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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 tonight spoke at a meeting to launch the Party's Assembly candidates for the Newry and Armagh constituency. Mr. Adams addressed the current crisis in the peace process:

"Tonight is about formally launching our candidates for Newry and Armagh in the Assembly elections. So whatever other issues we have to focus on at this time let's do that first.

So, let me begin by thanking Pat McNamee for his hard work, commitment and dedication over the last five difficult and challenging years in the Assembly.

I also want to thank Margaret and the McNamee family. And seeing as we are nearly in County Down, or in it, I want to thank Mick Murphy and his wife Carol.

I know that all these comrades will remain active in the struggle.

Let me also congratulate Councillor Pat O Rawe, Councillor Davy Hyland and your current MLA Conor Murphy, who is the leader of our Assembly group, for being selected to carry the republican flag in next months elections.

Almost two years ago I stood here in this same room, probably speaking to most of you, about the challenge of the Westminster election that was to take place in June 2002.

At that time no one outside of Newry and Armagh thought you could seriously challenge the SDLP's hold on this seat.

For that matter no one outside Fermanagh and South Tyrone thought Michelle Gildernew could win in that historic constituency which was represented by Bobby Sands.

And sections of the media, the political pundits, the pollsters and the other political parties all promoted Briege Rogers as a dead cert in West Tyrone.

Well, West Tyrone and Fermanagh South Tyrone proved them wrong and here in Newry and Armagh you gave them all the shock of their lives. Conor came close to pulling it off. In the local council elections covering the same area Sinn Fein came out ahead of all our opponents.

Sinn Fein is now the largest party on Newry and Mourne Council and holds 5 seats in Armagh.

Can we do better - yes

You have an excellent team of candidates.

An excellent team of experienced election workers.

And the politics and policies to achieve a great result on May 29th.

The entire organisation should now be on election footing. As Joe Cahill said at the Ard Fheis. We have to proceed on the basis that the elections are going ahead. There is no excuse for not being prepared.

As for the two governments the message is equally clear. A further delay in the elections would erode public confidence in a very significant way.

On Holy Thursday night five years ago your negotiators were locked in discussions in Castle Buildings in Belfast. Cynics thought it was impossible to get an Agreement. But we got the Good Friday Agreement.

87 years ago Irish republicans and socialists, men and women, were mobilising to proclaim a republic on this island. We make no apologies for staying true to that spirit and to that republic. We want to build an Ireland of equals. So, in practical terms, a strong turnout at this weekend's Easter commemorations across the country is vital to show the establishment and the media that we are united, confident and will not be deflected.

The momentum of change is unstoppable. It can be delayed. That is true. But the only question is the timetable. Change cannot be stopped as long as we keep our eyes on the prize, as long as we are able to take risks for peace.

Current Crisis

The roots of the current crisis lie in unionisms inability to come to terms with change, the willingness of the British government to acquiesce to a unionist veto and resistance from elements within the British system -- those who still think that the Force Research Unit and Brian Nelson were doing a great job.

Most immediately this impasse can be tracked to the decision by the Ulster Unionist Council last September when it adopted anti-agreement positions promoted by Jeffrey Donaldson's wing of the party and later endorsed by David Trimble.

In part this was driven by the electoral challenge posed by the DUP. In effect anti-agreement forces have dominated the agenda since then. Allegations about IRA activities, while a genuine concern for the unionist constituency, and others, were seized upon as an excuse to demand and secure suspension of the political institutions.

The British Government did this at the behest of the Ulster Unionists, and in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, throwing the process into crisis. 

This was wrong. The continued suspension of the political institutions remains a critical issue in the current situation.

However, central to the crisis is the failure, five years later, to implement the Agreement.

The British Prime Minister Mr. Blair admitted this in his October speech in Belfast.

The Good Friday Agreement

The substance of the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. The purpose of the Joint Declaration should be to ensure that those rights and entitlements not yet in place become a reality in the time ahead.

The democratic rights and entitlements of citizens are not negotiating chips to be bartered for or withheld. They are absolute and should be defended. Human rights, equality, the tackling of unemployment differential, the targeting of social need, the rights of Irish language speakers, the achievement of an acceptable policing service and an accountable criminal justice system, none of these should be subject to barter or a veto. They should have been delivered under the terms of the Agreement. That is the position of the Good Friday Agreement. That is our position. That is the position the two governments and the UUP signed up for five years ago.

