing to major multinational interest so that Fianna Fáil can further strengthen its financial contributors while at the same time putting the health of Irish people at significant risk from the dioxin emissions from such dirty installations. It is clear Minister Cullen is determined to impose incinerators against the wishes of local communities throughout the State." ENDS

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Ag labharit inniu ag cruinniú Fhórain Náisiúnta ar an Eorap, dúirt Bairbre de Brún, iarrthóir CE na Sé Chuntae:

Anois go bhfuil an tOllamh Mulcahy i ndiaidh glacadh leis go raibh meancóg déanta nuair a bhí muid ag plé le ceist an Ghaeilge agus muid ag deileál le hiontrál an stáit isteach san Chomhargadh 30 bliain ó shin, nár lorg muid aitheantas nó stádas mar theanga oifigiúl oibre an Chomhargadh don teanga, cad é tuairim an Taoisigh faoi sin.

Ba mhaith liom fiafraigh don Taoiseach cad iad na céimeanna atá sé chun glacadh chun déanamh cinnte de go mbeidh an Ghaeilge mar teanga oibre in institiúidí an Aontais Eorpaigh. I dtaca leis an doiciméad ag leagan amach príoireachtaí do Uachtarántacht na hÉireann ar an Aontas Eorpach, ba mhaith liom ceist a chuir ar an Taoiseach cad iad na céimeanna atá i gceist aige a ghlacadh chun, mar a deir an clár:

"Saibhreas an éagsúlacht chultúrtha san Eorpa a chaomhnú i ngach cruth."Crioch

Speaking at today's meeting of the National Forum on Europe, Sinn Féin EU Six County candidate, Bairbre de Brún said:

"Now that Professor Mulcahy has accepted that a mistake was made in not seeking the status of official working language for the Irish language when we were making arrangements for Ireland‚s entry into the Common Market 30 years ago, can the Taoiseach tell us what his position is on this?

Can he tell us what steps he will take to ensure that Irish will be a working language of the EU?

"And in respect of the document setting out the priorities for Ireland‚s Presidency of the EU, can he tell us what steps he will take for, as it says „the preservation of the richness of European cultural diversity in all its forms."ENDS

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Speaking this afternoon in Belfast Sinn Féin representative for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said that there 'is growing sense of unease among republicans and nationalists at the Irish governments attitude to efforts to rebuild the political process'.

Mr Kelly said:

" There is a growing sense of unease among republicans and nationalists at the Irish government's attitude to efforts to rebuild the political process. I have heard widespread commentary on this in recent days and I have to say those who are expressing disappointment have a point.

" Last Tuesday's events came after months of hard work. Apart from protracted and immensely valuable dialogue between the Sinn Féin leadership and the UUP leadership, the Irish government is aware of the efforts made by us, particularly over the summer, when there were huge efforts, largely successful, to bring calm to interface areas. This wasn't done without people stretching themselves because there was a lot of provocation with continuing sectarian attacks. Yet the broad focus remained on the IRA, as it does at the minute, while activities of other armed groups are largely ignored. For example, last night in North Belfast there were a number of shooting attacks involving the UDA.

" What the IRA did on Tuesday should not be underestimated, neither should Gerry Adams words be cast aside. As someone who works at the coal face of conflict resolution I know at first hand how difficult all of this is for republicans. Everybody knows, especially today of all days, how much progress has been made but there is still a lot to be done and those who are making the progress need to be supported. There is a lot of disappointment that the IICD's work has not been fully and enthusiastically endorsed by either of the two governments.

" The widespread view, and I share this, is that unless David Trimble has control of every jot and tittle, then government schemes, rules and regulations will be set to one side. Although I disagree with it, it is understandable why a British government seeks to placate unionist demands and to build unionist confidence when no one else is doing it, but who defends the nationalist position? If the government doesn't defend the Agreement and the rights of everyone under that Agreement it's little wonder that there is growing anxiety over the perception of how the Irish government is behaving." ENDS

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Speaking during the Dáil debate on the Education for Person with Disabilities Bill 2003 Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education and Science, Seán Crowe TD was critical of the fact that the Bill does not take into account the concept of lifelong learning and adult education. He also called on the State embrace the social model of disability.

