Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP speaking at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this evening said that the British government are presiding over the biggest gerrymander in the Six Counties since they imposed partition.
Mr. Doherty said:
The British government are presiding over the biggest gerrymander in the six counties since they opposed the expressed wishes of the people of this island and partitioned this country.
And that gerrymander is every bit as public as was the act of partition. And the consequences could be every bit as far reaching.
In May 2002 the British government in a gross interference in the electoral process, introduced restrictive electoral legislation for the six counties.
This legislation was introduced on foot of false claims by Sinn Fein's political opponents that the party was involved in electoral fraud.
These allegations are not only untrue they hide the real reason behind the legislation which was to remove the number of actual or potential Sinn Fein voters on the electoral register and erect barriers to those who want to exercise their right to vote.
This legislation is primarily aimed at trying to ring fence the electoral growth of Sinn Fein in the six counties. Of trying to prevent what unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson described last November, after the Assembly election results, as the unionist's 'worse nightmare scenario' but which is really Jeffrey's 'nightmare' scenario, that is Sinn Fein becoming the largest political party in the six counties.
And if this means that the British government have to drive a horse and four though the democratic process at its most important point: the exercise of a person's right to vote, then they will do so.
This legislation has resulted in 211,000 people being denied their right to vote. This represents 16.5% of the overall electorate in the north.
Those people denied the right to vote are not just potential voters for Sinn Fein. They are potential voters for all the parties‚ nationalist and unionist.
And not surprisingly those most affected by this legislation are working class people in both unionist and nationalist areas.
If you live in Ballybeen in East Belfast or Derry's Bogside and you want to vote you better be able to jump to get over the hurdles on your way to the polling station.
In this part of our island, across Britain and indeed most of Western Europe, governments are devising ways of making it easier for people to directly participate in the democratic process.
They are trying to find ways of ensuring that people vote during elections.
In the six counties the people there keenly exercise their franchise. The turnout at elections is the envy of many governments across the EU because it is very high.
This legislation threatens that participation. At a meeting in January, Denis Stanley, the north's Chief Electoral Officer, freely admitted that the number of people registered to vote by his office will fall annually and there was nothing he could do to rectify this situation.
This is an appalling admission by the person who is employed by the British government to ensure that the maximum numbers of people are registered to vote.
He is administering the annual shredding of the electoral register.
For decades republicans were lectured to from on high that their objectives could be achieved exclusively through the democratic process.
That in changed political circumstances there would be no barriers to the peaceful pursuit of a united Ireland.
That the British and indeed the Irish governments would guarantee a level playing field would be created where everyone would be treated equally.
And what do we now have?
Having failed to get the election results that they want in the north of Ireland, the British government and Sinn Fein‚s electoral rivals are now trying to get the electorate that they want.
But for our part facing into elections across this island in a few months time we will do our level best to ensure that on the 10th June Jeffrey Donaldson awakens to his worse nightmare, Sinn Fein as the lead party in the six counties.
Head of Sinn Féin all Ireland group, Martina Anderson speaking at the party's Ard Fheis in Dublin this evening said "Collectively, All Republican Activists from Kerry to Derry have a duty and a responsibility to cultivate that demand by showing through the All Ireland Strategies now in place, how a new Ireland of equals can be achieved". Ms Anderson said:
Republicans have always had vision — and our vision of a new Ireland of equals is not based on discrimination, but a society of equals, which respects and implements HRs and which advocates equality of outcome — not equality of opportunity.
The potential of all-Ireland structures for Governance as outlined by the strategies of Sinn Féin's All Ireland Agenda — and the motions before us this evening, make reference to national reconciliation, the expansion of all Ireland institutions and areas of work, cross border corridor strategy and Presidential voting rights - all of which suggests that new political all Ireland frameworks could map out the route for social, political, economic and cultural re-unification — all influencing the need for constitutional reunification. In this period of transition, with all its challenges, Sinn Féin's all Ireland strategies aim to ensure that the people of Ireland are involved in determining this new society. Whether the Northern Assembly is functional or not - our All Ireland activity can forged ahead.
