Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member Lucilita Bhreatnach in her opening to the party's 2003 Ard Fheis said 'The last 18 months have shown how effective Sinn Féin can be in government, in elections and on the streets. The hard work and dedication of the thousands of our party activists and supporters across the nation continues to reap dividends.' Ms Bhreatnach said:
Fearaim fáilte romhaibh chuig Ard Fheis na bliana seo.
I would like to begin by welcoming delegates, visitors and guests to this year's Ard Fheis, which is the first to receive live coverage from RTÉ and it is interesting to note, that it is less than 10 years since the lifting of Section 31, under which Sinn Féin was to be neither seen nor heard on RTÉ, or any other Irish broadcaster. It was part of the concerted effort by the Dublin and London governments to marginalise Irish republicanism.
Agus mé ag breathnú timpeall orm anocht fecim seana cháirde anseo agus aghaidheanna nua, is cuimhníom siar ar an tréimhse le ocht mí dhéag ó shin ó chruinnigh muid le chéile, is léir go bhfuil muid éirithe I bhfad níos láidre.
Toghadh cúigear Teachtaí Dála de chuid Shinn Féin sa tréimhse seo. Ba é sin an eachtra ba mhó polaitíocghta a thit amach.
The election of Aengus, Arthur, Martin, Seán along with Caoimghín was just the most visible part of the rising tide in republican fortunes as the Sinn Féin vote broke 120,000. Our vote was up right across the state and candidates like Nicky Kehoe, Dessie Ellis, Joe Reilly, John Dwyer and others came very close. Next time, which will be coming round soon, I have no doubt, they will make it.
During the '90s Sinn Féin worked hard to build political strength. At times, there has been confusion, with people believing that political strength and electoral strength were one and the same.
But there are many kinds of political strength. The marches of 150,000 people in Belfast and Dublin against the war on Iraq was a demonstration of the political strength of those people in Ireland who support a policy of military neutrality.
These people are seeing in Sinn Féin a party to the forefront of campaigning for a Constitutional amendment to enshrine neutrality in the 1937 Constitution. In February, our TDs tabled a motion to this effect in Leinster House, forcing the right-wing parties in this State to admit their opposition to a real, independent, neutral foreign policy.
Another mobilisation of our political strength could be seen in the high vote against the Nice Treaty in the undemocratic re-run of that referendum. In the face of a campaign of deliberate lies and misinformation staged by the Government, backed by an unquestioning media, just under 40% of voters rejected the Treaty and it is worth pointing out that, without exception, the highest No of votes were recorded in those constituencies where our support is strongest, where our membership took the issue to the people.
Tá líon na ndaoine a aontaíonn lenár ndearcadh polaitiúil agus lenár dtuairaimí, ag fás. More and more people are coming to join Sinn Féin. In Dublin alone since the election the number of cumainn in this city has increased by over 25%. Similar increases have been reported right around the country.
Caithfidh muid leanúint leis na léirsithe ar na sráideanna. Ár streachailt a threorú I ngach treo, sé sin sa Tionól nó I dTeach Laighean, sna ceardchumainn nó I ngrúpaí pobail. Caithfidh muid níos mó iarrachtaí a dhéanamh guth a thabhairt dár n-analís. Tá daoine ullamh dona h-athruithe. Tá siad ag lorg athruithe cuimsitheacha. Is fúinn é na h-argóintí a chur agus a léiriú dóibh gurb é Sinn Féin an t-aon pháirtí atá raidacach ar an oileán seo.
We will give the electorate that radical alternative in the Six Counties this May. The Westminster and Local Elections of 2001 saw the emergence of Sinn Féin as the largest nationalist party. It is something we will underline decisively in the Assembly elections. Our record in the Executive is a proud one, and proves our ability to work constructively in government.
Martin McGuinness, as Minister for Education, abolished the discriminatory Eleven Plus examination which marked a child for life before they reached their teenage years and set up the all-Ireland centre of excellence for the education of children with autism in Middletown. Bairbre De Brúin, by taking Health, one of the most difficult portfolios in any administration determinedly pushed through a radical public health strategy targeting social inequality as a major cause of poor health. Bairbre not only succeeded in getting this strategy launched, but signed up every single Department in the Executive to it.
