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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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Sinn Féin Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh Assembly member Conor Murphy has written to the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy urging him to allocate offices to MLA's at Stormont to allow them to get on with job they were elected to do.

Mr Murphy said:

"Sinn Féin have consistently argued that the British government's suspension of the institutions should be lifted to allow MLA's to get on with the job for which they were elected. Gerry Adams raised the issue of office accommodation and facilities for Assembly members in the immediate aftermath of the Assembly election with Mr Murphy.

"I have also raised this with senior officials at Stormont and have been told that they are waiting for instruction from the British Secretary of State to allow MLA's access to individual offices and other facilities.

"The refusal to allocate offices suggests that the British government are not serious about lifting suspension.

"These are offices that are lying empty and unused - it would cost nothing to allocate office accommodation. It is unfair to restrict the ability of elected representatives to do business with other political parties, organisations and constituents. It is also important that MLA's are in a position to effectively scrutinise legislation and policy decisions being taken by direct rule ministers.

"Mr Murphy should act as soon as possible and allow MLA's to get on with the job and as much of the work as possible that the public so clearly want us to do." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin along with Dublin Ard Chomhairle member and EU candidate Marylou McDonald, today met the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street and urged him to co-operate fully with the inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

Deputy Ó Caoláin and Mary Lou McDonald were members of the Sinn Féin delegation led by Party President Gerry Adams which met the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in London. They raised the Dublin-Monaghan bombings with the Prime Minister in the presence of the Taoiseach.

Speaking after the meeting, Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"We put it to the British Prime Minister that his Government had completely failed to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry and that the inquiry was hamstrung as a result. We urged him to co-operate now and to give access to the mass of documentation that was withheld.

"Judge Barron states in his Report that the British Government's representatives told the Inquiry, at a meeting in London, that there are some 68,000 files of possible relevance in the Northern Ireland Office alone. 'The number of files in the Ministry of Defence could be counted in millions', states the Report. Despite that mass of documentation the inquiry received only a ten-page letter from the British Secretary of State in February 2002 and a similar follow-up letter. Incredibly, no copies of original documents were supplied.

"Today we urged Tony Blair to ensure the release all relevant files and to allow the survivors and the bereaved of Dublin and Monaghan to make progress towards truth and justice. The British Prime Minister undertook to contact us further on the issue. We will continue to maintain the pressure which has now built up in the wake of the Barron Report." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Arthur Morgan T.D. has slammed what he has termed "the ground rents fiasco" following replies from the Department of Finance which show that the Government is paying ground rents on Arbor Hill, the National Library and on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Kildare Street.

Deputy Morgan said

"I received a number of replies yesterday from the Minister of State at the Department of State Tom Parlon T.D. in relation to ground rents. The revelations that the State is paying ground rents on the National Library to the Duke of Leinster is astounding. 80 years after the establishment of the Free State this should be a cause of huge embarrassment to the Government, as should the fact that the State is also paying ground rents on historic Arbor Hill. It was also revealed that the State is paying ground rent on the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment, Kildare Street but Minister Parlon's reply did not reveal information in relation to who they were paying this ground rent to.

"The replies outlined the fact that this state will be paying ground rent on Arbor Hill and the National Library forever while the ground rents lease on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment at 27 and 27 Kildare Street will run until 2174.

"It is absolutely outrageous that the Government is burying its head in the sand on this issue. We have been promised legislation to abolish ground rents by successive governments but nothing has been delivered. Those who are bearing the real brunt of this ongoing ground rents fiasco are those private home-owners who find that their ground rent leases are about to expire and that, legally, they are faced with the choice of buying out their ground rent lease - paying 1/8 of the value of their home to the ground rent landlord - or renewing the lease for a far higher rate than they had previously been paying. Given the escalation in house prices, people are faced with demands for huge sums from their ground rent landlords and this is causing severe hardship for many people.

"Legislation to abolish ground rents must be published immediately and its quick passage through the Dáil must be facilitated." ENDS

(Text of Questions follow)

* To ask the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Kildare Street; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. - Arthur Morgan TD

The Commissioners of Public Works pay ground rent on the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment Building at 23/28 Kildare Street as follows:

For 24 Kildare Street: E7.29 per annum

For 25 Kildare Street: E7.62 per annum

For 26 Kildare Street: E47.04 per annum

For 27 Kildare Street: E18.20 per annum

The ground rent leases on Numbers 26 and 27 Kildare Street expire on 28th September 2174. The information on the tenure of the ground rent leases for Numbers 24 and 25 Kildare Street is not readily available but will be supplied to the Deputy as soon as it comes to hand.

