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


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North Antrim Sinn Féin Assembly member Philip McGuigan has called on the Council in Ballymena to get behind the local nationalist community in the town and fund community based festivals as an alternative to bonfires.

Mr McGuigan said:

" Over the past two weeks bonfires in Ballymena have resulted in violence between a small minority of young nationalists and the PSNI. Much of this violence has been the result of alcohol consumption by the young people involved on one hand and overzealous policing by the PSNI on the other.

" In recent years residents in Fisherwick have attempted to organise community festivals as an alternative to late night bonfires. This approach mirrors that adopted by nationalist communities across the six counties. The local festival in Fisherwick was a success and did prevent any trouble occurring over the past two years.

" However this year the local council reneged on promises made and commitments given to fund the festival and the vacuum left was filled once again with a bonfire. Local nationalists feel that their community is being is ignored by Ballymena Council and other statutory agencies.

" Sinn Féin will continue to work with the local nationalist community in Ballymena to reverse decades of under funding and under investment. This small vulnerable nationalist community cannot be continually ignored and demonised." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Raymond Mc Cartney has praised the discipline displayed by the youth of Derry during yesterday's Apprentice Boys March.

Mr Mc Cartney said:

"I must commend the youth of Derry for their display of discipline during yesterday's Apprentice Boys march through Derry City centre. I monitored the march along with a number of my colleagues and have to say that despite some band members acting in a provocative manner, refusing to abide by the instruction not to play at specific times and the flagrant display of Unionist paramilitary flags the youth of Derry acted in an exemplary manner.

"So much for the promise by the PSNI and the Apprentice Boys that they would not tolerate the display of paramilitary flags but despite this Derry nationalists refuse to be provoked.

"I will be asking my Party Leader, Gerry Adams to protest to the British government at the punitive actions of the British Army in mounting checkpoints at both ends of the Foyle Bridge following the march yesterday. It was bad enough that freedom of movement was all but non-existent in Derry City centre throughout the day without the only exit and entry route being disrupted by these arbitrary actions. If this is what the British Army and PSNI consider community relations then they have once more exhibited their ineptitude. These checkpoints caused long delays and traffic tailbacks along the Culmore Road." ENDS

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Speaking at a rally in Crossmaglen this afternoon highlighting Britains ongoing failure to remove their war apparatus from South Armagh, local Assembly member Conor Murphy said "six years on from Good Friday and ten years on from the first IRA cessation, the spy posts are still there. The British Army are still on our streets. The apparatus of war is staring us in the face every day of the week. And Mr Blair wonders why republicans and nationalists are sceptical of his commitment to acts of completion."

Mr Murphy said:

"Six years ago the British government committed themselves to removing their war machine in Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement was very clear. It demanded the removal of security installations and the removal of the Crown Forces from our streets.

"After Weston Park the British again publicly committed themselves to a rolling programme of demilitarisation. Indeed it was ten years ago that the then British Secretary of State Peter Brooke publicly claimed that an IRA cessation would be immediately met with imaginative moves on this issue from the British side.

"Yet six years on from Good Friday and ten years on from the first IRA cessation, the spy posts are still there. The British Army are still on our streets. The apparatus of war is staring us in the face every day of the week. And Mr Blair wonders why republicans and nationalists are sceptical of his commitment to acts of completion.

"We are not interested in rationalisation. We are not interested in the British view of normalisation. We are only interested in what the Agreement demanded. Either the British are serious about resolving conflict or they are not. Their positive public soundings have not been matched by their actions on the ground. The Crown forces continue to harass nationalists on a daily basis. The use of Plastic Bullets has now CS gas continues. The PSNI travel around in armoured jeeps and operate from military barracks. South Armagh and other areas are still blighted by spy posts. Mr Blair you don't have to tell us that you have not implemented the Agreement - we see it everyday. You don't have to use failed politicians like Alderdice and his IMC to try and spin a yarn that demilitarisation is happening. We know the reality.

"At Weston Park a senior member of the SDLP said that the issue of demilitarisation was only an issue for Sinn Féin and the British government. He was wrong. It is an issue for every citizen in the six counties and indeed beyond. Recent public statements from the SDLP seem to indicate a change in their view of this matter. We welcome this. If the SDLP are genuine in wanting to see demilitarisation then well and good - but they should be warned that as with policing the nationalist and republican community will not accept the SDLP entering a negotiation and then settling for less than the Agreement demanded. As with policing Sinn Féin will not be letting the British off the Good Friday Agreement hook on this matter.

