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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 Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has voiced concern that the Fuel Poverty Strategy due to be launched today is weak and falls far short of what is required to tackle the problem of fuel poverty.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Fuel poverty is at epidemic levels across the north - it affects 1 in 3 and each year over 1300 older people die because of cold weather. Speaking to many people working within in the sector it is clear that there is deep anger at the way the department has gone about trying to develop a strategy to tackle fuel poverty.

"Sinn Féin will be not be attending the launch of this strategy in Dungannon in a direct effort to get the department to look again at its response to this crisis. The publication of a weak strategy that falls far short of what is required is a missed opportunity.

"The reality is that fuel poverty levels here are higher than in either the rest of Ireland or in England. We have also seen oil prices rise by 60% in the last year, gas prices up twice in the past 12 month - 11% was the last increase and rising coal prices. Rising energy prices are forcing more and more households into fuel poverty yet the departmental response is weak.

"There are no extra resources being targeted at fuel poverty. This a key issue. The failure to commit the required resources and the failure to deliver new money shows that, clearly, the political leadership, will and determination to fight fuel poverty is lacking. Without real targets for eradicating fuel poverty based on committed resources fuel poverty will not be eradicated.

"Sinn Fein in our response to the consultation called for a Ministerial Task Force, inclusive of sectoral interests, to tackle fuel poverty, to give the issue political importance and drive. Instead we will have an inter-departmental group chaired by a part-time direct rule minister that is civil service driven. There would be no outside representation on this. Instead an unresourced Fuel Poverty Advisory Group is being proposed.

"The most vulnerable members of our community are most at risk from fuel poverty. Older people, people with disabilities, young parents, long-term sick and low-income families are being put at even greater risk because there is no political will to prioritise funding to tackle fuel poverty. What is needed is a radical response. This isn't it." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Meath County Councillor Joe Reilly has today claimed that the state has "completely and utterly failed the people who continue to languish on local authority housing waiting lists".

Cllr Reilly was speaking after it emerged that only 315 homes in the state were built to provide social and affordable housing under the "Planning and Development Act 2001", which stipulated that up to 20% of all private housing developments had to cater for social and affordable housing. The figures were provided between January 2002 and June 2004.

Speaking today, Cllr Reilly said:

"This state has completely and utterly failed over 48,000 families who continue to languish on local authority housing waiting lists. The latest figures provided, show that a paltry 315 houses were built to accommodate families most in need of homes. Let me say to Minister Ahern ˆ this is unacceptable. Thousands of families continue to remain in limbo, whilst this government pretends that this state has no housing crisis.

"In my own county Meath, a mere 16 social and affordable homes were built in the space of 18 months. Up to 1000 people are currently on the housing list in the county. These figures clearly illustrate the serious shortage of affordable housing in the Meath region.

"What is required is a refocusing of 'Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2001' and a strict adherence to the criteria where 20% of all private housing developments must cater for social and affordable housing units. This government has a duty to provide housing for the most vulnerable people within our society. Sinn Féin will continue to prioritise housing as a fundamental human right." ENDS

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Ahead of budget day 2005 Sinn Fein's candidate in the recent E.U elections Pearse Doherty has called upon the Government not to use the budget as a political instrument for their own re-election but instead live up to their responsibilities and put an emphasis on social need and equality.

Cllr. Doherty said "Sinn Fein firmly believe that the taxation system should be based on the ability to pay. We have seen tactics in the past where the Government have claimed not to have increased taxes while in fact they have used the budget to camouflage an array of tax increases in the form of stealth taxes. Stealth taxes is the worst form of taxation as the impact of this is felt by low to middle earners"

Doherty went on to call on the Minister of Finance to increase the tax credit to bring minimum wage workers out of the tax net. He concluded "It is ridiculous that people on a minimum wage are required to pay tax while in the wake of recent revelations that absolutely no income tax was paid in 2001 by 242 people earning between €100, 000 and 1 Million Euro. It is scandalous that the government allows these people to avoid paying any income tax while minimum wage workers are taxed.

It is only just and fair that these people on minimum wage of €273 a week are taken out of the tax net" ENDS

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Deputy Mayor of Belfast, Cllr Joe O'Donnell this morning reacted angrily to the British Governments proposed axing of the Worktrack program before Christmas.

