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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 health spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has said that a Westminster Public Accounts Committee report into tackling cancer demonstrates that Government policies are failing the less well off in society.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"The deprivation gap in survival between rich and poor was wider for patients diagnosed with cancer in the late nineties than in the late 1980s. Increases in cancer survival during the 1990s are shown to be significantly associated with a widening deprivation gap in survival.

"These inequalities in survival represented many deaths each year which could have been avoided if all cancer patients had had the same chance of surviving up to five years after diagnosis as patients in the most affluent group.

"Contrary to what the British Health minister John Reid asserted last year when he voiced his opposition to a complete ban on smoking, the evidence proves that more people do die in deprived areas because of smoking and also, almost certainly, because of later presentation to health services with their problems.

"Every cancer patient deserves the best possible treatment and care, regardless of where they live. Improving cancer services must become a priority." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesman for education, Davy Hyland, has welcomed the report into the Cabin Hill Preparatory School in East Belfast but has criticised the length of time that it has taken to bring the incidences of sexual abuse at the school to light.

Speaking after the publication of the report, Mr Hyland stated:

"While it is to be welcomed that this inquiry has final released its findings and has found that the establishment in question was negligent in the protection of the children in its care, it is incredible that it has taken over ten years for this serious incident of sexual abuse to be addressed and reported on . It is particularly shocking that the school authorities were unhelpful in moving forward with the allegations of abuse at the time.

"As a parent and a teacher, I find the information I have read about the case, disturbing and unsettling and hope that the Department will take on board the lessons learned from this sad situation, and reinforce its commitment to welfare of all the children in schools throughout the North of Ireland." ENDS

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North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA, Philip McGuigan, has said that the employment record of Wrightbus Limited is 'absolutely appalling' when it comes to religious equality within the workforce. His comments follow the publication of the Equality Commission's Profile of the Six County workforce, which shows Wrightbus up as being one of the worst Private Sector employers of Catholics in the north.

Mr McGuigan said:

"The recent publication of Equality Commission figures on Employees in the Private Sector is a clear indictment of Wrightbus Ltd, one of Ballymena's biggest employers, which is in the same league as Harland and Wolfe in Belfast. For members of the Catholic community to make up under 6% of the workforce in one of the biggest employers in Ballymena is absolutely scandalous and certainly does not reflect the religious makeup of the council area which is over 20% Catholic according to the last Census.

"Wrights has always been considered as a cold house for nationalists in Ballymena and these figures certainly reflect this. I have written to the Irish Government regarding this situation and will be asking them if they are aware that the company that provides vehicles for Bus Eireann has not addressed the extreme level of inequality that exists in their workforce." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation led by Housing Spokesperson Cllr Fra McCann MLA and North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton met with British direct rule minister John Speller to raise a number of concerns about housing including the ongoing exclusion of Sinn Féin representatives from the Housing Executive and the impact of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) in failing to address the housing crisis in North and West Belfast.

Speaking after the meeting West Belfast MLA Fra McCann said:

"It is unacceptable that in its' entire history that there has never been a single Sinn Fein representative on the Housing Executive board. Nationalists deserve effective representation. Sinn Fein represent the majority of nationalists, particularly in areas where there are severe housing problems.

"Sinn Fein representation is the only way to ensure that pressing housing issues such as the overhaul of housing waiting list points allocation process, the ever increasing gap between need and provision of social housing, the imbalance in the waiting lists and anti-social tenants are prioritised. The policy of exclusion must be ended.

"Sinn Fein are also very concerned at the implications of the BMAP that will fail to deliver the amount of housing needed - with roughly a 3,000 unit shortfall over the lifetime of the area plan. In north and West Belfast BMAP fails to meet housing need and there is little or no planning to co-ordinate the development of the required infrastructure with housing development. Importantly BMAP also fails to consider interface areas.

"The failure to deliver a adequate supply of social housing means that there is a failure to allocate housing on the basis of need and thousands of people are left waiting for unacceptable lengths of time before being allocated decent housing. There needs to be a radical overhaul of not just housing policy but also the policy direction of organisations such as the Housing Executive" ENDS

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Commenting on the publication of the 9th annual report of Commissioner for Public Appointments and the revelation that auditors raised serious concerns about the appointments to the Strategic Investment Board, Sinn Fein National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

"The latest budget plans and policy agenda of direct rule ministers depends so much on the SIB that it should be a huge issue that there appears to be a lack of transparency about something as basic as the appointments process.

