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


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Speaking at a conference in the Hilton Hotel, Belfast titled "Fair Employment in Northern Ireland: a generation on" Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA said:

"An attitude is prevalent that the north of Ireland has a 'long and distinguished history' in the field of equality,that we are at the 'cutting edge' of fair employment legislation and 'innovative' in our practices. The reality is of course different and it should be remembered that every single piece of equality legislation was hard fought for, often in the face of indifference, intransigence and foot-dragging.

"A realistic approach to eradicating inequality must be taken. Yes, there has been some improvement but not enough. The problems have long been identified. We know that those who suffer from unemployment, particularly the long-term unemployed, suffer from multiple effects of poverty. We know that nationalists suffer disproportionate disadvantage across all the indicators. We know that there are pockets of unionist disadvantage which need tackled also. We know, from Noble, the location of the most disadvantaged areas and the subsequent strategic investment required to uplift these areas. We know that the areas, which suffered the greatest conflict, suffer from the highest levels of poverty and inequality. Instead of pretending that the fair employment issue is resolved it is high time to implement radical change.

"We need an improved Equality Commission with more powers and resources and, crucially, the determination to use them. Sinn Féin, along with other organisations working in the equality field, have become increasingly concerned that the Equality Commission itself is becoming part of the institutional resistance to meaningful change.

"Sinn Féin wants to work with others, with the Equality Commission, with government departments, with the equality constituencies to bring about a truly fair, more equal society. Yet, we find ourselves increasingly frustrated by the institutional resistance to equality. Our frustrations and concerns are shared by many that work in this field. The key question lies around the effectiveness of the equality tools -- the legislation, the Equality Commission, Equality Impact Assessment's etc - as a means of remedying inequality in our society."

Full text of Mr Mc Laughlin's Speech:

An opinion prevails that we in the north of Ireland are at the 'cutting edge' of fair employment legislation and 'innovative' in the field of equality. The reality is of course different and it should be remembered that every single piece of equality legislation had to be fought for, often in the face of indifference, intransigence and foot-dragging.

Instead of complacency there should be an acknowledgement of the inherent limitations and lack of political will within the system to advance the equality and anti-discrimination agenda. The key determinant of the success or otherwise of anti-discrimination legislation is whether it is making a tangible difference on the ground. It is Sinn Féin's view that it has not and that we are still a long way from achieving equality of opportunity never mind equality of outcome.

Fair Employment Debate

The Fair Employment debate has been characterised by disagreement over the nature and extent of discrimination. Some commentators would generally refuse to acknowledge that structural discrimination ever existed although others have been prepared to concede that some isolated incidents of discrimination may have occurred in the past. Of course, the next step in this argument is that the past is the past; things are different now and let's move on.

It is my view that structural discrimination against Catholics and nationalists in the north of Ireland has occurred and still occurs. The statistics show that discrimination and disadvantage are current realities that require urgent solutions.

Redressing the Inequalities: Why we need equality legislation.

Census and other data show that social exclusion, unemployment, and deprivation do exist and continue to demonstrate why we need equality legislation. Particular groups and geographic areas experience these injustices more than others as well as suffering 'adverse impacts' in relation to economic activity. Indeed, their relative position is now much worse given that prosperity overall is rising.

Nationalists fare badly across every indicator of deprivation. In Sinn Féin's view this is no accident. It is symptomatic of the nature of the state and patterns of discrimination and disadvantage are continuing.

Nationalist Under-Representation in the Workforce

Monitoring figures from the Equality Commission show that the steady increase in Catholic participation in the workforce of approximately 0.5% per annum which occurred throughout the 1990s has since levelled off. Catholic representation in the private sector is less than 40%, and in firms with more than 25 employees there has been a decline. [Equality Commission, Monitoring Report No. 13]

Monitoring data also demonstrates Catholic under-representation in public and private sector employment relative to their proportion of the economically active population. While there is an increase in the Catholic share of employment, that share is still below the Catholic proportion of the economically active and the gap has grown since 1971, as census figures show:

In 1971 Catholics were 31% of the economically active and had 29.1% of employment, a 1.9 percentage point gap.

In 1991 Catholics were 39.8% of the economically active and had 36.3% of employment, a 3.5 percentage point gap.

In 2001 Catholics were 43% of the economically active and had 39.5% of employment, a 3.5 percentage point gap.

Unemployment Differential

The 'Unemployment Differential' is regarded as a key indicator of the effectiveness or otherwise of anti-discrimination measures. The ratio of Catholic to Protestant unemployment rates has varied e over the past number of years. In general Catholic male unemployment rates have run at between two or two and a half times that of Protestant males. The latest Labour Force Survey figures just published (October 2004) which cover 2002 show that the unemployment rate for Catholics was 8.1% against 4.35% for Protestants.

Thus despite the introduction of supposedly tougher fair employment legislation, initiatives such as 'old' and 'new' TSN, and a commitment by the British government in the Good Friday Agreement to 'progressively eliminate the differential in unemployment rates' there has been no tangible improvement in the unemployment differential rates between Protestants and Catholics. On top of this Catholics are still less likely to be in employment, more likely to be unemployed, at greater risk of living in lower income households and/or being dependent on benefits as well as at greater risk of experiencing multiple deprivation. New TSN policy is only having a "modest" impact on the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities.

Conclusions

It is clear that we are still a long way from achieving fair participation in the workplace as well as equal distribution of resources.

We have had more than 30 years of fair employment and equality measures supposedly designed to eliminate discrimination and inequality in the north of Ireland. And what has been the result? Across all the indicators of deprivation nationalists continually suffer the worst disadvantage. It is clear that we live in an unequal society.

