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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 Vice President Pat Doherty MP has launched a stinging attack on the record of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and he challenged him over his record of acts of completion.

Mr. Doherty said:

"Mr. Blair has again raised the issue of 'Acts of Completion' by Republicans. He made no mention of unionist paramilitaries, at a time when they are creating havoc on the streets of Belfast and threatening more violence if they do not get their way in Maghaberry.

"There was no mention from Mr. Blair of the promised demilitarisation by British Crown Forces in Ireland.

"But perhaps more significant was no mention or sign that the Cory Report into the killings of citizens by the various British Agencies is to be published or acted upon.

"What about your acts of completion Mr. Blair?"ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Mid-Ulster Martin McGuinness has repeated his party's support for the family of murdered Bellaghy GAA member Sean Browne. Mr. McGuinness's comments come on the eve of what is expected to be a damning report from the Police Ombudsman into the RUC investigation into the killing.

Mr. McGuinness said:

"The Browne family have been campaigning for a number of years in their search for answers surrounding the murder of Sean Browne at Bellaghy GAA club in 1997. There has been a widely held belief locally that the circumstances of the killing were not investigated properly.

"Sean Browne was killed within a month of DUP MP Willie McCrea who had shared platforms with the LVF leadership losing his Westminster seat. Many people felt at the time that this murder in the same constituency was the LVF response to that election.

"The family of Sean Browne deserve answers. It is my hope that tomorrow's report from the Police Ombudsman will be a step along that road."ENDS

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Ógra Shinn Féin today launched their campaign to see voting rights in this year‚s Presidential election extended to Irish citizens in the Six Counties. They are also asking people to support their campaign by signing their online petition at www.apresidentforall.com. Speaking at the launch which took place at their National Congress in Dublin Ógra Shinn Féin spokesperson Eamon Conway said:

"Today at our National Congress more than 100 young people from across Ireland met to agree Ógra Shinn Féin‚s priorities for the coming year. One of our main campaigns will be to see voting rights for the 2004 Presidential election extended to Irish Citizens in the Six Counties.

"At present, we have a President who was born in Belfast; but the very people who grew up with her and still live in Belfast, could not vote for her. This must not be allowed to happen again.

"It is almost five years since the people of Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement, five years since the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that he would look at how people in the North could participate in national political life. But five years on the government has done nothing to bring this about. With the Presidential election due to take place this Autumn, the Government have an opportunity to do the right thing and we are going to work to make it happen.

"Over the next six months we will be bringing this campaign to every county in Ireland. We will be distributing thousands of leaflets and posters and asking people to sign out on-line petition, to lobby elected representatives, including the Taoiseach and to attend our public rallies.

"We are confidant that this campaign will be successful and that we will have the first election since 1918 where all Irish citizens on the island will be eligible to vote." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast Gerry Kelly today attended the launch of Ógra Shinn Féin's campaign to secure voting rights for Irish citizens in the Six Counties in this year's Presidential election campaign. Mr. Kelly said "the Irish government had stalled long enough. It is long past time that they bring forward the necessary legislation to allow Irish citizens in the Six Counties to vote in the 2004 Presidential election."

Mr. Kelly said:

"One of the most significant consequences of partition has been the effective disenfranchisement of the nationalist population living in the Six Counties.

"People in the Six Counties cannot vote for the President of Ireland; indeed, the current President, Mary McAleese, could not vote for herself. People in the Six Counties cannot vote on any proposed change in the constitution, which includes them. And they have not been afforded representation in the Dail, which frequently holds debates and takes decisions, which directly impact on their lives. Furthermore tens of thousands of people in the Six Counties elect their parliamentary representatives as Irish legislators and they are currently denied access to a parliamentary forum.

"For many years now Sinn Féin has been lobbying intensively for Northern participation in the political life of the nation. We raised the matter during the Good Friday Agreement discussions and following the signing of the Agreement the Taoiseach instructed the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to look into the various issues involved.

"It took the Committee from 1998 to 2002 to report on the issue and even their cautious recommendations recognised that the most obvious first step would be to extend voting rights in Presidential elections to all Irish citizens living on the island of Ireland. And several years on there has been no action from the Irish government.

"People from all over Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish constitution was changed on the understanding that the Agreement would be implemented and change happen. The Irish government has failed to act on this issue for long enough. It is long past time that they bring forward the necessary legislation to allow Irish citizens in the Six Counties to vote in the 2004 Presidential election. It is an important part of the peace process and a natural outworking of the Good Friday Agreement.

"I want to commend Ógra Shinn Féin for launching this campaign and it will be getting the full backing of the party. And we will continue to campaign and negotiate until we secure:

* The right to vote in Presidential elections for citizens in the Six Counties

* Right of attendance at the Dáil for the 18 Westminster MPs elected in the Six Counties.

* Reform of the Seanad to include election by a national list system with people in the Six Counties having the right to vote." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy has said that Ian Pearson is wrong to reject criticism of the Barnett formula that is used to calculate our Budget allocation from the British Treasury and question whether his judgement is based on what the British Treasury want or what people here need.