He said: "The use of the term child in the first place is a curious one. Perhaps the name of this bill should be Education for Children with Disability 2003 as the entire concept of lifelong learning and adult education has basically been left out. Adult and third level education come under the remit of the Minister and yet have been excluded from the legislation before us. What about the problems facing persons with disabilities in attending university? In accessing adult literacy programmes?"

Deputy Crowe also called for the social model of disability to be embraced by the State. He said: "The social model of disability sees this not as the person concerned being disabled but as society disabling that person by not providing the appropriate facilities, by not allowing for their differences. A student in a wheelchair who can't get into her school because it has steps is not disabled, rather the school is disabling them by not providing appropriate access. It is this social model of disability that must be embraced by the State from top to bottom and I do not believe this legislation goes far enough to address this." ENDS

Full text follows:

Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003

Speech by Seán Crowe TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education and Science

I would like to begin by welcoming the legislation before us, the first piece of legislation brought before the House by the Minister and I think we would all agree, one of the most important he intends to bring.

While broadly welcoming the Bill, or at least what the Bill is trying to do, there are a number of flaws and problems in the details, particularly for example in the area of definitions, that need to be addressed.

To work, this Bill must be child centred legislation, based around the social model of disability. This is not the case as it stands.

At this point I think it would be appropriate to thank the dozens of groups and individuals who made almost 50 submissions on this legislation to the Committee on Education, and especially to those who made oral submissions.

It was certainly a worthwhile effort as everyone involved learned from the process.

I hope the Minister is prepared to take on board a number of the recommendations and proposals that were made by the groups concerned and takes these into account when the Bill reaches Committee Stage. The manner in which this Bill passes through the House will give us an indication of the way the forthcoming Disabilities Bill will be treated when it makes its appearance.

As I said, one of the crucial elements of this Bill is the section on definitions, and it is a section that has already aroused its fair share of difficulties. While I would welcome the fact that the legislation before us has changed the definition of child by taking away that element of the legislation that excluded children under the age of three, the definition of 'child' is still a long way from sufficient.

The use of the term child in the first place is a curious one. Perhaps the name of this bill should be Education for Children with Disability 2003 as the entire concept of lifelong learning and adult education has basically been left out.

Adult and third level education come under the remit of the Minister and yet have been excluded from the legislation before us. What about the problems facing persons with disabilities in attending university? In accessing adult literacy programmes?

This legislation seems to feel that once the State a child with special education needs has done the Leaving Cert, he or she is no longer in need of the kinds of assistance that were required to get through primary and secondary school.

The age limit of 18 is a barrier, not just in terms of adult and third level education, but it does not recognise that children with disabilities might, for whatever reason, need to have more time to complete school than those without.

They might enter the school cycle late, or miss large amounts of class for medical and physical reasons. Is the Minister being mindful of the 2001 Sinnott judgement in the definition he has adopted here?

I would suggest that the Minister refrain from making new definitions when they are not needed. The Education Act 1998 includes a definition for the term 'student' defined as a person enrolled in a school or registered in a centre for education. I would recommend that the term child be replaced, where appropriate, with the term student, and that the Minister address the complete lack of any measures dealing with education past the Leaving Certificate.

The Minister will no doubt be aware that many disability and education groups have serious difficulties with some of the other proposed definitions in the legislation. Specifically the definitions of a 'child with special educational needs' and 'educational disability.'

As it stands this definition would exclude students with learning difficulties and other disorders. There has been a great deal of anger among dyslexia support groups for example at the decision to stop classifying dyslexia, as the Department has normally done, as a Specific Learning Disability and to now exclude it from education legislation dealing with disability.

I would also note, from an All-Ireland perspective, that special education legislation operating in the Six Counties refers to the special education needs of students with Dyslexia.

