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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 Councillor and Group Leader on Dublin City Council Christy Burke has slammed City Management following the revelation that €390 million allocated for local authority spending lies unclaimed in the hands of the Department of Environment. Cllr Burke was speaking after a Sinn Féin Emergency Motion on the issue was ruled out of order at a City Council meeting last night.

Cllr Burke said: "Last Thursday Minister Martin Cullen told the AMMI Conference in Listowel that there is €390 million in local government funding unclaimed by City and Council Managers in the hands of central Government. This is a national disgrace and it is truly staggering that local authorities across Dublin are not beating down the door to ask the Minister for a share of these funds.

"Families in Dublin, many of them in my own area, are living in Dickensian conditions because the Council cannot afford to properly fund the necessary maintenance. There are over a thousand people homeless in Dublin City and almost 7,000 households on our housing lists. Projects across the City are cut back because of a lack of funds and here are hundreds of millions lieing unspent.

"The Sinn Féin Group‚s emergency motion on this issue was ruled out of order tonight (Monday 20th) but it is the City Manager who is out of order leaving €390 million unspent and not demanding a fair share for Dublin. I am calling on the City Council to meet with the Department as a matter of urgency to discuss the disposal of these funds." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor for the South West Inner City, Andrew O'Connell, called on Dublin City Council management, to draw down €85 million of 350 million sitting unclaimed in the Dept of the Environment for use towards the original agreed plan for the rejuvenation of St. Michaels Estate, Inchicore. He described the fact that the money has sat unclaimed by city managers as a "disgrace".

Cllr O'Connell said, "Following a special meeting of city council tonight it was highlighted by councillors who spoke to the Minister at a conference in Listowel last Friday that the minister was unhappy at the lack of interest from City and county mangers to the fund.

"Some months ago Council management withdrew their support for the original plan for St Michael's estate due to the downturn in the Celtic Tiger. To date they have not been prepared to explore other funding alternatives, instead trying to force through a Public Private Partnership plan. The original plan, which has taken over 3 years to develop, has already seen 101 units of housing constructed for the community to date. Local residents were central to making this plan workable. Residents do not want a PPP/Council generated plan foisted upon them without any honest and meaningful consultation.

"Last week the City Manager, Brendan Kenny who has responsibility for housing blamed councillors for delaying the redevelopment. It now appears that City Management have had their heads in the clouds given that the Minister has yet to hear from the manager regarding what amount of money they require for projects outstanding in the city councils administrative area.

"I am calling on council management to move immediately to draw down money towards the completion of a people centred plan for St. Michaels Estate." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Disability, Mid Ulster MLA Gereldine Dougan has said that evidence of the link between low birth weight, premature birth and learning disability, where there is an already an established link between poverty and birth weight, provide a compelling case for the need for an anti-poverty strategy.

Ms Dougan said:

"It is clear that the failure of direct rule ministers to develop a coherent anti-poverty strategy has very serious consequences. In failing to address the issue of poverty and social exclusion, the British government is contributing to higher level of learning and physical disability.

"The revelation on Panorama that 40% of premature babies have significant levels of learning disability, and that a quarter are left with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness and arrested development demands action.

"The established links between poverty, low birth weight and increased risks of premature birth demands a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy.

"Levels of poverty in the Six Counties, and indeed throughout Ireland are unacceptable. Both the British and Irish governments have consistently failed to deliver an effective strategy to eliminate poverty, or at the very least, address the many socio-economic inequities which continue to have a detrimental effect on quality of life.

"Sinn Féin will continue to demand that the issue of poverty and social exclusion remain high on the political agenda." ENDS

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North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has said that 'banks need to do more to ensure that everybody has equality of access to their money'.

Mr McGuigan has written to all the major banks and building societies, to express his concern that a number of towns and villages in his North Antrim constituency have been left out when it comes to the provision of 24-hour cash machines.