Cllr Molloy, former chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, said:

"Ian Pearson is wrong to reject criticism of the Barnett formula, especially when the man who devised the formula has himself rejected it as a fair basis for allocating our Budget because it is only a head count that takes no account of the levels of need that exists here, our age profile or the rural nature of the Six Counties.

"Our elderly population is increasing at a faster rate than in Britain, we have a younger population and our birth rate is higher. This means that we have significantly higher health and social care costs. We also have greater relative deprivation and associated higher levels of illness and early death. We also have a much lower proportion of people in employment compared to England and a much higher level of benefit dependency.

"For Ian Pearson to refuse to publish the Needs and Effectiveness evaluations that were carried out for the locally accountable Executive as flawed is a disgrace. These studies were initiated as part of a campaign initiated by Sinn Féin Ministers in the Executive who also secured the Programme for Government commitment to challenge the Barnett formula.

"Is Ian Pearson now going to live up to those Programme for government commitments and challenge the unfair Barnett formula? Is he going to recognise the priorities already identified by putting more resources particularly into the provision of health services.

"Despite his assertion that he will not publish the Needs and Effectiveness Evaluations because they are flawed, there is obviously a communication breakdown between Ian Pearson and his direct rule colleague running the Health department because the Health study has been available on the Health website since December 2nd.

"Ian Pearson refusal to publish these studies and refusal to challenge the Barnett formula that means we are worse off and have less money for our services is a matter of deep concern. Is Ian Pearson's judgement based on what is best for his political masters in Downing Street and the British Treasury or is it based on what is best for people who live here all year round."ENDS

Note to Editors

1. By 2010 the population aged 65 and over here is expected to increase by 15% compared to 8% in England and 7% in Scotland. Growth in the most needy population aged 85 and over is even greater, by 2025 this group is expected have increased by 72% here compared to 47% in England.

2. 30% of our population is 20 or under compared with 25% in England. The birth rate is still 11% higher than England, although the gap is narrowing.

3. The Standardised mortality Ratio for persons under 75, as a measure of early death, is 7% higher here than in England.

4. In deprivation terms we have a far lower proportion of people in employment - 66% here compared to 76% in England. The level of income support benefit recipients is 68% higher here than in England and the proportion of lone parent families is 38% higher here than in England.

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Speaking today before meeting the International Monitoring Commission Sinn Féin MLA Bairbre de Brún said that the delegation would be making it 'very clear to the Commission that the remit they operate under is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement'

Ms de Brún said:

"This afternoon we will meet with the International Monitoring Commission. We will be making it very clear to them that their remit is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The legislation gives the power of exclusion to the British Secretary of State. Such powers contradict the democratic norms and the rights of the electorate.

"The IMC reports will be based upon information supplied by securocrats. and it is our firm belief that they are a smokescreen to validate arbitrary acts of exclusion by the British Secretary of State." ENDS

Editors Note: A Sinn Féin Delegation consisting of Bairbre de Brún, Conor Murphy and Alex Maskey will meet with the IMC today at 5pm at the IMC offices, Adelaide Street, Belfast

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Speaking in advance of the planned closure of the Curragh Place of Detention on Monday as part of the Minister for Justice's prison restructuring plans, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called for the scrapping of the Minister's plans as they "do not tackle the real sources of overspending on the prison service and bear no relation to the need for comprehensive reform." Sinn Féin are calling on the Minister to embark on systematic, comprehensive, evidence-based reforms and restructuring following a transparent review process.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"There are a number of unanswered questions about the Minister's plans, not least of which is whether they will ultimately cost less than present configurations.

"For example, the Minister has made a commitment that no prison officer jobs will be lost as a result of the restructuring. But he has also indicated that Shelton Abbey and Loughan House will be reopened under new management. If they are not going to be run by prison officers, this will mean paying for additional staff. He has decided to outsource the prison escort service against the recommendation of his own expert group who were unconvinced that private contracting would cost less. Indeed, the Minister admitted to me that comparative costing for this service had not been done. In addition, his closure plans do not affect the two most expensive prisons to run - much less those actually recommended for closure by the Prison Inspectorate. If the Minister cannot conclusively demonstrate that his overall package will save the taxpayer money, then his plans make no sense. At minimum, he must publish a full comparative costing of his plans and present arrangements to let the public judge for themselves.

"In the long run, the Minister's plans may even cost us more. For example, in contrast to his guarantees on prison officer jobs, he has said he will make no guarantees for the jobs of those who work in rehabilitative services in these institutions. Employment and training workshops in some prisons are already closing and prison educators being laid off due to budgetary cutbacks imposed by the Minister. Despite the critical role rehabilitation, education and training services for prisoners play in reducing repeat-offending, and thus medium to long-term costs, the Minister has refused to ringfence any overtime savings for redeployment to these services. But if repeat-offending is not reduced, prisoner numbers will stay stable or increase and the service will cost more.

