Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Latest Statements

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


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Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Fleming has said that he supports the Finucane family in their efforts to thwart the British Government changing the law to limit the power of any further inquiries.

Councillor Fleming stated,

"The family of collusion victim Pat Finucane have travelled to London today to confront the British Government over their attempts to change the law over any future inquiries.

"Geraldine Finucane recently gave the annual Bloody Sunday Lecture at the Guildhall and articulated the lengths in which the British Government have covered and frustrated the many families who strive to get the truth as not only how but why their family members were executed.

"It is obvious that the British Government have much to fear from the truth of their dirty war in Ireland being exposed. This would show that there was an institutional policy of collusion between the British forces and Unionist death squads that can be traced to the highest level of government.

"In order to protect themselves the British Government are now proposing that any further inquiries, like the ones called for by Judge Peter Cory over collusion, would have limited remits.

"Sinn Féin support the campaign by the Finucane family to have full disclosure over what happened to Pat Finucane and the hundreds of others who died as a result of the policy of collusion. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew will lead a party delegation including Cllr Gerry McHugh, head of the Sinn Féin National Agriculture Department to meet with British direct rule Health Minister Angela Smith and Chief Medical Officer Dr Henreita Campbell, today, Tuesday 8th February at 3pm to discus health issues related to the lifting of the Beef Ban.

Speaking today Ms Gildernew said:

"Sinn Féin is determined to push ahead and challenge any obstacle to the lifting of the Beef Ban her in the north. To do this it is important to challenge the opposition that exists particularly within the British Health Department.

"It is vital that we have in place a robust testing regime that ensures that animals are tested quickly and that results are both reliable and processed quickly and that any contamination is removed immediately from the food chain. It is vital that testing can build public confidence and the development of markets for our beef products.

"The European Food Safety Authority are happy with the protocols on traceability and the testing of animals which are in place here. They are also content that the risk associated with beef from the North is equivalent to that associated with other European countries.

"The biggest difficulties come from widespread criticisms of the UK testing regime, particularly from the European Food & Veterinary Office (FVO). However their report gives the North a clean bill of health. Both The Food Safety Authority and the European FSA are content with our testing and monitoring regimes.

"We are meeting Angela Smith and Dr Henreita Campbell to ensure that they appreciate the confidence that exists already about the testing protocols. We will also be mapping out what Sinn Fein believe is the way ahead in terms on discussions between all of the key stakeholders, the department of health and DARD to ensure that can make early progress on lifting the beef ban.

"To meet any concerns about the sampling it is vital that the Six Counties has the required capacity in place to test animals over thirty months. Clearly handing over control of the testing to the Food Safety Authority should also be considered." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today urged Health Minister Mary Harney to seek a meeting with Direct Rule Minister Angela Smith to urge a ban on smoking in the workplace for the Six Counties.

Ms McDonald said that the "Irish Government has a duty to protect not only the rights" but also the health of citizens living in the Six Counties‚.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"I am calling upon Minister Harney to seek a meeting with Angela Smith to discuss the practicalities of extending a smoking ban to the Six Counties, thus ensuring an all-Ireland ban in the workplace. It is an opportune time for Minister Harney to promote the benefits of the recent legislation.

"As the ban nears its first anniversary in the 26 Counties (March 29th), Sinn Féin considers the ban a success. A recent survey in the south of the country found that 70% of people believed that the ban enhanced their pub experience. The positive response to the legislation should provide the catalyst for its extension in the Six Counties.

"The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Six Counties) is currently carrying out a consultation process with regard to smoking. However the British Government‚s commitment to the consultation is questionable. To date there have only been 17 responses to the consultation process and many health professionals are unaware that it is happening.

"The Irish Government has a duty to protect not only the rights, but also the health of citizens living in the Six Counties. Minister Harney must provide a commitment that the health of citizens in the Six Counties is as important as for citizens in the rest of the country. Therefore I am calling upon Minister Harney to seek a meeting immediately with Angela Smith to discuss this serious matter." ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Cllr John O'Dowd MLA, has criticised the NIO health minister Angela Smith over her failure to ensure that the Department of health maintains an accurate figures for the number of patients contracting hospital acquired infections.

