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On the occasion of the official opening of Ghaelscoil an Dhamba in West Belfast today, Sinn Féin former MLA Bairbre de Brún has paid tribute to those working tirelessly to promote Irish medium education. Ghaelscoil an Dhamba is the first ever Irish medium primary school to receive statutory funding from the day it opened.

Ms de Brún said:

"It is a tribute to all those who have worked tirelessly over the years to set up, maintain and fund Irish schools that we are finally in a new era where Ghaelscoil an Dhamba has received funding from day one. This is an amazing achievement when you consider that these schools are often sited in areas of high deprivation. The sacrifices made by parents, teachers and supporters of the Gaelscoileanna alike, have given children in this constituency and beyond a great start in life."

Ms de Brún has also extended a hearty céad míle fáilte to Minister Éamonn Ó Cuív who will perform the official opening of the school today. ENDS

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Following a meeting with the Equality Commission and Sinn Féin representatives yesterday the party's Upper Bann representative Dr. Dara O'Hagan has called on the British government to "ensure that legal aid is properly resourced to provide the bulk of financial assistance for people taking discrimination cases."

Dr O'Hagan said:

"We have been extremely concerned that over the past year the Equality Commission has cut back dramatically in funding discrimination cases. We believe this has sent a message to some employers that they will not be held accountable for discriminating against their employees.

"The current reality is that the Equality Commission will only take forward cases that are likely to bring about changes in the law leaving the bulk of citizens who face discrimination with limited opportunity to seek redress.

"At our last meeting with John Spellar we called on him to bolster legal aid to the level required to ensure that those discriminated against can avail of financial assistance to take cases forward.

"Discrimination in all its manifestations has been a blight on this society for too long.

"If we are in the process of trying to create a fair society here and put the legacy of discrimination behind us then the British government must properly resource the mechanisms designed to tackle discrimination and look towards practical ways to do so." ENDS

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Robert Emmet was a member of the United Irishmen. In 1803 he led an ill-fated rebellion in Dublin. After which he went on the run, but was later arrested. He was tried for high treason 200 years ago today by a British Court in Dublin. He was hanged the following day in Thomas Street, Dublin. We carry here the full text of his speech from the dock.

My Lords:

What have I to say why sentence of death should not be pronounced on me according to law?  I have nothing to say that can alter your predetermination, nor that it will become me to say with any view to the mitigation of that sentence which you are here to pronounce, and I must abide by.  But I have that to say which interests me more than life, and which you have labored (as was necessarily your office in the present circumstances of this oppressed country) to destroy.  I have much to say why my reputation should be rescued from the load of false accusation and calumny which has been heaped upon it.  I do not imagine that, seated where you are, your minds can be so free from impurity as to receive the least impression from what I am going to utter--I have no hopes that I can anchor my character in the breast of a court constituted and trammeled as this is--I only wish, and it is the utmost I expect, that your lordships may suffer it to float down your memories untainted by the foul breath of prejudice, until it finds some more hospitable harbor to shelter it from the storm by which it is at present buffeted.

Was I only to suffer death after being adjudged guilty by your tribunal, I should bow in silence and meet the fate that awaits me without a murmur; but the sentence of law which delivers my body to the executioner will, through the ministry of that law, labor in its own vindication to consign my character to obloquy--for there must be guilt somewhere: whether in the sentence of the court in the catastrophe, posterity must determine. A man in my situation, my lords, has not only to encounter the difficulties of fortune. and the force of power over minds which it has corrupted or subjugated. but the difficulties of established prejudice: the man dies, but his memory lives. That mine may not perish, that it may live in the respect of my countrymen, I seize upon this opportunity to vindicate myself from some of the charges alleged against me. When my spirit shall be wafted to a more friendly port; when my shade shall have joined the bands of those martyred heroes who have shed their blood on the scaffold and in the field, in defense of their country and of virtue. this is my hope: I wish that my memory and name may animate those who survive me, while I look down with complacency on the destruction of that perfidious government which upholds its domination by blasphemy of the Most High-which displays its power over man as over the beasts of the forest-which sets man upon his brother, and lifts his hand in the name of God against the throat of his fellow who believes or doubts a little more or a little less than the government standard--a government which is steeled to barbarity by the cries of the orphans and the tears of the widows which it has made.

