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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 President Gerry Adams MP is in Donegal today as part of the EU and Local Government election campaign. Speaking in Letterkenny where he is canvassing with the North West EU candidate Pearse Doherty.

Mr Adams said:

" Over the past few weeks I have travelled the length and breath of Ireland. I have spoken to republican activists in Cork and Dublin, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Down, in Crossmaglen, Newry and Belfast. The message is the same wherever I travel - there is grave disquiet at the two governments handling of the peace process, the discriminatory actions against republicans and the undermining of the Good Friday Agreement by failing to consistently honour commitments made in negotiations.

" Despite all of this I believe progress is possible if there is the political will, especially from the two governments. They need to create a better climate. This means proceeding with their commitments.

" Archbishop Brady's remarks about collusion are proof, if any is needed, at the widespread concerns over collusion. The reneging by the British government on a firm commitment to establish an independent, public inquiry into the killing of Human Rights lawyer Pat Finucane has heightened these concerns.

" Regardless of how much the British government may protest about the need to get unionist support for the process of change, an objective which Sinn Féin actively supports, the issue is one for the British government and not for any unionist party.

" Demilitarisation, the Equality Agenda and many related matters are alone British government responsibilities at this time. I believe that the British government is using the situation within unionism as a cover for resistance to change within its own system. This is not good enough.

" Penalising Sinn Féin, the emasculation of the electoral register and today's announcement that fundraising is to be restricted are hardly proof that politics is working. On the contrary they are a direct attack on public confidence and on the political rights and entitlements of citizens." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin group in Belfast City Council has selected East Belfast Councillor Joe O'Donnell as their candidate for the position of Deputy Mayor for the incoming term. Following the decision this week, the party group leader Cllr Tom Hartley has written to all of the five other political parties seeking a meeting to discuss the issue of the forthcoming mayoral and deputy mayoral elections, due to take place next month.

Speaking today Cllr Hartley said:

"Sinn Féin has argued for some time that all civic and committee positions in council should be allocated in a fair and equitable manor. We want to see Belfast becoming an inclusive city welcoming to all and respecting all the citizens equally. This vision is reflected in our approach to the election of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.

"This week we selected Joe O'Donnell as our proposed candidate for the position of Deputy Mayor. We have also written to all of the other political parties inviting them to meet and discuss options for the forthcoming elections." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's European election candidate for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald has described a statement by An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, that he wants an EU decision-making process that is clear and transparent as "ludicrous" and "full of empty rhetoric". She went on to claim that "It is simply not in the interests of those people pushing for European integration to have an open debate, and so one will not take place."

Ms McDonald said: "Commitments to accountability and transparency are welcome, but unless matched by actions, then it merely sounds like more of the empty rhetoric that characterises the EU debate. Government Ministers and EU bureaucrats regularly call for accountability and transparency, but then proceed to hold EU Council meetings in private. Trade negotiations on opening up public services are held in secret and no report is given to the people as to what was discussed.

"The Convention on Europe was largely unaccountable, with little democratic input. Representatives on the Convention have admitted to voting for vast swathes of text that they never had the opportunity to scrutinise. The Convention process was driven by a self-appointed elite of Eurocrats.

"The Taoiseach wants an accountable and transparent discussion around the formation of the European Constitution, but there is no possibility of this taking place. Any such discussion would expose the European Constitution for what it is, a blueprint for a European federal state and a shameless grasp for power by the unaccountable, centralised Eurocracy.

"It is simply not in the interests of those people pushing for European integration to have an open debate, and so one will not take place."ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for the Dublin constituency Mary Lou McDonald has called upon the Irish Presidency to "support the suspension of preferential trade with Israel because of human rights violations from that state".

Speaking before a two-day meeting (5th-6th May) of the Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers at Dublin Castle, Ms McDonald urged the Foreign Minister Brian Cowen to raise the issue of suspending trade with Israel, until there is an end to human rights violations and the occupation of Palestine.