The Good Friday Agreement was the culmination of an enormous collective effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict.

It was about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change across all aspects of society.

The Agreement with its new institutions, including its all-Ireland structures, was voted for by the overwhelming majority of people on this island.

It continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone.

The Sinn Féin focus in the last five years has been to see the Agreement implemented, to deal with all of the issues, including that of arms; all arms and all armed groups.

There has been progress. The institutions didn't function for very long but when they did they worked. And were very popular. Everyone would accept that for most people things are much better today than they were 5 or 10 years ago.

However, the reality is that the Good Friday Agreement has not been implemented in full.

It has been suspended again and again.

And the effect of each suspension is to encourage anti-agreement forces, to damage confidence in the Agreement and to damage the credibility of the Agreement as an effective tool for change. This highlights the fundamental problem that besets us -- British policy in Ireland, even a benign policy -- is an interfence in Irish affairs.

Sinn Féin has been addressing all of this in our discussions with the two governments and the other parties.

During all of this the SDLP has spent its time attacking Sinn Féin with language which makes Jeffrey Donaldson look like a moderate.

These negotiations have been very long and difficult but we have made considerable progress on a number of specific areas. These include policing, criminal justice, demilitarisation, the stability of the institutions, human rights and equality.

But critical issues remain. These include; the continuing suspension of the political institutions, the UUP commitment to the stability of the institutions, sanctions and a timeframe for the transfer of powers on policing and criminal justice.

However, we have done our best and over a week ago we closed on all this.

I have said this many times and I repeat it again this evening. The sanctions mechanism proposed by the two governments contravenes the safeguards built in the Agreement. Sinn Féin objects to and rejects its inclusion in the Joint Declaration. It is specifically aimed at this party. Sanctions against any party are unacceptable unless they are within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Demands that we accept or collude with the proposed sanctions are absurd.

Last Thursday the two governments were expected to issue their Joint Declaration but they did not do so.

Instead, there was a huge amount of disinformation as they tried to put their own 'spin' on events, briefing the media that the hold-up was due to a lack of movement on the part of republicans. This is not true.

There were ongoing contacts between the two governments and Sinn Féin in the course of which Sinn Fein asked that the Joint Declaration should be published. We said so publicly.

Last Saturday, Martin McGuinness and I met with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. I spoke by phone with Tony Blair. As a consequence the two governments announced that they hoped to publish the Declaration shortly. They also acknowledged that it is important that all parties and groups join the governments in upholding and implementing the Good Friday Agreement in full. They said that 'fulfilling the promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement is a collective responsibility.'

So there is agreement that the basis for definitively ending conflict -- conflict resolution - is a collective one.

Martin and I again met with the two governments on Sunday, we also met with the Taoiseach and I spoke again at length with Mr. Blair.

We gave them the final copy of the IRA statement was passed to the two governments.

The following day Martin and I travelled to Belfast where we met Mr. Trimble and the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

The IRA Statement

They were shown a copy of the IRA statement. I can tell you that this statement is clear and unambiguous.

It contains a number of highly significant and positive elements unparalleled in any previous statement by the IRA leadership, either in this or in any other phase of their struggle.

In my view the importance of this is not lost on the two governments. Why otherwise, did the two governments publicly commend the Army statement as proof of the IRAs desire to make the peace process work. I find it incredible therefore that they have not yet acted on the basis of this unprecedented contribution.

The statement sets out the status of the IRA cessation. Whatever your attitude to the armed struggle the reality is that there have been cessations for almost nine years. Hundreds of lives have been saved and despite huge provocation by the British Crown Forces and killings by their allies in the unionist paramilitaries alongside attacks on beleaguered communities, the IRA has held its discipline.

You don't have to be an IRA supporter to recognise the strains and stresses on that organisation and the sacrifices of its volunteers, its families and its support base, over a long period. I, along with the vast majority of people in Ireland, value the IRA cessation. It is the main anchor for the peace process.

It was achieved by a huge amount of work at a time when those who are presently attacking republicans with their editorial comment and their snide commentary were loud also in the useless politics of denunciation and censorship.

The IRA statement also outlines its future intentions. I come back to the British governments attitude to this statement. It welcomed the many positive aspects of the Army statement, the obvious progress and the clear desire of the IRA to make the peace process work. Imagine that!