[Interruption by the court.]

I appeal to the immaculate God--I swear by the throne of heaven, before which I must shortly appear--by the blood of the murdered patriots who have gone before me that my conduct has been through all this peril and all my purposes governed only by the convictions which I have uttered, and by no other view than that of their cure, and the emancipation of my country from the superinhuman oppression under which she has so long and too patiently travailed; and that I confidently and assuredly hope that, wild and chimerical as it may appear, there is still union and strength in Ireland to accomplish this noble enterprise. of this I speak with the confidence of intimate knowledge, and with the consolation that appertains to that confidence. Think not, my lords, I say this for the petty gratification of giving you a transitory uneasiness; a man who never yet raised his voice to assert a lie will not hazard his character with posterity by asserting a falsehood on a subject so important to his country, and on an occasion like this. Yes. my lords. a man who does not wish to have his epitaph written until his country is liberated will not leave a weapon in the power of envy, nor a pretense to impeach the probity which he means to preserve even in the grave to which tyranny consigns him.

[Interruption by the court.]

Again I say, that what I have spoken was not intended for your lordship, whose situation I commiserate rather than envy-my expressions were for my countrymen; if there is a true Irishman present. let my last words cheer him in the hour of his affliction.

[Interruption by the court.]

I have always understood it to be the duty of a judge. when a prisoner has been convicted, to pronounce the sentence of the law; I have also understood that judges sometimes think it their duty to hear with patience and to speak with humanity. to exhort the victim of the laws. and to offer with tender benignity his opinions of the motives by which he was actuated in the crime, of which he had been adjudged guilty: that a judge has thought it his duty so to have done. I have no doubt--but where is the boasted freedom of your institutions. where is the vaunted impartiality, clemency. and mildness of your courts of justice, if an unfortunate prisoner, whom your policy, and not pure justice. is about to deliver into the hands of the executioner. is not suffered to explain his motives sincerely and truly. and to vindicate the principles by which he was actuated?

My lords, it may be a part of the system of angry justice, to bow a man's mind by humiliation to the purposed ignominy of the scaffold; but worse to me than the purposed shame, or the scaffold's terrors, would be the shame of such unfounded imputations as have been laid against me in this court: you, my lord [Lord Norbury], are a judge. I am the supposed culprit; I am a maemy should enter only by passing over my lifeless corpse. Am I, who lived but for my country, and who have subjected myself to the dangers of the jealous and watchful oppressor, and the bondage of the grave, only to give my countrymen their rights, and my country her independence, and am I to be loaded with calumny and not suffered to resent or repel it--no, God forbid!

If the spirits of the illustrious dead participate in the concerns and cares of those who are dear to them in this transitory life--oh, ever dear and venerated shade of my departed father. look down with scrutiny upon the conduct of your suffering son; and see if I have even for a moment deviated from those principles of morality and patriotism which it was your care to instill into my youthful mind, and for which I am now to offer up my life!

My lords, you are impatient for the sacrifice-the blood which you seek is not congealed by the artificial terrors which surround your victim; it circulates warmly and unruffled, through the channels which God created for noble purposes. but which you are bent to destroy. for purposes so grievous. that they cry to heaven. Be yet patient! I have but a few words more to say. I am going to my cold and silent grave: my lamp of life is nearly e4inguished: my race is run: the grave opens to receive me, and I sink into its bosom! I have but one request to ask at my departure from this world--it is the charity of its silence! Let no man write my epitaph: for as no man who knows my motives dare now vindicate them. let not prejudice or ignorance asperse them. Let them and me repose in obscurity and peace, and my tomb remain uninscribed, until other times, and other men, can do justice to my character; when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done.

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Sinn Féin Dublin European Parliament candidate Marylou McDonald has called on the Irish Government and EU power brokers to "listen to the citizens of Europe and not dilute their right to vote in the forthcoming EU constitution treaty referenda".