"The Irish government have responsibilities in this regard also. They committed themselves to dealing with the oppressive Offences Against the State Act. Six years on there is no change. The process is stalled and it seems that many within the establishment in the 26 Counties are predictably resisting removing this particular weapon of oppression.

"The message coming from this community cannot be any clearer for the British government. We don't want to hear the excuses any more. We don't buy any

rubbish about so called republican dissidents or the level of threat being posed by the IRA. You are stalling, you are breaching an international treaty and the time for you to get your act together has long since passed.We don't want to look at your troops any more. We don't want to live underneath your spy posts. If you are so keen on these installations then relocate them to London or Birmingham.

"Over the past two years the various British pseudo gangs - the UDA, UVF and LVF have been engaged to varying degrees in an anti-Catholic pogrom in Belfast and elsewhere in the six counties. Predictably the security apparatus was not deployed to prevent attacks on the Short Strand or North Belfast. Predictably no pipe bomb factories where uncovered. Predictably what we got from the PSNI was endless media briefings indicating that this was a tit for tat situation. We all know the reality to be very different.

"This is the reality of the British presence on our streets. No amount of briefing or spin can distort this reality. The best defenders of the peace process on this island are the republican community in our heartlands in Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Armagh. Tony Blair knows this. He knows that one republican committed to making this process work is worth more in terms of building a peaceful future than any number of British soldiers stuck in spy posts or fortified barracks. He knows that one republican prepared to walk the streets selling this process is worth more than any number of armed PSNI members skulking through our areas in armoured cars.

"It is time for Mr Blair to face down the Generals in Whitehall. To challenge the NIO securocrats at the heart of his system. The people still fighting the war. Those still seeking to defeat Irish Republicanism. Those people who created the unionist paramilitaries. Who invented shoot to kill. Who organised the murder of Pat Finucane and countless others. Because the reality is that these are the same people who have sought to subvert and stall progress on the range of issues. Not just demilitarisation -- but Policing, Criminal Justice, Human Rights and Equality

"These are the people responsible for the slow pace of this process. These are the people who Blair has to pull into line. His track record up to now is not good. We will be watching closely in the time ahead. The message is very clear. It is time to deliver on your commitments. Time to complete the job of removing the apparatus of war. And time to complete the job of implementing the Agreement. " ENDS

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Dublin Sinn Féin's held a special meeting last night to discuss the party's concerns about the proposed sell off of Dublin City Council flats. Speaking following the meeting Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Daithi Doolan said:

"The recent announcement by City Manager John Fitzgerald that City Council intend to sell off all their Council flats has serious implications for the city. Sinn Féin has grave concerns with the city management's approach to the proposed sell off and the recent comment's by the City Manager further underline this.

"In typical city management fashion, there has been no consultation with residents, residents groups or Councillors and many crucial questions remain unanswered.

"Mr. Fitzgerald states that the issue is not financial but then says the expected 3 billion euro will go to Central Government and not towards funding a home building programme for Dublin.

"He says that he does not want to continue to manage flat complexes, yet he also states that Dublin City Council will be establishing themselves as Housing Managers, similar to private companies managing apartment complexes.

"The Dublin City Manager has many, many questions to answer including how do they intend to sell off the flats and at what cost to residents, how do they intend to manage the complexes into the future where there will be a mix of public and private ownership.

"We also have to ask what impact these proposals will have on those who are currently on the housing and transfer lists and those who are homeless. Furthermore, this sell off appears to be in complete contradiction to Minister Mary Coughlan's policy indicating that rent allowance will now only be issued to a recipient for 18 months, at which point they will be put on Local Authority lists with a view to being housed.

"Local authorities have a direct responsibility to house those living in their areas. How are they going to achieve that if they sell off all of their current stock and have no plans to build sufficient homes in the future?"

Mr. Doolan concluded by saying that "Sinn Féin is demanding that the City Management answer these important questions before any sale of flats take place." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has today slammed the proposed evictions of tenants from a north inner city hostel.

Councillor Doolan said:

"The proposed evictions from St Joseph's Hostel, Portland Row are a disgrace. These evictions are simply to make way for redevelopment, yet no attempt has been made to re-house the tenants, many of which are very vulnerable. I wrote to PJ McGrath & Company, the owners of the property, asking them to put a stay on the evictions while we work to re-house the remaining tenants. Only this evening I rang and appealed directly to them to hold off on tomorrow's evictions, but unfortunately they declined claiming they are totally within their rights to evict. I do not doubt this but claiming you have a right to force people onto the streets is a disgrace."

