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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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The Mayor of Armagh City, Councillor Pat O'Rawe MLA, paid an extended visit to County Wexford over the weekend where she performed a very busy schedule.

Cllr O'Rawe the first female Assembly member in her constituency and the first ever Sinn Féin Mayor of Armagh met with a wide variety of local community groups in Wexford, Rosslare, Gorey, Enniscorthy and New Ross. She also joined the local election candidate trail in Gorey and Enniscorthy, and launched the new Sinn Féin manifesto: 'Women in an Ireland of Equals' in New Ross before attending a party function in Hotel Curracloe on Saturday night.

Speaking at the launch of the womens manifesto in New Ross on Saturday accompanied by local Sinn Féin election candidates, Sandra Ryan (Gorey), Noreen Sheridan (Enniscorthy) and Bernie Murphy (New Ross) Cllr O'Rawe said:

"As a party striving towards an Ireland of Equals, Sinn Féin fully supports the Equality Agenda and its implementation throughout society. Central to this is the need for gender balance, gender proofing and gender equality in the decision making process.

"Sinn Féin is committed to the establishment of targets and timescales for achieving equality of representation for women in public life, and equality of outcome in employment, education and training. We believe that gender proofing in appointments, policies and resource allocation must be obligatory for all public bodies.

"A culture of change is required throughout society to ensure that there is better representation and better working practices for women in politics. It is crucial that we all play a part in creating changes to the political systems to encourage more family friendly practices.

"Sinn Fein will work with all those committed to promoting equality at all levels of society and we bring the same commitment to change to our own party. This is a real issue for Sinn Féin in terms of our policies, the issues that we campaign on and the candidates that we put forward for election. Indeed in these elections we are presently standing the largest number of women candidates ever in winnable seats and the issue of equality is central to our entire campaign."ENDS

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A Sinn Féin local election candidate in Dublin's Inner City Centre, Ciarán Mac Annraoi has asked Fianna Fáil if the Justice and Equality Minister, Michael McDowell, spoke for them when he told the Irish Catholic newspaper last week that inequality is good for people and an incentive in the Irish economy.

Ciarán Mac Annraoi, a challenger for Mayor Royston Brady's council seat and the running mate of Councillor Christy Burke, said:

"Dublin's Inner City has suffered disproportionately over many decades from neglect and inequality.  Now we have the Fianna Fáil/PD Coalition's Equality Minister effectively saying, 'Inequality is good for you.'

"We expect this sort of Thatcherite clap-trap from the PDs, but is Michael McDowell speaking for his Fianna Fáil Coalition partners and its candidates as well?  I think the voters should be told."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and EU candidate for the Six Counties Bairbre de Brún has called for EU wide action to tackle homelessness and this must include targets and timeframes for the elimination of homelessness. Ms de Brún said:

"People have the right to live free of poverty. As an organised bloc of some of the wealthiest states in the world, the EU has the resources to guarantee this fundamental socio-economic right at least to its own population. Basic social and economic rights must be guaranteed for all. This includes the right to a home.

"Unfortunately this right is not being accorded to all. Levels of homelessness are rising in many EU countries, including Ireland. Serious action needs to be taken at an EU wide level to combat homelessness.

"There is a need for member states to agree an EU wide target and timeframe for the elimination of homelessness.

"This requires adequate provision of social and affordable private housing. However tackling homelessness also requires addressing people‚s capacity; providing employment opportunities and combating financial exclusion. Eradicating poverty and social exclusion will not happen without concerted action on homelessness."ENDS

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Sinn Féin TDs Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Séan Crowe will join party colleagues Mary Lou McDonald, Daithí Doolan and Eoin O Sé on Monday 31st May to canvas the Westmoreland Street - Dame Street area for a NO vote in the citizenship referendum. They will begin the canvas at 9.15am outside the Bank of Ireland on College Green.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and party colleagues North West EU candidate Pearse Doherty and Pat Doherty MP will be on opposing sides for the Ulster football championship clash between Antrim and Donegal in Ballybofey on Sunday 30th May.

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Speaking today about the naming of people allegedly involved in the latest AIB scandal, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: "Naming the alleged culprits is not enough. If there is evidence of wrong-doing, arrests should be made". Mr. Adams said:

In keeping with the Tanaiste's remarks yesterday about naming and shaming people involved in the latest AIB scandal, the Government's response to this breach of tax law has been totally inadequate. Naming the alleged culprits is not enough. If there is evidence of wrong-doing, arrests should be made.

This option has rarely been exercised against those in banking or other financial institutions, or for that matter, politics, the judicary, developers or other people in certain sectors who bring their own professions into disrepute by their involvement in white collar crime. Apparently this little golden circle is above the law.

Little wonder that there is increasing disillusionment with politicans and institutions. There are two laws. One for the rich and another for the rest of us.