The last 18 months have shown how effective Sinn Féin can be in government, in elections and on the streets. The hard work and dedication of the thousands of our party activists and supporters across the nation continues to reap dividends.
But to achieve the gains in May, our work on the ground must be increased. Tens of thousands of voters face disenfranchisement and while our activists have done tremendous work in registering these people, many more are still without a vote. This too, is a form of building political strength, of empowering and politicising the people right across the Six Counties.
This weekend we will hold debates on a wide range of issues that affect the people. We will discuss the peace process, review and put forward proposals on education, health, justice, community and language issues. This together with the election of the party leadership will set the tone for the next twelve months for this party. I would ask all of you to participate, to represent the views of your cumann. This is your party, and we are all here together to discuss and decide Sinn Féin's policies on the road to the Republic.
And it is up to you, to all of us, to put in the work that is necessary to see the massive growth of this party continue. Ní bheidh sé éasca, ní raibh sé a riamh, ach is féidir linn breathnú siar ar hocht mí dhéag atá caite agus an dul chun cinn ata déanta again a mheas.
It will not be easy, indeed, it has never been easy, but we can look back over the 18 months since our last Ard Fheis and see how far we have come, and we know that we are closer to achieving this party's single overriding objective, the formation of an independent 32 county socialist republic.
We have never been closer to this dream than we are today. It is this generation of republicans that will see Bobby Sands referred to as the rising of the Moon, Eirí na Gealaigh, and it is people like you who will bring it about. Táim fíor shásta an Ard Fheis seo a oscailt anocht.ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said that Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen would be better served defending the rights of Irish citizens instead of urging Sinn Féin to stop negotiating on behalf of our constituents and in the best interests of the peace process.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"Since December Sinn Féin has been engaged in negotiations with the two governments and the pro-Agreement parties to achieve the full implementation of the Agreement. This work continues. We do not have equality. We do not have human rights. We do not have a new beginning to policing.
"Assertions such as those from Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen, claiming that the negotiations are closed, are in effect an attempt to prevent progress being made on these issues. That is not the Sinn Féin position and it certainly should not be the Irish government position.
"I want to state categorically that Sinn Féin is not giving up on any of the outstanding issues - policing, demilitarisation, equality and human rights. We will continue to work to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."ENDS
Kerry North TD Martin Ferris has expressed disappointment that Michael O'Neill and John Quinn were not released this morning but welcomed the fact that the court recognised that the men were qualifying prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement. Deputy Ferris said that 'The onus is now back on the Minister to honour his commitments under the Agreement and release the men."
Deputy Ferris said:
"It is disappointing that the men were not released this morning but I welcome the fact that the court acknowledged that the men qualify for release under the Agreement. The onus is now back on the Minister. He should honour his commitments under the Agreement and release the men.
"The Good Friday Agreement committed both the British and Irish governments to releasing all qualifying prisoners within two years. That was 1998. It is now 2003.
"I am conscious of the pain and upset of the McCabe family but the Castlerea prisoners qualify under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and there is an obligation on the government to honour their commitments and release them." ENDS
Responding to comments made in todays Irish News by SDLP spokesperson Alex Attwood on the issue of new policing legislation, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said:
" This new legislation is welcome and is the outworking of three years of hard work and negotiation by Sinn Féin. This included Weston Park and the commitment by the British government to amend the original Policing Act in addition to the progress made in the current negotiations. This work is not yet finished. Crucial issues such as plastic bullets, representativeness the future of the Special Branch, and the transfer of powers on policing and justice are the focus of continuing deliberations.
" Alex Attwood comments are not surprising given the fact that the SDLP told us before Weston Park that amending legislation was not possible - yet it was delivered and more recently they told us again that new legislation was not possible - yet again it has been delivered. Had the SDLP held its nerve and not settled for less than Patten then perhaps we would have achieved the new beginning to Policing by now.
" Nevertheless, our objective remains a police service which is civic, democratically accountable and which reflects the goals set in the Agreement. We have made progress on this over recent years, and especially in the current negotiations. More needs to be done and this remains a priority for Sinn Féin in our ongoing discussions with the two governments." ENDS
Speaking in Leinster House last night in support of a Green Party Bill to set up a National Transport Authority to co-ordinate and integrate the Irish public transport network with the construction of new roads, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe gave his support to the legislation.