* To ask the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the National Library, Kildare Street; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. -Arthur Morgan TD

The Commissioners of Public Works pay ground rent of E14.44 per annum to the Duke of Leinster for the National Library premises in Kildare Street, Dublin 2. This payment will be made annually forever.

* To ask the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on Arbor Hill; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. - Arthur Morgan TD

The State is liable for two fee farm rents of E139.99 and E38.09 per year in respect of Arbour Hill. These rents are payable forever.

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA commenting on today's Labour Force Figures has said that employment figures hide the true cost of poverty.

Ms Gildernew said:

"The fact that unemployment remains unchanged over the 12 month period hides the fact that there continues to be very serious unemployment black spots.

"Particularly West of the Bann, in Derry, Strabane, parts of Fermanagh and in urban areas such as North and West Belfast high levels of unemployment remain static and are unacceptable. In these areas there are also serious levels of poverty that must be addressed.

"The hidden figure showing that the numbers of people classed as 'economically inactive' also distorts the figures. Overall these figures hide the true cost of poverty that exists not just in specific geographical areas but also within vulnerable groups such as senior citizens, young people, the long term unemployed and lone parent families.

"There also still remains a considerable gap between the earnings of men and women. The unemployment rate of nearly 10% for young people aged between 18-24 is also unacceptable and points to deficits in training and education provision for this groups and the longer-term failure of New Deal in particular. The issue of long-term unemployment also shows little sign of improving.

"The reality is that the manufacturing sector continues to be in freefall, an overall decrease of 3% in manufacturing output should send out a serious warning. While the majority of new jobs are part-time which are characterised by poor employment security and low income, particularly within the service sector where the majority of new jobs are coming on stream." ENDS

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Commenting on the appearance of Gina Adair in a Bolton Court on charges linked to drugs, North Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Cathy Stanton said:

"For years and years the Lower Shankill UDA were involved in the mass importation and supply of drugs. At the same time many of those in the leadership of the so called ŒC‚ company were paid agents of the Special Branch and their behaviour was tolerated and encouraged as they were killing Catholics and nationalists at the behest of the British State.

"Yet within months of the remnants of the Lower Shankill UDA arriving in Bolton the authorities there have taken action against their criminal activity.

"This contrasts sharply with the attitude of the PSNI to Johnny Adair and his gang when they operated in Belfast. It seems that the authorities in Britain where not prepared to tolerate criminal activity simply because many of those involved in it were also Special Branch agents." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice Gerry Kelly has said that the confirmation from Bertie Ahern yesterday that the British Government would not be publishing their sections of the Cory Report 'was yet another stalling tactic by the British to try and keep the lid on the collusion scandal'.

Mr Kelly said:

"Confirmation that the British government intend to delay the publication of the Cory Report is yet another stalling tactic by the British in their attempts to keep the lid on the collusion scandal.

"The facts are now well known and accepted that the British state was involved in the importation of weapons and the targeting and murder of citizens in the six counties. They have been attempting to hide the truth of collusion for decades.

"Sinn Féin will continue to support the families of those killed through collusion and we will raise the issue of the publication of the Cory Report with the British government in our discussions this afternoon."ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Fra McCann has urged republicans to remain vigilant after another three republicans had their homes attacked overnight.

Cllr. McCann said:

"Last night the homes of three republicans were attacked in the St. James area. It appears that ball bearings were fired into the houses at around 11pm. In at least one of the cases the ball bearing passed through double glazing and entered the living room which was occupied at the time.

"It was only through good fortune that nobody was seriously injured or even killed as a result of these attacks. Let us make no mistake about this, these ball bearings are being fired from handgun type weapons and are lethal.

"Last nights attacks are the latest in a series of attacks on the homes of republicans in West Belfast in recent weeks. It is my belief that they are linked and that the information is coming directly from within the Crown Forces. I am urging republicans to remain vigilant in the time ahead." ENDS

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Last night in the Dáil, Kerry North Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris raised the need to hold a public inquiry into the issues highlighted by the Barron Report. Deputy Ferris also asked that such an inquiry would consider all allegations of British military and intelligence involvement in violent incidents within the state between 1969 and 1976. In his reply, Minister for State Brian Lenihan said that the Barron Commission would report on these in the New Year, and that the question of whether to hold a public inquiry would then be considered.

In his contribution, Deputy Ferris said: "According to the Barron Report many of the documents relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings have been "lost or destroyed". For example, the Inquiry was not able to see the security file on the Dublin bombings, and there are no files on the UVF and UDA for 1974 and 1975, while there are for all other years. According to the Report, the Commission was given no explanation for their disappearance.

