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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 Assembly member for West Tyrone Barry McElduff will address the annual Bloody Sunday March in London on Sunday. Speaking today before departing Mr McElduff said that 'those within the British establishment who covered up the murders on Bloody Sunday are the very same people who developed the British collusion policy and who are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the truth about it coming out now'.

Mr McElduff said:

" After the massacre on the streets of Derry on 30th January 1972 the British cover-up operation flew into top gear. Widgery was brought in and the truth was suppressed. The British state was determined to prevent the facts from emerging. That is why we now have a Saville Tribunal. However it seems from the British side that the lessons of Widgery have not been learned. The MoD is still trying to prevent the truth coming out. It is still suppressing vital evidence and it is being supported by the current British government in all of this.

" Those within the British establishment who covered up the murders on Bloody Sunday are the very same people who developed the British collusion policy and who are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the truth about it coming out now. They are the people who sanctioned the murder of Pat Finucane and countless others. They are the people who armed the unionist death squads and provided them with intelligence. They are the people who propped up the six county state with a mixture of terror, repression and political exclusion.

" But if anything is to be learned from Bloody Sunday it is that the families of those killed through British State repression and violence will not be bought off by phoney inquires or British lies. The same is true of the families of those murdered through the British collusion policy. Next month 100 relatives of those murdered by the British directly or through their surrogate unionist murder gangs will travel to London. They will travel to the places were the policy was developed and enacted. To the places where the killings of their loved ones were sanctioned.

" The British government and Tony Blair in particular must realise that the truth about collusion like the truth about Bloody Sunday will come out. It will come out because the families of those killed will not rest until they see justice delivered." ENDS

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Speaking during a presentation on the Irish EU presidency by Director General of the Institute of European Affairs Alan Dukes, Sinn Féin spokesperson on European Affairs Bairbre de Brún called for the 'Irish government to leave a legacy of social justice after its term of office in the EU presidency'. Ms de Brún's comments were made during a presentation by the former Fine Gael leader at Queens University.

Ms de Brún said;

'The EU Presidency provides the Irish government with the opportunity to make a major impact on policies across a range of areas and sectors in Europe. It can choose to set in place measures to promote social justice and the eradication of poverty not just in Europe but around the globe.

'I want to take today's opportunity to emphasise the need to rise to this challenge, both for the Irish government and all those who are involved in the debate surrounding how the Presidency should be developed.

'It is vital that the EU Presidency is used to push a positive social justice agenda and to promote initiatives in the socio-economic, political and human rights fields.

'It is also important that the Presidency is used to combat the negative impact of the economic constraints placed on Ireland, north and south and indeed other states by EU rulings, especially in relation to the future development of infrastructure.

'Adequate attention needs to be given in the coming months to the full implementation of the CAP reform proposals agreed in Luxembourg last June.

Issues such as the need for specific gender and disability directives also need to be given greater priority, as well as the harmonisation of workers rights and trade union recognition. The recognition of the Irish language as an official working language of the European Union also needs addressed.

'Today's seminar is a welcome opportunity to heighten public awareness of the importance of the EU Presidency for the island of Ireland as a whole and hopefully will lead to a greater understanding and debate around many of these issues in the run up to this years European elections.' ENDS

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Lagan Valley Sinn Féin Representative Paul Butler has accused the British government of tolerating an 'acceptable level of UDA violence'. Mr Butler's remarks come after yesterday's meeting between the British Minister Jane Kennedy and representatives of the UPRG.

Mr Butler said:

" In recent weeks and months the UDA has been involved in a violent campaign including attacks on the homes of Sinn Féin members, prison staff, and ordinary Catholics. Last week they brought the city of Belfast to a stand still with a series of well-planned and co-ordinated bomb alerts.

" The British government response has been virtually nil. The fact is that since the UDA was formed the British government has tolerated and in many cases encouraged its activities. They did not ban the organisation until 1992 despite its involvement in a murder campaign against Catholics over a 20 year period.

" In the late 1980's through their agent Brian Nelson they rearmed the UDA and handed it thousands of intelligence files. They created a well armed murder machine and unleashed it on the nationalist and catholic population. British agents still remain at the very top of the UDA and UFF.