Cllr O'Dowd MLA said:

"I had recently asked the minister to provide me with details on the numbers of patients who had contracted hospital acquired infections, such as MRSA, and to provide details on the extent of the additional costs to the health service of treating patients who had contacted such infections. I was shocked to read Angela Smith's response which stated that there is no accurate estimate for the number of patients who have contracted MRSA or other such infections. Indeed, she also stated that at present 'it is not possible to estimate the cost to the health service of treating those who contract hospital acquired infections'.

"Given that figures released last year by the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre demonstrated that the MRSA superbug has played a part in 116 deaths in the Six Counties between 1997 and 2003 and that in 2003 alone, MRSA had contributed to the deaths of 30 patients in hospitals, this response from the NIO health minister is unsatisfactory. Furthermore, CDSC figures also show that based upon positive MRSA laboratory reports the level of infection has quadrupled between 1998 and November 2004.

"Angela Smith also referred to the fact that a strategy for the control and prevention of healthcare associated infections will be due out for consultation later this year. Rather than waiting for the outcome of that consultation, I believe that there are several steps which the health minister could implement immediately which would have the support of patients, professional hospital staff and trades unions.

These are:

· Stipulating and introducing minimum safe staffing levels to ensure effective hospital cleaning. It is a fact that more cleaners and more cleaning hours would lead to cleaner hospitals.

· Ensuring that cleaning services are be based on quality, not cost - which means an end to market testing and bringing cleaning services back in-house rather than contracting out to private agencies

· Giving hospital cleaners better pay and conditions, and ending the two-tier workforce in healthcare, and

· Providing hospital cleaners with up-to-date equipment and improved training, including on-going training on infection control.

"Prevention is better than cure. This is not about good or bad cleaners, it is about having enough people to do the job well and for Angela Smith to release the necessary finance to make this happen. No one wants to be treated, work, or visit friends and relatives in a dirty hospital. I would urge the minister to bring cleaning staff back in house and make them part of the infection control team, to give them proper training and then fairly reward them for a tough job that many people would run a mile from. That is the best way to deal with hospital infections." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Equality Spokesperson, South Down MLA Catríona Ruane has expressed concern that the British government is acquiescing to unionist attempts to "rewrite, redefine and undermine the equality agenda" after NIO British direct rule Minster John Speller announced an extension of the review into labour market statistics under pressure from unionist politicians.

Ms Ruane said:

"Whatever about perception the fact remains that John Speller has buckled to unionists pressure. Sinn Fein is concerned that is the outworking of the long-term strategy of unionists to rewrite, redefine and undermine the equality agenda.

"Any assessment of equality of opportunity must be based on objective fact and objective fact alone.

"The reality is that 10 out of 15 of the most disadvantaged wards are nationalists.

"Within the Catholic community a greater percentage of children live in workless households, more pupils leave school with no qualifications or no GCSE's. Only 61.2% of the Catholic population of working age are employed compared 71.2% of the Protestant population.

"It is same across many other sphere's of life from ill health to housing.

"There is a statutory equality duty on government to target resources on the basis of need. That is not being done and will result in the unwarranted and discriminatory skewing of resources even further away from nationalist areas.

"While I recognise that there has been progress in tackling poverty across all communities and many important battles have been won any attempt to target resources on the basis of perception and not on the basis of evidence should be resisted. Representation in the workforce has improved but again Catholics, women and nationalists are still severely underrepresented at higher levels within the civil services where policy decisions are taken, within the judiciary and in many other areas of employment.

"Sinn Féin believes that the British government is not just in default in failing to live up to commitments to tackle inequality both between and within the communities but that they are complicit in undermining the equality agenda." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that PD ministers in the FF/PD Coalition government should attend to their business as ministers and spend less time "indulging their antipathy to Sinn Féin". Pointing to what he termed "pending industrial relations melt-down in our hospitals" he said the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney in particular needed to "deliver on her promises to urgently address the scandalous situation in Accident and Emergency units".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "It is time that Progressive Democrats ministers in the FF/PD Coalition Government spent less energy indulging their antipathy to Sinn Féin and more time on their jobs as Ministers. This applies in particular to Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney who is presiding over pending industrial relations melt-down in our hospitals.