"It is true that we are spending too much on Prison Officer overtime, but we are also spending far too much on imprisonment generally. Overtime is a factor, but it is not the only factor. The two real sources of the prison budget overspending are over-incarceration and high prisoner-staff ratios.

"There is no question that the prison service needs to be restructured, and its high costs tackled. In fact, it needs a comprehensive review and reform with a view to modernisation and to bring it in-line with best international practice. This is what Sinn Féin is calling for. However the Minister's plans to restructure the service are not based on evidence or expert review and recommendation and bear no relation to the need for comprehensive reform. They should be scrapped." ENDS

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Ógra Shinn Féin's National Congress will take place tomorrow, Saturday 17th, in the Teachers Club, 36 Parnell Square, Dublin 1. At the congress they will launch their campaign seeking voting rights for Irish citizens in the Six Counties in the upcoming Presidential Elections.

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly will launch the campaign at 1.15pm at the Teachers Club.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights, North Down MLA Caitríiona Ruane has called on the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy to "immediately clarify which human rights considerations are being used by the British government to prevent the publication of Judge Cory's reports."

Ms Ruane continued:

"The British Secretary of State claimed yesterday in the British parliament that one of the reasons for not publishing the Cory report was because of human rights considerations. Presumably he was referring to the continued cover up around those who perpetrated the killing of people as a result of collusion.

"The Secretary of State should be aware that those who colluded and killed have breached the right to life, the most fundamental of all rights and that no amount of excuses from him will justify the decision not to publish this report. His comments are merely an excuse and will be seen as such by the families of those killed and by the wider international community." ENDS

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Sinn Fein National party Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking in Waterford today where he was joined by Munster EU candidate David Cullinanethis morning said:

"The British Prime Minister‚s comments on Thursday appear to confirm the fears expressed by Gerry Adams that the British government is intent on breaking its commitments in the Joint Declaration and the Good Friday Agreement.

The reality is that on October 21st last year the British government was party to an agreed sequence of events that would have seen a functioning Executive quickly established.

Sinn Fein, the British and Irish governments and the Ulster unionists had, after negotiations, agreed and exchanged in advance what were to be our respective public positions.

Only Sinn Féin and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.

The positions agreed by others were then put on hold by the decision of Mr. Trimble.

The UUP walked away from that agreement. Because of that the British are now asking more of republicans. This is blatant bad faith.

It is quite evident that the British government has once again shifted the goal posts, and to the applause of rejectionist unionism.

All of this seriously erodes what little confidence and trust there is in the process. It makes resolving the current difficulties much more problematic.

"Mr. Blair seeks to disingenuously place the onus for progress solely on unionists and republicans. However, hard he tries he cannot absolve himself or his government from the current mess.

It is British government strategy and its tactical approach to the implementation of the Agreement, which has encouraged rejectionist unionism. Whatever responsibilities rest with Sinn Fein and the unionists the primary responsibility at this time rests on the two governments but particularly the British government.

It is intolerable that the British government has failed to fulfill their obligations. Progress is dependent on this. Confidence and trust is dependent on this." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP has endorsed the campaign being launched on Saturday by Ógra Shinn Féin demanding voting rights in the Irish Presidential election for Irish citizens living in the Six Counties.

Mr Doherty said:

" Sinn Féin has being campaigning for many years for participation for Irish citizens in the six counties in the political life of the Irish nation. This includes access and voting rights for northern political representatives in the Óireachtas, passport rights and voting rights in Presidential elections.

"I wish to endorse the nation wide campaign being launched in Dublin tomorrow by Ógra Shinn Féin demanding the right of Irish citizens in the Six Counties to vote in the next Presidential election.

"The natural outworking of the Good Friday Agreement is the creation of an island wide approach to politics. This is the way forward and part of this is the extension of voting rights and democratic participation to Irish citizens in the North." ENDS

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ial part of the "regeneration jig-saw" for the North West Economy."ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin is on a two day tour of Munster where he will speak at engagements in both Cork and Waterford. Mr McLaughlin will be joined on the tour by Munster EU Candidate David Cullinane. Speaking today from Cork Mr McLaughlin said that 'the rise of Sinn Féin in recent times had created major challenges for the existing political establishment in the 26 Counties'.

Mr McLaughlin said:

" In recent years with the ending of censorship there has been a massive resurgence in republicanism throughout the island but particularly in the 26 counties. Sinn Féin are now the third largest political party on this island.

" The rise in support for Sinn Féin and for republican demands has created obvious difficulties for the existing political establishment in the 26 counties. As a result some within this establishment have placed narrow party political interest before the national interest or the demands of the peace process. That was and is entirely the wrong approach.

" Sinn Féin will, as the recent Assembly elections showed, continue to grow, develop and increase our electoral mandate. We face into two elections within the next number of months. We are the only party contesting all of the EU constituencies on the island and in addition to this we will be fielding candidates in the local elections across the 26 Counties.

