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


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Dublin South Central Sinn Féin TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said the decision to privatise Aer Lingus "will have implications for the jobs of thousands of workers and for the future of the Irish economy." Speaking in the Dáil this evening on Sinn Féin's Private Members Motion, which calls on the Government to retain Aer Lingus in State ownership, he said, "Sinn Féin will continue to oppose the Thatcherite sell-out of our publicly owned resources."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "This decision, both in terms of Aer Lingus itself, and in terms of the airports, will have implications for the jobs of thousands of workers and for the future of the Irish economy.

"I represent a Dublin constituency and I am well aware of the serious concern among thousands of workers in Dublin Airport from throughout this city and from throughout the Greater Dublin Area about the Government's mishandling of aviation policy. The workforce in Aer Lingus itself has already been seriously reduced. The indecision and dithering of the Government over the past four years on the development of the Airport has sapped confidence. Last week's Cabinet decision has done nothing to restore it.

" The 19 of April was the European Transport Workers Federation Civil Aviation Action Day. The main concern of the Irish and other European unions on that day was to call a halt to the race to the bottom in the pay and conditions of aviation workers. Workers have shown their flexibility and their willingness to change work practices where necessary but they are right to oppose lowering standards. And it is lower standards for workers and passengers that have followed privatisation of State airlines elsewhere. That is why privatisation should be opposed and we in Sinn Féin will continue to oppose the Thatcherite sell-out of our publicly owned resources." ENDS

Note to Editor:

Full text of speech follows

Is cuid fíor-tábhachtach de bhonneagar na tíre seo é Aer Lingus. Ó 1936, nuair a bunaíodh é, chuidigh sé le forbairt eacnamaíochta an oileáin. Bhí sé riachtanach go mbeadh an nasc seo againn leis an domhan agus é i seilbh an Stáit. Tá sé chomh tábhacthach sin fós. Ach anois tá sé fógraithe ag an rialtas, faoi dheireadh, go bhfuil siad ag dul síos bóthar an phríobháidiú. Cuireann muidne i Sinn Féin i gcoinne an pholasaí sin agus tacaíonn muid le oibrithe na comhlachta agus le gluaiseacht na gceardchumann i gcoitinne sa seasamh sin.

This is a debate the Government did not want to have here in the Dáil. The Aer Lingus Bill 2003 provided for the employee shared ownership scheme but tagged onto that Bill were sections that enabled the Government to sell off the national airline at the time of its choosing and without direct reference to the Oireachtas.

The Cabinet has now taken the fateful decision to sell off our majority share in our airline. This decision, both in terms of Aer Lingus itself, and in terms of the airports, will have implications for the jobs of thousands of workers and for the future of the Irish economy.

So let it be noted that but for tonight's Sinn Féin Private Members motion this fundamental Government decision would not have been debated in the Dáil. We would simply be presented with a fait accompli by the Government in a number of months time.

This motion gives the opportunity to Deputies to state clearly where they stand on the privatisation of one of this State's vital strategic assets. They cannot dodge the question. Fianna Fáil members in particular cannot talk behind their hands and pretend they opposed the decision in the background but lost out to the party leadership. Tonight they have to come out in the open and vote on the issue Yes or No.

In the Government's amendment and in the reply of Minister Cowen last night, there was no attempt to refute the point in the Sinn Féin motion that there is no impediment under EU competition rules to Government investment in Aer Lingus. From time to time the Government has used the argument that its hands are tied by the EU and that it cannot put money into the company. But the trade unions have shown clearly that as a majority shareholder in Aer Lingus the State can do so. Minister Cowen claimed that the company was being sold to allow it to avail of all options in terms of investment. But this decision closes down the most important option of all.

I represent a Dublin constituency and I am well aware of the serious concern among thousands of workers in Dublin Airport from throughout this city and from throughout the Greater Dublin Area about the Government's mishandling of aviation policy. The workforce in Aer Lingus itself has already been seriously reduced. The indecision and dithering of the Government over the past four years on the development of the Airport has sapped confidence. Last week's Cabinet decision has done nothing to restore it.

We have totally inadequate public transport provision in this city. A bigger airport with more passengers will be welcome, provided it is properly planned and operated. But where is the fully integrated Dublin public transport system to cater for the greatly increased numbers? This Government is more interested in its ideological crusade to privatise Bus Átha Cliath routes than it is in providing proper public transport in this city. We are still the only capital city in Europe whose airport is not served by a railway.

19 April was the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) Civil Aviation Action Day. The main concern of the Irish and other European unions on that day was to call a halt to the race to the bottom in the pay and conditions of aviation workers. Workers have shown their flexibility and their willingness to change work practices where necessary but they are right to oppose lowering standards. And lower standards for workers and passengers have followed privatisation of State airlines elsewhere. That is why privatisation should be opposed and we in Sinn Féin will continue to oppose the Thatcherite sell-out of our publicly owned resources.

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Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghin Ó Caolain closing this evenings debate on Aer Lingus said, "The privatisation of Aer Lingus is being carried out in the manner of a classic Fianna Fáil stroke.

He said, "The final decision was a very long time in coming. There were many nods and winks to both supporters and opponents of privatisation. The whole Dublin Airport terminal saga was played out as a battle royal between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil in Cabinet.

