North Antrim Sinn Féin Assembly member Philip McGuigan has hit out at the UDA after they issued a public threat to his party colleague Cllr. Oliver McMullan through a Ballymoney newspaper.
Mr McGuigan said:
" Before Christmas loyalist thugs attacked catholic school children at an outdoor pursuits centre in Bushmills. Oliver McMullan highlighted this incident in the press. After this a statement was issued to a local Ballymoney newspaper from the UDA and was published in full. The statement is a clear threat to Cllr. McMullan and we are taking it very seriously.
" I am calling upon unionist politicians in North Antrim to speak out against this threat and make it clear to the UDA that they do not endorse this sort of blatant intimidation.
" Sinn Féin will continue to represent people in North Antrim and elsewhere and we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated by this sort of naked sectarianism from unionist paramilitary gangs." ENDS
Following internal party discussions this morning regarding the forthcoming Review of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said 'that the focus of the review has to be on the failure by the two governments to fully implement the Agreement'.
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"This Review Process is about a review of the operation and delivery of the Good Friday Agreement and is a necessary part of the Agreement achieved in April 98. The failure by the two governments to fully implement the Agreement plus their willingness at times to step outside the terms of the Agreement, must be subject for the upcoming review.
With regard to its format Sinn Fein believes that the review should be time-limited to one month and its conclusions should be published promptly.The Review must address the many outstanding issues including the suspension of the political institutions; the human rights and equality agenda including victims; demilitarisation; the issue of arms; policing and justice; and prisoners and related matters.
With respect to the agenda for the review Sinn Féin has called for it to discuss a range of issues including a re-endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement; referendum on Irish unity; an expansion of North South activity/structures; the All-Ireland parliamentary forum; the all-Ireland civic forum; the Irish Language and Symbols and emblems, as well as the issues of sanctions and the IMC."ENDS
Speaking today from the inquests in Dungannon into the killings of ten people including Rosanne Mallon, Fermanagh & South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said 'that the continuing refusal of the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings is symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system'.
Ms Gildernew said:
" These ten families have been fighting for the truth concerning the killing of their loved ones for many years. At every turn they are frustrated by a state sponsored cover up.
" The refusal to provide information to these inquests is not an isolated case. It must be seen in the context of the British government's refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system and the on-going attempts to cover-up the extent of British collusion and control of loyalist death squads.
" This culture of concealment is itself evidence of how much the British state has to hide in respect of its campaign of terror against the republican and nationalist community in the north.
" Sinn Féin will continue to stand with those families who continue to campaign for the truth. There must be full disclosure by the British state of its real role in Ireland over the last three decades of conflict." ENDS
Sinn Féin MPs are to meet with Direct Rule Health Minister Angela Smith in the next few weeks to discuss the party's proposals in relation to how it believes the deficit in acute service hospital provision in Tyrone and South Derry can be best addressed.
West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty wrote to Angela Smith in December outlining how the decisions reached by former Health Minister Des Browne, have left a major deficit in terms of acute service provision for the population of Tyrone and South Derry.
"I have now received written confirmation from Angela Smith stating her willingness to meet with a Sinn Féin delegation in the context of discussing our party‚s proposals on this crucial issue.
"We believe that these proposals as contained in our party document, 'A Healthy Future' represent realistic and sustainable solutions to the inequalities that exist in terms of access to acute health service provision between east and west of the Bann, within west of the Bann itself and in the north west region of Ireland as a whole.
"Sinn Féin has enshrined these proposals as a priority in our party manifesto and with the 4 Sinn Féin MPs attending this meeting with Angela Smith, Sinn Féin is signalling our determination to progress this issue without delay." ENDS
Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, has said the recent comments by the Commissioner Romano Prodi and by the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder about a two-speed Europe reinforce Sinn Féin's argument during the Nice Treaty referendum that the Union was heading in that direction and that smaller countries would lose out.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "Bertie Aherns protestations at comments from Romano Prodi and Gerhard Schröder ring very hollow. Sinn Féin has over a number of referendums on the future of the Union voiced our concerns at the negative development of a two-speed Europe where bigger nations will increasingly dictate the pace of progress across a broad range of issues. During the Nice Treaty debates Bertie Ahern and his Government were constantly dismissing our party for scare mongering.
