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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 Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that if the government does not sort out the childcare issue it might as well bin the National Development Plan.

Speaking during Statements on the National Development Plan in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "Recently the Forum on the Workplace of the Future exposed the reality that childcare costs in this State are the highest in the EU. Irish parents spend almost twice the EU average on childcare and the problem is getting worse. This is firstly a question of the rights of children to the best care. Secondly, it is about the rights of parents, and especially of women, to have access to the labour market. And finally it has to be recognised that no Development Plan can succeed, and no economy can develop, if a proper childcare network is not established by the State. If you do not sort out childcare you may as well bin this Plan. "

Commenting on how the National Development Plan was being implemented in relation to the border region Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say, "The Counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, are recognised by the Irish Government and the European Union as a region of special need. This is reflected in the context of the Peace Process and under a number of programmes which seek to address the social and economic problems of the region.

"While much progress has been made, the reality is that these Counties still suffer significant disadvantages and have not experienced the same level of economic growth and development, including infrastructural development, as other regions. The level of inward investment is lower. Rates of unemployment are higher. Rates of participation in third-level education are lower.

"We still have many poor roads, inadequate or non-existent public transport, insufficient energy supply and lack of broadband. The current rollout of broadband to some towns is inefficient, patchy and inconsistent. Communities are suffering for the Government‚s disastrous privatisation of Telecom Éireann because the State is now paying through the nose to Eircom and other private companies to develop an infrastructure that could and should be in public ownership.

"Many of the services that do exist suffer from the failure to co-ordinate and integrate service provision on a cross-border/all-Ireland basis, thus hampering efficient and equitable delivery of services within the Border Corridor. The health system is a prime example.

"Since the Good Friday Agreement, progress in redressing the balance and in bringing the Border region in from the cold has been painfully slow.

"The National Development Plan and the Northern Ireland Structural Funds Plan share a 'Common Chapter' that highlights the fact that within the context of North South Co-operation it is recognised that the areas immediately adjacent to the border are some of the most disadvantaged areas of the North and South. It makes very specific time bound commitments in relation to cross-border co-operation and integration of services and infrastructure in the following areas: Energy, Communications and Electronic Commerce, Human Resource Development, Agriculture and Rural Development, Tourism, Transport, Environment, Education, Health.

"It is essential that the Common Chapter commitments under these headings are not mere aspirations, as many of them have been up to now. Now is the time for them to be acted upon and accelerated with a focus on real delivery within definite timeframes.

"The 'Common Chapter' states that the primary fund for addressing issues of ŒCross-Border Co-operation‚ will be the EU Community Initiative Programme ˆ INTERREG III. However, problems in actual delivery have been identified and must be addressed.

"There has been little progress in delivery of the Common Chapter commitments to co-operation between health services. As a result the health needs of the people of the southern Border counties are not being met as they could and should. In fact the reorganisation of health service administration in the 26 Counties has created doubt even about the continuation of existing co-operation. Essential now, therefore, is renewed commitment to the extension and development of the existing mechanisms for co-operation between the Western and Southern Health Boards in the Six Counties and the North Western and North Eastern Health Boards in the 26 Counties to improve co-ordination and co-operation in relation to ambulance cover and joint training; and the sharing of emergency admissions. Work should begin immediately on Common Chapter commitments on planning for major emergencies; the procurement, funding and use of high technology equipment; collaboration on cancer and other research; participation in multi-centre trials, health promotion, and public information/education in the area of heart disease, cancer and smoking. In addition, the Irish Government should commit itself firmly to no further diminution of acute hospital services in the Border region, their further development and their enhancement through co-operation with hospital services in the Six Counties.

"I endorse the motion on the Western Rail Corridor tabled by Deputy Cooper Flynn and in the same vein, the Irish Government should establish a Task Force for Public Transport in the Border region with targets of delivery of improved bus services throughout the region, and across the Border, by the end of 2005; increased funding for the Rural Transport Initiative; and an action plan for the strategic extension of the rail network within the Border region."ENDS

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Speaking from Stormont this morning in response to the DRD Regional Strategic Transport Network Initiative, Sinn Fein Assembly Member for Foyle and Party Spokesperson for Regional Development, Raymond has expressed scepticism over plans to upgrade the transport infrastructure as outlined in the Regional Strategic Transport Network.