" Maybe this is the reason behind Britain's softly softly approach to the activities of the UDA. Certainly it is very obvious that the British government have a tolerance of what they view as an acceptable level of loyalist violence and activity. ENDS

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Following a meeting with the Justice Oversight Commissioner, Lord Clyde, Sinn Féin MLA and spokesperson on Policing and Justice, Gerry Kelly, has stated that a issues regarding the implementation of justice reforms still need addressed. Speaking after today's launch of the Oversight Commissioners first report Mr Kelly said:

"Sinn Féin held a forty five minute meeting yesterday with Lord Clyde in order to discuss the report by the Criminal Justice Oversight Commissioner. During this meeting a number of concerns were raised.

"The Oversight Commissioners appointment is for three years only. The DPP has stated it will take longer than that to implement the changes to the DPP's department as laid out in the Justice Bill.

"The issue of Symbols and Emblems within court premises was also raised, with particular emphasis on the High Court in Belfast. The existing display of emblems is in clear conflict with the legal requirements to have a neutral environment in courthouses.

"We also raised the case of John Boyle which is currently going though a Judicial Review. John Boyle was convicted wrongly and served a long sentence on the basis of the RUC falsifying documents. While the DPP accepts that falsification of evidence took place he has refused to prosecute those involved and has also refused to give reasons why.

"Cases such as these undermine public confidence in the ability of the DPP to be truly independent and therefore raises questions about the British Governments will to achieve a new and accountable justice system." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Minister for Justice to activate the Section 8 (b) provision of the Human Rights Commission Act to obtain an opinion from the Commission on the Joint Investigation Teams Bill that reached second stage in the Dáil today. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Sinn Féin are not opposed in principle to inter-jurisdictional police cooperation on investigation of serious crimes with a cross-border dimension, where such cooperation is authorised on a case-by-case basis, limited to the necessary, and where there are appropriate safeguards and accountability mechanisms in place. Contrary to the unfounded and unproven allegations of this Minister, I confirm that Sinn Féin strongly support effective action against cross-border organised crime including trafficking in human beings and drugs, especially where such action strikes the correct balance between the need and right of individuals and communities to be safe from predation with the civil rights of individuals.

"However, this proposed legislation goes well beyond the existing INTERPOL and EUROPOL mechanisms for police cooperation and information-sharing by allowing for members of foreign police forces and possibly intelligence agencies to operate in this state. In addition, this Bill must be considered in its proper context, as another in the series of draconian so-called EU Anti-Terrorism Roadmap measures that this Government has signed up to and Sinn Féin, together with the human rights sector, has criticised. As such it has far-reaching consequences for both the sovereignty and human rights of the Irish people and so deserves careful consideration.

"Our concerns about the PSNI are well-established, but there is also evidence of human rights abuses by police forces from other EU states as documented by Amnesty International. Given this fact - but also in principle - the operation of other forces in this jurisdiction must not proceed in the absence of a properly established, best-practice complaints investigation mechanism in the form of a fully independent Ombudsman's Office on the Patten model, and a properly-established best practice civilian oversight mechanism in the form of an independent civilian Policing Board, as proposed by Sinn Féin.

"Fundamentally, this legislation must not proceed in the absence of adequate safeguards, and in particular until such time as the Irish Human Rights Commission is convinced of the adequacy of both the Bill's provisions and the state's mechanisms for police accountability. It is not acceptable that the Minister did not approach the Human Rights Commission to furnish its opinion on this Bill in accordance with Section 8 (b) of the Human Rights Act. His duty to the public interest obliges him to seek the Commission's opinion, and to guarantee that Committee Stage of this Bill will not proceed until such time as this opinion is available to the Dáil."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also urged the Minister to raise the issue of human rights violations by police forces across the EU and to highlight the recommendations of the Amnesty International Human Rights Begin at Home Campaign at the Justice and Home Affairs informal meeting in Dublin Castle today and tomorrow. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Women's Issues and Poverty, north Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton, speaking after a party delegation including former Health Minster Bairbre de Brún and Cllr Sue Ramsey met with representatives from Women's Aid, has welcomed their new building as a vital project that will benefit women and support them building a new life.