Cllr O‚Donnell said;

"I am saddened but not surprised by the scrooge like attitude of the British Govt. towards these workers who are attempting to re-enter the labour market despite the different obstacles that are placed in their way. Indeed, this is reminiscent of the scrapping of the ACE schemes by a similarly minded government.

"The news of the impending end of Worktrack in the run up to Christmas will come as a great shock and disappointment to both providers and workers alike. This disappointment is only added to when you consider the fact that no consultation was undertaken with either the providers or workers before the final decision was made.

"This announcement makes a mockery of the British Govt's stated intention of 'getting people back to work' - what they are now doing is forcing people back onto benefits and the subsequent poverty trap which that entails. The erroneous claims that these cuts are a result of falling unemployment does not take into account the fact that WorkTrack is designed to target areas of high social and economic deprivation where unemployment figures are substantially higher than average.

"The British Govt. has not proposed any alternative to the WorkTrack initiative and they intend to squander the advances of the last 5 years which have seen 600 people go through this scheme in Belfast alone. I am calling on them to at least have the decency to let WorkTrack run to its original 2006 review date if they do not have the foresight to extend it in the long term." ENDS

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West Belfast Assembly member Michael Ferguson has said that revelations yesterday at the inquest into the death of PSNI Constable George McKee that he was drunk immediately after ending the night shift in Andersonstown barracks raises serious questions for the PSNI and their political backers.

Mr Ferguson said:

" Yesterday at an inquest into the death of Andersonstown barracks based PSNI member George McKee it was revealed that he was drunk when he crashed into another car in Donaghadee immediately after leaving the night shift in the West Belfast base.

" Sinn Féin have long been highlighting the canteen culture which exists within the PSNI. Local people familiar with drunken on duty PSNI members will not be surprised at the revelations at yesterday's inquest.

" However the entire episode does raise very serious issues for the PSNI and their political backers. Is alcohol freely available within their barracks? Is it normal practice to drink on duty? Is it normal practice to allow PSNI members who have consumed alcohol while working to drive home in this case through heavily populated areas in West Belfast?

" This sort of canteen culture can have no part in an acceptable and accountable policing service and must be ended and ended for good if we are to see a new community based policing service delivered." ENDS

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Lagan Valley Sinn Féin Representative Cllr. Paul Butler has said that people in Lisburn will have been stunned by a statement from the PSNI that they have not established a motive for the murder of young James McMahon in the town one year ago.

Cllr. Butler said:

" It is a well known fact that James McMahon was murdered by the UDA in Lisburn. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The UDA exists primarily to intimidate and kill Catholics and is riddled with PSNI Special Branch agents and informers.

" The PSNI are insulting the intelligence of nationalists in Lisburn by pretending that the murder of James McMahon was anything other than a random and blatantly sectarian murder and indeed many will question the motivation behind this move by the PSNI.

" This sort of approach to unionist paramilitary violence it has to be said is fairly typical of the PSNI. They are never so reticent in pointing the finger at republican organisations even when there is no evidence to back up their claims particularly at sensitive times within the political process." ENDS

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South Belfast Assembly member Alex Maskey has revealed that former Sinn Féin Councillor Sean Hayes was last night visited at his home in the Markets area and informed by the PSNI that a death threat along with a recognised code word had been telephoned into the BBC offices in Belfast.

Mr Maskey said:

"Sean Hayes was visited late last night by the PSNI who informed him that his name along with that of three other republicans in Belfast, Dungannon and Warrenpoint were issued with death threats in a phone call to the BBC. The PSNI informed Sean that the threat was from the Red Hand Defenders and was accompanied by a recognised code word. He was informed that he would be killed within 48 hours.

"The Red Hand Defenders has of course in the past been a flag of convenience used by the UDA. It is deeply concerning that this UDA cover name has once again resurfaced only a week after the British Secretary of State proclaimed that the UDA was on cessation once again." ENDS

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Meath County Councillor Joe Reilly today announced that Sinn Féin has lodged a formal appeal with the Environmental Protection Agency against the granting of a Waste Licence to Indaver Ireland to operate an incinerator at Carronstown, Duleek, Co Meath.