Mr McCartney said:

"Once again we have seen the insistence of a British Direct Rule Minister ploughing ahead with plans which give no consideration to the huge infrastructure deficit we have experienced in the North West, and West of Bann. There is no joined approach and the all-important All Ireland transport strategy that is so desperately lacking in this approach. It means nothing that John Spellar and DRD mean to actually look at the proposition of a dual carriageway on the A6 Route between Derry and Belfast.

"Derry is the only City in Western Europe without a motorway within 30 miles of the city. This is the 21st Century ˆ even with the EU Transport TEN-T programme to deliver on road infrastructure projects, the Minister is at this stage commissioning traffic surveys on the A4, A1 and A6 Routes, and will only consider beginning work on dualling these routes after the all of the 2015 Planned works are completed.

„The RSTN Plan is committed to using Public ˆ Private Partnerships to deliver on key infrastructure capital works programmes, such as the A1 and A4 Transport Corridors, namely the Enniskillen to Belfast Route and the Newry ˆ Dublin Corridor. Sinn Fein is opposed to such an approach and further reinforces the Government‚s privatisation agenda towards delivering on public transport.

"The Minister has unveiled £1.57billion for the upgrade of Road, Rail and Port transport integration. The Budget Priorities announced by NIO and Direct Rule Finance Minister, Ian Pearson as outlined indicates that these figures are bandied about to fool the public into believing that major work is proceeding. The allocation of monies for investment is to be reduced over the next 3 years by some £30million. Under Objective A of the Budget 85% of investment figures for DRD is attributed to Structural maintenance of Transport Corridors and the Road Improvements are part and partial of developing the Road network.

"The Rail network must be considered a key priority in order to alleviate the huge environmental impact and traffic disorder which freight presents on our roads. Yet, these announcements pay lip service to developing a truly holistic multi-modal transport strategy, which incorporates a greater level of interconnectivity between Rural and Urban Communities.

"These Plans are designed to tackle linking those regional hubs, air and seaports, cross border corridor routes. The development of the Western Seaboard, which would link the RDS and the NDP, via a modern, accessible All Ireland Transport Plan is where the DRD and National Roads Authority thinking needs to be. In an era when car ownership is increasing, road traffic congestion a headache, rural communities isolated and marginalized due to neglect by such plans ˆ now is the time for delivery not traffic surveys to monitor transport 'need'."ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast councillor Tom Hartley along with Cllr Danny Lavery, Cllr Gerard O'Neill and Deputy Mayor Cllr Joe O'Donnell have all resigned from the Belfast Education Library Board in opposition to cuts of £7 million.

Speaking after the special meeting of the BELB today Cllr Hartley said:

"Sinn Féin are totally opposed to the £7 million cuts to frontline services on the BELB that will impact on catering, maintenance, transport and the special educational needs services. The most vulnerable children and young people will suffer.

"Sinn Féin will not stand over these cuts. They are the responsibility of Barry Gardiner.

"These are not one off cuts. There will be year on year cuts over the next number of years that will totally decimate vital servivces in the BELB area." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described the decision of Bank of Ireland to shed 2,100 jobs over the next four years as " a callous move to maximise its already bulging profits at the expense of valuable and productive jobs."

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, „Bank of Ireland today announced that it is to shed 2,100 jobs over the next four years while at the same time unveiling a trading statement that gave an upbeat view of the bank‚s performance. To announce job losses while at the same time announcing massive profits shows a total lack of respect and complete disregard for the banks workers and their families. This decision is a callous move to maximise its already bulging profits at the expense of valuable and productive jobs. It is nothing short of a two fingers gesture to the workforce by greedy bank directors.

"Given the massive profits the bank has made in the last number of years it is a disgrace that they are even contemplating job losses at this time." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called today for an emergency debate on the Government's ' ruthless policy' of forcible mass deportations and has also called for the removal of the immigration portfolio from the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Firstly I am calling on the Minister for Justice to immediately cease this practice, which Sinn Féin strongly opposes and that we called a vote against when the Government rammed the proposal through the Dáil without debate in November of 2003. We are of the opinion that this policy constitutes a violation of the prohibition on collective expulsion in Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We warned that this policy has led to physical maltreatment and deaths from asphyxia in other jurisdictions. We pointed to the grave concerns raised by human rights groups throughout the EU regarding this practice. Now some of our worst fears have been realised with the children left behind in the most recent mass deportation of Nigerians.

