Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly has demanded that the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy give an explanation about the ongoing delay in publishing the terms of reference for the proposed inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane.
Mr Kelly said:
" Given the track record of successive British governments in concealing and covering-up their role in the murder of citizens through the state policy of collusion there is obvious concern at the continuing delay in publishing the terms of reference for the proposed inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.
" Since the murder of Pat Finucane successive British governments have failed to allow the sort of independent inquiry which is acknowledged as the only mechanism which can reveal the truth to proceed. The time for full disclosure from the British government, its departments and agencies about their role in this killing has long since past.
" However the approach of the British government to this case in recent weeks has served to reinforce fears that the British policy of concealment is set to continue. I am demanding that the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy either publishes immediately the terms of reference for the proposed inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane or gives a public explanation of his failure to do so.
" It is only when these terms of reference are published that the Finucane family and those of us who support their demand for a full independent judicial public inquiry can assess whether the inquiry proposed will have the capacity to uncover the truth about British state involvement in this murder." ENDS
Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has said that anti-Agreement unionists would be 'delighted' at SDLP indications that they are considering boycotting any future Executive.
Mr McLaughlin said:
" Many people have been quite underwhelmed in recent weeks as the SDLP have sought to portray themselves as defenders of the Good Friday Agreement. This is the same party who supported legislation which allowed a British Minister to sanction or suspend a member of the Executive outside the terms of the Agreement and who arrived at Leeds Castle proposing 10 unelected individuals to head up the Departments.
" Now we have the SDLP threatening to boycott any future Executive. Anti-Agreement unionists will I am sure by delighted at this suggestion. Such a move would hand additional Executive power to the DUP and if the SDLP choose what would be seen as an easy option it would be to the detriment of the nationalist community, the Agreement and the Peace Process.
" Sinn Féin will continue to engage with the governments and the other parties and defend the Good Friday Agreement in the face of ongoing efforts to diminish its power sharing core by anti-Agreement unionists. Sinn Féin will not be running away from this task." ENDS
The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met today in Dublin. The Ard Chomhairle was briefed by party President Gerry Adams on the current state of the political negotiations. Speaking from Dublin the Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:
" The Ard Chomhairle was briefed today on the current state of the political negotiations.
" Sinn Féin continue to be engaged with the two governments in trying to get the sort of comprehensive deal required.
" The current DUP position is an obstacle to achieving this.
" The fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement - power sharing, equality, all-Ireland institutions, human rights and crucially the checks and balances, the protections, placed there to stop unionist abuse of power cannot be subverted to satisfy the DUP demands.
" They were agreed by all of the parties to the talks, including the two governments, and passed in referendums North and South, and they must be defended particularly by the Irish government in the face of attempts to see them diluted.
" A deal will only be done on the basis of sharing power within the basis set out in the Good Friday Agreement." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has expressed deep regret following news reports of the death of Ken Bigley.
Mr Adams said:
"Mr Bigley's plight has drawn enormous sympathy from around the world and especially here in Ireland.
"News reports of his murder has shocked everyone and our heartfelt sympathies are with the Bigley family at this difficult time.
"I would also like to thank all of those who campaigned for his release." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness, speaking after a week of intensive discussions with both governments has said that a comprehensive deal is only possible within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr McGuinness said:
"Sinn Féin are up for a deal. We have been working hard with both governments all week to try and achieve progress but the bottom line is that the DUP need to accept that a comprehensive deal is not possible short of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Sinn Féin will not settle for anything less than the Agreement.
"The fundamentals of the GFA - power sharing, equality, all-Ireland institutions, human rights and crucially the checks and balances, and the protections designed to prevent unionist abuse of power, are not up for negotiation.
"They were agreed by all of the parties to the talks, including the two governments, and they must be defended in the face of attempts to see them diluted. That is the basis on which we are engaged with the two governments." ENDS
The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle will meet tomorrow, Saturday 9th October, at the party headquarters in Dublin at 44 Parnell Square.
The party's Executive will be briefed on the current negotiations by the Sinn Fein negotiating team.
National Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin will be available to speak to the media at 12.15 in 44 Parnell Square, Dublin.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Kathy Stanton has described as 'unbelievable' a statement from the SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood endorsing the failure of the PSNI to arrest leading UDA figure Ihab Shoukri after he recently breached bail conditions.
Ms Stanton said:
" In the wake of Ihab Shoukri blatantly breaching bail conditions the local SDLP representative Alban Maguiness was rightly very vocal in criticising the PSNI and the DPP over their failure to arrest this man.
" However yesterday after what are being described as 'secret discussions' between the PSNI top brass and Alex Attwood the SDLP have announced that they accept the word of the PSNI and accept that Shoukri should not have been returned to prison.
" Far from holding the PSNI to account through membership of the Policing Board, the SDLP as evidenced by this U-turn and the clandestine nature of their engagement with senior PSNI figures far away from the eyes of the media, have become little more than an extension of the PSNI press office.
" Nationalists in North Belfast and elsewhere who have been the victim of an ongoing UDA campaign of violence and intimidation will be angered at the SDLP defence of the PSNI despite their blatant failure to deal properly with this situation. If the individual in question was a catholic, nationalist or republican I am quite sure that the approach of the PSNI would have been very different." ENDS
Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that the latest report from PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Electoral Commission confirms what Sinn Féin have been saying ever since the introduction of new legislation governing electoral registration, that the electoral register will continue to shrink in unless urgent steps are taken to address the problem.
Mr Doherty said:
"This report from PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Electoral Commission confirms what Sinn Féin have been saying ever since the introduction of new legislation governing electoral registration, that the electoral register will continue to shrink in unless urgent steps are taken to address the problem.
"It is very worrying for the future of democracy in the Six Counties that not only is there an estimated 15% of the adult population that are entitled to vote currently excluded from the register but that this report concludes that there the 'emerging trend in the electoral register is downward'.
"The report highlights the significant weakness in the way that canvassing is carried out. In a situation where over 200,000 people have been disenfranchised it is rank stupidity to base future canvases on the current register. This approach can only mean that all future registers will disenfranchise greater numbers of people.
"While the report does not identify poverty as a defining factor in not being on the register it does highlight the fact that fluctuation in the register is highest in deprived areas.
"Sinn Féin have voiced concerns about the impact of this legislation from day one. We have raised these concerns directly with the Electoral Commission and with the British government. There needs to be substantial changes to the legislation to address the democratic deficit that it has created." ENDS
Speaking from London where he is engaged in meeting with senior British officials, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP once again made it clear that the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement are not on the table for negotiation.
Mr McGuinness said:
" It is my belief that the DUP are well aware that the very minimum required from them in order to make progress is for them to share power with nationalists and republicans on the basis set out in the Good Friday Agreement. It is only within the context that we can move forward.
" The fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement cannot be changed. They were agreed by the parties to the Agreement, including the two governments, and endorsed in referendums north and south.
" The fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement include the broad principles of power sharing, equality, all-Ireland institutions and crucially the checks and balances, the protections, which are central to this. These were designed to prevent the sort of abuses we had previously under unionist governments and which continue to exist in local councils under unionist control Any erosion of these fundamentals is unacceptable." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly has said that the decision of the SDLP to once again raise policing issues with the British government in the recent talks is an admission that their strategy of delivering change through membership of the Policing Board had failed.
Mr Kelly said:
" Three years ago we were told by the SDLP that the Policing Board was to become the vehicle which would drive future policing changes. We were told that the negotiation on Policing with the British government had ended. We were told that there would be no amending legislation to the Mandelson Act.
" Sinn Féin refused to accept this and instead continued to engage with the British government in order to deliver the sort of new beginning demanded by the Agreement. We have made progress along this road but more needs to be done, particularly in the area of transferring power from London based securocrats into the hands of local politicians.
" At Leeds Castle the SDLP by their own admission once again began raising policing issues in the political negotiations. This is a very public admission that their strategy of delivering further change through membership of the Policing Board had failed. The fact is that the Policing Board function as seen yesterday was to rubber stamp the continuing use of plastic bullets and provide a platform for the PSNI Special Branch, an anti-peace process grouping, to make unsubstantiated allegations against republicans without producing a shred of evidence." ENDS
Sinn Féin Regional Development Spokesperson, Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney has said that the latest Transport Quarterly Statistics published today make worrying reading.