" It is my belief that we are up to this challenge and that we will again make significant gains in the June polls." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that Health Minister Mícheál Martin's plans for the health boards will undermine democracy. Deputy Ó Caoláin said that if Minister Martin had his way elected representatives would be removed from health boards from June 2004 without any democratic accountability in place for the proposed new health service administrative structures. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Everyone is agreed that the health board system needs fundamental reform to cut out excessive bureaucracy and inefficiency but the Minister is undermining democracy and accountability. Councillors on health boards provide representation for health service users. The new Health Service Executive will have no such representation.

"Minister Martin is proposing that from June 2004 the health boards should operate without elected representatives, pending the establishment of new regional structures some time in 2005. The question arises immediately as to what the Minister and his Department, in conjunction with CEOs in the health boards, will attempt to push through in that 'limbo' period when they will be virtual dictators in health service administration.

"There must also be a legal question over the Health Boards operating without their statutory quota of elected representatives. The Minister should withdraw his proposal and councils should go ahead and nominate members to the boards after the local elections." ENDS

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Commenting on the announcement by the British Direct Rule Minister Jane Kennedy that repressive legislation is to be renewed in the six counties for yet another year, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly MLA said that decision was 'further evidence that the securocrats are continuing to drive British policy in Ireland'.

Mr Kelly said:

" Ten years on from the first IRA cessation and the British government are still relying on repressive legislation. The decision to renew this legislation is further evidence that the securocrats are continuing to drive British policy in Ireland.

" The fact of the matter is that if you give repressive legislation to a force like the PSNI then it will be used.

" The British government need to act to remove such repressive powers and begin to seriously deliver on their overall commitments on Human Rights, Policing and Justice issues." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing matters Fra McCann MLA has said that the 3% hike in Housing Executive rents will hit those people on low salaries most.

Mr McCann said:

" The announcement by the NIHE that they are to raise their rents by 3% will hit those tenants who are low wage earners and therefore unable to access benefit most. If banks raised their mortgage rates by 3% in one swoop there would be an outcry from home owners.

" Yet the Housing Executive believe that it is appropriate to raise yearly rents by around £70 and then offer the lame excuse that the rents here are still less than England.

" This rent hike cannot be justified and is certainly not matched by any rise in service which tenants receive from the Executive." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA in a major speech today in St. Malachy's College in North Belfast has warned that there "there is undoubtedly a dangerous and deeply worrying sense of drift in the political situation since the Assembly elections in November."

In his address to students at St. Malachy's College in Belfast the Sinn Féin leader describes as "intolerable" the failure of the two governments to fulfil their commitments or providing "any satisfactory explanation for reneging on their commitments."

Mr. Adams says that it "appears to nationalists and republicans that the governments will now let the DUP set the agenda in respect of citizens rights and entitlements. This is unacceptable."

The Sinn Féin leader also assesses the contribution of the two governments, of republicans, the Ulster unionists and the position of the DUP.

He believes the current difficulties "are rooted in the British government's tactical approach to the Good Friday Agreement.

In other words, for the last five years rather than fully implementing the Agreement over all its aspects and particularly those elements for which the British government has direct responsibility, London has proceeded at a pace which the UUP and its own government agencies were prepared to tolerate.

In order to understand why it did so it is important to appreciate that the British government is a unionist government. Not unionist of the Irish variety but British unionism."

The Sinn Féin leader also examines British strategy and concludes that none of its objectives have been achieved.

"The IRA was not defeated. And after ten years of cessations the question of beating the IRA or trying to demoralise, split or humiliate it should no longer be an issue.

Unless of course no value is placed on the IRA's support for the development of the peace process and its endeavours to facilitate a sustainable process of change to build the peace or unless Sinn Fein's peace strategy and our contribution to the process which includes our efforts to bring an end of physical force, is to be set to one side.

The Sinn Fein President expressed deep concern about the continuing power and influence of the securocrats; "

Mr. Adams also examines the role of the Irish government and the fact that at times there are those in the Dublin political establishment who know better who "have put party political electoral or narrow self interest above the national interest, and the interests of the peace process.

At other times the failure of the Irish government to prevent the British government from breaching the Agreement has caused difficulties throughout nationalist Ireland."

Of the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP Mr. Adams says; "Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The dialogue between the UUP and us was a central part of our strategy and we are determined despite all the difficulties to deepen and extend this dialogue to all elements of unionism.

Mr. Adams sets out Sinn Féin's attitude to the DUP; "Sinn Féin sets no preconditions whatsoever on talking to the DUP. Neither are we against sharing power with them, despite the record of some of its most senior members."

However, he points out that while 74 or two thirds of the Assembly are pro-Agreement, one third, the DUP has a "desire is to destroy the Agreement, ignore the wishes of the Irish and British people, and turn the clock back to the bad old days of domination and supremacy of one section of people over another.

