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An Inclusive Seanad - Sinn Féin submission to the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Seanad Reform June 2003

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Summary of recommendations for reform of Seanad

3. Composition of Seanad

4. Nomination Process

5. Functions of Seanad

6. Summary of recommendations of functions of Seanad

1. Introduction

Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad as it is currently constituted is fundamentally undemocratic and elitist. It duplicates the role of the Dáil. Sinn Féin envisages the creation of a reformed, democratic, transparent, accountable, and relevant second house of parliament.

Sinn Féin envisages a democratically elected Seanad which would afford a role for civic society, and provide for fuller representation of all sectors of society in the legislative process.

Beyond Abolition

In examining options for reform of the Seanad, we re-considered as a first option the abolition of the Seanad. This option was rejected on the basis that one house does not adequately represent all sections of the Irish population and a second house could be constituted so as to represent those not adequately represented in the Dáil.

Sinn Féin believes that it is beneficial for the democratic nature of government to have an upper and a lower house of parliament in that it provides a system of checks and balances on government legislation and policy.

Beyond Party Politics

The option of a national list system, as recommended in the 7th Progress Report of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution was also considered. Arguments in favour of this option included that it would allow all parties to present themselves as an option nationally thus benefiting smaller parties who would not necessarily have the resources to run in all constituencies. The argument was also made that a benefit of this method of election would be that it would be non-clientelist.

The national list system was rejected on the basis that it would not involve a radical reform of the Seanad, would not provide for greater representation of civic society and would result in a Seanad which would in its composition be a duplication of the Dáil.

A new beginning

Sinn Féin asserts that the Seanad should be elected on a sectoral panel system. There are a number of advantages to this system. It would be radically different in composition to the other house of parliament i.e. the Dáil, thereby ensuring that civic society and specifically those marginalized in society, would have a role in the legislative process. An outline of our proposal for a Seanad elected on a sectoral panel system follows.

2. Summary of recommendations for reform of Seanad

· The Seanad would be elected by universal suffrage of citizens of the 32 counties of Ireland and those resident therein for more than 5 years who are over the age of 16 years. Pending the reintegration of the national territory citizens resident in the 6 counties would cast their ballot by postal vote.

· Emigrants registered with their appropriate Irish Embassy or consulate would be entitled to vote.

· The election would not take place on the same day as the Dáil election.

· There would be no provision for nomination by An Taoiseach.

· Senators would be elected from sectoral panels rather than on a party political basis.

· Election would be by proportional representation single transferable vote on each panel.

· The main function of the Seanad would be scrutiny of national and EU legislation.

3. Composition of Seanad

The current system is legislated for under the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1947 and the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Act, 1954.

Sinn Féin proposes a Seanad based on a sectoral panel system elected by universal suffrage of citizens of the 32 counties of Ireland and those resident therein for more than five years, who are over the age of 16 years.

The Seanad is currently elected by an undemocratic limited franchise panel system and the panels are constituted as follows:

· Cultural and Educational

· Agriculture Panel

· Labour Panel

· Industrial and Commercial Panel

· Administrative Panel

There are also reserved seats for those elected by graduates of certain third-level institutions.

Sinn Féin proposes retaining a 60-member assembly. The outline of panels would be as follows

1. Community and Voluntary Panel (including geographical communities and communities of interest)

2. Cultural and Educational Panel (including but not limited to arts, language, sports and students organisations)

3. Local and Regional Panel (for example representatives of community councils as recognised under Better Local Government, regional bodies etc.)

4. Labour Panel

5. Industrial and Commercial Panel

6. Agricultural and Fisheries Panel

In order to address the under-representation of women, quotas of at least 30% would operate across each panel.

4. Nomination Process

All organisations who seek accreditation as a nominating body must apply to a 'Seanad Panel Accreditation Committee' before they can nominate a person to stand in the appropriate panel. It should be open to all bodies, other than political parties, to apply for such accreditation. An organisation would have to seek accreditation at least six months prior to an election.

Guidelines for accreditation would be laid out in legislation i.e. amendments to the Seanad Electoral (Panel Members) Acts.

Each nominating body would only be permitted to nominate one person to one panel.

Arguments will be made by opponents of this system that it is cumbersome, however we contend that it is possible to overcome these difficulties. Any difficulties arising are far outweighed by the democratic and inclusive benefits of the sectoral panel system.

5. Functions of Seanad

Sinn Féin envisages that the main role of the Seanad would be scrutiny. It would scrutinise draft domestic legislation and furnish reports to the Dáil, including specific recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment, fast-track progress, etc.

It would be responsible for checking legislative proposals against the constitutional and other rights of citizens, and also against Ireland's international obligations.

Sinn Féin proposes significant changes to current legislative stages. Prior to consideration by the Dáil, all proposed legislation would first pass scrutiny by the Seanad, to be known hereafter as the 'Seanad Stage'.