"I think that the lack of documentation to back up the appointments process to this super quango raises very fundamental questions about how it operates and importantly how it is managed.

"For a report from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to be unable to say whether there was documentation back up an appointments process that is clouded is secrecy or even to raise the concern that records existed but were not made available is very worrying.

"Given the dependence of direct rule ministers on the SIB to deliver their investment agenda I believe that we now need a full public investigation of exactly how the SIB is constituted and how its performance is being audited.

"Given that the SIB will be responsible for a budget of £16 billion over the coming decade the fact that it is impossible to tell whether there are any actual or potential conflicts of interest should set alarm bells ringing. The SIB will be central to the awarding of substantial contracts to the private sector. It is vital that there is absolute confidence that the huge investment programme that we desperately need is underpinned by best practice and value for money and not undermined by any conflicts of interest." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has added his voice to those protesting today against the decision to close the Carlow sugar factory, and for that decision to be reversed. Deputy Ferris claimed that the decision taken by Greencore on January 12 represents the first step in what may lead to the end of the Irish sugar industry under pressure from the EU as part of changes within the WTO.

Deputy Ferris said: "It will be an absolute scandal if one of the most successful public enterprises in the history of this state is allowed to be closed down. Not only will it mean that hundreds of workers lose their jobs and thousands of farmers their main source of income, but it will also deliver a major body blow to the food processing industry in this country.

"While I recognise that sugar producers in developing countries are entitled to access to EU markets, this must not be at the expense of Irish jobs and Irish farmers. The Minister for Agriculture needs to fight to ensure that the Irish sugar industry does not become the sacrificial lamb in a deal that will also benefit European agri-business. She must also look more closely at the possibilities of using beet as part of the production of renewable fuels although in her reply to a Dáil question of mine of November 30 she stated that sugar beet is specifically excluded from crops eligible for support under the energy crops scheme. That must also be reversed as part of the effort to save the Irish sugar industry".

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Welfare and Community Affairs, Seán Crowe TD responding to the latest figures that indicate that poverty levels in Ireland are much higher than admitted by the Government said, "this latest survey exposes as a lie the Government's claims on poverty."

Deputy Crowe said, "While the Government was happy to bury its head in the sand, or worse still, wilfully ignore the levels of poverty in the country there are those of us who know only too well from our work in our communities that despite the so-called Celtic Tiger there are still a significant number of people living in consistent poverty.

"It is ironic that this report should be published on the day a former Fianna Fáil Minister is jailed for tax evasion. He was a member of Governments which cut back public services and urged working people to tighten their belts while he and his colleagues took advantage of their political positions for personal gain. Equally scandalous were their policies that led to the closing down of hospital wards, corrupt land deals, dilapidated schools and the degeneration of vital public services, while the monied elite bought and sold Ireland from under its people. We are still living with the legacy.

"This latest survey exposes as a lie the Government's claims on poverty. This report shows that despite all the talk of 'socialism' and a new "caring sharing" image this Government has not changed from its position of supporting and appeasing the mega rich while treating the less well off in Irish society as second-class citizens." END

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness will be leading Sinn Féin delegations to meet the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minster Tony Blair this week.

In order to assist media planning advance notice of media opportunities are given

Bertie Ahern meeting
Tuesday 25th January, delegation available at 1pm, outside government buildings, Dublin.

Tony Blair meeting
Thursday 27th January, delegation available 12 noon, Room C, 1 Parliament Street, London.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking in Belfast today has said that the dialogue, inclusivity and respect for others - is the key to the progress made over the last 10 years and is needed now more than ever

Mr Adams said:

"Our primary focus in our conversation tomorrow with the Taoiseach and on Thursday with the British Prime Minister is to ensure the stability of the process and continued progress in it. The peace process is too important to the people of this island. It is the most important political development in the past 30 years.

"It is the only way forward.

"That is why our meetings this week are so crucial and why, despite our reasonable concerns at the Taoiseach‚s accusations against Martin McGuinness and I, that we are approaching tomorrows meeting positively.

"We do believe that the Taoiseach has to explain why he said what he said. However, it has been suggested that tomorrows meeting will be confrontational. That is not our intention.