"Stoppages are threatened by thousands of personnel in the health services, including nurses, public health doctors and consultants. These disputes arise directly out of the failure of this and previous Health ministers to address key issues including;

· the Accident and Emergency crisis

· uncertainty over staffing levels and location of staff under the new Health Services Executive, the cornerstone of Government health "reforms" and

· the renegotiation of the consultants‚ contract to ensure greater equity for public patients, now more than two years overdue.

"Minister Harney took over the Department of Health and Children with great fanfare last September, promising to urgently address the scandalous situation in Accident and Emergency units. The Minister acted as if she had come from the Opposition benches and had not shared collective responsibility for this crisis over the past seven years. The situation is now no different from when she took over.

"With the Departmental responsibilities of her colleague, the President of the PDs, and Minister for Justice Michael McDowell equally shambolic, it is time these Ministers shaped up or shipped out." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking in Belfast today said: "It is time Irish politicians got down to the real job of repairing the damage to the peace process and of making progress. It's time to move on."

Mr. Adams said:

"The peace process is in severe difficulty. The process came to a shuddering halt in early December when the DUP refused to share power with republicans. That's the political reality.

"Can a way be found out of the current deteriorating crisis? If the governments and the parties believe this is possible then how can this be achieved?

"Attempts to put the process back together aren't being helped by mixed messages coming from Irish government ministers. They can't have it both ways - either the government believes that dialogue is the way to sort out the current mess or it doesn't. Either they oppose sanctions or they don't. Either they want to calm the situation or they don't.

"The accusation which is explicit in all of their statements is that Sinn Féin is not serious about the peace process. This is nonsense and they know it.

"I firmly believe that it is time to move on and republicans are willing to play our part. If the governments want to continue to have a row then Sinn Féin are mandated by our electorate to stand up for them. But when the row is over the outstanding issues will still have to be tackled.

"Republicans are not prepared to allow all of the work and progress of the last decade to be cast aside. The reality is that life for the people of this island, particularly in the north, has been transformed over the last ten years.

"The people of Ireland have put their hope in their political leaders to sort this mess out. Its time Irish politicians stopped attacking each other and got down to the real job of making progress. Its time to move on.

"The issues which negotiations tackled in December are the same issues that we need to find closure on now - implementing the Agreement, sorting out the issue of policing, restoring the political institutions and addressing the issue of armed groups." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has this morning pledged her support to two local charities in their campaign to put pressure on the British Government to introduce a smoking ban in the Six Counties. Ms de Brún said that the "British Government must implement a ban without delay".

Both MacMillan Cancer Relief and the Ulster Cancer Foundation have joined forces to urge people to demand a smoke free environment in the workplace.

Speaking today, the MEP and former Assembly Health Minister said:

"I want to pledge my support for the campaign by local cancer charities, to demand the immediate introduction of a smoking ban in the workplace.

"Many people are unaware that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is currently undertaking a consultation process on smoking in the workplace. MacMillan Cancer Relief and the Ulster Cancer Foundation are to be praised for helping to draw attention to this matter and to help ensure that people have their say. Consultation periods are an important component of the democratic process.

"As the ban nears its first anniversary in the 26 counties (March 29th), Sinn Féin believes that it has been a complete success. A recent survey in the south of the country found that 70% of people believed that the ban enhanced their pub experience.

"In the face of irrefutable evidence about the effects of passive smoking I believe that the British Government should implement this ban without delay.

"A ban on smoking in the workplaces will eventually come into force in the 6 Counties. There is now a clear international trend that we cannot afford to ignore here. When countries across several continents can follow the lead set down in the south of Ireland, there is no reason for us not to do so in the Six Counties.

"One thing is patently clear - when such a ban eventually does come into force people will be asking why we didn't have the political will to do it earlier. Sinn Féin will continue to press for the ban as a matter of urgency for the well-being of all citizens." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams addressing the AGM of party members and elected representatives from across Leinster this morning said:

"The Sinn Féin leadership is totally opposed to any return to conflict. It would have devastating consequences for all of us on island.

"Our priority in the time ahead is to defend the peace process, to pursue the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and to uphold the integrity of Sinn Féin and the rights of our electorate, alongside the rights of all other citizens. It is for the two governments to decide where their priorities lie.