All legislation would pass through the following stages:

· First Stage Publication (Dáil)

· Seanad Stage (Seanad) ? see below

· Second Stage Debate (Dáil)

· Committee Stage (Dáil)

· Report Stage/ Final Stage (Dáil)

The new "Seanad Stage" would include a community consultation process. Following this consultation, the Seanad would debate the bill and consider amendments. At the conclusion of this Stage, the Seanad would agree the amendments it would recommend to the Dáil.

The Seanad would have a responsibility to equality-proof and human rights-proof proposed legislation.

The Seanad could recommend withdrawal of legislation.

The Dáil must take cognisance of the Seanad Report when debating the bill in Second Stage, and subsequently.

If the Government ignores the Seanad recommendations, this could be grounds for a no-confidence vote. The President can also use this as a reason to refer legislation when presented.

The Seanad would have the right to question Ministers on legislation.

The Seanad would also scrutinise proposed European legislation and furnish reports to the Oireachtas including recommendations for amendment, withdrawal, further consultation, impact assessment, fast-track progress, etc.

The Seanad would have the ability to permit MEPs to attend and speak, without voting rights, at Seanad debates on European issues or on legislation resulting from the transposition of EU directives.

Legislation which needs to be amended: 1947 Act (sections 33 & 43) Seanad Electrol (panel members) act 1954

6. Summary of recommendations on functions of Seanad

· The main role of the Seanad would be scrutiny.

· The Seanad would be required to furnish reports to the Dáil on all legislation it has scrutinised, including the equality-proofing and human rights-proofing of all legislation.

· Significant changes to current legislative stages would be necessary.

· The Seanad would have the right to question Ministers.

· The Seanad would have the ability to permit MEPs to attend and speak.

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty, speaking about the weekend hoax bomb attack at the home of SDLP Cllr Tom Mc Bride and today's (Tuesday) arson attack on the car of another DPP member said:

The local MP said,

"This has undoubtedly been extremely traumatic experience for all those affected by these attacks.

"Such acts of intimidation are completely unjustifiable. Those responsible, devoid of any support or coherent political strategy are merely involved in squalid effort to undermine the Peace Process. It is ironic, but perhaps not co-incidental, that these micro-groups are joined by certain elements of the British Intelligence Services in this aim.

"There are major issues yet to be addressed before we have a new beginning to policing, including the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly, and Sinn Féin has been and will continue to seek to have these major issues addressed through the political process.

"Sinn Féin and the people we represent have legitimate problems with major shortcomings in the current policing set up but we will continue to push for and are determined to achieve a new beginning to policing which is democratically accountable, representative and totally free from partisan political control." THE END

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Speaking during the oral presentation of Sinn Féin's submission on Seanad Reform to the Seanad Reform Sub-Committee today Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

"There is a strong view within our party that the Seanad should be abolished altogether and that was for long our party policy. This was changed in recent years to a policy of democratic reform of the Seanad but it must be noted that many people remain convinced that a second chamber is unnecessary and wasteful. I believe that is reflected widely in Irish society.

"The Seanad as currently constituted is undemocratic and elitist. It is elected on a very restricted and in some aspects, perverse franchise. The franchise granted to some but not all third-level graduates is a notorious example. Instead of a Seanad franchise for local authority members we would like to see real empowerment of local government.

"The bottom line in our submission is that the Seanad should be elected by universal suffrage of citizens throughout the 32 Counties and those resident in Ireland for more than five years and over the age of 16. Representation in the Oireachtas for citizens in the Six Counties is a huge issue. Our proposals would give them a direct input. It would go side by side with the right of those elected to Wesminster constituencies in the Six Counties to participate in Dáil debates.

"Emigrants should also have a vote. This is provided for by many states throughout the world without difficulty. It could be done by postal ballot, as would voting in the Six Counties, pending Irish reunification. It is ironic that a State which repeatedly praises the contribution of the Irish Diaspora denies emigrants a right that many other states grant their citizens.

"Sinn Féin believes that the Seanad should be an elected forum for civic society, particularly for those sectors who are not adequately represented in the Dáil and for the marginalized in society. For example the tremendous energy of the community and voluntary sector is not given a direct voice in the Oireachtas."

Deputy Ó Caoláin was joined by Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy and Sinn Féin EU Candidate for Munster David Cullinane.

Mr. Murphy called for proper northern representation in the Seanad so that people across the island of Ireland could play a full role in the political life of the nation. He rejected proposals put forward to allow for a small number of representatives from the Six Counties in the Seanad as "tokenism". He said,

"At the moment playing a part in the nation is only a vague assertion for people from the North and one that has no outworkings in terms of the institutions of this State. There are no rights for me or hundreds of thousands of others to play a part in the nation as it currently exists.

"The Seanad has an opportunity to decide between whether it allows token representation of northerners here or we give an opportunity for all the citizens who live on this island to play a part in the Irish nation."

Advocating a community consultation process during the progression of legislation at 2nd Stage Sinn Féin's Munster EU candidate David Cullinane said:

"Clearly the system we are proposing will have many community and social organisations represented and accredited, but we acknowledge that there will be some that will not be accredited and believe that they should be given the opportunity to make submissions in terms of legislation.