The Dublin South-West TD said: "Sinn Féin has long been on record as supporting the creation of a national transport authority as a positive step towards the development of an integrated all-Ireland strategy on public transport and infrastructural development."
Deputy Crowe went on to condemn the Government's plans to break up CIE:
"The Government's move to break up CIE represents the wrong kind of transport policy. Instead of a public transport system which works in a co-ordinated fashion, the Minister proposes that its various elements compete against each other. At one of his first meetings with CIE following his appointment he told the company he believed the subvention it received from the State should be reduced, rather than increased to a level which would allow it to realistically tackle the problems it faces.
"We need to address decades of underfunding in our transport system. The most recent comparative study of investment in urban public transport in European cities indicated Dublin had the third lowest subvention rate for urban bus services."
Deputy Crowe also used the opportunity to express again his disagreement with the use of tolling and Public Private Partnership for the construction of the badly needed infrastructure necessary for Ireland's social and economic development.ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD, has stated that the cuts and closures currently being forced on Teagasc will seriously undermine the future of Irish farming as it faces into another year of crisis and the proposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Deputy Ferris was speaking following a presentation by Dr. Jim Flanagan, Teagasc National Director, to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food.
Deputy Ferris questioned Dr. Flanagan in regard to the manner in which the cuts were effecting the work of the authority in research and education. Ferris also questioned the Government's commitment to the modernisation and development of agriculture given these cuts and others which have affected the introduction and support of young farmers. Dr Flanagan admitted that the restrictions on the Teagasc budget have forced them to curtail the scale and extent of their activities.
"The decision to enforce these cuts at this time will further exacerbate the crisis in Irish agriculture. As Dr. Flanagan admitted, the cuts will force many highly skilled people out of agricultural research and education and this will further undermine the ability of the sector to adapt and innovate in the future. It is particularly important that as we face into the proposed CAP reform that Irish agriculture is equipped with the facilities and personnel to assess the impact of the reforms and develop alternative proposals. It is a telling comment on this Government's attitude to farming that such cuts should be made at this particular time". ENDS
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Caoimhghín O'Caoláin has expressed his disappointment at the decision of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to accept 'Sustaining Progress'.
The Cavan-Monaghan Deputy said:
"It is still Sinn Féin's view that 'Sustaining Progress' represents a poor deal for Irish workers and the low-paid, especially those working in the private sector. The narrow margin of the vote at the ICTU Congress confirms a growing level of disquiet amongst Trade Unionists at the Partnership process.
"The pay rise of 7% will not, in my view, keep pace with inflation and there is no sign of any movement on issues like Trade Union recognition. At the same time the deal signs Unions up to compulsory binding arbitration.
"We believe the way forward for Trade Unionists is to begin a determined campaign to organise workers in the private sector. Progressive alliances must be built between the Unions, the Community and Voluntary pillar which also has grave difficulties with the deal and with those parties who have a policy of critical engagement with the Partnership process. Only in this way can we present a united front in support of worker's rights, decent pay and real social progress."ENDS
Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West Seán Crowe has accused property developers of unjustified greed following revelations that houses prices in a new estate in Tallaght had increased by €16,000 over a three day period last week. He said the increases had shattered the dreams of many young families and couples who are already struggling to get mortgages arranged. He said there now existed an axis of evil that included the Government, property developers and the lending institutions that is compounding the housing crisis that exists in this state.
Deputy Crowe said:
"I am appalled that blatant and unjustified greed has led to an increase of an unbelievable €16,000 being attached to new houses in Tallaght over a three day period last week. This increase has shattered the dreams of many young families and couples who are already struggling to get mortgages arranged.
"This is a deliberate abuse of the housing crisis in this state. It is an abuse that is facilitated by what I would call an axis of evil, which includes the Government, property developers and the lending institutions that is only compounding the housing crisis. There can be no justification whatsoever for the fact that the houses in Russell Square advertised on March 20th at €198,000 can suddenly jump to €214,000 on March 22nd and 23rd when people called to view them.
