Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Arthur Morgan T.D. today castigated Minister of State with responsibility for Housing Noel Ahern for the Government's inaction in the face of the alarming decline in the level of local authority housing stock. Deputy Morgan accused the Government of having no strategy to house the 130,000 people currently on housing waiting lists. He was questioning Minister of State Ahern on the findings contained in the recent report of the Central Statistics Office on the 2002 Census 'Volume 13 - Housing' which shows that the number of Local Authority Housing rented dwellings has declined in every census since 1961 and has now hit an all time low of 88,000 or 6.9% of all housing units.
Deputy Morgan said:
"Is the Minister of State and indeed the Government not alarmed that at a time when we have such a large number of people on local authority waiting lists that housing stock has fallen to an all time low? This is a clear indicator of the absolute failure of this government, which has been in office since 1997, to address the severe lack of social housing.
"The funding announced by the Minister last week was merely a typical Fianna Fáil election stunt and will only provide for the construction of 5,500 dwellings. This is pitiful when one considers that there are 48,000 or 130,000 families on the housing waiting lists. Ad hoc announcements of funding immediately prior to an election does not indicate that this Government has any real intention of providing for the housing needs of those people - many of whom have been waiting for years - on local authority waiting lists. It is scandalous that the Government does not have a strategy to tackle the housing crisis.
"Is the Minister aware that many Local Authorities are increasingly abandoning their responsibilities for housing? This is the case with Dublin City Council which has indicated its intention to get out of its responsibilities for housing altogether within the next ten years. Other local authorities are not replacing stock which is being sold to tenants, or they are handing over flat complexes to voluntary housing associations or are entering into Public Private Partnerships for regeneration projects which do not include any replacement social housing.
"This Government's record on housing is abysmal and it looks unlikely to improve as long as Minister of State Noel Ahern remains at the helm"ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking from Cork today said he was pleased that the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are meeting on Sunday and that the Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen is engaging with the DUP this evening in Belfast.
Mr Adams said:
"Tonight's engagement and Sunday's meeting, along with the ongoing contact between our party and the two governments is a sign of the more focused approach that is necessary to resolve the problems which have bedevilled the process".
"Sinn Féin is not naïve. We know there are profound difficulties. The government's need to make it clear to unionists that they need to engage in a meaningful way otherwise they will continue to make impossible demands on the rest of us. Tonight's meeting between the DUP and Brian Cowen provides an opportunity for this.
"If the process is standing still, if the governments and others are attacking republicans, then I can understand why unionism feels no reason to move forward.
"Obviously there is an onus on everybody collectively to make this process work. No party or government can avoid their responsibilities, but at this time, there is an onus on the two governments to create the conditions for forward momentum.
"Contrary to fiction pedalled by the SDLP leadership and others, this is not just an issue of paramilitarism and of unionism refusing to share power. These issues have to be tackled, but the key to tackling them is the governments fulfilling their responsibilities under the Agreement."
Mr Adams also spoke about the imminent accession of the 10 European states to the EU. The Sinn Féin President called on the Irish Government to "use its influence at this time to ensure that new states have the same opportunities within the EU as current states".
He said: "This should be a priority for the Irish Government in the upcoming constitution talks.
"The current Draft EU Constitution reflects much of what is wrong with the European Union. Today, the EU represents and facilitates the agendas of big business and the powerful member states, to the detriment of the smaller nations, and particularly neutral states. The Draft Constitution in its current form, will move us even closer towards an EU superstate with its own army.
"However, the current direction of the EU is not inevitable. It can changed. Sinn Féin will work hard to achieve this." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe, speaking in the Dáil this evening called on the Irish government to move heaven and earth to ensure the safe return to Ireland of the Colombia 3.
Deputy Crowe said:
"Last year I attended the trial of Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley as an observer. It was clear from the outset that there was no case against them and that the prosecution case was a fraud. Last Monday I, like many people in Ireland, was greatly relieved to hear the verdict in the case and expected that the men would be quickly brought home to their families.