"We believe that these can be made primarily in written form and if necessary be followed up by an oral presentation so that their concerns and interests can be addressed. This is crucial in making the Seanad more democratic, accountable and open to all of Irish society." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has welcomed the ruling ordering solicitors acting for the British MoD and PSNI in the inquest into the deaths of 10 people killed in Tyrone including Roseanne Mallon, to produce "unredacted" or unedited evidence within 21 days.

Ms Gildernew said:

"This ruling is an important step forward in the search for truth for the families of those people killed in questionable circumstances by British State forces or where there is evidence of collusion between British security agencies and unionist paramilitaries.

"The refusal of solicitors acting for the British Ministry of Defence and the PSNI to give the families access to unedited evidence has been detrimental to these inquest proceedings.

"The British state will go to any length to prevent the truth about the policies of collusion and shoot-to-kill coming out into the public domain. However, they the momentum for the truth about the policy of collusion is unstoppable.

"Sinn Féin will continue to support the families and relatives of all victims who have suffered as a result of this conflict. The British government must also play their part. Their responsibility in the peace process and in resolving this conflict demand nothing less." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson, EU candidate Bairbre de Brún has called on the British government to "take urgent steps to rebuild public confidence in the Human Rights Commission". Her call comes after a thorough discussion by the party‚s national executive, the Ard Chomhairle, which examined the range of issues that are causing both political and public concern.

Ms de Brún said:

"The Ard Chomhairle considered the range of issues which over some time now have undoubtedly contributed to the Commission‚s independence and effectiveness being seriously damaged.

"These issues are in relation to the Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson's inappropriate handling of the Holy Cross case and the fact that to date three Commissioners have resigned over their concerns at the Commission's approach to key equality matters regarding the Bill of Rights. Over the weekend it was revealed that two additional Commissioners have withdrawn from the workings of the Commission.

"The considered view of the Ard Chomhairle is that the Human Rights Commission is in serious difficulty and requires a programme of reconstruction in order to restore public confidence in this key mechanism of the Good Friday Agreement.

"In our meetings with the British and Irish governments we have called for the Commission to be provided with the powers and resources it requires to carry out its remit. Most important however is the need for the Commission to be effective, to be fully independent and for its composition to be representative.

"British government plans to advertise for further appointments in the middle of this deepening crisis without ensuring the independence of the selection panel and an appointment process based on the international standards required for Human Rights Commissions is unhelpful. The British government should postpone making any further appointments.

"Sinn Féin's overall concern in all of this is to ensure that the requirement in the Good Friday Agreement for an independent and effective Human Rights Commission is fully realised." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Economy Spokesperson and Upper Bann representative Dr Dara O'Hagan, along with Craigavon Council Group Leader, Cllr John O'Dowd, met with Invest NI over the relocation of AnswerCall Direct from the Garvaghy Road in Portadown to Armagh and the loss of around 50 jobs at its Armagh call centre.

Commenting after the meeting Dr O'Hagan said:

"Sinn Féin requested the meeting with INI as a matter of urgency after it emerged that on top of the relocation from its Garvaghy Rd operation announced at the beginning of last week, around 50 employees at its Armagh Call centre were also informed that their employment had been terminated.

"The latest revelation of these job losses, on top of its loss to the Portadown area, is a matter of huge concern. In April this year AnswerCall Direct received £2.8 million in financial support from Invest NI for its Armagh operation. This was in addition to receiving £360,400 from INI'spredecessor, the IDB, in September 2001 when it moved into the Mayfair Business Centre on the Garvaghy Road.

"While I appreciate the difficulties in the ICT sector and the unstable nature of the market, the fact remains that this company has received more than £3m of public money to create jobs in the Portadown and Armagh areas. To date the company is operating at under capacity. The relocation from Portadown and the job losses at the Armagh operation are further worrying developments.

"This adds to the growing concern that companies, and call centre companies in particular, are taking advantage of the financial support on offer to set up in the north without firm commitments to long term investment.

"While today's meeting with INI proved useful and went some way to addressing the questions that Sinn Féin raised, this is a situation that we will be monitoring very closely." ENDS

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Speaking after the announcement that for the first time ever Sinn Féin will open a party stand at the All Ireland Ploughing Championship in Meath, Sinn Féin Agriculture spokesperson, Cllr Gerry McHugh said:

"The National Ploughing Championships has for many decades been an important shop window for Irish Agriculture. As the only all-Ireland political party, Sinn Féin wants to extend an invitation to those attending the event to visit the Sinn Féin stand.

"Ireland as a food producer, and a food exporting country, is facing huge change at present, through CAP reform and the global competition. If Ireland is to have a future agriculture and food industry, it is vital to take into account the needs of the rural community. Without immediate and proactive policies in terms of supporting the development of a strong agricultural and agri-business base in rural areas, their decline will continue to the detriment of the nation as a whole.

"High profile members of the party will attend and will be seeking people's views on all issues with a view to lobbying on their behalf in Europe and elsewhere. In particular, the party is committed to pursuing progressive agendas in terms of changes to EU Structural Funds, the whole issue of Funding after 2006, Food Safety and the threats from Genetically Engineered Foods and Waste Incineration.