She was speaking after unnamed commission officials told the Financial Times this week that the ratification process might take 12 or 18 months because States that register a No vote will be sent back to the polls "twice, even three times". Then recalcitrant states are to be faced with a new referendum asking them "do you want to leave the EU"?

Ms McDonald said:

"As the dust settles on the Swedish euro referendum result and the EU Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) in early October looms, it seems to be business as usual for the EU and the Commission in how they deal with the exercising of democracy by EU voters.

"Unnamed commission officials told the Financial Times this week that the ratification process for the new EU Constitution Treaty might take 12 or 18 months because States that register a No vote will be sent back to the polls "twice, even three times". Then recalcitrant states will face a new referendum asking them "do you want to leave the EU"?

"This is an appalling abuse of the rights and concerns of EU voters and is something that caused a lot of anger in Ireland last year.

"The EU as an institution has shown itself not just unwilling to be transparent and accountable but unwilling to reform and now it is actively planning to subvert the electoral rights of the citizens of its 25 member states.

"With the IGC and the Irish presidency of the EU just months away the government has an onerous responsibility to stand up and say no to the EU mandarins. They cannot be allowed to dilute our democratic rights any further." ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate, former Health Minister Bairbre de Brún has announced details of a major Sinn Féin party conference of building for Irish re-unification next week on Tuesday September 23rd at Stormont.

Ms de Brún said:

"Sinn Féin has been at the forefront of building the momentum for Irish re-unification. Elected representatives and Sinn Fein activists and party members from every corner of Ireland will be in Belfast to look at how we best utilise and expand on the existing All Ireland architecture.

"The purpose of this important party event is to create a strategy which will arm the builders of the new Ireland with new ideas and ways of working, for example in using the opportunities presented by EU funding programmes, to build a consensus for Irish re-unification.

"The Irish border is recognised as an impediment to social and economic development. The border compounds poverty and social exclusion within the communities that live adjacent to it. All of this reinforces our basic arguments to have it removed, but we must complement these arguments with actions that support our analysis and to do this we need planned strategy and allies from across the community, business, and statutory sectors.

"I am confident of Sinn Féin‚s ability to drive forward the work of developing community capital and the empowerment of the region in a fully integrated manner. We must work to interface the border corridor with the more prosperous regions in a balanced spatial development framework for the whole island.

"Sinn Féin's focus is create and build on the momentum that is vital to our goals of national unity, community empowerment and building the nation of equals. Events such as this identify what is achievable and plan how to achieve it." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, Foyle representative Mary Nelis commenting on the publication of the 2002-03 housing statistics has said that unless there is a radical rethink about meeting the demand for social housing there will continue to be unacceptable increases in homelessness and increased pressure of Housing Executive waiting lists.

Mrs Nelis said:

"The number of households presenting themselves as homeless is up 16%, mortgage repossessions are up7.5%, the average price of NHBC registered houses is up 10% and Housing Executive stock is down by over 7,000. These figures taken singularly should send out a warning signal but taken together they paint a very bleak picture of our housing market.

"Unless there is a radical rethink about meeting the demand for social housing there will continue to be unacceptable increases in homelessness and increased pressure of Housing Executive waiting lists.

"95% of all new dwellings started in 2002-03 were commissioned by the private sector. This points up a huge imbalance in the building of social housing. We are just not creating enough housing that is affordable to meet the demand.

"There can be no acceptable level of homelessness. It is an indictment on the failure of the homelessness strategy to tackle the problem. Since the collapse of the institutions and the re-introduction of direct rule organisations dealing with the issue of homelessness have reported a lack of political will make progress on this issue.

"However the problem runs far deeper. We need to address the entire housing policy. We need to build more homes and make much better use of existing stock. There are also huge numbers of people on waiting lists classified as A1 priority or in 'stress'." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "totally unacceptable" the latest proposal from European Commission President Romano Prodi for the abolition of the national veto on taxation matters.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also said it was "a vindication of anti-Nice Treaty campaigners" that the Commission was now proposing the retention of the right of every member-state to nominate a commissioner with full voting rights.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"During the first and second referendums on the Nice Treaty, Commission President Prodi and pro-Nice parties in Ireland strongly defended the proposals to remove the right of every member state to nominate a voting member of the Commission. Now the Commission has done a u-turn and has effectively vindicated the argument of anti-Nice Treaty campaigners that this aspect of Nice made the EU less democratic and representative.