Is this what Minister McDowell meant when he said inequality is an incentive for the economy?"ENDS

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East Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Joe O'Donnell has said that he hopes that today's statement from the LVF will mark an end not just to the ongoing loyalist feud but to all unionist paramilitary violence. Cllr. O'Donnell said:

"Obviously if this statement does mark the end of the latest loyalist feud then that is to be welcomed. East Belfast has been on a knife-edge for the past two weeks. However in the past loyalist feuds have ended with attacks on nationalists and Catholics. I hope that this pattern will not be repeated on this occasion.

"Now that this feud is over all of us in political and community leadership in the city need to get back to the job of ensuring a peaceful summer for families living in interface areas. There is no point in ending one type of violent unionist activity to see it replaced by another." ENDS

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Ógra Shinn Féin were in Temple Bar today at 12 noon using political street theatre to highlight the massive inequalities in the Irish health service. One of the youngest candidates standing in the Dublin City Council area, Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Sé (23) said that the theatre was a success with the public, who "know only too well how much of a state the health service is in"

Mr Ó Sé said: „The street theatre was something different, and went down well with the shoppers and workers in the vicinity. These people know only too well what state the health service is in.

"Ógra Shinn Féin is concerned, and rightly so, that the Government is avoiding the health issue in the run up to these elections. It has been all but forgotten by candidates who are more interested in electoral success, than what the voters actually want. The health issue is the biggest issue in the country at the moment. Everything else pales in comparison to not having a good health service and the public are screaming that at politicians. They might as well be talking to the wall.

"This Government has failed us. They haven‚t fulfilled the promises they made in 2002 and the Hanly Report only makes a bad situation worse.

"We, as young people, don‚t want to inherit this health mess, so we will keep raising the health issue, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it is for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats."ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for the South constituency David Cullinane has called on the Irish Presidency to "use its considerable influence to help combat poverty within the European Union." Mr Cullinane made his remarks on the eve of a meeting to discuss poverty within EU member states.

The event, entitled: "Meeting of people from EU countries experiencing poverty" will take place tomorrow in Brussels (29.05.04).

Speaking in advance of the conference, Mr Cullinane said:

"The European Union needs to face up to the challenges that an enlarged union inevitably brings. Now, more than 65 million people live in poverty within the 25 member states. The Irish Presidency had the opportunity to prioritise the eradication of poverty and it has failed miserably.

"In the EU, the richest 20% of the population receive five times the total income of the bottom 20% - the present situation is unacceptable. Over the last number of years, the EU has increasingly prioritised an agenda focused upon economic growth and competitiveness. It has also become obsessed with militarism and the need to arm itself to the teeth with sophisticated weaponry. It would cost 100 billion euro to cut global poverty in half by 2015, yet the EU spends approximately 800 billion every year on military initiatives.

"Sinn Féin believes that as a matter of urgency, the European Union, under the stewardship of the EU Presidency must fight for agreement of EU wide targets and timeframes for poverty reduction and elimination. Protection for the most vulnerable in society must become a priority of the EU."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy has said that this weeks revelations in a BBC programme about collusion in a number of murders and other attacks in South Armagh was 'an important first step in lifting the lid on the activities of Crown Forces and Unionist paramilitaries which are well known to people in this area'.

Mr Murphy said:

" This weeks Spotlight programme was an important first step in lifting the lid on the activities of Crown Forces and unionist paramilitaries which are well known to people in South Armagh. Sinn Féin have been a lone voice for decades in highlighting the extent of collusion in South Armagh and elsewhere.

" This was not simply a case of bad apples. It was a policy decision which stretches directly to Downing Street and as Spotlight showed also involved the support of the judiciary in the six counties.

" The programme however only scratched the surface of the mountain of evidence which exists linking prominent South Armagh security force families to murders and bomb attacks in the area. The silence of groups like FAIR in the wake of the programme has not been lost on the nationalist and republican community in South Armagh.

" Sinn Féin will continue to support the families of those killed through the British policy of collusion in South Armagh and elsewhere in their campaign for the truth. The British government lived in denial for decades about this issue. It only became an issue for them when Sinn Féin placed it on the talks agenda. It will remain there until the web of collusion and cover-up is untangled." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald described Michael McDowell's statement this morning that 'inequality is an incentive to the economy' as a succinct declaration of the PD's right wing policies. Ms McDonald accused the PD's of pursuing an agenda of inequality with relish over the last seven years, leaving communities across Ireland devastated in their wake.

Ms McDonald said:

"Since 1997 the PDs have pursued an agenda of inequality with relish. They led an unprecedented assault on communities across Ireland with their policy of slashing Community Employment Schemes. In 1997, there were almost 40,000 CE participants. Seven years later the number is 25,000. Almost one thousand CE Schemes have disappeared. These cutbacks have devastated community projects and services across the state. Home helps, meals-on-wheels, childcare, environmental and heritage projects have all suffered.