"This process is in serious trouble. Confrontation is not what is needed. Dialogue, inclusivity, respect for others - that is the key to the progress we have all made so far over the last 10 years, it is what is needed now more than ever.

"How do we build on the significant progress that was made before Christmas?

"How do we advance the peace process?

"These are the crucial questions which must be answered." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Energy, Martin Ferris TD, has voiced his opposition to plans to sell off the ESB. Minister Noel Dempsey claims that this will be one of the options explored in a review of the Irish energy market with the aim of securing supplies and protecting the interests of consumers.

Deputy Ferris said: "Sinn Féin is opposed to the selling off of state assets. We do not believe that there are economic justifications from either the point of view of the consumer or the state, and indeed there is evidence from other countries that consumers suffer from the privatisation of utilities. I would question the motivation for any possible move in that direction given what we now know of the background to the proposed break-up of Aer Lingus.

"Too often it appears that privatisation is either seen as a means whereby big business can cannibalise enterprises built up through long years of state investment, or else as part of an ideologically driven agenda. It is no secret that the junior right wing partner in the current coalition favours radical measures to reduce the involvement of the state in many areas. The question is whether that right wing agenda ought to be the one that dictates Government policy, especially given the Taoiseach's recent claims to be on the left and indeed in the light of Fianna Fáil's historical support for state enterprise." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will tomorrow travel to Brazil to participate in the World Social Forum at Porto Allegre, Brazil. Speaking before her departure Ms de Brún said the World Social Forumpresents the opportunity to 'map out an alternative world, one concerned with prioritising social justice and human rights protections'.

Speaking today Ms de Brún said:

"The World Social Forum in Brazil provides an opportunity to map out an alternative world, one concerned with prioritising social justice and human rights protections.

"In line with our European election promise in 2004, Sinn Féin pledged to use the European Parliament to advance a global justice agenda and the promotion of a fairer world. Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on global poverty reduction by 2015 must become the single overriding objective for EU external relations policy, as this is the most effective way of ensuring human and global security.

"I will be spending my time at the World Social Forum meeting with various political parties and social movements to discuss this alternative global vision." ENDS

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A Peace dividend is a must to help overcome years of neglect by the British Government according to North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan.

He made the comments after attending a seminar in Galgorm Manor, Ballymena, dealing with the future of Waste Management.

Mr McGuigan said:

"More and more we see the effects of British financial neglect to the people of the Six Counties. For over 30 years the infrastructure here has been allowed, without investment, to deteriorate.

"There is a huge onus on this British Government to produce a substantial peace dividend to allow the people of the North of Ireland to help overcome the problems forced upon us by their underinvestment.

"Instead of forcing substantial Water Charges upon us in the near future the water and sewage system should be brought into the 21st Century at the expense of the British Treasury.

"The Good Friday Agreement is about bringing a situation where the people on this island North and South have control over their destinies. It is my belief that the British Government, who had no problem paying for maintaining a war here and have no problem paying for maintaining a war in Iraq, should be prepared to pay." ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Down Assembly Member Caitríona Ruane MLA has welcomed the response from Dermot Nesbitt who has agreed in principle to enter into a public debate on the equality issue. Ms Ruane recently challenged Dermot Nesbitt to a debate after objecting to recent comments by the Ulster Unionist MLA in which he claimed Catholics living in the north of Ireland do not face discrimination.

Ms Ruane said:

"Part of the current Unionist agenda is to propagate the absurd claim that the Protestant community is subject to increased levels of discrimination while at the same time perpetuating the myth that nationalists suffer little or no prejudices.

"While I accept that many Protestants live with disadvantage and poverty any objective analysis of the facts show that the Catholic community are disproportionately at risk in terms of housing, unemployment and ill health. Attempts to distort this reality only make it more difficult to target poverty, social need and discrimination in urban and rural areas that are in dire need of investment.

"It is a position that is designed to undermine and discredit the equality agenda in an attempt to prevent real and lasting change. I welcome therefore, the chance to debate this issue publicly with Mr Nesbitt which will give us both the opportunity to get to heart of the debate about equality, discrimination and disadvantage." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has branded as 'disgraceful' the results of a report which revealed that childcare costs in Ireland are nearly twice as expensive as in other EU member states.