"I am calling on the Minister to at minimum suspend this policy to allow for a full investigation and report on the human rights implications by the Human Rights Commission. I am demanding a full Dáil debate, which the Government denied us a year and a half ago. I am also demanding to know from the Minister today the actions he is taking with respect to the children left behind, and the reason why he declined to use his discretion

to allow the former unaccompanied minor Olunkunle Elunhanla, who had resided legally in this country for five years, to remain here on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate considerations. Even if Olunkunle is not a Convention refugee, the Minister still has discretion in cases where there are humanitarian and compassionate considerations such as this one. He should use it.

"This Minister is presiding over an immigration policy that is fast becoming nothing short of a human rights disaster in this state. He is not fit for this responsibility and it should be removed from him immediately by the Taoiseach."ENDS

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Sinn Fein former Belfast City mayor, South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey is organising an anti-racism event One City Many Voice in the Holliday Inn, University Street, Belfast on Wednesday 23rd March from 7.00pm to 9.30pm.

Panel speakers include Sharda Bhat, who has been involved with the Indian Community Centre for over 20 years; Jamal Iweida from the Belfast Islamic Centre; and Michael Mongon from the Travellers Community. Lee Jasper, National Secretary of the National Assembly Against Racism and advisor to London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Race Relations And Policing will address the meeting outlining how the City of London is responding to the issue of racism.

Speaking ahead of the conference Mr Maskey said:

"This event is an opportunity to highlight the changing nature of Belfast over the past 100 years, especially its ever increasing ethnic diversity, and hopefully to provide some historical and contemporary context to a changing city. As Belfast changes it is important that we exchange experiences, and that decision makers hear directly from the different communities in Belfast and also from those who are dealing with the issues elsewhere.

"This is an open event, a Multi-Cultural evening to discuss racism and diversity in the City of Belfast and Sinn Féin want create a platform for everyone that is affected by the issues of racism and diversity. It is about greater dialogue as we chart a course of our changing city over the next 100 years.

"The 'One City Many Peoples' event part of Sinn Féin's Cead Bliain celebrations and is taking place during the European-wide Week Against Racism and will coincide with the publication of the Shared Future framework.

Note to Editors

European-wide action week against racism

March 21st was declared International Day for the Elimination of All Forms

of Racial Discrimination by the United Nations after the murder of 70

anti-apartheid demonstrators in Sharpeville, South-Africa, in 1960. During

European-wide Action Week, which centres around 21 March, thousands of

people actively engage themselves to tolerance, equal rights and celebrate

the diversity of Europe.

The One City Many Voice event will be held in the Holliday Inn, University

Street, Belfast on Wednesday 23rd March between 7.00pm - 9.30pm

7.00 - 7.30pm Viewing of various ethnic groups display stands

7.30 - 7.45pm Introduction & Opening Comments - Alex Maskey

7.45 - 8.15pm Introductory Remarks from Panel including Jamal Iweida

(Belfast Islamic Centre); Michael Mongon (Travellers Community); Sharada

Bhat (Indian Community Centre)

8.15 - 8.45pm Open Floor Debate

8.45 - 9.00pm Keynote Speaker Lee Jasper, advisor to Mayor Ken Livingstone

9.00 - 9.10pm Concluding Remarks & Close - Alex Maskey

9.10 - End Tea, Coffee & Informal Discussion

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin has said the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government has failed to fulfil its promise to reduce class sizes at primary level to under 20. Highlighting the fact that this State has the second highest average class size in the EU, Deputy Ó Caoláin called on the Government to create more teaching posts at primary level this year in order to reduce class sizes and "give every child in every school equal rights and equal opportunities".

Deputy Ó Caoláin, who is raising the demand for class size reduction in the Dáil today, stated: „This morning, with other TDs and councillors, I visited a primary school in my own constituency - Urbleshanny National School in Scotstown, Co. Monaghan - where six of the classes have in excess of 30 pupils in them. In sixth class, the pre-secondary year, there are 36 children in a former general purposes room. These are the conditions in which so many of our children are trying to learn in our so-called knowledge economy.

"The single greatest difficulty pupils and teachers will face once again in the coming school year of 2005/2006 will be unacceptably high class sizes. This State has the second highest average class size in the EU. In the 2002 Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the PDs they committed to reduce class sizes to below the international best practice guideline of 20 to 1. The current number is 24 to 1 but in many schools it is much higher. For example, I want the Tánaiste to tell us if the PD c andidates in the Meath and Kildare by-elections reported back to her that in those counties class sizes are much higher than the average at 26 and 27.