Ms McDonald commented:

"The two-day meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers in Dublin, provides the Irish Presidency, and in particular Minister Cowen, the opportunity to call for the suspension of preferential trade with Israel, because of their continuing human-rights violations of the Palestinian people and territories.

"The EU-Israel Association Agreement grants Israel favourable trading terms with the EU. This agreement includes a clause, which says that it is based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. However, the reality is that Israel continues to build walls of separation and support illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and it continues to ignore numerous United Nations resolutions on its illegal occupation of Palestine.

"Throughout the EU, 275 politicians have supported the calls for trade sanctions. My Sinn Féin colleagues in the Dail have already signed a petition to impose such sanctions. I urge the Irish Presidency to use its influence to call for trade sanctions against Israel." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly has branded remarks made by PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde saying that he would review the status of the Full Time Reserve pending the outcome of the upcoming marching season as 'at best irresponsible'.

Mr Kelly said:

" At a time when community and political representatives in interface areas across Belfast are working to achieve a quiet summer it is at best irresponsible of Hugh Orde to inject the future of the Full Time Reserve into that equation, given the historic connections between that force and the various unionist paramilitary groups.

" The fact is that this Protestant force should have been phased out before now. If Patten had been implemented as intended we would not be having this debate at this time.

" The Full Time Reserve throughout the past thirty years has been little more than a unionist militia. It has been to the forefront in attacks on the nationalist community. That is why Patten stated that it be done away with within three years.

It is already scandalous that Hugh Orde has been allowed to retain this force up until April 200 six years after Patten. Any extension of this would be totally unacceptable." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly has called for every effort to be made to ensure that the three Irishmen currently being held in Colombia are returned home to their families as soon as possible. Last week the three men were cleared of charges that they had been involved in training the FARC.

Mr Kelly said:

" Last Monday I, like many people in Ireland, was greatly relieved to hear that the court in Colombia had found the men innocent of the charge of training the FARC.

" We then expected that the three men would be quickly brought home to their families.

" This has not happened yet and it is now crucial that every effort is made to ensure that the three men are able to return home to their families in Ireland safely and without any further delay." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan today attempted to raise in the Dáil the issue of sectarian and racist attacks by loyalists from Sandy Row in Belfast on a block of apartments in the City. The private apartment block, which is occupied by young professionals and students from a range of nationalities and religions, has been the target of constant loyalist protests for over a week.

Deputy Morgan asked the Ceann Comhairle to suspend Standing Orders so that "the disgraceful but not surprising racist and sectarian attacks in the Sandy Row area of East Belfast, which are orchestrated by unionist paramilitary gangs against residents of the apartments," could be discussed.

The County Louth TD was also severely critical of Unionist politicians from both the UUP and the DUP who he accused of defending the attacks "in direct contravention of the Good Friday Agreement which seeks to guarantee the right of all people in the Six Counties to live free from intimidation".

Deputy Morgan went on to call on the Department of Foreign Affairs to become "more active in highlighting these attacks and to raise the issue more forcefully with the British until action is taken by them to end all such attacks." ENDS

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As part of a ongoing series of meetings being held across the island, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and party colleague Bairbre de Brún will today hold a series a engagements in the Newry & Armagh area. These will include meeting with the families of collusion victims in Armagh City, meetings in South Armagh with people directly affected by ongoing British military activity and tonight a large public meeting in a Newry Hotel.

Speaking from Armagh City where they was hosted by the Mayor Pat O'Rawe, Ms de Brún said:

" Here in Armagh today we had the opportunity to meet with the families of the victims of the British policy of state sanctioned murder who were killed in this area. At a time when we are trying to lift the lid on this decades old policy and trying to expose those who were actively involved in controlling and manipulating the unionist paramilitaries it is important that we remember and pay tribute to the families whose loved ones were killed as a result of this policy.