Cllr Reilly has called for the entire incinerator process to be halted. He described the extremely casual attitude of the Environmental Protection Agency to incineration as "dangerous and unacceptable" and said it unbelievable that their licensing arrangements would allow Indaver to treat hazardous material, which is among the most toxic known to human kind, in the same manner as it would a sack of household refuse.

The appeal is co-signed by Councillor Reilly, Arthur Morgan TD and Drogheda Councillors Imelda Munster, Matthew Coogan, Dom Wilton and Meath Councillor Michael Gallagher.

Councillor Reilly said:

"Sinn Féin has lodged an appeal with the Environmental Protection Agency against the granting of a Waste Licence to Indaver Ireland to operate an incinerator at Carronstown, Duleek, Co Meath. Our appeal cites 18 individual objections to the proposed incinerator on a range of issues relating to incineration itself, monitoring, disposal, independent verification and the need to notify residents in the event of system failure. But central to all of these is the extremely casual approach of the EPA to the licensing of incineration processes.

"Approximately 5% of waste accepted at the incinerator will emerge as hazardous waste but no specific conditions are placed on its transport; on the specific destination of the waste and how such waste may be treated at its destination. Under the terms of this loose condition, there is any amount of room for unscrupulous operators to abuse the licensing regime. It again demonstrates the inability of the Agency to even construct appropriate licensing conditions in such a manner as to give maximum protection to residents and to our environment.

"The hazardous material emerging from the incinerator is among the most toxic known to humankind, yet it is treated in this condition as equivalent to a sack of household refuse. How can this be? Why is the Agency taking such a casual approach to the incineration industry? This entire incineration process must be halted, at least until such appropriate body is put in place as to adequately oversee the licensing regime.

"Sinn Féin believes that there is no justification for incineration. It produces toxins which are detrimental to the health of communities in which the incinerators are situated. Incineration flies in the face of any real environmental waste management strategy and has the effect of locking us into disposal as the prime approach to waste management. Incineration creates a major disincentive for the reduction and recycling of waste as incinerators need to be fed large volumes of waste to remain viable. We need proper commitment and investment from the Department of Environment Heritage and Local Government to a waste management policy based on reduction, reuse and recycle guided by the ultimate goal of zero waste." ENDS

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Sinn Féin national Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin and Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew will meet British Secretary of State Paul Murphy tomorrow, 23rd November 2004, at 2pm at the NIO Offices, Millbank in London to discuss a peace dividend to underpin the work of any new Executive and to address the legacy of under funding and discrimination, inequality and discrimination.

The Sinn Féin delegation will also discuss the issue of party policy research grants that are currently denied to the party and the IMC derived sanctions against the Sinn Féin electorate.

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson Cllr John O'Dowd MLA has called on the NIO health minister Angela Smith to release additional funding to the health service in order to cope with increased winter pressures.

Cllr O'Dowd said,

"Patient demand upon the Health Service increases dramatically throughout the winter months. Given that hospitals and other health and social services are already under pressure, I have asked Angela Smith to inform me if she intends to release any additional funding to deal with added winter pressures, and if so, the amount which will be allocated.

" I am aware that in 2003 an extra £7 million was allocated for this purpose. In view of the current situation within the Health Service with a number of Boards and Trusts already under financial pressure, I have said to the minister that last year's figure would need to be significantly increased and improved upon.

"There is a need to ensure additional medical beds in the hospital sector, a range of extra community care provision including domiciliary care packages and more services in the primary care sector, including extra GP clinics and practice nurse sessions in order to target and treat people early. I believe that if an additional and properly funded package was put together and implemented, it would assist in removing pressure on the health service thus averting hospital admissions." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Felix Gallagher today appealed for calm in the wake of the fatal shooting of Paul Cunningham in his Mullhuddart home. Mr. Gallagher has also condemned those responsible for the brutal killing.

Speaking in Dublin this morning he said:

"These attacks are an assault on the entire community and I condemn outright whoever was responsible for the brutal murder. There is a genuine fear in the area due to the worrying trend of increased gun crime in the locality and I would like to appeal for people to be calm.

"This is a clear example of the failure of the Justice Minister‚s West Dublin Crime Crackdown. Putting more armed Gardaí on the streets will not solve West Dublin's crime problems. Yes people do want more Gardai on the beat, but they want Gardai that will serve the Community - not armed checkpoints which often has the effect of alienating the Gardai from the Community they are suppose to be serving.