"However, it is clear from these latest comments from two of the most powerful and influential people in the European Union that Sinn Féin's analysis of the situation was correct. The Irish people were sold a pup when the Taoiseach forced a second Nice Treaty referendum.
"No amount of spin by Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen or Dick Roche can disguise the fact that the European Union is becoming increasingly centralised with power being concentrated in the hands of a few big states with smaller countries like Ireland being left with little or no influence or control over their own destinies." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe TD has said the Transport Minister Seamus Brennan will be "wholly responsible for the loss of service" if CIE workers go ahead with a threatened strike this week. He described the Ministers attitude to recent talks to settle the dispute as arrogant and "incredibly destructive" in terms of labour relations.
Deputy Crowe said: "Seamus Brennan's statement that he will press ahead with his plans to breakup CIE while negotiations with unions representing the workers at the company are still ongoing smacks not only of gross arrogance on behalf of the Minister but shows an incredibly destructive attitude towards labour relations.
"The unions at CIE have been engaged in what they thought were meaningful discussions aimed are resolving the dispute between both sides. For the Minister to undermine these very talks shows that he has no interest in reaching a resolution. It is obvious that he is more interested in playing the hard man with both the unions and the workers they represent.
"If the workers go on strike this week and withdraw their labour then it is the Minister who will have been wholly responsible for the loss of service to the commuting public.
"Sinn Féin will fully support the workers in whatever action they deem necessary to force the Minister to pull back from the confrontational and high-handed approach he has adopted and we will continue to oppose the breakup of the CIE group." ENDS
South Belfast Sinn Fein Assembly member Alex Maskey has said that he is seeking urgent meetings with the British security minister Jane Kennedy to discuss the ongoing campaign against ethnic minorities in the area. Mr Maskey's comments come after an arson atack on two houses previously used by members of the ethnic minority community.
Mr Maskey said:
"It is very clear that there is now a campaign in loyalist areas of South Belfast to drive members of the ethnic minorit community out. Over christmas in the Donegal Road area we witnessed two serious assaults and last night two arson attacks.
"Jane Kennedy has a responsibility here. So far we have heard nothing from her on this issue or seen no decisive action from her department. If this situation is not tackled then it is very clear that the people behind this campiagn of intimidation and violence will not stop until someone is killed." ENDS
Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Newry Armagh Assembly member Davy Hyland has backed the industrial action taken by teachers unions in the Six Counties.
Mr Hyland said:
"Teachers deserve equal treatment when it comes to pay. The last 12 months has seen a failure to tackle the growing discontentment within the teaching unions on key issues around pay. It is time to treat our teachers fairly.
"It is vital that resources in education, as with all public services, are channelled into frontline services. This means we need to pay our teachers a fair wage, particularly so that we support new teachers entering the profession and retain the expertise of our more experienced educators. Fundamentally we also need to see an end to the red tape that has done much to cause discontentment within the unions.
"The fact that the industrial action undertaken by teachers unions will not disrupt classes is to be welcomed and I would urge the direct rule minister responsible for education, Jane Kennedy to meet urgently with local teachers unions." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA has written to the two governments outlining Sinn Féin‚s view for the agenda and conduct of the forthcoming Review of the operation of the Good Friday Agreement by the pro-Agreement parties, including the two governments.
Mr Adams said: „The failure by the two governments to fully implement the Agreement plus their willingness at times to step outside the terms of the Agreement, must be subject for the upcoming review."
The Sinn Féin leader added "the review should be time-limited to one month and its conclusions should be published promptly; provision should be made for input from interested parties from civic society, including other political parties, the voluntary and community sector, campaign groups, business sector, church, equality and human rights organisations, and trade unions and there should be dedicated meetings to discuss the various issues grouped under headings which bring together the different elements of the Agreement."
Mr. Adams said:
"This Review Process is about a review of the operation and delivery of the Good Friday Agreement and is a necessary part of the Agreement achieved in April 98. While we welcome the assertion by both governments that it will not be a review of the fundamentals of the Agreement, we remain concerned that some parties may seek a renegotiation of the Agreement.
There is an onus on both governments to make clear that this will not happen or that anti-Agreement parties will be allowed to use the Review for their own ends.
The review is not a substitute for working political institutions."
The Sinn Féin President called for the lifting of the suspension of the institutions.
