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


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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on transparency from the Taoiseach as to the credentials of his newly-appointed Minister of State for Equality, Frank Fahey TD. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The last Ministerial appointments in relation to the equality brief were nothing short of disastrous. Neither Minister McDowell nor the former Minister of State O'Dea believe in equality in fact both have been quite open in their contempt for equality. The Taoiseach has effectively endorsed Minister McDowell's approach to the brief in his reappointment last week.

"If the Taoiseach does intend to use the Fahey appointment to restore public confidence, let him in a transparent and publicly accountable way tell us why this particular man is qualified for the job, and more importantly, whether he will promote equality in this state as his brief requires or whether he can be expected to take the same negative approach as O'Dea and McDowell.

"This is not a throwaway brief. It involves acts of completion on Irish Government commitments under Strand 3 of the Good Friday Agreement with respect to equality including the outstanding issue of non-equivalence with the minimal equality provisions enacted in the Six Counties. Will this Minister deliver on the Good Friday Agreement commitments or will he, like his predecessor, do nothing? This is the basis on which his performance will be judged." ENDS

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Taoiseach fails to reassure airline workers on pensions

Speaking during Leaders Questions in the Dáil today Sinn Féin leader, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin raised the issue of the privatisation of Aer Lingus and the role of the former Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan in it. He said it would be "an act of piracy if a handful of individuals were allowed to asset strip the company". The TD for Cavan/Monaghan later expressed his alarm at the failure of the Taoiseach in his response to reassure Aer Lingus workers and former workers that their pension entitlements are secure.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "It is nothing short of a national scandal as one of the prime national assets of this country is being prepared for destruction. I call on the Taoiseach to definitively, on behalf of the Government, rule out the completely unacceptable and outrageous proposal for a management buy-out of Aer Lingus."

He went on to ask the Taoiseach if agreed "that it would be an act of piracy against this country, and against the workers of Aer Lingus if a handful of individuals who currently happen to be the top management, are allowed to asset strip the company and sell it off at massive profit to themselves?"

Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "Workers at Aer Lingus have ensured the survival of the company. 3,000 have been made redundant. The threat of redundancy now hangs over a further 1,300 as part of the creeping privatisation. This is despite the fact that the company has made a profit of nearly €100 million in the past year."

"These redundancies are by no means voluntary as they are so often misnamed. Workers have only a vague promise that some post will be found for them within the company. During the last big redundancy the medical staff in the axed medical centre were offered jobs as baggage handlers."

Deputy Ó Caoláin also expressed to the Taoiseach the "huge concern" that exists among staff and retired staff at attempts by Aer Lingus management to undermine their pensions.

He said, "In a cynical exercise last year they tried to change the nature of that pension, something that the Pensions Board has ruled on and found to be unacceptable. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that the pensions of all current and retired Aer Lingus workers are fully honoured and protected?"

Speaking afterwards Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "It is a serious cause for concern that the Taoiseach pointedly failed to address the issue of Aer Lingus workers pensions. He failed to offer any reassurance to current or former workers that their pension entitlements would be protected. That is an absolutely unacceptable situation which will cause enormous anxiety for a great number of people." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún (6 Counties) and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) have today said that "an All Ireland ban on smoking in the workplace would be a major step towards a truly health conscious society".

Both MEPs made their statement after it emerged that an all-party parliamentary group of British MPs are due to travel to Dublin today, to investigate the success of the smoking ban.

Speaking today Ms de Brún and Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is calling upon the NIO direct rule Minster Angela Smith to begin a process of dialogue with the relevant bodies including health agencies and local politicians to discuss the implementation of a smoking ban in the workplace.

"The success of the smoking ban in the 26 counties, has led to the growing realisation that such legislation in the 6 counties would be practical and extremely beneficial to the health of all workers. An all Ireland ban on smoking in the workplace would be a major step towards a truly health conscious society.

"A recent study found that 7000 people in the South have given up smoking or attempted too since the introduction of the smoking ban. This provides us with yet more evidence of the benefits of such legislation.

"Sinn Féin has consistently called for an All Ireland approach to the smoking ban. The success of the smoking ban in the 26 counties should provide the catalyst for such an approach in the 6 counties, for the sake of the health and well being of all our citizens." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has rejected the call by incoming European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner for a permanent EU seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Speaking today, Ms de Brún said:

"Ms Ferrero-Waldner's proposal is not about democratic reform of the UN Security Council, nor is it about strengthening the workings of the UN and its capacity to deliver on the UN Charter. It is about positioning the EU as a superpower. A seat for the EU on the UN Security Council will not deliver the needed fundamental democratic reform of that body nor contribute in any way to the revitalisation of the UN as a whole.