Mr McGuigan said:

"In most cases nowadays people's wages and benefits are paid directly into their banks. This is all well and good except that in smaller villages and rural areas people have no access to ATMs. This means they have to drive sometimes as far as 10 miles to get money.

"Banks are always very keen to get their hands on our money. They should do more to ensure that those who live outside of the bigger towns in North Antrim are treated with the same respect and given the same service."

Party colleague Cara McShane has indicated that since her party's intervention "a number of banks are looking seriously at an ATM provision in the Ballintoy area."

Ms McShane said:

"This area is a popular destination. The lack of an ATM is stunting the amount of money these tourists are putting into the local economy. We are working with a number of banks to overcome this problem." ENDS

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Sinn Féin national chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin, speaking after Martin McGuinness briefed the party leadership on the Leeds Castle talks today, has said that it is clear that agreement is only possible if the DUP begin to engage positively and accept that there will be no return to unionist domination, no dilution of powers sharing and no erosion of the all-Ireland architecture.

Speaking after the meeting Mr McLaughlin said:

"In the discussions at Leeds Castle, we made significant progress across a range of issues involving the two governments. But the DUP did not engage in this negotiation. They refused to negotiate. They would not talk to Sinn Fein. They adhered, throughout, to an anti-Agreement agenda and demanded a unionist veto over all decisions in the restored institutions. That simply will not happen.

"As we resume discussions at Stormont it is clear that agreement is only possible if the DUP begin to engage positively and accept that there will be no return to unionist domination; that there will be no dilution of powers sharing; that there will be no erosion of the all-Ireland architecture.

"However, if they remain unwilling to engage - unwilling to accept equality and power sharing - then the two governments and the pro-Agreement parties must move on. The DUP cannot be allowed to block progress or to undermine the positive work that was done last week. The process of change must continue." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has expressed concern at suggestions of a less than wholehearted approach by the Department of Finance and Personnel to the agreed joint bid by the Irish and British governments to the European Commission for the extension of PEACE II funding beyond 2004.

Speaking from Brussels Ms de Brún said:

"I understand that the Department of Finance and Personnel is seeking to bid for substantially less money to fund peace and reconciliation programmes in the agreed approach from the Irish and British governments to the European Commission for beyond 2004. This would send out a very bad signal about the commitment of the British government to national reconciliation and peace building.

"Projects and initiatives funded through the PEACE programme have made a vital contribution to the process of conflict resolution. If, as is being suggested, the direct rule administration is setting its opening bid at roughly 50% of the current level of support, the level of this valuable work will not be sustained. We should not have a situation where the British government sends signals to the European Commission that less money is needed at this time.

"There is a clear commitment from both governments to bid for the extension of PEACE II beyond 2004. It is also clear that the Irish government is putting together a case for funding to remain at its current level. However, the approach of the direct rule administration in the north appears to demonstrate a lower level of commitment to the work of national reconciliation and peace building.

"I will be raising this issue with both governments as a matter of urgency. It is vital that we put in place long term commitments to build upon the important work that is being supported through the Peace II programme throughout Ireland, particularly in border communities and communities that have suffered greatly as a consequence of the conflict." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking from Derry this morning said that the party's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness would be briefing the Sinn Féin leadership tomorrow on the talks at Leeds Castle. Mr. McLaughlin said that the DUPs failure to negotiate with Sinn Féin and their attempts to re-write the Good Friday Agreement were unacceptable.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Over the last few days we saw elements within unionism once again show in the clearest possible terms that they are opposed to a process of change and to genuine equality. Sinn Féin went into the talks to secure a comprehensive agreement but what we were faced was a party who refused to negotiate and whose sole interest was in re-writing the Good Friday Agreement. This is not acceptable.

"The British and Irish governments made it clear yesterday that the only way forward is on the basis of the Agreement. They now need to ensure that the process of change continues and that the rights and entitlements of all are delivered.