Comrades we are not just a party that is a bit different than others with a Charismatic Leader — yes we have the most popular leader in Ireland, but he knows that he has a party of Activists who passionately want to improve their lives of the people of Ireland. He knows that we are embracing the programme of work that facilitates a process of engaging the people in shaping and building this New Ireland that will bring about this vision of an Ireland Of equals.
Indeed, we recently embarked upon a process of consultation with civic society across Ireland on Sinn Féin's Rights for All Charter, which was influenced by the South African Freedom Charter. Through this process of engagement and discussion, we are actively involving people in formulating their own vision of an alternative society and by so doing they will begin to see how far away Ireland, divided as it is, is from what they want.
Even if we took power tomorrow we could not give people an Ireland of Equals — People have to want it and demand it. Collectively, All Republican Activists from Kerry to Derry have a duty and a responsibility to cultivate that demand by showing through the All Ireland Strategies now in place, how a new Ireland of equals can be achieved. From Cumainn to AC Activists, we all need to priorities and coordinate All Ireland activity. Our primary objective of reunification of equals, does not and must not compete with any other demand — it is the overarching project that must permeate throughout our activism in a way that reminds us daily - why we are here — why we work 24 - 7 - and what it is we are out to achieve. And that is not a 32 county corrupt-ridden Free State shaped by successive Irish governments that have rolled out an agenda of minimising the role of the state in providing services and facilities to which everyone is entitled.
Our commitment to all-Ireland activity is not unconditional. It is primarily guided by our progressive agenda for social justice - a value that is not part of the British or Irish Governments' physhe. With the conviction that underpins our movement we must collectively strengthen our party structures and forge external links with civic society that will advance the logic for an Ireland of Equals. To that end, our party structures must reflect consolidation and coordination between SF elected and non-elected Activists so that we channel our collective energies, establishing Joint Working Mechanisms, pursuing joint working initiatives which will make reintegration and reunification an actionable reality.
We are the only All Ireland Party, and comrades we are the generation that carries the duty to drive a republican all-Ireland agenda forward. We have a vision of a new and different Ireland, which itself can only be achieved with the participation of the People of Ireland. It is after all the people of Ireland who are sovereign. Indeed through greatly superior numbers, we can move though contest, to achieve an Ireland where for the first time the voice of the marginalised ceases to be ignored. It is a path to inspire us; as well as to show that a new Ireland of equals — another world, another Ireland can be achieved.
Motions 1 to 7 deals with National and Democratic Rights and of all the Parties on this island Sinn Féin is best placed to speak to these issues from the point of view of experience on the ground in every part of our Country. We are the only Party with strategies and policies that are designed to assist people in every town and village in the 32 counties. We are the only national party on this island. Our policies don't stop at the British imposed border. They are not 6-County specific or 26 County specific. Our policies are developed with an all-Ireland content and it is for this reason that I stand in support of motions 1 to 7.
Sinn Féin sets the pace in the all-Ireland Agenda — others follow
And while there is good work being done both through the All Ireland bodies and in the agreed areas of co-operation there is considerable scope for building on that work. Sinn Féin continues to lead in this in this area.
Last week we put detailed proposals to the two governments for the consolidation and expansion of All-Ireland activity. These proposals contained in a 72 page document include developing areas of co-operation and the establishment of additional all-Ireland Implementation bodies covering pollution control, Agriculture and Rural Development, Poverty and Energy that would bring tangible benefits to all the people of Ireland. But it should not stop there. There is a need for co-operation and development on a wide range of issues on an all-Ireland basis. Some that are contained in this series of motions but there are others as well in areas of Justice, the standardisation of Taxes, fuel duties, the abolition of ground rents throughout the country. There are numerous areas that we as an all-Ireland party can co-ordinate campaigns on a 32-County basis. For instance, why should people in this part of the country pay 40% more for home heating oil than those of us in the North? Or why should people in the North pay almost double for petrol and diesel than you here in the 26? Only with the expansion of the all-Ireland aspects of the Agreement can we address these problems and harmonise taxes and living conditions island wide.
I call on Bertie Ahern to implement his claimed intention to provide for representation in the houses of the Oireachtas for the people of the North. But I call on him to introduce the relevant measures now before the European and Local government elections. Or is his comments only rhetoric designed to keep the lobby for Northern representation quiet until after the elections when he will forget this promise just as he forgot all the promises his party made to the electorate prior to the last election.