"That the men continue to be held in a Colombia prison is a disgrace. They should be released immediately and appropriate measures should be taken to ensure their security upon release and that of their lawyers and members of the Bring them Home campaign present in Colombia, especially in light of the grave danger to their lives. Many groups on the ground in Colombia, such as the UN and Red Cross, have verified that there is no safe place for the men in Colombia
"I am calling on the Irish government to move heaven and earth to ensure that the men are immediately released and brought home safely to their families."ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Bairbre de Brún this morning spoke with the British Home Office Minister responsible for Asylum seekers, Des Browne. The contact was part of Sinn Féin efforts to address an anomaly that has arisen in the regulations which will see those seeking asylum from the ten countries due to join the EU this weekend lose their entitlement to both their accommodation and living allowance.
Ms de Brún said:
" Since this serious problem became apparent earlier this week when those seeking asylum from the accession countries received letter telling them to vacate their homes I have been in touch with a variety of agencies seeking a resolution to this problem.
" This morning I spoke with Des Browne the Minister responsible for asylum issues in the British Home Office. He advised me that he is not legally in a position to continue making the same subsistence arrangements for those from the accession countries who had been previously claiming asylum.
" However the Minister has told me that he will ensure that people caught in this loophole are permitted to remain in their current accommodation for a period provided they are able to pay their own rent. This is clearly not ideal but is nevertheless some progress. It removes the need for a deposit and advance rent for new accommodation to be required immediately.
" We now need to see swift progress in processing work permits and registration allowing these people to become self supporting as quickly as possible." ENDS
Speaking at the opening of the National Forum on Europe this morning, Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald said the hysteria over the May Day celebrations was "a bogus crisis generated by the government to suppress legitimate protest".
Ms McDonald also called on the Irish government not to 'go with the flow' on the draft EU Constitution. She said the draft Constitution will merely serve to accelerate a euro super-state, accountable to no one but the EU power elites.
The event entitled "Will the Draft EU Constitutional Treaty change the balance of power between Brussels and Member State"‚ is being held in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, at 10.30am. The Forum will deal specifically with the relationship between Member States and the EU institutions, such as the Commission, Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
Speaking before the event, Ms McDonald said:
"The attitude of the government, Gardaí and certain sections of the media surrounding the May Day celebrations are nothing more than a bogus crisis generated to suppress legitimate protest. The government have hyped these events out of all proportion in order to create fear and intimidate people into not paricipating in the May Day events. People have a right to voice their concerns over the current direction of the EU, and no amount of intimidation should prevent people from protesting in a democracy.
"At today's meeting of the National Forum Sinn Féin will address the serious and fundamental flaws of the current EU model. We have argued consistently that the institutions of the EU do not reflect the aspirations and concerns of European citizens. On the whole the EU institutions, are solely responsive to big business and the powerful nations of the EU.
"The Draft Constitution in its current form, will lead to a greater erosion of national sovereignty, and propel this state even closer towards an EU superstate with its own army. The forging of an EU Common Foreign and Security Policy is a prime example of this. In many areas of policy, EU laws will have primacy over national law.
"The current direction of the EU is not inevitable. It can and should be changed. Once again, Sinn Féin calls upon the Irish Presidency to use its influence to support an EU which protects its citizens and endorse a Constitution which places the sovereignty of member states at its core." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has called on the UUP leader David Trimble to immediately clarify his party's position regarding the intimidation of Catholics from their homes in the Village area. Mr Maskey's remarks come after UUP Councillor Bob Stoker said that Catholics should not be living in the area and that Catholics living in the area should leave or 'suffer the consequences'.
Cllr. Maskey said:
" Bob Stoker's remarks in my opinion touch on incitement to hatred. There can be no justification for attacks and intimidation of the kind witnessed in the Village area. Catholics have as much right to live in the Village area as anyone else.
" The ongoing intimidation and the protest last night raises serious questions about the role of the UUP in all of this. Is the justification of attacks on Catholics and the intimidation of people from their homes UUP policy? Does David Trimble support the ongoing activities in this area? We need to hear a clear answer from Mr. Trimble as UUP leader.
" The UUP are very good at lecturing republicans and others about democracy and peace. Yet they see no contradiction in justifying and encouraging intimidation and violence against vulnerable Catholics. If any other party was engaged in such activity there would be a media outcry." ENDS
Commenting on the publication today of the Electoral Commission Report into the conduct of the November Assembly election, Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that the report missed the point when it claimed that no fraud took place during the campaign.