"The value of these schemes to communities is immeasurable, and there is nothing to replace them. CE Schemes, and other programmes like them, are an example of the role the State can play in empowering communities, in providing them with the skills, resources and personnel to make a difference, whether it is in Ballymun, Ballyfermot, or the South Inner City.

"And it doesn't stop there. Instead of building the services that our people need, instead of developing strategies to end poverty, provide decent affordable housing and improving health care, the PDs and Fianna Fáil have used the wealth of the last decade to reward the wealthy and to feather the nests of their friends in big business. They extended tax breaks for developers of hotels, holiday camps and holiday cottages while 50,000 households languish on waiting lists and local authorities are deprived of funding to provide social housing. They also extended tax giveaways to developers of private hospitals and private sports injuries clinics. While Minister McCreevy throws money at the lucrative private health business our public health system is in a state of continuing crisis.

"The Minister's latest quest for an unequal society has come in the form of the Citizenship Referendum. If he has his way and it is passed, we will have a situation where two children born in an Irish hospital at the same time will be completely unequal, one will be considered Irish and one will not.

"Michael McDowell is the Minister charged with responsibility for equality and the fact that he is actively pursuing inequality in rhetoric and in deed, makes his position untenable."ENDS

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Sinn Fein spokesperson on Social, Community & Family Affairs Seán Crowe TD, speaking after attending a report launch by 3 leading charities today expressed very serious concerns at the levels of poverty and inequality facing disadvantaged families, calling it "frightening".

Deputy Crowe said:

"For the 2nd time this week I have seen the frightening figures which leave us in no doubt about the dire poverty and inequality that lurks in our society. Earlier, I attended the Dublin Simon report on the Homeless crisis and today, the timely report on Food Poverty and Policy brings home the stark reality that this Government is failing another large sector of our society.

"People may find it hard to believe that, in the fourth wealthiest EU country, over 40 breakfast clubs are run in Dublin for children who, without them, simply could not stay awake and alert at school because of the lack of nutrition in their diets. It may also come as a surprise to many that fruit and vegetables are simply unaffordable to many families and that disadvantaged people spend about one third of their household income on food. For many parents, access to food and supermarkets is problematic in itself as large housing estates and American style out-of-town shopping malls become the norm. Inadequate public transport systems and lack of private transport often force these people to resort to the local shop for necessities, causing more expense again for people already suffering from poverty and disadvantage.

"There is a need to acknowledge that there is a serious poverty problem here and that the problem needs to be alleviated at the root - preventative programmes, while welcome, should not be seen as anything more than an interim way of tackling the problems. Different departments of the Government must look at the causes of poverty and work together to alleviate these inequalities, departments of Health, Social Welfare, Agriculture, Finance, and Education should take a joined-up approach to improve the life and health prospects of people on the margins. This will benefit the wider community and the economy with less strain on the Health system and less spending on healthcare. This country is constantly fed the notion that we are a rich, prosperous, thriving

economy. What is not emphasised is that huge numbers of people depend directly and indirectly, on the excess unwanted food produced in the EU to feed them and their children. This is not progress - it is regress." ENDS

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Speaking during a canvass in Fermanagh today, Sinn Féin EU candidate Bairbre de Brún MLA called for an 'immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and for the UN to oversee a speedy return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.'

Ms de Brún said:

"Sinn Féin opposed military intervention in Iraq. Last year Gerry Adams warned Tony Blair and George Bush that the invasion of Iraq was not only illegal under international law but would end in a prolonged period of conflict and political instability. And this is what has happened.

"What needs to happen now is for the military occupation of Iraq to end immediately and for the UN to oversee a speedy transition to democratic rule of Iraq by Iraqis."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd commenting on the publication of the Health Department report on health inequalities said that unless social inequalities are challenged there is little prospect of eradicating the huge health inequalities that exist.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"It is well established that social and economic inequalities are a huge factor in determining health and well-being.

"Unless we challenge the factors that create, reinforce and maintain social and economic inequality and, in particular, tackle poverty then there is little chance that we will be able to eradicate health inequalities.

"It is an indictment on our society that people living in a deprived area are a third more likely to die prematurely; 25% more likely to die as an infant; 15% more likely to get cancer; and 25% more likely to be admitted to hospital.

"This report sets out in black and white the urgent need to bring together policy that deals with unemployment, income levels, support for carers, education and training, housing, recreational facilities, the built environment, transport and road safety, fuel poverty in a greater focus on the public health agenda.