"It is the DUP‚s refusal to support last December‚s comprehensive agreement and to join a power-sharing government that began this crisis. It is the two governments‚ acquiescence to the DUP position and their confrontational approach, which is making a bad situation worse.

"The British and Irish governments mishandling of events in recent months has been extremely damaging to the peace process."ENDS

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Senior Sinn Féin negotiator Gerry Kelly today addressed delegates at the Sinn Féin Six County AGM in the Republican centre in Gulladuff, South Derry. Mr Kelly told the large audience of party activists that 'given the Irish government's stated opposition to sanctions their approach to the latest IMC report was an acid test of their role as a co-equal partner with the British in managing the peace process'.

Mr Kelly said:

"The British government at the behest of David Trimble formed the IMC with the sole purpose of being used to sanction and eventually exclude Sinn Féin from the political process. It was formed as a mechanism to try to stop the increasing growth of Sinn Féin across the island and to treat the Sinn Féin electorate differently from those who vote for all other parties. This philosophy is clearly undemocratic in nature and flies in the face of the core principles of the peace process - inclusivity, engagement and respect for democratic mandates.

"It was a serious error for the Irish government to support the establishment of this body and to nominate a member to it. The decision of the SDLP to acquiesce to the establishment and function of the IMC also displayed a lack of political judgement.

"In its short lifespan the IMC has already been used by the British government to sanction the Sinn Fein electorate. This sanction was imposed after the IMC reproduced allegations from spooks, spies and securocrats alleging IRA, a completely separate organisation from Sinn Féin, involvement in a series of events. Credible evidence or impartial sources are not a requirement of the IMC. It operates outside the norms of the basic legal process and removes the requirement for proof or natural justice.

"It has proven to be the vehicle which the securocrats, fundamentally opposed to the process of change, have been longing for since the start of this process.

"The Irish government has recently stated clearly that they oppose sanctions. This is a noble sentiment. However given the history of the Irish government's involvement in establishing and maintaining the IMC nationalists and republicans are justifiably sceptical of this claim.

"The Irish government have a responsibility to defend the rights of Irish citizens living in the British occupied part of this country.

"If the Irish government are genuinely opposed to sanctions against the Sinn Fein electorate then they need to stop them happening and they need to undo the current sanctions imposed against our party. The Irish government are supposed to be co-equal partners with the British in the management of this process. This is an acid test of that status. So far on a number of key issues including suspension and the cancellation of elections the Irish government have rolled over. They cannot let this happen again and at the same time maintain credibly that they are not allowing the British system to dictate the pace of the peace process.

"Indeed if the Irish government position is now opposition to the concept of sanctions then much of the raison d'etre for the very existence of the IMC itself is removed.

"If the next IMC report again demands further sanctions against the Sinn Fein electorate, are the Irish government going to remove their appointed representative from it and repeal the legislation they passed giving rise to it. This is the only option available to them if their opposition to discrimination and sanctions is to be anything more than talk and their position as a co-equal partner in the overall peace process is not to be totally undermined." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for Louth and spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan, has described Michael Noonan‚s comments in which he suggested Sinn Féin could be involved in tampering with the e-voting system as "daft". He said it was just another in a "long line of tedious and ridiculous allegations made against the party".

Deputy Morgan, "I think Michael Noonan's hysterically daft comments yesterday indicate the real agenda of those who are currently trying to make capital out of attacks on Sinn Féin. They will use anything ˆ no matter how ridiculous or nonsensical it sounds - to score cheap political points against my party. The linking of Sinn Féin, by Michael Noonan, to the E-voting debacle is just another in a long line of tedious and ridiculous allegations made against the party.

"It would appear now that if a mouse breaks-wind or if a tree is blown over in a storm the IRA and Sinn Féin will be blamed. If a cat is run over on a motorway or an old lady stumbles on a footpath then, if we are to believe the 'reds under the beds brigade' of Fine Gael and the PDs, surely the IRA and Sinn Féin was involved.

"Yesterday's man, Michael Noonan, and his colleagues may think they are being very clever but the public are not as gullible or stupid as Fine Gael thinks and they can certainly see through all of this bluster and nonsense.