We also published a discussion document recently entitled 'Rights for All'. Everybody should familiarise themselves with this document and engage community, church, trade unions and any other activist or community groups in your areas about their thoughts and suggestions on this subject.
I commend Motions 1 to 7 to this Ard Fheis and urge delegates to support them.
Opening Address by
Mary Lou McDonald, EU Candidate for Dublin and Ard Chomhairle
Ba mhaith liom táilte a chuir ioimhe gach uile duinne anseo anocht ag ár Árd Fheis.
Friends I would like to begin of offering a comradely and warm welcome to all of you here tonight in this the 99th year of existence of the Irish republican movement known as Sinn Féin.
A few weeks ago I listened to a political discussion on a Dublin based radio station. On the panel was a TD from the Coalition Government parties and a TD from the so-called 'alternative coalition' parties. Tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee. The discussion took place in the aftermath of the most recent opinion poll by the Irish Times and followed a few weeks of unrelenting and unsubstantiated attacks on our party by the establishment parties. Despite a few moments of denial the two guests on the show were eventually brought around to discussing the fact that Sinn Féin were not only steadily increasing the level of their support throughout this state but were now running neck and neck with both Labour and Fine Gael in this the capital city of our island. In the words of the presenter "Sinn Féin was the story of the day."
To which the green-eyed representative of the 'alternative coalition' in an increasingly shrill tone said - "this is what I am talking about -they are on the news day in and day out - they are constantly being talked about - if we just stopped talking about them they wouldn't be so popular".
Ah bless him - in other words if we just ignore them they might go away.
Well I'm afraid I got some bad news for you. We're not about to go away. We are here to stay.
It is remarkable that exactly ten years ago this week the same denunciations, the same unsubstantiated and unfounded attacks on Sinn Féin that are dominating the headlines this week were taking place then. Those attacks while mainly focused on Sinn Féin also took in any individual, organisation or any community that dared to have anything to do with Sinn Féin or Irish republicanism.
So it was ten years ago this week that the people of Tallaght and Killinarden in particular were subject to a vicious and sustained onslaught against their decision to allow Sinn Féin to hold it's 1994 Ard Fheis in the Killinarden Community Centre. Vilfied and ostracised the people stood firm against this malign and anti-democratic onslaught.
The attacks then, highlighted the gulf that exists between the vision of ordinary working men and women and the political elite in this country. In Tallaght, as it was across a number of communities where Sinn Féin held its Ard Fheisenna, it was ordinary people who knew what could be possible and were willing try and achieve what the elite claimed was impossible.
And this comrades is the crux of the matter. This is the context we should be viewing recent events. And this is the context in which we should be looking forward beyond this Ard Fheis weekend.
We are the ordinary people of Tallaght, the ordinary people of Derry, Belfast, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Wexford, Cork and Kerry and all across this island and we have a vision for the future. We reject the status quo. We reject the lazy self-serving, self-promoting egomaniac politics of Fianna Fail, of the PDs, in Fine Gael and of the Labour Party in the South and the DUP, UUP and SDLP in the north who think they have fooled the people of this island in to believing that there is no alternative.
We know differently. And we know because we have already forced dramatic changes across all 32 counties of Ireland. Back in Killinarden Community Centre ten years ago who could have believed the progress that would be made over the following years. Who would have dared to dream of where we are now to where we were then.
It was you people who dared to dream - you and a lot of other ordinary people the length and breath of this island who dared to dream. You saw an alternative way and you grabbed it with both hands. You grabbed that alternative to the selfishness that permeates through the body politic in the 26 Counties. The politics that favours million euro racehorses over people on hospital beds. The politics that promotes the enrichment of property developers over providing housing for its people. The politics that encourages greed and corruption over social justice and community care.
You rejected the politics of exclusion in the Six Counties. You have rejected the notion of 'thus far and no further' that was long passively accepted by the so-called constitutional nationalists.
The people saw the alternative Sinn Fein is providing and have rewarded the party with increased electoral support that continues to expand and grow. The recent elections to the Assembly returned Sinn Féin as not only the largest nationalist/republican party but also the largest pro-Good Friday Agreement party. It wasn't a fluke?it wasn't an accident? It happened despite the best efforts of the British Government in disenfranchising over 200,000 voters because the people support our vision for the future.