"This is an urgent issue and it is not acceptable that it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the international and EU agenda. Instead of looking to consolidate power, the EU Commission and member states should instead focus on how the EU can best make a contribution to the UN reform process, and to the strengthening of that organisation.

"Unfortunately, since the EU has shifted its focus towards its own security agenda and building its own army, this has led to the depletion - not enhancement of the UN and UN peacekeeping in particular. The effect of this latest proposal will be no different." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, Upper BAnn MLA John O Dowd has said the revelation that MRSA has played a part in 116 deaths over this last seven years is all the more depressing because such deaths can be avoided.

"Last week I welcomed the announcement by Direct Rule health Minister, Angela Smith, of an Infection Control Strategy, and steering group.

"I however cautioned that such strategies to tackle MRSA need resources and the Minister must commit to funding the strategy, the fulfilment of such obligations is now all the more urgent.

"We need to adopt and adapt best practice from elsewhere. Evidence has shown that hospitals can and have eradicated MRSA by introducing stringent practices in and outside the Hospital.

"The level of demand on our hospitals requires very high occupancy rates yet high levels of occupancy push up the risk of infection from MRSA. Increasing capacity is one way to start meeting the high levels of demand while keeping occupancy rates at sensible levels.

"The measures cost money but savings can be made from the fact patients are not being kept in hospital due to infection and more importantly people are not losing their lives due to avoidable hospital based infections. ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey has expressed concern at the agenda of those behind the leaking of information about the review of public administration and said that it will undermine confidence in the review group.

Mr Maskey said:

"From day one the review of public administration has been presented as a review about the number of councils and councillors. However, the most important job of the review should be to cut through the culture of unaccountability and quangoism.

"The reality is that the most important element of any shake up of councils, their powers and numbers, must be the ability to deliver genuine accountability, real democratic participation in decision making and effectiveness and efficiency.

"Many councils throughout the Six Counties continue to represent everything that is wrong with unionism. They are continue to exclude and discriminate.

"The Review of public administration must ensure that services are provided at the right time and in the right place and are accessible and that service provision goes hand in hand with real democratic accountability.

"The success of the review will be in its' ability to deliver 'power to the people' by scrapping the huge layers of bureaucracy and unaccountable quangoism that have flourished here. It is about creating new democratic relationships between decision-making, control and accountability in our society.

"The Assembly and the institutions are only part of the wider process of democratisation that are crucially important if we are to reject the failed old ways of doing things that was about maintaining prestige and power in the hands of a small elite who were not accountable. These are the very people who created and maintained the patterns of discrimination and disadvantage that are still prevalent today." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy who heads up the party's opposition to water taxes has described the bizarre claim from SDLP MP Eddie McGrady that British NIO Ministers are forging ahead with the imposition of water taxes as part of a conspiracy to secure the re-establishment of the institutions as a 'sad joke'.

Mr Molloy said:

"The bizarre claim that the British government announced the introduction of water taxes as part of a 'conspiracy theory' to re-establish the political institutions is a sad joke. The reality is that the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative negotiated by Eddie McGrady's party Leader Mark Durkan paved the way for the introduction of water taxes.

"While I don't want to labour the point that the water tax is in reality an SDLP tax, I think it is important that across the broad political spectrum that we work together to stop the introduction of this form of unfair taxation dead in its tracks.

"The reason that people here are being targeted by the NIO from every direction is that SDLP finance ministers argued that we needed to raise more money from local sources and opposed to the Sinn Fein argument that we require a genuine peace dividend.

"However, I agree with Mr McGrady that we need to see a deal reached as soon as possible. Sinn Féin stand ready to do a deal that does not undermine the core principles of the agreement - power sharing, equality and the all Ireland architecture. It is the DUP that appear keen to long finger any progress. Mr McGrady would better serve all of the people if he stopped trying to score cheap political points and began to work with others such as Sinn Féin to oppose water charges and to continue to put pressure on both governments and the DUP to ensure that we get the real deal.

"Any such deal must include a greater understanding of the need to radically look at both the block grant allocation and the issue of rates and water taxes tied up with the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin today said that fundamental to the Good Friday Agreement were the checks and balances designed to prevent the sort of abuses we had previously under unionist governments and that these fundamentals were not up for negotiation.

Mr McLaughlin said:

" Sinn Féin have said consistently that we are up for a deal. We want to see the sort of package which will see the institutions restored and the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.

" But it is obvious to all that such a deal can only happen within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The obstacle to this happening at this time is the stance adopted by the DUP.