"I have raised this matter on South Dublin County Council and have put a question to the Minister for Environment and Local Government asking what measures he is going to take to ensure that this type of sharp practice or gazumping is ended. I would also call on the Financial Ombudsman to investigate the practice of lending institutions giving people up to five times the value of their salaries as mortgages. This practice is not only adding to spiraling house prices but is leaving such people very exposed and in danger of losing their homes should interest rates change by even one or two percent." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on International Affairs Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD and the head of the party's International Department Joan O'Connor today briefed 29 members of the Diplomatic Corps on the ongoing negotiations between Sinn Féin and the British and Irish governments and the pro-Agreement parties. We also discussed the pending war in Iraq. Among those in attendance were representatives from the following embassies - Australia, South Africa, Palestine, France, Italy, Spain, China, Belgium and Mexico.
Speaking following the briefing Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"This morning at a meeting in Leinster House Sinn Féin updated the Diplomatic Corps on the ongoing negotiations between Sinn Féin and the British and Irish governments and the pro-Agreement parties. I outlined that while substantial progress had been made over a range of issues, including new legislation on Policing and Criminal Justice, demilitarisation, equality and human rights issues, there are also gaps and our party will continue to negotiate on these matters over the coming weeks.
"We also outlined our concerns in relation to attempts to bring forward sanctions and said that Sinn Féin is not against parties or party members being held to account if they are in breach of commitments or pledges of office. But we cannot accept and will not accept the governments stepping outside of the Agreement to bring in sanctions, which are aimed at our party for something we are not responsible for.
In relation to the pending war in Iraq Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"We outlined our belief that there is no justification for the war which would have catastrophic consequences not only in Iraq itself but throughout the Middle East We believe that the UN inspectors should be allowed to continue their work. Our experience of the Irish Peace Process has shown us in a very real way that dialogue and negotiation is the best way to achieve the peaceful resolution of conflicts. We also discussed the Bill, which Sinn Féin brought before the Dáil, seeking to enshine neutrality into the Constitution and the positive impact which we believe it would have in terms of international relations."ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the decision of the Dublin Government to recall the Dáil (26 County Parliament) to debate the war on Iraq. Deputy Ó Snodaigh cautioned against it being used as a Government versus Opposition slagging match and asked all parties to allow a free vote on the issue.
The Dublin South Central TD said "it has been clear for a long time that the vast majority of the people are against this war. And while it is welcome it is nonetheless regrettable that the Taoiseach has only now at this very late stage afforded the elected representatives of the people a proper opportunity to debate the issue.
"Ireland, through the use of ShannonAirport and Baldonnel Aerodrome, has been complicit in the build up to this war without even the fig leaf of a UN mandate and in direct contravention of our duties as a neutral state. And because of Bertie Ahern's disregard for the views of the people and the absolute arrogance of his Government, Ireland will be partially responsible for the untold suffering that will be visited upon the civilian population of Iraq over the coming weeks.
Deputy Ó’ Snodaigh claimed that the debate at this stage was symbolic "In many ways this debate has come too late as the bulk of the weapons of war have already arrived at their destination. However if the Taoiseach has any credibility at all left he must allow his party a free vote on the issue. Indeed I would call on all parties to allow for a free vote so that the Taoiseach can be left in no doubt as to the feelings of the people of this state as represented by their public representatives regardless of party affiliation."
Deputy Ó Snodaigh concluded by calling on all TDs to "take a principled stand on this issue and to vote with your conscience".
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP was in Chicago last weekend where he spoke at a series of events marking St. Patrick s Day. Addressing the Chicago International Council on Foreign Relations Mr. Adams spoke at length on the challenges facing the peace process in Ireland.
He told those in attendance that "despite the obvious and understandable preoccupation of people in the United States with the international crisis surrounding Iraq there remains a real and deep rooted commitment to Ireland and the search for peace."
Mr. Adams also commented on meetings he had with senior US representatives. "In my 48 hours here, in Washington and Chicago, I have met the US Ambassador Richard Haas, as well as range of senior Senators, Congress Members, Trade Union and business leaders. All of them support our efforts to restore the political institutions and see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
"There is also a widespread recognition that the serial crises in the process have arisen primarily because of opposition by political unionism and elements of the British system to the changes promised by the Agreement. The growth of Sinn Féin and the emphasis and importance we place on Irish unity also explains much of this opposition.