"It is both unfortunate and disappointing that parties are considering their approach to the review in the context of a continuing suspension of the political institutions. This can only serve to encourage those who persist with a negative agenda and seek to veto the implementation of the Agreement.
The suspension is itself a breach of the Agreement and undermines substantially any assertion by the governments that its fundamentals are not up for renegotiation.The suspension of the Assembly should be lifted immediately."
Finally, Mr Adams argued that „both the format and the agenda of the review must give a renewed impetus to the full implementation of the Agreement.
With particular regard to its format Sinn Fein believes that the review; should be time-limited to one month and its conclusions should be published promptly; provision should be made for input from interested parties from civic society, including other political parties, the voluntary and community sector, campaign groups, business sector, church, equality and human rights organisations, and trade unions; and there should be dedicated meetings to discuss the various issues grouped under headings which bring together the different elements of the Agreement.
These include the political institutions; human rights and the equality agenda including victims; demilitarisation; the issue of arms; policing and justice; and prisoners and related matters.
With respect to the agenda for the review Sinn Féin has called for it to discuss a range of issues including a re-endorsement of the GFA; referendum on Irish unity; an expansion of North South activity/structures; the All-Ireland parliamentary forum; the all-Ireland civic forum; the Irish
Language and Symbols and emblems, as well as the issues of sanctions and the IMC."ENDS
Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey, commenting on the revelation that of 51 appointments to senior civil service grades in the last 3 years that only four have been Catholic women and that there have been only 13 Catholics appointed in total has said that this is evidence of barrier to career advancement for Catholics and Catholic women in particular but also of the urgent need for change within the senior levels of the civil service and the appointments procedures.
Mr Maskey said:
"It is unacceptable that of 51 appointments to senior civil service grades in the past three years that only 13 were Catholic and a disgrace that out of that figure that only four Catholic women have been appointed to the upper levels of the civil service.
"This is evidence that considerable barriers remain within the civil service that blocks the advancement of Catholics and Catholic women in particular into the senior civil service grades. This should send out a serious message that there is an urgent need for change in supporting the career advancement of Catholics and Catholic women in particular within the civil service.
"We have had a review of appointments of senior civil servants. We now need to clear evidence of measures that will effectively address this situation. This requires a major sea change in the ethos within the civil service and the appointments process." ENDS
A Sinn Féin delegation including South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane ( Equality and Human Rights spokesperson) and South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey (Anti-racism spokesperson) will visit Asylum Seekers detained in Maghaberry Prison tomorrow, Tuesday 23rd December at 9.30am. They will call for an immediate end to the detention of Asylum Seekers in Maghaberry and Magilligan and call for greater co-operation with the Department of Justice in the 26 Counties on the issue of asylum.
Speaking ahead of the visit Ms Ruane said:
"Sinn Féin has consistently sought to highlight the conditions faced by Asylum Seekers throughout Ireland and we have opposed the locking up of asylum seekers, individuals who have been charged with no offence and who in many cases are fleeing from religious, racial or political persecution.
"It is a tribute to organisation such as the Law Centre, Multicultural Resource Centre, Refugee Action Network, NICEM, private solicitors firms and the Committee on the Administration of Justice, that they continue to fight for the rights of people who find themselves detained here with little or no support. We need to see an alternative to detention developed which includes full access to community and welfare support.
"It is also vital that pressure continues to grow on the NIO to end this outrageous practice of detention without charge. It is nothing less than internment without trial. This is in itself a flagrant abuse of human rights and civil liberties. It is wrong that Asylum Seekers are being held in both Magilligan and Maghaberry prisons, where sentenced prisoners are also held. All human rights groups working in this area have called for this practice to stop and the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees state that as a general principle Asylum Seekers should not be detained. Here we fail even this basic principle.
"There is also a failure within the NIO and Department of Justice in the South to work together to address the issue of asylum. There are a high number of cases where individuals who applied for asylum in the South of Ireland and then went to the North and have been detained for lengthy periods while the British Immigration authorities made formal requests to the Department of Justice. In some cases this took 49 days, and the people in question had children in the South from whom they were separated.