Mr Murphy said:
" The Electoral Commission is reporting today that no fraud took place during the November election. This completely misses the point. The fact is that a massive electoral fraud took place in the lead up to the election with the preparation of the register.
" Due to this well over 100,000 were disenfranchised and the Electoral Commission themselves indicated that a further 30,000 were disenfranchised through the photo ID requirements. This has continued to the point where up to 211,000 people are currently disenfranchised and we would expect the situation to become even worse when the latest register is published next week.
" That is electoral fraud on a massive scale. It has come about as a direct result of the new legislation which was actively encouraged by the SDLP in alliance with the unionists. They must bear a heavy responsibility for the mess we are now in.
" The Electoral Commission cannot continue to ignore the massive problems which currently exist and the effect that this is having in public confidence in the overall electoral process." ENDS
Gerry Adams will today launch a young voters registration drive in Cork. He will launch the drive outside the College of Commerce in Morrisons Quay at 12.45 .
A recent survey found that 20% of 18 - 25 year olds have not registered to vote for the elections in June. This amounts to 100,000 people not voting out of an estimated 500,000 eligible voters in this age range.
According to the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) the main cause of non-voting by young people is non registration. The system is cumbersome, inconvenient and time consuming. It is Sinn Féin policy to encourage as many people as possible ˆ no matter who they vote for ˆ to register for the elections in June.
Gerry Adams will be available to the Press outside the School of Commerce, Morrisons Quay at 12.45.
Sinn Féin has today welcomed the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Martin Cullen T.D. that he has signed regulations extending the list of documents that are acceptable as ID for voting to included the Temporary Registration certificate and Garda National Immigration Card.
Sinn Féin EU candidate for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald said
"Sinn Fein welcomes the Minister's announcement regarding the change in voting regulations. There were very serious concerns that a large number of people were going to be disenfranchised in the forthcoming elections because of the failure to include the Garda National Immigration photo card on the designated list of acceptable forms of identification. These concerns were raised in the Dáil by Deputies Aengus O Snodaigh T.D. and Arthur Morgan T.D.
"Sinn Fein would encourage all those who are entitled to vote to register and to use their vote in the forthcoming elections. We still have concerns that the requirement to have supplementary registration forms stamped by the Gardaí will act as a severe disincentive to many asylum seekers and refugees who will not feel comfortable going to a Garda station as a result of having experienced police persecution in their home countries. Sinn Féin will be seeking to amend the electoral laws to remove this requirement or at the very least to allow this to be done at the post office." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris, has accused the major supermarkets of helping to drive down farm incomes by refusing to pay farmers an adequate price for their produce. Deputy Ferris made specific reference to statistics that reveal the massive difference between the price paid to farmers for apples, and the price charged to consumers.
Deputy Ferris said:
"According to statistics given to me by the Department of Agriculture, the average price per kilo paid to farmers for their apples last year was 39c. In December 2003, the average price per kilo in the supermarkets was €2.16. That represents a 554% mark up! That is an outrageous difference and it is one that to a lesser or greater extent is repeated across all areas of food production. The figures also show that the average price paid to farmers has fallen by 23% since 1995. It is no wonder that many farmers are finding it difficult to survive.
"While the supermarkets capture a larger share of the market, and are able to dictate terms in this way, neither the farmer nor the consumer is benefiting. It is significant indeed that the smaller greengrocer and fruitseller was charging 24c per kilo less than the supermarkets at the end of last year. It is clear that the power of the multiples needs to be tackled. It is all the more worrying therefore that the Tánaiste Mary Harney continues to refuse to state that she will maintain the ban on below cost selling, the abolition of which is a key demand of the multiples." ENDS
Commenting on the actions of the British government in pressing ahead with the recommended discriminatory sanctions against Sinn Féin, Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that his party would continue to oppose the IMC, its role and its negative influence over the peace process.
Mr Murphy said:
" It is time people stopped pretending that the IMC is anything other than a proxy for the securocrats. The securocrats wrote the script and the IMC delivered it. Sinn Féin predicted that this would happen at the time when others enthusiastically welcomed it and some acquiesced to it.
" The IMC has no part of the Good Friday Agreement and it like the British government have no mandate to discriminate against political parties in Ireland. Sinn Féin is the third largest party in Ireland and the largest nationalist party in the six counties. We will continue to resist attempts by the British government to discriminate against our party and our electorate.