Mr. Doolan concluded by calling on the owners to "do the honorable and humane thing and let the remaining tenants stay until we have found proper and suitable accommodation for them. Let us not reduce this to a might is right argument, we are talking about ensuring people have dignity and a roof over their head, and that they are not forced back on to the streets and made homeless again."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy will be the main speaker at a rally in Crossmaglen on Sunday evening (15th August) at 4pm.

The rally will come at the end of a day long series of events to highlight the ongoing British military occupation of South Armagh and the devastating heath and environmental effects which this is having on the community living there.

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast Michael Ferguson has said that figures showing that the West Belfast DPP has received no questions from people living in the area in over 15 months was bound to be embarrassing for PSNI champion and local SDLP representative Alex Attwood.

Mr Ferguson said:

" Figures show that the West Belfast DPP, which is incidentally headed by a South Belfast based Women's Coalition member, has received no questions from members of the local community in over 15 months. It has also adopted a position opposing the closure of Andersonstown military base in the heart of the West Belfast community. Indeed there is a widespread local belief that the vast majority of its members have never actually set foot in republican areas in West Belfast.

" In light of this, the absolute lack of public interaction with a body supposedly there to hold the PSNI to account is evidence of just how far removed the current policing arrangements are from the Agreement demand for a new beginning. These figures and the stance adopted by the West Belfast DPP on the Andersonstown barracks issue are bound to cause embarrassment for the local SDLP representative and leading PSNI champion Alex Attwood.

" Mr Attwood has consistently claimed that the PSNI are an accountable policing service. This despite the events of the summer surrounding anti-Catholic parades and the continuing use of plastic bullets and CS gas. These figures taken with successive election results clearly show that the nationalist and republican community do not share his assessment." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy has said that he will be raising with the two governments the case of a calf born in the South Armagh with two heads area close to a British Army spy post.

Mr Murphy said:

" Recently a calf born in South Armagh close to a British Army spy post had two heads. Local people are convinced that emissions from British Army equipment in the South Armagh area are causing cancer in both animals and humans. Instances of deformed livestock are becoming increasingly common in areas adjacent to British Army installations.

" It seems that the British state are intent on continuing to damage the health and environment of people in this area as they continue to pursue their dirty war against the republican and nationalist people. There is no justification for the spy posts, helicopter flights or checkpoints in the South Armagh area. Indeed there is no possible justification for the continuing presence of British Army in this country at all.

" I will be raising the health implications of the continuing military occupation of South Armagh with the two governments and Tony Blair can be rest assured that this continuing occupation will be on his talks agenda in September." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that it is vital that the issue of collusion is dealt with in the September talks.

Speaking today Mr Doherty said:

"Both governments have promised intensive negotiations in September with the stated aim of resolving all outstanding issues to the full and faithful implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Since the IRA ceasefire of 1994, Republicans have taken initiative after initiative to advance the Peace Process. Many of these initiatives have created major misgivings within the republican/nationalist community, because of the intransigence and belligerence from political unionism allied with the British government's adoption of the unionist agenda of attempting to dilute and frustrate the process of change promised under the Good Friday Agreement.

"The British government has, on three separate occasions, unilaterally suspended the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement. It has also failed to deliver on its commitments on Policing, Administration of Justice, Demilitarisation, Equality and Human Rights.

"The British government's failure to deliver on the above issues is directly related to its determination to suppress the truth about its policy of collusion.

"The British government fully understands that the truth about collusion will expose the extent of its Dirty War in Ireland. The resulting domestic and international outcry would focus an unwanted spotlight on the murky state apparatus which implemented this policy and which still remains intact.

"Most significantly, it would undermine the ability of the NIO to control and manipulate policing, courts and other agencies in the six counties for political purposes.

"However, unless the British government come clean on it's policy of collusion and open up its institutions to democratic scrutiny and accountability, it will continue to be in default of its commitments under the Good Friday Agreement.