The draft study, undertaken by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC)confirmed that the cost of sending a 6 months old baby to creche for five days is as high as the average payment on a month's mortgage.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

I am deeply concerned about the findings of the draft report by the National Economic and Social Council. On average, Irish parents are spending 20% of their weekly and monthly incomes on child minding costs. The average cost of childminding in other EU member states is around 12% of their weekly/monthly wage. There is an obvious and fundamental inequality between childminding costs in this state and throughout the EU.

"Childcare costs are placing a huge financial strain upon many families throughout the state, especially when these statistics are placed within the context of the spiralling cost of living, especially in the property market.

"One of the most disturbing aspects in all of this, is as far back as April 2004, studies were showing enormous disparities between Ireland and the rest of the European Union. State subsidisation of childcare is pitiful and this Government has some serious questions to answer.

"Sinn Féin is calling for immediate Government funded childcare facilities and the establishment of a central unit to co-ordinate government strategy and funding for childcare. What is needed is quality affordable and accessible childcare. This disgraceful situation cannot be allowed to continue." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this evening spoke to the recently elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Speaking after their telephone call Mr. Adams said:

"I congratulated President Abbas on his recent electoral victory and wished him well in his efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace for the Palestinian people and the formation of a Palestinian state.

"President Abbas is faced with many enormous challenges. I told him he has the overwhelming good wishes of the people of Ireland in his endeavours.

"I believe that it is imperative that the international community respond by doing all in its power to ensure that the Israeli government end its preconditions, and remove the obstacles to immediate and fair negotiations with the Palestinian government.

President Abbas and I also spoke about my desire to visit Palestine and we looked forward to my travelling there soon." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP writing in the Village Magazine this weekend said "By far the most damaging aspect of all of this has been the remarks of the Taoiseach that the Sinn Fein leadership had prior knowledge of the Northern Bank robbery. His accusation is completely without foundation. It is wrong. When the Taoiseach sits down with us this week he will have to explain his comments."

Mr. Adams said:

"At the beginning of this phase the governments spoke to us of the need to establish whether the DUP wanted to do a deal; whether they wanted 'cover', 'a fig leaf' to facilitate their involvement. We put it to them and we received a commitment from them, that if it became clear the DUP wasn't up for a deal, if they didn't want 'cover' or a 'fig leaf', as the governments hoped they would, then the governments would proceed with all those aspects of the Agreement that they were capable of implementing.

"The detail of all of this cannot be revealed at this time but when it is people of goodwill will be in no doubt as to the good faith engagement by our leadership.

"I was already firmly of the view that the issue of IRA arms and alleged activities, by that organization, was being used as an excuse to prevent progress. So Martin McGuinness and I and others were up for creating the conditions in which these issues could be resolved. There was also a very clear need to get the DUP to accept the changed political landscape, which the Good Friday Agreement involves and there was the question of Sinn Fein reviewing our attitude to the PSNI, if a proper context was agreed.

"These were big challenges for us. We also had to make a sustained effort to keep both governments tied to the Good Friday Agreement given their past breaches of that Agreement.

"When the effort to get a comprehensive agreement failed Sinn Féin and the British government proceeded to explore how the governments could deliver on the commitment they made to us. This continued in the week leading up to Christmas. The Irish government was less than enthusiastic. No one should be in any doubt of the depth of the difficulties in the process at that time.

"It was in the course of this work that the Northern Bank was robbed. Then came the accusation, subsequently denied by the IRA, that it was involved. This triggered a relentless campaign of vilification against Sinn Fein.

"By far the most damaging aspect of this has been the remarks of the Taoiseach that the Sinn Fein leadership had prior knowledge of this robbery. In all my dealings with the Irish government before Bertie Ahern's time and during his terms as Taoiseach we have dealt with him in a forthright and honest way. His accusation is completely without foundation. It is wrong.

Of course there are differences between us and the Irish government. These started to show in recent times but the government's attitude to Sinn Fein began to change almost two years ago when our party first began to make significant electoral gains. There was a palpable resentment that there was goodwill towards Sinn Fein particularly at a time when the revelations of corruption were affecting the standing of the establishment parties.

"Thus far I have refused to characterise the Taoiseach's remarks. But he has accused Martin McGuinness and I of being involved in a bank robbery. We find that highly offensive. Also the logic of his remark is that the effort we made before Christmas was not serious.