So, again we have to ask after 30 years of conflict, and almost a decade of peace making, why the huge effort to wring different words out of P. O'Neill? Why not let people use words of their own choice. Actions or lack of actions speak louder than words.

Does anyone expect to get an IRA statement written on a securocrats laptop? Does anyone expect that rejectionist unionism which dismisses republican words as meaningless, will now provide the dictionary for the IRA?

The IRA also stated its attitude to the issue of arms. The statement is clear about the Army's willingness to put arms beyond use.

So what more do they want? Who is setting the agenda? Are the lessons of conflict resolution lost? Or have those who never learned it back in the ascendancy?

I consider it to be a great honour to be an Irish republican, and to be a leader of this party. Leaders lead. We do not drive people before us as if they were a flock of sheep. Whatever else can be said about Irish republicans they are not sheep. Our leadership has a strategy. It is working. It has transformed the situation. Others have played their part and I commend them.

The Taoiseach has a huge responsibility in all of this.

So too has Mr. Blair. He has done a lot. He has to do more. He has to embrace the contribution that republicans have made to this process. We are not asking him for plaudits. We are asking him to build on the contribution we have single-mindedly built over a long period.

All of us have a lot to do, that includes Mr Trimble. And us.

We will not dodge our responsibilities.

A primary objective of the peace process is the end to the conflict. It is also a clear objective of Sinn Féin's strategy. Sinn Féin is unequivocal about this. Furthermore we are wedded to the Mitchell Principles.

So what is to be done?

The Joint Declaration and all other statements should be published.  It is as simple as that. 

The commitments contained in all the statements should be implemented. By all sides. The Brits. The IRA. The Irish government. The unionists. Everyone.

Is the British government up for this?

Time will tell.

Are the unionists up for it?

There is a sizeable unionist constituency which is up for it. Unionists have concerns and republicans must move to meet these concerns. Those who claim to be in the leadership of pro-Agreement unionism need to set a pro-Agreement agenda. They need to stop the agenda being set by rejectionist unionists both inside and outside the unionist party.

Is Sinn Féin up for it?

The answer is a word unionist political leaders need to learn. The answer is Yes.

Sinn Féin is up for making this work. Our activists and supporters are up for it.

Is the IRA up for it?

In my view they are.

Republicans have stretched ourselves repeatedly to keep the peace process on track. The people have responded positively to this.

The people we represent have rights. So does everyone else on this island -- unionist and others alike. We have been through pre-condition, after pre-condition, after pre-condition.

We have seen a new Labour government starting the work which its predecessors refused to contemplate. We have seen a Fianna Fáil led government doing what successive Dublin governments refused to do. We have seen unionism or a majority of it voting for an agreement with the rest of the people of our island.

We are all on a journey. It is always easier to begin a journey. The hard thing is to end it.

Sinn Fein is in this process to the end. We want the British government and the Irish government and the unionists to work with us and to finish the work we have all started. The length of the journey can be shortened and the ups and downs on the road can be smoothed out if we go at it collectively.

If we do it together.

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Commenting on the imminent publication of the Stevens Report into British collusion with unionist paramilitaries Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that the report was 'the tip of the iceberg'.

Mr. Adams said:

" When Sinn Féin first raised the issue of the British policy of collusion in the late 1980's we were a lone voice along with the families of those killed in attempting to expose this scandal. We brought this issue into the negotiations and presented a dossier to the British Prime Minister. Last weekend we again raised with the governments the need for a full public judicial inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane.

" The British military through FRU and the RUC through the Special Branch controlled and directed the activities of the various loyalist death squads. This was about more than simply passing on information. This was about the deliberate targeting and assassination of citizens. Many of these people were members of my party. It was an attempt to intimidate and brutalise an entire community. In any other country this would bring a government to its knees.

"The limited publication of this Stevens Report is only the tip of the iceberg. It is by no means the end of the matter. Sinn Fein will continue to support the demands of the families for a full public judicial inquiry into the policy of collusion." ENDS

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For immediate release: 16/04/03

Speaking at a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle in Juilianstown, Co. Meath this evening, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

" This evenings meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle is an opportunity to update our party leadership on the developing situation within the peace process, and around our efforts to secure the publication by the two governments of the Joint Declaration. In this respect contact with the two governments is continuing even as we meet here this evening.