This weekend we will continue to develop our policies over a wide range of issues. We will continue to look to the future. We will be launching numerous discussion and policy documents on subjects as varied as Garda Reform, a Charter of Rights for All and combating poverty. We will debate over 300 motions and receive a political update from the outgoing Ard Chomhairle. Above all we will rededicate ourselves to our Irish Republican objectives of establishing and Independent democratic socialist republic.
I would like to conclude by wishing you all a very productive and comradely weekend and say that I look forward to meeting friends old and new over the next three days.
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education and Science Seán Crowe, speaking following a meeting with between the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science and theOECD review team for third level education has underlined Sinn Féin's opposition to the privatisation of universities in Ireland.
Deputy Crowe said: "The global trend in education these days is based on the primacy of the market economy and other consumerist and commercial values. Some of the submissions made to the OECD have argued for the privatisation of universities. This would make those universities far more dependent on financial support and donations from the private sector than they currently are.
"I would have grave concerns for the independence of academic research carried out in universities that are dependent on corporate donations and there are several examples of this sort of conflict of interest in American and Canadian universities. The HEA has pointed to colleges like Yale and Harvard as examples of what they wish to 'evolve' into. Personally I do not see universities where undergraduate fees are $40,000 a year per student a step forward in the evolutionary process.
"While there is a widespread and generally accurate perception the education system has driven our economic boom, we cannot ignore its failures. There are high rates of adult illiteracy and drop out rates among young people. Universities, many of them located in or near disadvantaged areas need to build closer links with the communities around them. Sinn Féin has put forward the idea for Learning Neighbourhoods in our Education policy documents, copies of which I gave to the review team, and I hope they take note of the suggestions." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment Arthur Morgan TD has called on the Minister for Justice to explain how documents apparently from his office ended up in an illegal dump in Co. Tyrone. The Sinn Féin deputy made his comments after it emerged that numerous pages of briefing notes from the Department of Justice were found in an illegal dump in Eskra, Co. Tyrone.
Deputy Morgan said, "It is absolutely unacceptable and a scandal that documents from any Government Department should end up in an illegal dump on either side of the border. But for these documents to come in the form of rubbish from the Minister for Justice's office is extraordinary.
"Michael McDowell never tires of lecturing the rest of us on law and order issues and has been to the fore in introducing draconian and regressive new legislation on an almost weekly basis since he became Minister. It is ironic that in the last six months we have seen many ordinary people put in jail because of their refusal to pay an unjust bin tax while at the same time McDowell's papers have been turning up in illegal dumps in the Six Counties and god knows where else. It is especially ironic considering I have on a number of occasions raised, to no avail, the issue of illegal dumping in Counties Tyrone and Fermanagh with the Minister for the Environment. I also raised the matter with the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Michael McDowell and indeed the Minister for the Environment, Martin Cullen should get their own house in order before lecturing the rest of us.
"We need to know from the Minister for Justice how this could have happened. We need to know if the Minister, who always claims to be so well informed, was aware of this problem before it emerged and what action he has initiated to ensure that it never happens again." ENDS
Sinn Féin Euro Election candidate Mary Lou McDonald and the party's Spokesperson on International Affairs and the EU Aengus O Snodaigh TD will join a picket organised by PANA outside the Portmarnock Hotel this afternoon where a meeting of the EU Defence Directors is taking place. The picket is to be held between 12pm and 1pm.
Speaking before leaving for the protest Ms McDonald said: "The Irish presidency is being used to further the militarisation agenda of the European Union. A Government that claims to be committed to some sort of ill-defined idea of military neutrality is facilitating the construction of a European Army and a military industrial complex through many of the meetings taking place during this Presidency.
"Sinn Féin is committed to a policy of positive neutrality and to non-membership of military alliances. I will be attending along with my colleague Deputy O Snodaigh and members of PANA to register our anger at the continuing erosion of Irish neutrality facilitated by this Government." ENDS
South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly Alex Maskey member has described an RIR recruitment stall in Bradbury Place as 'an outrageous insult'.
Mr Maskey said:
"My office has received numerous complaints this morning about the presence of an RIR recruitment stall outside the Equality Commission premises in Bradbury Place. Two heavily armed military personnel are on duty at the kerbside stall.