Legislation in this state should, where possible, be consistent. There is already a definition of disability in education legislation contained in the Education Act 1998. It is also used in the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act of 2000. I would ask the Minister to either amend himself or accept amendments at Committee stage to change the definition of disability to one already widely accepted.

The Irish Wheelchair Association made the point that as it stands in the legislation before us the definition of educational disability in this bill would describe someone like the physicist Stephen Hawking as suffering from an educational disability. The barriers faced by people with physical disabilities are not the product of difficulties in learning but in accessing places of education or appropriate technology.

The social model of disability sees this not as the person concerned being disabled but as society disabling that person by not providing the appropriate facilities, by not allowing for their differences. A student in a wheelchair who can't get into her school because it has steps is not disabled, rather the school is disabling them by not providing appropriate access. It is this social model of disability that must be embraced by the State from top to bottom and I do not believe this legislation goes far enough to address this.

I have a number of concerns about Section 2 and the provisions relating to integrated education. I welcome the clear and unambiguous statement of support for integrated education that is in the first part of the section, while I accept it is not always in the best interest of the child concerned, but I find paragraph B to be a little vague and ill-defined.

There is no information on who would make the decision that the provision of education for a child with special needs in the classroom is impacting negatively on the learning of the children with whom he or she is to be taught.

Does the teacher make this decision? Or the principal? How can we be sure that either of those will have the experience, skills and training in special education to make that determination? Is there room for the involvement of parents in this decision making process, or even that of the other students in the class? How is 'effective provision' defined?

I accept that for practical purposes some form of wording is needed to deal with the small number of cases that might arise which would be covered by this section of the legislation. As it stands however, it is unclear and open to widespread abuse. It could be used by teaching staff who, struggling to cope on the few resources they have at present, might see the addition of a child with disabilities as an added inconvenience. I do not suggest that this kind of thinking would be at all widespread or tolerated within the teaching profession, but to protect the rights of all concerned I would ask the Minster to expand and clarify this portion of the legislation to allow for consultation with parents and more details on the decision making process.

The notion of an education plan, as outlined in Section 3, is in and if itself an extremely good one. However I would like to make several points.

Firstly, Section 3 makes no mention of the student's teacher who would have the most contact with the child. In large schools especially, the teacher would have far more detailed knowledge of the student and experience in teaching him or her. While in practice the principal of a school will no doubt have regard to the opinion of the teacher concerned, putting this in legislation would in my opinion improve this section.

Section 3.1 speaks of the principal taking measures to address any perceived failure of the standard education programme to meet the needs of the child.

There is no mention in this for consultation with parents. If the principal has made the decision that a student of his or hers is not benefiting to the desired extent from the education programme generally applied in the school he or she certainly should take measures to address this, but again I would feel very strongly that they should take any such measures in consultation with the parents of the child concerned. In the Bill' explanatory memorandum it refers to the close involvement of the parents in a child's education to be a key element.

As such I would ask the Minister to consider changing this section to provide for the principal to consult with parents.

In the same vein, parents should be given copies of the education plan as soon as it is developed and not 'as soon as is practicable'

I also note that the power to decide who is consulted in the preparation plan is left entirely in the hands of the principal. While there is a clear obligation to consult with the parents of the child and the special needs organiser, the parents themselves have no power to request that someone they might feel especially comfortable with be involved in the creation of the plan. If the parents are represented, and allowed reasonable access to bringing representations to the education plan creation process they are far less likely to have difficulties with it once created.

In speaking on the Education Plan I would also like to highlight the burdens this will add to the workloads of school principals. The Bill sets out a very detailed list of obligations to be fulfilled by the principal in particular in relation to each individual. According to INTO, three out of every four principals are teachers as well as principles. These days, principals must also be accountants, administrators, lawyers, social workers, fundraisers and diplomats.

