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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 South Belfast MLA Cllr Alex Maskey has described the proposed closure of Six Libraries in Belfast as "social vandalism".

Cllr Maskey said:

"If we look at the proposed closures it is clear that they are distributed in poor communities that have a track record of low educational attainment. Here in South Belfast the proposed closure of the Sandy Row Library runs contrary to measures that are being put in train to address the needs of the protestant working class community in an area that suffers from disadvantage, poverty and particularly low educational attainment.

"This is nothing short of educational and social vandalism.

"I understand that the Boards are under huge financial pressures because British direct rule ministers are refusing to face up to the long term under funding of vital services. The reality is that there is not enough money being put in place to provide the services that are needed, particularly if we are to address long standing social, educational and economic problems in places like Sandy Row and other parts of Belfast such as the Old Park." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghn Ó Caoláin has called for direct Government intervention to address the crisis in An Post on the eve of a State-wide stoppage by postal workers. Deputy Ó Caoláin called on the Taoiseach to intervene in the Dáil this afternoon but said Bertie Ahern's response showed the Government "had its head in the sand as a vital State service is downgraded". Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The postal service is one of the key and essential services provided by the State and owned and paid for by the people. It is an essential element of the social and economic infrastructure and any undermining of it must have very serious consequences. The Minister for Communications Noel Dempsey should take his head out of the sand on this issue. He is the Minister responsible.

"On the eve of a day of industrial action by thousands of postal workers the Minister and the Government have hardly uttered a word about this State-wide crisis in the postal service. There has been a complete breakdown between workers and management. There are major questions over the way the management have managed and presented the finances of An Post, which are public finances. Management has breached a string of national agreements with the trade unions.

"We are witnessing the destruction of the postal service. This is a national asset. A service that has been available to people throughout the State should not be downgraded with shorter opening hours, ending of delivery to houses in rural areas, the shutdown of SDS with the loss of hundreds of jobs and the negative consequences for business, especially local small businesses outside Dublin.

"There are huge discrepancies in the financial figures presented by An Post management. In July 2003 An Post forecast a profit of €1 million for that year but 3 months later a new CEO said there would be a loss of €46 million. This has never been properly explained and the Communications Workers Union has also commissioned its own audit of SDS that has raised major questions. It seems the Taoiseach and the Minister are prepared to stand over this and over the loss of services, especially in rural areas with the isolated and the elderly losing yet another link with the community and another facility that they have spent their working lives paying for in tax. It seems the Taoiseach wants to see the most profitable services gobbled up by private operators while the social service provided by An Post is destroyed."ENDS

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Speaking this evening at a Press Confernence in Belfast where he was joined by party negotiators Martin McGuinness MP, Gerry Kelly MLA, Caitriona Ruane MLA, Cllr. Joe Reilly, Michelle Gildernew MP and Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:

"On Wednesday, 17th November, Sinn Fein received a proposed outline for comprehensive agreement from the two governments. This included draft statements dealing with issues which are the responsibility of the governments, the DUP, Sinn Fein, the IICD and the IRA. The bulk of these dealt with outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement as well as the DUP position on IRA arms. I will deal with that matter in a minute.

I believe that Sinn Fein can say yes to the political package, as now presented.

I have conveyed this in writing to the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.

I am satisfied that we have defended the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement, including its power-sharing, all-Ireland and equality provisions, that we have resolved issues of concern and succeeded in strengthening key provisions.

The Good Friday Agreement requirement that parties commit to power sharing has been protected in the new arrangements for the election of the First and Deputy First Ministers as has the joint and equal nature of the positions of the First and Deputy First Ministers.

In addition to successfully defending the Good Friday Agreement, we have made significant progress across a range of other important issues.

There has been a singular focus, particularly by the DUP, on silent IRA arms. Resolving this issue of arms is a matter for the IICD and the armed groups. Sinn Féin has used whatever influence we have to see guns taken out of Irish politics. Martin McGuinness and I have been to the IRA. I am not prepared to go into the detail of these discussions. That organisation will take its own council and make its position clear in its own time.

I do expect that, in the context of a comprehensive agreement, it will deal with issues that are its responsibility.

I also assume that the first people to be informed of this will be its own membership. I‚m not going to speculate on the detail of the IRA position.

However, I can tell you that I do not believe that the IRA will allow itself to be humiliated.

If the IRA does take initiatives in support of a comprehensive agreement this will be hugely painful for Irish republicans and nationalists. None of us is in any doubt about that. So I am appealing to republicans to be thoughtful and measured in responding to any future developments as they have been through decades of struggle. I am appealing directly to all those who support Irish Unity and independence to remain united and to support the efforts of Sinn Féin in these testing times.