"Fine Gael is just a tired, hackneyed and directionless political party, stumbling around in the dark while groping embarrassingly for the next saucy headline." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today said that she is committed to challenging inequality against women within the European Union.

Ms McDonald also said that she "will await with interest" plans to tackle gender inequality within the EU. According to an EU Commission report women face a 15% pay gap in relation to their male counterparts.

Ms McDonald made her comments after EU Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla pledged to unveil the plans next week in a new EU Social Agenda for 2006 - 2010.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"I would welcome any initiatives put forward at national or European level which seek to improve conditions for women within society. The EU Commission report that women are paid 15% less than men is an absolute disgrace and reinforces the reality that women are discriminated against in employment.

"However, it is clear that women are discriminated against within wider society also. Households headed by lone parents and by older women remain at high risk of poverty and structural inequalities continue to trap many women in low paid, part-time employment.

"One of the initiatives mooted is a European Gender Institute - responsible for guarding the implementation of EU laws on equality between men and women. Sinn Féin will judge any such proposal on the basis of its scope, limitations and ability to seriously address this issue.

"At a minimum, Sinn Féin is demanding equal pay for women. On a broader level, we are calling for measures which ensure women are not discriminated against on the basis of their gender. Both myself and my colleague Bairbre de Brún MEP will continue to challenge discriminatory attitudes to women both inside and outside the European Parliament. Gender equality remains a priority for Sinn Féin." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy has welcomed the unanimous support of the Sinn Féin Assembly team to his motion supporting the industrial action announced this week by trade unions opposing the introduction of water charges.

Coming of the decision of the Sinn Féin Assembly team, Francie Molloy, who head the party's campaign against the introduction of water charges said:

"Sinn Féin unanimously back the industrial action initiated by the trade unions in opposition to the proposed water charges.

"It is important that across the political spectrum we put aside our differences and concentrate on how we can stop the plans to impose these unfair water charges. Our focus must be on stopping these British government plans because their impact will be devastating.

"The current proposals will hit those least able to pay hardest - Those most vulnerable would be the elderly both single and married couples. Single parents that are employed and pay for childcare while at work will also have difficulties with separate water charges as will people that care for close relatives and in many cases do not declare their unpaid voluntary care work.

"This is in essence another form of taxation - the backdoor stealth taxes that have become the trademark of Tony Blair's British Labour Party. It is a regressive form of taxation. It should not be down to people to pay for the investment that successive British governments have failed to deliver.

"This is an issue that unites politicians, trade unionists and community activists from across the spectrum." ENDS

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Speaking during the Dáil debate today on Dormant Accounts Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe acknowledged the use of the accounts for public benefit as "positive and welcome" but he criticised as "pork barrel politics" proposed changes to the Bill, which would give the Government parties and the Minister in particular control over how the funds were dispersed.

Deputy Crowe said, "Every Member of this House recognises that the decision to use the dormant accounts fund for public benefit was a positive and welcome development. It is far better that these funds be used to target disadvantage in our society than to remain dormant in some sort of never-never land where they would only benefit the financial institutions that held them.

"I do not have a difficulty with the way it was administrated at present. However, I have a major problem with the changes proposed in the Bill. The Minister and the Government are giving themselves increased powers in terms of deciding which projects should or should not receive grants. That is a definite step backwards.

"Nobody objects to the fund being administrated more efficiently and in a more accountable manner. However, the Government are treating the fund like a bag of goodies to be handed out. Government Deputies will parade around constituencies boasting about their generosity and that of the Minister. We have seen this before. They act as if it is their money and as if they are giving it away out of the goodness of their hearts. This is people's money and it should be used in a properly planned, fair, accountable and effective way. The type of behaviour to which I refer demeans not only those who engage in it but also politics and politicians in general.

"The dormant accounts fund is being treated like a pork barrel, as they say in America. What we are seeing is pork barrel politics. The dormant accounts fund is a slush fund. The Bill should be withdrawn and the Minister should listen to the Opposition and those working in the community sector. If it is not withdrawn, we will have no choice but to reject it." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald will this evening participate in a peace process debate at Trinity College, Dublin. The debate entitled "That this House Believes Sinn Fein is obstructing the peace process" will commence at 8pm.

The debate will include representatives from the DUP and PUP, Fr Aidan Troy and Senator Martin Mansergh and is organised by the Trinity Philosophical Society.