Ms Stanton said:

"Last year 198 women and 230 children stayed at the Women's Aid refuge, many of whom were ethnic minorities. Sinn Féin is fully supportive of this project because we all know how much t will benefit women and their children who face serious risk of violence. A new building will give women in this position extra security and enable them to make the crucial step in leaving a violent home.

"This resource meets the emergency accommodation needs of women and children forced to flee their homes because of domestic violence. It will provide women with the opportunity, free from accommodation worries, to plan for a safer and happier future for them and their children."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann commenting on the latest Housing Bulletin has said that the statistics paint a bleak picture in terms of increasing prices making it more difficult for first time buyers to get on the property ladder but more seriously point up to the urgent need to re-evaluate the social hosing policy especially with nearly 4,500 household presenting as homeless in a three month period.

Fra McCann said:

"The latest figures show that the cost of new houses is sky rocketing with increases of between 7% and 10% in the asking price for new houses, flats and maisonettes. The 25% increase in mortgage repossessions should also send out a very serious signal that there is increasing instability in the housing markets.

"Nearly 4,500 household presented themselves as homeless in the three month period from July to September last year. The fact that for the same period that 96.8 % of all new builds were commissioned by the private sector points to even greater pressures within the social housing sector.

"Homelessness, the lack of new builds in the social sector and the lack of affordable housing are problems that will not go away. Behind every statistic there is a real human story where people are being forced to live in sub-standard accommodation or in crowded conditions.

"There needs to be an urgent re-evaluation of social housing policy and NIO Ministers need to act urgently to address the situation particularly in regard to families presenting as homeless. Commonly such families presenting as homeless are as a result of family breakdown or dispute. So the short-sighted housing policies in place are compounding already difficult situations." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald has said that she is ready and willing to take up Defence Minister Michael Smyth's challenge to publicly debate the issue of neutrality. She described such a debate as 'long over due' and said it was time that the government came clean and told the Irish people that they no longer supported neutrality.

Ms. McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin has long warned that the EU is becoming progressively militarised, and that developments in recent years have brought us ever closer to the establishment of an EU army. Some, such as Minister Smyth, have dismissed this as exaggeration, but the provisions in the draft EU Constitution -- to which the government have now consented - confirm our prediction.

"Article 1-40(1) states that the EU shall frame a Common Defence Policy leading to a Common Defence whenever the EU so decides.

"Article 1-40(2) states that EU defence policies shall respect and be compatible with the obligations of NATO States. The special rights and duties of the militarily neutral member states are not explicitly acknowledged.

"Article 1-40(3) directs that member states improve their military capabilities and contribute forces for the implementation of the Common Security and Defence policy. It also establishes a European Armaments Agency, the basis of a European military industrial complex.

"These facts make clear that the new EU Constitution will cede most of our remaining independence in foreign policy to the EU. While this is deeply worrying it should be a shock to nobody as it has been clear for some time now that this government has been supporting such a policy move.

  • 1997 Joined NATOs Partnership for Peace without the promised referendum
  • 1998 Signed Amsterdam Treaty
  • 1999 Described the NATO bombing of Kosovo as warranted
  • 2001 Supported the Nice Treaty, which sets up a political and security committee.
  • 2002 Allowed US military to use Irish airports on their way to the Gulf
  • 2003 Actively supported the US and British war in Iraq without a UN second resolution or support of the Dáil
  • 2004 Support for a draft EU Constitution, which fundamentally undermines our neutrality.

"I want to assure Minister Smyth that Sinn Féin's position on neutrality is very clear. We oppose any abandoning of our neutrality. We want to see neutrality enshrined in the Irish Constitution and codified in legislation and an independent progressive foreign policy pursued. We demand from the EU equal recognition of the rights and duties of the neutral states and parity of esteem between the neutral states and the NATO states.

"I believe that there needs to be a fully inclusive public debate on this issue and I want to accept Minister Smyth's challenge this evening and look forward to debating this issue with him.

"It is important that this debate takes place prior to the next Council meeting in March, given indications from the Irish Presidency that they want to close on the draft EU Constitution at that stage. "ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin today slammed Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy's recent introduction of decentralisation plans as being 'ham-fisted' when he addressed the debate on the Public Service Management Bill.