I recognise that some unionists do have genuine concerns about verification of arms being put beyond use, but Ian Paisley has to recognise also that the IRA will not submit to a process of humiliation. I do not expect Ian Paisley, or the DUP or the unionist paramilitaries to submit to such a process of humiliation.

In my view the two governments know the significance of what is available from republicans. This is not a time for them to pander to unrealisable DUP demands.

There is now, in the view of the Sinn Féin leadership, the opportunity to deal with genuine concerns about the IRA to the satisfaction of all reasonable people.

In contrast, the public position of the DUP leadership on the issue of power sharing with Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party, up to this point, remains a huge difficulty. The DUP leader, Ian Paisley, refuses to meet with us, or to accept our democratic mandate or to share government power with us. This is a difficulty which only he can resolve.

For republicans and nationalists the prospect of sharing power with the DUP is not particularly attractive. But Sinn Féin is committed to that because we recognise the DUP‚s electoral mandate. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin have much to do to make this process a success. But the prize of a just and lasting peace demands that of all responsible political leaders.

There is also a huge responsibility on the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, who currently has jurisdiction over this part of our island, to move forward on the delivery of the modest rights and entitlements set out, almost 7 years ago, in the Good Friday Agreement.

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to move forward on the basis of partnership, equality and justice. I urge the DUP to join us in this historic endeavour." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Environment spokesperson in Dublin City Council Councillor Daithí Doolan has applauded and welcomed today's, "historic court victory by the Dublin City Campaign Against Bin Tax. Justice Lindsay found that the management of Dublin City Council illegally imposed the bin charges for the years 2001 & 2002. The court has indicated that Dublin City Council defied their own criteria by imposing a flat rate while not providing proper recycling facilties for residents."

Cllr. Doolan said, "Today's findings have serious implications. This double tax must be scrapped immediately. It totally vindicates those of us who have campaigned to overturn this unjust tax and must be clearly seen as a victory for all residents who worked together with us to reverse this double taxation.

"Only last week the Labour/Fine Gael alliance in City Council voted to increase the bin tax by a massive 74%. In light of today's findings serious questions must be asked of all these councillors and indeed of the city management that has continued to promote and impose these charges."

Cllr. Doolan concluded by demanding, "the City Manager clarify the situation as a matter of urgency and call off his boot boys in Legal & Trade debt collectors who are threatening 1000's of non payers with legal action in the run up to Christmas." ENDS

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Responding to a statement from the DUP MEP Jim Allister regarding the appearance of the collusion families today in Brussels, Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald said that it was unfortunate that Mr Allister chose to depart before the large delegation of families arrived.

Ms McDonald said:

" Jim Allister and his 5 person rent a mob staged a short protest outside the venue for this mornings meeting. However he departed well before the families arrived. This was most unfortunate as many of the families were looking forward to discussing their cases with Mr Allister particularly those who have relatives murdered with weapons imported by Ulster Resistance.

" It has to be remembered that one of the vehicles used to rearm the unionist paramilitaries was Ulster Resistance. It was DUP leader and at the time sitting MEP Ian Paisley who set up Ulster Resistance. We can all remember well the images of the DUP hierarchy with their red berets in the Ulster Hall.

" Many of victims were wondering why Mr Allister chose to depart before their arrival. It would be my belief that the DUP dalliance with Ulster Resistance provided a very real motivation for his hasty departure.

" It may well be that the DUP have been successful in hiding their involvement in Ulster Resistance from the rest of the European Parliament up until now. But the families and the victims of the British policy of state sanctioned murder have every right to tell their story and were never going to be silenced by Jim Allister or his right wing allies." ENDS

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Spokesperson for the An Fhírinne campaign group, Jim Clinton has said that he was pleased with the response and warm welcome that the group received from MEPs and others in the European Parliament this morning.

Mr Clinton was speaking after he addressed a hearing organised by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL) group. The event entitled "Peace must be built on truth" aimed to highlight the issue of Britishstate collusion with unionist death squads over the past 30 years.

Speaking from the European Parliament, Mr Clinton said:

"The families are very pleased that they have been given the opportunity to address the European Parliament in Brussels. Many of the families foundit difficult to speak about the death of their loved ones today, but feltthat it was necessary that their stories be told to as wide a group ofpeople as possible, so that they may understand the role played by theBritish state in collusion with unionist paramilitaries in the murder oftheir relatives.

"We have met with a number of people in the European Parliament who have been sympathetic to our plight, and have pledged their support to us in our search for justice, truth and closure. The messages of support have heartened us, and we will continue to fight to expose the nature and extent of British collusion with unionist death squads.