" On one hand we hear from the two governments that the DUP are not seeking changes to the fundamentals of the Agreement. Peter Robinson appeared to acknowledge this in an interview this morning. However this position is at odds with all of the available evidence. The DUP continue to put unrealistic demands aimed at diminishing the power sharing core of the Assembly and other fundamentals of the Agreement and delivering a return to unionist rule.

" The fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement include the broad principles of power sharing, equality, all-Ireland institutions and the checks and balances, the protections, which are central to this. They were designed to prevent the sort of abuses we had previously under unionist governments and which continue to exist in local councils under unionist control These fundamentals are not up for negotiation." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has urged the new Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern to "use his influence to assist in the search for peace in the Middle East".

Mr Adams was speaking after a week of violence in which 65 Palestinians were killed. The latest raids into Gaza are the largest in four years of fighting.

Speaking today, Mr Adams said:

"The tragic events of the last week once again highlight the need for the international community to do all in its power to help bring about a peaceful solution to the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. The latest incursions into Palestinian territory by Israeli forces are to be condemned.

"Sinn Féin is unequivocal. The suicide attacks, the killing of civilians, the invasion by Israel of Palestinian territory and the deliberate targeting for assassination of Palestinian leaders must end.

"I am calling upon the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern to use his influence, and that of the government to assist in the search for peace in the Middle East. Minister Ahern should make the resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict a foreign policy priority during his term in office.

"I am also calling upon the EU to support the suspension of preferential trade with Israel until the occupation of Palestinian territory ceases.

"It is imperative that Israel engages in genuine negotiation and dialogue with the Palestinian people and there is a clear role for the international community to help in such a process. Sinn Féin calls upon the international community under the direction of the United Nations, to begin an initiative to end this latest outbreak of fighting." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has this morning accused the company carrying weapons grade plutonium to France of attempting to "suppress legitimate and peaceful protest against their deadly nuclear cargo". Ms McDonald also said that Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited wanted to 'deflect attention away from the severity and secrecy of their actions and onto peaceful protesters'.

Ms McDonald made her comments after it emerged that Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL) and French nuclear energy firm Areva plan to seek an injunction, prohibiting people from protesting against the ships when they dock in Cherbourg, France. It is currently unclear when the ships will dock.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said: "The decision by Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited to seek an injunction to stop people protesting against the two ships carrying weapons grade plutonium represents another slap in the face to all of those who oppose their deadly voyage.

"These ships have passed within miles of the southern Irish coastline carrying weapons grade plutonium on their way to France. Not only have the lives of millions of people been put at risk, now this company is seeking an injunction to suppress legitimate and peaceful protest when they dock at Cherbourg in France.

"The intention of PNTL is quite obviously to deflect attention away from the severity and secrecy of their actions and onto peaceful protesters. The people who have gathered in Cherbourg are not irresponsible people intent on disrupting this voyage, but people who want to make a legitimate stand for the environment and against the transportation of this dangerous nuclear cargo.

"The role of the Irish government in all of this needs to be examined. Sinn Féin is demanding that Minister Roche explain why he did not seek the coordinates of the ships, given their potentially deadly cargo. We also like to know how close the ships came to the Irish coastline and what efforts the Government made to prevent them entering Irish waters.

"Sinn Féin is also anxious to know whether this was a one-off exercise, or whether we can expect to be subjected to future voyages. I am calling upon the International Maritime Organisation to investigate this incident on behalf of the Irish people, who deserve nothing less." ENDS

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Wexford Borough Council has called on the Taoiseach to insist that the British Government conducts a full and proper independent public inquiry into the killing of Belfast Solicitor Pat Finucane.

Speaking after his motion received the unanimous backing of all parties at Monday nights meeting of the Borough Council, Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Kelly said:

"It is outrageous that 15 years after the murder of Pat Finucane and despite promises made to Judge Cory, that the British Government can now state that they will only hold an inquiry after changing legislation in order to protect their own national security interests.

"Michael Finucane was correct when he said that the truth about his fathers murder would rock the foundations of the British state. Of course a proper public inquiry will affect British national security interests, and of course they will try to stymie this if they are allowed. But the Taoiseach must not allow them to block the truth once again. The Irish Government stood meekly by while the British blatantly refused to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. They cannot continue to stand idly by while the truth is being continually blocked for the sake of 'British national security'." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's spokesman for education, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland, has applauded the launch of the General Teaching Council's new Code of Values and Professional Practice.

Welcoming the new code of practice, Mr Hyland, a former teacher stated that this would help enhance the status of teaching at a time when teachers feel undervalued and under the strain of huge changes in the field of education.