Mr McCartney said:
"Despite an increase in revenue from bus and train use there is a drop in both the number of weekly bus journeys and the weekly rail passenger miles.
"We are not getting the message across about the benefits of public transport. As a result our road system comes to a shuddering halt on a daily basis. This is because we have not had the investment in public transport that can deliver the quality service that can is attractive and can encourage people out of their cars.
"The future of public transport must not be held hostage to short-term thinking because this will not lead to the creation of a genuine regional transport strategy. Economic and social development, particularly for the North West, requires a major expansion of public transport including rail.
"Trains are a faster, less polluting and safer form of transport and rail has an important role in any future sustainable transport system for people and freight. This requires an expansion of the current network to provide fast intercity links between the major cities throughout Ireland and reliable and a safe freight transport system. NIR is one of the world's smallest publicly owned and operated passenger railways. This creates huge disadvantages in terms of economies of scale. We believe that the creation of a unitary Irish railway system can unlock the huge potential of rail.
"The absence of freight services on the NIR system is a disgrace, in terms of both economic viability and environmental impact, particularly when Iarnród Éireann carries over three million tonnes of freight per annum. We need a major expansion of rail freight transport throughout the island linking all the major centres of population and ports." ENDS
Sinn Féin has challenged Health Minister Mary Harney to state publicly her position regarding provision of cancer services for the Southeast. The party's national spokesperson on Health Caoimhghín O Caoláin T.D. has put down a number of written questions to the minister including asking the minister if she will authorise development of a Satellite Radiotherapy Unit for the Southeast region.
Speaking today Waterford City Councillor David Cullinane called for a positive response from the Minister given her stated commitments on this issue in the past.
Cllr Cullinane said: "The Progressive Democrat Manifesto for 2002 called for regionalised cancer services and clearly states that it is unacceptable that people have to travel up to a 100 miles for radiotherapy treatment. If this is the P.D. position then I call on the Health Minister to quickly proceed with the implementation of her clear pre-election promises."
"Sinn Féin has posed a number of written Dáil questions to the Minister. We have asked the Minister if she will authorise development of a Satellite Radiotherapy Unit for the Southeast Region and if she will give approval and resources for the provision of a dedicated Haematology/Oncology Unit at Waterford Regional Hospital as proposed by the South-eastern Health Board.
"Mary Harney now has the opportunity to implement her clear election promises on this issue. She has the opportunity to deliver where Micheál Martin has failed. I am calling for a positive response from the minister."ENDS
Sinn Féin Councillor Lynn Fleming has called on all Nationalists to review their safety after a joint statement from Unionist Paramilitaries UVF / UDA warned of attacks on the Nationalist community.
Councillor Fleming said:
"As per usual Unionist paramilitaries have now begun to turn their attention towards Nationalists in an effort to defuse tensions within their own organisations. This pattern has been seen over many years and has at times been excused by Unionist politicians as retaliatory actions.
"I am calling on all Nationalists, especially taxi drivers who have been targeted in a concerted campaign for over a year now, to review their personal security when going about their business.
"The response to attacks between Unionists factions by the PSNI is in stark contrast to the response of the ongoing attacks on Nationalist taxi drivers, the latest which saw a taxi attacked with an explosive device. While several arrests, confiscation of weapons, and house searches were carried out in an effort to halt inter factional violence the campaign against Nationalist taxi companies has been allowed to continue unabated.
"I would also call on the Loyalist Commission which includes politicians from all of the Unionist Parties, Protestant Churches and all of the Unionist Paramilitary Groups to use their influence to have this threat of attacks on Nationalists publicly withdrawn. As everyone is aware when Unionist Paramilitaries threaten action against Republicans they actually mean any vulnerable Catholic." ENDS
Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has welcomed the announcement that Continental Airlines will begin direct air route between Belfast and New York by June 2005.