"There has been some progress in prioritising public health, notably with the Investing for Health Strategy and growing acceptance of the need to extend the workplace smoking ban but we need to grab the bull by the horns and develop a strategy to eliminate poverty. It is a sad reflection on both the current NIO Ministers and the previous Executive that there is no anti-poverty strategy in place.

"This report also brings into focus the impact of the conflict on peoples health. These findings should encourage greater urgency in the development of a strategy to eliminate poverty and to secure and build upon the changes in our society brought about by the peace process." ENDS

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Sinn Féin today launched its policy document 'Positive Neutrality in Action' today. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was joined by Sinn Féin International Affairs Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald, and local Dublin candidate Killian Forde at the launch.

Summary

Sinn Féin proposes an independent and progressive Irish international relations policy that opposes military alliances and works for international co-operation

and conflict negotiation leading to democratic social change and respect for human rights, universal demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament.

Such a policy of 'Positive Neutrality in Action" would require:

  • Neutrality to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution and codified in legislation;
  • Withdrawal from the EU Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's Partnership for Peace;
  • Irish troops to train and serve abroad only under the auspices and leadership of the United Nations, and only with prior Dáil approval;
  • No use of Irish airports, airspace, seaports, or territorial waters for preparation for war or other armed conflict by foreign powers;
  • An end to Irish involvement in the arms trade and profit from war;
  • Clear recognition and legal protection through a binding Protocol of Irish neutrality in any new EU Treaty;
  • Active promotion of demilitarisation of the EU;
  • Formation of alliances with other progressive, neutral states to promote a Human Security approach to international relation;
  • Active promotion of UN primacy, UN reform and capacity-building to create a revitalised UN which is capable of fulfilling the promise of the Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of upholding international law.

Positive neutrality should form basis of international relations policy

Speaking at the launch of a neutality policy document this morning, Mr. Gerry Adams said: "Support for Irish neutrality is a core republican value. It has never been more relevant than at this time of great volatility in international relations.

"Today we are launching our policy document 'Positive Neutrality in Action', as our contribution to the debate on the future of Irish neutrality. Despite what Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the PDs may think or want people to believe, neutrality is not about isolationism, or sitting idly by as a disinterested observer. Rather it is about active engagement in the global community, and the relentless pursuit of global justice through peaceful means.

"Sinn Féin does not support Irish involvement in NATO or any other standing military alliance of any kind. However, for us neutrality does not stop with non-membership of military alliances. It goes further. It means taking fuller responsibility by refusing to facilitate international conflict in any way. It means working for international cooperation and conflict negotiation, democratic social change and respect for human rights. It means working for universal demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament.

"Our policy assert Ireland's rights and responsibilities as a neutral state as outlined in the Hague Convention. By definition this precludes direct collusion with belligerents. It also involves taking the necessary steps to ensure that Human Security is achieved for all people, everywhere.

"This Government has pursued a policy of abandoning Irish neutrality.

"The so-called 'Caring Coalition' does not offer a clear alternative. Fine Gael is to abandon neutrality in favour of an EU Common Defence. While Labour, the Green Party and others supported Sinn Féin's Constitutional Neutrality Bill last year Labour also supports building an EU Common Defence.

"Sinn Féin offers a clear policy alternative. 'Positive Neutrality in Action' is about insuring that Ireland not only maintains its neutrality, but strengthens its engagement in global affairs. This reflects our broad commitment to the demilitarisation of conflict, on this island and beyond, and our view that 'Human Security' must be at the core of such a policy. 'Positive Neutrality in Action is a policy with immediate relevance for Ireland today and will be at the heart of an international relations policy for a future United Ireland."

EU should have no role in military and defence matters

Mary Lou McDonald added, "In contrast with the establishment parties in this state, we believe there is no legitimate role for the European Union in military and defence matters, which should be left to individual states. International peacekeeping and conflict resolution should happen under the auspices of the United Nations. In keeping with the commitment to Irish military neutrality, UN primacy, demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament, we believe the Irish Government should show leadership and work with others to actively oppose the evolution of an EU Common Defence. This is a key proposal in our policy of Positive Neutrality in Action.

"Successive EU treaties since the Single European Act in 1987, including the Nice Treaty, have eroded independent foreign policy to the point where our military neutrality, although seriously undermined, is virtually all we have left. The EU has become increasingly militarised since the first reference to EU military cooperation and common defence appeared in the Maastricht Treaty. In little more than a decade since 1992 the EU has established the EU Security and Defence Policy, the Rapid Reaction Force, EU military command and control structures, a military harmonization deadline of 2010, an agreement to create an EU Armaments Agency, an EU Security Doctrine that among other things dictates increased defence spending, and approval for enhanced cooperation on defence between the Big Three states.

"It is clear that the EU Treaties taken together aim to reconstruct the EU as a military and economic superpower. The draft EU Constitution accelerates this process further, particularly with the introduction of the solidarity clause at Article 40.