"The Commission President's proposals to remove the unanimity requirement on taxation issues should be rejected. The Irish government must oppose this strongly. Once qualified majority voting is allowed on any taxation issue it will only be a matter of time before it is extended and one of the last pillars of national sovereignty - the tax policy-making powers of democratic governments - will be eroded. Sinn Féin regards this as totally unacceptable and the Irish government must defend sovereignty on taxation matters in the EU Constitution negotiations and during its EU presidency." ENDS

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Sinn Fein representative for north Belfast, Gerry Kelly, has slammed the leaving of devices at two schools today. The schools targeted were the Fortwilliam Dominican College in North Belfast and St Comgalls High School in Larne.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"We have seen over the past few months schools being targeted and attacked. Today we have devices being left at two Catholic schools, Fortwilliam College and St Comgalls High School in Larne. This is completely wrong and unjustifiable.

"Those responsible are deliberately selecting the most vulnerable targets to further whatever agenda they have. In the end it is the school pupils and their education that will suffer. Schools like hospitals are cherished by the community and should not be subject to this.

"Any harassment, threats or attacks directed against schools is deplorable and must be brought to an end immediately. All children, no matter what denomination, have an absolute right to education free from these kind of threats." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP this morning led a party delegation, which included Seán Crowe TD and Derry representative Raymond McCartney, to meet with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen in Dublin. Speaking after the meeting Mr. McGuinness said:

"I am here in Dublin today to meet with Brian Cowen and Gerry Adams is meeting with David Trimble in Belfast as part of our efforts and determination to move beyond the current impasse.

"While much of Sinn Féin's focus in recent times has been on trying to ensure that the British Government set a date for an election today's meeting provided an opportunity to remind the Irish government that there are other issues which also need resolved.

"The current crisis within the Human Rights Commission and issues concerning the implementation of the equality agenda and the creation of an acceptable policing service were discussed.

"On the issue of demilitarisation there has been much hype and talk but we have seen very little signs of progress on that front, likewise with respect to the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

"While much of the two governments focus has been on what republicans are going to do we need to hear from Mr. Trimble that he is fully committed to this process and to making the institutions work." ENDS

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin Representative Barry McElduff has welcomed indications from the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen that the pilot programme enabling people to apply for Irish passports through six county post offices will be extended to Omagh.

Cllr. McElduff said:

"I have been in communication with the Irish government for some time regarding an extension of the pilot scheme launched last year which enables people to apply for Irish passports from five designated post offices.

"The figures released by the Minister indicate that this pilot scheme has been an unrivalled success and show that 23,000 Irish passports were issued in 2002 to Irish citizens in the six counties.

"The Minister has now indicated to me that he envisages an extension of the programme and that Omagh will be in the next wave of post offices eligible to deal with Irish passport applications. Over the past number of months my own office has issued almost 500 passport application forms in the Omagh area clearly demonstrating a high level of demand.

"However the issue of passport rights for Irish citizens living in the six counties is not a matter of commercial viability, it is a matter of right and I would hope that is the direction the Irish government will go in the time ahead." ENDS

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East Antrim Sinn Féin Representative Cllr. Oliver McMullan has said that a bomb alert at a Catholic school in Larne this morning is the latest incident in an increasing sectarian campaign being waged by unionist paramilitary gangs.

Cllr. McMullan said:

"Over the past few weeks there has been an escalation in the ongoing sectarian campaign being waged by the various unionist paramilitary gangs. This has witnessed threats being issued to a priest, a cemetery being desecrated and a religious service disrupted in Glengormley. It also has involved bombs being left outside Catholic schools in Limavady.