" At a time when the British government continues to block an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane it is worth reflecting on the fact that the individuals who provided the information for the IMC Report are the very same people within the Special Branch and other British agencies who for years planned and operated the collusion policy." ENDS
Sinn Fein Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has congratulated the Whiterock Health Centre in West Belfast for winning the DHSSPS Cash Grant Scheme for their young men's' mental promotion project.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"The issue of young men's' mental health has become increasingly acute, especially in areas such as North and West Belfast where suicide rates have become tragically high.
"Whiterock Health Centre deserves our thanks for taking this initiative and in trying to tackle the problem at its root. It is my hope that this award will enable their sterling work to be used in other areas." ENDS
Sinn Fein Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has echoed calls from the Royal College of Midwives in response to the NICE report on medical intervention in Childbirth, that there should be lower levels of Caesarean Section.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"The Six Counties has one of the highest rates of medical intervention in Childbirth of anywhere in Europe. Sinn Fein fully support the Royal College of Midwives call for lower levels of Caesarean Section.
"We believe that the introduction and expansion of the midwife led maternity units, that have set the standard in many areas throughout Europe, is an important step in reducing the level of medical intervention in what is, in the vast majority of cases, a natural and normal event that should require no such intervention." ENDS
Sinn Fein South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey speaking after meeting British NIO Minister Ian Pearson to discuss the Review of Public Administration has said that the review must deliver real accountability, responsiveness to local need and flexibility, quality services and value for money.
Mr Maskey said:
"The Review of Public Administration will undoubtedly lead to massive changes in the way government operates.
"It must end the culture of quangoism and deliver real accountability through local elected representatives and community participation in making decisions that affect all of us.
"The review must deliver real accountability, responsiveness to local need and flexibility, quality services and value for money.
"We need to stream line local government while at the same time having a balance that ensures that changes to do create unwieldy super-councils that are not representative of the communities they serve.
"While we are happy to see services currently run by quangos coming under the democratic control of elected councils, we would only agree to the expansion of council powers if we were certain that there was no chance of them being abused. This is a major issue given the continued abuse of majority power in some unionist controlled councils. Local Assembly control and very tight equality legislation are essential prerequisites for any changes in council powers." ENDS
Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey has said that it is time for political and community leaders in the Village area to get a grip on the sectarian bigots attempting to force catholics from an apartment complex in the area. Mr Maskey's remarks come after leaflets were distributed in the area threatening catholic residents.
Mr Maskey said:
" This particular apartment complex recently appeared in the UDA magazine Combat. The article was threatening catholic residents living there. Now we have leaflets being distributed carrying a similar message. Sectarian graffiti has also been regularly painted on the building.
" It is simply not good enough for unionist politicians to dismiss this sort of activity as the work of cranks or individuals. They need to actively work with the catholic residents of the complex and ensure them that they are welcome to live within that community.
" In recent times it has taken a public backlash to get a rise in racist attacks in the same area stemmed. This latest sectarian threat requires a similar response." ENDS
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson and Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD has said the Taoiseach contradicted himself in the Dáil today when on one hand he welcomed the fact that less people now qualified for medical cards and on the other said he wanted to extend qualification. Deputy Ó Caoláin highlighted the Fianna Fáil pre-election promise of 200,000 extra medical cards and pointed out that two years on, 20,000 less people qualify.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "The Taoiseach cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim that less people qualify because there is less unemployment and also claim he wants to extend qualification. Does he deny that those just above the disgracefully low income limit are in real hardship?"
"On Sunday last the Taoiseach addressed some of the Fianna Fáil faithful at Arbour Hill to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Rising. But the 25th of April 2004 marked another anniversary ? a very significant one in Irish politics. I refer to the publication of the Fianna Fáil General Election Manifesto of 2002. The now infamous manifesto stated that "in government Fianna Fáil will permanently end waiting lists in our hospitals within two years through a combination of bed capacity, primary care, secondary care and targeted reform initiatives". Exactly two years on that promise has become due but there are still some 27,000 people on hospital waiting lists. Every one of these is a real person with a real illness and living in pain, discomfort and anxiety for want of the hospital care which they need and deserve but are being denied. The Taoiseach must apologise to the Irish people for misleading them so outrageously two years ago?