"In this week we recall that the Easter 1916 Proclamation guaranteed 'equal rights and equal opportunities' and that is what every pupil in every school is entitled to.

"The Government now act decisively to reduce class sizes in real terms for the coming school year. They should commence now to lift the embargo on the creation of new posts and recruit the additional teachers that are essential, including the 650 extra teachers for learning support and for children with special needs. The INTO estimates that there are 1,000 trained primary teachers available now to fill the places if they are created.

"In an effort to hide its broken promise the Government deliberately confuses pupil/teacher ratio and average class size. That's like telling us that because there are 166 TDs and seven political parties represented in

the Dáil that the average number of TDs per party is 23.7. It is meaningless. They are including non-teaching principals, and special teachers in that figure when they know that most of them do not teach classes.

"The Government must also act to ease the burden on teachers who have to teach multiple classes, a daily reality in many small rural schools.

"The revised system for allocation of special needs teachers as promised has not been published. The recent case of the O‚Hara family showed the dire need for more resources for children with special needs. Principals are trying to plan for September and the new strategy has not been published. It must be delivered now." ENDS

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Sinn Féin former mayor of Belfast Council, South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey has said that yet again the argument about the number of councils is being used as a smokescreen to distract people from a more important issue, particularly for nationalists and republicans, namely that it is essential for a strong system of equality checks and balances to be in place to ensure that unionists can not abuse power at local government level in the way they have done in the past and in many instances continue to do at present.

Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Review of Public administration said:

"Yet again there is smokescreen about whether there will be 7, 11 or 15 councils when the real issue of concern, particularly for nationalists is that there must be a strong legislative framework with proper checks and balances to ensure equality. There can be no space for the abuse of power and discrimination that unionists have been guilty of, and are still guilty of today on many of our councils.

"It should not be forgotten that the very reason that we have the current configuration of councils with reduced powers is that unionists were, and in many cases still are, incapable of delivering public services fairly or sharing power equitably.

"Sinn Fein will examine each of these proposals to ensure that equality protections are paramount and we will be testing each option to ensure that none opens the door to the type of political gerrymandering that set back democracy for generations in this part of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin has described Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern's comment that he doesn't believe that a Green Paper on Irish unity would be relevant as "a bizarre comment from a senior representative of the largest republican party on the island". Mr. McLaughlin said "a Green Paper on Irish unity is relevant, essential and long overdue."

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"Dermot Ahern's comments in Newry last night speak volumes about the Irish government's attitude towards Irish unity. It is bizarre that a senior representative of the largest republican party on the island would oppose efforts to transform the aspiration for Irish unity into a real goal. Rather than being 'irrelevant' discussing and planning for Irish unity should be a priority for all nationalist and republican parties.

"These are difficult times in the peace process and of course our primary focus has to be on moving out of the current crisis. But we need to do more than that. We need to put the peace process back on track and ensure that what we achieve is democracy and a permanent peace.

"Sinn Féin believes that this is best done in the context of Irish unity and that the practical planning for re-unification should begin now. This is not about'putting fear into people' as the Minister suggests it is about talking about and planning for the future.

"A key part of this will be widespread consultation at home and abroad and every effort must be made to engage with unionist opinion and to consider, discuss and engage with them about the nature and form a new Ireland will take.

"Instead of running away from this issue there is a responsibility on the Irish government to take the lead and bring forward a strategy to achieve national self-determination, Irish re-unification and national reconciliation.

"However, Minister Ahern comments suggest that Irish unity is no longer even on the agenda of his party. If that is the case he should be honest enough to say so and not hide behind the crisis in the process." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Transport spokesperson, Seán Crowe has said, "Any partial sale of Aer Lingus will inevitably lead to the total privatisation of the State airline." Deputy Crowe was speaking today as the Minister for Transport, Mr Martin Cullen, was due to present proposals to the cabinet that outlin plans to sell off part of the company.

Deputy Crowe said "Aer Lingus is a very profitable airline. The claim that there is a need for a partial sell off to finance the development of the airline is a dubious one. The fear is that it is being used as an excuse to advance the privatisation agenda of sections of this Government. Any partial sale of Aer Lingus will inevitably lead to the total privatisation of the State airline.