"The problems in West Dublin need to be addressed at a very basic and fundamental level. You will not over turn years of neglect and marginalisation with a few short-term highly visible police patrols. You need to tackle the causes of crime and anti-social behaviour at the same time as targeting the serious criminal elements that exist within the West Dublin community. But most importantly the Gardai need to work constructively and in the spirit of co-operation with the local community to address these issues." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has challenged Diane Dodds to explain why the DUP back the 11+ and the system of academic selection that is failing her constituents on the Shankill Road.

Mr Ferguson said:

"The fact remains that the people who do worst out of the current 11+ system and the system of academic selection are of protestant working class communities in places like the Shankill.

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

"I challenge Diane Dodds to justify her support for a system that fails those from within her community.

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

"We need to end the debate because the 11+ will go. We need to start talking about how we bring in alternatives that can end the branding of 11 year olds as failures and that can provide educational opportunities for all our children that are of the very highest standards." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Lagan Valley Representative Cllr. Paul Butler has revealed that the PSNI today informed his office that a package containing a white powder addressed to him had been intercepted by the Post Office.

Cllr. Butler said:

" The PSNI this morning visited my constituency office and informed staff that a package containing some sort of white powder addressed to me had been intercepted in the post. This is the latest in a campaign of intimidation and violence directed towards my family and myself.

" This campaign has in the past been directly linked to the UDA in Lisburn and relates to my continued opposition to discrimination and bigotry within Lisburn council.

" In the week since the UDA cessation announcement and the recognition of this by the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy there has been an attack on Larne Councillor Danny O'Connor and his mother linked to the UDA and now this incident today.

" Given these events the scepticism articulated by Sinn Féin last week in the wake of their statement was well founded." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that a Peace Dividend Fund must tackle the legacy of under investment and discrimination and disadvantage and is vital in underpinning the ability of any new Executive to deliver on the ground.

Mr Doherty said:

"The British government have neglected our infrastructure for over thirty years. There is a legacy of under investment across every part of our infrastructure - our roads, schools, hospitals, railways and sewerage. There is also a damming legacy of discrimination, inequality and disadvantage that must be tackled.

"The solution is not for the British government to put a greater tax burden on people here through the water charges and increases in rates but for the British government to accept that it has a responsibility to compensate for this under investment and to underpin work of any new Executive.

"There needs to be a genuine Peace Dividend to support the work of any new Executive and its ability to deliver on the ground. Sinn Fein have consistently put the demand for a genuine peace dividend at the top of the agenda. During the lifetime of the Executive it was only Sinn Féin that argued for a radical challenge to the Barnett formula and in the current negotiations Sinn Fein have made it clear that there should a genuine peace dividend.

"The British government need to commit to a significant peace dividend so that any new Executive can effectively address the legacy of conflict and division in our community by tackling inequality, deprivation and under funding. The mistakes made by the UUP and the SDLP in agreeing to water charges and increased rates must be reversed."ENDS

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Eyes on the Prize

Writing in the Irish Times this morning Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams outlines the current state of play in the ongoing peace talks. Below is both a summary of the article and the full text.

Summary of article

Will there or will there not be a comprehensive agreement arising out of the current negotiations? That question cannot be answered at this time. But it surely will be answered in the next few weeks. The outline for a comprehensive agreement presented by the two governments to Sinn Féin and the DUP is a work in progress.

There cannot be a compromise between rejectionist unionism and the Good Friday Agreement. Nor about the principles of equality, partnership, the all Ireland structures and the institutionalised power sharing. Does the outline provide for a comprehensive agreement? It could. But only if it is about the delivery of the Good Friday Agreement.

No one should argue about the need to find better ways to implement the Agreement or to iron out some of the technical or procedural flaws which have emerged and which were exploited by both the UUP and the DUP. Indeed Sinn Féin has put forward a series of proposals to correct these. Of course, there can be compromises on delivery. But even on these issues compromise is a two way street. Negotiations aren't just about taking it's also about giving. Thus far the DUP have given nothing.

We are also trying to ensure that the governments' proposals do not weaken any aspect of the principles of the AgreementBut because of the sensitivity and the importance of these negotiations we have refused to disclose any of the details. Unfortunately others have not been so restrained.