"Nor are there files on the Dublin bombings of December 1 1972. They led to the introduction of the amended Offences Against the State Act, and are strongly suspected as having been carried out by British Intelligence agents. But even apart from the missing files, the Report states that "The Garda investigation failed to make full use of the information it obtained", and that " -- the Government of the day showed little interest in the bombings". Why this was so must also be the subject of an inquiry.

"It is vital that the Commission of Inquiry proceed immediately with an investigation not only into the events referred to in the Preface to the Report, but into all incidents that took place within this state from 1969 to 1976, where there is strong evidence of involvement by the British military and intelligence services. We have hints of this in the Report with references to British military personnel seen in Dublin at the time of the December 1972 bombs, and immediately prior to the May 1974 incidents. Another British officer was found in possession of weapons in Dublin on the very day of the bombings. Such an Inquiry should take place in public so that we can have a full account of what took place.

"Another issue touched on is the role of agents within the Garda Special Branch. John McCoy who was central to the Monaghan investigation is mentioned and there have been strong allegations over the years regarding his connections with the British security forces. It would also appear that former Garda Commissioner Ned Garvey was well aware of whatever contacts were taking place.

"The most damning aspect of the Report, however, is its verdict on the role of the Fine Gael Labour Coalition of the time. This was a Government that contained such upstanding defenders of law and order as Liam Cosgrave and Paddy Cooney and Paddy Donegan and of course Conor Cruise O'Brien.

"And what was their reaction to the bombings in 1974? According to the Report they made no effort to assist the investigation, and when they were told that some of those responsible had been interned they made no effort to follow up on this or to pursue those individuals after they were released a short time later. Not only that but serving members of the Gardai at the time were under the distinct impression that the Government of the day did not want the investigation to be continued. And indeed it was not.

"All of these matters require that they are made subject to a full public inquiry and some of the families have already called for this. It seems that everyone else who was party to the conflict of the past 30 years is expected to continuously apologise and explain themselves. Well, the very least that those who were responsible for ignoring the murder of dozens of people and indeed the subversion of the very institutions they claimed to cherish above all else, ought to be made do the same. It might, if nothing else, give them a break from writing nonsense in the Sunday newspapers. ENDS

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"Minister Ahern mentions the need to defend the Hague Preferences as a guarantee of extra quota, but he must surely recognise that the Preferences have not secured the Irish fisheries over the past three decades. They were never more than a compromise on the initial disastrous deal made in 1973 and until the very basis of that deal and of the Common Fisheries Policy is renegotiated, the future of Irish fishing is bleak.

"In the Dáil tomorrow I will be calling on the Government to make such a renegotiation a key issue in the Irish Presidency of the EU". ENDS

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Opposing the European Arrest Warrant Bill today, Sinn Féin's Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD echoed the warning of the Irish Human Rights Commission that the measures proposed diminish constitutional protections regarding extradition and could also violate human rights norms.

Ó Snodaigh said: "This Bill is unacceptable because it negates certain fundamental rights including the right not to be extradited for a political offence.

"The Irish Human Rights Commission have published their concerns, and have made them known to the Minister for Justice. They maintain that the EU Framework Decision giving rise to the European Arrest Warrant is based on a flawed presumption of effective and equivalent protections of accused persons' rights between EU member states. I agree with this assessment.

"The Human Rights Commission has further concluded that even with the safeguards now included, the Bill is likely to diminish constitutional protections in relation to extradition. What I find particularly disturbing is the fact that the Minister's response to their concerns has been far from adequate. What we need is proper, binding human rights-proofing of legislation in this state.

"This government should never have backed the Framework Decision in the first instance two years ago, but now it is attempting to fast-track flawed and unsupportable legislation through the Dáil with minimal debate.

"Sinn Féin has attempted to block passage of this Bill. We have submitted protest amendments, and we will also table further substantive amendments in an attempt to mitigate the Bill's worst effects.

"It is disgraceful that despite the history of controversy surrounding extradition provisions, the Government is fast-tracking this Bill in order to suppress debate and prevent any popular mobilisation against it." ENDS

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Commenting today as the DUP prepare to meet with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said that there was 'a clear onus on the two governments to ensure that the process of change is not allowed to be stalled any further'.

Mr McGuinness said:

" Sinn Féin will meet with both the Irish and British governments tomorrow in London. We will once again be raising with them the outstanding commitments which they have yet to implement, including measures on policing, demilitarisation, criminal justice, human rights and equality. We will also make it clear to them that the continued suspension of the political institutions is both unacceptable and untenable.