" The substance of the Good Friday Agreement is about the rights and entitlements of citizens. The purpose of the Joint Declaration should ensure that those rights and entitlements not yet achieved after five years become a reality in the time ahead. The rights and entitlements of any citizen cannot be subject to vetoes or preconditions. Peace with justice means equality, respect and human dignity for everyone.

" Sinn Féin's focus is on building on the significant progress that we have made in our negotiations with the governments in recent days and weeks. And on the opportunity presented by the IRA statement that was passed to the governments at the weekend. Regrettably, in my view there are those within unionism and within the British system who are still locked into the old agenda - who want to demolish the peace process not build it.

" One of the difficulties in this negotiation is that the unionists have left their negotiation to the British government. There is no clarity or certainty around UUP intentions. Incidentally, there is no certainty of completion in the Joint Declaration. It is full of conditionality within a protracted process. The IRA statement is clear and unambiguous. Even the British government has acknowledged that it shows the desire of the IRA to make the peace process work. That is an unprecedented development.

" It should be built on. The two governments should publish their Joint Declaration; the British government should lift the suspension of the institutions and move to the election of a new Assembly." ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil debate on the peace process Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD said the process was at a "very crucial stage". He said the IRA had taken an "unprecedented initiative" and the two governments and all parties should respond. He urged the publication of the governments' Joint Declaration.

He said: "This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and it also marks another very crucial stage in the peace process. As we speak it is an inconclusive stage and the future implementation of the Agreement may depend on decisions made in the next few days.

"It is very important, therefore, that we approach these Statements with some restraint. Sinn Féin negotiators are working at full stretch to achieve progress. I know that both Governments are working diligently also. It is my wish and that of my Sinn Féin colleagues that collectively, all parties and both governments will overcome the difficulties of this phase and move forward together.

"I urge the two Governments to publish their Joint Declaration. It should have been published last Thursday when my party colleagues and I, along with the others parties, were in Hillsborough.

"While the Joint Declaration has not yet been published, we have had a quite unprecedented initiative by the IRA in which they have outlined to both governments their position in detail in an effort to move the process forward.

"Sinn Féin has been engaged in intensive efforts to see the current deadlock ended and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full. The IRA has responded positively to this. The two governments have recognised the positive nature of the IRA response and have acknowledged the desire of the IRA to make the peace process work. So what is the current delay about? The two governments, the UUP, all of us, should seize this opportunity.

"On Sunday 13 April the IRA undertook to draw up a statement setting out their views on recent developments in the peace process. They said they did so because of their commitment to this process and their desire to see it succeed. In their statement to the governments they set out their attitude on the current disposition of the IRA and the status of their cessation, their future intentions, their attitude to a re-engagement with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and engagement in a process of putting arms beyond use and a third act of putting arms beyond use to be verified under the agreed scheme.

"The IRA said they shared concepts and draft elements on these matters with others and, following an internal consultation, closed on a statement which was passed onto the two Governments.

"I believe this was indeed an unprecedented engagement by the IRA. It deserves to be recognised as such. All parties and both governments should respond positively.

"On Sunday evening last Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams stated that the governments had acknowledged that the IRA statement was positive. He found it incredible that they had not acted on the basis of this unprecedented intervention. He also stated that if their request for clarification was, as they claimed, a genuine attempt to advance matters at this point then all obstacles to progress should be removed. I understand that clarification was subsequently given.

"We need to put all this in context. The reality is that the Good Friday Agreement has not been fully implemented. The Agreement was the culmination of an enormous collective effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict. It was about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change in Ireland.

"There has been significant progress. In the limited time that the institutions existed they worked and were popular. Real progress was made and the hope of further progress was generated.

"The talks have been focused on implementing the Agreement. In our discussions with the two governments and the other parties we have made considerable progress on a number of specific areas. These include policing, criminal justice, and the stability of the institutions, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.

"But critical issues remain. These include, the transfer of power on policing and justice and the suspended status of the institutions and the absence of any clear commitment from the Ulster Unionist Party that it will work the institutions in a sustainable way. There is also the attempt to introduce sanctions against Sinn Féin, which are clearly outside the terms of the Agreement. This is unacceptable.

"However, we continue to engage on these issues.

"All of the issues in the Good Friday Agreement are issues of entitlements and rights - not subject to precondition by governments, political parties or armed groups. This time five years ago the Good Friday Agreement would have been seen as an impossible achievement. Five years on let us not underestimate the advances that have been made.