"To allow the state airline to fall into the hands of a private business would be foolish. We cannot under estimate the value of having a national carrier. We are an island economy on the edge of Europe. Our ability to contact and trade with the rest of the world should not be at the whim of external or private enterprises. We need a State airline, a national carrier. Aer Lingus is successfully fulfilling that duty and the State should look at it as an asset to invest in rather than a burden to divest itself of."

On the issue of a second terminal for Dublin airport Mr. Crowe said, "Sinn Féin fully supports the development of a second terminal at Dublin airport as it is crucial to the overall development of the airpo t as a whole." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today called for the controversial EU Services Directive to be abandoned by the European Commission. Ms McDonald warned that 'the directive cannot just be scrapped and then replaced with a cosmetically altered version two years down the line'.

Ms McDonald was speaking after it emerged that a number of EU member states have expressed concerns about the directive which aims to create a free market in services such as health and education throughout the European Union.

The Services Directive will form part of the discussions of the EU Economic summit which begins in Brussels this evening. Speaking in Dublin Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the EU Services Directive and we are on record as saying so on a number of occasions. We believe that the EU Commission is intent on turning public services into private enterprises. Indeed, a recent report (Feb 8th 2005) by the European Commission suggested that the opening up of the services market could bring significant economic growth to the EU.

"We believe that to open up the market in such a way would lead to a significant loss of jobs in the public sector. We also concerned that the impact of the Directive will be to lower the standard of service provision for the public and the conditions for workers in Ireland and across the EU. This is far removed from Sinn Féin's vision of a Europe of equals, and instead leaves public services at the mercy of the highest bidder.

"According to critics of the directive, the on-going drive towards further privatisation has led to price increases, a marked decrease in the service provided and increases in the cost of provision according to consumer associations".

"I am calling upon the European Commission and in particular Commissioner Charlie McCreevy to scrap the EU Services Directive. However, the directive cannot simply be scrapped and then replaced with a cosmetically altered version." ENDS

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The renowned book by author and historian Eamon Mac Thomais Down Dublin Streets, which deals with the events of the 1916 Easter Rising, is to be re-launched this week as part of a series of events marking 89th anniversary of the Rising.

The popular book, first published in 1965 in the period leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Rising, will be relaunched at a reception attended by author‚s son, historian Shane Mac Thomais, Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh and Dublin City Councillor Christy Burke who was a friend and contemporary of Eamon Mac Thomais with whom he spent time in jail as a republican prisoner in the 1970s.

The book launch takes place at 8pm on Wednesday, 23 March McDowell‚s public house in Inchicore, Dublin.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has called on the Irish Government to end its policy of support for Genetically Modified crops in the light of new evidence from Britain which proves that GM crops cause harm to other life forms. Results of a trial on a herbicide resistant oilseed rape, released yesterday, have shown that the herbicide used has harmful effects on other plants, birds and insects.

Deputy Ferris said: "The British research proving that GM crops do cause environmental harm has dealt possibly a fatal blow to the campaign to allow the commercial growing of GM crops in Britain. The Irish Government must now come out in the open and declare that it will not grant any licences for GM crops in this country.

"Over the past number of years Irish officials have consistently supported measures designed to introduce GM food products despite the fact that neither the Irish people nor any of its elected representatives have had an opportunity to fully debate the issues involved. It is time for the Irish Government to reverse its policy of support for the GM corporations and put the interests of Irish farmers and consumers first by coming out unequivocally against GM."ENDS

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Fianna Fail Senator Martin Mansergh, a former special advisor to the Taoiseach on the North, will engage in a public debate with Sinn Fein TD Aengus on Snodaigh on Tuesday 22 March in Dublin.

The debate entitled The Search for the Republic: Visionary or Criminal? Takes place in Wynne's Hotel, Abbey Street at 8.30pm.

Tuesday's public debate forms part of a series of events organized by Dublin Sinn Fein over Easter Week to commemorate the 89th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

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Commenting on the launch today by the SDLP of a document on Irish Unity Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin said that the apparent shift by the SDLP from the politics of post nationalism to the politics of Irish Unity was welcome.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"The Sinn Féin demand for Irish Independence and Unity has always been up front and clear. The same cannot be said of the SDLP. During a recent election campaign the SDLP told us that we now lived in a post nationalist situation and the demand for Irish unity was no longer a realistic goal. Sinn Féin rejected this notion at the time and continue to do so.

"If today's launch by the SDLP is a genuine shift away from the folly of their post nationalist position onto the ground of Irish unity then that would obviously be a welcome move and comes a month after Sinn Féin published detailed proposals and launched a campaign for the Irish government to bring forward a Green Paper on Irish Unity.

