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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 MLA for North Belfast, Kathy Stanton, has stated that the detention of asylum seekers is completely unacceptable and a breach of f undamental human rights. Speaking after a fact finding visit to the detainees in the Crumlin Road Gaol Ms Stanton said:

"The detention of asylum seekers in prison facilities is completely unacceptable and a breach of their human rights. Sinn Féin's position is clear. Asylum seekers have committed no crime and should not be detained in prison facilities.

"What is of also particular concern is the health and well being of the detainees. To avail of doctor's appointments or counselling facilities the detainees have to travel to Maghaberry.

"Given the negative experience the detainees have of Maghaberry as the initial place where they are processed and the criminalized, alongside the fact that two detainees suffered racial abuse by staff last week, there is a fear and unwillingness to visit the prison even on health grounds.

"With today's figures highlighting the rise in racist attacks to have Asylum seekers detained and stygmatized while they are possible fleeing poverty and human rights abuses in their own countries is sending out the wrong signals and can institutionalise racism.

"I am calling for the immediate release of those currently being detained and for the British government to review both its draconian immigration policies and the further detention and criminalisation of asylum seekers." ENDS

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Commenting on the release of figures on racist attacks in Belfast over the past six months Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey said that 'we need to see more action on the issue and less talking'.

Mr Maskey said:

"These statistics showing on average five racist attacks each week and a majority taking place in South Belfast only prove what we all already know that racism in the city is now an urgent and very real problem.

"However what many people and particularly those from the ethnic minority communities would like to see is less taking and more action. The attitude of the PSNI to the rise in racist attacks has been rightly criticised with clear up rates being virtually nil.

"We also need to see action from political leaders and particularly unionist political leaders. Their response to date has been at best apathy and in some cases we have had to witness unionist elected representatives providing political cover for those engaged in these attacks. The most notable example of this has been the DUP Councillor Ruth Patterson who has in recent months defended both racist and sectarian attacks in Donegal Pass and Sandy Row. As a first step towards ending hate attacks this sort of approach has to be abandoned." ENDS

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Commenting as the IMC are about to deliver to the British government their latest Report, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said his party 'will continue to defend the Good Friday Agreement in the face of attempts to subvert it by securocrats through the vehicle of the IMC'.

Mr Doherty said:

"The IMC in their activities to date have proven the Sinn Féin argument that they are little more than the echo chamber for the securocrats and spooks who wish to see this process derailed. The information contained in these reports comes solely from the Special Branch, British Military Intelligence and MI5. We all know the anti-peace process and anti-Republican agenda that these faceless organisations pursue.

"The IMC operate completely outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and they have no credibility within the broad nationalist and republican community. Those pro-Agreement parties, including the SDLP, who pander to the IMC call into question their commitment to the terms and principles of that Agreement.

" Sinn Féin will continue to defend the Good Friday Agreement from attack by anti-Agreement unionism and also attempts to subvert it by the securocrats through the vehicle of the IMC." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan has today warned that the review of the current waste management plan for Dublin 'will be seen as a complete whitewash by the people of Dublin'. Cllr Doolan was speaking after it emerged that the same consultants who were contracted to compile the plan in 1998 had been re-contracted to review the current strategy.

Speaking today Cllr Doolan said:

"The news that the same consultants who initially compiled the statutory review on waste management are now reviewing the current strategy, will amaze the citizens of Dublin. When the original plan was formally adopted in 1998 this company endorsed incineration as a solution to the problems of waste in Dublin.

"How can a company that is pro-incinerator and has argued for a pro-incineration response to waste be allowed to review its own original plan? This is an absurd situation and makes them wholly inadequate to conduct the review.

"This review will be seen as a complete whitewash by the people of Dublin. Sinn Féin calls for a total review of the current plan and reiterates our call for a waste management policy which prioritises the reduction of waste and an effective and comprehensive system of recycling and reusing waste materials.

Cllr Doolan concluded by calling on Dublin City Council to "terminate the contract and seek out an impartial company to conduc review of the Waste Management Plan. Any consultant undertaking a review must be regarded as above reproach."ENDS

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Sinn Féin will today vote against the proposed European Commission. The vote, which will take place in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, is expected to be a close call. Liberals, social democrats, socialists, greens and others have declared their intent to vote against President Barroso's proposed European Commission.