"The RIR are an armed unionist militia. They should not be on our streets never mind standing armed to the teeth attempting to recruit people into their ranks. Their presence outside the offices of the Equality Commission is particularly galling.
"This stall is insulting and offensive to the nationalist community which has been the victim of this force for many years. This stall should be removed immediately from this main thoroughfare." ENDS
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has expressed alarm at the increase in drinking highlighted in the continuous household survey bulletin published today.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"The Household survey makes worrying reading. In the last 16 years alcohol consumption has steadily increased with one in three men and 1 in ten women now drinking in excess of sensible levels - a threefold increase.
"However there are signs that the campaign to cut the number of smokers is paying dividend with a real increase over the last 20 years in the numbers of people who have given up reaching 20%.
"The increase in the number of people with a long-standing illness and the high levels of people reporting limiting long-standing illness should send out a very stark warning.
"As a result of the 'Investing in Health' public health strategy put in place by former Health Minster Bairbre de Brún there are now resources in place to tackle alcohol and drug misuse, to reduce smoking and to tackle the social, economic and environmental determinants of ill health.
"We now need to see the commitments to implement the policy put in place by Bairbre de Brún across every department, throughout each agency, board and trust and at every layer of government." ENDS
Bhi Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD - Úrlabhrai Shinn Féin ar an Gaeilge - ag labhairt aréir sa Dáil ar an rún a bhi curtha sios ag Fine Gael, An Lucht Oibre agus an Pháirti Glas ag lorg aitheantas oifigiúil don teanga san AE.
Dúirt an Teachta Ó Snodaigh:
"Nil me chun diriú ar na buntáisti a thiocfaidh as an aitheantas don Ghaeilge san Aontas Eorpach aris, tá mise á lorg mar cheart. Mar ghaeilgeoir agus Éireannach tá leatrom á dhéanamh orm agus tá mé ag impi ar an Rialtas é sin a leigheas.
"Nil stádas ag an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil oibre san Aontas Eorpach - an t-aon teanga oifigúil náisiúnta as na tiortha san Aontas seachas Lucsamburgais. Tá deis againn é a lorg, ach go háirithe agus an Uachtarántacht againn agus go bhfuil slam mór teangach úra eile ag fáil an stádas (nach bhfuil againn) i mbliana.
"Impim ar an t-Aire Eamonn Ó Cuiv na céimeanna simpli a dhéanamh gan mhoill agus gan ligint de mhoillideoireacht agus leithscéalta ón stát séirbhis stop a chur leis.
"Deirim leis an Aire: 'Na glac an meon go caithfidh tú bheith cinnte go buaófai an ceist sular gcuirtear é. Tapaigh an deis anois. Nó leanfaimid ag troid ar son cothromas don Ghaeilge go dti go bhfaighimid é.' " DEIREADH
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin slammed the Government's "warped thinking" on the Social Welfare Bill today pointing to the inequalities inherent when property developers are given tax relief while the interests of the disadvantaged come last.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"Minister McCreevy put through a Bill which extends until 2006 a range of property-based tax reliefs which are primarily of benefit to property speculators and developers while admitting to me last week that he has no estimate of their cost. These gifts are to be given by this Government " at cost unknown " to developers of multi-storey car parks, private hospitals, hotels,etc. Yet this same Government is imposing miserly and dangerous restrictions in the Rent Allowance scheme. That is the sort of warped thinking that dominates this Government.
"It is important to note that vast swathes of the electorate realise that whether it's a Fianna Fáil/PD coalition, or a Fine Gael/Labour coalition, the interests of the poor and disadvantaged have come last. They have also realised that Fianna Fáil and the PDs have been in power for almost seven years of unprecedented economic growth with resources which were not available to any previous government.