"I wish all the negotiators well and look forward to real progress in the coming days."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP and Ard Chomhairle member Joe Cahill today launched the party's Easter Lily Campaign and announced details of more than 40 events and commemorations taking place around the country this Easter weekend. Speaking at a press conference in Belfast Mr. Doherty said: "The two governments should publish their Joint Declaration and seize this opportunity to advance the peace process and see the Agreement implemented."

Mr. Doherty said

" This year marks the 87th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. It is an important time for Irish republicans. It is a time for remembering our friends and colleagues who have given their lives in pursuit of our republican ideals and goals. It is a time for reflecting on these ideals.

" We recall the words of the 1916 Proclamation - an historic document - one of the most progressive documents ever written. The Proclamation spells out the demand for social and economic justice and democracy, of cherishing all the children of the nation equally, irrespective of colour, religion, gender, ability or race, equally.

" Easter is also a time of renewal - a time when we as Irish republicans rededicate ourselves to the legitimate and achievable goals of independence and unity for the people of this island.

" The past year has undoubtedly been both a challenging and indeed very difficult, year for republicans and the peace process. We made a massive breakthrough in the elections in the 26 counties yet ended the last year with the fourth suspension of the political institutions by the British government at the behest of unionism,

" The efforts made by the Sinn Fein leadership in recent days and weeks to secure the full implementation of the Agreement and the positive response of the IRA to those efforts should now be built upon by the two governments and all of us in political leadership. The two governments should publish their Joint Declaration and seize this opportunity to advance the peace process and see the Agreement implemented.

" There are over 40 major commemorations throughout the island and scores more smaller events. Internationally many Irish exiles will also take part in commemorations.

"I am calling on people to wear an Easter Lily and to make this years Easter Commemorations and events bigger and better than ever before."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey has called on the British government to 'detail Brian Nelsons status within the British military in the period leading to his death.'

Alex Maskey said:

" Brian Nelsons role as British military intelligence agent has been well documented. It has been common knowledge for some considerable time that he was a central participant in murders carried out by the UDA while a British agent.

" What is not so clear however is his British military status since his release from prison in 1997. In order to clear up any confusion which might exist it is important that the British government spells out Brian Nelson's association with the British army. Questions as to whether Brian Nelson remained on the army payroll or whether he was in receipt of a military pension should be answered as a matter of urgency.

" Given the period of imprisonment served by Brian Nelson for involvement in UDA related activity any remaining association with the British army in the time leading to his death must be examined." ENDS

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Speaking after he returned from his third trip to Colombia to attend the trial of the three Irishmen being detained there, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West Seán Crowe has said, "it is clear now more than ever that the charges against these three men were based on half-truths, innuendo and pure fantasy". He also said "the Irish Government must directly intervene to secure their immediate release and return to Ireland".

Deputy Crowe said: "It became very clear very quickly in the course last weeks trial of the Colombia Three that the prosecution case against them had absolutely collapsed. It is also clear now more then ever that the charges

against these men were based on half-truths, innuendo and pure fantasy. The prosecutions two key witnesses were totally discredited by the weight of evidence, which included video evidence, offered by the defence. The fact that

there are over sixty affidavits offered on behalf of the defendants as well a strong rebuttal of the so-called forensic evidence against them shows that this trial was a sham and a gross abuse of any semblance of justice from the very beginning. Nothing that was provided to the media and published without question in the aftermath the men's arrest in terms of so-called evidence, like the satellite photos, the forensic traces nor the eye-witness statements have stood up to any sort of cross examination. All have been rubbished.

"While I am personally confident that these men will eventually be found innocent of these serious charges against them I am very concerned that the trial has once again been halted. It is now not due to reconvene until June. I am also concerned at the fact that other key witnesses for the defence, including those who made the video of one of the defendants in Ireland during the time he was suppose to be in Colombia were not called to give their evidence.

"We can not allow this injustice to be maintained. The Irish Government has a duty to directly intervene with the Colombian authorities on behalf of these three Irishmen and to secure their immediate release from prison and safe return to Ireland." ENDS

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Commenting on the statement by the two governments this morning, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

" This mornings statement from the two governments recognises the positive IRA statement and the commitment to making the peace process work.