" Sinn Féin has been to the forefront in exposing this policy over many years. Others told us that this was nothing more than republican propaganda or at worst a case of a few bad apples. It was neither. It was a policy of successive British governments and it stretches directly to Downing Street itself.

" We met with the current British Prime Minister just over a week ago and we again pressed him on this issue. We put it to him that many of the collusion murders occurred under a previous administration. However the refusal of this British government to face up to its responsibilities means that it is increasingly getting the blame. The rejection of the Finucane family's request for an independent inquiry is part of all of this and is completely unacceptable.

" Sinn Féin will continue to support the families of collusion victims in their campaign for the truth and we will continue to press the British government and others for action on this issue." ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for the North West constituency, Pearse Doherty has said that the 'rip-off' Ireland tag, highlighted by a survey in today's papers, is extremely damaging to our tourism potential. He was responding to a survey, which named the 26 counties as the second most expensive tourist destination in the world. The worldwide survey named Norway as the only country to be more expensive.

Speaking today, Mr Doherty said:

"Irish citizens and tourists alike are well aware of the rip-off culture that exists and this situation has been made worse in recent years as a result of a whole host of stealth taxes introduced by this government. However, this survey places the extent of the problem in context. It is shameful that the 26 counties is the second most expensive tourist destination in the world.

"Tourism is extremely important for the economic regeneration and prosperity of the West and North West but we have yet to see its full potential realised and it won't happen if we have this type of reputation. We need to ensure that we have a quality product, that the infrastructure is in place and that we are not pricing ourselves out of the market.We also need to ensure that this happens on an all Ireland basis.

This is particularly important where food and accommodation prices are far higher than prices paid to farmers, and the wages paid to hotel and catering workers.

"No sector has the potential to develop and enhance the economy on an All Ireland basis more than tourism. This is especially true for this region. Despite the formation of Tourism Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, All Ireland tourism remains underdeveloped.

"We need to shake the embarrassing rip-off Ireland tag and have a tourist industry which tourists and locals alike can be proud of, and take ownership of."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD today raised in the Dáil the issue of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by their US and British captors and the continued use of landing privileges in this country for US military despite overwhelming opposition.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked that the Dáil be adjourned to debate this crucial issue saying:

"Following revelations that US and British occupation troops have tortured and murdered Iraqi prisoners in their custody, there is an urgent need for this state to cease its ongoing shameful collusion in the illegal occupation of Iraq, and also a need to afford this House the opportunity to vote for an immediate end to overflight and landing privileges for the US military in Ireland."

Ó Snodaigh added: "It is an international scandal that US and British troops, while claiming to be liberators of Iraq, are covertly subjecting these prisoners to inhumane, degrading and totally unacceptable treatment. Any prisoner, in a war situation, is entitled to humane treatment under the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war and I would call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen to confirm for the Coalition forces (and their governments) our commitment to human rights internationally and our abhorrence of these recent revelations. As a neutral country, we must lead by example and speak out against such abominal abuses.

"I also call on Mr. Cowen and on the Minister for Transport Séamus Brennan to ensure an end to the practice of stopover facilities for US troops at Shannon as a final protest at Ireland's objection to this invasion." ENDS

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Sinn Fein South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey has said that the review of public administration must deliver real accountability, responsiveness to local need and flexibility, quality services and value for money and most importantly must not allow unionist abuse power.

Mr Maskey said:

"The Review of Public Administration will undoubtedly lead to massive changes in the way government operates. Sinn Fein have long argued that in particular the numbers of Health Boards and Trusts needs to be reduced to both reduce costs and streamline decision making.

"It must end the culture of quangoism and deliver real accountability through local elected representatives and community participation in making decisions that affect all of us. The review must deliver real accountability, responsiveness to local need and flexibility, quality services and value for money.

"We need to stream line local government while at the same time having a balance that ensures that changes do not create unwieldy super-councils that are not representative of the communities they serve.

"While recognising that there will be a reduction in the number of councils it is imperative that any changes to not undermine political representation.