Mr McLaughlin said:
"Opening up this route can bring thousands more visitors to the six counties. It has the potential to support the development of our tourist industry, to attract inward investment and to support economic growth.
"It is good to see a number of organisations, including NITB, Tourism Ireland, Invest NI subsidiary Air Route Development Ltd and DETI along with the International Airport and Continental Airlines working together to achieve this result
"It is vital that we now get a regional transport strategy in place that maximises the benefits of expanding air travel routes beyond the Belfast Metropolitan Area and brings people up to Derry, into Fermanagh and Tyrone, down to Armagh and on across the border to the rest of Ireland.
"Investment in our transport infrastructure, particularly in our rail and public transport networks, in a way that links us together with the rest of Ireland is essential if we are to make the most out of developments such as this." ENDS
Commenting in advance of the European Parliament Hearings for Commissioner Designate for the Internal Market and Services, Charlie McCreevy, which is taking place in Brussels today, Thursday October 7th, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald expressed her hope that Mr. McCreevy's tenure as EU Commissioner would not be a repeat of the right-wing, anti-social agenda he pursued in Ireland as Minister for Finance. She said "an opportunity exists for the incoming Commission to move to a more socially inclusive European Union, dedicated to ending poverty both inside and outside its borders."
Ms McDonald said, "There are some who would argue that Charlie McCreevy was removed from his position of Minister for Finance by the Taoiseach because he had become an electoral liability for the Government. Whatever the reason, it is clear that his vice like grip on the purse strings when it came to social spending, coupled with his penchant for pouring money in to his personal pet projects, caused considerable unease in Fianna Fáil backbenches and among its grassroots membership.
"However his appointment as an EU Commissioner raises some serious questions. I would hope that if he is confirmed as EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services that he will abandon the right-wing, anti-social agenda he pursued in Ireland as Minister for Finance.
"An opportunity exists for the incoming Commission to move away from a Europe currently obsessed with markets to a more socially inclusive European Union, dedicated to ending poverty both inside and outside its borders.
"Mr. McCreevy would do not only a great service to Ireland but to the wider European Union if he adopted such an agenda." ENDS
Lagan Valley Sinn Féin Representative and Lisburn Council Group Leader Paul Butler has announced that Sinn Féin will attend this years Mayors Dinner, after they successfully challenged attempts by the DUP Mayor to exclude them from the event.
Cllr. Butler said:
" This whole issue was never about attending the dinner. It was about attempts by the DUP to operate a policy of discrimination and exclusion. The attempt to bar Sinn Féin from the Mayoral dinner was another symptom of this policy.
" This afternoon we have learned that the DUP Mayor, Cecil Calvert has been forced to back down from his original decision barring Sinn Féin from the dinner. His change of heart has of course been forced by the fact that it breaches Council guidelines more than any acceptance of the democratic entitlements of the Sinn Féin electorate.
" Sinn Féin have been campaigning against the sectarian policies of Lisburn Council for many years. We consider the Mayor's U turn as justification of that campaign.
" Our message is one of equality and inclusivity in Lisburn and we will continue to campaign until unionists on the Council end their policy of discrimination." ENDS
Sinn Féin MLA for north Belfast and party spokesperson on policing and justice has called for the immediate removal of plastic bullets. This follows comments by the PSNI Chief Constable at today's policing board meeting.
Speaking today Mr Kelly said:
"Hugh Orde's retention of plastic bullets is completely unacceptable and flies in the face of Patten. These lethal weapons have been responsible for 17 deaths, eight of which have been children and to see them retained is an insult to the families who have lost loved ones to plastic bullets.
"There is no place in society or modern policing for these deadly weapons. The continued purchasing of over one hundred and twenty thousand plastic bullets by the Policing Board in the last three years shows that the policing Board and the PSNI are stuck in the failed and dangerous policing methods of the past.
"Sinn Fein have raised this issue once again at the negotiations and we are firmly restating that these deadly weapons should be removed now." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD and spokesperson on Community and Social Affairs, Seán Crowe TD today welcomed the commitment of the Minister for Social Welfare, Seamus Brennan that he would carry out a review of the "meagre" allowances paid to grandparents caring for children.