"It would appear that this tactic has now been adopted in Larne. Information suggests that some sort of device has been left in the vicinity of St. Comgalls catholic school in the town. As we witnessed last year at Holy Cross the unionist paramilitaries have little or no regard for schools or school children. They are quite happy to threaten and intimidate the most vulnerable members of society simply because they are Catholics.

"It is up to the unionist political leadership in this area to stand firmly with their catholic neighbours in the face of this vicious sectarian campaign being waged from within their community." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, has strongly condemned the decision of the Minister for the Marine, Dermot Ahern, to introduce vastly increased rates for the use of ports from October 1. The increases will apply to fishing boats using Howth, Dumore East, Killibegs, Castletownbeare and Rossaveal.

Deputy Ferris said:

"Since this increase was first threatened last May, I have raised it a number of times in the Dáil and at Committee meetings and have called on the Minister to not to impose the increases. While the Minister did respond positively to the request made by myself and others to consult with those involved in fishing, he has decided to proceed against their advice and judgement.

"I know from my own home area in Kerry, and from speaking to fishermen from the other ports concerned, that the charges will add to what is an already difficult time for fishermen. Incomes have been falling, and the industry is faced with a range of threats to which these exorbitant charges have now been added. I would call on the Minister, therefore, even at this late hour, to reverse his decision."ENDS

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Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights Bairbre de Brún has expressed concern that the approach of the Human Rights Commission to fair employment and parity of esteem could put future investment in the North at risk.

Bairbre de Brún said:

"The actions of the Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson, with regard to the Holy Cross school situation and the approach of the Commission to fair employment and parity of esteem may now impact to the detriment of the local economy. This must serve as a wake up call to everyone with an interest in the economic development of the North.

"Confidence in the Human Rights Commission has been eroded. Sinn Féin has argued for a programme of reconstruction in order to restore public confidence. It is imperative that the requirement under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement for an independent and effective Human Rights Commission is fully realised. The fact that continued failure to deliver on this requirement could now effect potential inward investment opportunities renders delivery all the more urgent." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness and Dublin South West TD Seán Crowe will meet Foreign Minister Brian Cowen in Iveagh House on St. Stephen's Green tomorrow, Thursday 18th, at 11.30am.

Mr. McGuinness will be available to talk to the media afterwards.

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Sinn Féin representative in Dublin South East Daithí Doolan has expressed anger and disappointment that government cutbacks in education are starting to take their toll on Dublin's inner city, an area originally protected under the government's own RAPID programme.

Christian Brothers School, Westland Row, Pearse Street has been forced to cutback by 20 hours, despite the fact the Pearse Street community is an area identified as one of the most disadvantaged in the state under the RAPID programme.

Mr. Doolan said:

"To cut teaching hours in an area that can ill afford any cuts, flies in the face of the RAPID programme.

"I am calling on Minister Noel Dempsey to immediately restore the teaching hours as a matter of urgency. The Minister has been promising since he came to office that educational disadvantage would be addressed. If this is his way of dealing with disadvantage then the man needs to resign.

"I have contacted the Minister with a view to discussing the critical situation facing our community. I would hope that Minister Dempsey has the courage to at least meet with those who will be further disadvantaged by his cutbacks."ENDS

A meeting of parents and politicians has been called for tomorrow, Wednesday September 17th at 8pm in Christian Brothers School, Westland Row.

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Sinn Féin northern Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone representative Cllr Gerry McHugh has challenged the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development over manipulation of Peace II monitoring.

Cllr McHugh said:

"It is important that DARD's Permanent Secretary Pat Toal come clean about his department's commitments in relation to spending in the current PEACE II programme. DARD is required under the PEACE II rules to spend by December 2003 £12.755 million. To date DARD has spent £883,284.

"I would like to clarify for him that money committed, which means money issued under a letter of offer DOES NOT qualify for spend under EU rules. I also want to point out to DARD civil servants that DARD are totally responsible for the failure to spend money. They dragged their feet and worked at a snails pace to draw up programmes. They have given the farming community NO help or support in the lengthy and extremely complicated application process.