Deputy O‚Caolain said: „Since Minister McCreevy used his Budget speech to make the decentralisation announcement the proposed programme has been slowly unravelling. A previously agreed Teagasc decentralisation plan was postponed, we were told, because it had been superseded by the Government‚s new plans. The real reason became apparent when it was learned that Teagasc staff had reached a preliminary agreement with the Department of Finance and the Department of Agriculture for an average once-off payment of €6,000 for those who opted to relocate from Dublin.

"It seems to be the intention of Government to renege on this agreement and stop the Teagasc decentralisation lest the payment lead to knock-on claims from other decentralised civil servants. The unions are justifiably angry at this development and have pointed out that the agreement was self-financing from a restructuring plan. In addition, a survey in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment showed that only 69 of 503 respondents were interested in taking up any of the 250 positions to be relocated to Carlow.

"All of this adds up to a right mess solely of the Government‚s own making. It has cast doubt over a decentralisation programme which should be beneficial to both civil servants and to their new host communities. Having promised this for years the government has now brought it forward in a ham-fisted way with an eye not to the best possible delivery but to the local elections in June." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe, speaking following the decision by SIPTU workers to call off industrial action planned for tomorrow morning has pointed out that the flexibility and willingness to negotiate shown by workers is in stark contrast to the intransigence shown by the Government.

The Dublin South-West TD said: "The workers have given a breathing space for resolution of the outstanding matters. In stark contrast to the intransigence and stonewalling of the Government, workers have shown themselves willing to put the needs of the travelling public first, willing to be flexible and willing to negotiate. But Minister Brennan should take note that the action has been deferred and not abandoned.

"The Transport Minister should take a leaf from SIPTU workers and act in the best public interest and abandon his incoherent and sketchy plans for the break-up of Aer Rianta. This Government is clearly set on pursuing a right-wing agenda in undermining successful publicly owned businesses in an act of breathtaking ideological vandalism. Foremost in the assault on the public sector is Minister Brennan and he should take the opportunity afforded by SIPTU to come to his senses before it is too late.

"I would like to pay tribute to SIPTU workers who have been the target of a vicious smear campaign by sections of the establishment aimed at undermining their legitimate case. They should remain aware that they may yet be forced into industrial action by a Government more concerned with confrontation than negotiation and they can remain assured of Sinn Féin's support." ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane MLA has quested if the shredding of the register by the Electoral Office is professional incompetence or something worse?

Ms Ruane said:

"The Chief Electoral Officer for the north, Denis Stanley said at a recent meeting organised by the Electoral Commission to review last November's Assembly election, that the situation with regard to registration will get "progressively worse" and that the number of people registered annually will continue to fall.

"Sinn Féin said from the outset that the new legislation governing lead to people being denied the right to vote. This has been borne out by the fact that the electoral register issued in December 2002 shows that 130,000 people across the North who were on the June 2002 register were not on the December register. 64% of young people, 17-18 year olds who were on the census in 2001 failed to get on the register.Census figures released by the government agency, NISRA show that another 57,683 voters across the North and eligible to be included on the Register did not appear.

"The question needs to be asked - Is this professional incompetence or is it something much worse?

"The electoral office constantly argues that there is rolling registration — The rolling registering process is a joke. It is obvious to everyone that they are putting block after block to stop people registering.

· Forms are given to people, if there is the slightest little error it is sent back

· Electoral hearings are organised at inaccessible times

· Force people to go to venues far away and in areas where they feel unsafe.

"Sinn Féin are urging people to get registered, we will be doing a door to door registration campaign throughout the six counties beginning in February, when the register reopens. This is part and parcel of the battle for equality and human rights.

"This situation is set to get worse because of the difficulties created by the new legislation. It should be immediately replaced with legislation that is designed to help not hinder people registering. The household registration scheme used in previous elections should replace the current system and Photographic ID centres should be located in all District Council offices and opened daily.

"Political parties who supported the electoral fraud act from its inception should review their position on it and demand changes. In England, Scotland and Wales there are voter awareness programmes and the search for ways in which to get more people voting. Here, in the North of Ireland it would appear that there have been considerable steps to disenfranchise people. The question is why?

"The Electoral Office should carry out focused canvasses targeting those areas particularly affected by registration difficulties and particularly groups that have been badly affected such as young people, people with learning difficulties and areas of social and economic deprivation.