"On behalf of the families, I want to thank Sinn Féin for facilitating today's hearing, and in particular Bairbre de Brún MEP and Mary Lou McDonald MEP. I also wish to thank the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL) group in the European Parliament for allowing our voices to be heard throughout Europe". ENDS

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Sinn Fein has invited unions from across Ireland to engage in a discussion on Sinn Fein's All Ireland 'Rights for All' charter in Dundalk today.

Speaking from the event in the Imperial Hotel Sinn Féin Spokesperson on All Ireland development, West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff said:

"Sinn Fein has consistently pressed the British and Irish governments to implement the Good Friday Agreement. We believe that the all-Ireland architecture within the Agreement has the potential drive forward the all-Ireland agenda. Whatever the outcome of the current talks, the business of rebuilding and preparing for reunification will continue to gather momentum by establishing a participative model for democracy which will protect the rights andentitlements of all our citizens.

"Sinn Féin have put forward strong arguments for advancement of key Human Rights commitments in our discussions with the two governments. We have sought specifically to strengthen the rights of the Human Rights Commission. We believe also that the work of establishing a Bill of Rights should pushed forward immediately and lay the foundation for the advancement of an all-Ireland Charter of Human Rights.

"We believe that as many people as possible need to be consulted on what should be in this charter of rights, and most especially the working people across the island. For this reason, Sinn Fein has drawn up a 'Rights for All' Charter based on international documents and declarations, in order to have a starting point for consultations, which need to be held throughout the island.

"Although we have received valuable comment from the ICTU and of course from many individual trade unionists over the past few months, we are anxious to move forward to as wide as possible consultation, across the board, with all trade unionists, and to hear their views on what rights should be enshrined in a Bill of Rights, including guarantees on rights in the work place, which are currently, much restricted and rarely enforced." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún this morning welcomed the relatives of over 50 people murdered as a result of British state collusion with unionist death squads, to the European Parliament in Brussels. Ms de Brún stressed the importance of facilitating this first ever visit by those affected by collusion saying that the families of the bereaved were 'entitled to have their voices and personal testimonies heard in the European Parliament'. 

Relatives from the An Fhírinne campaign group travelled to the European Parliament in Brussels to highlight the consistent policy of collusion between British Intelligence agents, the RUC and unionist death squads over the past 30 years. They were invited to a hearing organised by the EUL/NGL group in the European Parliament to discuss the issue. The meeting was chaired by Francis Wurtz, President of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL) group. Approximately 70 people attended the event.

Speaking from Brussels, Ms de Brún said:

"I am pleased to welcome those most affected by the policy of British state collusion with unionist death squads to the European Parliament.

Today's hearing provided the families with an opportunity to have their voices heard. Some of those present at today's hearing were both shocked and saddened by the personal testimonies from family members, and were anxious to see what could be done here in Brussels to assist the families.

"Those present at the hearing were informed that the British Government policy of employing unionist death squads was sanctioned at the highest political levels. The same British agencies which executed this policy remain in place today.

"The families demand closure and peace of mind. Sinn Féin has pledged its support to the families in their search for truth and justice. We are mindful that many other families have suffered and lost loved ones, as a result of the conflict in the six counties.

"There are people who do not want to contemplate or admit that the British Government were complicit in state sanctioned murder. It is important as we continue to move through a period of conflict resolution that the voices of all of those who suffered in any way are heard. The families of those murdered at the hands of the British state deserve to have their voices heard also." ENDS

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Writing in the Irish News today Sinn Fein national Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has said that the British government must take responsibility for investing sufficient resources to underpin the work of any new Executive to address the decades of under funding and to address the legacy of British policy here by tackling poverty.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"There has been serious under-investment by successive British governments creating huge infrastructural deficits in water, sewage and transport and severe crises within health and education.

"We are a society emerging from conflict and are dealing with partition and the resultant distortion of economic development on the island as a whole.

"The British government must take responsibility for creating these problems and invest sufficient resources with no strings attached. Neither PPP/PFI nor Reform and Reinvestment Initiatives (RRI) are substitutes. They will only result in further tax and rates burdens. An immediate resource should be a shift from military/security spending to economic and social development.

"The British government have agreed that a significant peace dividend is required. I obviously welcome that. But the content and terms suggested to us by Paul Murphy fall very short of what is required.

"Sinn Féin has also raised the issue of a Peace Dividend with the Irish government. Such a commitment should be used to underpin and advance the Human Rights and Equality agendas and the work of the all-Ireland institutions and the issues facing the border counties." ENDS

Full Text of Article

Headline figures can promote a 'feel-good' economic climate. But behind these headlines is an economy in crisis. Half a million people are 'economically inactive'. Many others are in the part-time, low wage economy, levels of poverty are unacceptably high and there is an over-dependence on the public and service sectors.

There has also been serious under-investment by successive British governments creating huge infrastructural deficits in water, sewage and transport and severe crises within health and education.