"This allowed Fianna Fáil to give the impression with last week's Cabinet decision that they had won out over their PD partners by deciding that the second terminal would be built and owned by the Dublin Airport Authority. But the PDs have won because PD privatisation ideology is now Fianna Fáil ideology.

"No commercial case has been presented for the sale of the State's majority shareholding in Aer Lingus. The Government's previous claim that it cannot invest in Aer Lingus because of EU rules has been discredited.

"The Minister for Finance tried to have it both ways in his contribution. He recognised Aer Lingus as a strategic national asset. On that basis he promoted the Government's retention of a minority shareholding. But he staunchly defended privatisation, knowing that once the sell-off happens all bets are off.

"All of this has been dismissed by the Government as scare-mongering. But it was very noteworthy in the speech of the Minister for Finance last night that he made no reply to the points we made about the privatisation of Telecom Éireann. That was presented by the Government as a retention by the people of a strategic national asset through the public share offer. We warned at the time that privatisation would be against the public interest. We were dismissed as scare-mongers. But even the most vehement opponents of privatisation at that time hardly predicted the debacle that took place.

"As I stated at the outset the Government has bided its time. It waited until Aer Lingus was well back into profitability. The pig has been fattened and now it is being brought to the fair. We know what fate awaits it. Every Deputy in this House has a clear choice this evening. To let the axe fall and to sell off this national asset forever. Or to call a halt to the PD privatisation agenda which now dominates this Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government. " ENDS

Full text of speech - Check Against Delivery

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le gach Teachta a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht seo, ach go háirithe leo siúd atá ag tacú leis an rún. Nuair a chualamar cine an Rialtais an seachtain seo caite ní raibh an dara rogha againn ach an dúshlán seo a thabhairt do gach Teachta seasamh go soiléir ar son nó in aghaidh Aer Lingus mar chomhlacht Stáit. Agus tá an rogha sin ag gach Teachta sa vótáil anocht.

I thank all the Deputies who have participated in this debate, in particular those who will support the motion. Deputies are being given a very clear choice tonight - for or against the sell-off and the sell-out of our national airline. There can be no fudging now and the difference between the Sinn Féin motion and the Government amendment is clear and stark.

The privatisation of Aer Lingus is being carried out in the manner of a classic Fianna Fáil stroke. The final decision was a very long time in coming. There were many nods and winks to both supporters and opponents of privatisation. The Aer Lingus Bill 2003 left the way open for the Government to make this decision but they held off. Public opinion was softened up over a very long period.

Then, as the Taoiseach's party continued to vacillate over the options on the development of Dublin Airport, they found a way to play down the momentous decision to privatise Aer Lingus. The whole Dublin Airport terminal saga was played out as a battle royal between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil in Cabinet.

This allowed Fianna Fáil to give the impression with last week's Cabinet decision that they had won out over their PD partners by deciding that the second terminal would be built and owned by the Dublin Airport Authority.

The PDs' daft and unworkable proposal was for a second terminal owned by private interests, and competing with the neighbouring first terminal - something which aviation experts assure us is unknown anywhere in the world. We are expected to believe because the PDs did not get all they wanted with regard to Dublin Airport that Fianna Fáil has won a great victory. But the PDs have won because PD privatisation ideology is now Fianna Fáil ideology. The PDs have got one of the prizes they always wanted - the privatisation of our national airline, Aer Lingus.

Unfortunately this sleight of hand on the part of the Government parties has been facilitated by many in the media who never question the economic dogma of the PDs and Fianna Fáil.

And let's be very clear about it. This decision is based on dogma. Those of us on the left who oppose privatisation are always accused of being purely ideologically driven. But in this case the ideology is all on the side of the privatisers because no commercial case has been presented for the sale of the State's majority shareholding in Aer Lingus. Yes, Aer Lingus is certainly going to need investment. But we know neither what funding is required by Aer Lingus to develop its business nor how much this sell-out by the Government will yield. The Government's previous claim that it cannot invest in Aer Lingus because of EU rules has been discredited. The disastrous decision of the Cabinet last week now closes down completely the option of State investment.

In his reply to the motion last night Minister Cowen provided no convincing rebuttal of the argument that in the case of Aer Lingus if it ain't broke don't fix it. This is a State company that has been returned to record profitability since the crisis of 2001. That is largely down to the sacrifices of the workforce, many of whom were laid off. The Irish taxpayer has invested in the company over decades and that investment has been repaid handsomely. The benefits in terms of tourism, business generally and the employment provided by Aer Lingus and the aviation industry are incalculable.

The Minister for Finance tried to have it both ways in his contribution. He recognised Aer Lingus as a strategic national asset. On that basis he promoted the Government's retention of a minority shareholding. But he staunchly defended privatisation, knowing that once the sell-off happens all bets are off.

Our most vital transport link to the rest of the world is to go from public ownership to the open market. We are told that the Government will retain strategic shares. We are told that the name of the company will be retained. But where are the guarantees? There will be absolutely nothing to stop multinational interests coming in and buying up the company and disposing of it as they please. They will not be concerned with the strategic transport needs of this country. They will not be concerned with maintaining direct routes from Ireland to destinations across Europe and the United States. They will be concerned only with the bottom line and if the short-term stripping of the company guarantees them the return they want then it is their interests, and not the long-term interests of this country, that will dictate the future of Aer Lingus.