Principals are concerned that the legislation will raise parents' expectations but that they will be blamed if the resources are not made available. Recently Minister Dempsey suggested he would provide 500 administrative posts to alleviate this burden. I would welcome more information from this in his response. Many school principals worry that they do not have the resources to teach the vast majority of special-needs students or to implement the legislation.

I would like to finish up by saying that time does not allow me to go into detail on further aspects of the Bill but my party colleagues will be doing so as their opportunities to speak on this legislation arise.

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Addressing the issue of the Inter-Government Conference negotiations on the next EU Treaty at the Forum on Europe in Dublin today, Sinn Féin EU Candidate for Dublin Marylou McDonald said the Common Defence provisions in the draft Constitution confirm the party's prediction that the EU is becoming progressively militarised. She called on the Taoiseach and the Government negotiators to protect Irish neutrality and independence in defence policy by securing a specific article which recognises the rights and duties of neutral states within the Union.

Ms McDonald said: "Sinn Féin has long warned that the EU is becoming progressively militarised, and that Ireland is being drawn into a nascent EU Army. Some continue to dismiss this as exaggeration. But the Common Defence provisions at Article I-40 in the draft Constitution confirm our prediction. So does the recent agreement on enhanced military cooperation between France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg who last April decided to establish a military planning headquarters in Brussels, the recent decision to create an EU Armaments Agency, the deadline on European military harmonisation agreed earlier this month, and last week's IGC decision that forces Ireland to participate in planning and directing an EU Common Defence.

"While Sinn Fein opposes Article I-40 in total, we are especially concerned with the provisions of Article I-40(2). Article I-40(2) states that EU defence policies shall not prejudice NATO states ? and further, shall be compatible with NATO. However, the special rights and responsibilities of the militarily neutral member states are not explicitly acknowledged, and these states are not specifically exempt from Common Defence requirements. Sinn Féin believes that it is the duty of Irish IGC negotiators to protect Irish independence in defence policy, and specifically the traditional policies of military neutrality and UN primacy, by at minimum securing a specific article explicitly recognising the rights and duties of neutral states within the Union and explicitly recognising the right of those states requiring a UN mandate for military operations."

Ms. McDonald called on the negotiators to "oppose Article I-40(2) as drafted and insist that the rights and duties of neutral states be given the same weight of recognition as that accorded to the obligations of NATO states."ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights, Bairbre de Brún has said that Sinn Féin will meet Council of Europe experts who are on a visit to Belfast this week in relation to the Bill of Rights.

Ms de Brún said:

"Sinn Féin will meet with the Council of Europe experts this Friday in Belfast.

"We will obviously raise concerns with them about the approach the Human Rights Commission has taken on a range of equality issues and the implications for fair employment if international definitions around minority rights and protections are changed.

"We will also make our views clear that we believe the Commission is attempting to use the Council of Europe to advance its own particular agenda on these matters." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan TD accused the Minister of State for Housing, Noel Ahern of behaving contemptuously towards fellow TDs and the House in failing to provide answers to specific questions in the Dáil when he was readily able to provide the information to the media. Deputy Morgan made his comments while raising the issue in the Dáil this morning where he criticised the Minister for providing information on Housing to the media today, which he failed to provide in the Dáil last week.

Deputy Morgan said it was "simply unacceptable" for Ministers to be giving "sloppy answers" to questions put to them.

He said they must "stop waffling when responding to questions from members of this House. We must be assured that a proper standard of response is given by all Ministers and Junior Ministers to questions from TDs.

"The situation arose in this House last week whereby the Minister for State with responsibility for Housing gave an evasive, meaningless answer to a question regarding the delivery of 10,000 housing units in line with the commitments in the Sustaining Progress agreement. And then the Minister was able, within a matter of days, to provide journalists with the details, which he refused to provide to a member of this House, regarding the affordable housing scheme. This is simply unacceptable and Ministers who have information and refuse to give it to TDs in response to questions should be removed from Office.