A realistic approach to eradicating inequality must be taken. Yes, there has been some improvement but not enough. The problems have long been identified. We know that those who suffer from unemployment, particularly the long-term unemployed, suffer from multiple effects of poverty. We know that nationalists suffer disproportionate disadvantage across all the indicators. We know that there are pockets of unionist disadvantage which need tackled also. We know, from Noble, the location of the most disadvantaged areas and the subsequent strategic investment required to uplift these areas. We know that the areas, which suffered the greatest conflict, suffer from the highest levels of poverty and inequality. Instead of pretending that the fair employment issue is resolved it is high time to implement radical change. Sinn Féin has some suggestions.

Recommendations:

Monitoring

  • It is clearly necessary to retain and strengthen fair employment policies and the targeting of resources on the basis of objective need. Monitoring is a necessary tool to track changes and inform policy. Monitoring and implementation policies need improved.
  • The Labour Force Survey, for example, has too small a sample while the basic annual workplace monitoring and the Article 55 reviews every three years are of little value if the Equality Commission does not have the resources to analyse and act on the information collected.
  • Improved monitoring should also include cases taken to Fair Employment Tribunals and their outcomes broken down by category and made freely available to the public. This would track patterns that have emerged from the cases taken under the legislation, the number of cases lodged, proportion of findings of discrimination, average figures for settlements, recommendations made by the Tribunal etc.
  • There is a need to monitor the impact of 'chill factors' on employment patterns, particularly the extent to which these exist in a post-conflict context.
  • Research suggests that there is greater inequality in smaller workforces that currently fall below the threshold for compulsory monitoring, i.e., less than 10 employees.
  • New TSN should be placed on a statutory footing.
  • The impact, or lack thereof, of initiatives such as New TSN on religious and political inequality must be assessed and more stringent targets set. For example, there has been a consistent failure to bring investors into specifically targeted TSN areas. Instead, the designation 'in or adjacent to TSN areas' is being used. This has the effect of making TSN areas so geographically wide as to render the definition virtually meaningless while at the same time DETI and INI claim to be adhering to and surpassing TSN obligations.

Political Ex-Prisoners

One of the important commitments entered into by the two Governments in the GFA was to support the resettlement of prisoners following release. This has not happened. There is a particular responsibility on us all to secure equality for all affected by conflict be they victims or ex-prisoners. As part of its equality agenda, SF wishes to see all historic inequalities dealt with. This should include the achievement of full citizenship for political ex-prisoners.

Legal Assistance for Cases

Support for individual cases needs to be reinstated either by providing the Equality Commission with the necessary financial resources or by making legal aid available for discrimination cases. The ability of individuals to initiate legal action against those who discriminate or who allow harassment/discrimination to go unchecked must be an ongoing and effective weapon in any strategy of anti-discrimination legislation.

Equality Commission

We need an improved Equality Commission with more powers and resources and, crucially, the determination to use them. Sinn Féin, along with other organisations working in the equality field, have become increasingly concerned that the Equality Commission itself is becoming part of the institutional resistance to meaningful change. The manner in which it dealt with the legal assistance issue, for example, caused huge concern.

Another concern is around how the Commission is handling Schedule 9, Paragraph 11 investigations. Since its foundation the Commission has been reluctant to use this power and has only begun to do so because interested organisations, including Sinn Féin, have asked the Equality Commission to undertake investigations of public bodies for their failure to comply with an equality scheme. This has raised questions around the Commission's own commitment to vigorous equality enforcement.

Sinn Féin wants to work with others, with the Equality Commission, with government departments, with the equality constituencies to bring about a truly fair, more equal society. Yet, we find ourselves increasingly frustrated by the institutional resistance to equality. Our frustrations and concerns are shared by many that work in this field. The key question lies around the effectiveness of the equality tools -- the legislation, the Equality Commission, EQIA's etc - as a means of remedying inequality in our society.

To paraphrase: "Some work done: lots more to do".

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP this afternoon held talks with the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern in Dundalk.

Mr McGuinness said:

" This afternoon I met with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern in Dundalk. It was the latest meeting in an intensive series of engagements over the past number of months aimed at achieving a comprehensive deal which would see the political institutions restored and the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.

" At present the DUP refuses to share power with nationalists and republicans. Until a time when unionists are prepared to work alongside the rest of us as equals, the two governments as the defenders of the Agreement must drive the process forward." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy today confirmed that West Belfast Assembly member and recently elected MEP Bairbre de Brún has submitted her resignation letter to the Assembly authorities. Ms de Brún decided to resign her Assembly seat in order to concentrate on her work as an MEP.

Speaking today Mr Murphy said:

"As a result of Bairbre's election to the European Parliament in June she has decided to resign her Assembly seat. It would be very difficult for any individual to deliver effectively for constituents across the six counties in Europe and simultaneously maintain the sort of local constituency service which Sinn Féin require from our MLAs.

"Bairbre has now submitted her letter of resignation to the Assembly authorities and indicated that she wishes to be replaced as a West Belfast MLA by former Chief Whip Cllr. Sue Ramsey.

"As leader of the Assembly Group for the past number of years it has been a privilege working alongside Bairbre, particularly during the time she spent as the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

"Given her vast experience within the party and her time as a negotiator, MLA and a Minister I am quite sure that Bairbre will continue to deliver as a representative for the six counties and part of a Sinn Féin team in Europe working closely with her colleagues in Leinster House, the Assembly and local government."