Ultimately, there will be nothing to stop the company being forced along the Ryanair route with trade unions banned and standards lowered. You can be sure that potential buyers will challenge in the courts in Ireland and in Europe anything they see as a restriction or undue regulation.

Potential buyers will demand changes before they put their money into the company. They will demand the removal of any conditions laid down by the Government. The pressure will mount and they will get their way.

All of this has been dismissed by the Government as scare-mongering. But it was very noteworthy in the speech of the Minister for Finance last night that he made no reply to the points we made about the privatisation of Telecom Éireann. That was presented by the Government as a retention by the people of a strategic national asset through the public share offer. We warned at the time that privatisation would be against the public interest. We were dismissed as scare-mongers. But even the most vehement opponents of privatisation at that time hardly predicted the debacle that took place. The public lost out massively, the tycoons like Tony O'Reilly benefited personally to the tune of many millions and we have ended up with a sub-standard and over-priced telecommunications system.

I have previously raised the concern of Aer Lingus pensioners over the future of their pension entitlements and Deputy Morgan did so again last evening. The Minister for Finance replied that the pension fund was not in debt. But he added, very significantly, that this would be the case if there was a mandatory link to the consumer price index (CPU). I am assured by Aer Lingus workers that CPI increases have been paid in all but two

years in the five decades since the pension fund was set up in 1952. If CPI linking is now to be set aside the real value of the pensions of former Aer Lingus workers will be eroded. The hundreds of workers laid off in recent years had a right to expect that the pension arrangements so long in place would continue to apply. Last week's Cabinet decision has now thrown that into doubt. I urge the government at the very least to fulfil its obligations to these pensioners.

Loyalty to a publicly owned company, to a national airline, led many people to support Aer Lingus over the years, even at cost to themselves. They saw it as a contribution to the national economy. The Minister dismissed that as sentimentality and emotion. But this privatisation will mean that Aer Lingus will lose much of that public good will on which it has been able to depend for decades. Shame on those who scoff at citizen loyalty, an important element in both the survival and the success of Aer Lingus.

As I stated at the outset the Government has bided its time. It waited until Aer Lingus was well back into profitability. The pig has been fattened and now it is being brought to the fair. We know what fate awaits it. Every Deputy in this House has a clear choice this evening. To let the axe fall and to sell off this national asset forever. Or to call a halt to the PD privatisation agenda which now dominates this Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government. I welcome the support of the Labour Party for the motion. I am disappointed but not surprised at Fine Gael's support for privatisation. That has clear implications for future government formation which I will leave to another day.

In conclusion I appeal to Fianna Fáil backbenchers. Your party calls itself the Republican Party. In your new party newspaper 'The Nation' the Taoiseach states: "Fianna Fáil is the Republican Party. The concerns of working people have always been at the heart of our policies." Yet a Fianna Fáil led-Government is now proposing to sell out our national airline. Will you stand over that?

Call a halt and support the Sinn Féin motion.

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Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has accused Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael of running away from a debate on the proposed European Constitution after key figures in both parties refused to participate in a keynote debate on the proposed EU Constitution. The debate was due to take place at a major conference, which is taking place in Dublin city this weekend. She challenged both parties to stop hiding on the issue and attend the weekend conference.

Ms. McDonald said:

"This weekend Sinn Féin is hosting a major conference on the proposed EU Constitution and among those participating in the event are academics, Non Governmental Organisations and MEPs from across Europe.

"As part of the weekend we had hoped to have a keynote debate 'The EU Constitution: Yes or No' with politicians arguing opposite sides of the debate. Key figures in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were invited to participate in the debate but refused to do so.

"It is not good enough for public representatives to run away from debating this issue and surely if they are confident enough of their arguments they would be more than willing to participate. Neither is it good enough for these parties to pay lip service to the notion of a full and frank debate on the EU Constitution if they are not prepared to stand up and argue their case.

"In the coming days the people of France and Holland are voting on the Constitution and in the coming months the people of Ireland will be voting. It is crucial that there is a full and open debate on the consequences that this constitution will have for Ireland and the European Union.

"I am challenging Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to stop hiding on this issue and to participate in this weekends conference." ENDS

The conference will take place in the Irish Film Centre on Eustace Street in Dublin on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th May.

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Sinn Féin's Equality, Human Rights and Women's spokesperson, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has said that in order to restore maximum public confidence to the North's Human Rights Commission that "any appointments made by the British government must ensure that the Commission is fully representative, is independent of British government interference and will be provided with the range of powers required to make it effective in fulfilling its remit."

Ms Ruane continued:

"Sinn Féin has set out these parameters to the British government on a continuous basis and we share growing concerns being expressed by the equality and human rights constituencies around the protracted process underway since this time last year to produce new appointees to the Commission.

"What is required is the appointment of a new Chief Commissioner and Commissioners in whom people can have confidence in to advance, promote and protect human rights as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement." ENDS

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Speaking from Washington where he is engaged in a series of meetings with senior US politicians and influential Irish American figures, Sinn Féin Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said that there is a firm view in the US that any future progress within the political process must be based on the principles set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr. McGuinness said:

"Over the next few days I will be meeting with senior US politicians and influential Irish American figures to update them on the peace process and on what is required to move the process forward. I will also be raising the refusal to grant a visa waiver to our representative to the US Rita O'Hare. The White House, US politicians and Irish America have played a crucial role in the peace process, particularly at times when courage and imagination was needed to move the process forward. I am confident that they will play such a role in the coming months.