Speaking prior to tonight's debate, Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin absolutely and entirely rejects the notion that it is obstructing the peace process. In actual fact as the third largest political party in Ireland and the largest pro-agreement party in the 6 Counties, we have demonstrated our commitment to the Good Friday Agreement time and again.

"We will not allow those who have a narrow political agenda, or a vested interest in halting change to deflect us from the task of building peace. We will uphold the integrity of Sinn Féin and the rights of our electorate, alongside the rights of all other citizens. This is our priority in the difficult time ahead." ENDS

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Local Sinn Féin representative, Michael Nolan, has expressed his party's "serious concern" at a proposed new development on Killiney Beach, on the site of what was the old Tea Rooms at the Whiterock end of the strand. Mr. Nolan said he suspected the proposed development of two and four storey multi-use buildings was "merely a Trojan horse" to attain planning permission to build several exclusive private residential properties at this prime location. Mr. Nolan logded an objection to the planned development on behalf of Sinn Féin today, the last day such objections could be made.

Mr. Nolan said, "Reading the planning notice it is clear that the proposal to build two dwellings with balconies overlooking the bay as well as 30 guest rooms and car parking for 27 cars, along with a restaurant and function rooms could not possibly take place on the existing Tea Rooms site without impacting significantly on the surrounding beach and access to it.

"I don't believe for a moment this is a serious proposal in terms of providing mixed used and publicly accessible buildings. I am seriously concerned that this is merely a Trojan horse to ultimately attain planning permission for more exclusive private residences in the area.

"Unfortunately in Dún Laoghaire Rathdown we have had problems in relation to the development of sites in this area. Specifically we had the joke that was the building of the 'Art Gallery' on the Vico Road, which everybody believes was nothing more than a sham to allow wealthy individuals build a private residence in an high amenity location where they otherwise would not have been allowed.

"Recently we also had a very fine hotel, the Killiney Court, close down in the immediate area of this proposed new development with the loss of a number of jobs after developers moved in like scavengers to strip it down so they could build multi-million euro apartments.

"Sinn Féin would welcome the development of a public amenity on the site of the old Tea Rooms, especially after they were deliberately allowed to fall into disrepair. However, we would absolutely reject the building of private residential dwellings on this prime seaside location.

"Today we have lodged a formal objection to this project with Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking today at Parliament Buildings, Stormont said: "The approach of the two governments has effectively scuttled the unprecedented IRA initiatives which they publicly outlined in December. The governments have opted to attack the commitment, integrity and motivation of Sinn Fein. This is fair enough in the cut and thrust of party politics but has no place in a peace process. My remarks about the Irish government are made more in sadness than anger.

"If an Irish government will not stand up to a British government in defence of the rights of Irish citizens - then who will? The role of the British government and its agencies in Ireland has been shameful. When Mr. Blair came into government he signalled a willingness to find a way out of this. He needs to deliver on his historic and current obligations.We have acknowledged Tony Blair's positive contribution, as we do the Taoiseach's, but we have told them both that confrontation is not the way forward. Otherwise the peace process could be as transient as his time in Downing Street.

"The challenge now for all of us in positions of political leadership is to rescue the situation. That is the focus of the Sinn Fein leadership. But we cannot do this on our own. The two governments have a critically important contribution to make. Either they can rise to the hard and difficult challenge of peace making or they can go on making a bad situation worse."

Mr. Adams said:

"Last nights IRA statement is obviously a direct consequence of the confrontational and damaging approach of the two governments. It is evidence of a deepening crisis and Sinn Féin regrets this.

Sinn Féin isn't involved in this process for the good of our health or because we are some kind of conduit between the governments and the IRA. We are in this process and we are committed to it. We have the right to be involved because we are the largest pro-Agreement party in the north and the third largest party on this island. 342,000 people from every corner of Ireland vote for us - that's nearly 300,000 more people than voted for the PDs in the last General Election - the PDs who are now driving the Irish government's policy on the peace process.

Sinn Féin is well aware of our responsibilities and we have never shied away from these - but to listen to the governments in recent days you would think that they are observers from another planet - that they have no active role to play, that they have no responsibilities.