Speaking from the launch, Mr Hyland said:

"It is important that teachers are supported by all in society. They play a pivotal role in educating our children and should be given the support and respect they deserve. Teachers are under immense pressure due the ever changing nature of educational practice and I hope that this code of values will prove useful and beneficial to all teachers throughout the six counties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has said that Peter Mandelson "must act to promote a socially conscious EU which protects the people against business excesses".

Ms de Brún made her comments as the new EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson faces a hearing of MEPs on his portfolio and future plans, in the European Parliament today.

Speaking today Ms de Brún said:

"Today's Commissioner hearing will see Mr Mandelson questioned by MEPs on the Trade Portfolio and his intentions over the next number of years. The Trade portfolio is one of the most important and powerful of all the Commission posts. Therefore it is important that MEPs have been given the opportunity to question Mr Mandelson on his future intentions.

"Sinn Féin calls upon Mr Mandelson to act to promote a socially conscious EU which seeks to protect the people against the excesses of big business. In saying this, we are not entirely convinced that Mr Mandelson can live up to the role.

"The portfolio of trade requires a commitment to help reduce levels of poverty throughout the world, particularly within developing countries by promoting fair trade. Current trade policies are biased against the poor.

"Sinn Féin is calling upon Mr Mandelson to work towards democratising the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and to support trade policies which respect human rights and the environment and hold both individual states and businesses accountable for their actions.

"Sinn Féin MEPs will be watching Mr Mandelson with great interest to see if he can promote a socially inclusive EU. However, it is difficult to get excited about the appointment of Mr Mandelson given his record as the British Secretary of State in Ireland. He collapsed the political institutions, introduced suspension legislation and emascalated the Patten proposals all at the behest of negative political unionism. Political parties in Ireland along with the two governments are still trying to undue much of the damage done by Mr Mandelson during his time in the north of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson, Upper Bann Assembly member John O Dowd, speaking after the launch of an Action Mental Health and Diabetes UK joint report in the Assembly, welcomed the initiative as being 'timely' and 'extremely informative'.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"This report highlights the fact that a significant percentage of people with mental health illnesses, one of the most excluded groups in our society, also suffer from diabetes. Any initiative, such as today's extremely informative event, which seeks to address the specific problems of those people with a dual diagnosis is to be welcomed and supported."

"In relation to the report's four main recommendations, their publication is quite timely and appropriate, as most political parties and NGO's will be putting the final touches to their various responses to the primary care consultation paper 'Caring For People Beyond Tomorrow'." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation led by party President Gerry Adams MP and including Martin McGuinness MP, Michelle Gildernew MP, Caitriona Ruane MLA, Conor Murphy MLA and Caoimhghin O'Caolain TD this morning met with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern and senior government officials in Dublin.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Adams expressed "deep concern at the positions being put to us by the two governments which in our view breach the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement".

Mr Adams said:

" I again repeated this morning to the Irish government deep concern at the positions being put to us by the two governments in our view breach the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

" However as I have said before I do believe that a deal between Sinn Féin, the DUP, the two governments and the other parties is inevitable. But we can only do so on terms which are based on equality. I have yet to discover the DUPs contribution to achieving this deal. In fact it appears to me that they are working to a longer timeframe than everyone else, including that set out by the two governments.

" If we are to achieve a restoration of stable and sustainable political institutions then I believe that there is no better time than now to do that business. But any deal cannot be at the expense of the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly has once again demanded that the British government end the cover up and deliver the sort of independent inquiry demanded by the Finucane family as the only mechanism which can uncover the truth about the murder of Pat Finucane.

Mr Kelly said:

" The track record of successive British governments in dealing with the issue of collusion, and specifically the murder of Pat Finucane, has been one of concealment and cover-up.

" So far this British government has failed to allow the sort of independent inquiry demanded by the Finucane family and which is acknowledged as the only mechanism which can reveal the truth about the murder of Pat Finucane to proceed.

" The public interest demands full disclosure by the British government, its departments and agencies about their role in this killing. However the approach of the British government to this case in recent weeks has served to reinforce fears that the British policy of concealment is set to continue.

" The British government must publish immediately the terms of reference for the proposed inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane. This will allow the Finucane family and those of us who support their demand for a full independent judicial public inquiry to assess whether the inquiry proposed will have the capacity to uncover the truth about British state involvement in this murder." ENDS

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West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has described the Fire Authority requirement that senior grade officers within the Fire Service be resident in specific areas east of the Bann as blatant discrimination.

Mr Doherty said:

"Under the 'Standby Areas' criteria, different senior grades officers in the Fire Service are required to live within a 30-mile radius of the Lisburn Headquarters.