"Sinn Féin will be raising the issue of Minister's failing to answer questions satisfactorily with the Committee of Procedures and Privileges." ENDS

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Speaking during statements on the Peace Process today Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

"I share the profound disappointment and frustration of all those who support the Irish peace process and the Good Friday Agreement at yesterday's turn of events on what should have been an historic day for all the right reasons. No-one is more disappointed than republicans at what has happened.

"An agreement was in place. It was understood by all sides and the sequence of statements and events was clearly set out. That sequence was broken by David Trimble.

"Let there be no doubt about the enormity of the steps taken by republicans yesterday. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams asserted in the clearest manner that Sinn Féin's position is one of total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences and opposition to the use or threat of force. The IRA endorsed this statement. IRA arms were then put beyond use and the IRA said they would continue to engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD).

"The head of the IICD, John De Chastelain, confirmed that this was a substantial action. He made clear that weapons, munitions and explosives had been put beyond use and this was a more substantial act than the previous two such acts by the IRA. He said the operation took a number of hours. And, very importantly, he reminded us that this was carried out under the schemes agreed by the two governments.

"An undefeated republican army has put arms beyond use on three occasions under schemes agreed by the Irish and British Governments and under the supervision of an international decommissioning body. This was a huge step for republicans, unprecedented in Irish history and something that would have been inconceivable up until very recent times.

"Against this background there is absolutely no credibility in the claim by David Trimble that this is not enough to build confidence. This claim takes no account of the enormous difficulty and strain the achievement of such an initiative causes within the wider republican constituency.

"Political confidence cannot be built without the political will to respond to confidence-building measures. What happened yesterday was a failure of political will on the part of David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party. This is not about apportioning blame ? it is about recognising realities. Too often the Ulster Unionist Party and David Trimble are portrayed not as political agents, acting in their own interests, with their own strategy, but as helpless victims of events outside of themselves. In this scenario it is republicans who have to make all the concessions and to take all the initiatives. But that is not what the Good Friday Agreement is about. It requires the political will and the political commitment of all parties and both governments to bring about change.

"The bottom line is that on Tuesday 21 October there was an agreement, a clearly agreed sequence of very significant events, in which republicans kept their side of the bargain and then the plug was pulled by David Trimble. His action has plunged us all into a new set of difficulties.

"I commend Sinn Féin's negotiators for their tenacious and principled efforts. I know that they will persist, as all of us in Sinn Féin will, in our unstinting work to resolve these grave difficulties and to set the peace process on the path of progress once again.

"I reaffirm our determination to get beyond all these difficulties and to ensure the realisation of our vision of the future by peaceful and political means." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has indicated the party's "unequivocal support" for a rights-based Disability Bill, and called for this to be introduced before the end of European Year of People with Disabilities. Following his attendance at the public launch of a renewed campaign for a rights-based Bill, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"There is no room for compromise on equal rights and on human rights. Nothing less than a rights-based Disability Bill will be acceptable to Sinn Féin. This is not just an issue for people with disabilities who are directly affected by discrimination in all aspects of their daily lives. It is not just an issue for the families of people with disabilities who are indirectly affected by such discrimination. It is an issue for all of us who live on this island who seek to build an Ireland of Equals that not only fully includes people with disabilities but that enables them to reach their full potential as persons. We need fundamental social change and this will be a long road. But a rights-based Bill is an essential first step towards eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities and vindicating their human rights.

"I appeal directly to the Taoiseach not to give in to pressure from a Minister for Justice who believes that equality, human rights and justice for all is too expensive. I appeal to him not to become a combatant in the Minister's war on a rights-based society, but instead to keep his word on this very important issue and deliver the rights-based Bill that the Irish people deserve and to do so before the European Year of People with Disabilities expires." ENDS

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Sinn Féin assembly candidate for Newry/Armagh, Mayor of Armagh Cllr Pat O'Rawe has expressed deep concern at the shooting at the home of a Swedish family in Ard Ri in Armagh on Tuesday night. Cllr O'Rawe said that she was glad that no one was injured in the attack that occurred around midnight.