"The need for intervention to halt the momentum of EU militarisation has never been more urgent. Yet the Irish Government, on behalf of a supposedly neutral state, has done little if anything to oppose these developments. It has done even less to protect Irish neutrality and improve Ireland's negotiating position for a future in an EU that is even more heavily dominated by NATO states after enlargement.

"At the very least the Irish Government should demand a legally-binding neutrality protocol for Ireland. But they should also show leadership and co-ordinate with other EU neutrals in an effort to persuade the other members to drop or reduce the EU military dimension. They should promote the redirection of EU defence and peacekeeping resources towards the UN, and a reversal of the present balance between EU military and aid spending. They should join with other EU non-nuclear states to campaign to reduce the global threat of weapons of mass destruction by making the European Union a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone. Most importantly, they should mobilise both the resources and political will of the EU 25 to ensure that UN reform and capacity-building becomes a global policy priority.

"This is the perspective that Sinn Féin will bring to the heart of Europe when elected on June 11th to the European Parliament, where we will work with all others who share our vision and our commitment." ENDS

Integrity must be restored to Irish military neutrality

Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, the party's Spokesperson on International Affairs said, "During this Dáil, Sinn Féin was the first party to propose a motion calling for the Government to immediately withdraw overflight and landing privileges to aircraft carrying foreign troops on their way to war. Sinn Féin took a strong stance against the unjust and illegal war of aggression against Iraq, and we mobilised throughout the island in support of the anti-war movement.

"Following the massive popular opposition to the war on Iraq, including one of the largest street mobilisations in Irish history ? which emphatically demonstrated that the Irish public cares about neutrality and wants an alternative to present Irish government policy, Sinn Féin proposed a bill calling for neutrality to be enshrined in the constitution. While our Bill had support from the left in the House, the Government voted it down and in doing so showed their true intentions with respect to the future of Irish military neutrality.

"Sinn Féin will continue to show leadership on this issue. In the wake of the most recent horrific revelations about the true nature of the occupation of Iraq, we were the first party in the Dáil to propose a fresh motion calling on the Government to stop allowing Shannon to be used by US troops as a refueling base. And today we present our policy of Positive Neutrality in Action with its specific proposals on the domestic legislative and policy reforms required to restore integrity to Irish military neutrality ? which this Government has repeatedly violated since 1997.

"Since the Government's so-called 'triple lock' does not preclude other forms of assistance for war, and also allows for Defence Force deployments with non-UN forces including the Rapid Reaction Force and NATO, two immediate changes are required. We propose to close the loophole in existing legislation that allows for foreign war complicity by executive decision, and instead require Dáil approval of permission for any non-emergency or non-UN mission-related use of facilities in the state by foreign militaries. We also propose to amend the Defence Acts and defence policy to narrow the basis upon which Permanent Defence Forces can be deployed internationally to UN-led peacekeeping missions only.

"Since there is presently no clear constitutional barrier to the State joining a military alliance, we propose the Government hold a referendum to give the people the opportunity to introduce an amendment giving constitutional protection to the policy of military neutrality. We also propose withdrawal from all present commitments to proto-military alliances, the EU Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's Partnership for Peace. These actions must be complemented by a redoubling of the Irish commitment to contribute to collective action at UN level.

"In conclusion, Sinn Féin's policy of Positive Neutrality in Action goes far beyond what past or present Governments have been prepared to do. It is significantly different from what the so-called official opposition has on offer. What Sinn Féin proposes is a true policy alternative. We have translated the historic commitment to military neutrality into a concrete 21st century international relations policy reflecting the republican ethos. Our policy reflects the belief that true security is universal, and based on social justice, fully meeting human needs, and respecting human rights and human equality not on increased militarisation. If Ireland followed Sinn Féin's policy of Positive Neutrality in Action our nation could make a highly significant contribution towards the long-held global objective of international peace with justice, and towards the achievement of Human Security, to which everyone has a right."ENDS

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Introduction

Support for Irish neutrality has been a core republican value since the time of the United Irishmen. But it has never been more relevant than in the 21st century.

Irish military neutrality has been a source of our unique position in the world, a source of strength and legitimacy. Through the pursuit of an independent foreign policy in the past, Ireland has built an internationally respected reputation in UN peacekeeping, promotion of anti-nuclear initiatives and the development rights of post-colonial societies. Our international stature has also been enhanced by our experience of building a peace process at home.

A militarily neutral Ireland actively pursuing a global social justice agenda through peaceful means has more to offer than ever before at this time of volatility in international relations. Since the establishment parties have demonstrated that they are either not fully committed to neutrality or are opposed to it, republicans recognise our responsibility to show leadership in this regard.