"Legislation governing how asylum seekers should be treated should be based on European and International Human Rights Standards and in particular there must be a legislative force given to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
"Over the years Irish people have sought asylum throughout the world and sometimes arrived in countries where they were initially treated in a very unwelcoming manner but where they subsequently went on to play an important role in these societies. Surely we can now repay our debt and provide sanctuary or asylum for people encountering difficulties in their countries of origin. It is at important times like Christmas that we must not forget people who are suffering isolation and loneliness because off flawed legislation and human rights abuses."ENDS
Sinn Féin Lisburn Councillor Sue Ramsey has expressed concern and warned nationalists and republicans to be vigilent after her home along with another in Twinbrook was attacked on Friday night in the latest home of a republican to be targeted in a ballbearing attack.
Cllr Ramsey said:
"In the past number of weeks the homes of a number of republicans have been targeted. These high velocity ball bearing guns that have also been fired at people walking in and around West Belfast are capable of causing serious injuring.
"The targeting of the homes in well over a dozen attacks in the past two weeks across West Belfast suggests that there is a degree of co-ordination and planning as well as specific knowledge. There is mounting suspicion that such attacks would not be possible with out the active assistance of those within the PSNI with access to such information.
"I would urge nationalists and republicans in West Belfast to be vigilent." ENDS
Commenting on the attack on three families in the Sandy Row area last night, South Belfast Sinn Féin Representative Alex Maskey said that the motivation behnd them was 'purely racist'.
Mr Maskey said:
" These are not the first racist attacks to take place in the Sandy Row area. Over recent times there has been a series of such attacks. There is a clear onus on the political leadership of unionism to make it very clear that they do not support racist attacks and that they support the right of ethnic minorities to live here in peace.
" In other areas, particularly in Craigavon, the comments of unionist politicians have been used by a variety of racist grouos to justify their activities.
" There is also a real need for proper support networks to be put in place to help families who fall victim to this sort of racist violence in the future." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has described Michael McDowell's ongoing attacks on Sinn Féin as a blatant attempt to try and stop Sinn Féin implementing its agenda for change. He was speaking as the party published its accounts.
Mr. Adams said:
"Over the last week we have seen some quite disgraceful attacks on Sinn Féin by Michael McDowell. He has repeatedly abused his position as Minister of Justice to make unsubstantiated allegations against our party and has failed to produce even one scrap of evidence to back up his malicious claims.
"Recent remarks attributed to Minister McDowell include his claim that Sinn Féin has 'deep and ongoing links with criminality' that Sinn Féin is 'morally unclean' and that he believed that the party is being funded by the proceeds of crime.
"There is no substance to these allegations, whatsoever and they go beyond the normal cut and trust of acceptable political comment, not least because Michael McDowell is speaking in his capacity as Minister of Justice.
"He knows that Sinn Féin's accounts are all properly audited and adhere to all the guidelines set out in both the 6 and 26 Counties in relation to fund-raising and spending, and were recently confirmed as such by the Standards in Public Office Commission.
"Sinn Féin is not involved in politics for economic or personal gain. Indeed within our own party we operate on an egalitarian basis and all of our elected representatives - MPs, TDs and Assembly members - receive the same salary based on the average industrial wage. The rest of the money goes to the party and to our work in the peace process and the development of our constituency services.
"But it is quite clear that Minister McDowell's attacks are really about his concern about Sinn Féin's increased electoral support and our work in bringing about change in Irish society.
"I have no doubt that Minister McDowell will pay little heed to any request from me for him to put up or shut up. He is serving a political agenda, which has little affinity with republicanism or nationalism. But others in the government do represent republican and nationalist constituents who are appalled by Minister McDowell's behaviour.
"While I believe that Mr. McDowell's attacks on Sinn Féin will have as little impact now as they did in the early 1990s when he spoke out against the Hume Adams talks and the peace process I also believe that this crude posturing does reflect a worrying trend within the political establishment in the south.
"It is no accident that the recent Assembly elections saw all the southern parties campaigning against Sinn Féin. Minister McDowell's hysterical outbursts, which have been characteristic of the more rabid Conservative elements of the British political and military establishment over the last thirty years, are evidence of the panic among conservative parties here stunned by Sinn Féin's success.
"The reality is that the electorate in the Six Counties rejected them and mandated our party as the leading pro-agreement party and as the party best able to bring about change. Such a development is obviously a nightmare for Minister McDowell. His fear now is that the southern electorate will do likewise.