"All workers should be entitled, without discrimination, to support when they are out of work through illness, incapacity or redundancy. It is essential for all elected representatives to set their face against scare-mongering and false claims about floods of people coming here to claim welfare, not to mention the deplorable proposal yesterday to restrict further any access for new migrants to welfare support. Such scare tactics have been used in the past in a disgraceful way and we must ensure that it is completely ruled out at all times and especially during the forthcoming elections." ENDS
The Sinn Féin Discussion Document — 'Eliminating Poverty - A 21st Century Goal' — is now available for download. This document will be presented to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2004, being held in Dublin on the 27, 28 and 29 February. Download it here:
The Sinn Féin Discussion Document — 'Policing for the People' - Sinn Féin policy on Garda Reform — is now available for download. This document will be presented to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2004, being held in Dublin on the 27, 28 and 29 February. Download it here:
The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis 2004 Clar is now available for download:
Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh today announced details of the party's Ard Fheis which is taking place at the RDS in Dublin from Friday 27th - Sunday 29th February. He said that it will be one of the biggest Ard Fheis in recent years with more than 2,000 Sinn Féin members expected to attend over the weekend and 306 motions on the agenda. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said "The central message coming out of this Ard Fheis will be Sinn Féin's commitment to seeing the peace process advanced and to preparing for Irish unity and our campaign for radical social and economic change."
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"Today marks the 10th Anniversary of a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis which took place in the Killinarden Community Centre in Tallaght. Centre stage at that Ard Fheis was Sinn Féin‚s peace strategy and our document 'Towards a lasting peace in Ireland' but also dominating daily life was the relentless campaign of unionist paramilitaries and the issue of collusion.
"Ten years on there have been huge advances and the society we live in is, in many ways, very different. But the spectre of the unionist paramilitaries and the attempts by the British establishment to prevent the truth, on years of state sponsored murder, from coming out hangs over a peace process in serious difficulty.
"The theme of the Ard Fheis is 'Building an Ireland of Equals' and the motions on the Clár reflect the parties three main priorities - advancing the peace process, preparing for Irish unity and delivering radical social and economic change. Many motions also reflect anger at the succession of broken promises from the Irish government - the cutbacks, the tax hikes, the erosion of human rights and the creeping privatisation agenda of the coalition government. Delegates will also reflect the anger at the suspension of the institutions in the Six Counties and the need for advances on policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.
"The motions also reflect the vibrancy of the party in local communities and the increase in our representation in elected chambers across the country and the alternative that we are putting forward to failed establishment parties. The past year saw significant electoral and political gains for the party in the Assembly elections and Sinn Féin is now the largest pro Agreement party in the Six Counties. This growing support will see us facing into European and Local Government elections ready to build on these advances.
"People are ready for change, they are looking for alternatives anwe need to convince them that there is only one radical alternative, and it is Sinn Féin. That is the message which we will be sending out this weekend."ENDS
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP today was joined by party colleagues Bairbre de Brún, Mary Lou McDonald and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD in a meeting with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin. Speaking after the meeting Mr McGuinness said 'that the Irish government in particular should not be lining up with anti-Sinn Féin and anti-Peace process elements'.
Mr McGuinness said:
"The anti-peace process and anti-Sinn Fein agenda at work within the PSNI was again evident in the their response to the incident in Belfast on Friday night. The PSNI handling of this incident echoed the orchestrated raids on Sinn Fein offices at Stormont in October 2001, which led to the collapse of the political institutions. Those allegations are now proven to have been without substance.
"Over the weekend, four men arrested on Friday were charged with IRA membership. On the basis of this Hugh Orde alleged IRA involvement. Those charges did not even make it through the first court appearance. They were dropped on Monday morning. The sole purpose of these charges was to allow the PSNI to write the newspaper headlines over the weekend and to manufacture a bogus crisis. Opponents of Sinn Fein and the peace process seized upon this.
" These elements in the PSNI and the British system must be brought to account. The Irish government in particular should not be lining up with anti-Sinn Féin and anti-Peace Process elements. " ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Government to reconsider its decision to restrict the access of migrant workers from EU accession states to the benefits of social protections in view of the EU Commission's concerns that such measures may be illegal.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"The EU Commission has stated that the Government's plan may not be compatible with EU law, as it may contravene EU rules on non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality because the restrictions will only apply to citizens of new member states. If so, and certainly if the Government decision violates Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, it should be reversed. The Government should show more leadership in the EU at this crucial time.
"The Government's plan is unjust. It is hypocritical when you consider the standards by which it expects other countries to abide in their treatment of Irish migrants. It is a betrayal of the hopes for welcome and for equal treatment of the accession states. It goes totally against the idea of a Europe of Equals. It will sour the whole atmosphere of the May enlargement.