"There is a widespread acceptance in the US that political progress is possible in the coming period if the necessary political will is displayed by all of the parties and in particular by the two governments. However there is also a firm view, which I share, that any future progress must be based on the principles set out in the Good Friday Agreement. There has to be an acceptance of these core principles by the DUP.

"In the negotiations late last year Sinn Féin ensured that the core principles of the Agreement were defended and protected to the point that the DUP were forced reluctantly to move onto the ground of the Good Friday Agreement. This reality is obvious in the content of the Comprehensive Agreement published by the two governments in December 2004.

" However as we all now know for electoral or whatever reason the DUP chose to back away at the last minute from a comprehensive deal. Of course the DUP can choose to do this again and ignore the reality, which faces them and once again shy away from the political and democratic process. If that happens the two governments must move swiftly to ensure that the DUP are not allowed a continuing veto on future progress." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has called on the Department of Agriculture to implement the Report on the Early Retirement Scheme for farmers that was drawn up by the Committee on Agriculture and Food. Deputy Ferris questioned Minister for State John Browne on the issue this afternoon in the Dáil.

Deputy Ferris asked the Minister if he agreed with the proposals made by the Joint Committee are reasonable and that they would satisfy most of the issues raised by people involved in the scheme and that they could be implemented without going outside the relevant EU regulations.

Deputy Ferris made the point that those who entered the Scheme did so in good faith and that those who were not covered by the criteria governing the Single Farm Payment should be given consideration for entitlements under the Force Majeure provision or other means. He also called for the index-linking of pensions awarded under the 2000 scheme.

Minister for State Browne said that he will make a formal response shortly and that he would take into consideration the recommendations made, but that he couldn't meet all the recommendations in the report. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Truth, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has challenged the new British Secretary of State Peter Hain to come clean on the position of the British government on its role in the conflict and its approach to the debate on truth, healing and closure.

Mr McGuigan said:

"Sinn Féin is committed to an full and honest debate about truth and truth recovery. This is a debate that has gathered momentum over the last couple of years, particularly in the context of conflict resolution.

"Tomorrow's engagement is part of Sinn Féin's ongoing consultation process.

"The fact is that the families of victims and campaign groups have kept the issues of truth recovery and justice live political issues.

"Sinn Fein share the concerns of many people, that the British government does not want a genuine discussion about a truth process and that it only wants to engage in the debate on its own terms. This is the wrong approach.

"There can be no hierarchy of victims.

"The demand for this issue to be resolved is out there, the British government cannot close the door on the issues raised or indeed continue to frustrate the demand of families for truth and closure. Neither can the British government continue to pretend that it is an honest broker in all of this because the British government was a central protagonist in the conflict and directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of people.

"This is the challenge to Peter Hain." ENDS

Note to Editor
The Sinn Féin working group on truth recovery will convene a roundtable discussion on the issue involving groups affected by state sponsored murder and collusion, tomorrow Thursday 26th May at 12.30 pm in Stormont.

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Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has called for the immediate implementation of the Assembly committee report that called for seatbelts to be provided on all buses.

His comments come in the aftermath of the tragedy in County Meath were 5 school children tragically died in a road accident involving a school bus.

Mr McGuigan, who has constantly complained about the overcrowding of children on school buses to and from school said:

"If urgent action isn't taken then we will have a similar tragedy in the north. It is unacceptable that over one hundred children are allowed to travel to school on a fifty-seated bus with all their schoolbags, sports bags, hurling sticks and helmets. It is even more unacceptable that every child on a school bus is not provided with a seat belt."

"As both a parent and an elected representative, we want to know that when our children leave in the morning that they will get to and from school safely. The current British direct rule minister needs to act now. I would also encourage parents to insure that their children use seatbelts on buses were they already exist." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson of Magherafelt District Council Sean Kerr has dismissed SDLP criticism of his party for implementing the d'Hondt system of power sharing on the council last night and said that his party would not be deflected by criticism from individual SDLP Councillors or rejectionist unionists from demanding that the system be introduced across all 26 local authorities in the six counties.

Cllr. Kerr said:

"Sinn Féin have unashamedly demanded that all 26 local authorities introduce d‚Hondt as a system of allocating fairly and proportionately all positions within local councils. We have had some success in this effort over recent years. However the SDLP have adopted a different approach. On some councils they have supported power sharing while on others such as Moyle during the last council term they happily colluded with unionists and others to exclude Sinn Féin from senior positions. However Sinn Féin will not be deflected by criticism from individual SDLP Councillors or rejectionist unionists from demanding that the system be introduced across all 26 local authorities in the six counties.

"Last night on Magherafelt Council as with Strabane Sinn Féin successfully ensured the adoption of d'Hondt. The system ensured that Sinn Féin as the largest party with 50% of the seats became Chair for this year along with a DUP Deputy, as example of successful power sharing in anybody‚s book. Indeed at last nights meeting in Magherfelt the SDLP group actually declined to accept a number of nominations to positions of power in line with their strength while in Strabane their councillors operated the system effectively and fairly.