"Agriculture and Agri-business are key elements to the Irish economy, North and South. It is vital that we develop all-Ireland Agricultural Policies and Strategies for future food production. Sinn Féin would like to see the island build on our existing clean green image of high quality, safe food production meeting changing consumer needs - it is clear that this can only be delivered on the basis of an all island-based approach." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will meet SDLP leader Mark Durkan tomorrow, Tuesday 16th September, at 9.30am at Stormont. Gerry Adams will be available to speak to the media after the meeting

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Chairperson of Dublin Sinn Féin Daithí Doolan has called on Local Authorities across Dublin to come clean on whether they are preparing to privatise refuse collection services. Mr. Doolan was speaking after learning that last February Fingal County Council contacted SIPTU to try and begin discussions on 'privatisation' and 'the orderly wind-down of the refuse collection service'.

Mr. Doolan said:

"The forcing through of bin charges, under the threat of bringing down local Councils and the subsequent heavy handed behaviour towards both residents and Council workers is wrong and entirely counter-productive. And it is clear that such confrontational actions will lead to further anti service protests this week.

"We believe that there are two distinct, but related, issues at play here. One is the introduction of unfair bin charges and the second is the ongoing attempts to privatise the entire service. There are justifiable concerns about both.

"In a letter sent from Fingal County Council to SIPTU on 18th February 2003, a senior council official stated that 'it is felt that private refuse collection contractors are better equipped to deliver the service' and asked to meet with workers representatives at an early date with a view to discussing 'the orderly wind-down of the refuse collection service'.

"Having read the letter myself I can fully understand the concerns of Council workers in relation to this whole matter and in the course of recent weeks we have discussed these issues with them.

"I am calling on local authorities across Dublin City and County to come clean on whether they are preparing to privatise refuse collection services."ENDS

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Tomás Sharkey from Kilkerley was today officially co-opted onto Louth County Council in place of Sinn Féin T.D. Arthur Morgan in the spirit of the Dual Mandate Legislation. In a speech just after the official co-option, Tomás thanked the Councillors, Council staff and the new County Manager, Martina Molony for helping him prepare for the job. He also praised the hard work done by Deputy Morgan on the Council since 1999, mentioning in particular his stand against Incineration and his promotion of Re-cycling.

Planning Crisis

Tomás Sharkey stated that County Louth is in a planning crisis. He said;

"Planning in Ireland is in crisis and it is good to see that Bertie Ahern accepted this last week.

There are too many restrictions being placed on applications for planning permission. I refer to residency and occupancy conditions. It is a matter of time before these are tested in the courts.

It is estimated that the cost of a site is now 42% of the overall cost of building a home in Ireland. Sites are too expensive because people are restricted as to where they are allowed to build and also because this Council‚s zoning for development is out of date. Many Category II Development Centres are already built to capacity. We now have the ridiculous situation where young couples are being forced onto Council housing lists because they cannot get planning permission to build on family land. The Planning Authorities seem to refuse to accept this fact. I will raise the matter on a continuous basis on this Council.

Councillor Sharkey continued;

"There are also too many conditions being put on the design of houses. People all across County Louth face ridiculous demands on details such as window design, fascias and the location of garages. What next? Will Planning Authorities try to police the type of curtains we hang in our windows?

Housing Strategy

"I believe that the people of County Louth would rather we worked on a Housing Policy instead of tying ourselves in knots trying to stand in their way when they wish to build their own homes.

"Nobody wants to spend their life as a tenant to developers and speculators. Developers are rich enough and are now earning 30% more profit than even they expected."

"This Council must look seriously at what we can do to make housing affordable for our constituents. We need to buy land to build houses on. We need to make more funds available to upgrade houses across the county and we need to make it possible for council tenants to purchase their homes at affordable rates."

Financial Accountability

Councillor Sharkey raised the issue of accountability and value for money in the council;

"Last year alone Louth County Council collected approximately €13m. in Motor Tax. We must ensure that every cent of that gets spent on the county roads and goes towards making our roads a safer place.

"Planning levies are a contentious issue. People can pay up to €6,000 in a levy. At the minute our County Manager sets these charges. I will be proposing that Councillors take this decision on ourselves. That way, I will be able to ensure that planning levies get spent in the local communities.

"Over the last number of years, the Minister for Local Government has taken powers off Councillors. Here is an opportunity for us to take back some control. I will be looking for support from all councillors on this matter."

Louth County Hospital

Councillor Sharkey went on to highlight the continuing neglect of the Louth County Hospital;

"When I was a toddler I was taken on protest marches against the downgrading of Louth County Hospital. Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to address the concerns of the people of Louth on this issue. In fact, during the greatest spell of economic growth in Ireland, our maternity unit was stolen from us.