"It also represents a politically opportunist and irresponsible U-turn on the position they promoted when they were trying to sell Nice back to the people in the 2002 referendum re-run. At that time the Government rightly argued that we would not be swamped by migrants following enlargement, citing the experience of the 1986 accession which instead prompted a net return of migrant workers to Spain and Portugal as a result of economic improvements. Now, in a pre-election period, the Government is pandering to an accelerating unfounded xenophobic panic about so-called benefit tourism being whipped up to gain votes and sell news. I urge the Cabinet to come to its senses and show some proper leadership in the EU ? if they are capable of this." ENDS
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy, who is heading the party's campaign to oppose the imposition of water charges has urged people from every walk of life to join the campaign against water charges.
Speaking after attending a Belfast City Hall conference on Water Charges Mr Molloy said:
"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the introduction of the water charge. We are not alone. Opposition to water charges comes from across the political spectrum, from the voluntary and community sectors and the trade unions. Men and women from all sections of our society oppose the imposition of this form of taxation. It is unfair. The British government have failed to make the case for the water charge.
"British direct rule Ministers say there is no alternative. I disagree. We need to secure the levels of investment comparable to the money they have spent on water services elsewhere and we need to ask what was wrong with the system where payment was incorporated within the rates system with its inbuilt mechanism to protect people on low incomes.
"The British government is attempting to force the people of the Six Counties — who are already saddled with high energy costs, high living costs, high levels of low income and deprivation — to pay for the investment that the British government have refused to put into our water services to bring them up to international and European standards.
"The British government is misleading the public on this issue. They need to come clean and deliver the investment that they have delivered elsewhere to bring water services up to standard. In comparison with Scotland, England and Wales there is a deficit in direct money coming from the British Treasury of some £350 million. Instead we are forced to find £10 million here or £20 million there from within our own hard-pressed budget. It is time for the British government to pay up.
"Direct rule Ministers must listen to the people of the Six Counties, to their elected representatives and the trade unions. I urge people from every walk of life to join the campaign against water charges." ENDS
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP MLA has said that the deficit in acute hospital services provision in County Tyrone and South Derry must be addressed.
Speaking after of a meeting between a delegation of Sinn Féin MP's including Gerry Adams, Pat Doherty (West Tyrone) and Michelle Gildernew (Fermanagh South Tyrone) with NIO Health Minister Angela Smith, Mr Adams said:
"The decisions made by British Minister Des Browne stripped acute service provision from county Tyrone. This is not acceptable.
"Sinn Féin has published proposals which we consider would rebalance services available in both Tyrone and South Derry. The primary proposal concerns the location of acute services in a hospital in the area. Our particular preference is for a new build acute service hospital in the area. But we think also that consideration should be given, as an alternative, to the provision of Acute Services in County Tyrone or South Derry in an existing hospital or in a combination of existing hospitals there."
Sinn Féin have also identified what we consider as the absolute minimum level of services which should be available and located in the area. These include:
· 24 hour A & E services
· Maternity services
· Acute medical specialities, including cardiology
· Acute services specialities.
"We told the Minister today that in the interim existing services should be maintained and developed." ENDS
Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that NIO Minster Ian Pearson must produce concrete proposals to address the job loses in Strabane and the long-term problem of unemployment.
Mr Doherty said:
"Strabane has the highest level of unemployment in the Six Counties. The job loses announced at Herdmans comes as a huge blow to the area.
"Ian Pearson must come forward with concrete proposals to address these problems. This requires commitment and it requires resources. Paper commitments are not good enough. People here in Strabane do not want to see a direct rule minister simply go through the motions they want to see concrete commitments to deal with these problems.
"A Taskforce should be established at the earliest opportunity that examines the wider issues of investment in infrastructure, on how we bring investment and jobs into the area and on who we tackle the twin problems of high unemployment and the need to develop the skills base of the local workforce." ENDS
Note to Editors
Pat Doherty led a delegation including members of Strabane District Council and local MLAs to meet Ian Pearson today at the Headquarters of DETI.
Pat Doherty will meet Invest NI tomorrow at 11.30 am in their Belfast City Centre Headquarters to discuss a strategy to bring jobs to the North West.