"The British government holds the key to resolving many of the outstanding issues in the Peace Process. Does it possess the will? "We will find out in September." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation has met with senior officials of the Co-operation And Working Together (CAWT) initiative, the cross-border health and social care organisation. The meeting was held at the CAWT Resource Centre in Derry. The Sinn Féin delegation was led by Cllr John O'Dowd MLA, the Party's health spokesperson, and also included Monaghan County Councillor, Brian McKenna, a member of the Party's All-Ireland Health grouping.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr O'Dowd said:

"The CAWT initiative is a model of good practice which effectively demonstrates the positive benefits of cross border working. The provision of a modern day health service on the island of Ireland mitigates against working in isolation to each other, or the creation or maintenance of artificial barriers between various health and care sectors. Clearly, the emphasis within CAWT is geared towards networking, co-operation and partnership rather than isolation and self-sufficiency. CAWT has already demonstrated that sharing resources and personnel can maximise the benefits for all patients within the CAWT cross border catchment area."

His colleague Cllr Brian McKenna added:

"Obviously, there are lessons to be learned from CAWT which we believe can be further extended to the rest of the island. Recently, CAWT secured over £7.5 million (11.5 million Euro) from the Special EU Programmes Body for a range of health and social care projects to which people in marginalised and peripheral areas on both sides of the border will have access. I believe that the Department of Health and Children in the south and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the north need to strengthen and consolidate their links with CAWT. This should be done as a matter of urgency with a view to providing mainstream funding for this initiative so that the health and social well being of these communities, as well as the health infrastructure, in border counties can be further improved."

Cllr O'Dowd MLA echoed this latter point by saying, "Obviously, there are concerns as to how the recent health reforms in the south and the proposed Review of public administration in the north will impact upon CAWT in the long-term. However, those with whom we met are confident that CAWT is secure in the short to medium term."

Cllr McKenna concluded, "When we report back to the Party, it is most likely that we will be recommending that meetings are sought with the two health ministers, Mícheal Martin and Angela Smith, to discuss CAWT and also to examine ways of improving health provision on an all-Ireland basis." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said that the new EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, Charlie McCreevy, should use his position to promote economic integration on the island of Ireland.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The EU could do more to assist the economic integration of the island of Ireland. The valuable work of Intertrade Ireland, established under the Good Friday Agreement, is continuing but major obstacles remain. Chief of these is, of course, the existence of two currencies in Ireland. As the EU, through the Euro, is directly responsible for this it is duty bound to address the difficulties it creates.

"There are already special provisions to allow the German government to use State aid to complete the reunification process in Germany. Ireland should enjoy similar support for promoting Irish reunification.

"Charlie McCreevy is also now in pole position to ensure that a Peace III programme is delivered for the Six Counties and the Border Counties, in succession to the current Peace II programme. As Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy expressed his support for such a new programme.

"Peace and unification in Ireland are European issues and the new Commissioner should put them high in his agenda." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh has welcomed the granting of a temporary injunction against the deportation of a Nigerian woman, Kate Bamidele. He went on to call on the Minister for Justice to rescind the deportation order and allow the women and her children to remain in Ireland.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "While I welcome the granting of a temporary injunction against Ms Bamidele's deportation what we really need is for the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, to rescind the order. It is an absolute disgrace that we as a nation should even contemplate returning this woman to Nigeria, where she faces the prospect of being stoned to death.

"I would also urge the Minister to reconsider and reverse his decision to push ahead his policy of mass deportations of asylum seekers which is neither compassionate, humanitarian or human rights based." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe responding to today's findings connecting children from disadvantaged areas with increased levels of adult literacy said:

"Today's findings will reveal to the general public the woeful extent of this problem in our education system. The only person the findings won‚t shock is Noel Dempsey, who has been aware of this problem since he came to office, but has failed on countless occasions to provide the funding necessary to deal with it.

"The Minister has been told time and again that only by implementing a number of measures can he bring equality into the education system. He claims he supports an egalitarian society. Surely the education system is the place to sow the seeds for this? Yet, the primary education sector is characterised by unacceptably large class sizes, low levels of investment in school building and accommodation, staff shortages and inadequate levels of funding. In disadvantaged areas, all of this is compounded with the number of unqualified teachers put into schools.

"Sinn Féin has called for resources to enable detection of special educational needs with a reduction of waiting time for assessment to less than six months. We want to see a reduction of the pupil-teacher ratio to accord with European norms, so children can be given the attention they need. We also believe an extension of the breakfast and after school clubs, and other similar initiatives, will go someway towards enabling full participation for children in the school day.