Speaking before the vote Ms Bairbre de Brún MEP said:

'Earlier this week Sinn Féin outlined our initial response to the proposed Commission. We highlighted our concerns with the overall policy priorities of the European Commission. We also outlined our disquiet with the stated position of some proposed Commissioners and conflicts of interests involving others.

'We called on incoming European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso to reconsider his proposals and offer MEPs a European Commission more in keeping with the political and economic needs of member states.

'At yesterdays parliamentary session Mr Barroso made it clear that he had no intention of altering his initial proposals. He has made clear his lack of regard for the majority view of MEPs and clearly has no intention of making any significant changes to the personnel or policies of the European Commission.

'On this basis Sinn Fein MEPs cannot support his proposals and will vote against the European Commission this afternoon.

'Sinn Fein is committed to building an Ireland of equals in a Europe of equals. We need a European Commission that will work to tackle inequality, discrimination, and human rights abuses. Unfortunately Mr Barroso's proposed European Commission does not reflect these priorities.' ENDS

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Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brún has co signed a letter to the President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell calling for more adequate facilities for interpretation from non official working languages during EU parliamentary sessions. The letter, initiated by Basque and Catalan MEPs and supported by Sinn Fein, comes after a decision that allows deputies to speak in 'non-official‚ working languages but will not provide interpretation nor will their contribution be part of the Minutes.

Speaking today Ms de Brun said:

"There was a proposal made to the European Parliament's Bureau, whereby MEPs wishing to speak in non official working languages, such as Irish, could submit their comments in written form in an official working language, to facilitate interpretation. Unfortunately this proposal has been rejected.

"Such a rejection goes against the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights that promotes respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. This decision is a denial of the linguistic rights of millions of people across the EU.

"Sinn Fein is calling on the Bureau to reconsiders its decision and to take a more positive attitude to issues of linguistic rights and cultural diversity.

"Ultimately, such issues can only be resolved when Irish is given full official working status, and Irish speakers treated as equals within the EU. I will continue to campaign until this end is achieved."ENDS

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Following this weeks meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Luxembourg, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has called for 'meaningful human rights protection to inform any future EU policy on asylum and immigration'.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

'This week, Justice and Home Affairs Ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss the future of asylum and immigration policy within the EU. The meeting includes discussions of proposals under the Hague Programme to develop a common European Asylum system before 2010.

'Sinn Féin has serious concerns with the tenor and direction of the discussions and their implications for the human rights and civil liberties of asylum seekers and immigrants.

'Sinn Féin has argued that any future common asylum and immigration policy must place human rights protection at its centre. Such an approach must see a harmonisation of best practice across the EU .

'We would favourably consider a common immigration and asylum policy that is fully human rights-compliant, consistent with international law, and based on best practice. Nothing less is acceptable. We oppose any attempts to use this policy to create a "lowest common denominator" with regard to immigration and asylum law and policy.

'In view of our national experience of the positive capacity and potential of immigrants to contribute to society, we oppose the evolution of fortress Europe-style common migration and asylum policies for adoption under the Tampere Agenda. Sinn Féin has campaigned against the creation of a fortress Europe, and will continue to do so.' ENDS

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Speaking in advance of this Wednesday's vote on the incoming European Commission, Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald has called on Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to seriously reflect on the make up of the Commission and its implications for the future policy direction of the European Union.

Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin went to the Irish electorate in this year's European elections with a clear and radical manifesto. We set out our stall for an alternative vision of Europe based on principles of equality, justice, and human rights. We made a clear commitment to building an Ireland of equals in a Europe of equals. We also made clear our opposition to the continued erosion of public services and social welfare provision Europe wide and the role which the EU is playing in this regard.

"We are deeply concerned with the political and policy complexion of the incoming Commission. During the recent hearings with MEPs, many of the proposed Commissioners made clear their commitment to social and economic policies which will actively undermine equality, justice and social solidarity. There are also a number of proposed Commissioners who have serious questions to answer with respect to their conduct when Ministers in their national governments.