"It is time that Mr. McDowell behaved as a Minister of the Irish government instead of using his undoubtedly influential position for party political posturing. He needs to accept that Sinn Féin, as a growing political party on this island, is here to stay." ENDS
The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, has claimed that while parts of the deal agreed at Brussels today between EU fisheries Ministers must be welcomed, that looked at overall, it is flawed and short term and will not resolve the crisis facing Irish fishermen.
Deputy Ferris said: "While I welcome the 8% increase in the overall quota for 2004, this deal will not resolve the long-term crisis affecting Irish fishermen. The vast majority of fishermen will continue to work under stringent restrictions that are making it increasingly difficult for them to survive. It is unacceptable that a country like Ireland with so much of the EU fisheries must depend on these annual midnight bargains to earn a further stay of execution for the industry. And to make matters worse, we may be fully sure that the coming year will see further efforts to place new restrictions on the Irish fleet.
"My request to the Government on Wednesday that they use the Irish Presidency of the EU to negotiate a root and branch reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was dismissed. However, that is the only thing that will ever lead to a situation where we regain some kind of control over our fisheries and a rightful share of what lies within Irish waters." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dublin EU Candidate Mary Lou McDonald today expressed disappointment at the Irish government's plans for its Presidency of the European Union. She said that it was a minimalist approach based on maintaining EU business as usual rather than putting their own stamp on the Presidency.
Ms McDonald said:
"The Irish Presidency of the European Union is clearly going to be a tidying up exercise rather than using the opportunity to set out the Irish government‚s own agenda.
"The ongoing EU focus is on enlargement, the EU constitution, Lisbon Agenda and security matters and these are hugely important issues to be addressed but there was and remains an opportunity for the Irish government to also use the six months to set out a distinctly Dublin Agenda.
"The upcoming EU Presidency provides the Irish Government the opportunity to make a major impact on policies across a range of areas and sectors in Europe.
"Sinn Féin is calling on the government to use the Presidency to make the drive for social justice and poverty eradication the main focus of its Presidency and ultimately its legacy. I believe that the government should revisit their plans for the Presidency." ENDS
SINN FÉIN'S TOP 13 RECOMMENDED INITIATIVES FOR A POSITIVE PRESIDENCY
Prioritising Global Social Justice
• Initiate a Global Social Justice Agenda (Dublin Agenda)equivalent to the Lisbon Agenda whose priorities would include UN reform,fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals including DevelopingCountry Debt Cancellation
•Initiate a process of Human Rights/Equality/PovertyProofing of all EU policies
•Seriously address the problems caused for particularMember States by the fact that some States are in and some are out of theeuro-zone.
•Address the need for a renegotiation of the Stabilityand Growth Pact in order to allow member states to deal effectively withthe specific problems facing their economies.
Implementing CAP Reform and supporting rural regeneration
•Ensure that the CAP reform proposal agreed atLuxembourg in June is fully implemented including full decoupling; andensure that the accession states enter the CAP on an equal basis.
•To establish a full range of complementary rural developmentprogrammes to aid farmers and rural communities in adapting to the changesbrought about by the CAP reform.
•Put complete reform of the Common Fisheries Policy onthe EU agenda
Protecting the Environment
•Campaign to make the EU a GM-Free Zone
•Reduction of emissions on an EU wide basis
•Campaign against the privatisation agenda of theEuropean Union in the Lisbon Agenda and for the defence of public services
•Push for the EU-wide upwards harmonisation of workersrights, including trade union recognition, workers health and safety andprotections for temporary and migrant workers.
•Push for further EU equal rights instruments includinga specific Gender Equality Directive and a Disability Directive whileprioritizing commitments to eradicate poverty and homelessness within theEU
•Ensure that Irish is recognised as an official andworking language of the EU.
Sinn Féin Spokespersons on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD and Gerry McHugh, have welcomed the adoption by the European Parliament of a report on Genetically Modified food and crops. The report, which was written by German Green MEP Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, was adopted by the Parliament yesterday.
It proposes that the EU adopt much stricter guidelines on tolerance levels for GM and on potential contamination of conventional and organic crops. The report also supports the right of Member States to declare GM free zones.