"Tomorrow Martin McGuinness will brief the party leadership on the talks at Leeds Castle and we will be in contact with the two governments."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking following the conclusion of talks at Leeds Castle said "some progress had been made across a range of issues but the DUP had not engaged, they had not negotiated". He said the responsibility now falls to the two governments for the delivery of fundamental rights and entitlements.

Mr. Adams said:

"Sinn Féin came to Leeds Castle seeking a comprehensive agreement on all of the outstanding issues. We knew it would be a huge challenge particularly given the anti-agreement agenda of the DUP and their refusal to talk to us. We did some good work with the two governments and made some progress across a range of issues.

"However the DUP have not engaged, they have not negotiated, they have not moved. If the DUP remain unwilling to accept equality, if they remain incapable of sharing power and the all-Ireland shape of the agreement, then there is an onus on the two governments and the British government in particular, to move immediately on the human rights, equality, policing and demilitarisation agendas.

"The British government must advance and accelerate the agenda of change set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

"Sinn Féin is not giving up on this. We want an agreement with unionism, including the DUP. But such an accommodation must be on the basis of equality, inclusivity and mutual respect. We remain engaged and determined to achieve progress. We have arranged to talk to the two governments over the coming days." ENDS

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South Down Assembly Member Caitriona Ruane believes the latest statistics contained in the annual report by the north's chief electoral officer Denis Stanley, provides further evidence of a systematic shredding of the electoral register in the six counties.

Ms Ruane said:

"Between September and February 2004 there was a 2.6 per cent drop of in the electoral register. The impact of the individual registration system and of rolling registration has created a huge democratic deficit that is compounded by ongoing problems with photo ID and the way the electoral courts operate.

For many years the SDLP and unionist parties lobbied for the current electoral legislation on the basis of electoral fraud. Sinn Fein's success in the European and Assembly elections has exposed that as a myth. Unless this legislation is substantially amended more and more people will continued to be disenfranchised with working class communities and people with special needs particularly affected. ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin has called on both the Dublin and British Governments to designate the North West Region of Ireland an area of special economic need.

Speaking after it was announced that Fruit of the Loom was to make over 600 workers redundant at its Derry and Donegal plants Mr McLaughlin said:

"The North West area of Ireland has been haemorrhaging jobs at an unacceptable rate over the past twenty years yet both Governments seem impervious to the situation.

"I will be asking both Governments to designate the North West region of Ireland an area of special economic need that would allow for the region to become more competitive in attracting new industries.

"The infrastructure of both Derry and Donegal is antiquated and has been neglected over many years and needs rapid investment to improve it rail, road, air and sea links if we are to compete in the global market.

"This area of special needs would also need to have special status in terms of tax incentives to attract new industries.

"I would also call on Fruit of the Loom to implement a retraining scheme for its employees as part of the working week. This would prepare those people who are facing redundancy to retrain and gain other skills while maintaining their current job." ENDS

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Sinn Féin economic spokesperson and Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, commenting on the 11.3% price increase by Phoenix Gas, has stated that while any increase is unwelcome Sinn Féin recognises that Phoenix Gas has tried to keep the price increase as low as possible.

Mr McLaughlin stated:

"While there are unavoidable reasons for this price increase, it is clear that it will impact most on fuel poor households. However, it is unacceptable that government has not yet implemented a fuel poverty strategy.

"Over 200,000 homes - one third of the total - in the north of Ireland are in fuel poverty and 1,300 pensioners die each year from temperature related deaths. Coming on the back of rates increases and water charges it is imperative for government to implement an anti-poverty strategy that really works. It is the responsibility of government to look after the most vulnerable in society.

"Commitments given for the creation of an all-Ireland gas industry must also be followed through as a matter of urgency. An island wide gas industry, operating in a larger market, makes economic sense and will cut costs for customers."