"Farmers which I have spoken to are very disillusioned with the entire process, and tell me on a weekly basis that they are unable to understand the complexity and the criteria required.

"DARD have now announced a service review of its customers, but I would question if this is just cosmetic exercise, to paper over the structural failure of a top heavy, out of touch, civil service?

"I believe another announcement is expected in the near future of some re-organisation of the Rural Development department. This will be another cosmetic exercise if DARD does not make money available for help with applications for funding.

"The future for Irish agriculture is in developing a partnership between farmers, the agri-processing industry and the responsible government department.

"DARD has failed to develop that partnership with Irish agriculture, they have failed over many years to eradicate both TB and BR, we still have no lifting of the beef export ban, the current fiasco with the OTMS scheme, wet weather aid case in flux, a zero tolerance attitude of the least mistake, a rural development programme that very few can access, farm debt at over £600 million, incomes on farms at £88 per week, a British minister who's boss (Margaret Beckett) couldn't care less about farming, not forgetting that DARD costs over £4000 per farm to run.

"It beggars belief after all of these criticisms that farming here actually sustains over 70,000 jobs, how long can a department try to gloss over the cracks and when will they engage in proper and meaningful debate? If DARD worked to the high standards that it expected its farmers too, wouldn't all farm families be much better off." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly is travelling to London today, Wednesday 17th September to support Westminster by-election campaign of Kelly McBride, the sister of murdered north Belfast teenage of two Peter McBride who was killed by Scots Guards Fisher and Wright.

Speaking ahead of travelling to London Mr Kelly said:

"The McBride family have fought a long, determined and dignified campaign to get justice for Peter McBride.

"Sinn Féin support their campaign for justice. Sinn Féin support the McBride family's campaign for justice and we will offer whatever help we can in support of Kelly McBride's election campaign.

"Sinn Féin supports this initiative. It provides the McBride family with an opportunity to raise their demand that the two Scots Guards convicted of murdering Peter McBride should be removed from the British Army." ENDS

Note to Editors

Gerry Kelly will attend an event organised by the Kelly McBride campaign today at 1pm outside the British Ministry of Defence, Whitehall

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An Inclusive Seanad - Sinn Féin submission to the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform June 2003

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Summary of recommendations for reform of Seanad

3. Composition of Seanad

4. Nomination Process

5. Functions of Seanad

6. Summary of recommendations of functions of Seanad

1. Introduction

Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad as it is currently constituted is fundamentally undemocratic and elitist. It duplicates the role of the Dáil. Sinn Féin envisages the creation of a reformed, democratic, transparent, accountable, and relevant second house of parliament.

Sinn Féin envisages a democratically elected Seanad which would afford a role for civic society, and provide for fuller representation of all sectors of society in the legislative process.

Beyond Abolition

In examining options for reform of the Seanad, we re-considered as a first option the abolition of the Seanad. This option was rejected on the basis that one house does not adequately represent all sections of the Irish population and a second house could be constituted so as to represent those not adequately represented in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin believes that it is beneficial for the democratic nature of government to have an upper and a lower house of parliament in that it provides a system of checks and balances on government legislation and policy.

Beyond Party Politics

The option of a national list system, as recommended in the 7th Progress Report of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution was also considered. Arguments in favour of this option included that it would allow all parties to present themselves as an option nationally thus benefiting smaller parties who would not necessarily have the resources to run in all constituencies. The argument was also made that a benefit of this method of election would be that it would be non-clientelist.

The national list system was rejected on the basis that it would not involve a radical reform of the Seanad, would not provide for greater representation of civic society and would result in a Seanad which would in its composition be a duplication of the Dáil.

A new beginning

Sinn Féin asserts that the Seanad should be elected on a sectoral panel system. There are a number of advantages to this system. It would be radically different in composition to the other house of parliament i.e. the Dáil, thereby ensuring that civic society and specifically those marginalized in society, would have a role in the legislative process. An outline of our proposal for a Seanad elected on a sectoral panel system follows.