"We are all on this council as public representatives and as such it is all of our responsibility to ensure a first class, one-tier Health Service for County Louth. I for one will be continuing to fight for the restoration of all services to Louth County Hospital and hope that we as a team of councillors can help put things right in this regard."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew speaking from Belfast High Court at the appeal hearing into the decision to deny Sinn Féin access to the policy development grants that are available to all other political parties with representation at Westminster has said that the criteria is 'tailor made to discriminate against Sinn Fein'.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Sinn Féin is contesting the discrimination against our party in the policy development grant scheme. The criteria, which govern the allocation of such grants, have been tailor made for that purpose. These criteria discriminate against both our party and our voters. We intend to continue to challenge all of this through the courts." ENDS

Note to editors

1. Political Parties with at least 2 MPs who have taken the Oath of Allegiance to the British Queen are allocated a Policy Development Grant (PDG) under Section 12 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000

2. The purpose of the PDG is to assist the party with the development of policies for inclusion in an election manifesto - the manifesto can be either for Westminster, Assembly or Council elections. PDGs arose from a report by the Neill Committee which recommended such grants - the Committee did not however set the criteria which now govern the allocation of these grants. The Neill committee envisaged the grants being available to those parties with necessary electoral support to have MPs elected.

3. The statutory requirement that only parties with elected MPs who take the 'oath' become eligible is clearly designed to preclude SF from receiving PDGs.

4. Article 10 of the ECHR provides: "everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and impart information and ideas without interference from public authority." The exclusion of Sinn Féin from the scheme is in contravention with the European Convention of Human Rights.

5. The money which would otherwise have gone to SF had they been 'eligible' for the grant under the legislation is distributed to other parties in the north who are eligible - SDLP, DUP and UUP. The SDLP, DUP and UUP each receive approximately £134,000 as a PDG.

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson and Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said his party will be holding the Government to its promise to publish comprehensive rights-based disability legislation in November 2003. Deputy Ó Caoláin was speaking today (Monday) in advance of a special seminar on disability hosted by the Sinn Féin TDs in Leinster House with the Forum of People with Disabilties.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Following the debacle of its totally inadequate disability legislation which was rejected by people with disabilities and withdrawn last year, the Government has given a clear commitment to publish a new Disability Bill in November. This legislation must be rights-based. It must recognise that every person living with a disability has the legally enforceable right to have their whole person recognised, their capabilities valued and developed to full potential, and their dignity respected. People with disabilities must have the right to access appropriate, coordinated services. The state has the duty to provide such services, as well as proper individual needs assessments.

"Sinn Féin will be holding the Government to its promise to publish such legislation in November. People with disabilities must not be disappointed yet again.

"Today's seminar is an opportunity for Sinn Féin TDs, parliamentary assistants and equality officers to be fully briefed on the latest issues of concern from the point of view of people with disabilities and we look forward to working on a continuous basis with the Forum of People with Disabilities." ENDS

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Former Health Minister and Six County EU candidate Bairbre de Brún speaking in Strabane this afternoon, said 'it is now 11 months since the institutions were brought down and 4 months since the elections were cancelled and it is time that the governments brought some urgency to the matter. It is time that an election date was set and that there was a collective effort to put the process back on track.' Ms de Brún was speaking at the annual commemoration to honour republicans from West Tyrone who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom.

Ms de Brún said:

"It was because of the people that we honour here today that the radical, progressive, republican tradition survived in Ireland when its enemies were ready to consign it to the grave, the prison cell and the history books. They helped to ensure that not only did republicanism survive but that it thrived. They had the foresight to realise that we must adapt ourselves to the terrain through which we as republicans have to travel on our long journey to our goal of an All-Ireland Republic. They exemplified the struggle and what makes modern republicanism the most potent political force in Ireland today.

"This past week the media has been dominated by stories of secret meetings and possible advances. The republican position on all of this is clear. It is now 11 months since the institutions were brought down and 4 months since the elections were cancelled and it is time that the governments brought some urgency to the matter. It is time that an election date was set and that there was a collective effort to put the process back on track. Republicans are willing to play our part but it is high time that others did the same.

"Mr. Blair's decision to bring down the institutions and cancel the elections has not only seriously undermined the political process, it has undermined peoples confidence in the ability of the Agreement to deliver real change This is seriously damaging and needs to stop now. Our focus in the weeks ahead will be getting the British government to set an election date and working with others to see the Agreement implemented."

Commenting on the electoral contests that republicans are facing in the coming year Ms de Brún said:

"The three elections that we face in the coming year - Assembly, European and Local government in the south - should mark a major milestone in the advance of our electoral strategy and of Sinn Féin across the island. I urge all republicans to set their sights on these elections and to ensure that the hard work which is being done will bear fruit with greatly increased Sinn Féin representation in the Assembly and local government and that for the first time ever we will see an all-Ireland Sinn Féin team returned to the European Parliament.

"We have much work and struggle ahead of us but if we go to it in the spirit of determination as Tyrone republicans have shown for many generations then we will surely succeed."ENDS

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Former Assembly Health Minister and EU candidate for the Six Counties Bairbre de Brún speaking in Dublin today announced that the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle has added its voice to an EU wide lobby for a new directive to tackle discrimination against women. Ms de Brún said:

"Today's Ard Chomhairle had a wide ranging discussion on discrimination and measures required to move forward with gender equality outside the workplace. The adoption of this new EU directive on gender equality is long overdue and has been awaited since the Amsterdam Treaty was signed in 1999. It is disappointing that at this late stage it is now being opposed from so many quarters.