"Sinn Féin is aware that Phoenix Gas has been in extensive discussions with the Regulator and with the General Consumer Council on this issue and has arrived at the lowest price increase possible. This price increase must be seen in the context of increasing fuel costs globally. The reasons for this price increase can be tracked and explained. Sinn Féin welcomes the transparency surrounding this process.

"However this will not give comfort to Phoenix Gas customers who will face an average increase of just under £40 per year. The General Consumer Council has issued some very sound energy efficiency advice to customers which, if followed, could help offset some of the price increases and we would encourage people to follow that advice." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast Assembly Member Fra McCann has obtained figures from Belfast City Council, which show a substantial disparity in funding allocated to community centres in nationalist areas in comparison to those in unionist areas. Cllr McCann is now considering lodging a formal complaint of discrimination with the Equality Commission over the allocation of funding in the Belfast City Council area.

Cllr McCann said:

"For years unionists have propagated the myth that the vast majority of community based funding is allocated to nationalist areas. These figures show this is definitely not the case and vast swathes of working Catholic working class communities are left without any funding. In comparative terms, unionist community centres receive significantly more funding than centres located in nationalist districts.

"If the allocation of funding is not remedied then I will be advising nationalist community workers to consult with the Equality Committee with a view to instigating action against Belfast City Council. Cllr Chris McGimpsey may view this issue as a 'red heron' but the figures don't lie. The Community based centre in the Ardoyne ward for example, receives about £35,000 less funding than the Hammer Community Centre on the Shankill.

"Vast stretches of nationalist areas are without any community provision. There is also a significant prima facie case of discrimination in relation to the amount of funding devoted to community centres in unionist areas as opposed to nationalist areas. It is important that this disparity is rectified and that community funding throughout Belfast is proportionate and equitable." ENDS

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Speaking after the sentencing of Ken Barrett in Belfast Crown Court verdict today in of for the murder of Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane Sinn Fein's spokesperson on Policing and Justice, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said:

"For over 30 years the institutional use of collusion has led to the deaths of hundreds of people, and the terrorising of the entire nationalist community. The case of Pat Finucane goes to the heart of this issue and is why successive British Governments have been so determined to block an independent Public Inquiry into his murder.

"The trial of Ken Barrett was used as an excuse to obstruct the recommendation of Judge Cory who recommended the establishment of a Public Inquiry into Pat Finucane's death. This bogus excuse, which was always a red heron, can no longer be used as a reason for denying full disclosure of the truth".

"Ken Barrett was a member of the UDA, an organisation which was controlled by agents like Brian Nelson who themselves were directed by British Intelligence, FRU, MI5 and Special Branch in a campaign of State sponsored murder. The sentencing today of Ken Barrett exposes yet again the murky underbelly of British Collusion with unionist paramilitaries and a full independent public inquiry must now be carried out into the murder of Pat Finucane." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dungannon councillor Francie Molloy MLA will be officially appointed as President of NILGA on Friday, September 17th, at the AGM in the Craigavon Civic Centre.

Speaking ahead of the appointment Mr Molloy said:

"It is an honour to take over as President of NILGA in what will be a very challenging year ahead. There are many pressing issues facing local government in the coming months. The Review of public administration will have major implications for our members and NILGA will ensure that local democracy and local accountability is not undermined. The impact of proposals on rates reform and the introduction of water charging will also prove to be very contentious.

"Ten years ago few would have believed that a Sinn Fein representative would today be set to become the President of NILGA. This is the successful fulfilment of d'Hondt.

"It sends out a very clear message that Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and even the DUP can work within a worker sharing mechanism. IT is important for the future of local democracy that we see this support for power sharing implemented across all local government structures and in the institutions arising out of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Power sharing can work. It has worked. The development of sound democratic accountability in our divided society is dependent on power sharing." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin has wished the Washington Ireland Program, formerly known as the Young Leaders Programme, well for the future.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"This programme has given many young people from across Ireland a great opportunity for the past 10 years. Many people active in politics today, including very active young politicians such as Sue Ramsey, Dara O'Hagan and Chris McManus have benefited from this programme, as have many other emerging talents throughout Irish civic and political life.