But they know, if they reflect at all, that this cannot happen. The process of change can be frustrated or delayed, but it cannot be stopped.

The DUP can be moved. And there is no doubt that unionism; even of the Paisleyite kind will have to face in time the same reality that led the UUP to agree the Good Friday Agreement.

But this will take too long and the process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait."

On the Review the Sinn Féin President says: "The principles, structures and obligations of the Agreement cannot and must not be subverted.

The review as set out in the Good Friday Agreement is about improving the delivery of the Agreement. It was never envisaged that it would take place during suspension of institutions indeed the British government had no right to suspend the institutions, and had to step outside the Agreement to unilaterally take that power on themselves.

The review was never meant to deal with a process which is on hold. So while the review may find there are ways of improving the delivery of the Agreement it cannot resolve the current difficulties.

Sinn Féin will bring a positive attitude to the review even though the review can only perform a limited function and must therefore be short, sharp and focussed, as the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister promised.

Sinn Fein has asked that the review be completed within a month. In reality it could be conducted in a week. Any attempt to make it a protracted exercise has to be resisted. "

Finally, and despite a warning that no political process could be sustained on a diet of the last five years and of continuous stalemate, stagnation and eventual breakdown, Gerry Adams expresses confidence that; "With the application of proper strategies I believe the process can be moved on.

This places a heavy responsibility on the two governments ' but especially on Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern ' to provide the essential political leadership that this dangerous crisis urgently demands.

As the leaders of the two sovereign governments and the joint and co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, it falls to them to marshal the pro-Agreement forces and implement a strategy to defeat the wreckers and move the process forward.

This may mean the pro-Agreement, pro-peace parties and governments agreeing and setting out an agenda for progress. Obviously such a task is outside the remit of the review and may require a different mechanism.

But whatever else happens the British government must lift the suspension of the institutions and allow the process defined in the Agreement to take its course.

It also means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last years Joint Declaration and made in subsequent discussions."

Full Text of Speech:

Two Governments "must do what they promised" - Adams

There is undoubtedly a dangerous and deeply worrying sense of drift in the political situation since the Assembly elections in November.

Instead of stable political institutions with the people's elected representatives making decisions on important issues which affect all our lives, across a range of social and economic issues; instead of a fully operational Assembly and all-Ireland institutions leading the delivery of change, advancing the equality agenda and championing a human rights based society; we have continuing impasse and an ever deepening political crisis.

Some commentators argue that the last election caused all this. That is nonsense.

Yes, there are difficulties, major difficulties. However it is my view that these difficulties can be resolved.

A starting point for this can only be found in an accurate analysis of the current situation.

The difficulties did not begin when or because the people cast their votes.

They are rooted in the British government's tactical approach to the Good Friday Agreement.

In other words, for the last five years rather than fully implementing the Agreement over all its aspects and particularly those elements for which the British government has direct responsibility, London has proceeded at a pace which the UUP and its own government agencies were prepared to tolerate.

In order to understand why it did so it is important to appreciate that the British government is a unionist government. Not unionist of the Irish variety but British unionism.

But it is prepared to modernise and in terms of the Good Friday Agreement Mr. Blair's government was moved to a range of all-Ireland positions, and British policy has been shifted quite profoundly, including on the status of the union.

But in a state like this which is entirely unionist in its ethos, symbolism and management, any effort to modernise is bound to be very challenging indeed.

And it isn't just about the section of people here who are unionist. I think that they know that London has little loyalty to them. But the senior policy makers within all the agencies here and particularly those unaccountable branches of the so-called security agencies, are entirely anti-republican, anti-nationalist and pro-union.

And these elements have an affinity with local unionism; the NIO for example is the main body for propagating unionist policy and still stands outside the equality agenda.

So it is easy to see why a British establishment panders to unionism.

It is also fairly easy to see how a British Prime Minister who wants to bring about change can be challenged at many levels within his own system.

For example, the continuing power and influence of the securocrats is evident in the on-going attempts by the British system to hide its real role in Ireland over three decades of conflict.

The British government's refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system, the refusal to publish the Cory report and establish independent judicial inquiries and the continuing refusal of the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings are all symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system.

It is worth looking at British strategy.

Notionally it could be argued that British strategic objectives until the Good Friday Agreement were quite limited.

To defeat the IRA.

To bring about a coalition of Ulster Unionism and the SDLP.

To bring in a limited process of change which would satisfy these political interests and to gain Irish government political support for this.

In other words the ingredients of a classical and limited pacification programme when what was and is required is a conflict resolution process. The Good Friday Agreement changed this. It committed the British government to such an approach.

How wedded or united the British political leadership was to this approach is a matter of opinion. What is for certain is that other elements of the British system did not buy into the new dispensation. They were wedded to the old agenda and to pursuing the old objectives.

But in any case none of these three political objectives materialised.

The IRA was not defeated. And after ten years of cessations the question of beating the IRA or trying to demoralise, split or humiliate it should no longer be an issue.