We are a society emerging from conflict and are dealing with partition and the resultant distortion of economic development on the island as a whole.

The British government must take responsibility for creating these problems and invest sufficient resources with no strings attached. Neither PPP/PFI nor Reform and Reinvestment Initiatives (RRI) are substitutes. They will only result in further tax and rates burdens. An immediate resource should be a shift from military/security spending to economic and social development.

If the North was to reach Britain's average economic activity rate it would require an extra 112,000 persons in employment. This is equivalent to a net annual injection of £1.6bn into the economy. The current situation with civil service job losses and new entrants in the labour market will require an additional 142,000 jobs over the next ten years. This job creation programme alone would cost £1bn.

Conflict resolution also requires concerted initiatives to support communities directly caught up in the conflict, including ex-combatants. Any peace dividend must promote equality and social inclusion with realisable targets. Tangible differences must be seen on the ground.

An all-Ireland economic development strategy is also important. North and south should not be rivals but should work to a common agenda. Island wide strategies would avoid duplication.

The Border is an artificial construct - an impediment to social and economic development acknowledged by the EU INTERREG III programme. The Border Corridor is characterised by low wages, relatively high unemployment, poor roads, inadequate or non-existent public transport, insufficient energy supply and ICT networks.

The spatial strategies/development plans in both jurisdictions on the island recognise the need to develop the Border Corridor on a collective basis. They explicitly state the centrality of community regeneration and social inclusion initiatives (National Development Plan & NI Structural Funds).

Both strategies share a 'Common Chapter' that makes specific commitments to cross-border co-operation and integration of services and infrastructure in Energy; Communications and Electronic Commerce; Human Resource Development; Agriculture and Rural Development; Tourism; Transport; Environment; Education and Health It is essential that these commitments are not mere aspirations, as many of them have been up to now. They need to be acted upon and accelerated with a focus on real delivery within definite timeframes. There are a number of initiatives that may be regarded as flagship projects which have been slow but which are essential elements of the peace dividend.

· Health Services Co-operation. There has been little progress in delivery of the Common Chapter commitments to co-operation between health services.

· Renewed commitment to the extension of the existing mechanisms for co-operation is needed between the Western and Southern Health Boards in the Six Counties and the North Western and North Eastern Health Boards in the 26 Counties. In addition, there should no further diminution of acute hospital services in the border region.

· The Middletown Centre for Autism. This all-Ireland centre of excellence has been slow in coming on stream. The real expectation of families of children with autism has not been met.

· Public Transport. A Border Region Public Transport Taskforce should set targets for improved bus services throughout the region, and across the border, by the end of 2005; increased funding for the Rural Transport Initiative; an action plan for the strategic extension of the rail network within the Border region should be brought forward as a matter of urgency.

· Economic Development. The north is much closer to the south in terms of unemployment, economic activity and participation rates. Any economic development strategy must deal with removing the barriers to north/south business development and trade. Invest NI and IDA Ireland must work together to harmonise investment regimes, sectoral development strategies and the geographical share out of inward investment. In the border region InterTradeIreland should bring together a taskforce to develop strategic flagship projects.

· All-Ireland Travel Pass for the Elderly. This simple measure is another example of an expectation thwarted by a sluggish approach. Both governments should ensure that delivery is achieved in early 2005.

The British government have now agreed with us that a significant peace dividend is necessary. I obviously welcome that. But the content and terms suggested to us by Paul Murphy fall very short of what is required.

Sinn Féin has also raised the issue of a Peace Dividend with the Irish government. Such a commitment should be used to underpin and advance the Human Rights and Equality agendas and the work of the all-Ireland institutions and the issues facing the border counties

Sinn Fein will ensure that any peace dividend is significant enough to make a real impact, particularly on the human rights and equality agendas. Having brought the British government to this position, we will continue to press them to ensure that any financial package is significant and falls within the parameters outlined in this article.

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Sinn Féin Social Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe TD has called on the Minister for Social and Family Affairs Séamus Brennan and the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney to intervene immediately to prevent the loss of six of only 13 emergency beds in the whole of the Eastern region for newly homeless children.

Deputy Crowe has learned that from tomorrow, December 8th, it is proposed to cut six emergency places in three Dublin city hostels, leaving only seven such places in the whole of Counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. These places are vital for newly homeless children as they assist in preventing them from becoming chronically homeless.

Deputy Crowe said:

"The Northern Area Health Board, which runs this service for the Eastern Region, is proposing from tomorrow to close six of only 13 emergency beds which are supposed to cater for newly homeless children in the whole of Counties Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare. It would be scandalous if this were allowed to go ahead. Service-providers cannot believe that such a callous cut is being made.