"The Electoral Office should also jointly establish, with the Electoral Commission, pilot schemes to assist them in targeting those areas badly affected by the new registration system. The current legislation prohibits setting up such pilots despite the fact that they are used in England." ENDS

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Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP MLA will today leave New York and travel to Washington where he will meet with Senior Officials in the Administration, and members of both the Senate and the Congress. After completing his engagements in Washington Mr Adams will travel onto Atlanta where he will meet with former US President Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Adams said:

"I have completed a series of engagements in New York and I will now travel onto Washington. While in Washington I will brief senior officials in the US government and members of both the Senate and the Congress on the current state of the Peace Process.

"This will be my first visit to the US since the Assembly election last November.

"Throughout the development of the Irish Peace Process the United States has proved an invaluable ally and it is crucial that we continue to engage with it seeking its support and advice in the time ahead." ENDS

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Speaking following the publication of the Third Interim Report of the Tribunal into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. stated that the report was a further indictment of the corrupt and criminal actions of officials and developers involved in the planning process.

Deputy Morgan said: "This report confirms many of the suspicions which abounded in recent decades regarding corruption in the planning process and at local government. Once again the legacy of corruption in this State and particularly in the Dublin region is starkly illustrated. We should never forget when we examine the corrupt actions of George Redmond and others that their greed had very real consequences for the people of this State both in terms of the badly planned sprawling housing estates on the outskirts of Dublin and the escalation of house prices. The chronic housing problems currently faced by tens of thousands of people around the State have their route cause in the parasitical greed of developers and property speculators like those named in today's report.

"Perhaps the most striking feature of this report is contained in Chapter 8 where it addresses the issue of co-operation with the Tribunal and concludes that George Redmond, Joseph Murphy Jnr., Michael Bailey and Frank Reynolds hindered and obstructed the work of the Tribunal. This is scandalous both in terms of wasting the time of the Tribunal and in wasting public money which funds the work of the Tribunal. There is no question but that they should be prosecuted for these acts of obstruction. Not doing so allows others before the Tribunal to believe they can get away with hindering and obstructing the Tribunal process and face no consequences.

"It is right that Mr. Redmond should have been prosecuted but there are also many others who must be prosecuted for their part in what is criminal activity." ENDS

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Speaking during Statements on Radiation Oncology Services, Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil and spokesperson on Health, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD criticised the delay it took for statements to be heard on Radiation Servcies since the Ministers report was published on October 9 last year. The TD for Cavan/Monaghan said the delay did "not instil confidence in the ability of this Government or of the political system in general to deal efficiently with vital issues that affect our people."

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say:

"While the report examined different models, including more decentralised and diversified services, it went for the centralised option, in line with the Hanly Report and with the whole thrust of current Government health delivery policy. I accept that there are many considerations specific to radiation oncology delivery and, of course, such services cannot be provided in every hospital. But the recommended configuration leaves out huge swathes of the country with seriously ill cancer patients having to travel long distances for essential and often painful and distressing treatment. The Cancer Care Alliance, whose work I commend, has identified this massive shortcoming in the Report and has called for radiotherapy provision in other centres in addition to Dublin, Cork and Galway. I support that call. I regret that the report does not recommend radiation oncology units in the North Eastern, South Eastern and North Western regions. It acknowledges the aspiration in my own region, the North East, for such a unit. But it is more than an aspiration. It is a vital need." ENDS

Full statement follows...

Statement on Radiation Oncology Services 21 January 2003 Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD

There is an air of unreality about a report published on 9 October 2003 being addressed by way of Dáil statements on 21 January 2004. It does not instil confidence in the ability of this Government or of the political system in general to deal efficiently with vital issues that affect our people.

I am already on record as welcoming the recommended improvements in radiation oncology services in this Report of the Expert Group chaired by Professor Donal Hollywood. The Report followed the National Cancer Registry's report 'Cancer in Ireland 1994 ? 2002' which provided a comprehensive and very disturbing account of the extent of cancer in this country. Cancer is a fact of life and death, a

reality we are failing to deal with effectively and humanely as a society. One statistic alone tells the tale, a quarter of all deaths in Ireland are caused by cancer. It is all the more disturbing therefore that the Hollywood report found in this country what it describes as "a profound deficit in radiation oncology services" - a profound deficit in access to a treatment that 50 to 60% of cancer patients require. That is a very damning finding, a cause for successive governments to hang their heads in shame. But our focus must now be on how to put it right and how best to deliver this life-saving treatment to our people. They expect and deserve no less.