Deputy Ferris and Councillor McHugh said: "While Sinn Féin remains convinced that the island of Ireland ought to be made GM free, we welcome this report as a significant advance on the proposals put by the Commission. We particularly support the idea that states ought to be able to designate GM free zones, and we will continue to argue that the island of Ireland as a whole should be declared as such.
"It is also right that the liability for any contamination of non-GM crops be placed firmly on the GM producers themselves. In a Dáil reply this week, the Irish Government has again stated that it will support the introduction of GM products when this comes back for decision after Christmas. We believe that this is a mistake and will continue to call for a reversal of the decision and for the exclusion of GM products from the North of Ireland." ENDS
Commenting on the publication by the Irish government of their sections of the Cory Report, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice matters Gerry Kelly demanded that the British government now publish their sections of the report.
Mr. Kelly said:
"The British government must stop stalling on inquiries into the killings in which British state agencies were involved. Judge Cory has reported yet we are now witnessing further delays, excuses and stalling. The families involved are entitled to the truth.
"Neither the British government nor its agencies have accepted responsibility for collusion, the arming, organising, resourcing and direction of loyalist death squads, the killing of hundreds of people and the protection of those responsible. There have not been thorough investigations in these cases. On the contrary British state agencies have denied involvement and systematically concealed the truth. Even in the context of the Saville Tribunal, established by the British government, the British state has withheld, hidden and destroyed vital evidence.
"There is no denying that there was a brutal conflict in this part of Ireland for 30 years and that many, many people suffered as a result. But one of the key issues, so far unacknowledged, is that the British state was involved in a policy of systematic murder and violence against whole sections of the nationalist community." ENDS
Here you can download the sections of the Cory Report published by the Irish Government today.
Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described the Independent Monitoring Commission and the Agreement signed by the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and the British Ambassador Stewart Eldon as "undermining the Good Friday Agreement".
Deputy Ó Caoláin said the Monitoring Commission could not be independent. He stated:
"It will not and cannot be independent. Politically, it has been established as a sop to the Ulster Unionist Party dissidents - the very dissidents who have since been made politically irrelevant by the result of the Assembly election.
The Commission will, in effect, be a creature of the British government and will rely on information from British intelligence, the British army and the PSNI to fulfil its functions. This is the effect of the Bill and of the British legislation.
"If this Commission was composed entirely of Nelson Mandelas it could not be independent.
"This is a recipe for the continuation of the British and unionist serial collapsing of the institutions and postponement of democratic elections. As we speak, the Assembly remains in suspension by order of the British government, at the behest of unionism and despite the renewed democratic mandates secured at the recent Assembly elections." ENDS
Sinn Féin is totally opposed to this Bill. It is completely outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It is in fact an enabling Bill for a British Act of Parliament which is itself not only outside the Good Friday Agreement but which undermines that Agreement. The Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission) Act 2003 was not even referred to by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he spoke on this Bill in the Seanad.
I would guess that very few Members in this House have ever heard of this British legislation or are aware of its very serious implications for the peace process. Yet the Bill effectively endorses the British legislation and ratifies the Agreement between the Irish and British governments signed by Minister McDowell and the British Ambassador Stewart Eldon in Dublin on 25 November.
The British Act is a disgraceful piece of legislation and the Agreement signed by the Minister is a disgraceful Agreement which should never have been entered into by an Irish government. This party for one, as the representatives of republican opinion in this State, and as the representatives of the largest body of nationalists and republicans in the Six Counties, will not be accepting it as so many others here so regrettably seem willing to do without question.
This Dáil is being asked to rubber stamp this very serious piece of legislation with profound implications for the peace process on the very last day of the session and under a guillotine of all stages.
The very name of this Bill and of this Commission is a falsehood. It will not and cannot be independent. Politically it has been established as a sop to the Ulster Unionist Party dissidents, the very dissidents who have since been made politically irrelevant by the result of the Assembly election. The Commission will, in effect, be a creature of the British government and will rely on information from British intelligence, the British army and the PSNI to fulfil its functions. This is the effect of the Bill and of the British legislation.