"Even while some of the Sinn Féin leadership is here in the United States colleagues continue to engage with both governments and the Ulster Unionist Party. Our focus is to try and close the gap on issues like policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.
He told the Chicago meeting that "substantial progress has already been made but the remaining issues have to be resolved, including the proposed unacceptable imposition of sanctions, outside the terms of the Agreement, against this party.
Mr. Adams also stressed the role of Tony Blair's government and concluded his speech saying "The British governments role in all of this is crucial. So too is that of the Ulster Unionist Party. Republicans and nationalists need to be confident that the institutions will no longer be interrupted at the whim of unionism. The UUP needs to be serious about the Agreement. Unionism needs to be serious about living up to its obligations."
Speaking during the weekend to mark the fourth anniversary of the killing of Rosemary Nelson, Sinn Féin Assembly member Dara O Hagan said the only way in which the truth would be uncovered is through an independent judicial inquiry. Similar calls have been made by Rosemary's family and numerous human rights organisations.
Dr. O Hagan, who represents the constituency where Rosemary Nelson lived, said "It is now four years on from Rosemary s murder and it is clear that the current investigation is no closer to bringing anybody to justice. It has managed to determine that those loyalists directly suspected of involvement in the killing were also Special Branch Agents.
"Indeed one of the suspects is also a former member of the British Army. Due to the involvement of these individuals and their handlers in the intelligence services the current investigation was always going to be incapable of uncovering the truth.
"Rosemary s family along with Human Rights experts and indeed Sinn Féin representatives made this clear at the time of her murder. The time has now come for the British government to end the stalling and initiate the sort of independent public inquiry which is necessary to uncover the truth."
Last Saturday 15 March marked the fourth anniversary of the murder of human rights solicitor Rosemary Nelson. Rosemary was killed by a loyalist car bomb after receiving a number of death threats from members of the RUC.
It was revealed on the eve of her anniversary, that 55 solicitors and barristers have been victims of intimidation, harassment and threats from RUC/PSNI Officers in 2001 and 2002. The figure was contained in a report from the Police Ombudsman.
Reacting to the report Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast Bairbre de Brún has said that the findings must be taken seriously.
The former Minister for Health said "Threats to lawyers emanating from a police force would be a matter of grave concern in any country. It must of even greater concern in a country that has seen the assassination of two leading human rights lawyers.
"The outcome of this survey must be taken seriously. Ms. De Brún concluded "Sinn Féin has put forward proposals to deal with the deficit of proper policing here, including proposals to ensure that lawyers are treated with due respect."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan TD has described reports that the Tánaiste Mary Harney led a successful charge by a number of Government ministers to have the social housing provisions of the 2000 Planning and Development Act axed last year as clear evidence that the Governments social policy is being "dictated by greedy developers, big business and right-wing ideologues". "In Mary Harney's Ireland the profits of the business classes come before the needs of the people", he said.
Deputy Morgan said:
"Revelations that Mary Harney led the charge of a number of ministers to have the social provisions of the 2000 Planning and Development Act axed show clearly that the Governments social policies are being dictated by greedy developers, big business and right-wing ideologues.
"The disproportionate influence of developers and big business through their Government placed agents like Mary Harney are unhealthy for democracy and leave the ordinary citizen at a severe disadvantage.
"With housing waiting lists and homelessness numbers at an all time high it is worth noting that there are no ministers writing to Minister Cullen about this issue. Even more damning is the fact that the Government wont fulfil their pre-election promise made by Fianna Fáil to set time limits and targets for tackling homelessness and housing waiting lists.
"Once again, we have a Government for the wealthy, for tax exiles and other vested interests. We don't have a Government for the people.
"It comes as no surprise that the PDs two largest donors last year were Ryanair's Michael O'Leary who uses his wealth to buy a taxi plate for his chauffeur to beat the traffic ordinary people have to put up with and Treasury Holdings, one of Ireland's largest and most profitable property development companies.
"I am calling on all Ministers to come clean on what representations were made to them and by which companies in the run up to the gutting of the Planning and Development Act 2000 so that the electorate can see who is formulating Government policies." ENDS
Former Chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy has expressed concern that the urgent need for the review into local government and the review of public administration has been thrown into disarray by the suspension of the political institutions.