Speaking this afternoon on her decision to resign her Assembly seat in order to concentrate on her role as an MEP Ms de Brún said:

"It has been an honour to represent the people of West Belfast in the Assembly and I will continue to work hard for this constituency in my new role. However, given the amount of time which is required to effectively represent people across the six counties in the European Parliament, I now feel that the only realistic option is to concentrate my time fully on that task.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in the Assembly. There have been many high points during my time in the Assembly and of course in the Executive and all-Ireland Ministerial Council. However an obvious regret is that the opportunity to bed down the political process through the institutions was squandered by the British government at the behest of the leadership of political unionism.

"Direct Rule is bad for the six counties. Time and again since the suspension of the political institutions this has become obvious. When allowed to work at all power sharing, the equality agenda and the all-Ireland institutions worked well.

"I now look forward to new challenges as part of a dynamic Sinn Féin team in Europe and I am certain that Sue Ramsey will prove an effective and efficient replacement as an MLA for West Belfast." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Cllr John O'Dowd has described as "minimalist" the response by the DUP Mayor of Craigavon, David Simpson, to the racist petrol petrol-bombing of the Portadown home of a Portuguse woman and her two year old child on Saturday night.

Cllr O'Dowd said,

"This morning David Simpson appeared on BBC TV in his capacity as Mayor of Craigavon. When asked what the Council reponse to this latest attack would be, Cllr Simpson stated that the Council would be holding a multi-cultural event next year. Furthermore, his response also Implied that young people were probably behind this and other attacks. This minimalist response from the Mayor of Craigavon will give liitle comfort or succour to those members of the migrant worker community in Portadown who are being threatended and intimidated now.

"Many people are aware that the UVF is behind a whole series of racist attacks in Portadown which has forced people from their homes, and has also seen people assaulted and, in one case, stabbed and seriously injured. The reported cases of intimidation are only the tip of the iceberg of a sinister campaign by the UVF in and around Portadown which is centred around a protection racket organised by members of that organisation. David Simpson is ignoring this fact.

"This racist campaign needs to urgently confronted and stamped out. The Mayor of Craigavon should be taking the lead on this, not by talking about a multi-cultural event next year, but by calling the party leaders within Craigavon Council together immediately to organise a Council-sponsored anti-racist rally in Portadown immediately."ENDS

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Despite unprecedented economic growth for over a decade the crisis facing the country's maternity services exposes the failure of the Fianna Fáil/PD Government's healthcare policies, said Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Health and Children, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD. Deputy Ó Caoláin was commenting after Limerick Maternity Hospital suggested it would have to follow the lead of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin in putting a cap on the number of deliveries it will handle.

The Cavan/Monaghan TD said, "Despite repeated claims by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health that things are getting better and that more money than ever is being spent on our healthcare services, it is patently obvious things have not only not improved, despite ten years of economic boom, but that in many instances things are actually getting worse.

"Frontline staff shortages in our hospitals are at the root of problems. Beds are closed, surgical procedures are postponed and cancelled and aftercare services virtually non-existent because we have a chronic staff shortage across a range of areas. And now we have the totally unacceptable situation of not only the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin putting a cap on the number of admissions but regional hospitals and maternity units also threatening to impose similar caps because of staff shortages.

"The latest crisis in maternity services demonstrates the utter folly of the Government in allowing the closure of maternity units at local hospitals, such as Monaghan General Hospital. These services should be fully restored and properly resourced.

"It is clear that this Government has no strategic or long-term plan for addressing these problems and that it is willing to just limp from crisis to crisis in the hope that the problems will go away of their own accord. Well they won't. It will take a root and branch reform of healthcare provision in this state with the emphasis on increasing the number of frontline staff." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for both the Environment and Trade & Enterprise, Arthur Morgan TD, has slated moves by the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche to relax the current ban on superstores so as to facilitate the location of an IKEA furniture store in Ireland.

Deputy Morgan said, "There was absolutely no valid reason in the world for the current regulations in relation to the size of retail warehouses to be changed.

"This is not about providing quality employment. Retail sale jobs in Ireland as elsewhere have traditionally been low paid jobs with limited prospects for career advancement. It is not about providing consumers with choice. One superstore dominating the market place does not constitute choice. It is also not about the regeneration of urban areas. In fact it will dramatically increase, just to service the customer numbers needed for such a superstore, the volume of traffic already choking our roads and local communities as people vie for the latest promotion on offer.

"What this is really about is a single multi-national business empire flexing its considerable muscle to force a Government u-turn on a policy that has served the Irish retail sector well for years. There is nothing to be gained in the short, medium or long-term and in fact there is much to be lost in terms of manufacturing, retail and services jobs as small local industries are sacrificed on the alter of the Megastore." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's spokesperson on rural regeneration, Newry Armagh MLA Cllr Pat O Rawe MLA has welcomed the prospect that up to 800 jobs may be created within the LEADER + rural development programme and said that the lessons learned from the success of the Leader + programme should be the foundation for the model for rural development.

Ms O'Rawe said:

"Sinn Féin has for many years said that the LEADER approach to rural development has given local people the opportunity to set out plans for their local rural area, while providing local information in the assessment of projects.

"All 12 of the LEADER Local Action Groups have demonstrated their hard work and dedication in rolling out a programme, which is time bound and has within it quite a large amount of administration.

"All of these LEADER+ groups are made up of volunteers who give of their time freely both to attended many board meetings, but also to sit through lengthy assessment panels. Without doubt if the voluntary contribution was not available this programme would not be so successful. Indeed if government was to cost the amount of time which the LEADER groups give freely, it would certainly take many millions to foot this bill.

"In response to a letter from Sinn Fein direct rule Agriculture minister Ian Pearson has indicated that the LEADER+ programme has met its spend target for the end of this year which amount to some £3.4 million. The LEADER groups will have committed to projects by the end of this year some £8.8 million. While we have often seen in the media European money not being able to be spent and millions endangered through the lack of spend again the commitment of what is largely a voluntary group has to be commended.