"The bizarre allegation made this morning by SDLP Councillor Kate Lagan that Sinn Féin have done anything other than ensure the successful implementation of d'Hondt in line with party policy is ludicrous. The SDLP leadership need to clarify if the objections raised to the running of d‚Hondt by a number of Magherafelt councillors last night is a departure from their support for this mechanism in delivering Executive positions under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. If the SDLP leadership adopted the argument and approach promoted by their councillors last night in Magherfelt then they would in fact not accept Ministerial positions in line with their electoral strength. This is a daft position to adopt and id one I suspect will not find much favour amongst the SDLP Assembly group." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today challenged the Irish Government to "publicly commit itself to ruling out a re-run of the EU Constitution referendum if it is defeated by people in the 26 Counties".

Ms McDonald made her comments after the French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said that a re-run of the EU Constitution referendum was Œnot a perspective that France could accept.‚ Mr Raffarin made his comments on television yesterday (Tuesday 24.05.05) before the French people vote on the EU Constitution this coming Sunday, May 29th.

Speaking from Brussels Ms McDonald said:

"Prime Minister Raffarin‚s comments are a clear indication that the French Government will not hold a second referendum if the first fails to be ratified. In comparison, the Irish Government has refused to rule out this possibility. In fact, when questioned on the 12th April 2005 in the Dail, the Taoiseach refused to rule out a second referendum.

"When the Irish Government re-ran the NICE referendum, it was clear that they were more interested in pandering to the elites in Europe, than to the will of the people in this state. This Constitution will have far reaching ramifications for all of Ireland; the people must be sovereign, and not sacrificed for political expediency by this government.

"Sinn Féin will be campaigning for a NO vote on the EU Constitution but if the people vote for the Constitution then we will respect their will. Unfortunately the Irish Government is unwilling to make such a commitment." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has given a general welcome to the news that a Suicide Task Group is to be established for North and West Belfast.

Mr Adams said:

" The news that a special suicide task group is to be established to begin work in North and West Belfast is welcome and has come about after a sustained campaign by the local community, those bereaved through suicide and Sinn Féin.

" There still remains however an onus on the Department of Health to bridge the funding gap which continues to exist for mental health provision in North and West Belfast and ensure that a regional strategy for suicide prevention is put in place.

" Sinn Féin intend to meet with the Health Minister in the coming weeks to continue to press the Department to seriously address the issue of suicide and suicide prevention." ENDS

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Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin this morning said that the auction of the MI5 bugging device will go ahead at www.sinnfeinbookshop.com. He described the removal of the auction from eBay as a "clumsy attempt at censorship" which no doubt came about as a result of the efforts of the same shadowy individuals who were responsible for putting this bugging device in our offices in the first place.

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"Yesterday, in an attempt to put the spotlight on the ongoing activities of British security agencies in Ireland we put the MI5 bugging device which had been found in Sinn Féin offices in Belfast in September 2004, just prior to the commencement of the peace talks at Leeds Castle, up for auction on eBay.

"There was widespread interest in the auction in Ireland and in many countries across the world, something which obviously made MI5 deeply uncomfortable.

"Last night, without warning, the auction of the bugging device was removed from eBay. Many people believe that the removal of the auction came about as a result of the efforts of the same shadowy individuals who were responsible for putting this bugging device in Sinn Féin's offices in the first place.

"Despite this clumsy effort at censorship the auction will continue and people can now place bids at sinnfeinbookshop.com." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew this evening dismissed remarks made today by the DUP leader Ian Paisley attacking the role played by former US President Bill Clinton in the peace process.

Ms Gildernew said:

"It is possible that if Ian Paisley had the courage to remain within the political negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement instead of walking away and then catching up with the process years later he may have experienced at first hand the positive role which was played by President Clinton and his administration in the search for peace and justice in Ireland.

"Mr Paisley's ill-judged remarks today are the latest in a long line of irresponsible commentary from the DUP leader. Mr Paisley needs to reflect upon the political responsibility which comes with an increased political mandate and behave accordingly.

"Sinn Féin are determined to see progress made in the time ahead. The two governments clearly have a massive responsibility to ensure that this happens. The people of Ireland who voted for the Good Friday Agreement in such large numbers cannot be expected to wait forever for the DUP to begin to grasp basic concepts of equality and democracy." ENDS

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Speaking during this evening‚s debate on Sinn Féin's Private Members Motion on Aer Lingus Seán Crowe TD, the Party's spokesperson on Transport said "privatisation will not work for Aer Lingus." He said, "It has been amply demonstrated in the cases of Eircom and now the ESB that privatisation leads to higher costs, increased prices and a complete absence of the promised benefits of competition."

Deputy Crowe highlighted the fact that while Eircom chiefs paid themselves handsome dividends of €500 million through what he described as "innovative ways", the company needed over a billion euro invested in it to update its infrastructure. He said, "This is the reality of the privatisation of Eircom. A lucky few have been enriched while the original infrastructure is in decay."

Addressing the issue of Aer Lingus itself Deputy Crowe said the airline exists in the first place because "there were no private sector investors willing to take the risk in setting up the company" at the time. "There was no-one with the long-term strategic view of how important the airline industry would become to the Irish economy, in terms of not just tourism but importing and exporting goods." As a result he said, "Aer Lingus became a vital part of the economic infrastructure of the State which it still is today."