Mr Molloy said:
"There is a real and urgent need to press ahead with the review of local government and the review of public administration. My concern is that these two crucial reviews have been thrown into total disarray and that an already lengthy process will be further delayed, possibly by another 12 months.
"Without doubt there are too many layers of bureaucracy across all levels of government and there are far too many powers delegated to unaccountable quangos. We need to challenge these poor models of democratic accountability and put in place effective layers of government that allow full participation, clear accountability and deliver both value for money and good government that meets the needs of our society.
"Powers were stripped away from local government because of the corruption and political bankruptcy and bigoted discrimination of unionism. We need to ensure that the disease of quangoism and cronyism is cut out of governance." ENDS
Speaking from the St. Patrick's Day Parade in San Francisco where he was joined by the Grand Marshal, Mayor Willie Brown, Sinn Féin Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness MP commenting on the peace process said that while progress has been made in the current negotiations substantive gaps do remain on important issues.
" In the current phase of negotiations we have made substantial progress across all of the issues, including:-
" However substantive gaps do remain on important issues. Discussions are continuing with the two governments and the other parties in a sustained effort to close these gaps. This is very much work in progress.
" But one point of serious concern centers on the Unionist demand for sanctions which are clearly outside the terms of the Agreement and which are clearly aimed at Sinn Féin.
" Sinn Féin's participation in the political institutions is by virtue of our electoral mandate. We have a right to represent our voters and our voters have a right to be represented by us. None of this can be subject to the whims of David Trimble.
" Either there is a democratic imperative to the peace process or there is not. Sinn Féin believe that the mandates of all the parties and the electoral rights of all citizens must be respected and upheld. There can be no half way house. The Good Friday Agreement must be upheld in full." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe this morning called on people throughout Dublin to attend a solidarity protest at the Department of Foreign Affairs at 2.30pm tomorrow, Saturday 15th March, calling for the release of three Irishmen currently being detained in Colombia.
Deputy Crowe said:
"Political interference in the trial has been getting steadily worse with highly publicised statements from the military and senior politicians, including Colombian President Ureba saying that the men are guilty. This is a complete violation of the presumption of innocent until proven guilty and gross political interference in an already contaminated process.
"I have attended two sessions of this trial as part of an international team of observers and the only evidence presented by the prosecution has been based on pure fantasy, speculation and half-truths. The proceedings have descended into complete farce and I firmly believe that there is absolutely no possibility of Jim Monaghan, Martin McCauley and Niall Connolly getting a fair trial. And with every day that passes the three men's lives are in more danger.
"I am calling on the people of Dublin to come out tomorrow in support of the campaign to bring the men back home to Ireland."ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member for
West Belfast Bairbre de Brún has said that the
outcome of the survey of lawyers by the Police Ombudsman's Office must be
Ms de Brún said:
"Threats to lawyers emanating from a police force would be a matter of grave
concern in any country. It must of even greater concern in a country that
has seen the assassination of two leading human rights lawyers.
"The outcome of this survey must be taken seriously
"Sinn Féin has put forward proposals to deal with the deficit of proper
policing here, including proposals to ensure that lawyers are treated with
Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has accused the Taoiseach of "hiding behind a veil of secrecy" in relation to the war on Iraq. Deputy Ó Snodaigh made his comments after the Taoiseach in the Dáil today yet again refused to say what action the Government would take if the US acted without a UN mandate. The Dublin South Central TD also appealed to Government backbenchers to "show some guts" and take the lead from members of the British Labour Party who have been openly critical of the stance taken by their Prime Minister.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"I listened today with disbelief as the Taoiseach once again sought to avoid giving the Dáil and the people of this state any indication of his intentions in regard to the imminent war on Iraq. This is a matter of both national and international importance. The government must have an opinion on it. I don't believe they have no opinion and wonder if it isn't a case that this Government is hiding behind a veil of secrecy to avoid facing the people on this issue. Is this what we are to continue to expect in the context ofeople of Ireland have a right to know what the Irish Governments position is. It is no longer
acceptable for the Taoiseach to use the excuse of waiting for the outcome of the UN vote. It is already abundantly clear that the vote wie or it doesn't - it's that simple.