Sinn Féin therefore proposes "Positive Neutrality in Action" as an independent policy alternative for expanding Ireland's role in international affairs. We see Positive Neutrality in Action not only as a policy with immediate relevance for the 26 county state, but also propose that it should form the heart of the international relations policy after reunification.

Recent developments have confirmed the need for such a policy. We offer this document as a clear statement of what Positive Neutrality in Action would entail.

Summary of Sinn Féin Proposals

Sinn Féin proposes an independent and progressive Irish international relations policy that opposes military alliances and works for international co-operation and conflict negotiation leading to democratic social change and respect for human rights, universal demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament.

Such a policy of "Positive Neutrality in Action" would require:

• Neutrality to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution and codified in legislation;

• Withdrawal from the EU Rapid Reaction Force and NATO's Partnership for Peace;

• Irish troops to train and serve abroad only under the auspices and leadership of the United Nations, and only with prior Dáil approval;

• No use of Irish airports, airspace, seaports, or territorial waters for preparation for war or other armed conflict by foreign powers;

• An end to Irish involvement in the arms trade and profit from war;

• Clear recognition and legal protection through a binding Protocol of Irish neutrality in any new EU Treaty;

• Active promotion of demilitarisation of the EU;

• Formation of alliances with other progressive, neutral states to promote a Human Security approach to international relations;

• Active promotion of UN primacy, UN reform and capacity-building to create a revitalised UN which is capable of fulfilling the promise of the Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and of upholding international law.

Why Positive Neutrality in Action is relevant today

International context

International relations in the 21st century are proving unexpectedly volatile. Disturbing doctrinal shifts are taking place under the so-called "War on Terror", which has become the new justification for permanent war. The emergence of a single superpower has encouraged unilateralism. The consequent undermining of the United Nations and international law has further destabilised the global security environment.

The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan as a "retaliation war" in response to the 11 September atrocities set a bad precedent for international order. But the implications of the second war on Iraq are even worse. An invasion and occupation was mounted and supported by major powers (including EU powers) without UN authorisation. This invasion was based on concocted evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and rationalised by a doctrine of pre-emption (and by a post-hoc doctrine of regime change, contrary to international law). Other by-products of this appalling episode include the sabotage of perfectly effective UN weapons inspections and the deliberate sidelining of the UN in the post-war transition and reconstruction process. All those who failed to oppose the war -- including the Irish Government who had a seat on the Security Council during the relevant period -- bear responsibility.

While the need for non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is obvious, the real clear and present danger to international security is posed by the arsenals and stockpiles held by existing nuclear states, including those NATO states who are members of the European Union, despite the evaporation of their rationale with the end of the Cold War nearly 15 years ago.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the UN itself is in crisis. In the 1980s and 90s it was subjected to a sustained assault led by big business interests critical of international regulation. With US help a financial crisis was engineered to create pressure on the UN to agree to certain reforms (such as downsizing, programme-slashing and other "market-friendly" measures). The UN was systematically under-funded and undermined for nearly two decades and then excoriated for its failure to respond effectively to Rwanda and Kosovo. The international community has not responded with the urgency required to remedy the situation. Six years into a comprehensive organisational overhaul and despite considerable achievements, the UN Secretary General was still forced to issue an urgent plea for support for UN reform in August 2003. But those states with the most available resources -- the US and EU states -- are busy pursuing and paying for their own security agendas. The true effect of development of EU defence capacity, according to the 2000 Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (known as the Brahimi Report) has been the depletion -- not enhancement -- of UN peacekeeping capacity.

In a world where the gap between the richest and poorest is a vast and deepening canyon, where annual global military spending massively outstrips aid spending (pre-Iraq war figures: $800 billion as against $57 billion -- and only $10 billion on the UN) where the permanent members of the UN Security Council are also the world's biggest arms dealers, nuclear states and empire-builders who between them control most of the world's wealth, the need for a Human Security-based approach to international relations is more urgent than ever. 1

European context

Successive EU treaties since the Single European Act in 1987 have corroded independent foreign policy to the point where our military neutrality is virtually all we have left. Now there is the twin pressure of the accelerating militarisation of the EU, underway in earnest since the first reference to EU military co-operation and common defence appeared in the Maastricht Treaty. The subsequent treaties have built incrementally on this. These range from the establishment of the European Security and Defence Policy and the Rapid Reaction Force following the Amsterdam Treaty to the creation of command and control structures in which Ireland now participates, including an EU military command, as a result of the Nice Treaty. Now we are confronted with the EU federalist drive to use the next Treaty to reconstruct the EU as a military and economic superpower.