"I have contacted Christa Prets in the European Parliament outlining Sinn Féin's support for a new European directive on gender equality. We believe that this directive is necessary and should at least cover access to and supply of goods and services; taxation; social assistance, social benefits and healthcare; education; taxation and non-discrimination in advertising and the media.

"The European Union has played a key role in making progress towards equality between women and men in the workplace. It now needs to move to tackle discrimination outside the workplace. We urge the European Commission not to delay any further and to move forward with this legislation which will help millions of women right across Europe."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking at a fund-raising dinner in Ballycastle tonight said:

"Mr. Blair's decision to cancel the elections has seriously undermined the political process and encouraged anti-agreement forces. The cancellation of the elections has also damaged confidence in the Agreement and in the credibility of the Agreement as an effective tool for change. This highlights the fundamental problem that besets us - British policy in Ireland, even a benign policy ˆ is an interference in Irish affairs.

"Sinn Féin has been addressing all of this in our ongoing discussions with the two governments and the UUP.

"We have made it clear that it is our firm view that elections are the only way to create a new context, to inject a new dynamic into the process in which progress can be made. That needs the British government providing a definitive, immutable date for elections. We need to see the right to vote restored and confidence put back into the process.

"But setting a date will not of itself guarantee that progress will be made. Nor is making progress just down to republicans. It is a collective responsibility. It requires a collective approach in which all of the again." ENDS

Full Text - Check against delivery

Sinn Féin's focus in the last five years has been to see the Good Friday Agreement fully and faithfully implemented.

The Agreement was born out of decades of division and conflict, injustice and discrimination, and almost 30 years of war. It reflects a deep desire on the part of the vast majority of people on this island to build a just and lasting peace for everyone.

The substance of the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. It is about a new political dispensation on the island of Ireland and a new relationship between Ireland and Britain.

It is about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change - including constitutional and institutional change - across all aspects of society.

Five years after the Agreement there has been progress. The institutions, when they functioned, did so effectively and were very popular.

The reality is that for most people the situation has improved enormously.

We have all come a long way in recent years. A problem, which was previously described as intractable, has proven not to be so.

But last October, almost one year ago, the British suspended the institutions for the 4th time. And then in May the British Prime Minister postponed and then cancelled the Assembly elections.These decisions and the slap in the teeth delivered by Mr. Blair to

republican efforts to help end the crisis has created a deep well of anger and frustration, especially among republicans.

The reality is that the roots of this current crisis lie in unionisms inability to come to terms with change, the willingness of the British government to acquiesce to a unionist veto and resistance from elements within the British system those who still think that the Special Branch, MI5 and those in the Force Research Unit and other agencies which colluded in the killing of citizens were doing a good job.

Most immediately this impasse can be tracked to the decision by the Ulster Unionist Council last September when it adopted anti-agreement positions promoted by Jeffrey Donaldson‚s wing of the party and later endorsed by David Trimble.

In part this was driven by the electoral challenge posed by the DUP. In effect anti-agreement forces have dominated the agenda since then. Allegations about IRA activities, while a genuine concern for the unionist constituency, and others, were seized upon as an excuse to demand and secure suspension of the political institutions.

The British Government did this at the behest of the Ulster Unionists, and in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, throwing the process into crisis.This was wrong. The continued suspension of the political institutions remains a critical issue in the current situation.

However, central to the crisis is the failure, five years later, by the two governments to implement the Agreement. The core of the Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. These cannot be conditional. These rights are universal rights. They affect all citizens.

In the Good Friday Agreement these matters, that is policing, demilitarisation, human rights, the justice system, the rights of Irish

language speakers, and the equality agenda, are stand-alone issues. These are issues to be resolved in their own right. They cannot be withheld or granted or subjected to a bartering process.

And as we have seen with the Human Rights Commission especially, those who are against change continue to try and hollow out the potential these bodies have to defend and protect the rights of citizens.

Despite this the Good Friday Agreement, which was the culmination of an enormous collective effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict, continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone.

The Sinn Féin focus in the last five years has been to see the Agreement implemented, to deal with all of the issues, including that of arms; all arms and all armed groups.

There has been progress. The institutions didn‚t function for very long but when they did they worked. And were very popular. Everyone would accept that for most people things are much better today than they were 5 or 10 years ago.

Mr. Blair's decision to cancel the elections has seriously undermined the political process and encouraged anti-agreement forces. The cancellation of the elections has also damaged confidence in the Agreement and in the credibility of the Agreement as an effective tool for change. This highlights the fundamental problem that besets us - British policy in Ireland, even a benign policy - is an interference in Irish affairs.

Sinn Féin has been addressing all of this in our ongoing discussions with the two governments and the UUP.

We have made it clear that it is our firm view that elections are the only way to create a new context, to inject a new dynamic into the process in which progress can be made. That needs the British government providing a definitive, immutable date for elections. We need to see the right to vote restored and confidence put back into the process.