"During the next number of weeks the expected report into the Rural Development Programme being conducted by PriceWaterHouse Coopers should be published. While not wishing to pre-empt its findings we as a party are fully committed to an enhance role in using the LEADER approach for the regeneration of rural areas. The partnership, local design and involvement of local people who all have different skills and experiences is essential for the future development of rural areas.

"We look forward to the publication of this report and hope that all interested stakeholders in rural society will both take the time to examine the findings and be allowed an appropriate amount of time to discuss how rural development should be taken forward in the future." ENDS

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Sinn Fein spokesperson on Education, Sean Crowe TD, has said he is not surprised that the Government's promise to cut class sizes will not be met.

Speaking in response to the Minister for Education and Science, Ms. Mary Hanafin's admission that the Government's promise on class sizes is now only a pipedream Deputy Crowe said, "I am appalled but not at all surprised at Ms. Hanafin's admission. This is yet another in a long line of election promises that the Government has broken. Decent education should be a right and not a privilege.

"One hundred and eighty thousand children under the age of nine are being taught in classes of over twenty. The reality of this is that these children are not receiving enough attention to keep up with the curriculum. The Government promised to cut classes to twenty by 2007. We now know that this is not going to happen and that it is merely a pipedream of the Minister and her Government. I'd like to ask the Minister how long she thinks these children will have to wait for a decent education or will they receive one at all.

"Clearly as is the case with healthcare this Government is high on promises but short on delivery despite the fact the their coffers are overflowing as a result of ten years of a booming economy. This Government needs to get its priorities right. Education and Health should be top of that list. There can be no excuses for failing to deliver on these crucial aspects of life." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will meet US Special envoy Mitchell Reiss on Wednesday morning in Washington before he returns to Ireland.

The meeting will be the first between a member of the US Administration and a local politician since last week's Presidential election.

Speaking today Mr Adams said:

" In the course of the past week or so I have met with senior Congress members, Senators and Governors and with Irish American organisations to update them on the ongoing efforts to end the impasse in the peace process. I also attend a number of functions organised by Friends of Sinn Féin.

"The US continues to be a vital component in securing the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Wednesday's meeting with Mitchell Reiss will provide an early opportunity in the wake of last weeks Presidential election to urge all those in the US and particularly within the Administration to continue to play this important role." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has called for a realistic remuneration package to support Foster Carers.

Ms Gildernew said:

"One of the greatest acts of kindness that a couple can do is to foster children. To bring children who are vulnerable and hurt into their home, to be raised with all the benefits of an extended family is a precious gift. Those already involved can tell you better than I can of the personal benefits. One thing that I will say however is that many of these foster parents are not being remunerated properly.

"Foster care attracts people who are giving of their time and energy, people who don't see money as a number one priority but have time and love to give. Fostering is not just beneficial for children and young people who have been bereft of their own families for whatever reason who benefit from being in a family setting, it also costs the state less than any other form of care.

"Unfortunately many foster parents find themselves spending more money on the children they are fostering than they receive from the state. This is clearly not fair to the foster parents.

"The state is not looking after those who care for the most vulnerable people in our society. The funding that foster parents receive needs to be reviewed to reflect the time, energy and love they expend; and subsequently increased. This can help to increase the number of families who are willing to give these children a home for either short or long periods of time." ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA Cllr John O'Dowd MLA, will host a major seminar on men's health issues in the Long Gallery at Stormont on Thursday November 11th which will be addressed by representatives of the Men's Health Forum (Ireland), the British Medical Association and the Institute of Public Health in Ireland.

Speaking today Mr O'Dowd said:

"I am pleased to host this major event which will examine various issues around men's health. This is an issue which transcends the border. Men in Ireland die, on average, nearly six years younger than women do, and have higher death rates at all ages, and across all the leading causes of death.

Evidence of sex differences in the incidence, symptoms, and prognosis of a wide range of health problems is also well documented.

"There has, however, been little evidence to date that these differences are reflected in the planning and delivery of healthcare, or in wider social and economic policies.

"Whilst the issue of women's health has been the source of extensive consultation and careful strategic planning, the same cannot be said for men's health. Although men have been identified as a target population group, for the first time, in the strategic planning of health promotion and healthcare (Department of Health and Children 2000; 2001), there appears to have been little momentum to act on these initiatives.

"There is growing evidence that in constructing, displaying and maintaining their male identity, men engage in risk behaviours that can be seriously hazardous to their health. Since sickness may be seen as an expression of weakness, many men may decide not to seek help and, instead, present a stoical, brave and unflinching front to the outside world.

"The absence of an effective all Ireland strategic policy on men's health is partially a result of very sparse and fragmented research into men's health in Ireland. However, there is also a need for an awareness-raising body which believes that there is a need to support the health needs of men. This event will, I believe, start the process of addressing a very serious problem." ENDS

NOTES FOR EDITORS

Speakers at the Stormont event on Thursday November 11, which will commence at 12.00 noon include:

Cllr John O'Dowd MLA - Sinn Féin spokesperson on health and leader of the Party's grouping on Craigavon Council

Sé Franklin - Men's Health Forum in Ireland. Based in Dublin, Sé is also member of the Dublin Men's Coalition

Barry McGale - MHFI, Barry is a suicide awareness co-ordinator with the health Promotion department in Derry City

Owen Metcalfe - Associate Director, Institute of Public Health In Ireland, Dublin.The all Ireland Institute of Public Health originated with an awareness of common public health needs in Ireland, North and South. In 1998 the Department of Health and Social Services in the North of Ireland and the Department of Health and Children in the South agreed to establish an Institute in conjunction with the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland which would offer practical benefits through promoting all Ireland cooperation in the area of public health.