"Today in the Dáil instead of Nero fiddling while Rome burned it was the Taoiseach waffling before Baghdad burns.
"I would call on the many Fianna Fáil backbenchers who are clearly uneasy about this Governments stance on the war to show some guts and take a lead from the members of the Labour Party in Britain who have been openly critical of their Prime Minister and may yet bring the man to his senses." ENDS
Speaking on the Labour Party's Freedom on Information (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill in the Dáil today Sinn Féin group leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said "the Government is motivated in its actions by fear of embarrassment over decisions taken at Cabinet meetings during the term of the 28th Dáil".
He also said the "lack of respect for open and democratic government was highlighted by the absence of the Minister and Junior Minister at the Department of Finance from the Houses of the Oireachtas" during the week when the proposed amendments were being discussed.
He went on say that he would "strongly caution against any changes which would restrict the scope of the Freedom on Information Act." ENDS
FULL TEXT BELOW
"I welcome the introduction by the Labour Party of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No.3) Bill 2003.
"I would like to commence with a couple of brief quotations from the Debate which took place in this House in March of 1997 on the passage of the Freedom of Information Act 1997:
"The presumption that everything is required to be secret unless proved to the contrary is the single greatest obstacle to openness under this Government"
"Those were the words of three deputies, in this order, Deputy Liz O'Donnell, Deputy Michael Woods and Deputy Jim McDaid who are now members of a Government which is seeking to emasculate the same Freedom of Information Act.
"Freedom of Information legislation plays an important role in the promotion of openness, transparency and accountability in government. This in turn leads to an improved system of public administration. Our freedom of information legislation has been acknowledged internationally as an example of best practice.
"The proposed Government amendment to the Freedom of Information Act will be a considerable setback for participatory democracy involving active citizenship.
"The Government has failed to engage in any meaningful consultation in its review of the Freedom of Information Act. The Information Commissioner was not consulted, the Government's own FOI advisory groups were not consulted nor were many other interested groups such as the NUJ, the opposition parties or the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.
"The review process, which commenced on the re-election of the current Government, was carried out in a secretive manner. It was not an independent review, rather it was carried out by a group in whose interest it is to restrict the freedom of information legislation.
"The reasons put forward to justify the introduction of this Bill are not credible. The explanation given by the Taoiseach recently that the five year rule was impractical and dangerous because of sensitive negotiations relating to the peace process was misleading insofar as there is a separate amendment in the act (Section 24) relating to the North which specifically prevents disclosure of records where their release could adversely affect matters relating to the Peace Process.
"I would ask the Government to take on board the criticism made by the Information Commissioner in his report, published yesterday, where he expresses his view that the amendments proposed by the Government "could create serious legal and other problems in the future and which have the potential to result in costly litigation" and the view of other groups, such as the Irish Council of Civil Liberties who have expressed their opposition to the proposed amendments.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties reacted to the Government's proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information Act saying that they had "damaged the way the Government does its business" and went on to describe these moves as "indefensible".
"There are a number of proposals contained within the government's Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill which I find particularly worrying. These are:
"The five-year limit for Cabinet records corresponds with the maximum life span of government which means that records relating to a government currently in power could not become subject to disclosure under the current legislation. "The provision of the act for the "five-year rule" was due to commence from April 1st this year, and this government because of its second term in office was due to be affected by it. It is my strong suspicion that the Government is motivated in its actions by fear of embarrassment over decisions taken at Cabinet meetings during the term of the 28th Dáil. Why else did this review commence just two weeks after the formation of the new cabinet. Is there sensitive material pertaining to the honey deal between Minister Woods and the representatives of the religious institutions that this Taoiseach wants to keep under wraps?
"The lack of respect for open and democratic government which is seen in the Government's proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information Act is further highlighted by the absence of the Minister and Junior Minister at the Department of Finance from the Houses of the Oireachtas on a week when the Seanad and the Committee on Finance and the Public Service are discussing the proposed amendments. If the Taoiseach is not embarrassed by their absence then he damn well should be.
"In conclusion, I would strongly caution against any changes which would restrict the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. I ask the Government to support this Bill introduced by the Labour party, and extend the period of review of the Freedom of Information Act for another year to allow a meaningful consultation in advance of any changes to the Freedom of Information Act." ENDS