I believe the McDowell/Eldon Agreement, this legislation and the British legislation, will be open to constitutional challenge as being in clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement. It is often forgotten that as well as amending Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution in 1998 the people in this jurisdiction amended Article 29 to say that the State may be bound by the Good Friday Agreement. It goes on to state that any institution 'established by or under the Agreement may exercise the powers and functions thereby conferred on it in respect of all or any part of the island of Ireland' notwithstanding any other provision in the Constitution. That very important change in the Constitution was made on the basis of the Agreement as signed by the two governments and the institutions as set out in the Agreement. The McDowell/Eldon Agreement, as implemented by the British legislation and by this legislation, undermines the Good Friday Agreement on the basis of which the people voted to change Articles 2,3 and 29.
Strand One, Article 25 of the Good Friday Agreement provides that the Assembly voting on a cross-community basis may remove a minister from office. The Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission) Act, the British equivalent of this legislation, allows the British Secretary of State unilaterally to remove a minister from office when a motion for exclusion cannot attract cross-community support. This is in clear breach of both the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement. The British act goes further and allows the British Secretary of State to exclude someone from office in 'exceptional circumstances'.
The so-called Independent Monitoring Commission is designed to facilitate this undermining of the Agreement by the British government. It is totally unacceptable that an Irish government should be party to this through the McDowell/Eldon Agreement. The so-called independence of this Commission is glaringly exposed in Article 6 of McDowell/Eldon where it is laid down that the mechanism by which the Commission considers claims of misconduct by Ministers only involves the members of the Commission appointed by the British government.
This is a recipe for the continuation of the British and unionist serial collapsing of the institutions and postponement of democratic elections. As we speak the Assembly remains in suspension by order of the British government, at the behest of unionism and despite the renewed democratic mandates secured at the recent Assembly elections.
I do not intend to waste time addressing the detail of the functions of this Commission except to say that they are a sham. There is not even the pretence that the activities of the British government and its armed forces will be monitored in any way. They will face no sanctions, nor indeed will the Irish Government for any failures on its part.
I will not address the personnel of the Commission as established in shadow form, although I could say much about some of their backgrounds. Suffice to say that if this Commission was comprised entirely of Nelson Mandelas it could not be independent.
Article 5 of the McDowell/Eldon Agreement purports to address the issue of demilitarisation or 'normalisation' as it calls it. It is a legislative trick because it is entirely negated by Section 15. The Commission shall monitor any programme undertaken by the British only after the British decide they are going to undertake such a programme once they are 'satisfied with commitments that have been given on an end to paramilitary activity'. Otherwise the Commission can only monitor 'normalisation' at the request of the British government. So much for its so-called independence.
This Bill and this shabby Agreement come before us the very day the Irish government publishes its section of the Cory Report as the British continue their refusal to publish theirs. It comes the week after the Barron Report exposed their refusal to co-operate with the inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Yet here we are being asked to establish a Commission which will rely on the same British military, police and intelligence services for information which it will supply to the British Secretary of State and which he may use to expel a minister without a cross-community vote in the Assembly.
The British refused to co-operate with Barron and cited national security interests. The McDowell/Eldon Agreement enshrines British national security interests in Article 13. It will not be the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission that will decide what those interests are. If the British say no to any request from the Commission on the basis of national security that will be the end of the matter.
The Irish Government has stated that it is against any renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. Yet this Bill and the British legislation rewrite the Agreement without any negotiation. I urge members to reject this Bill and the associated McDowell/Eldon Agreement.
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast this morning, Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly accused the PSNI Special Branch of leaking the addresses of Republicans to loyalists.
Mr Kelly was joined at the press conference by Cllr. Paul Maskey, who like Gerry Kelly has recently had his home attacked.
Mr Kelly said:
"Over the past number of weeks at least 12 homes belonging to republicans have been attacked in West Belfast. These included the homes of four Sinn Féin elected representatives.
"In one of the other cases the home of an elderly woman was attacked and she has up to this point felt unable to return home.
"All of the homes have been singled out. These are not random attacks. It is our belief that those carrying out the attacks have been supplied with very accurate information about the addresses of republicans in Belfast. The agency which has this information and has a record of passing it on to loyalist paramilitaries is the Special Branch.
"There has also been an attempt by the PSNI to play down these attacks in the media. They have been described as 'ball bearing attacks'. In some of the cases, but not all, ball bearings have been recovered. But these ball bearings are being fired from high powered gas weapons. They have the potential to seriously injure or even kill.
"I am urging republicans in West Belfast and indeed elsewhere to remain vigilant in the period ahead." ENDS