" In the New Year there will be a clear onus on the two governments and the pro-Agreement parties to come together and ensure that the process of change is not allowed to be stalled any further. We need to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented and implemented in full. We want to see the entire Good Friday Agreement package delivered upon. This is our focus in the time ahead." ENDS

Editors Note: The Sinn Féin Delegation will be led by Party President Gerry Adams MP and will include Martin McGuinness MP, Mary Lou McDonald, Cavan Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Sinn Féin London Representative Dodie McGuinness.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD has called on the Minister for the Marine Dermot Ahern to take a strong line in defence of Irish fishing interests at Wednesday's meeting of the Fisheries Council in Brussels. The EU is proposing severe cuts in quotas and allowable catches (TACs) along with further possible restrictions on fishing days. The proposals come only a short time after restrictions of 10 and 15 days were placed on Irish Sea fishermen and are a consequence of the Commission's rejection of Irish fishermen's own recovery plan.

Deputy Ferris said:

"The crisis facing Irish fishermen can hardly be underestimated. If the proposals mooted by the Commission are accepted, the situation will be further exacerbated. While I welcome the Minister's determination to oppose the proposals, I believe that he must take a far stronger line than he has done to date. Minister Ahern mentions the need to defend the Hague Preferences as a guarantee of extra quota, but he must surely recognise that the Preferences have not secured the Irish fisheries over the past three decades. They were never more than a compromise on the initial disastrous deal made in 1973 and until the very basis of that deal and of the Common Fisheries Policy is renegotiated, the future of Irish fishing is bleak. In the Dáil tomorrow I will be calling on the Government to make such a renegotiation a key issue in the Irish Presidency of the EU". ENDS

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Newry & Armagh Sinn Féin Representative Conor Murphy has accused the PSNI of 'deliberatley vandalising' homes in the South Armagh area over the past number of weeks. The latest raids came this morning when two homes were smashed into in the Belleek area.

Mr. Murphy said:

"This morning at around 6.30am I was called to a house in the Belleek area. Around 60 heavily armed and masked members of the PSNI were smashing their way into the home of a local man. They then smashed their way into the man's father's home close by.

"We are consistently being told by the PSNI Chief Hugh Orde, the SDLP and the PSNI allies in the media that we have achieved a new beginning to policing. What I witnessed in Belleek this morning and Silverbridge a number of weeks ago, when heavily armed and masked men arrived at people's homes in helicopters was no different to what people in South Armagh and elsewhere have witnessed for the last 30 years.

"Let us hear the SDLP apologists for this sort of behaviour speak up now. Let them travel to these homes and tell people that this is a new beginning to policing that we are experiencing." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly has said that figures released today showing that the PSNI had a workforce which was 91.6% Protestant, showed clearly that the failure to deliver Patten had resulted in very low figures of Catholic or nationalist recruitment to the force.

Mr. Kelly said:

"These figures demonstrate clearly that the PSNI is an overwhelmingly Protestant force. Its make up does not reflect the society it is supposed to serve.

"The result of Patten not being delivered by the British government and the behaviour of the PSNI in nationalist areas, has been the fact that the numbers of Catholics and nationalists willing to support or join the PSNI are tiny." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane and South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey today met with the SDLP as part of an programme to continue developing the pro-agreement axis.

Mr Murphy said:

"Sinn Féin met with the SDLP two weeks ago, the Alliance Party yesterday and the SDLP again today. It is part of a Sinn Féin programme to continue developing the pro-agreement axis.

"Sinn Féin are in continuing contact with both governments about the way ahead. It is essential that all parties, particularly the two governments fulfil their commitments under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The process of implementing the Agreement must continue." ENDS

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Commenting today as the DUP prepare to meet with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness said that there was 'a clear onus on the two governments to ensure that the process of change is not allowed to be stalled any further'.

Mr McGuinness said:

"Sinn Féin will meet with both the Irish and British governments tomorrow in London. We will once again be raising with them the outstanding commitments which they have yet to implement, including measures on policing, demilitarisation, criminal justice, human rights and equality. We will also make it clear to them that the continued suspension of the political institutions is both unacceptable and untenable.

"In the New Year there will be a clear onus on the two governments and the pro-Agreement parties to come together and ensure that the process of change is not allowed to be stalled any further. We need to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented and implemented in full. We want to see the entire Good Friday Agreement package delivered upon. This is our focus in the time ahead." ENDS

Editors Note: The Sinn Féin Delegation will be led by Party President Gerry Adams MP and will include Martin McGuinness MP, Mary Lou McDonald, Cavan Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Sinn Féin London Representative Dodie McGuinness.