"This follows on from a statement from the two governments on Saturday saying that 'fulfilling the promise and the potential of the Good Friday Agreement is a collective responsibility'.

" Last night we had a statement from the IRA which made clear their commitment to this process and their desire to see it succeed. They also said they had presented another statement to the two governments and clearly this is a positive intervention,

" It is my belief that there is now an opportunity to get the peace process back on track. These are positive developments, which should be built upon. The two governments should now move and publish their Joint Declaration." ENDS

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Commenting on the request by the two governments for clarification, the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, said,

"On Sunday, 13th April, the leadership of the IRA forwarded a detailed statement setting out its view of the current phase of the peace process. This was accomplished in the most difficult circumstances, compounded by the leaking and misleading briefing to the media on earlier drafts and concepts which had been shared with the two governments.

"I have seen and read closely the IRA statement. It is clear and unambiguous. The two governments have acknowledged that the IRA statement is positive. I therefore find it incredible that they have not acted on the basis of this unprecedented intervention. They persist in their refusal to publish their Joint Declaration.

"However, if, their request for clarification is, as they claim, a genuine attempt to advance matters at this point then all obstacles to progress should be removed."ENDS

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Commenting on the announcement that the IRA leadership have closed on a statement of their intentions and passed it onto the two governments, Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey said:

"I want to welcome this evenings announcement from the IRA that the two governments have received a statement of their intentions. This is clearly an important development.

"The onus is now on the two governments to publish their Joint Declaration. Sinn Féin would like to see all statements issued.

"I can confirm that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness acted as a conduit for the two governments with the IRA. "ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness speaking following a meeting with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin this morning said:

"This morning Gerry Adams and I met the Taoiseach. We repeated our view to him that the two governments should now publish the Joint Declaration.

"We also raised the need for a public inquiry into the killing of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. There should be no more stalling. The case for this is clear cut. The forthcoming Stevens Report, his third, cannot be permitted to become a barrier to this.

"The Sinn Féin leadership has been engaged in an exhaustive round of meetings in recent weeks determined to resolve the crisis and to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full.

"That is what the two governments and the parties collectively agreed five years ago. That is what the people want.

"Yesterday, we said that our discussions with the two governments on the measures needed to implement the Agreement are now finished.

"There are critical issues which have yet to be properly dealt with - sanctions, no timeframe for the transfer of power on policing and justice, the suspension of the institutions and no commitment from the UUP on sustaining the institutions.

"But in reality the negotiations are concluded.

"There is therefore no excuse, no rational reason for the governments delaying the publication of the plan - their Joint Declaration - setting out how they intend to fully implement the Good Friday in all its aspects.

"Everyone can then respond to that - the political parties, the unionists and ourselves, as well as the armed groups, including the IRA.

"But we should not lose sight of what this is about. It is about implementing an Agreement that guarantees peoples rights and entitlements. These are not concessions, to be given or withheld at the behest or veto of anyone else, whether a government, a political party or an armed group.

"The Good Friday Agreement is the property of the people - not the governments and the people have a right to know how the governments plan to implement the Agreement and how the ret of us will respond to it."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP are meeting with US Ambassador Richard this afternoon, speaking before the meeting Mr. Adams said:

"I look forward to meeting the Ambassador again. His visit is a measure of the continued interest of the US government and especially of Irish America in our peace process.

"I spoke to the Ambassador on Tuesday morning and I believe that he is very familiar with all of the issues and the difficulties confronting us.

"I have also spoken today to the British and Irish governments.

"Sinn Féin's focus in on making the Good Friday Agreement work - of getting it implemented in full. That is what we collectively agreed five years ago. That is what people want.

"Our discussions with the two governments on the measures needed to implement the Agreement are in my view now finished. There are critical issues, which have yet to be properly dealt with. But in our discussions with the governments we told them several days ago that the negotiations are concluded. There is now, therefore, no reason or excuse for the governments to delay the publication of their plan - their Joint Declaration - setting out how they intend to complete the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Then let others respond to it, including the armed groups, including the IRA.