Rejecting the notion that the State cannot invest in Aer Lingus Deputy Crowe pointed to the „disclosure that €27 million of our taxpayer‚s money has been invested in airlines around the world through the pension reserve fund." He said, "So, it's ok to invest in Air France, BA or even Ryanair" but not our national airline.

Cautioning against rejecting the motion Deputy Crowe went on to say, "Unless you support this motion we will have instead the quick sell off the glossy ad campaign, but no real thinking about the long term." "So get ready for another bumpy ride, lots of turbulence, jobs lost and ultimately a crash landing," he warned.

Full text follows

Sinn Féin, in proposing this motion tonight, are conscious that up till now there has been no real opportunity for TDs to actually discuss the case for and against the privatisation of Aer Lingus, and the ramifications it will have for Irish tax payers, the airlines workers and our Island Economy.

So it is in this spirit that Sinn Féin proposes to open this debate and give everyone, regardless of the dogma of the party leaderships, a chance to put their position on the record as to whether they support the privatisation and sell-off of Aer Lingus or not.

Let me be clear on the Sinn Féin position. We believe that privatisation will not work for Aer Lingus. We have listened carefully to the arguments of those in favour of the privatisation route, but believe that they have got it wrong once again.

In the long run privatisation costs the taxpayer more money - it loses jobs throughout the economy not just in the company that ends up being asset-stripped and sold off, but in other economic sectors too.

It has been amply demonstrated in the cases of Eircom and now the ESB that privatisation leads to higher costs, increased prices and a complete absence of the promised benefits of competition.

In the Eircom case we are witnessing a slow decline towards failure. Today, more than five years after the privatisation hype that accompanied the Eircom share launch, we have a company clearly in difficulty. For the customer privatisation has meant a more costly service, particularly in line charges and handsets and being levied for any sort of maintenance by Eircom.

The company has been on and off the stock exchange as its new owners found innovative ways to cash in on its value. They sold off the Eircell mobile phone licence to Vodafone. This is a company whose profits now run to hundreds of thousands of euro daily and whose Irish customers pay more money into Vodafone's coffers than mobile users in any other Vodafone market.

Eircom's new management then sold off the Golden Pages and the company's websites. They paid themselves a €500 million dividend - but were unable to find the money to invest in a nationwide broadband roll out.

When the government opposite begged them to run the broadband service, not being a public sector company they were able to say No. When the Taoiseach and other cabinet ministers offered to subsidise a state broadband roll out programme, the privatised board of Eircom were again able to say No. They also tried to say "No" to their public service obligation to provide fixed line services to all households which was costing them €40 million a year.

Last year leaked documents, prepared by Eircom‚s own consultants and senior managers, showed the firm needed to spend at least €1 billion on upgrading its network, which was reporting up to a million line faults annually.

This is the reality of the privatisation of Eircom. A lucky few have been enriched while the original infrastructure is in decay and new investment in broadband is only emerging in a piecemeal way.

I will give the government and Eircom one thing though, the ads are good, pity about the service.

Then there is the case of the ESB, not yet privatised but being prepared for sale and the introduction of new private sector power stations. For the customers this has meant four years of year on year price increases. That represents a 40% increase since this government decided to privatise the electricity markets.

These prices increases were needed according to the ESB regulator, to make the market more attractive for the private sector. Now that is a remarkable statement. A successful, profitable and efficient state company has to artificially increase it prices, screwing its customers in the process, so as to facilitate the entry of private profiteers to the market.

This is the reality of the mad march towards privatisation in Ireland, spearheaded by the PDs and their cheerleaders and bankrollers - higher profits for the greedy carpert baggers and higher prices for customers.

So where does that leave Aer Lingus?

Is it all going to be a different story here?

What safeguards have we got that four or five years down the tarmac we won't have a repeat of the Eircom fiasco?

SIPTU tells us that the sale is a "grave strategic error". They have highlighted the promise made to them over a year ago that the company needed a full business plan to grow its routes and passenger numbers and then plan the type of aircraft needed and finally the level of actual financial investment for the company.

At the moment Aer Lingus management don‚t know what is needed because there is no business plan - the new chief executive won‚t even take up his post until August. So if the company don‚t know what is needed in terms of investment then what hope is there that the government knows. The answer is none. But of course this isn't about investment in the airline - this isn't about securing the future of Aer Lingus or the best interests of the travelling public or the Irish taxpayer. This is about giving into the insatiable demands of the privatisation lobby.

The government has a chance here tonight to stand up and say whether they are planning a Ryanair mark II or is if they believe there is a future for Aer Lingus as a national carrier, handling cargo and playing a central role in the future of the Irish economy.

IMPACT has raised the issue of Ireland‚s status internationally in the airline market. They have pointed out that "very few countries of Ireland's size have direct flights to so many important destinations'. According to Impact huge strategic interests are at stake especially in the tourist and investment sectors if Ireland's ability to have direct flights internationally is not maintained.

But as of yet we have had no details, no guarantees from the government, not even a hint that they have even given these crucial issues a moment's thought.

Another issue raised by IMPACT is that Aer Lingus could go the way of Manchester United, bought in a hostile takeover, and saddled with debt to pay for the takeover.

Then there is the disclosure by ICTU that €27 million of our taxpayer‚s money has been invested in airlines around the world through the pension reserve fund.