The Report says that a major investment programme is required to rapidly develop treatment services to acceptable modern standards. When he published the report the Minister for Health and Children said the Government accepted the recommendations and was commencing implementation. The recommendations are comprehensive and complex and we in the Opposition in this House have the difficult task of holding the Government to account on the implementation of each and every recommendation. I hope all Members on both sides of the House will join us in doing so because this is a life and death issue.

The report provides a very detailed breakdown of radiation oncology needs now and in the future. The current status of the services and future developments in clinical practice are dealt with and there are many positive recommendations on infrastructural requirements and human resources.

That said, there is a huge problem with this Report and it is the proposed configuration of services and their restriction to three centres ? Dublin, Cork and Galway. While the report examined different models, including more decentralised and diversified services, it went for the centralised option, in line with the Hanly Report and with the whole thrust of current Government health delivery policy. I accept that there are many considerations specific to radiation oncology delivery and, of course, such services cannot be provided in every hospital. But the recommended configuration leaves out huge swathes of the country with seriously ill cancer patients having to travel long distances for essential and often painful and distressing treatment. The Cancer Care Alliance, whose work I commend, has identified this massive shortcoming in the Report and has called for radiotherapy provision in other centres in addition to Dublin, Cork and Galway. I support that call. I regret that the report does not recommend radiation oncology units in the North Eastern, South Eastern and North Western regions. It acknowledges the aspiration in my own region, the North East, for such a unit. But it is more than an aspiration. It is a vital need.

The report recommends "dedicated transport solutions" for patients in those regions who will have to travel long distances to access radiotherapy but existing ambulance services are already totally inadequate. Neither the Report nor the Minister has outlined what those transport solutions are going to be. In many parts of the country, including my own, both public transport and existing ambulance services are totally inadequate and over-stretched.

I must express disappointment that the Report did not, in my view, fulfil the second of its terms of reference which states: "On the basis of needs identified, to make recommendations on the future development of radiotherapy services, including links with radiotherapy services in Northern Ireland." As far as I can see the Report only deals with links to the Six Counties in

relation to the North Western Health Board. The issue is not approached with a truly island-wide overview, the services in the North are not seen as part of a national infrastructure as they should be, and in the analysis of my own region, the North Eastern Health Board area, there is no reference at all to links to the North. This is a huge gap in the report. It should have built on the work of the Ireland-Northern Ireland National Cancer Institute and followed the example of the Men's Health Forum in Ireland which last week published an all-Ireland report on men's health.

In conclusion I urge the Minister to implement without delay all the positive recommendations in this Report, to revisit the proposed over-centralised plan of delivery and to give our people at last the comprehensive cancer treatment service they need.

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Sinn Féin Councillors Breandán Lewis and Brendan Curran have forwarded a motion to Newry & Mourne District Council asking the Taoiseach to call for official status for the Irish language within the European Union.

The Motion Reads;

"That this Council calls upon the Taoiseach to bring about a proposal to the European Council during his term of Presidency to amend regulations 1/1958 to include the Irish Language as an official working language of the European Union."

Councillor Lewis said that support for the motion, calling on Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to use the Irish Presidency of the European Council to include Irish as an official working language of the European Union, which he and Councillor Brendan Curran were putting before Newry & Mourne District Council meeting to be held on Monday 19th January, would give a further boost to the growing campaign on this issue.

Speaking ahead of the meeting Councillor Lewis said;

"The failure of the Irish Government over thirty years ago, when Ireland joined the EEC, to have Irish recognised as an official working language was a disgrace. The attitude of successive Irish Governments to the issue is an equally disgraceful indictment on their policies towards the Irish Language in general. During its term of Presidency of the European Union the Irish Government now has an opportunity to redress the situation. This year, with the accession of new States into the Union, the number of official languages of the Union will rise from 11 to 20. It is surely inconceivable that Irish could remain the only native language of a State that would still not have official status within that Union. The European Union has long prided itself for its inclusiveness and recognition of diversity within the member States. Indeed in its own programme for its term of Presidency the Irish Government states as one of its priorities to „ Preserve the richness of cultural diversity in Europe in every respect.‰ We would have to wonder at the sincerity of this and question the Irish Government‚s confidence in its own people if they are not prepared to recognise and preserve the richness of our own Irish culture.