The SDLP in particular have been attacking Sinn Féin on the dubious premise that we have signed up for a deal which is a good deal for the DUP. The truth of course is that there is no deal. That's why the work continues.

Referring to an article in the Irish Times (Monday, 15 November) by Labour Leader Pat Rabbitte, Mr. Adams says: "is one of the few senior Irish politicians to have made no positive contribution to the Irish peace process. Indeed he is so fixated with the electoral challenge to his party from Sinn Féin that he ignores entirely the real obstacles to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement - the rejectionist position at this time of Ian Paisley and the role of the British government."

Sinn Féin has a proven record of working the institutions. We want a comprehensive agreement with both governments and with unionism.

If the DUP is not prepared to join with the rest of us, it is both necessary and legitimate to identify other options for securing the principles of the Agreement. In other words, the two governments need to compensate for this with new, imaginative and dynamic alternatives. This includes joint responsibility for the areas of government which would otherwise have been administered on a power-sharing basis.

The Irish government is a co-equal partner in the Good Friday Agreement and it has a responsibility to give immediate and tangible expression to this. That is why Sinn Féin has put forward proposals on this issue.

Sinn Féin, as the largest pro-Agreement party in the north, has a special responsibility to defend and promote the Agreement.

Unionists have expressed other concerns about republican intentions and that is a different matter. Within reason there is a duty on us to try, if we can, to remove those fears without undermining our electoral rights or our mandate. But there is also a duty on political unionism to face up to its responsibilities. The next week or so will clarify whether their leaders are prepared to do that at this time.

Full text of article

Will there or will there not be a comprehensive agreement arising out of the current negotiations? That question cannot be answered at this time. But it surely will be answered in the next few weeks. The outline for a comprehensive agreement presented by the two governments to Sinn Féin and the DUP is a work in progress. The governments may deny that, but that is the reality. If the current effort fails the governments may also, particularly the Irish government, say that the outline is not their position but their best guess at a compromise between the parties involved. The problem with this is that there cannot be a compromise between rejectionist unionism and the Good Friday Agreement. Nor about the principles of equality, partnership, the all-Ireland structures and institutionalised power sharing. Does the outline provide for a comprehensive agreement? It could. But only if it is about the delivery of the Good Friday Agreement.

No one should argue about the need to find better ways to implement the Agreement or to iron out some of the technical or procedural flaws which have emerged and which were exploited by both the UUP and the DUP. Indeed Sinn Féin has put forward a series of proposals to correct these. Of course, there can be compromises on delivery. But even on these issues compromise is a two way street. Negotiations aren't just about putting forward a shopping list of demands. It's not just a matter of taking. It's also about giving. Thus far the DUP have given nothing.

It may be in the week or so ahead that this will change. They may come to a position where they declare that they will share power with Sinn Féin. And work the institutions which were voted for by the majority of people in both states on this island. The focus of Sinn Féin 's efforts at this time is to get the DUP to do just that.

We are also trying to ensure that the governments' proposals do not weaken any aspect of the principles of the Agreement and that they help and not hinder its delivery. Obviously the fact that we spent so much time with the Taoiseach and later with the British Prime Minister last week is an indicator that we have concerns. But because of the sensitivity and the importance of these negotiations we have refused to disclose any of the details. Unfortunately others have not been so restrained.

The SDLP in particular have been attacking Sinn Féin on the dubious premise that we have signed up for a deal which is a good deal for the DUP. The truth of course is that there is no deal. That's why the work continues.

It is no accident that the Labour Party is making similar noises. Pat Rabbitte's article in the Irish Times (Monday, 15 November) - typical of his rare comments on the Irish peace process - is a negative attack on Sinn Féin. This is not surprising given that the Labour leader - whether in the Workers Party, Democratic Left, or the Labour Party - is one of the few senior Irish politicians to have made no positive contribution to the Irish peace process. Indeed he is so fixated with the electoral challenge to his party from Sinn Féin that he ignores entirely the real obstacles to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement - the rejectionist position at this time of Ian Paisley and the role of the British government.