Speaking today in the Dáil during Priority Questions the Sinn Féin TD spoke of the huge difficulties facing grandparents trying to care for children on the meagre allowance of a €100 per week paid under the Orphan's Allowance. Deputy Crowe called on the Minister to investigate the possibility of developing a grant similar in value to the Fostering allowance which amounts to about three times the value of the Orphan's grant.
Deputy Crowe said:
"These Carers feel isolated and frustrated, with no place to go for clear information on their entitlements. Social Workers often don‚t even know what the entitlements are. The difficulties facing these elderly people in accessing fostering rights are bad enough in that a certain degree of ageism is involved. Those difficulties are compounded where there are issues of drug addiction amongst the parents of the children needing care."
"I know that the whole Carers issue will be debated tonight in the Dáil but this whole area needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Carers render a great service; they work hard and often around the clock. Their work deserves payment - not some meagre allowance. Carers in this country are seriously undervalued under current support systems."
Speaking afterwards the Dublin South West TD said he "welcomed Minister Brennan's commitment to review the whole are of allowances paid to grandparents caring for children." ENDS
Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew speaking at the 9th annual economic conference organised by the CBI has today said that there are huge structural economic problems in the north that demand a new approach.
Ms Gildernew said:
"There are huge structural economic problems in the north centring around poor productivity; the loss of the manufacturing base; over-dependence on the public sector and service industries; a lack of focus on R&D, training and skills and poor infrastructure.
"These problems are exacerbated by the British Treasury's unwillingness to give special consideration to the north, by the lack of political stability, and by higher operating costs, including the cost of energy. The privatisation agenda currently being pursued by the British government means that all of us, individuals and businesses alike, are facing even higher costs in the near future.
"Sinn Féin believes that the future of the economy in the north of Ireland must be set in the context of an island wide strategy for development and regeneration. A small island with a population of just over 5 million people cannot successfully develop economic strategies on the basis of division within the island.
"The development of an all-Ireland economy and spatial integration is well advanced. The Good Friday Agreement changed the framework for governance on the island of Ireland. The All-Ireland Ministerial Council with delineated areas for all-Ireland development and co-operation is well underway. This work needs to be built on and extended into other areas. On the basis of economies of scale and sharing best practice this makes sense.
"Business is, in many ways, ahead of political developments as it has long been recognised that it is only by adopting a unified approach to the development of an all Ireland economic strategy will the whole country achieve its full potential.
"In the short to medium term, Sinn Féin believes that current problems must be addressed by an economic development package that should include:
· Public expenditure commitments by the British government
· Job creation strategies which would see the creation of higher value jobs
· Support for indigenous industry
· Investment in R&D, training and skills
"An immediate area of concern, both to business and to political parties, is the infrastructure deficit. Investors will go where the infrastructure is and will avoid the areas where it is absent. The practical out-working of this is that while manufacturing loss in the north is 6%, in Derry it is 34%. Estimates vary but the figure needed is calculated to be just under £7 billion.
"Years of neglect and under-funding by successive British administrations need to be remedied immediately. An immediate cash injection is needed that will begin to remedy the infrastructure deficit. The strategy should specifically target west of the Bann. We need a fast, efficient and safe transport network that feeds into an all Ireland network. We need necessary upgrades to the water and sewage system. We need the rollout of gas and greater urgency given to an all Ireland energy strategy." ENDS
It is clear there are huge structural economic problems in the north centring around:
· Poor productivity
· The loss of the manufacturing base
· Over-dependence on the public sector and service industries
· A lack of focus on R&D, training and skills
· Poor infrastructure.
These problems have all been exacerbated by the British Treasury's unwillingness to give special consideration to the north, by the lack of political stability, and by higher operating costs, including the cost of energy. The privatisation agenda currently being pursued by the British government means that all of us, individuals and businesses alike, are facing even higher costs in the near future.
Sinn Féin believes that the future of the economy in the north of Ireland must be set in the context of an island wide strategy for development and regeneration. A small island with a population of just over 5 million people cannot successfully develop economic strategies on the basis of division within the island.