"While Irish should always have been an official language of the European Union, developments in the past 30 years have made it all the more important that it is now included. Despite Government neglect, indifference and hostility north and south the Irish Language has seen significant development. Irish Language Media, Irish Medium Education, Irish Language Business Initiatives and general interest in the language have seen substantial growth throughout Ireland. The Irish Language is as much at ease on the Internet or world wide web as any other language. While Irish speakers and language groups recognise that much more is needed there is no question that the demand and need to promote the language and culture exists.

"International recognition of the language would at this stage have a huge impact and influence on Irish speakers and learners as well as opening up further employment opportunities for Irish speakers.

"Newry and Mourne Council has been to the forefront in Irish Language recognition and development in local government in Ireland. On numerous occasions this has been acknowledged by representatives of the Irish Government, including current Cabinet Members. The support of this Council will have some influence and will certainly add to the work of Stadas, an umbrella group of diverse language groups, organisations and individuals campaigning throughout Ireland with the support of many political parties on this issue. A positive response might also convince Irish speakers that there is or ever was a serious intent to address the issues of the Irish Language contained in the Good Friday Agreement.

"Proper status for the Irish Language can be achieved. There is no opposition from the citizens or Governments of the other Member States. The question is does the Irish Government have the will or inclination to do anything about it?

"I ndiaidh mhéadú na Bealtaine, beidh 20 teanga oifigiúil ag an Aontas Eorpach. Is deis mhaith é seo do Rialtas na hÉireann ceist stádas na Gaeilge a ardú arís agus an stádas cuí a bhaint amach di. Níl pobal na dtíortha eile san Aontas, ná a cguid Rialtas, in éadan an aitheantais sin a bhronnadh ar an nGaeilge. Níl de dhíth chun aitheantais iomlán a fháil don Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh ach toil pholaitiliúil ó thaobh Rialtais na hÉireann de. Beidh an Aontas Eorpach sásta stádas teanga oifigiúil a thabhairt ach Rialtas na hÉireann í a lorg."

Supporting the Motion Sinn Féin Councillor Brendan Curran said;

"The motion to council is an expression of our desire that the Irish language be given international status and recognition. Support for this motion would be both a positive and practical means to bring this about.

"In May the European Union will have 20 officially recognised languages. The fact that Bertie Ahern is now President of the European Council presents us with a golden opportunity to secure official recognition for the Irish language. We are certain that no other country would oppose such a move. It has already been acknowledged that this should have happened 30 years ago when Ireland first entered the European Union.

"We earnestly believe that support and goodwill exists within the structures of the European Union to grant official status to the Irish language if the Government of Ireland would just ask for it.

"I am asking all councilors to support this motion and demonstrate that we are united in promoting the present bilingual policy practiced by Newry and Mourne District Council."ENDS

Note; Motion was passed with support from SDLP. Unionist Councillors opposed the motion

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A Sinn Féin delegation led by Mitchel McLaughlin and including Assembly memebrs Bairbre de Brún, Geraldine Dougan and Philip McGuigan will meet with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy at Hillsborough at 3pm.

The meeting will discuss the forthcoming Review, the recent Ombudsman Report into the murder of sean Brown and the continuing failure of the British Government to publish or act upon the Cory Report.

The meeting is expected to last about 1 hour and the delegation will be available to speak to the media.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said the party will boycott the Taoiseach's 'self-congratulatory' reception for the European Year of People with Disabilities (EYPD), accusing the Government of 'disgraceful hypocrisy' for their 'abject failure to advance in any way' the rights of disabled people in Ireland during the dedicated year.