But setting a date will not of itself guarantee that progress will be made. Nor is making progress just down to republicans. It is a collective responsibility. It requires a collective approach in which all of the participants must play their part in putting the jigsaw back together again.

The Taoiseach has a huge responsibility in all of this.

So too has Mr. Blair. He has done a lot. He has to do more. He has to embrace the contribution that republicans have made to this process. We are not asking him for plaudits. We are asking him to build on the contribution we have single-mindedly built over a long period.

All of us have a lot to do, that includes Mr Trimble. And us. We will not dodge our responsibilities.

A primary objective of the peace process is the end to the conflict. It is also a clear objective of Sinn Féin‚s strategy. Sinn Féin is unequivocal about this. Furthermore we are wedded to the Mitchell Principles.

So what is to be done?

The Good Friday Agreement has to be implemented in full.

Is the British government up for this?

Time will tell.

Are the unionists up for it?

There is a sizeable unionist constituency which is up for it. But it needs positive leadership. Those who claim to be in the leadership of pro-Agreement unionism need therefore to set a pro-Agreement agenda. They need to stop the agenda being set by rejectionist unionists both inside and outside the unionist party.

Sinn Féin is up for making this process work. Our activists and supporters are up for it.

Sinn Fein has a vision for the future. This goes beyond this current, troubled and protracted phase of Anglo-Irish relationships. It goes beyond present difficulties. It is far-sighted and strategic. Our democratic view is based upon the confident knowledge that the people of the island of Ireland, including the unionists, are entitled to govern ourselves and can do so better than anyone else.

Our republicanism is about change - fundamental, deep-rooted change. It's about empowering people to make that change. That means we have to be agents of change. This is an enormous responsibility and challenge but it is a challenge that I believe this generation of Irish republicans will achieve.

Our vision is inclusive. We are totally committed to establishing an entirely new, democratic and harmonious future with our unionist neighbours. I know we have still a lot to learn about the unionists viewpoint, about their concerns, fears and aspirations. One of the failures thus far of this process is that a process of intelligent and pro active listening by all

sides is not as advanced as it needs to be if we are to appreciate each others needs and difficulties.

This has to be corrected and the good work which has been done in this regard, including by Alex Maskey as Mayor of Belfast, needs to be built upon.

Winning unionists over to republicanism will not be easy, but it is not impossible.

Many unionists are already very conscious of the way in which successive British governments and unionist leaderships used and abused and exploited them. Many look around at their unionist working class areas which face enormous social and economic problems, where families, the elderly and the young are weighed down with poverty, deprivation and a sense of despair. We have to reach out to them.

We have to show them that Sinn Féin - that Irish republicanism, always a generous philosophy - is their future. That together we can build a future of equals on this island that empowers, and enriches and cherishes all the children of the nation equally.

The people of this island have the right to be free. To live free from discrimination and inequality, without violence and

conflict. Free to shape our own destiny ˆ our own sovereignty. We have the right to be free from division, foreign occupation, and

injustice. There will be a united Ireland. And our task, and that of all sensible Irish political leaders, should be to prepare for reunification.

That means building a republic worthy of the suffering and sacrifice of all of those who have gone before us. Republicans have stretched ourselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. The people have responded positively to this.

The people we represent have rights. So does everyone else on this island - unionist and others alike. We have been through pre-condition, after pre-condition, after pre-condition.

The Good Friday Agreement saw a British government starting the work which its predecessors refused to contemplate. It saw an Irish government doing what successive Dublin governments refused to do. It led to unionism or a majority of it voting for an agreement with the rest of the people of our island.

We are all on a journey. It is always easier to begin a journey. The hard thing is to finish it.

Sinn Fein is in this process to the end. We want the British government and the Irish government and the unionists to work with us and to finish the work we have all started. The length of the journey can be shortened and the ups and downs on the road can be smoothed out if we go at it collectively. If we do it together. ENDS

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Bairbre de Brún, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights has expressed "grave concern" that PSNI solicitors yesterday produced the highly controversial letter sent by Human Rights Commissioner Brice Dickson to former RUC chief Ronnie Flanagan. Their purpose is to use this as part of their defence in a judicial review taken against the former RUC head and British Secretary of State in the Holy Cross case

Ms de Brún said:

"In our view and to most people looking at this case from a human rights perspective, the letter from the Chief Commissioner to Ronnie Flanagan and the opinions expressed in it are highly inappropriate. This has seriously damaged the credibility and independence of the Human Rights Commission and in particular, the Chief Commissioner.

"Brice Dickson's letter is now being presented in defence by the PSNI, evidently to sway the outcome of this case in the PSNI's favour. This is a matter of grave concern.

"The actions of the Chief Commissioner in sending the letter in the first place is indefensible. It is deplorable that the view provided by Dickson to Flanagan, that the Holy Cross case has 'no merit', is now being used by the PSNI.