The devastating economic consequences of partition can be seen most clearly in the poor economic and social development of the border counties. This is a problem clearly recognised by the European Union, which has targeted funds at this area.
The development of an all-Ireland economy and spatial integration is well advanced. The Good Friday Agreement changed the framework for governance on the island of Ireland. The All-Ireland Ministerial Council with delineated areas for all-Ireland development and co-operation is well underway. This work needs to be built on and extended into other areas. On the basis of economies of scale and sharing best practice this makes sense.
Business is, in many ways, ahead of political developments as it has long been recognised that it is only by adopting a unified approach to the development of an all Ireland economic strategy will the whole country achieve its full potential.
In the short to medium term, Sinn Féin believes that current problems must be addressed by an economic development package that should include:
· Public expenditure commitments by the British government
· Job creation strategies which would see the creation of higher value jobs
· Support for indigenous industry
· Investment in R&D, training and skills
An immediate area of concern, both to business and to political parties, is the infrastructure deficit. Investors will go where the infrastructure is and will avoid the areas where it is absent. The practical out-working of this is that while manufacturing loss in the north is 6%, in Derry it is 34%. Estimates vary but the figure needed is calculated to be just under £7 billion. Years of neglect and under-funding by successive British administrations need to be remedied immediately. An immediate cash injection is needed that will begin to remedy the infrastructure deficit.
The strategy should specifically target west of the Bann. We need a fast, efficient and safe transport network that feeds into an all Ireland network. We need necessary upgrades to the water and sewage system. We need the rollout of gas and greater urgency given to an all Ireland energy strategy.
In conjunction with this we need a strategy for social inclusion, one that will tackle inequality, poverty and unemployment. New Deal type job creation schemes are not the solution. We need investment in education especially higher and further education and quality training. The infrastructural build itself would create jobs. Contract compliance and the use of local labour clauses (e.g. percentage of labour must be local, percentage must be taken from the Long Term Unemployed) must be a central element.
In essence this is the peace dividend that we should have had and which has been lacking from the political process. The communities and people who suffered most during the conflict still suffer the most serious deprivation, disadvantage and unemployment. It is absolutely essential that they benefit from the peace. Economics as conflict resolution needs to seriously tackle poverty and inequality and lift up those communities that have suffered most from the conflict.
Ireland, north and south, is experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity. In the north, latest figures from the labour market show that more people than ever are recorded as being employed. Unemployment has fallen to just over 5%. However, research has shown that not everyone is sharing in that prosperity. While many live in prosperity, there are a significant number of people living in poverty and the inequality gap is increasing. There is a huge swath of people who have yet to reap any kind of peace dividend, or share in the increased wealth.
We also know that poverty is a discriminator, it affects some groups in society more than others. For example, people with a disability are nearly twice as likely to be in poverty as those without a disability. Women are more likely to be poor than men. The level of poverty is 1.4 times higher in households where the household respondent is Catholic than where the household respondent is Protestant. Crucially, over a third of children are living in poverty.
Fair employment figures show that Catholic under-representation in employment continues. The data shows that there are still areas where Catholics, particularly males, are under represented, notably, in the security-related sector, district councils, and the private sector in general. There is evidence of Protestant under representation in the health and education segments of the public sector. In addition to differentials in employment, there is a continued gap in employment and economic activity rates between Catholics and Protestants. The 2001 Census showed that 73 per cent of Catholics were economically active as compared to 79 per cent of Protestants - and 44 per cent of Catholics were employed against 50 per cent of Protestants.
Unemployment rates are higher for those with no qualifications for all groups, but substantially higher for Catholics than Protestants. There is also a clear geographical element in relation to inequality, with the census showing that areas West of the Bann consistently score highly in relation to levels of unemployment and disadvantage.
What can be done to address this issue? Clearly, what is needed is an economy that serves the needs of all the people. Sinn Féin have a number of concerns.
We are not convinced that the use of Public Private Partnership (PPP) is always the most efficient, cost effective method and we have concerns that a privatisation agenda is being pushed through without any real thought being given to alternative methods. Areas of particular concern are those situations in which the contract will involve the transfer of employees to the private sector. It is imperative that all PPP projects be subject to rigorous equality impact assessment in order to determine whether the proposals are going to create further inequalities. This could be in terms of less favourable working conditions for employees, or less favourable service provision.