"It excludes from consideration all Fire Brigade employees resident in all areas west of the Bann and in the north and south areas of the six counties. Significantly, the Officer Standby Area for the Lisburn Headquarters excludes Belfast yet stretches from Portadown, Tandragee and Banbridge in the south, to Carrick in the north.

"Given the demographic make-up of the areas excluded, many Fire Brigade employees believe the nonsensical Standby Area criteria to be a blatant attempt to gerrymander the employment areas for the senior grades of Fire Officers.

"The 'Standby Areas' make no geographical sense nor do they contribute to fire safety. Moreover, similar 'Standby Areas' are not used by Fire Authorities in Britain.

"At best, this residence requirement represents the denial of equality of opportunity for employment and at worst represents blatant discrimination.

Gerry Adams and Catriona Ruane MLA, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women, have already been challenging the Standby Area criteria in written correspondence with both the Chairperson of the Fire Authority and with the Chief Fire Officer of the Fire Brigade. To date the responses from them have been far from positive.

"I have now written to Direct Rule Minister Angela Smith calling on her to look into the 'Standby Area' issue as a matter of urgency. I have also requested that she provide me with a breakdown of the religious make-up of Fire Brigade employees by grade and location.

"The resolution of this issue is a major test of the equality and human rights provisions in the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin is determined to see this issue through to a positive conclusion." ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Upper Bann Assembly member John O'Dowd is to ask Angela Smith, in her role as Health Minister, to commence a process of ending health service prescription charges in the North. His call follows a move by the Welsh Assembly to cut prescription charges by £1 with the intention of phasing them out completely within the next three years.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"The Welsh Assembly, dominated by the Labour Party, has embarked upon a process which will see the eventual phasing out of prescription charges by the end of 2007. Sinn Féin believes that a similar initiative needs to be undertaken in the Six Counties where there are historically high levels of health deprivation and economic disadvantage.

"Angela Smith in her role as health minister has it within her power to begin the phasing out of prescription charges here. Indeed, I believe that such a step would give greater credence to commitments aimed at ensuring positive and caring investments in the health service locally.

"I will certainly be contacting Angela Smith with a view to asking her to introduce a phased programme of payment reduction leading to the complete abolition of NHS prescription charges."

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Responding to comments made by the British General mike Jackson in this mornings London Times, indicating that the British military would be prepared to begin a demilitarisation process before Christmas, Sinn Féin spokesperson on demilitarisation Thomas Reilly MLA said:

" The British general Mike Jackson claims in this mornings London Times that in the context of a political deal the British military in the six counties would be prepared to begin a demilitarisation process. Mike Jackson appears to be missing the point. It is ten years on from the first IRA cessation and six years on from the political deal which committed the British government to a programme of demilitarisation.

" What we have had in the years since is a rationalistion programme being conducted by the British Crown forces to suit their own narrow military agenda. It is worth remembering that the British Army currently has almost twice as many personnel occupying the six counties as it has in its occupation and war in Iraq.

" It is clear that the British government has time and again failed to face down the generals like Mike Jackson on this crucial issue. Nationalists and republicans want to see the British government deliver on its commitments in this area. The time has long since past for the British government to have removed its war apparatus and personnel from six counties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin politicians representing South, West and North Belfast have voiced serious concerns at the siting of Out of Hours services in Belfast after the Eastern Health and Social Services Board ignored advice on the location of new OOH services.

In a joint statement North Belfast MLA Cathy Stanton, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey said:

"The Eastern Health Board have finalised proposals for their Out of Hours Emergency Medical Services, which will come into effect on the 1st January 2005. We met with EHSSB officials in July and raised serious concerns about

the equality implications of their proposals.

"Sinn Féin were particularly concerned that West Belfast, despite very high levels of health need and lower levels of car ownership, would have no OOH centre. We are pleased that the EHSSB have now given a tacit agreement to place an OOH centre in West Belfast, although its location and level of service have yet to be decided.

"However, Sinn Féin are disappointed that the EHSSB have totally ignored the concerns expressed by our South and North Belfast representatives about the location of OOH services in these parts of Belfast. The failure of the EHSSB to cite OOH Services in centralised locations, which are accessible and acceptable to both communities in South and North Belfast, is a huge mistake.

"Sinn Féin is currently taking advice from Equality experts ascertain if there is a case to answer of the EHSSB failing to meet its section 75 obligations, as we believe. It is an unfortunate by-product of British direct rule that many of the Quangos, have slipped back into their old habits of ignoring the views of the locally elected representatives and thinking they are unaccountable. Sinn Fein will continue to pursue this issue and fighting to ensure the needs of the communities we represent in Belfast are taken on board." ENDS

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