Dr Ian Banks - British Medical Association. A family doctor and casualty officer in Belfast, Ian represents GPs for the British Medical Association. Ian is the official spokesman on men's health issues for the BMA .He wrote the BBC book The Trouble with Men and the NHS Direct Healthcare Guide and web site.

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North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA, Philip McGuigan, has said that the reopening of the Ulster Canal would have massive benefits for tourism in North Antrim and has called on the British and Irish Governments to act upon proposals from Waterways Ireland immediately.

His comments follow a meeting with the group, which was set up to develop the network of navigable waterways in Ireland, that he attended along with local representative Daithí McKay and East Derry MLA Francie Brolly.

Mr McGuigan said:

"The number of people coming to Ireland to sail on its rivers and canals is increasing and has done wonders in regenerating communities that live on their banks.

"At present tourists, and indeed members of the Irish public can travel from the estuary of the River Shannon in Limerick right the way up to Lough Erne and Enniskillen where it plays a significant part in the Fermanagh town's local economy.

"If the Ulster Canal were to be reopened Lough Neagh and our own River Bann would be reopened to the large network of rivers and canals that we are presently cut off from. This would be a massive boost to towns and villages which straddle the Bann and would offer great economic opportunities to places like New Ferry and Portglenone, giving them a direct link to Enniskillen, Limerick, Galway and even the Royal Canal.

"The benefits of this form of tourism are there to be reaped by local people here in North Antrim, and the Irish Government know only too well of the dividends it has brought to the tourist industry in the rest of Ireland.

"I would urge both the British and Irish government not to ignore the potential of this proposal which has the full backing of Waterways Ireland and ourselves in Sinn Féin." ENDS

N.B. Waterways Ireland is one of the Implementation bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement to develop the network of navigable waterways across the whole country. The potential for economic and community development along these waterways is huge.

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly has accused the PSNI of attacking nationalist residents in Westland Gardens last night while at the same time giving protection to a loyalist mob attacking cars in the area.

Mr Kelly said:

" Last night a loyalist mob entered the Westland Gardens area and began slashing car tyres. Residents confronted the gang and tried their best to defend their property. When the PSNI arrived they attacked the nationalist residents and took no action against the loyalist mob whose presence had caused the original problem. A number of local people had to receive treatment from the effects of inhaling CS gas.

" This display of partisan political policing is unacceptable. As with recent Orange parades when the choice comes down to delivering impartial policing and confronting loyalist gangs or attacking nationalists in their own districts the PSNI will always opt to attack the nationalists. Time and again in North Belfast and indeed elsewhere this sort of behaviour typifies the PSNI approach.

" In the wake of the Policing Board whitewash report into the events of Ardoyne I challenged the SDLP to come into the area and defend the PSNI to the people. They rejected my challenge. I would repeat it again today. Is Alex Attwood prepared to face the nationalist residents of Westland and try to tell them that the current policing arrangements are acceptable? People judge the PSNI by their actions. Time and again across the six counties the PSNI by their actions show clearly to nationalists the distance which still must be travelled before we see an acceptable or accountable policing service." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Lagan Valley representative, Cllr Paul Butler commenting on growing speculation that the Long Kesh site has been chosen as the site for a new multi-use sports stadium has said that the development plans should give equal priority to the development of a peace and heritage zone.

Cllr Butler said:

"It is clear that this site has a huge potential.

"However, Sinn Féin will not support any development plan that does not give equal priority to the development of a heritage and peace zone. Any action plan must include a clear timetable for the development of not just a sports stadium but also for the development of the heritage and peace zone.

"In terms of the development of a greater understanding of the conflict and supporting the process of conflict resolution and political transition it is essential that the opportunity to develop a heritage and peace zone that maintains parts of the jail such as the H blocks and the prison hospital as important historical sites and also creates the space for research and study into conflict resolution is not lost." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland, speaking as children prepare to sit the 11+ transfer test, has said that putting the final date for the scrapping of the 11+ off until 2008 date is creating uncertainty and confusion.

Mr Hyland said:

"The uncertainty created by handling of the 11+ by successive British direct rule Education Ministers has been bad for parents and children and led to uncertainty in the different education sectors. By putting the final date for the scrapping of the 11+ off until 2008, NIO Education Ministers have created the space to allow those who support academic rejection of children at 11 the space to peddle their myths and lies.

"It is clear that we need urgent progress on what will replace the 11+ so that we can support the fast forward developments across the post primary sector to bring in greater certainty to teachers, parents and children.

"The most common myth peddled those who support academic rejection at 11 is that it provides a ladder to success for working class and disadvantaged children. But the truth is that the removal of academic selection will not deprive bright, disadvantaged pupils of the opportunity of a first-rate education. Only 8% of pupils in grammar schools come from low-income families.

"Transfer test results show that the children from privileged backgrounds are 4 times more likely to achieve a grade A in the 11+ than the most disadvantaged of our children. Hardly making a good case for academic selection.

"The worst results in the 11+ are in state schools with high levels of free school meals in working class Protestant areas - in the Shankill less than 2% of pupils achieved a grammar school place. That is a damning statistic. The system is not helping the working class and it is certainly not helping children from working class Protestant families. Those who support academic rejection from unionist parties must ask themselves why they support a system that fails children most in need from within their own community." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has endorsed the work of the Derry Mayor Gearoid Ó hÉara in developing the 'Day of Reflection' initiative and the work being developed by Sinn Fein mayors and chairs throughout the Six Counties in Fermanagh (Gerry McHugh) Magherfelt (Patsy Grogan) Omagh (Sean Clarke) and Strabane (Jarleth McNulty).