"This government needs to make education a continuing overall priority and make increased budgetary provision for primary education in particular. Additional funding should be made available to schools in marginalised and disadvantaged communities. Words are not enough anymore, we need action.

"From the first rung of the education ladder at pre-school, children of low-income families carry a burden which means that they rarely reach the top rung at third level. The fact is, these children can be and are identified at an early age. And the lack of money in a home cannot be blamed for all of it. There are several parts of my constituency where, I know, children are kept awake at night because of "joyriders", or in some cases domestic violence. Imagine what it is like for these children going into school the next day. All the problems faced in disadvantaged areas must be dealt with if the children from these areas are to have an equal chance."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development Martin Ferris TD, has expressed grave concern over the announcement that Dairygold is to close its two plants at Mitchelstown, County Cork, and Roscrea County Tipperary with the loss of 270 jobs.

Deputy Ferris said: "These closures will have devastating effects on the people who are to lose their jobs and our sympathy must above all else be extended to the workers involved. I am also concerned at the manner in which the closures were announced and the apparent ignoring of established procedures involving workers representatives. The closures are also a blow to the Irish food industry and call into question the Government's strategy for this sector."ENDS

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Donegal Sinn Féin Councillor Pearse Doherty has today called upon the Minister for Transport, Séamus Brennan to "address the unacceptable backlog of people waiting to take their driving tests."

Councillor Doherty made his calls after new figures were released which indicated that learner drivers were waiting on average 10 months to sit their driving tests.

Speaking today, Cllr Doherty said:

"I am calling upon the Minister for Transport, Séamus Brennan to address the unacceptable backlog of people waiting to take their driving tests. What makes this situation worse is that the Minister was aware of this crisis as far back as February 2003, when he said that there was no need for alarm, even though the average wait to take the test was between 25-28 weeks.

"These latest figures supplied by Macra na Feirme, show that the situation has deteriorated further since early in 2003. The average wait for the driving test is now approximately 40 weeks. This situation is totally unacceptable and the Minister must be held accountable for this crisis.

"The most obvious effect of this delay is that drivers holding a provisional licence are paying higher insurance premiums while they wait for their tests. These delays are disproportionately affecting young people who have great difficulty paying the extra insurance premiums.

"Sinn Féin is calling upon Minister Brennan to seriously address this issue. A first step would be to hire qualified instructors from outside of the state to alleviate this problem.

"This crisis also reopens the debate around insurance premiums, especially for young drivers. I am calling for the establishment of a state insurance company that will have a particular emphasis on providing third party motor insurance and put an end to the rip off of drivers based on their age". ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD today warned against the threat of new and larger deportations of immigrants and asked how Minister McDowell could justify his lack of action in protecting 11,000 vulnerable families after a pre-Referendum promise that their situation in Ireland would be regularised. Deputy Ó Snodaigh had attended a rally outside the Progressive Democrat offices objecting to the threat of deportation this week of a Nigerian woman who fled to Ireland after being sentenced to death by stoning.

He said:

"The situation for 11,000 families has reached a crisis point - these people have been living their lives in complete uncertainty since the ruling of 18 months ago that non-national parents of Irish-born children were not entitled to Irish citizenship. Minister McDowell promised to resolve this issue during his briefing to me and other party Justice spokespersons in advance of the citizenship referendum.

"However, it is now two months since the passing of the referendum and the Minister and his Department have vowed to "press ahead with its deportation programme". It is clear that his briefing to me was nothing more than a cynical and callous ploy, which proves they had and have absolutely no concern whatsoever for the families affected.

"Instead of putting their minds at ease, he has shown his utter contempt for immigrants and their Irish children still awaiting decisions on their status by allowing for mass deportations to go ahead.

"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to mass deportations of this kind for a number of reasons not least because the courts are closed and legal representation is difficult to obtain but also because the deportations tend to take place in the darkness of night away from public view causing undue stress and trauma. This is a matter of serious concern especially given that some deportees have even been returned to Ireland because their deportation was deemed illegal.

"I also have serious concerns over the fact that there is no monitoring body here to ensure that deportations that do have to take place do so in a humane, considerate, sensitive way in order to minimize as much as possible the trauma suffered by the human beings that are transported. It is imperative that properly trained personnel accompany vulnerable women and children on these difficult and traumatic journeys to ensure full conformity with legislation and international best practice." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Daithi Doolan has expressed concern at the most recent increase in third level student registration fees. The Department of Education recently announced that there would be an increase in the registration fee this academic year from 670 to 750 euros - an increase of 80 euros.