"While we are happy to see services currently run by quangos coming under the democratic control of elected councils, we would only agree to the expansion of council powers if we were certain that there was no chance of them being abused. This is a major issue given the continued abuse of majority power in some unionist-controlled councils such as Lisburn Council where nationalists are excluded from all positions within the council. Local Assembly control and very tight equality legislation are essential prerequisites for any changes in council powers.

"It must be remembered that substantial powers were removed from councils because unionists were guilty of gross discrimination and in many councils today unionists continue to misuse power." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Bairbre de Brún has given a 'cautious welcome' to today's announcement by the British government on the future of the Human Rights Commission. Ms Brún said:

'In our discussions with the British and Irish governments we put to them a package of proposals and measures for reconstructing the Commission. We will judge today's announcement in light of our proposals, and whether it has the potential to return the Commission to the vision set out for it in the Good Friday Agreement.'

'The reality, as Gerry Adams said in his Ard Fheis speech in February, is that the Human Rights Commission has been in a mess for some considerable time and the Chief Commissioner had to go.

"Sinn Féin has been consistently raising our serious concerns about the litany of problems surrounding the North's Human Rights Commission with the British and Irish governments for over two years.

"The deep flaws within the Commission and its obvious failures have led to a fundamental lack of public confidence in its ability to independently and effectively champion human rights issues.

"In all of our discussions we have argued for a comprehensive reconstruction by the British government to restore vital public confidence in this key body.

"This requires an independent appointment process, additional investigative powers and additional resources. In particular the appointments process should be based on the Paris Principles which are the minimal international standards that govern such institutions. Only a representative Commission can command support from across the community it serves and meet the goals envisaged for it under the Good Friday Agreement.

Commenting on the statement of commitment today to a broadly based Forum on the Bill of Rights Bairbre de Brun said:

"We and others have been calling for such a development for some time. There is now a heavy onus on all political parties to engage with this development alongside civic society to progress the creation of the Bill of Rights. It is essential that no party is allowed to veto this process by non participation." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan and North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton today meet with representatives of the British Labour Party Parliamentary Grouping in Stormont. Speaking after the meeting Mr McLaughlin said:

"Sinn Fein raised a number of issues with the British Labour Party Parliamentary Grouping.

"We are particularly concerned that a further 20,00 voters have been wiped off the latest electoral register published yesterday. Sinn Fein believe that unless the electoral legislation that the SDLP and unionists lobbied for is substantially amended that year on year more people will be disenfranchised, especially people with special needs and people from working class communities.

"We believe that in particular the need for annual registration should be removed.

"Sinn Fein also briefed the British Labour Party Parliamentary Grouping on the impact of the failure of the British government to act on the Cory recommendation and initiate an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP, speaking in Armagh this afternoon, has confirmed that his party's negotiating team remains in close contact with the two governments.

Commenting on these negotiations Mr. Adams said:

'It is possible to resolve the outstanding issues in this process and to bring it to completion. But this can only be done in the terms of the Agreement. Giving up on the Agreement, whether it is in the form of the SDLP's ill-considered proposals, or departures by the two governments, like the IMC or the suspension of the institutions, play into the hands of rejectionist unionism and other hostile elements within the British system.

I am very conscious that the continuous shredding of the Agreement may reduce it to the point where nationalist and republicans no longer have any confidence in it as an instrument of change. While a lot of damage has been done we are not at that point yet.

At the same time there is little confidence within republican grass roots in the governments' commitment to the Agreement. That is why a special effort was needed to get a renewed focus to replace and restore the process and I am pleased that the governments have responded positively.

Sinn Féin has made it clear in these discussions that those aspects of the Agreement which are rights based need to be implemented now. Unionists may be refusing to take up their places in political institutions at this time but they need to be tested on this. They cannot be allowed a veto over citizens' entitlements.