"But we should not lose sight of what this is about. It is about implementing an Agreement that guarantees peoples rights and entitlements. These are not concessions to be given or held at the behest or veto of any one else, whether a government, a political party or an armed group."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality, and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Minister for Justice to defy the EU and withdraw the proposed Immigration Bill debated at second stage in the Dáil earlier today. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"There is no doubt that immigration and asylum policy in this state needs a massive overhaul, to reflect a genuine commitment to equality and human rights, and Sinn Féin has called for a positive, compassionate, and anti-racist immigration and asylum policy. But the Government's new Immigration Bill is in no way positive, compassionate, or anti-racist. It also does not conform with Ireland's human rights obligations and may cause unnecessary deaths. It is a Bill of questionable legality being introduced under an EU imperative, to comply with the 1990 Schengen Agreement. It not only acquiesces to, but seeks to enforce the Fortress Europe Agenda -- something that Ireland as a nation should actively oppose as unjust and hypocritical. The Bill debated in the House today is totally unacceptable to Sinn Féin, and we strongly oppose it.

"Ireland must defy the European Directive and refuse to introduce such legislation as it violates international law. If we are then taken to the European Court of Justice, this would allow us to take the lead in challenging it at European level, as we should have done at an earlier stage. I urge the Government most strongly to reconsider this Bill, to withdraw it, and in its place to introduce positive immigration reforms such as those advocated by Sinn Féin." ENDS

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Responding to the comments of the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister in Downing Street this evening, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA said:

" On the 5th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, one thing is beyond dispute, the Agreement has not been implemented in full.

" The two governments should now tell us how they intend to implement the Agreement.

" The Taoiseach and Prime Minister have spoken about clarity and certainty. They should publish the Joint Declaration immediately to ensure that there is clarity and certainty on the two governments' position. This would allow everyone to make their own judgements on this.

" Sinn Féin has made clear that critical issues remain. These include;

  • A timeframe for the transfer of power on policing and justice,
  • The suspension of the institutions
  • The absence of any clear commitment from the Ulster Unionist Party that it will work the institutions in a sustainable way; and
  • The attempt to introduce sanctions against Sinn Fein, which are clearly outside the terms of the Agreement.

" These issues need to be addressed consistent with the terms of the Good Friday Agreement". ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP responding to the news that the two governments have cancelled the visit of the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to Hillsborough said:

"Sinn Féin calls on the two governments to publish the Joint Declaration and their other public commitments now.

"Sinn Féin has put a huge effort into these negotiations.

"The people are entitled to know what has been negotiated.

"The people are entitled to know what the governments intend to do."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this morning addressing a press conference to mark the fact that we are almost 5 years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The West Belfast MP said,

"The Good Friday Agreement was the culmination of an enormous collective effort by the two governments and the parties to tackle the causes of conflict.

"It was about change - fundamental and deep-rooted change across all aspects of society.

'The Agreement with its new institutions, including its all-Ireland structures, was voted for by the overwhelming majority of people on this island. It had and continues to hold the promise of a new beginning for everyone. The Sinn Féin focus in the last five years has been to see the Agreement implemented, to deal with all of the issues, including that of arms.

'There has been significant progress. In the limited time that the institutions existed they worked and were very popular. Clearly things are much better today than they were 5 or 10 years ago.

"However, the reality is that the Good Friday Agreement has not been implemented in full.

"Sinn Féin has been addressing this failure in our discussions with the two governments and the other parties.

"Consequently, we have made considerable progress on a number of specific areas. These include policing, crimiinal justice, and the stability of the institutions, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.

"But critical issues remain. These include, the transfer of power on policing and justice and the suspended status of the institutions and the absence of any clear commitment from the Ulster Unionist Party that it will work the institutions in a sustainable way. There is also the attempt to introduce sanctions against Sinn Féin, which are clearly outside the terms of the Agreement. This is unacceptable.

"However, we continue to engage on these issues.

"There is also a lot of focus in the media about what the IRA is going to do. I am not going to speculate on that but I do want to remind everyone that all of the issues in the Good Friday Agreement are issues of entitlements and rights - not subject to precondition by governments, political parties or armed groups, This time five years ago the Good Friday Agreement would have been seen as an impossible achievement. Five years on let us not underestimate the progress that has been made.

"Sinn Féin will judge any proposals published by the two governments on whether they implement fully and in good faith the Good Friday Agreement.

'This party has not strayed one coma from the Agreement in our call for its implementation by the two governments. In calling on them to fully implement the Agreement we are asking them to do what they undertook to do five years ago. It is now once again hand of history time." ENDS

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In the Dáil today, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD, called on the Irish government to address the findings of the report, 'Rent Supplement in the Private Rented Sector' by Threshold and Comhairle.