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described as "totally unacceptable" the continued refusal of the British Government to publish the Report of the inquiry by Judge Cory into the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, Robert Hamill and other incidences of collusion in the North. In answer to a question from Deputy Ó Caoláin in the Dáil today the Taoiseach said the British would not yet be publishing the sections of the Cory Report presented to them which deal with these incidences of collusion. He confirmed the Irish Government will publish the parts of the report presented to it, most likely this week.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Confirmation that the British government is delaying the publication of the Cory Report comes less than a week after Judge Barron exposed that government's lack of co-operation with his inquiry. Now we see the British dragging their heels on the publication of another report highlighting collusion. It is widely accepted nationally and internationally that Pat Finucane was murdered as a direct result of collusion between British intelligence and loyalist paramilitaries, including the notorious agent Brian Nelson. The Irish government should set its face against any publication of a partial or censored version of the Cory Report by the British and should demand its immediate publication in full." ENDS

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Reacting to the publication of a report into employment practices in the six counties by the Equality Commission, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality Caitríona Ruane said that the report showed clearly 'that much work remains to be done if the unemployment differential between Catholics and Protestants is to be closed'.

Ms Ruane said:

"This report is another reminder of the work which remains to be done to see that the unemployment differential between Catholics and Protestants is closed. It is a reminder of how much inequality remains within the core of society in the six counties.

"I think that it is also worth noting that the Castlereagh Council model so often put forward by the DUP as an example of a well run local authority employs a 93% Protestant workforce and that the PSNI currently have a 91.6% Protestant workforce.

"Sinn Féin will continue to work to ensure that both the public and private sector adopt affirmative action in order to see employment practices which do not discriminate against the Catholics population in the future." ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Representative Michael Ferguson has demanded that the PSNI member yesterday convicted for driving a Landrover at high speed towards a group of nationalists on the Springfield Road be sacked from his job.

Mr. Ferguson said:

"This PSNI member Constable Alan Leckey was yesterday convicted of driving a Landrover at Springfield Road residents during a protest against an Orange march being forced through the area.

"It was clear from both eye witness and video evidence that it was only through good fortune that nobody was killed as a result of this individual's behaviour.

"It is clear that this individual is not an appropriate person to be policing within the nationalist community. I would now expect that he would be removed from his position within the PSNI." ENDS

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South Down MLA and Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Human Rights and Equality, Caitríona Ruane, has supported calls from Irish Women's Aid Organisations who are demanding that the Hague Convention on child abduction be amended.

Ms Ruane said: "Last week's high profile court case involving Derry mother Cara Gunn, who lost custody of her 5 year old son when a judge ruled he should stay with his father in the US, has exposed serious flaws in the Hague Convention on child abduction. Currently there are at least five Irish mothers in the North of Ireland involved in international custody battles with their foreign spouses or ex partners. They have found themselves in protracted and expensive legal battles to retain their parental rights and as Cara Gunn case proves, the odds are stacked against the mother of the child.

"I spoke with Newry grandmother Ursula Sweeney last night, whose daughter Ursula has been caught up in a bitter custody battle in Canada for her five year old child Melissa about the dreadful situation that her daughter and granddaughter find themselves in. I would like to congratulate the Sweeney family for their courage and tenacity in fighting for their daughter and granddaughter's rights over the past number of years. It is unacceptable that they have to do this alone and I am calling on people throughout the North of Ireland to support them.

"There must be an immediate review of the Hague Convention on child abduction as it is clear that this legislation is being regularly abused in mixed nationality relationships where the custody of the child is at stake. Women such as Cara and Ursula find themselves in a very vulnerable position and are unaware that they are breaking the law by returning with their child to their home country. This is usually an act of desperation on the part of the mother and is done to extract themselves from an abusive relationship. In effect, the law is abusing the mother further and it is vitally important that the circumstances surrounding the reasons for a person fleeing a country with their child be thoroughly examined and taken into account.

"Women living in foreign countries should be made aware of their rights and must not be separated from their children as a result of flawed legislation. In Cara's case Derry, and the six counties in general, was depicted as violent and dangerous and an unsuitable place to raise a child. Like must aspects of the judge's ruling it is based on a fundamentally flawed premise and Sinn Féin fully supports Cara, Ursula and the other women in their efforts to retain custody of their children. These children are Irish citizens and I will contacting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen to stand up for the rights of Irish citizens."

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