Obviously there is a big focus on the DUP at this time. That party has shifted its position. For example, there is no absolute refusal to share power with Sinn Fein, as there was in the past. But many people will believe that this shift is merely tactical, a response to the more pragmatic mood within large sections of the unionist electorate. That is positive. But in any case the DUP terms for sharing power with Sinn Fein are unacceptable. So too is the time frame which is shaping up.

Why should any serious talks to resolve these crucial issues be postponed because of the so-called marching season?

Sinn Féin believes that the DUP's position should be explored. We welcome the more positive tone of its pronouncements but the party cannot forever continue to refuse to politically engage in negotiations with Sinn Féin. Dialogue like this, on a face to face basis, is the best way to learn about each others positions.

Sinn Féin is pleased that the two governments have now brought a renewed focus to the process. I like to think that our party's approach and our tenacious engagements with Dublin and London, after the IMC report was published, helped to bring that about. But we are not naïve. In the time ahead the actions or lack of actions by the governments can make a bad situation worse. Putting forward a 'road-map' - an unfortunate description given the Middle East - which puts off substantive movement until the Autumn does not encourage confidence among grassroots opinion.

It may be that the governments feel matters will be delayed because the DUP are not ready for movement now but a renewed focus of dialogue to find a way forward needs to be accompanied by vigorous and urgent implementation of the outstanding aspects of the Agreement. Citizens rights cannot wait until the DUP accepts the concept of equality.

The peace process grew out of building an alternative to conflict, by developing a sustainable process of change and making politics work. That means the two governments returning to the strategic vision which helped create the agreement. There can be no half-way house." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe TD questioned the effectiveness of the penalty points system in the Dáil today. He put it to the Transport Minister Séamus Brennan that "resources were being wasted" on motorways and areas where accidents were less likely to occur than on cracking down on rogue drivers. This he said fuelled the publics suspicion that the penalty points system was more about earning revenue than saving lives.

Deputy Crowe said:

"Too much money and Garda resources are being put into checkpoints on motorways or in areas where accidents are less likely to occur. This is like shooting fish in a barrel in terms of revenue collection but does nothing to cut down on accidents that primarily happen off these major routes. This in-turn fuels the public's growing suspicion that it is more of a money-spinning exercise than a life saving one.

"People are increasingly concerned about speeding cars in housing estates, on bad bends and dangerous roads. This is where Garda cameras and speed checks need to be placed. I welcome the Minister's acknowledgement of this reality.

"What we need now is joined-up Government thinking on this issue. The Minister for Transport must in conjunction with the Minister for Justice ensure that resources are properly managed and focused on stopping those who are responsible for the carnage on our roads through dangerous driving and not those who may inadvertently stray a few miles per hour over the limit." ENDS

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Speaking during the Report Stage of the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2004, Sinn Fein spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. welcomed the findings of the Commission on Electronic Voting, saying that the absence of a verifiable voter trail and the failure to publish the source code had represented fatal flaws in the Government's plans for the introduction of e-voting. Sinn Fein tabled a number of significant amendments to the Bill.

Deputy Morgan said:

"Sinn Féin welcomes the fact that the Government has abandoned its plans for the introduction of electronic voting at the forthcoming election following the publication of findings of the Commission on Electronic Voting. What was surprising was that the Government took so long to take this decision given the overwhelming concerns that existed regarding the secrecy and accuracy of the system which they proposed to use. Given the magnitude of Minister Cullen's arrogance there was a very real fear that the Government under direction from Minister Cullen would attempt to ignore the Commission's findings and plough ahead with the introduction of electronic voting.

"The absence of a verifiable voter trail and the failure to publish the source code had represented fatal flaws in the system of electronic voting which was proposed to be introduce."