"I wish this programme all the best for the future." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast and party spokesperson on Policing and Justice, Gerry Kelly has said that Plastic Bullets have no place in modern policing. This comes on the day that Relatives for Justice and the Pat Finucane Centre are holding a protest to highlight the purchase of 120, 000 these lethal weapons by the Policing Board.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"The Policing Board have bankrolled the purchase of Plastic Bullets for the past three years. What we have seen is that the policing board have continued to sanction the use of these lethal weapons with the purchase of 50,000 plastic bullets in 2002, another 50,000 in 2003 and 20,000 in 2004 so far. The SDLP, because of their position on the Board, need to provide clarity on their position in regards to these purchases.

"The issue here is very clear. These deadly weapons, that have been responsible for over 17 deaths and countless other injuries, need to be withdrawn immediately. Plastic Bullets have no place in modern policing and are certainly not part of the Patten recommendations. The purchase of 120,000 plastic bullets since 2002 only serves to highlight how far we have to go to fully implement Patten.

"We will be demanding that it is addressed in the talks this week at the Leeds Castle talks with the British Prime Minister." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East Councillor Daithí Doolan has called on City Council management to, "respect democracy and the outcome of Tuesday evening's vote to exclude incineration from the City Development Plan".

Responding to Assistant City Manager Matt Twomey's comments, that the vote made no difference, Councillor Doolan said: "Assistant City Manager Matt Twomey has claimed that the vote on Tuesday evening will have no effect and that the incinerator will go ahead. This is a disgrace. As late as yesterday evening I had spoken to City Management and they clearly said no decision has been reached on the issue. Now we have a senior member of management contradicting this. The issue has now become one of democracy and accountability."

"The motion calling for the rezoning of the Poolbeg Peninsula was overwhelmingly endorsed by City Council. No amount of threats or bullying can overturn that decision. What we must now do is to forge ahead with the City Development Plan and also pursue a Waste Management Strategy that respects the wishes of the majority and implement a sustainable, workable waste strategy. We have provided such a strategy, A Zero Waste Strategy, one that is based on reducing the demand to produce and consume waste, reuse where appropriate and the investment in our fledgling recycling industry. It is a strategy that goes to the source of our waste crisis rather than becoming dependant on landfill or incineration.

"This Sinn Féin motion to Dublin City Council calling for a new sub zoning section whereby only industry which complies with a non thermal treatment policy would get planning permission was passed by a substantial majority. This now rules out any incinerator on the Poolbeg Peninsula."

In conclusion, Cllr. Doolan has called for Matt Twomey's comments, "to be withdrawn and for an immediate meeting with City Management to discuss and clarify the situation. I am in no doubt that any attempt to undermine or overturn the decision will be met with the sternest of opposition from myself, my party, fellow councilors and the communities that elected us."ENDS

Note : The motion calling for rezoning was passed 32 in favour, 5 against 3 abstained.

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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Seán Crowe, speaking prior to Education Minister Noel Dempsey's meeting with representatives of the OECD in Dublin this afternoon, has rejected the OECD call for the reintroduction of third level fees. He said "all this report from the OECD does is rubber stamp the Minister's intention to reintroduce fees and all that this will achieve is increased educational disadvantage." Sinn Féin this morning attended a press conference organised by the Union of Students in Ireland and supported their campaign against a return of student fees.

Deputy Crowe said:

"I believe that the OECD Report that free fees have not worked is flawed and we oppose their recommendation that they should be reintroduced. The report states what we largely already know about the 3rd level sector, that it is under funded. However the report then goes on to put forward the argument that the deficit in funding can be solved only through student contributions. Sinn Féin would refute this notion, we have consistently called for the funding of education through a genuinely progressive taxation system. In real terms all this report from the OECD does is rubber stamp the Minister's intention to reintroduce fees and all that this will achieve is increased educational disadvantage.