"These places are vital as they provide an essential refuge for children who have just been made homeless. They allow the social services to intervene early and prevent these children from becoming victims of drug addiction, prostitution and victimisation by other homeless young people who sometimes exploit them. After a Budget which did nothing for homelessness it would be incredible if almost half of the emergency places for the most vulnerable children in this city and this region were to be axed.

"I am calling on the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and the Minister for Health and Children to intervene directly now and to prevent these appalling cuts to vital services." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Joe Reilly recently met with two local representatives of the Communication Workers Union at their request.

Afterwards he said:

"The CWU members briefed Sinn Fein on the present state of industrial relations within An Post. The representatives pointed out that the workers had attempted to work with the company but that they now have little confidence in the present management. They believe that the management proposals will restructure the postal system beyond recognition and will have a detrimental effect on the collection and delivery by An Post".

"They also raised concern at the decision to close the SDS service in Feb 2005. They believe that the service is viable, should remain and its closure will have a huge impact on a large number of small businesses who depend on the service".

"For my part I agreed to request Sinn Fein TD's to ask Minister Dempsey to refer the issue of the financial state of An Post to the Public Accounts Committee in the Dail. The CWU are confused as to how an outgoing CEO of An Post could announce a 1m Euro profit while the incoming CEO declares that the company is 46m euro in debt. No safisfacory answer has been given to these two contradictory statements".

"The workers representative also assured me that there would be the least possible disruption to the public on their one-day strike" ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson Cllr John O'Dowd MLA has welcomed new guidelines issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in relation to the prescription of anti-depressant drugs, particularly Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI's).

Cllr O'Dowd said:

"These new guidelines, issued by NICE, governing the use and prescription of anti-depressant drugs are to be welcomed. There is widespread concern about the increased use of SSRI's and in particular the widespread of practice of issuing repeat prescriptions. The addictive nature of these drugs is demonstrated by the immense difficulties experienced by many people trying to stop using the drugs.

"However, new clinical guidelines on their own will be of little use unless the government demonstrates a willingness to increase the levels of funding for the provision of additional mental health practitioners and counselling services to assist those people suffering from clinical depression.

"The need for this additional funding is extremely urgent given that a number of health boards and trusts across the North are already under pressure to review their service planning due to the inadequate levels of funding being made available for new service development under the proposed the governments proposed Priorities and Budget 2005-2008." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald's speeches when they addressed representatives of the Business, Community, Trades Union and Civic sectors of society throughout Derry and Donegal at Da Vinci's Hotel Derry. The two Sinn Féin MEP's were in the North West Region on a fact finding visit as the guest of Foyle MLA Mitchel Mc Laughlin. The visit was a resounding success with a noticeable cross-community attendance.

Bairbre de Brún MEP

I would like to thank the Mayor, Gearóid O hÉara for his opening remarks and Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA for hosting this visit to the North West Region. It will allow me and my colleague Mary Lou Mc Donald MEP for Dublin, the opportunity to listen to those organisations and individuals that are concerned with the lack of investment in this region and to assess how best we can use our presence in the European Parliament to help alleviate the problems being experienced. 

Mary Lou and I intend to work with each other and with our fellow MEPs to further the needs of the North West in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is already recognised through existing EU programmes that the border presents specific disadvantages to infrastructural, economic and social development. We know that the border has significantly hampered development in the Derry Donegal area, as with the other border corridors, and that it continues to do so.

The European Commission and Parliament are presently working on ways of making cross border working between local and regional bodies much easier, and you all know of course that as Sinn Fein MEPs our intention is to go much further than that.

Sinn Féin recognises the need for targeted investment in the North West in terms of infrastructure, arterial routes and networks, indigenous business development, rural diversification and initiatives to tackle outward migration. We know that developing the competitiveness of this whole area will be all important in the time ahead.

Modern telecommunications and infrastructure are essential to develop the ability to compete with the other regions of Europe and the wider world in attracting inward investment. This is an area where we believe there could still be scope for EU intervention and assistance

There is a fresh urgency to this issue, because the present EU structural funding programme ends in 2006, and the Commission has announced a sharp reduction in regional funding to Ireland from 2007-2013.

As a member of the Regional Development Committee within the European Parliament, I have the opportunity to discuss these and other issues with colleagues from across the EU political spectrum. Work for the regeneration of the North West was a key part of Sinn Féin's EU election manifesto and this visit is part of a programme of work to find new and innovative ways to achieve this end.

Mary Lou and I will listen carefully to those in local government, business and the community who are working together to bring an integrated focus to the way forward. We understand the crucial importance of integrated planning for the future of this region and will add our voice at European level to those advocating such an approach locally, regionally and nationally.