Unless of course no value is placed on the IRA's support for the development of the peace process and its endeavours to facilitate a sustainable process of change to build the peace or unless Sinn Fein?s peace strategy and our contribution to the process which includes our efforts to bring an end of physical force, is to be set to one side.

The coalition most favoured by the British government did not work even when it came together in a partial form in the first term of the Assembly.

Instead, the crisis within political unionism dominated Assembly politics.

And finally the Good Friday Agreement was a charter for very significant change, not least because republicans were part of negotiating it.

So instead of a limited process of change the British government signed up for a fundamental transformation in which the Irish government is a joint and co-equal partner in the shared responsibility for its implementation.

In fact Mr. Blair on October 17th 2002 claimed that this was such a vast undertaking that 'only in the first flush of a new government could we have contemplated it.'

I'm not seeking to exaggerate the radical or progressive nature of the Good Friday Agreement, although there are both radical and progressive elements in it.

But it is in essence a compromise which republicans and nationalists have signed up to even though some may feel that it falls short of what we are entitled to or expect.

It is a charter for change, which deals with a spectrum of issues.

Apart from anything else, it points up the width and depth of the denial of people's rights and is an indicator of what has to be done if these rights are to be restored.

This is necessary as a point of principle and also in order to anchor a peace process through a programme of sustainable change which shows that politics works.

So, in order to advance this entire process of change a British government was required to press ahead with all its commitments. By so doing peoples rights and entitlements would have been secured.

It would also have changed the political conditions here in such a way as to encourage pragmatic unionism while thwarting rejectionist unionism.

Instead the tactical approach of the last 5 years has encouraged the rejectionists.

This cannot continue.

This is not to underestimate the progress that has been made. There is now a profound difference in the political landscape here and everyone involved, including the British Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the leaders of pragmatic unionism are to be commended for their contribution.

The Irish government has played a significant and essential role in this process. But the challenges facing it are every bit as daunting as those facing London.

Arguably an Irish government required different or at least additional and more far-reaching strategic objectives than a British government. Any consideration by Dublin advisors or Ministers of a way forward has to consider whether its objectives for the last five years were devised to promote Irish national and democratic interests and the rights of Irish citizens. Or were its objectives the same as the British?

The Good Friday Agreement is an all-Ireland Agreement. While its cutting edge was to create a changed political landscape in the north, because it is an all-Ireland agreement it effects all parts of the island.

But that too brings difficulties and conservative elements have been uncomfortable with such a prospect, because it involves change in the southern state, and particularly as this has been accompanied by a repopularisation of republicanism - national and democratic ideals - and a growing support for Sinn Féin.

So at times those in the Dublin political establishment who know better have put party political electoral or narrow self interest above the national interest, and the interests of the peace process.

At other times the failure of the Irish government to prevent the British government from breaching the Agreement has caused difficulties throughout nationalist Ireland.

Maybe with the best will in the world an Irish government could not have stopped a British government from departing from its commitments, but the effects of this on national morale cannot be ignored especially because people from all over Ireland voted for the Agreement and the Irish constitution was changed on the understanding that the Good Friday Agreement would be implemented.

So any perception that the British are taking the Irish government for granted is a cause of concern.

Republicans are not exempt from criticism and on a number of occasions I have acknowledged this in a very public way.

But sometimes I have to say that some of this criticism is without foundation. It gives succour to those who claim that no matter what republicans do it will not be enough.

There is criticism, for example, of what is referred to as a lack of transparency on the IRAs acts of putting arms beyond use.

This criticism ignores the enormity of this issue for the IRA and its support base. But more importantly it ignores the Good Friday Agreement position on weapons and the role of the IICD.

It also ignores the issue of other weapons in use in the hands of unionist paramilitaries and British state forces, as against the IRA's silenced arms. And it ignores the lengths to which the British system has gone to protect their state agencies, which put guns into the hands of unionist paramilitaries.

All of this was brought very much into stark profile when the sequence of initiatives agreed for last October 21st was aborted by Mr. Trimble, after republicans honoured commitments as part of an agreed sequence of statements and actions.

Mr. Trimble's commitments and probably more importantly at this time, the British government and Irish government's commitments have been put on hold. Neither government has moved one inch on the commitments which they made.

Only Sinn Fein and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.

This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Fein leadership. And the irony of it all is that there is no doubt, even among its detractors and opponents, about the significance of the IRA's act. This has been acknowledged by governments and rejectionist unionists alike.

Despite what happened consequently I want to make it clear that I stand over the remarks I made that day.

I set out a peaceful direction for republicans because I believe that is the proper position. But myself and Martin McGuinness and others had negotiated and received commitments from London, Dublin and the UUP leadership which persuaded the IRA leadership to put beyond use the largest amount of arms to date. And also to set out its view of my remarks.

It was bad enough that Mr. Trimble walked away from this but there is little that can be done about that now.

But the two governments can fulfil their commitments and it is intolerable that the British and Irish governments have not done so.