Mr Adams said:

"The initiative launched by Gearoid Ó hÉara in Derry is the culmination of months of engagement with many different sections of the community within that city. It builds upon the important work initiated by Alex Maskey during his term as Mayor of Belfast.

"Sinn Féin mayors and chairs throughout the Six Counties have worked hard to build an initiative that reflects our commitment to providing civic leadership for the people we represent.

"Sinn Fein 'first citizens' are guided in their role of providing civic leadership by a commitment to equality and to tackling difficult and divisive issues. It is about facing up to the challenge of building peace and engagement between people different faiths and traditions.

"It is an initiative that is not uniform across any of these council areas but is guided and shaped by the engagement that each has had with the people they represent as first citizens. It is built upon engagement with many representatives and organisations representing many of those who have suffered as a result of wars and conflict. It is still very much a work in progress.

"Together the mayors and chairs from Derry City, Fermanagh, Magherfelt, Omagh and Strabane will be working towards a day of reflection on December 10th, to mark International Human Rights Day. This a sincere, authentic tribute to all who have lost their lives as a result of war and conflict and for all those who still live with the pain and memory of that loss.

"But that is not say that we are naïve of the difficulties such an undertaking faces. Nonetheless I want to stress A Day of Reflection is not in any way intended as a replacement of existing commemorative events. Instead it is about something entirely new. It is recognition of the need to validate and recognise the experiences of all equally, and together." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy, who heads the party's campaign against water taxes, has said that the publication of the Consumer Councils proposals on water is an important contribution that moves the debate onto sensible ground.

Mr Molloy said:

"The approach of British direct rule ministers to the issue of water taxes is characterised by dishonesty.

"Sinn Féin are committed to stopping the imposition of these charges in 2006 and have given the clear commitment to rolling back the water tax in any future Executive. We believe that all party support for this position will make the intention of direct rule ministers to proceed with this regardless of widespread opposition totally untenable.

"These proposals from the Consumer Council are an important contribution to the debate. While Sinn Féin do not agree with all of their recommendations, these proposals clearly highlight the need for the NIO to abandon their plans in order that we have a proper fully informed debate.

"The debate must be about how we pay for water and exactly what we are paying for.

"The British government need to come clean about the financing of water. They need to accept responsibility for delivering compensation to address the failure of successive British direct rule administrations to invest in water services, to openly recognise that we are all paying a significant amount of money for water services through regional rates and to tackle the accountancy trickery that involves us paying for our own water resources.

"Until the British government deals with compensation and comes clean on its shady accountancy the unseemly rush to introduce a separate water tax should be halted." ENDS

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Speaking during the Disability Bill 2004 debate in the Dáil today Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called the Bill "a disgrace" saying that it was not rights-based and "may even cut access to services for people with disabilities". The Dublin South Central TD went on to call for the Bill to be withdrawn and for a new rights-based Bill to be drafted.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "This is not a rights-based Bill, it is a resource-based Bill. It is regressive legislation that may even cut access to services for people with disabilities. Not only does it not rectify the deficiencies of the earlier Bill by allowing for peoples' rights to be vindicated through the courts if need be, it sets up the ultimate legal defence for the Government, who will now be able to cite resource restrictions as per the provisions of the soon-to-become-notorious section 5.

"As for the alleged commitment to multi-annual funding that is just not anywhere in the legislation. As far as we know, funding will still be at the Finance Minister's discretion. In fact, not only does section 5 not ringfence funding, it actually limits Ministers to spend on disability services or accessibility provision in line with available resources. Again, the absence of available funds will become a defence against a court challenge under this legislation, as appeals to the High Court of decisions of appeals officers for example, can be made only on a point of law.

"Another major problem with this legislation is that it exempts the private sector from accessibility obligations. This is in direct contradiction of the recommendations of the Commission on Disability. And it all but lets the public sector off the hook, giving it 10 years to fulfil its obligations.

"This Bill gives people with disabilities the qualified right to an assessment, and that is all. And how many people will even qualify for that is in question, given the unacceptably narrow definition of disability adopted by the legislation, one which is at odds with that provided in the other equality legislation. Ironically, this will set up two classes of people with disabilities in this state. This is just one of the Bill's many fundamental flaws.

"Particularly after all the waiting and promising and hoping, this Bill is a disgrace. It should not proceed today, but should go back to the drawing Board. This Government should redraw the Bill so that it conforms not only with Recommendation 9 of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, but also with the recommendations of its own Disability Legislation Consultation Group in Equal Citizens. Nothing less than an unequivocally rights-based Bill will be acceptable to Sinn Féin." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has welcomed today‚s report from the Government‚s information agency, Comhairle, which highlights the need for all recipients of social assistance payments to be entitled to medical cards. Their report confirms that the most vulnerable groups in Ireland today are being denied basic health care by the Government.

Speaking today in response to the report the party spokesperson for health and children, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

"Prior to the last General Election this Government promised to increase access to medical cards by some 200,000. This is yet another of the Government's promises that have failed to materialise.

"The reality is that due to the Government‚s failure to act, a married couple with two children who earn 260 Euros per week are not entitled to basic health care for their children. I find this completely unacceptable in the booming Irish economy of 2004. I call on the Government to live up to its pre election promise and increase the income guidelines for medical cards and to introduce medical cards for everyone who is in receipt of any social assistance payments." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will tonight address the annual Friends of Sinn Féin Dinner in New York. In the course of his address Mr Adams will demand 'that in the absence of a deal the two governments bring forward proposals rooted in the Agreement to see its full implementation'. Mr Adams also warned that Direct Rule was not sustainable in the long term and suggested that 'the two governments look to formal institutionalised power sharing at government level'.