So it's ok to invest in Air France, BA or even Ryanair. I'm sure the strategic business plans of these airlines were checked out before any investment was made - or maybe not - as €7 million was invested in Ryanair without any dividend yet from this firm.

Perhaps it all got spent on the newspaper ads attacking the Taoiseach.

These are all very cogent arguments as to why Aer Lingus should not be privatised.

Aer Lingus is the airline of choice for Irish people, not just those living in Ireland but throughout the world. For them it is a symbol of safety, of good customer care, of value for money and there is incredible goodwill from the people towards the airline because of this.

Given a choice, this I think is the airline that most Irish people would choose to travel on. This is not to say that you can run an airline on goodwill alone. Aer Lingus is in the successful position it is today much to the sacrifices made by its workforce. It has adapted to the new challenges that emerged after 9/11 and has come through where others failed.

Then there is the question of why does Aer Lingus exist in the first place? It was because there were no private sector investors willing to take the risk in setting up the company. There was no one with the long-term strategic view of how important the airline industry would become to the Irish economy, in terms of not just tourism but importing and exporting goods.

We are after all the most globalised economy in the world.

Aer Lingus became a vital part of the economic infrastructure of the state. It still is today. And as was the case in the 1930s there are still no private sector businesses either domestically or internationally with the long-term strategic view needed to secure the future of this company.

There are the carpet baggers who will gladly asset strip and dismember this company, turning it into a pale imitation of Ryanair.

In fact there is even a greater breath of vision needed for Aer Lingus in the time ahead. It needs to be developed in the context of a strategic direction for all the airline industry in Ireland, that would include on an all-Ireland basis, international and regional airports.

But unfortunately unless you support this motion none of this will ever come to pass. We will have instead the quick sell off, the glossy ad campaign, but no real thinking about the long term, no national strategy about the airline industry. So get ready for another bumpy ride, lots of turbulence, jobs lost and ultimately a crash landing.

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Louth Sinn Féin TD, Arthur Morgan has described the decision to privatise Aer Lingus as "scandalous". He said, "It has the ability to seriously undermine the long term strategic interests of this state" and is "a slap in the face to the employees who are working to restructure the company to sustain growth and profitability". Deputy Morgan also questioned the Minister for Transport after reports that there is a €243 million deficit in the company's pension scheme.

Speaking during a debate in the Dáil this evening on a Sinn Féin motion that calls on the Government to retain Aer Lingus in State ownership he said, "The decision to privatise Aer Lingus is scandalous. It has the ability to seriously undermine the long-term strategic interests of this state. The decision is a slap in the face to the employees who are working to restructure the company to sustain growth and profitiability.

"Workers at Aer Lingus who have committed to the restructuring the company and making it profitable once again are now faced with the serious implications which this decision poses for job security and working conditions. There is serious concern regarding reports that there is a deficit in the company's pension scheme, which is shared with the Dublin Airport Authority. Media reports have claimed that this deficit was in the order of €243 million. I understand that this was never signalled to the Aer Lingus unions and that they received an assurance from Willie Walsh that all was well with the pension fund. What happens to pension entitlements in the event of privatisation if there is this level of debt? I ask the Minister for Transport to clarify what exactly is the status of the pension fund, if and when the Government intends to set up a separate Aer Lingus pension fund and how such a pension fund will be financed.

"This state should be very proud of our national airline and should realise what an asset it is to the country. Once we lose control of the national carrier there is no guarantee that in an economic decline any airline would continue to serve the state if they deemed that it was not profitable to do so.

"Sinn Féin will continue to fully oppose all plans to privatise Aer Lingus which in the common good must remain in public ownership." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Government to provide needed additional resources to rape crisis services across the state in the revised estimates coming before the Dail, and to take stronger action to encourage and support reporting sexual violence to the Gardai. Deputy Ó Snodaigh was speaking after attending the launch of the first statewide statistics from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

Speaking after the launch in Dublin today he said, "I would like to congratulate the Rape Crisis Network for publishing these important statistics, which deserve attention.

"The statistics show that the RCNI's 15 centres took an estimated 45,000 calls last year from people in distress. If that isn't shocking enough, this figure apparently represents only an estimated 12% of the actual number of people who were subjected to rape, sexual assault or other sexual abuse in the state last year. What‚s even more sobering is that only 20% of that 12% of cases were reported to the Gardaí. This clearly calls for greater resolve and concerted action to increase reporting of these horrific crimes, and also the provision of sufficient resources to those who provide needed support.

"I am concerned that the job of work to de-stigmatise the reporting of such attacks has not been done by those of us in public leadership roles. But it is even more so up to the Government to take concrete initiatives to make it easier for people to come forward both to report to the Gardai and to avail of counselling and other support.

"During last year's budget period I called on the Government to provide the needed additional resources to women's frontline services across the state. Unfortunately, the Government ignored my arguments.

"Presently, due to insufficient resources provided to the rape crisis network, some people who come to them for help have to wait between one and six months for counselling. That situation has to end. I find it astounding that the Government has not met the rape crisis centres need for an additional €1 million to allow them to extend their services. At this time of year we are dealing with revised estimates and I would urge the relevant Ministers to find this small amount of extra cash to support a critical service for which there is, unfortunately, still such high demand.