Despite all the denials, an EU Army is evolving in increments, and the Constitutional Treaty under negotiation will bring us measurably closer to this. The draft Article 40 enabling provisions direct that:-

• The EU shall frame a Common Defence Policy leading to a Common Defence;

• Common Defence can be the subject of "enhanced co-operation", or the sub-contracting of defence to a smaller group of states;

• Members shall contribute forces and improve military capabilities, and that the EU shall establish an EU Armaments Agency (the basis for an EU military industrial complex);

• Members shall be required to defend other members in case of attack and to cooperate with NATO in this (the so-called "solidarity clause).

Many of these next generation developments are already underway, Treaty or no Treaty, as they are being pursued by agreement in the EU Council. For example, while we don't yet have a new Treaty, we do have:--

• An EU military harmonisation deadline of 2010 and an agreement to establish the EU Armaments Agency;

• An agreed EU Security Doctrine that includes imperatives to increase military spending and an extension of the EU Rapid Reaction Force's Petersburg Tasks well beyond humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks to include military intervention to assist other states both within and outside the EU in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations;

• An EU-approved enhanced co-operation agreement on defence between the biggest, most powerful states France, Germany, and Britain.

The need for intervention to halt the momentum of EU militarisation has never been more urgent. Yet the Irish Government, on behalf of a supposedly neutral state, has done little if anything to oppose these developments, and has done even less to improve its negotiating position for the future in an EU that continues to be heavily dominated by NATO states even after enlargement in May 2004.

Domestic context

The Irish Government has repeatedly assured the Irish people that it supports neutrality. Their 2002 Programme for Government also specifically commits to UN primacy. But on many occasions since their election in 1997, this Government have both contradicted and violated their own stated policies.

Far from standing firm on Irish neutrality, they have steadily moved away from it:--

• In 1997 they joined NATO's Partnership for Peace despite promises to the contrary, and pre-election insistence on a referendum;

• They deployed the first Irish troops on NATO-led missions in Europe (SFOR in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1997 and KFOR in Kosovo in 1999);

• In 1999 they committed 850 Irish troops to the NATO-aligned EU Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), again without referendum;

• In 2001 they set the precedent of ministerial authorisation for war complicity without the assent of the Dáil in the case of the US-led war on Afghanistan;

• In 2001-2002 they refused to seek a legally binding neutrality Protocol to the Nice Treaty despite public outcry. They delivered instead a series of non-binding declarations. They delivered a Constitutional amendment which only guarantees that a referendum will be held in advance of joining an EU Common Defence. It is silent on neutrality and does not preclude other military alliances such as NATO;

• They told the Irish people to rely on their so-called "triple lock" requiring UN authorisation, Government decision and Dáil approval in advance of overseas troop commitments. But under the present conditions of Government majority it is effectively only a "double lock" since Government support carries every Dáil vote. In addition, it does not address the situation of other forms of assistance for war. It also allows for deployments with non-UN forces including the EU RRF and NATO.

• In 2002-2004 they involved the 26-Counties in supporting an illegal invasion of Iraq based on concocted evidence. In 2003 alone they allowed more than 3,500 military aircraft to overfly Irish airspace and well over 125,000 US troops to use Shannon Airport as a pit-stop on the way to the war build-up and to the invasion and occupation itself. They repeatedly denied this was so, and refused to put any decision before the Dáil until it was too late.

When questioned by Sinn Féin they claimed that the State does not need to conform to internationally accepted definitions of military neutrality and publicly signalled their intention to review the policy.

Far from asserting and supporting UN primacy, the Government have shifted the centre of their policy away from the UN and towards the EU:-

• In 1999 they expressed the first Irish support for a military action without a UN mandate (the NATO mission in Kosovo);

• They decided that Irish troops committed to the EU Rapid Reaction Force would be drawn from the same pool as the forces previously committed to UN Standby Arrangements System (UNSAS), thereby inevitably reducing the numbers available exclusively for UN-led missions;

• In 2000 the first ever White Paper on Defence broadened the mandate for international force deployment to include deployment with non-UN forces;

• Now the Irish Government have admitted that they support the provisions of the draft EU Constitutional Treaty that will further militarise the EU and enable development of an EU Common Defence.

In sum, the Government have compromised Irish UN commitments through their EU commitment, exploited loopholes in the Defence Acts to allow for Irish Defence Forces to serve in non-UN missions, and more recently said that a UN mandate "may no longer be necessary" for the deployment of Irish Defence Forces overseas.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that 26 county state is no longer a neutral state, and that the Fianna Fáil-PD Government have pursued a covert policy to incrementally abandon the twin policies of neutrality and UN primacy in favour of increased pooling of sovereignty in security and defence at EU-level.

At a time of belt-tightening in healthcare and education, the Government plans to squander €100 million in property divestment revenues on retooling the Defence Forces to make them EU- and NATO-compliant -- a requirement which will also demand an enhanced level of military spending in future.