Speaking in advance of his attendance at the European Year of People with Disabilities Summit meeting in Dublin, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"This Government could have and should have used the occasion, and the monies allocated for PR, to take action to significantly enhance rights protections for Irish people with disabilities. That is, to introduce rights-based domestic legislation, to propose a new EU Equality Directive on Disability, and to ultimately use the international leadership opportunity of the Irish EU Presidency to inject a fresh impetus to the conclusion of a much-needed International Convention on the Rights of Disabled People.

"Instead, despite widespread public support, the potential momentum provided by the Special Olympics and the recommendations submitted almost a year ago by the Disability Legislation Consultation Group, this Government has not even published the right-based Disabilities Bill that this country has needed and that the Government has promised for years, much less concretely improved daily conditions for people with disabilities in terms of access to needed services, increasing their independence and eliminating disability-based poverty. In this whole year the Government has accomplished nothing of consequence for citizens with disabilities and that is a disgrace.

"In this context I could not collude in a self-congratulatory exercise such as the Taoiseach's reception. Any 'celebration of achievements' at this time is misplaced. There is too much basic work yet to be done. The Government fumbled the ball on the EYPD and no PR exercise can hide this fact." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education and Science Seán Crowe TD is to raise the continuing scandal of the Government's failure to provide resources to repair St Killians Junior National School in Leinster House next week.

The Dublin South-West Deputy said: "St Killian's, and thousands of schools like it across the state, stand as a monument to the indifference and disinterest of this Government. The school has been on a Department waiting list since 1999 and despite a high profile campaign waged by parents, students and staff, nothing has been done.

"The collapse of the roof over the Christmas break necessitated closing the school for repairs last Friday at a cost of almost €4,000. The roof collapsed before in November of 2002, ironically the same night as the Government was boasting of how much money it was spending on schools in the Estimates.

"Fianna Fáil has failed to deliver for this area and it has certainly failed to deliver for St Killian's. Seven years of this coalition Government has seen massive tax breaks for the wealthy in Irish society while the gap between rich and poor grows and schools across the country that I am familiar with have to deal with everything from rat infestations to dangerously high levels of radon gas to, in the case of St Killian's, the frequent collapse of the roof. Clearly, the Government has a lot more to do, but after seven years, what really has been done?"ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast and party spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly has welcomed the decision of the High Court in Belfast to allow the Finucane family to proceed with their case to force the British government to publish the Cory Report.

Mr. Kelly said:

"I welcome the decision of the High Court in Belfast this morning to allow the Finucane family to proceed with their case to force the British government to publish the Cory Report.

"However it is a disgrace that this family are being forced down this road by the British Government. After the Weston Park talks Tony Blair publicly committed himself to publishing Judge Cory's Report and more importantly acting on its recommendations.

"The British Government have been in possession of the Cory Report since last October. They are hiding behind security and legal matters in yet another stalling exercise to prevent the truth about their involvement in a collusion policy from coming out. This situation is not tenable. The British Government need to realise that the families of those killed through collusion will not simply stop demanding answers and demanding the truth." ENDS

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Mid-Ulster Sinn Féin Assembly member Geraldine Dougan will tomorrow meet with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy as part of the party delegation discussing the forthcoming Review. Ms Dougan will be raising with Mr Murphy the Police Ombudsman report into the killing of Sean Brown in her constituency in 1997 and the continuing failure of the British Government to publish and act upon the Cory Report.

Ms Dougan said:

"Tomorrow's meeting with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy is part of the ongoing engagement before the commencement of the Review of the Agreement due to commence in early February.

"In addition to this business it is my intention to raise with Mr. Murphy the damning report published yesterday by the Police Ombudsman into the killing of Sean Brown in my constituency in 1997 and the continuing failure of the British Government to publish or act upon the Cory Report.

"The killing of Sean Brown and the subsequent investigation raise very serious questions for the British government. The removal of files from PSNI barracks only took place once the Ombudsman began to investigate the case. These files were removed by members of the PSNI. There can be no other explanation.

"It is time for the British government to come clean on their decades long policy of collusion and cover up. The families of those killed are demanding answers and the British government cannot be allowed to stall on these matters any further." ENDS

Editors Note; The Sinn Féin delegation consisting of Mitchel McLaughlin, Bairbre de Brún, Geraldine Dougan and Philip McGuigan will meet with the British Secretary of State at 3pm at Hillsborough.

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