"Of course that is not the only issue to be tackled in terms of access to education. Sinn Féin believes that barriers to education occur at a much earlier time in a student‚s academic career and for very many students from disadvantaged areas, obstacles arise far earlier in the learning experience; in some cases as far back as the pre-school period. Greater resources needs to be put into education at the earliest stages so that young people will make it through to third level.

"The government must recognise the real importance that education plays in the Irish economy and fund it properly. Sinn Féin fully supports the campaign launched by the Union of Students in Ireland aimed at opposing the re-introduction of third level fees."ENDS

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Speaking after yesterday's BMA Passive smoking seminar held in Belfast, Sinn Féin health spokesperson, John O Dowd MLA, has said that there is a growing body of public opinion within the North in favour of a ban on smoking in the workplace and public places.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"I would encourage the Licensed Vintners Association to back such legislation, this legislation at the end of the day is about protecting the health of their members their staff and their customers. The prediction of economic ruin, which proceeded similar legislation in the South, has proved fruitless. The LVA, have the opportunity to help their members through this change.

The Upper Bann MLA said, "Incapacity and long-term illnesses caused by tobacco related diseases are proving to be among the major crisis problems facing the health service. Tobacco smoking and the inhaling of environmental tobacco smoke (passive smoking) are widely acknowledged by public health professionals as major, prime contributory factors to many long-term illnesses. This fact was again evidenced in the shocking figures contained in the most recent All-Ireland Cancer Registry Report published just a few weeks ago.

"Angela Smith, as the direct rule minister with responsibility for health issues, has it within her power to take immediate action to ban smoking within the workplace and all other public places. This major anti-smoking seminar, organised by the BMA, will add to the growing impetus for the need for such action. Sinn Féin is on public record as supporting the introduction of such a ban, and I believe that Angela Smith should take her direction from public health and professional bodies within the health service, such as the BMA, and introduce such a ban now, rather than pander to the dictates of multi-national companies such as British American Tobacco who are concerned only with maintaining their own massive profits from this industry." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Donegal County Councillor, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has described the news that the remaining 630 Fruit of the Loom jobs in Derry and Donegal are to go as a "crushing blow" to the economy of Inishowen and the NorthWest. The company today announced that the remaining jobs would be phased out over the next 4 to 5 years. They blamed the decision of the World Trade Organisation to remove quotas on imported products from the Far East from January 2005 for their announcement to relocate most of the Irish operation to Morocco.

The Donegal North East Sinn Féin representative said:

"This announcement is another kick in the teeth to the people of Inishowen and the North West region. Donegal has already lost 5,000 jobs over the last 8 years in the textile industry alone. We have unemployment levels four times the national average. How much more can we take?

"It is now six years since Mary Harney established the Donegal Employment Initiative or 'Task Force' following the initial job losses at Fruit of the Loom in 1998. The Task Force report set job creation targets of 815 net gains per year for the following seven years. Those targets are now a distant memory. Since then we have seen more and more job losses in every corner of Donegal. The Government has failed Donegal miserably. The powers that be in Dublin and Belfast have failed Donegal and Derry miserably. It is time for an all Ireland, cross border response to the jobs crisis in the NorthWest. It is time for a new vision."

PROTEST
"I would call on the people of Donegal to come out and protest at the failure of the Government to tackle the ongoing jobs crisis in the county. A rally will take place on Saturday September 25th in the Market Square, Letterkenny at 3pm with the theme of 'Jobs and Equality for Donegal'. That rally had already been organised following the 800 job losses at the UNIFI plant at Letterkenny. Following this announcement of another 630 job losses, it is even more important that a huge crowd comes out to protest and to ensure that the Government hears the true extent of the anger in Donegal and the NorthWest. " ENDS

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