The full text of Mr Adams address follows

The Current Crisis

The peace process has suffered a succession of crises. The British government has stepped outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and suspended the political institutions three times. They have cancelled elections to the Assembly twice.

This refusal by the British to accept the democratic right of citizens to vote for parties of their choice; the failure of some parties to stand by commitments, and London's unwillingness to fulfil its obligations, is partly the cause of the ongoing difficulties.

But the core of the crisis is rooted in the resistance by political unionism to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and their opposition to the agenda of change the Agreement heralded. It is rooted in the failure of the British system to challenge this.

Throughout this period Sinn Féin has worked hard and diligently to create a context in which the institutions can be restored and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full. Our efforts have been made more difficult by a British government approach which consistently allies itself to unionism and seeks to appease unionist demands; even when those demands are clearly at odds with the Agreement. This approach by the British government is not a basis for stability and progress. On the contrary it is a recipe for ongoing uncertainty and crisis. I have told Mr. Blair this.

The British have to move back to the Agreement

I have also told him that the British government has not implemented with 'rigorous impartiality' its responsibilities in respect of equality and 'civil, political, social and cultural rights.' Consequently many in political unionism see no imperative to co-operate with nationalist or republican representatives. In fact British policy tolerates and perpetuates institutionalised inequality.

For example, recent discrimination figures reveal that nothing much has changed in the levels of discrimination faced by Catholics. The areas that were listed in the 1970's as areas of multiple deprivation are the same areas listed today.

None of this should surprise republicans and nationalists. The fact is that British government strategy aims first and foremost to service British national interests. At this time this is essentially about upholding the Union while trying to modernize the way the state is run. At the same time British strategy remains in a strategic alliance with unionism.

So to modernize even within the limits of its own policy means London has to challenge rejectionist unionism.

Mr. Blair conceded this point to me recently and he argued that his government's relationship with unionism has changed. I told him the fundamentals have not changed and if his government's relationship with unionism has changed the rest of us need to see evidence of that.

The fact is that the British state in the North is still a unionist state. Its symbols and emblems are unionist. So too are its agencies. And its management. But the Good Friday Agreement is about changing all of this. It is about equality for all. It is a contract which binds both governments to these objectives. So, while Mr. Blair may be trying to modernise unionism, his strategy and policy mean that inevitably it is the UUP and DUP which are allowed to determine the pace and depth of change. This is in direct contradiction of the Agreement.

We therefore have to change British policy. London has to get back to the Agreement.

We also have to be remember that unionists are against a United Ireland. Many unionists see the Good Friday Agreement as a step in that direction. Some are genuinely afraid that Irish unity will see them dispossessed, discriminated against or worse. They believe that the union maintains the status quo.

Republicans and nationalists therefore have to understand the genuine fears held by unionists and seek to address these by the totality of our commitment to equality and human rights, to inclusiveness and fairness. But we also have a responsibility to ensure that Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full despite the opposition of the rejectionists. None of this will be easy. But whoever said it would be. It has not been easy thus far.

Despite this Sinn Féin is determined to find a resolution to the current crisis in the peace process. We are equally determined to pursue our goals of Irish unity and independence. These are our priorities as a political party. These are my personal priorities as leader of Sinn Féin .

Making a Deal

But Sinn Féin can't make a deal on our own. It needs the British and Irish governments. It needs unionist leaders. For the past 10 months Sinn Féin has been involved in a series of engagements with the two governments to try and achieve this. Our endeavours have been made more difficult by Ian Paisley's refusal to negotiate face to face with Sinn Féin. I have lost count of the number of meetings I have had this year with officials from the two governments. I have lost count of the number of meetings and telephone conversations I have had with the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. There were months of negotiations leading up to all-party talks at Lancaster House in London in June. Those discussions failed because the DUP wanted to participate in the orange marching season in July and August, and because key leaders of that party were going off on holiday.

Sinn Féin continued to work over the summer and we and others, including some unionist representatives succeeded in keeping the summer peaceful despite the disgraceful decision to deploy the British parachute regiment in Ardoyne to facilitate and orange march there. In September we were back in England for another round of talks, this time at Leeds Castle in Kent. These also failed because the DUP wanted fundamental changes which would subvert the powersharing, equality and all-Ireland nature of the Agreement.

And since then we have been involved in a series of intense private negotiations with the two governments and through them the DUP. So far these too have failed for the same reason.

The DUP's aim is to bring back unionist rule. Those days are gone. There will be no return to unionist domination.

We are told that the DUP is now for power sharing. But last week in Castlereagh Council, a local Council on the outskirts of East Belfast, efforts by several of the smaller parties to have powersharing introduced were thwarted by the DUP. The DUP Deputy Leader Peter Robinson led the opposition to the proposed change. Here was an opportunity for the DUP to show some generosity and imagination with no great risk to its dominance in the council. So what did the DUP do? They did what rejectionist unionism does best. The DUP said No!

None of this surprises us, sad though it is. And there is little point in being annoyed just for the sake of it. There is no question about the DUPs intentions at this time. The real question is about how long the British government will tolerate DUP game playing?

Two Governments have to call it!

So, where to next?

The DUP needs to understand that the Good Friday Agreement is as good as it gets. And the DUP must also understand, and the governments must make it clear, that the refusal by Ian Paisley to reach agreement with the rest of us cannot stop the process of change.

All the political parties in Ireland except the DUP are for the Good Friday Agreement. The vast majority of citizens support the Agreement.

There comes a time in every negotiation when parties to the negotiation have to call it. In this phase of the negotiation the DUP have had enough time.