"Sinn Féin, and I am sure human rights watchers worldwide will be scrutinising the outcome of this case very closely. This case has far-reaching implications for the way that rights are promoted and protected, regardless of community background." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice, Gerry Kelly, has called for a greater degree of clarity and accountability on the proposed changes to the Public Prosecution Services.

Speaking on the day of the launch of the proposed changes to the PPS Mr Kelly said:

"A new and independent Public Prosecution Service has been what republicans and nationalists have been negotiating for. However, such a service must reflect the commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement.

"Features such as decentralisation, the assuming of responsibility for cases previously dealt with by the PSNI and movement towards a community restorative justice alternative to punitive justice are to be welcomed and are a way of progressing positively and stepping outside old parameters.

"However, the report has rejected the recommendation from the Criminal Justice Review that there should be public explanations as to why the PPS do not prosecute in disputed cases. Sir Alasdair Fraser, who has headed the extremely flawed and harmful prosecution service up till now will not command the confidence of the nationalist community in implementing such changes.

"It is essential that planned recruitment of some 350 new staff be equality proofed. This is critical to ensuring that a new ethos is created for a new prosecution service.

"If there is to be confidence in any future PPS as a result of these changes such issues need to be dealt with in order to provide accountability in keeping with international best practice." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Ard Chomhairle will meet at the party's Head Office in Dublin tomorrow, Saturday 13th Sept. During the meeting Gerry Adams will report to the party leadership on his recent discussions and they will assess the current impasse.

A senior member of the party will be available to talk to the media at 12 noon.

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September 26th in Ireland and November 4th in the USA sees the publication of a major new book by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Mr. Adams will give a major interview on his new book to IRM on the Sinn Féin website in the next ten days. Check www.irishrepublicanmedia.com for further details.

The book, entitled 'Hope and History - Making Peace in Ireland' in Ireland, and 'A Farther Shore - Ireland's Long Road to Peace' in the USA, is a personal memoir and a unique inside story, revealing the truth behind the headlines of the Irish peace process.

It covers the tumultuous years from the late 1970s up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

An author as well as an activist, Gerry Adams brings a vivid sense of immediacy and a writer's understanding of narrative to this story of the triumph of hope in what was long considered an intractable bloody conflict. He conveys the tensions of the peace process, the sense of teetering on the brink, and he has a sharp eye and acute ear for the more humorous foibles of political allies and enemies alike.

He reveals previously unpublished details of the peace process:

  • about the key players;
  • the truth about the secret contacts with the Catholic Church;
  • he speaks candidly about being shot;
  • he gives the inside story on the covert talks between republicans and the British government;
  • the Irish-American role and meetings in the White House;
  • the South African role;
  • he discloses details of his discussions with the IRA leadership;
  • the differences within republicanism and the emergence of 'dissidents';
  • the breakdown of the first IRA cessation
  • and he details for the first time the secret talks involving the Irish, British and US governments, the IRA leadership and the then British opposition leader Tony Blair, to reinstate the IRA cessation;
  • and then the Good Friday Agreement; what was agreed and what was promised.

He paints revealing portraits of the other leading characters in the drama that was acted out through ceasefires and stand-offs, discussions and confrontations. Amongst these are Tony Blair, Bertie Ahem, Mo Mowlam, Martin McGuinness, Albert Reynolds, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Jean Kennedy Smith, David Trimble, John Hume, Nelson Mandela and John Bruton and Charlie Haughey.

As one of the pre-eminent republican strategists of his generation he provides a first hand and authentic account of the principles and tactics underpinning modern Irish republicanism.

And in a world where peace processes are needed more urgently than ever before Hope and History provides a template for conflict resolution processes internationally.

Hope and History - Making Peace in Ireland is published by Brandon book on September 26th.

A Farther Shore - Ireland's Long Road to Peace is published by Random House in the USA on November 4th.

The book will also be published in Britain, Australia, Spain, Sweden and Canada.

The book will be available from www.sinnfeinbookshop.com

 

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A major new drugs centre is set to open in Dublin's south inner city this afternoon. The "Paul Spellman Centre" which is situated in Ringsend and housed in a former bank is one of the largest treatment and rehabilitation centres in Dublin. It houses a CE scheme, gym, garden, kitchens and counselling rooms. The centre also offers education, training and family counselling.

Run and managed by the Ringsend and District Response to Drugs (RDRD), it is a community-based project. Set up in 1996 RDRD is one of the most successful community responses to the drugs problem in Dublin. The centre will be officially opened this afternoon, Friday September 12th at 3pm. One of the highlights will be special guest, singer songwriter Damien Dempsey.

Local Representative Daithí Doolan was a founder member of RDRD and is currently a member of the management.

Speaking from the centre today Daithí Doolan said:

"I believe this centre is one of the greatest responses to the drugs crisis I have seen across Dublin. Rather than bury our heads in the sand this community chooses to fight not just the consequences but also the causes of drug addiction. Our centre offers a holistic approach to the drugs crisis that has besieged many of our communities in the capital.

"We are very proud of what this community has achieved. This centre is a beacon to all those struggling against the scourge of drug addiction. We offer hope, help and rehabilitation of addicts, families and indeed the wider community."ENDS

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