In terms of Derry City's place in the wider region, I know that Mitchel McLaughlin has long advocated the development of the sea port here as a major freight facility and has highlighted the importance of the City of Derry Airport, as well as stressing the need for major road upgrades.  The local representatives have with one voice decried the threat to the Derry to Belfast rail service and Mitchel has argued strongly for imaginative innovative planning for the airport, sea port and rail service.  We are aware of the discussions that Derry City Council has had with INI and others with respect to the regeneration of the region and we know of the ongoing work on energy initiatives.

We will take on board the concerns and suggestions expressed by the groups that we have met today and we will be listening carefully this afternoon when we meet with Professor Bernie Hannigan at the Magee campus to discuss ways in which we can assist the University.  We are aware of the issue of locating a Medical School at Magee that could be developed in co-operation with third level educational facilities in Letterkenny, and will give this issue our consideration.

Of course, I take a personal pride in watching the progress of development at Altnagelvin Hospital which I saw at the outset when I was Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in an Executive we all seek to see re-established without further delay.

And as the British government confirms in writing that they will deliver a peace dividend as part of any deal, Sinn Fein will meet with them to ensure that any peace dividend is significant enough to make a real impact, particularly on the human rights and equality agendas.

Working together and with the back-up of a party with an all-Ireland approach to development Mary Lou and I will be approaching your problems from a regional rather than a jurisdictional viewpoint. Both of us intend to be accessible to any and all interested parties that require assistance in areas that come under EU programmes or influence.

Mary Lou McDonald MEP

As Bairbre just said as Sinn Féin MEP's we will be approaching the root causes of the infrastructural and economic deficit afflicting this area from a Regional perspective and not from a jurisdictional one. And I don't just make that comment as a political statement. It is a fact that for too long we have had two political systems on this island whose vision ended at an artificially imposed border.

Everything gravitated towards Dublin or Belfast and the closer to the border the further you were from the minds of Dublin and Belfast centrist planners. But it was not just the infrastructure in the North West that was ignored by the powers that be in Dublin and Belfast the special relationship and the interdependency that exists between the people of the border corridor received no governmental attention or assistance. The border communities experience specific difficulties that need specific measures to address them.

It is clear that this presents unique difficulties not experienced in other regions. For years we had people from the Southern counties crossing into the North for education and employment. But times have changed and we are now experiencing an exodus of people from Derry and other northern Cities and Towns swelling the population of once small towns and villages along the southern side of the border. This has exacerbated the historical problems faced by those working in one jurisdiction and living in the other.

If these problems are not addressed now they will continue to grow until they will be unmanageable. Obviously we are keen to learn how such issues are address in other areas of Europe experiencing similar problems and what if any models of best practice, and indeed poor practice we can learn from.

However I believe that until we achieve full integration of services  across the border and adequately harmonise the tax regimes much of this work will be very difficult. Such macro economic measures are part of the solution and we are committeed to raising these issues in Europe.

The tourism potential of this region is not being developed to the full. With the areas of natural beauty and places of historical significance that exist throughout the NorthWest Region it is gross negligence by the two governments that not only have they not provided the resources to develop the infrastructure but they have failed miserably to market the region as a tourist destination of special interest. I am sure that there are EU programmes that can be targeted to assist in developing this potential and we intend to explore all possibilities as a matter of urgency. For decades this region has not received its fair share of EU development funds. We intend to do what we can to see this practice reversed. Other funding streams available to groups and businesses such as RETEX 3 and the PEACE II extension as well as any possible PEACE III need to be targeted and accessed.

On this small island of just over 5 million people it is sheer folly that we have two competing bureaucracies, two political and economic administrations and two sets of legal and financial frameworks for business, agriculture and other areas of economic life. The border has separated and damaged communities and it is time that we build the momentum for greater harmonisation and co-operation to repair that damage. Greater harmonisation and co-operation can release more money for frontline services and for investment in our infrastructure. It is important not just to Sinn Féin but to everyone in this Region that we see the fullest development possible of the all-Ireland bodies and institutions.

There is a growing recognition among business leaders that balanced development demands the strengthening of economic and social cohesion through integrated planning and development by the administrations North and South. The reality is that every aspect of economic activity in the private sector is developing on an all-Ireland basis very efficiently and profitably. The northern economy is benefiting to the tune of £1Billion annually from doing business with the rest of the island. Southern businesses have also been expanding and operating on an all-Ireland basis. This can only lead to job creation and job security. It is time that the two governments adopted similar strategies and increased co-operation in developing integrated planning that would eliminate the infrastructural and economic deficits of regions like the North West. I have no doubt that if they adopted such an approach that a case could be made for EU assistance.

As a member of the Employment and Social Affairs Committee in the European Parliament I have a particular interest in working for greater levels of employment, protecting and expanding public services and working to assist the social and business sectors to the full.