It is clear that one of the positive initiatives that has been brought forward over recent years has been the procurement review. It is clear that the pilot schemes introduced to encourage employers to recruit from the unemployed should be expanded further. Greater use of public procurement generally to further the promotion of equality should be developed as a matter of urgency.
There is a need for a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy that would see the actual targeting of resources to those most in need. Section 75 in particular offers the opportunity for public sector policy-making to actively work towards the promotion of greater equality. It is clear that there is much work to be done in relation to providing a comprehensive training and employment strategy that ensures that the least qualified members of society can be brought into the labour market. Clearly, the business community has a vested interest in ensuring that those entering the labour market have the necessary skills for the 21st Century. The economy in the north is also experiencing, for the first time, large numbers of
migrant workers. Language barriers are a serious problem for many of these
workers. Such workers are vulnerable, and open to exploitation, as a number
of studies have recently shown.
It is also clear that Single Equality Bill, and the Bill of Rights are crucial to the building of a society, and an economy that offers opportunity for all. Clearly, business will be concerned about 'red tape', and the need to remain competitive. It is worth noting however the concerns that were prevalent among business in the late 1980s regarding the introduction of compulsory workforce monitoring - since then the practice has become widely accepted as part of doing business in the north of Ireland. The Single Equality Bill, and the Bill of Rights are necessary tools for building a society in which there is genuine opportunity for all, and where the rights of all members of society are respected. Given our experience of conflict and discrimination this is a critical imperative for our society. If the future is not to mirror the past, then an economy must be developed which serves all the community, regardless of where they live, or their community background. The business community should look upon the Bill of Rights and the Single Equality Bill as tools for consolidating and furthering the peace and prosperity that has begun to develop.
As a politician it is immensely frustrating that we are not in a position to make these decisions in the Assembly. It is imperative that the institutions are up and running as a matter of urgency. This must be done in the context of preserving the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement. No dilution will be acceptable. The DUP are working with Sinn Féin at all levels, they make decisions with us in councils throughout the north and they worked with us in the Assembly committees. They need to sit down with us and speak face to face and work at resolving the many problems we have. A comprehensive and equality based economic strategy can only be developed as a result of open discussion and working together by all those involved. This requires input from the private sector, political parties, trade unions, community organisations, representatives of marginalised and excluded communities, all of whom collectively have a responsibility and an investment in developing a brighter and more prosperous future. ENDS
Speaking during the course of the debate on the Water Services Bill last night, Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD, said while welcoming the Bill he remained "skeptical" about the Government's stated position that they would not introduce Water Charges.
Deputy Morgan said, "I welcome the introduction of the water service legislation. I also welcome the measures included in the Bill which seeks to improve the regulation of the group water schemes.
"I am aware that the former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Marin Cullen stated in the Seanad that it was not the Government's intention to bring in water charges nor was the Water Services Bill intended to facilitate the privatisation of water services. However, given the governments record on promises we can be forgiven for being skeptical particularly given that the Bill contains measures specifically related to meters.
"Sinn Féin is opposed to the introduction of water charges. We view it as a regressive stealth tax. Given that we oppose direct charges for domestic rates, we cannot support proposals for metering of domestic water supplies. We are firmly of the view that everyone has the right to an adequate supply of safe, clean water as a basic entitlement. Ability to access safe clean water cannot be based on a person's ability to pay for it. We believe the provision of water services is a key responsibility of the state and are fundamentally opposed to the privatisation of water services. We would point to the disastrous record of privatisation of water services in other states."
In relation to group water schemes the County Louth TD said, "Water quality in this state remains a problem. I welcome the provision in Part 6 of the Bill that provides for the introduction of a system of licensing for group water schemes. This is particularly important in the light of the fact that the EPA reported in February of this year that the overall quality of drinking water supplied by group water schemes remained unsatisfactory. Worryingly that report also found that some public water supplies consistently breach standards such as aluminium and nitrates." ENDS