"I also note that the Irish Minister Dermot Ahern has chosen to associate himself with these proposals. I would make the case that the campaign to achieve Irish unity would be far better advanced if he directed his energies and those of the Irish government into publishing at the earliest opportunity a Green Paper on Irish Unity which could then enjoy the support of the vast majority of people on the island who wish to see national re-unification." ENDS

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late in their attacks against our struggle? Why now? The answer is because our struggle is stronger now than at any time in recent history." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

I would like to begin by extending a Cead Mile Failte to you all and to the many who traveled from long distances especially from the Six Counties.

I stand here proudly today in my own City a Sinn Fein TD, an elected member of a party that has been the story of every election over the last decade. A political movement that continues to grow and represents 342,000 voters on the Island of Ireland.

As we stand here today, the current political atmosphere and cozy consensus is aimed at criminalizing Sinn Fein and the republican struggle. Every day a new or rehashed story appears in the print, radio or television media.

Republicans are to blame that is the mantra, the lie that is being peddled.

In previous years it was reds under the bed. Now its republicans, not only under the bed, but also over it and in the dam bed. And if we're to believe some the stories them we are trying to rob the bed as well.

Peace talks break down over Unionist intransigence republicans are to blame. More British troops in the North than in Iraq years nearly 10 years into a cessation, republicans are to blame. More repressive laws introduced North and South republicans must be blamed.

Inequalities in Ireland, the state of our Health service, people lying on trolleys, the inability of couples to buy their own home, the trains and busses don't arrive, children going to school hungry are republicans to blame?

British sponsored death squads were republican's responsible? People discriminated in jobs and housing were republicans by highlighting and f ighting injustice to blame? British involvement in Ireland were we to blame? Did republicans ever invite them into our country?

And when the North erupted in 1969 was it republicans or the real criminals the political establishment who stood idly by when tens of thousands people were burnt out of their homes in a sectarian pogrom?

Politicians in this state would like to criminalize not this generation of republicans but the legacy of people like the men and women who fought in the GPO 1916. In doing so they are attempting to criminalize men and women without whom the very existence of this state would not have been possible.

In every generation the 'powers that be' have attempted to criminalize the freedom seekers and the revolutionaries. The British have always found willing Irish allies in this. It was the Irish Independent newspaper that called for the execution of James Connolly in 1916. No change there. It was the Irish Catholic Church that excommunicated the Fenians and those who fought against the Black and Tans in this City.

Every generation of republicans were labeled criminal in their time. Bobby Sands and his fellow hunger strikers gave the answer to Britain's criminalization policy in the 1980s. But in every generation there were people like Bobby Sands.

Let us reiterate here today that it is not a crime and never was a crime to seek to end the injustice of partition. It is never a crime to pursue the independence and freedom of Ireland.

And why have the political and media establishment in this state become so rabid of late in their attacks against our struggle? Why now? The answer is because our struggle is stronger now than at any time in recent history.

Let us just take the state of Sinn Fein here in Dublin as a case study. It has made remarkable progress. As we stand here today, Sinn Fein in Dublin is represented by 14 Councilors, two TDs and an MEP. We represent over 60,000 Dubliners. That is no criminal conspiracy. That is a political party with real mass and growing support.

That is why our opponents have turned up the volume against us. But it is also why their tactics will fail. There are republicans gathered here who maintained the republican flame during leaner times and they can attest to the fact that we have been through all of this before. The tactics used against us in the past failed. But they will fail more conclusively this time because of the huge support that we command across this country North and South East and West.

A Chairde, we must not be diverted by the dirty tactics of our opponents. Nor should we be surprised, if you think about what we are attempting to achieve. And we are deadly serious. That is something that the privileged elite in this country understands and wishes to prevent. So the viciousness of their attacks should come as no surprise.

We have much work to do. Soon our organization will face into elections to Westminster. We will undoubtedly increase our representation there, confirming that Sinn Fein is the undisputed political voice of Northern nationalists. And of course the next General Election in this state is not too far away. As I said earlier we are deadly serious about bringing about change in our lifetime. That involves increasing our electoral and political strength across this island so that we can begin to build the New Ireland that republicans have struggled for down through the centuries. That is the responsibility we carry on our shoulders. Let us nurture and carry that burden with pride.

Go raibh math agaibh go leir.