For our part, Bairbre and myself will be bringing your case to Europe not as two entities separated by a border but as one integrated Region. Go raibh maith agaibh.

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North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA, Philip McGuigan, has expressed serious concerns with the continuing funding crisis within the Education sector. His comments come after the NEELB became the latest board to announce a shortfall in funding over the next 3 years.

Mr McGuigan said:

"I am very concerned that services currently in existence within schools may have to be cut. We cannot allow central government underfunding to affect any aspect of our children's education.

"At present the boards are being asked to make cuts, as are our local schools which can only have a detrimental impact on our children. Just today a number of Local Boards of Governors received letters from Barry Gardiner asking them to produce savings to their budgets.

"Mr Gardiner, like his Direct Rule partners, should not be allowed to carry on making bad decisions that will have grave detrimental economic and social consequences for the people of the Six Counties.

"These local decisions should be made by locally elected representatives and they should be made on the basis of the British government producing a peace dividend to make up for the 30 years of underfunding of services in the North."

Mr McGuigan is to meet the Chief Executive of NEELB in Ballymena this week to discuss the funding crisis and a number of other local educational issues. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East Councillor Daithí Doolan tonight welcomed Dublin City Council's, "unanimous support for keeping Bewleys Cafes Open and for the establishment of a National Heritage Trust to protect and preserve our heritage."

Speaking during the debate, Cllr. Doolan said: "this motion is an important motion with far reaching implications for our city. While the focus tonight is on Bewleys this motion sends out a clear message that our heritage and culture is not for sale to the highest bidder.

"Economic development cannot be allowed to become a steamroller whereby heritage and culture are simply steamrolled out of existence in the name of so called progress.

"The establishment of a National Heritage Trust will ensure that our heritage and indeed culture can be protected in the future. Without such a Trust we will simply be held to ransom by developers. The challenge is now at the feet of the Minister of Environment, Heritage & Local Government to ensure that the Trust is established as a matter of urgency."

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan congratulated, "the Save Bewleys Campaign for winning such widespread public support and continuing the fight to keep Bewleys open." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Employment and Learning Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Cllr Michael Ferguson has warned that ten training organisations across West and South Belfast are to set to lose as many as 220 jobs (not including Trainers) as a direct consequence of the DEL Minister Barry Gardiner's 'Slash & Save Strategy', which is not about the "Redirection of resources in to priority frontline services".

The job losses will happed due to the budget cuts to the New Deal, LearnDirect & Worktrack Programmes with Organisations such as the Springfield Charitable Association and Springvale Hundreds more jobs provided Training Consortium organisations across the Six Counties will also go and representatives from the WorkTrack Forum will brief MLAs at the Assembly on Monday. (6.11.04 at 11am)

Commenting upon the Minister's Strategy Cllr Ferguson said:

"The decisions by DEL can only be described as Ministerial Mayhem. The cuts to Worktrack, LearnDirect, New Deal and now Bridge to Employment will result in the loss of hundreds of jobs across Belfast and hundreds more across the Six Counties with a knock-on impact on Training Providers themselves.

"The situation has been worsened this week with news that there is no money left this year of next for the Bridge-To-Employment Programme and the 100 jobs ring fenced with employers such as Northbrook and Phoenix.

"This latter programme was a targeted initiative that resulted from the Jobs Task Force Report and will mean that 100 jobs for the Shankill and Falls will be lost.

"DEL does not have a Skills Strategy but a Slash and Save Strategy, which can only be described as Ministerial Mayhem.

"Those Training Organisations best placed to address the numeracy and literacy difficulties identified by DEL as responsible for unemployment and Skills Gaps are having their budgets slashed and given to the FE sector who have never been able to resolve the problems." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has welcomed the publication of the Mintel Ireland report on the Food Services market which highlights the potential of the food services industry to "expand rapidly" if food suppliers and catering contractors use the "Irishness" of their products to their advantage.

Ms Gildernew said:

"This report sets down a clear challenge for the not just food services industry but also for the agri-industry in the north.

"Sinn Féin have consistently argued that there is already a well-established internationally recognised Irish brand that we should be building on.

"There is a worldwide reputation for the quality of Irish meat and dairy produce that we should be rightly proud of. It is vital for the future of the industry that we use every available tool to build on that reputation. This demands that the potential of the all-Ireland agenda is realised. If we are serious about the future of the agri-industry we must not miss out on the potential of building on the clean green image of the Ireland brand that is instantly recognisable throughout the world.

"The agri-industry is vital to our rural communities which play and should continue to play an important role in our economy. Any missed opportunity now is an opportunity denied to the industry, to our rural communities and to our economy." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's North Antrim MLA, Philip McGuigan, has responded to comments made by both Bill Lowry and Ian Paisley at the recent DUP Fundraising Dinner in Kells.