'We are calling on Jose Manuel Barroso to reflect on the composition of his proposed Commission and to consider ways to make its membership more reflective of the need to promote social and economic justice and social and cultural equality, both within the EU and globally.

"Sinn Féin believes another Europe is possible, where the rights of nations and peoples are respected and promoted, where quality health care and education are available to all, where civil liberties are protected and where the EU play‚s a positive and progressive role in tackling developing world debt and promoting conflict resolution.

"As it stands the Commission is not placed to achieve any of these things, as its priorities and stated policy preferences run in a contrary direction. This would make it very difficult for Sinn Féin MEPs to vote in favour of the Commission later this week."ENDS

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Commenting after it was reported that outside consultants are to probe the running of the Belfast Education and Library Board, Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Kathy Stanton said:

"The BELB provide a range of absolutely crucial educational and social services for young people in Belfast. Given its important role it is vital that this report is completed quickly and with the minimal disruption to the operation of the Board.

"It is crucial that the services provided to young people in the Board area do not suffer during this process." ENDS

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Responding to a report issued today by the NI Affairs Select committee on the state of social housing in the six counties, Sinn Féin Assembly member Fra McCann said:

"The NI Affairs Committee report merely confirms what we have been saying for some time. There is a housing crisis in west and north Belfast and in Derry City.

"Sinn Féin have been pressing the Housing Executive to start meting their obligations. Today, the Housing executive is operating an apartheid housing list and the militates against allocation of housing on the basis of greatest need.

"The responsibility for increased investment in housing rests with the British government. These resources must be directed to those people who are most disadvantaged and have the greatest objective housing need." ENDS

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Speaking to the media this afternoon in Belfast, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that the governments had to make it clear to the DUP that London and Dublin would move ahead with the process if the DUP do not agree to move forward with the rest of the parties.

Mr Adams said:

"It is now five weeks on from Leeds Castle, it is four months on from Lancaster House and it is a full year since the Assembly elections. The DUP have had ample time and ample opportunity to come to an agreement with the rest of the parties and the two governments which would see the political institutions restored and the other outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement implemented. Sinn Féin want to see that deal done.

"However the rest of us cannot be expected to wait indefinitely on the DUP resolving these difficulties. The two governments need to be telling the DUP that they are not prepared to wait any longer but are moving ahead with the process." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Human Rights issues Caitriona Ruane has said that the SDLP protests about the use of CS gas and plastic bullets by the PSNI have absolutely no credibility.

Ms Ruane said;

"In recent days the SDLP have been vocal in their condemnation of the PSNI using CS gas on the nationalist youth of Derry. In one case a young man was handcuffed before being attacked with CS gas.

"However the SDLP on this issue like the issue of plastic bullets seem to be blind to the reality that it was their Policing Board members who placed these lethal devices into the hands of the PSNI many of whom are human rights abusers who graduated from the ranks of the RUC.

"The SDLP double speak on these issues is appalling. They cannot publicly oppose the PSNI using plastic bullets and CS gas on the streets while rubber stamping the purchase of these weapons through their membership of the Policing Board." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP has said that the DUP cannot be allowed to paralyse the process of change indefinitely and that they must move from their anti-Agreement position if a deal is to be secured.

Mr Doherty said:

"It is now almost a year on from the Assembly election. In that time we have been to Lancaster House in June and then Leeds Castle last month. It has time and again been hinted at that the DUP are prepared to do a deal which would see the institutions restored and the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.

"However one year on the DUP have shown no willingness to move away from their anti-Agreement position and this remains the greatest obstacle to seeing a comprehensive package agreed. It is my view that the Leeds Castle engagement demonstrated that the other outstanding issues can be resolved. But as Martin McGuinness has already indicated this work needs to be completed quickly if we are to achieve a deal.