"This entire process is bigger than party politics. It is bigger than Gerry Adams or Bertie Ahern. It can only be brought to a successful conclusion through dialogue, inclusivity and dealing with people on the basis of equality. When the Taoiseach sits down with us this week he will have to explain his comments."ENDS

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Senior Sinn Féin Negotiator Gerry Kelly will today travel to the United States for a week long series of meetings. Mr. Kelly will meet with members of Congress, representatives of the State Department and engage with Irish America.

Speaking today before his departure Mr Kelly said:

"This week provides an opportunity to explore with members of Congress, the State Department and Irish America how we can overcome the current obstacles to progress and get the peace process back on track and build upon the good work done late last year in trying to agree a comprehensive deal. In the past these various US constituencies have provided invaluable support in advancing the peace process and supporting the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"However in recent months senior British securocrats including the Chief NIO spymaster Joe Piling have also been in the United States stating very clearly that the objective of the securocrats in the time ahead is not to advance the peace process but to prevent the electoral growth of Sinn Féin. The British Secretary of State Paul Murphy has also travelled to the US to express similar sentiments.

"In addition to the positive engagement which will take place this week this trip will in part help to contradict their lies and half truths and expose further the securocat agenda which is to undermine the process and discriminate against Sinn Féin and our electorate." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West Sean Crowe said he was appalled listening to patients and their families talking of their experience in Accident and Emergency in Tallaght Hospital and said he would be raising the matter with the Health Minister when the Dáil resumes next week. He was speaking following a visit to the hospital last night.

Deputy Crowe said:

"Last night, while visiting Tallaght Hospital I met with many patients and their families who told me at first hand their personal experience of Accident and Emergency. They spoke of their horror of lying for days on hospital trolleys and the shortage of basic amenities like pillows and water jugs. While patients and their families were full of praise for the hardworking staff, who are operating in intolerable conditions, they were very angry and frustrated at the bedlam, which was evident throughout the week.

"This situation is by no means unique to Tallaght. One day last week the Irish Nurses Organisation highlighted the fact that 422 patients were on trolleys in hospitals across the state.

"I am very angry at what is happening in our health service and the conditions being endured by staff and patients alike. I will be raising questions about these unacceptable conditions once again with the Health Minister when the Dáil resumes next week."ENDS

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Senior Sinn Féin Representatives Martin McGuinness MP and Mitchel McLaughlin MLA this afternoon visited Derry Republican Martin Doherty in Maghaberry prison. Martin Doherty was arrested earlier this week on foot of a warrant issued after he failed to appear before the Saville Tribunal.

Speaking from outside Maghaberry prison Martin McGuinness said:

" People in Derry and beyond are outraged at the arrest and detention of Martin Doherty. How dare the British government who murdered 13 innocent people on Bloody Sunday and spent the decades since concealing the truth jail a local republican as a result of their criminal actions.

" Paul Murphy has the power to release Martin Doherty today. I am calling on him to do that now."

Mr McLaughlin said:

" It is important for people to show solidarity with Martin Doherty and his family at this time. It is of course ironic that Martin Doherty, the only man jailed as a result of the British actions on Bloody Sunday, will as it stands spend the anniversary of the massacre incarcerated in a British prison.

" It is unacceptable and in the coming days and weeks republicans will mount a campaign to demand Martin Doherty's freedom and an end to the British policy of evasion and concealment." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today said that "Sinn Féin will bring the case of Pat Finucane to the European Parliament".

Ms McDonald was speaking after herself and Bairbre de Brún MEP met with the family of Pat Finucane in Belfast.

Speaking in Belfast, Ms McDonald said:

"The purpose of today's meeting with the family of Pat Finucane was to receive an update on recent aspects of the case. It is perhaps not surprising that the present British Government continues to resist a full public inquiry into his murder.

"After all, the policy of employing loyalist death squads was endorsed at the highest political level. Successive British governments‚ have never accepted responsibility for the deaths which resulted from this policy. The Finucane family, and hundreds like them require closure. Instead they have been met with walls of silence, denials and cover-ups for many years.

"Today's meeting gave us the opportunity to ascertain what we as MEPs can do to assist the family in their search for the truth. We intend raising this matter in the European Parliament, to highlight the case and lobby on behalf of the 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 at the behest of the British State, in their pursuit of truth and justice." ENDS

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