Mr McGuigan said:

"The comments made by Bill Lowry last week are obviously those of a bitter and twisted man, prejudiced in the extreme, and he has no qualms about not hiding these bigoted views - which should be seen in the context of a man who headed up both the RUC and PSNI Special Branch for many years.

„Nationalists/Republicans are all too acutely aware of the activities of this ŒForce within a force‚. They are all too aware of collusion with loyalist death squads that led to the deaths of many people in the north.

"It will not be lost on people either the fact that Mr Lowry‚s remarks were made at a DUP gathering. This was the man who was responsible for the politically motivated media-inspired raid on the Sinn Féin Offices in Stormont that has been exposed for the PSNI PR stunt that it was.

"Mr Lowry in fact, was the epitome of all that was and remains wrong with policing in the north. We can still see politically motivated policing decisions being taken in places like Ballymena, where they campaign to demonise Sinn Féin and republicans continuously. We need a police service that is accountable, free from partisan political control and free from the likes of Bill Lowry."

Mr McGuigan continued, saying that "this dinner seemed to be a competition between Mr Paisley and Mr Lowry to see who could make the most outlandish and bitter comments".

"Whether a deal is done or not done this week it is obvious how far the DUP and Ian Paisley in particular have come in from the political wilderness.

"The man who for 30 years has continually said ŒNo‚ now has to contemplate saying 'Yes'. We all remember Paisley's claim that he was going to smash Sinn Féin. He even said recently that Sinn Féin needed to be disbanded!

"The reality is an altogether different scenario. Any deal will be within the template of the Good Friday Agreement. It will include power-sharing with Sinn Féin and include working the all-Ireland institutions. The DUP leader, his party and his supporters have big decisions to make. If Mr Paisley cannot countenance such a scenario then the two governments need to push on and implement their part of the Agreement in terms of policing, demilitarisation and the Equality and Human Rights agenda. They must also ensure that the all Ireland nature of the Agreement is protected and built upon." ENDS

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Speaking after DUP MEP Jim Allister today released a document concerning the allocation of EU Peace funds when he once again criticised the allocation of funding received by the Catholic community as being disproportionate, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún said:

" Peace funding cannot be allocated on the basis of religion or political affiliation. It must be and can only be allocated on the basis of need. The catholic, nationalist and republican community having suffered from decades of institutional and political discrimination obviously qualifies for such attention. Many working class loyalist communities qualify likewise.

" However many people are getting tired of the constant politicking about the supposed raw deal unionist communities are getting from EU Peace funding from Jim Allister and others. Deprivation and poverty exist across our diverse community and the reality is that these issues can only be tackled by ensuring that people receive resources commensurate with their need. That is what was decided in the last Assembly and agreed by the two governments and by the European Commission. Sinn Féin will fight to ensure that fairness and need underpin allocation during the extension of the funds. If some needy unionist communities have not made applications for funding in the past then the question must be asked about the encouragement they received from their own political representatives.

"Mr Allister has already welcomed the prospect of PEACE II extension in the European Parliament. He would be better served encouraging those he feels could make use of such grants to apply, as they cannot receive funds if they do not submit an application, instead of spending time producing a partisan and disingenuous analysis of Peace funding to date. Working class communities should not be pitted against one another in this way. This runs counter to the basis of peace building and reconciliation.

" Working class loyalist areas have been let down. They have been let down by the woeful political leadership which has been provided by the unionist parties including the DUP over the years. The very obvious social and economic problems which exist within some loyalist communities will not end until these communities are given real political leadership and they will not be cured by trying to use their problems as a further weapon against impoverished nationalist communities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has said that he is disgusted and angered at reports that the PSNI racially abused and assaulted a Turkish born street trader in Belfast over the weekend.

Mr Maskey said:

" At the weekend PSNI members forcibly removed a Turkish born street trader called Musa Gulusen from the city centre. The man was subsequently hospitalised and has been treated for a broken arm and bruising to his face and back. The man was racially abused by the PSNI members present both inside the land rover and in front of witnesses on the street. In anyone's terms this was a vicious racist attack.

" Given the statistics which show a complete failure by the PSNI to tackle ongoing racist attacks in the city the news of the weekend assault in the city centre may provide some rational for this. How can ethnic minority communities or indeed any of the rest of us have confidence in a force tackling racist attacks when its own members have no problem engaging in similar behaviour in the broad light of day in the middle of Belfast City Centre.

" In any other job or profession if these sort of allegations were made the individuals involved would be suspended immediately. Instead the PSNI refuse to comment and hide behind the office of the Police Ombudsman." ENDS

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