They have also failed to provide any satisfactory explanation for reneging on their commitments.

All of this brings us back to the Assembly elections which could have been conducted in a positive atmosphere and which could have seen the process move decisively forward, if others had kept their commitments.

It is unfortunate that for their own reasons others did not see the merit in this. But the elections did see Sinn Féin make a significant and historic breakthrough emerging with the second highest vote, an increased number of seats and our status confirmed as the largest nationalist party in the north, and the third largest on the island.

But of course none of this counts. Britannia waves the rules. The electoral rights of all those citizens who voted for our party and all the pro-Agreement parties are set aside by the British government and the Sinn Fein electorate is told that we have to pass a series of tests before we are acceptable.

It is rather ironic that those who are loudest on this issue also demand that their mandate has to be respected and British Ministers who have no mandate here whatsoever can change the rules to suit their government.

Most nationalists have no real conviction that the DUP will move speedily to engage with the current process.

They voted for Sinn Fein in this knowledge also.

Let me reiterate Sinn Fein's attitude to the DUP. Sinn Féin sets no preconditions whatsoever on talking to the DUP. Neither are we against sharing power with them, despite the record of some of its most senior members.

Our record shows clearly that we are for the peace process, the political process and the wider process of conflict resolution. This is unchallengeable.

So what does the DUP vote mean?

It means that they succeeded in mopping up all the anti-Agreement sentiment in the last Assembly. And with the transfer of Jeffrey Donaldson and his colleagues from the UUP, there is now a quantifiable and significant unionist majority in the Assembly against the Good Friday Agreement.

They now can count on 34 anti-agreement votes in the Assembly. On the other hand the pro-agreement parties can marshal 74 votes.

Indeed those who promote the second Assembly election results as a 'victory for the extremes' are seeking to serve some other agenda by camouflaging the realities behind the vote. The majority of people want the Agreement to work and they are represented by two thirds of the MLAs.

One third, the DUP, have a desire to destroy the Agreement, ignore the wishes of the Irish and British people, and turn the clock back to the bad old days of domination and supremacy of one section of people over another.

But they know, if they reflect at all, that this cannot happen. The process of change can be frustrated or delayed, but it cannot be stopped.

The DUP can be moved. And there is no doubt that unionism; even of the Paisleyite kind will have to face in time the same reality that led the UUP to agree the Good Friday Agreement.

But this will take too long and the process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait.

The two governments have to face up to that reality.

Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The dialogue between the UUP and us was a central part of our strategy and we are determined despite all the difficulties to deepen and extend this dialogue to all elements of unionism.

The DUP has an opportunity to demonstrate its good intentions, but it must not be allowed to use the review to unravel the progress we have made.

The principles, structures and obligations of the Agreement cannot and must not be subverted.

The review as set out in the Good Friday Agreement is about improving the delivery of the Agreement. It was never envisaged that it would take place during a suspension of institutions ? indeed the British government has no right to suspend the institutions, and had to step outside the Agreement to unilaterally take that power on themselves.

The review was never meant to deal with a process which is on hold. So while the review may find there are ways of improving the delivery of the Agreement it cannot resolve the current difficulties.

Sinn Féin will bring a positive attitude to the review even though it can only perform a limited function and must therefore be short, sharp and focussed, as the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister promised.

Sinn Fein has asked that the review be completed within a month. In reality it could be conducted in a week. Any attempt to make it a protracted exercise has to be resisted.

And the two governments have to be energised in how they approach the next phase.

With the application of proper strategies and political will I believe the process can be moved on.

However, if the next five years is to be a continuation of the past five years, then we face continuous stalemate, stagnation and eventual breakdown. No political process could be sustained on such a diet.

This places a heavy responsibility on the two governments ? and especially on Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern ? to provide the essential political leadership that this dangerous crisis urgently demands.

As the leaders of the two sovereign governments and the joint and co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, it falls to them to marshal the pro-Agreement forces and implement a strategy to defeat the wreckers and move the process forward.

This may mean the pro-Agreement, pro-peace parties and governments agreeing and setting out an agenda for progress. Obviously such a task is outside the remit of the review and may require a different mechanism.

But whatever else happens the British government must lift the suspension of the institutions and allow the process defined in the Agreement to take its course.

It also means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last years Joint Declaration and in subsequent discussions.

We were told this would happen, irrespective of the outcome of the election.

It hasn't.

On the contrary there has been a paralysis affecting all of the many matters which are the responsibility of the two governments and which are of particular concern to nationalists and republicans.

The institutions remain suspended.

Important changes on policing and on the transfer of powers on policing and justice are now on hold.

The programme of Demilitarisation outlined in the Joint Declaration has not materialised.

The deep rooted and serious problems around the Human Rights Commission, and the Equality Commission, have not been resolved. The issues they are meant to address are not resolved.

And promises on the Irish language issue have not been delivered. In fact the Irish government has failed even to seek official status for the language in the EU.