Bertie Ahern is Taoiseach. He has a huge responsibility in all of this, not least because he is leader of Fianna Fáil. But the tragedy is that for the first time we have an Irish government publicly acquiescing to a DUP position.

The mantra from Dublin is that: "SF won't come within an asses roar of power, north or south, until the IRA is off the pitch." This illustrates the flaw in the Irish government's approach. Not everything is about getting into power. Securing the peace process should be the priority and party political politics have to come second.

"The two governments say that the only obstacle now to a lasting and durable settlement is the IRA. This is patent nonsense. Are they seriously telling us that Ian Paisley has had a road to Damascus conversion - that he is now suddenly embracing equality and powersharing? The DUP walked away from a deal in December - a deal of huge significant - because they oppose powersharing and oppose the Good Friday Agreement. There is no evidence that this has changed.

The Sinn Fein leadership stands over and is proud of the contribution we have made in the peace process and in transforming the political situation, not just in the north, but throughout the island of Ireland. That work is unfinished. It is the responsibility of all political parties and others. But the approach of the two governments has effectively scuttled the unprecedented IRA initiatives which they publicly outlined in December.

The governments have opted to attack the commitment, integrity and motivation of Sinn Fein. This is fair enough in the cut and thrust of party politics but has no place in a peace process. My remarks about the Irish government are made more in sadness than anger.

If an Irish government will not stand up to a British government in defence of the rights of Irish citizens - then who will? The role of the British government and its agencies in Ireland has been shameful. When Mr. Blair came into government he signalled a willingness to find a way out of this. He needs to deliver on his historic and current obligations.

We have acknowledged Tony Blair's positive contribution, as we do the Taoiseach's, but we have told them both that confrontation is not the way forward. Otherwise the peace process could be as transient as his time in Downing Street. The challenge now for all of us in positions of political leadership is to rescue the situation. That is the focus of the Sinn Fein leadership.

But we cannot do this on our own. The two governments have a critically important contribution to make. Either they can rise to the hard and difficult challenge of peace making or they can go on making a bad situation worse. The priority and focus of Sinn Fein in the time ahead is threefold:

  • To defend the peace process
  • To pursue the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
  • To uphold the integrity of Sinn Féin and the rights of our electorate, alongside the rights of all other citizens

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Speaking on a Private Members Bill in the Dáil on Wednesday evening, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, outlined some of the elements that need to be addressed as part of a radical review of agricultural policy. Among these are the issue of food quality and safety, and the importance of maintaining Ireland free from GM crops and animal feeds. He also referred to the fall in the share of retail prices going to farmers, to the future of the sugar industry, and to the lack of investment in agricultural research.

Deputy Ferris said: " It would be absolute madness for this country with its agricultural base, and reputation as the producer of high quality food, to open itself up to GM animal feeds and crops. There is no economic argument in favour of it from the point of view of the farmer, and certainly none as far as the consumer is concerned. Another major issue regarding food production is the share of the price paid by the consumer that actually goes to the primary producer. Only this week we have seen farmers protesting against a proposed 10c per gallon cut by Glanbia, and I have cited statistics in the past which show that farmers can get as little as a quarter or even a fifth of the retail price for certain products.

"That is not acceptable, and I have urged farmers to look long and hard again at the structure of the processing sector which has moved a long way from the original ideas of co-operation. Have farmers sacrificed long-term security of income for shares in what are to all intents and purposes agri business corporations over which farmers no longer have any control.

Sinn Féin is opposed to the closure of the Carlow sugar factory, and to any future moves which may threaten the future of the sugar industry in this state. The processing of sugar was for many years an example of a successful state enterprise and it will be a shame if the consequence of privitisation is the closing down of the entire sector.

"Obviously the sugar sector in this country is subject to changes at international level but its entire future cannot be sacrificed as part of whatever trade deals the EU agrees within the World Trade Organisation. Developing countries are entitled to access to EU markets but a strong stand needs to be taken in order to ensure that the workers employed at Mallow and Carlow, and the farmers who supply the plants, are not left to pay the cost.