2. Summary of recommendations for reform of Seanad

· The Seanad would be elected by universal suffrage of citizens of the 32 counties of Ireland and those resident therein for more than 5 years who are over the age of 16 years. Pending the reintegration of the national territory citizens resident in the 6 counties would cast their ballot by postal vote.

· Emigrants registered with their appropriate Irish Embassy or consulate would be entitled to vote.

· The election would not take place on the same day as the Dáil election.

· There would be no provision for nomination by An Taoiseach.

· Senators would be elected from sectoral panels rather than on a party political basis.

· Election would be by proportional representation single transferable vote on each panel.

· The main function of the Seanad would be scrutiny of national and EU legislation.

3. Composition of Seanad

The current system is legislated for under the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947 and the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1954.

Sinn Féin proposes a Seanad based on a sectoral panel system elected by universal suffrage of citizens of the 32 counties of Ireland and those resident therein for more than five years, who are over the age of 16 years.

The Seanad is currently elected by an undemocratic limited franchise panel system and the panels are constituted as follows:

· Cultural and Educational

· Agriculture Panel

· Labour Panel

· Industrial and Commercial Panel

· Administrative Panel

There are also reserved seats for those elected by graduates of certain third-level institutions.

Sinn Féin proposes retaining a 60-member assembly. The outline of panels would be as follows

1. Community and Voluntary Panel (including geographical communities and communities of interest)

2. Cultural and Educational Panel (including but not limited to arts, language, sports and students organisations)

3. Local and Regional Panel (for example representatives of community councils as recognised under Better Local Government, regional bodies etc.)

4. Labour Panel

5. Industrial and Commercial Panel

6. Agricultural and Fisheries Panel

In order to address the under-representation of women, quotas of at least 30% would operate across each panel.

4. Nomination Process

All organisations who seek accreditation as a nominating body must apply to a 'Seanad Panel Accreditation Committee' before they can nominate a person to stand in the appropriate panel. It should be open to all bodies, other than political parties, to apply for such accreditation. An organisation would have to seek accreditation at least six months prior to an election.

Guidelines for accreditation would be laid out in legislation i.e. amendments to the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Acts.

Each nominating body would only be permitted to nominate one person to one panel.

Arguments will be made by opponents of this system that it is cumbersome, however we contend that it is possible to overcome these difficulties. Any difficulties arising are far outweighed by the democratic and inclusive benefits of the sectoral panel system.

5. Functions of Seanad

Sinn Féin envisages that the main role of the Seanad would be scrutiny. It would scrutinise draft domestic legislation and furnish reports to the Dáil, including specific recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment, fast-track progress, etc.

It would be responsible for checking legislative proposals against the constitutional and other rights of citizens, and also against Ireland's international obligations.

Sinn Féin proposes significant changes to current legislative stages. Prior to consideration by the Dáil, all proposed legislation would first pass scrutiny by the Seanad, to be known hereafter as the 'Seanad Stage'.

All legislation would pass through the following stages:

· First Stage Publication (Dáil)

· Seanad Stage (Seanad) ? see below

· Second Stage Debate (Dáil)

· Committee Stage (Dáil)

· Report Stage/ Final Stage (Dáil)

The new "Seanad Stage" would include a community consultation process. Following this consultation, the Seanad would debate the bill and consider amendments. At the conclusion of this Stage, the Seanad would agree the amendments it would recommend to the Dáil.

The Seanad would have a responsibility to equality-proof and human rights-proof proposed legislation.

The Seanad could recommend withdrawal of legislation.

The Dáil must take cognisance of the Seanad Report when debating the bill in Second Stage, and subsequently.

If the Government ignores the Seanad recommendations, this could be grounds for a no-confidence vote. The President can also use this as a reason to refer legislation when presented.

The Seanad would have the right to question Ministers on legislation.

The Seanad would also scrutinise proposed European legislation and furnish reports to the Oireachtas including recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment, fast-track progress, etc.

The Seanad would have the ability to permit MEPs to attend and speak, without voting rights, at Seanad debates on European issues or on legislation resulting from the transposition of EU directives.