"I therefore welcome the Tánaiste‚s presence and her supportive words at today's launch but I expect her to back up her words with appropriate funding for these support agencies either in the revised estimates currently before the House, or in the Government‚s next budget." ENDS

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Coleraine Sinn Féin councillor Billy Leonard has issued a scathing attack against Unionist councillors who ensured that Sinn Féin were excluded from all council positions.

He has claimed that one DUP councillor confirmed that they were excluding "only the Shinner".

His comments come after the Council's AGM at which the d'Hondt mechanism was applied to only 20 positions. Leonard proposed that it be applied to a further 26 committee positions but this was rejected.

"This was a night of gutter local politics. The incoming DUP mayor spoke of a 'forward looking borough' yet his party by their actions admitted they can't move forward. They were excluding Sinn Féin and, they were prepared to ignore the group of people who voted for Sinn Féin candidates right across the Borough.

I proposed that an additional 26 positions be included. Had this been done everyone would have been included, not just Sinn Féin.

"When I said that they were on a programme for exclusion from many of the positions one DUP councillor openly said they were excluding 'only the Shinners'. Now we have an important Equality Committee that doesn't reflect the equality legislation. It's pathetic.

"But the public should also know that it wasn't just the DUP. The Ulster Unionists were very good at making additional proposals force a confidential vote. Obviously when that happened Sinn Féin was always excluded." ENDS

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Responding to the latest report by the IMC which was published today in Belfast, Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Belfast Alex Maskey said:

"The IMC was set up at the behest of the unionists and is the tool of the British securocrats. It operates outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and has no positive role to play in the development of the political process. It was created and has been used to discriminate against Sinn Féin and our electorate.

"This report like the previous reports is based solely on the information provided to the IMC by the securocrats. It like previous reports has little or no credibility and is neither impartial, fair nor balanced.

"Sinn Féin will continue to challenge the ongoing role of the IMC in the political process and continue to vigorously oppose the sanctions which have been imposed by the British government upon our electorate in the wake of previous reports from this body." ENDS

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Speaking today in Belfast Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin said that the decision to sell part of the British bugging device uncovered last year in Connolly House on the internet was part of a serious attempt to shine a light on the ongoing activities of British security agencies in Ireland. The link to the sale is available from the Sinn Féin Boookshop www.sinnfeinbookshop.com

Mr. McLaughlin said:

" This device was discovered in September 2004 just prior to the commencement of the talks at Leeds Castle. It was the second such device found within ten days in Belfast. Part of the device was returned to Tony Blair during the Leeds Castle talks the remaining piece has now been made available for sale on the internet.

" After lengthy correspondence with various elements within the British system it was confirmed in January 2005 by the head of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Butler that her organisation was behind the spying operation in Connolly House.

" The decision to place this item on the internet for sale is a serious attempt to shine a light on the ongoing activities of British security agencies in Ireland. These agencies have consistently opposed the development of the Peace Process and have consistently tried to undermine efforts to advance the process at particularly sensitive times.

" There is no doubt that the discovery of this device and other similar devices in recent times has caused embarrassment for these agencies and the appearance of this bug on the internet will obviously add to that. However the fact remains that they are continuing with their operations in Ireland and this is unacceptable as we try and move forward in the time ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Taoiseach to "rein Michael McDowell in" saying that "the headline-grabbing Minister is more interested in spin than substance." Deputy Ó Snodaigh made his comments after several of McDowell's policy initiatives had come under sustained criticism from numerous quarters in the past couple of days.

Speaking in Dublin this afternoon he said, "In the space of just one week several of Michael McDowell's main policy platforms and gimmicks have been exposed as seriously flawed and ill-judged. It is clear the headline-grabbing Minister is more interested in spin than substance. His attention to detail in relation to PR contrasts sharply with his attention to detail in relation to policy proposals or legislation - a fact that is confirmed by the ridiculous amount of changes that have accompanied virtually every piece of legislation brought forward by him.

"His promotion of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) has been criticised by many groups including the Garda Representatives' Association who have stated that the laws to deal with anti-social behaviour are already there and only need to be properly resourced for them to be effective.

"His promotion of café bars to tackle binge drinking are a joke and have been criticised by health experts including the national alcohol policy adviser at the Department of Health.

"His offensive outburst at the end of last week against refugees and asylum seekers and his tirade against international law would, in other jurisdictions, be considered cause for resignation.

"That the Minister hasn‚t commented - good, bad or indifferent - about Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy‚s brazen defense of the seriously flawed investigation into the death of Richie Barron, when confessions were forced out of two individuals for a murder that never actually happened, is remarkable but not too surprising given that he was Attorney General during some of that investigation.

"That he has also manipulated public antipathy towards the Prison Officers Association as a cover for his real mission to privatise parts of the prison service - against the advice of international evidence and his Department's own expert committee - shows a Minister hell-bent on implementing his own ideological agenda rather than what is best for the wider community.

"All of this from the Minister for Equality who argues that inequality is good. If it wasn't so serious it would be laughable.

"No other Minister in this Cabinet has shown such a cavalier or arrogant attitude to the decision making process. Bertie Ahern has created the monster McDowell by allowing him to act as a law unto himself, by failing to challenge his outbursts or outrageous legislative behaivour. It is therefore Bertie Ahern who is ultimately responsible for each and every one of the fiascos McDowell has engineered. He should rein him in now." ENDS

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