He also accuses Sinn Féin of being unenthusiastic about the political institutions and cites our rejection of the absurd proposal that the north should be governed by a British government appointed quango. Let me be absolutely clear. Sinn Féin has a proven record of working the institutions. We want a comprehensive agreement with both governments and with unionism; we want the political institutions which were democratically endorsed by the Irish people restored. That is why we are making such an enormous effort this week and why our talks with the governments are so intensive.

When the two governments told us before Leeds Castle that the DUP were up for a deal based on the fundamentals of the Agreement, despite the absence of any real evidence of this, we suspended our scepticism and asked the two governments to come forward with proposals, bedded in the Good Friday Agreement, to move the process on. We also made the point that if the DUP is not prepared to join with the rest of us, it is both necessary and legitimate to identify other options for securing the principles of the Agreement.

In other words, if the parties, or to be more precise, if one party in the north adopts a rejectionist position, and if, as a result, vetoes the institutions, then the two governments need to compensate for this with new, imaginative and dynamic alternatives. This includes joint responsibility for the areas of government which would otherwise have been administered on a power-sharing basis. In the absence of power sharing in the north, power sharing between the two governments is the only way that this fundamental of the Agreement, and equality in the north can, be expressed. Irish nationalists living in the north can never again be abandoned to the mercy of the pro-Unionist mandarins in the British Government's 'Northern Ireland Office'.

The Labour leader may not relish an increased role for the Irish government in the north. But the Irish government is a co-equal partner in the Good Friday Agreement and it has a responsibility to give immediate and tangible expression to this. That is why Sinn Féin has put forward proposals on this issue.

There has been enormous progress over the past 10 years; progress that many imagined would not be possible. Sinn Féin wants that progress to continue. That means political unionism joining us in this historic enterprise. Does that mean diluting the Good Friday Agreement? It does not. The Agreement is not the property of Sinn Féin in any case. It belongs to the people of the island. Sinn Féin, as the largest pro-Agreement party in the north, has a special responsibility to defend and promote the Agreement. Unionists have expressed other concerns about republican intentions and that is a different matter. Within reason there is a duty on us to try, if we can, to remove those fears without undermining our electoral rights or our mandate. But there is also a duty on political unionism to face up to its responsibilities. The next week or so will clarify whether their leaders are prepared to do that at this time.

As this phase of the process draws to a close no doubt the clamour from the hurlers on the ditch will intensify. That's politics for you. For our part Sinn Fein will not be distracted. Our eyes are firmly fixed on the prize.

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan today called on the public to lend their support to Wednesdays public launch of "Save Our Bewleys".

Speaking in Dublin this morning Councillor Doolan said:

"Following a successful meeting of the campaign group on Saturday it was agreed to publicly launch the Campaign to Save Our Bewleys. It is imperative that we keep Bewleys open to the public. It has become synonymous with the Dublin we know, it has become a landmark for tourists and locals alike. This launch on Wednesday will be colourful, imaginative and memorable. It will include street theatre, music and poetry.

I will also be raising the issue of Bewleys with the Minister for Environment, Heritage & Local Government Dick Roche in an attempt to to keep the cafes open. It is clear that the minister has a responsibility to protecting this important aspect of our heritage and the jobs that are currently at stake."

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan called on, "people to rally to the call and support this event on Wednesday. It is guaranteed to entertain and highlight this issue."

The public launch of the Campaign to Save Our Bewleys Wednesday 11am-1pm Bewleys Grafton Street. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Rural Regeneration spokesperson Cllr Pat O Rawe MLA, speaking after a party delegation meet with held a meeting with the head of the Rural Development Programme Pauline McCloy in Dundonald House to discuss the budgets and the impacts of the four European Structural Programmes for which the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has responsibility, namely LEADER+, Building Sustainable Prosperity, PEACE II & INTERREG has said that it is vital that money is not lost from the Rural Development Programme.

Ms O'Rawe said:

"Sinn Féin are concerned that money allocated from the EU will be lost from the Rural Development Programme as a result of de-commitment. Whilst some of the programmes have not spent all of their money, we have received assurances from DARD that they are putting in place innovative actions to ensure that money would remain within the Rural Development Programme.

"In the range of discussions, we had with officials, we highlighted the impact the Programme was having in rural areas, and the jobs, which were being created. We also discussed the number of applications under each programme, and why some programmes had an initial high rejection rate. DARD should continue to target certain groups such as Young people and the Rural Community Estate under its sectoral programme. It is also important that DARD develop an approach to target the Long Term Unemployed.