Legislation which needs to be amended: 1947 Act (sections 33 & 43) Seanad Electrol (panel members) act 1954

6. Summary of recommendations on functions of Seanad

· The main role of the Seanad would be scrutiny.

· The Seanad would be required to furnish reports to the Dáil on all legislation it has scrutinised, including the equality-proofing and human rights-proofing of all legislation.

· Significant changes to current legislative stages would be necessary.

· The Seanad would have the right to question Ministers.

· The Seanad would have the ability to permit MEPs to attend and speak.

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty, speaking about the weekend hoax bomb attack at the home of SDLP Cllr Tom Mc Bride and today's (Tuesday) arson attack on the car of another DPP member said:

The local MP said,

"This has undoubtedly been extremely traumatic experience for all those affected by these attacks.

"Such acts of intimidation are completely unjustifiable. Those responsible, devoid of any support or coherent political strategy are merely involved in squalid effort to undermine the Peace Process. It is ironic, but perhaps not co-incidental, that these micro-groups are joined by certain elements of the British Intelligence Services in this aim.

"There are major issues yet to be addressed before we have a new beginning to policing, including the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly, and Sinn Féin has been and will continue to seek to have these major issues addressed through the political process.

"Sinn Féin and the people we represent have legitimate problems with major shortcomings in the current policing set up but we will continue to push for and are determined to achieve a new beginning to policing which is democratically accountable, representative and totally free from partisan political control." THE END

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Speaking during the oral presentation of Sinn Féin's submission on Seanad Reform to the Seanad Reform Sub-Committee today Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

"There is a strong view within our party that the Seanad should be abolished altogether and that was for long our party policy. This was changed in recent years to a policy of democratic reform of the Seanad but it must be noted that many people remain convinced that a second chamber is unnecessary and wasteful. I believe that is reflected widely in Irish society.

"The Seanad as currently constituted is undemocratic and elitist. It is elected on a very restricted and in some aspects, perverse franchise. The franchise granted to some but not all third-level graduates is a notorious example. Instead of a Seanad franchise for local authority members we would like to see real empowerment of local government.

"The bottom line in our submission is that the Seanad should be elected by universal suffrage of citizens throughout the 32 Counties and those resident in Ireland for more than five years and over the age of 16. Representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties is a huge issue. Our proposals would give them a direct input. It would go side by side with the right of those elected to Wesminster constituencies in the Six Counties to participate in Dáil debates.

"Emigrants should also have a vote. This is provided for by many states throughout the world without difficulty. It could be done by postal ballot, as would voting in the Six Counties, pending Irish reunification. It is ironic that a State which repeatedly praises the contribution of the Irish Diaspora denies emigrants a right that many other states grant their citizens.

"Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad should be an elected forum for civic society, particularly for those sectors who are not adequately represented in the Dáil and for the marginalized in society. For example the tremendous energy of the community and voluntary sector is not given a direct voice in the Oireachtas."

Deputy Ó Caoláin was joined by Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy and Sinn Féin EU Candidate for Munster David Cullinane.

Mr. Murphy called for proper northern representation in the Seanad so that people across the island of Ireland could play a full role in the political life of the nation. He rejected proposals put forward to allow for a small number of representatives from the Six Counties in the Seanad as "tokenism". He said,

"At the moment playing a part in the nation is only a vague assertion for people from the North and one that has no outworkings in terms of the institutions of this State. There are no rights for me or hundreds of thousands of others to play a part in the nation as it currently exists.

"The Seanad has an opportunity to decide between whether it allows token representation of northerners here or we give an opportunity for all the citizens who live on this island to play a part in the Irish nation."

Advocating a community consultation process during the progression of legislation at 2nd Stage Sinn Féin's Munster EU candidate David Cullinane said:

"Clearly the system we are proposing will have many community and social organisations represented and accredited, but we acknowledge that there will be some that will not be accredited and believe that they should be given the opportunity to make submissions in terms of legislation.

"We believe that these can be made primarily in written form and if necessary be followed up by an oral presentation so that their concerns and interests can be addressed. This is crucial in making the Seanad more democratic, accountable and open to all of Irish society." ENDS

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