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Sinn Féin Dublin North East Representative, Cllr. Larry O'Toole, demanded an end to "the fueling of the US war machine at Shannon Airport. This is nothing short of assisting, aiding and abetting the US war in Iraq. The refueling must stop and it must stop now."

Speaking at an anti war rally in Dublin, Cllr. O'Toole said, "Shannon Airport remains an integral part of the US war effort in Iraq. It continues to be used to assist US in their illegal war and ongoing occupation of Iraq. There are no two ways about it, the Irish government must listen to the ordinary people in their demand to have Shannon shut to the US war machine.

"The people of Iraq have a right, just like the Irish people have a right, to self determination and a future free from war and occupation. Iraq needs our help and assistance in rebuilding their country, they most definitely do not need Shannon refueling the very bombers that have rained devastation on their proud nation."

In conclusion, Cllr. O'Toole urged, "the government to lead by example and shut Shannon to US war planes. It is direct breach of our neutrality and is being used to support an illegal war. Sinn Féin will continue to support the Irish Anti War Movement in every way possible until Bertie wises up and acts on our behalf."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has pledged continued support for the Finucane family in their quest for an international independent inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. Ms de Brún was speaking after retired Canadian Judge Cory described the present legislative proposals going through Westminster as ones which create 'an intolerable Alice in Wonderland scenario'.

Ms de Brún said:

"My colleague Mary Lou McDonald MEP and I have raised on the European scene concerns arising from the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane and the British government's continued refusal to hold a proper inquiry into his killing.

"At the Weston Park talks, Sinn Féin called for full independent international inquiries into his death and the deaths of other victims of collusion. The British government argued that an international judge should be asked to look at a number of cases and make recommendations. Neither the Finucane family nor Sinn Féin requested this, although it was supported by the SDLP and the Irish government.

"Given that Canadian Judge Peter Cory, who was appointed following Weston Park, recommended full public inquiries in several cases including those of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, the British and Irish governments now have a duty to ensure that meaningful inquiries can now take place.

"However the British Government, fearing that the truth of the policy of collusion with unionist death squads would be exposed, has introduced legislation to limit the power of the Finucane inquiry in a way that has angered and startled human rights NGOs. This legislation may also prevent any meaningful inquiry into any action by the British government or its agents at any point in the future.

"Mary Lou Mc Donald MEP and I will continue to highlight the case and lobby on behalf of the Finucane family. We intend to bring international pressure to bear on the British Government to hold a full independent inquiry into his death.

"Sinn Féin will continue to support the family of Pat Finucane, and all of those who have been murdered as a result of the policy of collusion, in their pursuit of truth and justice." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness has said that 4 days after it became clear that the PSNI are dragging their heels by holding back on key elements of the investigation into the murder of Robert McCartney, they have still not acted to bring people before the courts.

Martin McGuinness, accusing the PSNI of working to a political agenda said:

"The revelation that the PSNI turned away a key witness and a key suspect earlier this week indicated that the PSNI are deliberately holding back on charges in the murder of Robert McCartney. Hugh Orde's defensive comments in Washington in response to this were totally unconvincing.

"Another three days later, the PSNI have still not put the key suspects into an identity parade despite the willingness of eyewitnesses to identify those involved and, incredibly, eyewitness testimony, which identifies some of those involved in events surrounding the attack on Robert McCartney, has not been acted on and those identified by the eyewitnesses have not been charged. In addition, a key suspect in the case, who offered himself for interview by the PSNI, has still not been interviewed.

"The PSNI have not adequately explained the significant differences between their handling of this case and their normal approach to such investigations. This investigation driven by political considerations rather than justice." ENDS

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Responding to comments made by the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy claiming that there can be no political dialogue in advance of the issue of the IRA being resolved Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP said:

"Nationalists and republicans could just as easily demand that Paul Murphy end the British cover-up of collusion as a precondition to forward movement but preconditions and ultimatums are not the way to make progress. There is no doubting that the political process is in crisis. The only way that this crisis can be resolved and the process put back on track is through a process of real and meaningful dialogue.

"Sinn Fein are committed to such a process. Indeed Gerry Adams yesterday held talks with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and we will build upon this engagement in the coming weeks.

"For a comprehensive package to be agreed all of the outstanding issues need to be addressed. This includes of course the issue of all of the armed groups. However history tells us that if we are to succeed then no one issue can be elevated to the status of a precondition. Paul Murphy knows this only to well.‰ ENDS

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