"Of all of the programmes, the LEADER + programme is the most community led, and 800 jobs are to be created under the LEADER + programme. The EU have already set out the parameters of a new rural development programme from 2007 with the LEADER model at the centre of that programme. It is essential that rural communities have a strong say in how future plans of their community are shaped, long term development has to have the changing needs of local communities at its heart.

"With the many challenges which lie ahead for rural communities with the onset of the CAP reforms, there is a need to broaden the development of on-farm and off-farm activity, such as agri tourism and land management, expand the market beyond commodity trading into a more focused niche and high quality food production, not forgetting the need for farmers to look at sharing the cost both of expensive machinery and labour.

"The main responsibility for progress on the RDP lies with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development there are responsibilities across all government departments such to provide rural communities with the services, jobs and investment they require. There much talk of cross departmental responsibility, but rural communities need such responsibility taken forward within a framework which has the ability and power to shape departments thinking and budgeting for the needs of rural communities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called for the immediate closure of the Special Criminal Court. He was speaking after two republicans were convicted of IRA membership on the word of a Garda Superintendent. Deputy Ó Snodaigh described the conviction as an unsafe judgement which mirrored the worst excesses of the Diplock Court system in the Six Counties.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"There is huge outrage and anger that once again we have seen people convicted of IRA membership, not on any evidence, but on the word of a Garda Superintendent. This case should never have gone before the Special Criminal Court in the first place and it is incredible that during the case secret evidence was given to the Judge, which was not disclosed to the defence. This is an unsafe judgement which mirrored the worst excesses of the Diplock Court system in the Six Counties.

"Sinn Féin has consistently raised the issue of emergency powers and indeed the abuse of emergency powers. It is worth noting that ten years into the peace process, we have seen at least some progress in the north on the issue of criminal justice but we have seen no progress in the south.

"The Special Criminal Court is entirely unacceptable and should be closed down."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, national chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has said that there must be greater urgency in the development of the single all-Ireland energy market.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Sinn Féin believe that a single all-Ireland energy market has the potential to deliver real gains for small and medium enterprises and industry as well as being an important element in the battle to eradicate fuel poverty.

"The key targets need to prioritise reducing energy costs and the related issues of interconnection and access. These are vital if we are to achieve an energy market that is secure, diverse, efficient and environmentally sustainable and that can deliver real gains by significantly reducing cost.

"It is important that there will now be grater interconnector capacity but there needs to be a greater urgency in removing the remaining barriers to the single energy market.

"There is compelling evidence for greater harmonisation and deeper co-operation across many other areas. Sinn Fein believe that a developing all-Ireland agenda has the potential to deliver real benefits. In terms of efficiency and effectiveness there are many clear arguments for developing an all-Ireland approach. Many within the business, health, education and social sectors are already looking at Ireland as a whole.

"Sinn Féin believe that the future of many economic sectors can benefit from an all-Ireland approach, while in others such as agriculture it is vital." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin has described the Health Bill as "the wrong remedy for the wrong illness". He said it removed democratic accountability and concentrated energy on bureaucratic change rather than on delivery for patients and real reform.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Before this Bill to establish the Health Services Executive is even debated in the Oireachtas, the process of handover to the new body is in chaos. The chairperson has declined to take up his position and IMPACT, representing 25,000 workers in the health services, has decided not to co-operate with the new Executive.

"The Bill itself and the new structures they establish are totally inadequate. All members of the new all-powerful Health Services Executive will be ministerial appointees. There will be no democratic accountability. Even the limited democratic accountability that existed when elected representatives were on regional Health Boards is gone.

"This legislation is the wrong remedy for the wrong illness. For the next year at least energy will be concentrated on this massive bureaucratic change instead of real delivery for patients and real reform of the health services. Any so-called reform that does not challenge the grossly unfair two-tier public-private system will only maintain inequity and inefficiency.

"We were told there would be statutory provision for health complaints in this Bill but instead it is left to the Health Services Executive to establish these procedures. There will be no independent complaints system and there are all kinds of limitations on the type of complaints that can be made. This Bill is a mess and should be withdrawn." ENDS

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