They obviously do not want to do a deal except on their own unacceptable terms. It is now time for the two governments to call it. So in the next few weeks I am looking to the two governments to bring forward proposals, rooted in the Agreement, to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Both governments need no reminding that Sinn Féin is a United Ireland party. For us the Agreement is a significant compromise, a strategic and transitional compromise but a compromise nonetheless. Many republicans will tolerate that for the sake of progress. But without progress the management difficulties which challenge the Sinn Féin leadership will magnify.

Compromise is a two way street. In fairness to the DUP they were no part of that. They rejected the Agreement and walked out of the negotiations. Mr. Blair did not. He signed up to deliver his end of the compromise. Six and a half years later his day has come.

Powersharing by the Governments

The British and Irish governments have to defend the principles and core values of the agreement. They also have to ensure that these are reflected in the their policy decisions. The Irish and British governments are co-equal partners in the implementation of the Agreement.

Direct rule by a British government from London is not acceptable nor is it sustainable in the long term. The British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach know this. The all-Ireland architecture of the Agreement points the way forward.

While the DUP refuses to share power with its republican and nationalist neighbours, and until unionists are prepared to work with the rest of us as equals, the two governments must drive the process of change forward.

How?

Its not just parties who can share power - governments can share power also. The British and Irish governments must look to formal institutionalised power sharing at governmental level.

The structures already established under the Agreement, around issues as diverse as health, and education, tourism and investment, energy and waterways must be built on and expanded. These include the existing Implementation Bodies, as well as the Areas of Co-operation.

Greater effort and emphasis must go into co-ordinating our human and economic resources to entrench and strengthen the co-operative and partnership nature of the Agreement. For example, economic co-operation and joint planning and an all-Ireland investment programme could be planned on a joint Ministerial basis.

And there are many good reasons for the governments to go ahead with the All-Ireland Consultative Civic Forum and the All-Ireland Charter of Human Rights.

Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair have to send a clear message to the rejectionists, and to all those who would frustrate the work of the peace process, that there is going to be a substantial and significant investment of effort and resources, into powersharing by the governments to bring about the full implementation of the Agreement.

And if the DUP still refuses to engage properly then the British government should dissolve the Assembly. It is necessary for the governments to do all this because they are obliged to do so under the terms of the Agreement. Because it is the right thing to do, though this has rarely, if ever, been a factor in British policy on Ireland. But it is also the tactically smart thing to do because without encouragement political unionism will have no incentive to join the process.

Why should they engage positively if they can delay progress and be rewared for messing about? Why should the rest of us have to wait on them so that citizens can have basic rights?

Mr. Blair needs to give the DUP a choice. They need to know they can be part of the process now but that if they don't, or won't, or cannot bring themselves to join with the rest of us then the process is not waiting any longer.

It is my view that unionism will eventually engage. Civic unionism, the business community, the broad raft of unionist opinion is for moving on. In many ways political unionism is lagging behind its own broad constituency. But none of us received a mandate to behave in an irresponsible way. Political parties which are serious about representing their constituents will come to terms with a new dispensation when they know they have to.

The onus is now firmly on Mr. Blair to lay the foundations for that new dispensation. So, although there are clearly great difficulties and challenges ahead I would urge you all to keep the faith and to press ahead. Look at how far we have come.

The US Contribution

Ten years ago it was all very different. Ten years ago there was no peace process.

Ten years ago Sinn Féin was a demonised organisation sowing the seeds of our peace strategy to a censored and sceptical media, pioneering delicate and difficult talks in a society which was polarised by the relentless cycle of ongoing injustice and violence.

Ten years ago we were told that peace was impossible and that Irish unity was a pipe dream.

And then came the IRA cessation and the political landscape began to change.

Not least as a consequence of the work of Irish America - and the support of Irish America - of the people in this room - to the efforts for peace.

Ten years ago Irish America committed itself to working to end visa restrictions on Irish republicans; to helping to secure equal access to the Administration and political opinion; to encourage private and corporate investment, and aid from the government; and to persuade the Administration here to act as a guarantor of any agreement which might be achieved.

Much of this was accomplished but much remains to be done. Whatever happens in the discussions over the next few weeks the peace process is now entering a new and more intense phase. Since I arrived yesterday I have met Republicans who are justifiably pleased and Democrats who are justifiably on a downer in the wake of your election. I know there are many issues of contention between you but there are Republicans and Democrats in this room. Why?

Because despite your political differences you care about Ireland. You my friends - Irish America - is what the democrats and the republicans have in common on Ireland. So as an outsider as I extend congratulations to George Bush and commiserations to John Kerry I call upon you all to redouble your efforts in the time ahead. Here in the United States we need a reinvigorated, renewed focus on peace in Ireland.

That means Irish America working as never before for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. That means Irish America strategically engaging with the White House and Capitol Hill in support of Irish unity and independence and changing British policy.

There are a wide range of Irish organisations and solidarity groups in the U.S. - come together, discuss, argue if you must, but agree a plan of campaign that will ensure that as Sinn Féin grows in political strength in Ireland that here in the United States there is a growth in the popular demand for Irish unity and independence.

You can do it. We can do it together. We have now seen what is possible. Any of you who have visited the north in recent years will have seen the transformation. The reality is that across the island of Ireland life is better for the vast majority of our people. There are hundreds of people, thousands of people, who are alive today who might otherwise be dead and many more who would have been injured. That progress cannot be squandered.

Peace is possible, real and lasting and permanent - and a united, independent Ireland is ours if we want it badly enough, if we win support for that objective and if we are prepared to work hard to achieve it. So my friends stay with us in this great endeavour ."

ENDS

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