"There does not appear to be a clear motive behind this attack. It has been suggested that because this family are Swedish then some sort of racial motive is behind the attack. All enquires that I have made regarding this have drawn a blank. There have been no recorded cases of xenophobia in this part of the town and I am off the opinion that is not the case now.

"But the uncertainty of the motive aside I would be very critical of those responsible for this shooting. Thankfully no one was injured but the disastrous consequences of such an attack is all too apparent." ENDS

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The North's peace process has gathered fresh momentum with the IRA confirming a new move over weapons. In a second statement today, the IRA leadership confirmed that more weapons had been put beyond use.

The one-paragraph statement, which has been carried on several television statements, said: "The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann (the IRA) can confirm that a further act of putting arms beyond use has taken place under the agreed scheme. Signed, P O`Neill."

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The IRA has released a groundbreaking statement welcoming the speech made by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams this morning, saying it accurately reflects their position. The statement, as printed by BBC, is as follows.

IRA statement in full

The leadership of the IRA welcomes today's speech by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams in which he accurately reflects our position.

He also referred to the issue of weapons.

The IRA leadership is committed to resolving this issue.

In line with our stated position, we have authorised our representative to meet with the IICD with a view to proceeding with the implementation of a process to put arms beyond use at the earliest opportunity.

We have also authorised a further act of putting arms beyond use.

This will be verified under the agreed scheme.

Signed P O'Neill

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Welcoming the announcement of major developments in the peace process, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said it was a credit to all involved in the recent negotiations and an important step forward for all the people of Ireland.He said:

"I welcome the these major developments in the peace process. Today's unfolding events represent an important step forward for all the people of Ireland, allowing for the long overdue and full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"The achievement of progress is a credit to all involved in the negotiations. It has been a very difficult process for both republicans and unionists. And this is the most important point of these negotiations and their outcome. It has been the representatives of Irish republicanism and of Irish unionism who have faced each other and who have come to an agreement, an agreement that I expect will sustain despite the efforts of those who seek to undermine the peace process and the promise of the Good Friday Agreement itself. I commend in particular the negotiators from my own party whose tenacious efforts have borne fruit.

"Republicans have yet again proven their commitment to the peace process and their willingness to take risks. Too often the political will on the part of republicans to make very difficult decisions has been taken for granted. But the record shows that when courageous initiatives were needed republicans have not been found wanting.

"The next step in the process is the long-delayed and postponed Assembly elections. I am confident that this election will see very significant gains for Sinn Féin. As an all-Ireland party we will be contesting the elections on a national basis, with party members and elected representatives from throughout the 26 Counties joining our colleagues on the campaign trail.

"I look forward to the re-establishment of an inclusive Executive, the full operation of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies. We need to see further rapid progress, especially on demilitarisation and on the delivery of a real economic peace dividend for the border region." ENDS

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The following is the text of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speech in the Balmoral Hotel this morning.

Mr. Adams:

I welcome this morning's announcement of an Assembly election on November 26th. This was a point of principle and a core issue for Sinn Fein.

It is the context for today's developments.The people assembled here today will be representing Sinn Fein.We will be seeking an endorsement of our strategy and of the positions I will outline today.

I appeal to the electorate to use their vote and to use it wisely in support of a continuing process of change and a peaceful and just future for all our people.

The last 10 years of the peace process, and especially the last 5 years, have been a political and emotional rollercoaster ride for republicans and unionists, nationalists and loyalists.

We have been through a lot together. As republicans we have been faced with enormous challenges. We have confronted those challenges.

Each year, and sometimes more than once in a year, we have reached what some have described as another crossroads‚ in our struggle. Some years ago I compared all this to a journey.

For us the destination is an Irish republic. Completing the journey means having a political strategy to get us there. It means engaging with and putting our case to our opponents. It means taking the political offensive, taking initiatives, and engaging in the battle of ideas.