Speaking today, Cllr Doolan said:

"I am concerned that the student registration fee for third level institutions is set to increase again this year. In 2001, the registration fee was 396 euros and in 2002 it was 670 euros. This coming academic year, students will be expected to fork out 750 euros, an increase of 80 euros. On top of this, some colleges have imposed student levies on their students.

"When the student registration fee was introduced in 1996, it was said to be a temporary measure, yet year on year students are faced with this price hike. The purpose of the fee is supposed to cover student services, yet the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have estimated that 63% of past fee increases went straight back to the exchequer.

"Sinn Féin is concerned that extra fee increases make a mockery of the "free fees" policy of this government, and that extra charges are being added on in other areas. Furthermore, these increases are further reducing the potential of poorer students to avail of a third level education. The price increase in registration fees is certainly not conducive to attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds to third level institutions in the state.

"Sinn Féin is opposed to the current hike in student registration fees, and calls upon the Minister to reverse this policy."ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice Gerry Kelly has said that 'the issues of policing and justice must be dealt with as part of any holistic deal and that powers must be transferred at the earliest possible opportunity'.

Mr Kelly said:

". Political unionism needs to come to terms with this fact that Sinn Féin represents the majority of nationalist opinion and that if there is to be a comprehensive package then the range of issues which are of concern to nationalists and republicans must be comprehensively dealt with.

" These include the core issues of Equality, Human Rights, Demiltarisation and of course the issue of transfer of Policing and Justice powers away from London at the earliest possible opportunity. Any undue delay in this is totally unacceptable." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Donegal Councillor Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has described the destruction of a "Free the Castlerea Five" billboard by Gardaí in Lifford, Co Donegal last Friday evening (06.08.04), as a "politically motivated act."

Speaking this morning, Councillor Mac Lochlainn said:

"On Friday evening at approximately 6.15pm, members of the public witnessed a marked Garda van stop at the Lifford roundabout, where five uniformed Gardai proceeded to demolish a "Free the Castlerea Five" billboard with sledgehammers.

"Sinn Féin contacted the Road Section of the Donegal County Council yesterday morning, to ascertain whether they had authorised the removal. They responded by saying that they had made no such request to the Gardaí in Lifford or elsewhere.

"Let us be clear about this, Donegal Gardaí engaged in what can only be described as an unprovoked and politically motivated act by demolishing a billboard which had been erected approximately a year earlier. During the past year, there has been no contact between the Gardaí and those who erected the billboard, to say that it was causing a problem and their clear intention was to destroy it rather than remove it intact.

"People will be concerned, but not surprised, by this latest act by the Gardaí in Donegal. The demolition job in Lifford comes against the backdrop of revelations from the Morris Tribunal and reinforces the perception that the Donegal Gardaí are a law unto themselves. Local people have also commented that it is ironic that the Gardaí were able to muster five officers armed with sledgehammers to smash down a billboard when their presence in the area at other times leaves much to be desired.

"I am calling upon the Gardaí to publicly state their reasons for taking a sledgehammer to the billboard. Local people reported that the officers carried out their task with much relish. This recent act will further undermine the credibility of the Gardaí in the eyes of Donegal people." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy, who heads Sinn Féin official opposition to the imposition of water taxes, has said that British direct rule ministers should back off plans to force through the introduction of water charges in the face of widespread objections.

Mr Molloy said:

"British NIO Ministers are showing their true undemocratic colours in trying to force through the water taxes in the face of almost total opposition from across the political spectrum, from trade unions and from the public. But then again they have no mandate to take any of the decisions that they are currently forcing on us.

"Direct rule ministers must back off from the current plans to impose water charges. The revelation in the Belfast Telegraph today that these interlopers are also planning massive job cuts demonstrates the scale of the privatisation agenda that imported British Labour Party stooges intend to force through.

"The British government are guilty of failing to invest properly in our services for decades. Now, the NIO are determined to force us to pay for their failures.

"In comparison to other models of managing water services the British government stands accused of treating everyone who lives in the North of Ireland as a second class citizen. If the British government continue with these plans Sinn Féin will lead a campaign against their introduction. We will also ensure that in the negotiations next month that the entire issue of British Treasury financing of all of our services is on the agenda." ENDS

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