"Does the Taoiseach recall that the manifesto he launched with such fanfare two years and three days ago also promised to extend medical card eligibility to over 200,000 extra people with a clear priority being given to families with children? Does he realise that there are now 20,000 less people qualifying for the medical card than there were in 2002?
"Will the Taoiseach also apologise to the Irish people for this broken promise, especially to low-income families who struggle desperately to meet the medical needs of their children?"
Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to describe the Taoiseach's response in which he listed off a litany of statistics in relation to healthcare as "meaningless". He said,
"The Taoiseach responds with his usual litany of figures. They are meaningless to the people who look to the government to fulfil the commitments it made - People in desperate need of assistance because they are months or years on hospital waiting lists or are unable to afford medical bills for their families and are earning just above the disgracefully low income guidelines for medical card qualification." ENDS
Sinn Fein Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy speaking ahead of the expected publication of the Boundary Commission report has said that any proposed changes must not distort political representation and that Sinn Fein will particularly resist any boundary changes that distort nationalist representation.
Mr Molloy said:
"Sinn Fein will study these proposals in detail on a constituency by constituency basis.
"Given the historic legacy of the Boundary Commission and its role in political Gerrymandering we will be working to ensure that any proposed changes do not distort political representation. Sinn Fein will particularly resist any boundary changes that distort nationalist representation.
"In all constituencies, particularly those with a minority of nationalist representatives Sinn Fein will stand against any changes that minimise or remove nationalist representation. This is particularly significant in constituencies such as Lagan Valley, South Antrim, North West and East Belfast.
"As we saw with the electoral legislation great care must be taken to ensure that changes that affect the democratic process to do discriminate against any section of our society and do not disenfranchise the supporters of any political party." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly has accused the British Prime Minister Tony Blair of 'deliberately dodging the issue of collusion'. Mr. Kelly's remarks come after the British Prime Minister in the House of Commons today again refused to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane.
Mr Kelly said:
" Tony Blair today in the British House of Commons again refused to hold an independent, international inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. He is quite deliberately dodging the issue of collusion and the state sanctioned murder of citizens.
" Again Mr. Blair gives the rational for refusing to hold an inquiry as being the charges currently being faced by Ken Barrett in relation to the murder. This despite the fact that he proceeded with publishing the IMC Report last week despite charges being before the courts on a number of the incidents contained within it.
" Ken Barrett will faced trial before a Diplock Court. For decades the British government have repeated the line that Diplock judges could not be influenced by external issues. Indeed the British government repeated this line in the High Court last week at an application to have the IMC Report stalled.
" Tony Blair cannot have it all ways. He will have to faced up to the legacy of previous British administrations involvement in a policy of state sanctioned murder. He will have to face up to the challenge presented by the fact that many of the people involved in that policy are still in place. He cannot continue to dodge this issue." ENDS
Just over three million workdays were lost in 2002 as a direct result of workplace related injury or illness. Commenting on these startling figures today, Worker's Memorial Day, Sinn Féin EU candidate for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald expressed her shock and outrage at the figures. The figures were released in a response to a parliamentary question put to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment by Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan TD.
Ms McDonald said: "It is an absolutely shocking statistic that 3.156 million workdays were lost in 2002 due to workplace injury or illness. It is also unsurprising that one of the industrial sectors hit hardest is the construction injury, where almost 100,000 workdays were lost in 2002.
"But statistical analysis can only tell us so much. It can‚t show us the shattered limbs and torn muscles that result from injuries on the job. It says nothing about the suffering of families where the wage earner is crippled because his or her employer decided to cut corners on safety. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that two million workers die a year and for every fatal accident there are 1,000 non-fatal injuries.
"Today is Worker‚s Memorial Day, recognised by the ILO. On the 28th April each year trade unionists around the world commemorate workers who have been killed, injured or made ill because of their work. It is an occasion to remember - but also to campaign for the living, to highlight the preventable nature of most workplace accidents and work-related diseases, and fight for improvements in workplace safety. Hence, "remember the dead and fight for the living".
"Unscrupulous employers putting profits before the safety of their employees, or exploiting the fears and vulnerabilities of employers who are not in a trade union, are putting lives at risk every day in Ireland. Sinn Féin is committed to the principle of mandatory trade union recognition, and I am determined to work towards this aim if elected to the European Parliament." ENDS