Sinn Féin is a united Ireland party. But being an Irish republican means more than paying lip service to the 1916 Proclamation or to the ideal of The Republic.

It means refusing to stand still.

It means taking risks.

It means reaching out to others.

It means moving forward.

Republicans are not quitters. We have refused to give up.We have refused to countenance a continuation of division, discrimination or injustice. We have campaigned, agitated, lobbied and challenged those who want to return to the old failed policies of the past.

We have sought and are seeking to change minds and attitudes. We are trying to build new and better relationships between the people of this island, and between us and the people of Britain.

In recent months, and especially in the last few weeks, the Sinn Féin negotiating team has been involved in intense discussions with the Ulster Unionist Party and the two governments.

Much of the media focus has been on the IRA. The reality is that all of the participants, and the two governments have significant contributions to make if the institutions are to be restored and the Good Friday Agreement made to work efficiently and effectively.

It isn't just down to republicans. It never was.

Making this process work is a collective responsibility. Republicans need to know that the two governments will honour their commitments. Republicans need to feel confidence in a unionist leadership working the institutions and the Agreement and joining with us as partners in the task of building a better future for our people.

Equally, Unionists need to have confidence in republicans.

In this context let me make some remarks about the current situation. The initiatives taken in April and May by republicans to resolve outstanding matters were rejected. There was a lot of justifiable anger about that. But now we need to move on.

The Joint Declaration produced by the two governments at that time has good and positive elements in it; particularly around those aspects of the Agreement which have yet to be implemented.

It is generally acknowledged that the focused work of Sinn Féin's negotiating team, led by Martin McGuinness, brought the governments to this position. I want to commend all our team and to thank them for their outstanding contribution.

The commitments in the Joint Declaration to finally resolve the outstanding issues are welcome. These and key issues of the Agreement are about creating a stable society. They include:

Sustainable political institutions.
Equality in all its dimensions.
Acceptable, accountable policing.
The transfer of powers on Justice and Policing.
The demilitarisation of society.
The entrenchment and effective protection of human rights.
The anomalous situation of people On The Run.

Other aspects of the Joint Declaration are unacceptable. The establishment of the so-called International Monitoring Commission is a breach of the Agreement and it contravenes the safeguards built into it.

It takes the right of democratic accountability from the elected Assembly and gives the power of sanction and exclusion over political parties in Ireland to a British Minister with no electoral mandate here.

Republicans have worked to have the Good Friday Agreement implemented, not only because that is our obligation, not only because that is the right thing, but because it fits into a strategy to create an alternative to conflict. It is a peaceful means of bringing about change and of sustaining and anchoring the peace process. I want to reiterate my total commitment to playing a leadership role to bring an end to conflict on our island, including physical force republicanism.

Our strategy to do this is based on creating a purely peaceful and alternative way to achieve democratic and republican objectives. I say this conscious of the dangers and risks and in the certain knowledge that there is no easy way to sort out these issues.

I have no illusions about any of this and I know my commitment is shared by the Sinn Féin leadership

We are totally committed to building the peace process.

The length of the IRA cessations, first declared almost 10 years ago, its discipline in the face of ongoing British military and loyalist activities, and its initiatives to sustain the current process, show that it too is genuinely interested in building the peace process.

I commend them for this.

The Good Friday Agreement with its vision of a fair and just society operating exclusively democratically and peacefully was democratically endorsed by the vast majority of the people of both states on the island of Ireland. Sinn Féin is committed to the full implementation of the Agreement.

The IRA leadership wants the full and irreversible implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects and they are determined that their strategies and actions will be consistent with this objective.

Implementation by the two Governments and the parties of their commitments under the Agreement provides the context in which Irish Republicans and Unionists will as equals pursue their objectives peacefully, thus providing full and final closure of the conflict.

Actions and the lack of actions on the ground speak louder than words and I believe that everyone ˆ including the two Governments and the Unionists can now move forward with confidence.

As President of Sinn Féin, I have set out a peaceful direction which I trust everyone will follow. Sinn Féin's position is one of total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences. We are opposed to any use or threat of force for any political purpose.