"I have on several occasions tabled questions and otherwise raised the issue of alternative use of sugar as a renewable energy crop for the production of biofuels. I am aware that Minister Coughlan has stated that this is a commercial matter for Greencore but the state does have a role given that the taxation structure for alternative fuels will be crucial, and that there is a grant of €45 per hectare for energy crops. In reply to a question which I placed regarding this grant, the Minister replied that sugar beet is actually excluded so maybe that is something that might be looked at if there is a possibility of using beet as a source for the production of biofuels.

"One other issue that is vital to the future of Irish agriculture is research and development. I mention this in the context of the series of closures of Teagasc facilities, and the statistics from Forfas which show a marked decline in the level of investment in Agricultural Science at Third Level. According to the Forfas figures, of 2,797 full-time researchers in 2002, a mere 44 were working in agricultural science.

"At a time of massive change, and potential opportunity in the context of the reformed CAP, that is a poor indictment of the emphasis placed on this vital area. It is also an indication that students are aware that Teagasc cuts will mean fewer jobs and indeed we have already seen a number of researchers leaving the country on foot of this.

"Sinn Féin supported the introduction of the Single Farm Payment as part of the Fischler reform of the CAP. Since then, several areas of difficulty have emerged which indicate that not enough thought was put into them when the reform was being drafted and negotiated. Those who were part of the Early Retirement Scheme are one such group which has lost out and there are others. However, I still believe that there is potential under the new regime to allow farmers the opportunity to move forward on the basis of some basic security of income. That will not happen, however, unless more imagination and research is invested in examining the production systems which offer the greatest opportunities, and unless more effort is placed upon integrating those systems with the domestic processing sector to ensure that more of the value of what is produced in this country actually remains here to the benefit of farmers, workers and consumers." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the Finance Bill published today was "another missed opportunity". He said that it offered "nothing new or radical" in addition to the measures already announced in the Budget.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The removal of those on minimum wage from the tax net is welcome - but again, it is something that could and should have been done by Minister McCreevy long ago. The measure has already been overtaken as the current minimum wage is inadequate and an increase is overdue and is now demanded by trade unions.

"Minister Cowen received plaudits for the reduction in stamp duty for first-time buyers of second hand properties. Again this was long overdue and welcome but what will be done to ensure that the benefit is enjoyed by the buyers? Straight after the Budget auctioneers and valuers representatives were saying that the reduction would be eaten up by increased house prices. That surely shows the need for regulation of the price of housing, something this Government has refused to countenance.

"Similarly, there is increased tax relief for tenants in private rented accommodation but if nothing is done to control rents they will continue to rise and this tax relief will amount to a subsidy to rack-renting landlords.

"This government's tax cuts, between 1997 and 2002, saw only 5% of budget tax cut benefits go to the bottom 20% of earners. We are living with the legacy and the Budget and this Bill represent a catch-up rather than a radical shift in direction.

"For years we in Sinn Féin have been calling for a comprehensive review of the wide range of property-based tax reliefs and the closing of those through which wealth corporations and individuals are being allowed to avoid their fair share of tax. Minister Cowen has a review under way but did not close off any of the tax dodges for which this Government is responsible and which benefit wealthy speculators.

"We will probably never know how much has been lost to the public finances through these scams because the Government has never carried out a cost-benefit analysis of the huge range of such allowances.

"Minister Cowen staunchly defended the 12.5% Corporation Tax rate. But the Banks which have ripped off the Irish public right, left and centre, are benefiting from this low rate. The Minister should have hit them with a special tax and ring-fenced it for disadvantaged communities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative Angela Nelson has welcomed the publication of the 'A Way Forward for the Childminding Sector' from the Childminding Association NICMA and backed the call for greater long-term investment in childminding and greater recognition of the role and status of childminders.

Speaking from the launch Ms Nelson said:

"It is vital that organisations who deliver childminding are able to develop their services. This will only come about if there is a long-term commitment to invest in childminding.

"We need to support a substantial increase in the numbers of registered childminders, to provide them with greater support and particularly to commit resources to support training. We need to recognise the invaluable role that childminders play in our society both in the development our young children and in supporting parents to participate in employment and education, especially by providing a great degree of flexibility. They play a vital role in our society and in supporting our economy.

"There are huge opportunities for people who want to become professional registered childminders and it is clear that unless we increase numbers that we will not develop the services that will provide families with the support they need." ENDS

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