Sinn Féin tabled a number of significant amendments including an amendment which seeks to address the continuing denial by this State of prisoners right to vote. The European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that denying prisoners the right to vote was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Sinn Féin amendment would bring Irish legislation into compliance with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

An amendment to delete the requirement for supplementary register forms to be signed by the applicant in the presence of a member of the Garda Síochána was also put forward becuase the current requirements act as a "severe disincentive" to people in disadvantaged communities where there exists in many cases a recognised poor relationship between the community and the Gardaí. "The Government needs to be doing more to encourage and enable people, including ayslum seekers and refugees to exercise their right to vote, not putting disincentives in their way."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has accused the Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin of massaging hospital waiting list figures in order to mask the Government‚s failure to fulfil its promise to end waiting lists within two years.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"|The Minister for Health and Children is engaging in a statistical exercise which cannot hide the failure of this government to fulfil the promise it knew it could not keep. While there has been some improvement in waiting times, the fact remains that there are over 27,000 people on hospital waiting lists. The figures published today do not take account of the number of people waiting for appointments with hospital consultants ˆ in other words people on waiting lists to get onto the waiting lists.

"The National Treatment Purchase Fund today confirmed that it is paying for public patients to be treated in private hospitals in England. Irish taxpayers money is helping to fund the private health business in England and in Ireland while public facilities costing €400 million lie idle in this state. This Government's health policy is a shambles and no amount of massaging figures can disguise that reality."ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for the Dublin Constituency Mary Lou McDonald, has today challenged the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen to 'prove his commitment to the UN.' Ms McDonald was responding to an address made by the Minister to mark EU enlargement at the United Nations Headquarters in New York yesterday (03.05.04).

In his address, Mr Cowen remarked: "Strengthening the United Nations, equipping it to fulfil its responsibilities is a priority of the European Union."

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said:

"The comments made by the Foreign Minister Brian Cowen at the United Nations Headquarters, are astounding. The EU is busy pursuing and paying for its own security agenda. The true effect of the development of EU defence capacity, according to a report in 2000 of the panel on United Nations Peace Operations (Brahimi Report) has been the depletion, not enhancement, of UN peacekeeping capacity.

"The Minister, and the EU as a whole need to prove their commitment to the United Nations. Where is the evidence of this? This government cannot continue its complicit support for the militarisation of the EU, whilst paying lip service to the primacy of the United Nations, as the only global multinational and multilateral body.

"Therefore, I challenge the Minister to provide the evidence that the United Nations is an EU priority. I also challenge him to accept the fact that the EU is undermining the role of the UN, rather than complementing it." ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for the North West constituency, Pearse Doherty has today said that May 1st presented "another missed opportunity to secure official recognition for the Irish language in the EU".

Speaking during a tour to local radio stations in Donegal today with Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty, Mr Pearse Doherty said:

"Irish language enthusiasts have once again been left angered and dismayed. The celebrations that marked the accession ceremony provided the perfect backdrop to officially recognise the Irish language as an official and working language of the EU. Mayday is another missed opportunity for official recognition.

"On May 1st, there were nine other languages officially recognised in the EU, once again Irish has been relegated to the status of a second class language. The Government has failed Irish language enthusiasts and ultimately the Irish people. People are beginning to wonder if this Government, which holds the EU Presidency, has the political will to address this issue.

"Once again, Sinn Féin calls for the full official recognition of the Irish language, nothing more, nothing less." ENDS

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Reacting to SDLP proposals to restore the political institutions Sinn Féin Assembly member Bairbre de Brún said that the plan 'was clearly outside the terms of the Agreement and would provide succour for the rejectionists who were seeking to renegotiate'.

Ms de Brun said:

" The SDLP need to hold their nerve. This proposition is wholly outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and will encourage those rejectionists who wish to renegotiate it and prevent its implementation.

" In particular the plan to allow the British Secretary of State to hand pick Ministers runs entirely against any democratic norm and runs entirely against the expressed wishes of the electorate.

" The focus gained over the past number of weeks is the way to proceed. It is in the interests of all of the pro Agreement parties to bring about an inclusive talks process aimed at achieving the full implementation of the Agreement. That needs to be the focus, not providing opportunities for those who wish to prevent the sort of fundamental changes which the Good Friday Agreement demands." ENDS

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