Deputy Morgan said:

"This report has highlighted the urgent need to tackle the problems which exist in relation to rent supplements. People are being forced out of the private rented sector because of the decision taken by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to limit the amount of rent in respect of which Health Boards may pay rent supplement and not to allow any rent supplement to be paid in cases where rent exceeds this amount.

"Threshold and Comhairle have found that what is being set as reasonable rent levels by Health Boards is not keeping pace with current market conditions. This is causing huge problems for many tenants who cannot find accommodation within the price range specified by their health board. It is nothing less than an irrational mechanism for restraining landlords from raising rents.

"This report has also confirmed what many of us have been aware of from anecdotal evidence and from representations from constituents - that is the refusal of some landlords to take tenants on rent supplements and the difficulty caused by the requirement for landlords to sign rent supplement forms.

"I commend Threshold and Comhairle for this report, which should have been carried out by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. We now need to see a determined response from the Government to address these issues which are contributing to the growing housing crisis in Ireland."ENDS

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Sinn Féin policing spokesperson, Gerry Kelly, has said that today's statement on plastic bullets from the British government represents forward movement but that Sinn Féin will continue to press for the immediate end of these lethal weapons.

Gerry Kelly said,

"Sinn Féin has been pressing this British government relentlessly on the issue of plastic bullets, particularly at and since the recent Hillsborough discussions, We have made clear that the ending of the use of plastic bullets is a key issue for Sinn Féin and the nationalist community.

"Plastic bullets have maimed and killed and many of the victims have been young children. They have been employed by the British Forces as a weapon of terror and the rules governing their use have been systematically and institutionally disregarded.

" The statement today from the British government represents forward movement. Sinn Féin welcomes this progress but we will continue to press for the total end of the use of these lethal weapons." ENDS

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Sinn Féin has endorsed the national anti-war mobilisation at Shannon Airport this Saturday. Party spokesperson on International Affairs Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said:

"This war is not yet over. It is important that everyone who opposes it keeps focused, and does not allow distractions from our main objectives in this campaign -- to hold this Government accountable for their decision to aid and abet the invasion of Iraq, to insist that they act in accordance with their stated commitment to Irish neutrality by withdrawing overflight and landing privileges as is Ireland's right and duty as a militarily neutral state, and to let the Irish, British, and US Governments know that the Irish people do not support this unjust and illegal war. That is what Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams did earlier this week when he took the opportunity to deliver this very message directly to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair -- something the Taoiseach himself has so far refused to do.

"Yesterday in the Dáil, in response to Sinn Féin's call for a neutrality audit to enable the Irish people to judge for themselves the status of Irish neutrality and to assess this Government's performance in relation to it, the Minister for Foreign Affairs actually told me that he does not believe it is in the public interest to reveal the extent of Irish complicity in foreign wars past and present by publishing a comprehensive account of neutrality violations at Shannon and elsewhere. Furthermore, while I finally forced him to admit that his Government does not comply with the internationally accepted definition of neutrality, the Minister refused point blank to reveal what alternative definition of neutrality the Government is working from, merely insisting that Irish neutrality is 'different' from that of all other neutral countries.

"Such deliberate evasiveness is clearly no longer acceptable to the Irish people, who care deeply about neutrality -- and not the Jeckyl and Hyde neutrality of Fianna Fáil, but a real and positive neutrality as it is broadly understood and accepted around the world. It is time this Government got the message, and on Saturday the Irish people will deliver it in no uncertain terms." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has pledged his party's support to the organisations representing people with disabilities who have called tonight's (Tuesday) Rally in the Mansion House in protest at Government cuts.

Deputy Ó Caoláin called for a special Dáil debate on the issue and said:

"It is disgraceful that yet again a host of people from throughout the country have had to organise a protest rally in Dublin as a result of this Government's cutbacks in services for people with disabilities. It was predicted at the time of the Budget that the spending shortfall in 2003 would mean that existing services, as well as promised new and badly needed developments, would be hit by these cuts. This has now come to pass and people are reporting to us that they are unable to maintain the current level of service. These cuts are causing real hardship.

"I am calling on this Government to urgently allocate the necessary extra resources, to immediately address the scandal of the continuing detention of people with intellectual disabilities in psychiatric hospitals, and to bring forward rights-based disability legislation." ENDS

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