Sinn Féin wants to see all guns taken out of Irish society.

There is also an onus on the two governments, and particularly the British Government, to underpin and validate the primacy of politics.

I want to appeal directly to those organisations which are not on cessation at this time. While calling on all armed groups to desist I want to appeal especially to organisations which present themselves as Republican. I appeal to them to join with the rest of us, Republicans and Unionists, Nationalists and Loyalists, in taking a leap forward together and collectively building a new future based on justice and peace.

Anyone looking at this situation during the 1960‚s, the 1970‚s, the 1980‚s and for much of the 1990's, could be forgiven for believing that there are some conflicts which simply never end, where distrust and hatred are so much a part of the fabric of the society that things will never change.

But things have changed. Our success in bringing this about was not a matter of chance; it was a matter of choice. And republicans helped shape and give voice to that choice. For our part Sinn Féin is totally committed to establishing an entirely new, democratic and harmonious future with our unionist neighbours.

Like it or not we're all in this together.

Sinn Féin has been involved in intensive discussions with the UUP over recent weeks.

This direct and open dialogue between Unionists and Republicans is in itself a profoundly important development and the key to ongoing political progress.

Consequently, we understand the importance of reaching out to unionists; of learning about unionist concerns, fears and aspirations. Of explaining to them how we feel.

One of the big things we have to do together is to tackle the scourge of sectarianism. This remains a huge challenge for unionists and loyalists, republicans and nationalists.

Good work is being done in this regard, particularly at local government level by Sinn Féin representatives, like Armagh Mayor Pat O‚Rawe, Mayor Anne Brolly, Councillor Francie Molloy, Mayor Sean McGuigan and former Belfast Mayor Alex Maskey.

This needs to be built on. It will not be easy, but it is not impossible.

Many unionists, particularly working class unionists, are already conscious of the way in which they have been exploited. Unionist working class areas face enormous social and economic problems. Families, the elderly and the young are weighed down with poverty, deprivation and a sense of despair. This is totally unacceptable.

When Sinn Féin demands equality it is for everyone.

We also have to reach out to those who are in negative mode. We reject exclusion and isolation. They are the politics of failure.

We have to encourage engagement and to persuade everyone to be part of the process of conflict resolution to be part of the future.

I believe we have the collective knowledge and the means to make this century the most peaceful, prosperous, productive time in the history of Ireland.

The question is do we have the wisdom and the will? I believe we have. I believe that together we can build a future of equals on this island. A peaceful future which empowers, and enriches and cherishes all the children of the nation equally.

The people of this island have the right to be free. To live free from discrimination and inequality, without violence and conflict.

Sinn Féin means to journey on from there, to be part of building a republic worthy of the suffering and sacrifice of all of those who have gone before us.

I want to appeal to Republicans throughout Ireland and abroad to continue to support Sinn Féin's peace strategy. Initiatives by republicans cause pain and difficulty for all of us.

I know activists will have reservations about much of this. But we have to look at the bigger picture. We have to look towards the common good.

Bobby Sands summed it all up best for me. Despite great hardship, deprivation and physical hurt he never lost sight of his vision for a new Ireland, an Ireland in which our revenge will be the laughter of our children.

It is always easier to begin a journey. The hard thing is to finish it.

Sinn Féin is in this process to the finish.

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Responding to reports that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair is to announce that elections to the Assembly are to proceed on November 26th, South Belfast Sinn Féin representative Alex Maskey said:

"The announcement of a definite date for the Assembly elections is obviously a welcome move. They should never have been cancelled.

" Since then Sinn Fein has campaigned, argued and lobbied relentlessly for an election to allow the people to have their say. Last week I said that I believed that the British government had accepted this logic. Today's announcement confirms this.

"We will now proceed into an election campaign, and it is my belief that the electorate will seize the opportunity of this new dynamic which can see the peace process move forward and the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement implemented." ENDS

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