"We cannot wait on the DUP forever. If it becomes clear that the DUP are not going to move then it is inevitable that we will have to explore other options of moving the process forward and seeing the Agreement implemented. The DUP cannot be allowed to paralyse the process of change indefinitely." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD, has described news that a number of people on earnings of over €1 million per year pay no tax at all as "concrete evidence, if evidence was needed, of the shameful legacy of Charlie McCreevy and Mary Harney in both the Department of Finance and the Department of Enterprise and Trade over the last seven years".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "PAYE workers can rightly feel aggrieved today after it was confirmed that a large number of millionaires and other high earners pay no tax at all according the Department of Finance.

"As public services continue to crack and crumble under the pressure of poor financial resources, this revelation is concrete evidence, if evidence was needed, of the shameful legacy of Mary Harney and Charlie McCreevy in both the Department of Finance and the Department of Enterprise and Trade over the last seven years.

"While they pontificated about the need for a low-tax economy what was really operating for their super rich friends was a no-tax economy. It is absolutely sickening to constantly be lectured to on economics by the likes of Mary Harney and her PD colleagues and fifth columnists in Fianna Fáil. This admission alone exposes the flawed, selfish and ultimately dangerous economic policies of the PDs, who are clearly the driving force behind the Government.

"If everybody paid their fair share then our public services would not be in the state they are in. People would not be dying for want of a hospital bed; schools would not be rundown and overcrowded; parents would not want for adequate childcare facilities and we would not have endless housing waiting lists.

"It takes political will to tackle the vested interests in this country and that is something this Government is seriously lacking in."ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has described the comments of Colin Farrell on heroin use as "moronic, offensive and completely irresponsible". Deputy Ó Snodaigh was responding to Farrell's claim that he smoked heroin and that he thought it was "nice". The Dublin South Central TD suggested that the Hollywood actor should keep his mouth shut in future.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "While Colin Farrell likes to portray himself as some sort of working class hero the reality is quite different. He comes from a fairly privileged background that in many ways isolated him from the chronic drugs problem that is endemic across large parts of his native city.

"His moronic claim to have smoked heroin, which he thought was "nice", is not only completely irresponsible but deeply offensive to all those involved in the struggle to bring our massive drugs crisis under control.

"Such comments could only come from somebody who either hasn't a clue or is so caught up in their own self-importance and publicity that they don't give a damn about the potential impact of their utterances. As an A-list actor he must surely be aware that his comments carry weight way beyond their merit with impressionable members of our society, especially among the young.

"If he has nothing positive or constructive to say by way of tackling the drugs crisis that causes misery for tens of thousands of people in Dublin then we would all be better off if he just keep his mouth shut." ENDS

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Bairbre de Brún MEP has called for strong European legislation under REACH proposals, to protect people from harmful chemical contamination.

Ms de Brún was speaking after a WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) report identified a wide range of industrial chemicals in the blood of thirteen EU ministers and previously thirty nine MEPs. The WWF had conducted a study on the effects of chemicals which exist in some fire-resistant sofas, non-stick pans, grease proof-pizza boxes, flexible PVC, fragrances and pesticides. A number of MEPs and EU Ministers had volunteered to take part in the survey to ascertain levels of chemical contamination in their blood.

The blood tests, which took place in December 2003 and June 2004, are one of the WWF's contributions to the debate within the EU on REACH, the proposed new chemicals law.

Ms de Brún said:

"The continued release of these contaminants in the environment and subsequent health risks cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. The recent study is an indication of the effects of chemical contaminants in the bloodstream of the wider population. These studies had shown an average of 37 chemicals in the blood of various EU Ministers. If these are the results amongst adults then we can only wonder about the effects upon our children.

I pledge to use my position on the Committee of Environment, Health and Public Safety in favour of strong measures to ensure that dangerous chemicals are no longer introduced into the environment. I will work for the implementation of strong, progressive, public safety based legislation in the proposed new system; Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH)" ENDS

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Sinn Fein MLA for north Belfast, Gerry Kelly, has slammed the recent treatment of asylum detainees being held in Crumlin Road prison. This follows reports that two of the detainees were moved to Maghaberry at the weekend due to staff shortages where they were racially abused and strip searched by staff.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"The treatment of these two men is completely unacceptable. Over the weekend they were transferred to Maghaberry Prison due to staff shortages where they were racially abused, strip searched and locked in their cells for most of the weekend.