The anomalous situation of people On The Run continues.

The rights of northern citizens to participate in southern institutions are continuously long fingered.

This sends out entirely the wrong message.

The reality is that when the governments decide to do something they do it.

The suspension of the institutions and the introduction of the International Monitoring Commission are proof of this.

But it appears to nationalists and republicans that the governments are going to let the DUP set the agenda in respect of citizens rights and entitlements. This is unacceptable.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern must do what they promised without any further delay.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern also know that a vacuum will encourage those who want to tear down this process.

They have to build trust and confidence back into a process badly damaged, especially at this time, by their failure to keep to commitments.

For our part republicans recognise that building peace is a collective endeavour.

We have demonstrated time and time again our preparedness to take risks for peace; to reach out to others; to seek to build new and better relationships between the people of this island and between us and the people of Britain.

In the time ahead we all of us have to refocus on what is needed to make the Agreement viable and successful.

No matter how daunting, tedious and frustrating this may be there is no alternative way forward and the resolution of the difficulties will only be found through dialogue and keeping commitments made.

Whatever solutions this involves will emerge in the time ahead. For now I can say with certainty that progress will not be secured by pandering to rejectionists or recycling the distractions, diversions and the failed policies of the past.

One thing is certain change will continue - you like all our young people - all our people of all ages - are entitled to and you will have a future based on equality, justice and freedom. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has insisted that reported changes to the Government's draft Garda Síochána Bill do not go far enough, and that a commitment to establish a fully independent civilian Policing Board is also needed.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "I welcome that the Minister has been open to strengthening the powers of the proposed Garda Inspectorate/Ombudsman Commission. Many of the changes outlined in press reports today such as the ability to initiate investigations, the granting of full powers of investigation, and the power to investigate and make recommendations on Garda policy and procedure are recommendations Sinn Féin has made in our own submission to the Minister on this issue. If these recommendations have been accepted of course we welcome this.

"However, the Minister is being typically disingenuous when he suggests that it is merely a matter of petty semantics whether he establishes a 'Garda Inspectorate' as he initially proposed, or an 'Ombudsman Commission' as he has now restyled it. This is not the case. One of the fundamental flaws in the Minister's original proposal is that the Garda Inspectorate would have responsibility for both complaints investigation and management oversight. As far as we know, this will also be the case with the so-called OmbudsmanCommission. It is Sinn Féin's position ? and this view is shared by the Irish Human Rights Commission - that investigation and oversight are both necessary for an accountable police force, but must be functionally separated for optimum accountability.

"In keeping with the Patten reform model, Sinn Féin has recommended the establishment of both a fully independent Garda Ombudsman to investigate complaints AND an independent civilian Policing Board to establish accountable oversight. This has become an internationally recognised best practice formulation, and on this basis we urge the Minister to also incorporate this recommendation into his revised Bill." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly MLA has hit out at comments made today in the British House of Commons by Paul Murphy as he attempted to defend the British government over their ongoing failure to either publish or act upon the Cory Report.

Mr. Kelly said:

"It is now very clear that this British government are continuing the decades long policy of covering up the British state policy of institutionalised collusion. There can be no other explanation for their failure to either publish or act upon the findings of Judge Cory.

"The British government entered into very public commitments after the Weston Park talks to act upon Judge Cory's findings. They have had possession of his report from last October and have failed to honour their pledges.

"Despite the efforts of Paul Murphy in the British House of Commons today the position adopted by his government is indefensible. Sinn Féin made this clear to him yesterday and we will continue to support the families in their demand for the truth." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on European Affairs Bairbre de Brún has today called for any future EU peace and reconciliation monies to include measures for tackling sectarianism in the workplace.

As the debate on whether the EU will deliver a Peace III funding programme continues, Ms de Brún has said that any new Peace III programme can help secure the successful elimination of inequality, the promotion of diversity and the recognition of the inter-dependence of all individuals and communities across Ireland.

Ms de Brún said:

"There is a continued need to support peace building across the island of Ireland. Nation-building and reconciliation will require us to address and tackle issues of discrimination and sectarianism which have blighted workplace relationships to this day. Reconciliation can only be built on equality and the recognition that there is no place for discrimination in our society.

"In the course of Peace I and II much good work was done by the voluntary and community sector in tackling these issues. However there is also a responsibility on the business community to fully engage in the process of conflict resolution. Addressing the inequality, discrimination and sectarianism on their own doorstep can best do this. In addition to tackling sectarianism at the macro level, there is a need to examine how vulnerable groups and individuals within individual workplaces can be made to feel more secure.

"In designing any new Peace III package, we must learn from this gap in some of the good anti-sectarian work that has been carried out to date and ensure that adequate provision be made in the future. This can include involving workforces in the design of initiatives to increase the safety, security and peace of mind of groups underrepresented in that workplace. Workplace safety and security remains one of the key equality issues for us all today and adequate funding must be provided for that work."ENDS

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