"If anything the NIO has learnt nothing over three decades here. Republicans struggled for, and won the right to proper prison conditions, a right that all who are detained should be able to avail of.

"The asylum detainees, should not even be held in prison as they have committed no offence, and yet while there, they are still treated in this disgraceful manner that no-one ought to encounter.

"This is yet further indictment of the Prison Service, following the damning report by the Human Rights Commission revealing widespread human rights abuses at Maghaberry Prison.

"Sinn Féin have already requested access to the Crumlin Road detainees on a fact finding basis and I will be in contact with the British minister for Prisons, Ian Pearson, to address this issue as a matter of urgency." ENDS

Note to Editor: According to statements the two men, who are Muslim, have given to the Refugee Action Group they were:

· Subjected to strip searching

· Subjected to racist comments by a female prison officer

· Denied access to hot water while fulfilling the fasting obligations of

Ramadan

· Denied access to telephones for three days

· Locked in their cells for most of the weekend

· Denied open air exercise.

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Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney has stated that the SDLP accepting assurances from the PSNI in closed meetings is an admission that the DPP's are unable to hold the PSNI to account.

Mr McCartney said,

"Over the past few weeks we have seen the SDLP in Belfast and Derry entering into private meetings with the PSNI and getting assurances which they are unwilling to make public.

"In the case of Ibhram Shoukri, a known Belfast Loyalist, who was allowed to walk free although he was blatantly breaking his bail conditions, the SDLP accepted assurances in a private meeting with Hugh Orde as to why the PSNI did not intervene.

"In Derry the SDLP accepted assurances from the PSNI over the use of CS Gas in the city, again in a private meeting".

"In both cases the SDLP refused to make public what assurances were given by the PSNI as to why Ibhram Shoukri was allowed to openly break his bail conditions or why the youth of Derry have been subjected to CS Gas on a near weekly basis.

"The SDLP who have previously championed the DPP's as the way forward to hold the PSNI to account in an open and transparent way have now failed to use this method. This is a clear admission that the DPP's are either unable to hold the PSNI to account or that the answers that the PSNI have provided would expose the untenable nature of the working of the PSNI.

"The SDLP must now explain why they have disregarded the DPPs in terms of holding the PSNI to account".

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Following his attendance at a Citywide Family Support Network conference in Dublin today Sinn Féin spokesperson on Family and Community Affairs, Seán Crowe TD reiterated his call for the introduction of a new carers allowance for Grandparents caring for the children of drug addicts. The Citywide conference was organised to draw attention to the growing number of grandparents who find themselves in the position of being full-time carers for their children's children as a result of drug addiction.

Deputy Crowe said, "The reality is because of the escalating drug problem, especially in urban centres, that there is a growing number of grandparents who find themselves in the position of rearing the children of their drug addicted sons and daughters. Unfortunately this group in many instances find themselves in a limbo situation where they are not recognised as the legitimate guardians of the children and therefore cannot access the support services that exist for other carers.

"Surely encouraging the retention of family units should be a priority. Grandparents willing and prepared to offer a caring and loving environment for their grandchildren should be given every support possible. A priority must be to remove the barriers preventing that support. We need to make available dedicated support staff to deal with this growing phenomenon. We also need to ensure that grandparents have access to financial support like that afforded to those receiving fostering allowances.

"I would like to commend the work of the Citywide Family Support Network for the work they have done on this issue. I would urge the new Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Seamus Brennan to work with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Finance to ensure this issue is urgently addressed in the upcoming budget." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that it was ironic that the UUP should this afternoon be in Dublin meeting with the Irish government exactly one year on from the day that they lost their nerve and pulled out of a deal which would have seen the political institutions restored.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Exactly one year ago today David Trimble reneged at the very last minute on a deal and a sequence which would have seen the political institutions restored.

"It is ironic that one year on the UUP, now in the position of the minority unionist party, are in Dublin meeting with the Irish government presumably with the intention of seeing a deal agreed allowing the same political institutions to be re-established.

"Both unionist parties have in recent weeks been engaged in dialogue with the Irish government and we obviously welcome this. However both parties still need to come to terms with and grasp the process of change which is required and which the Good Friday Agreement demands." ENDS

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