Yet when questioned on the implications of their policies for neutrality, they flatly deny that there are any implications whatsoever.

Meanwhile, the emergent "caring coalition" do not present an obvious alternative because their defence policies are totally incompatible with one another. Fine Gael have declared their outright opposition to the policy of neutrality and their support for joining an EU Common Defence, and have tabled legislation to show they mean business. Labour does support constitutional neutrality in some form, and with the other left parties they supported the Sinn Féin Neutrality amendment in 2003.2 But there are worrying contradictions in Labour's position. Specifically, their support for an EU defence role (including Irish participation in the EU Rapid Reaction Force) in order to create an EU military counterbalance to the US is not only a throwback it is also a dead-end, a recipe for a rehash of Cold War bipolarism and resulting global instability. In any event the argument is fundamentally flawed in that it fails to take account of the close link between the EU and NATO (a nuclear alliance), the EU's continuing dependence on NATO in defence terms, NATO's insistence on compatibility and the degree to which EU-NATO decoupling threatens NATO, who will not allow it. This isolates the Green Party as the only partner supporting neutrality and opposing Irish military involvement with the EU. In the event of a Fine Gael/Labour/Green Party Government, it is not at all clear which policy on neutrality and EU Common Defence would win out.

The massive popular opposition to the war on Iraq -- including one of the largest street mobilisations in Irish history -- emphatically demonstrated that the Irish public cares about neutrality and wants an alternative to present Irish government policy. We support comprehensive and universal demilitarisation of conflict, and conflict resolution through negotiation and social change and our long-standing commitment to neutrality as an essential component of an independent international relations policy. Sinn Féin is committed to delivering this change.

Independence and Military Neutrality --

Core Republican Principles

Sinn Féin's support for neutrality is the product of a developed and coherent republican position stretching back over 200 years of Irish history.

The sovereignty of the people and national self-determination includes the freedom to determine one's relationship with other nations. From the beginning, Irish republicans have identified an independent foreign policy as one of the essential characteristics of the independent Irish state to which we aspire. It has always been a fundamental demand of those struggling for Irish freedom. Over time, military neutrality became the cornerstone of this expression of policy independence.

The demand for Irish neutrality in foreign wars became part of the republican lexicon because at key moments in our history the British Government attempted to coerce the Irish nation into support for imperial wars. Poverty forced many thousands of Irish youth to join the British Army where they provided cannon fodder for every imperial conflagration from the Napoleonic wars to the First World War. We as a nation became involved in these conflicts against our interests and against our will. This experience underlined the need to decide our own destiny in the community of nations, and thus became one of the prime motivating factors in our long struggle for independence.

Contrary to what some presume, the Irish impulse to neutrality well-predates the Second World War. One of the first political acts of the founder of Irish republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone, was to call for Irish neutrality in the face of an impending war between Britain and Spain. At the start of the last century, Arthur Griffith, who went on to found Sinn Féin, co-founded the Irish Neutrality Association with James Connolly and others, to make the case that the war between Britain and the Boers -- a war that was fundamentally about the British Government seizing control of South Africa's mineral resources -- was not in the interests of the Irish people. James Connolly also argued vigorously for a policy of neutrality during the First World War. As such he was one of the few socialist leaders in Europe who refused to be beguiled by jingoism into backing the conflict. When the Irish political establishment was offering support for British imperialism, republicans and socialists campaigned against involvement in that war -- just as today when the Government supports the use of Irish airspace and facilities by the world's only superpower, republicans have stood with others in opposing this.

This is not to say that Sinn Féin is a pacifist political party. Consistent with the principles of international law, we believe that the use of force can sometimes be necessary as a last resort to prevent the deaths of others or the oppression of peoples. Sinn Féin make no apologies for having recognised the right of the Irish people to use force against the British occupation, the right of the ANC to use force against the undemocratic South African Government, or that of other genuine liberation struggles such as the East Timorese. We continue to support the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves against Israeli aggression. Support for struggles for democratic self-determination and support for military neutrality are entirely consistent positions.

Our position on neutrality is also wholly consistent with our demilitarisation agenda. We aspire to the comprehensive demilitarisation of conflict both here and elsewhere. We believe that to be effective, demilitarisation cannot be one-sided. However, demilitarisation in and of itself is also not enough to eliminate conflict, or to prevent future escalations or spirals. Effectiveness demands that non-violent, democratic political alternatives are made an active, viable option for aggrieved parties and peoples. This is the republican analysis, and it has many implications for both domestic and international policy.

Towards a Policy of Positive Neutrality in Action

Sinn Féin does not support Irish involvement in standing military alliances of any kind. We oppose involvement in NATO. We believe that there is no legitimate role for the European Union in military and defence matters, which should be left to individual states. International peacekeeping and conflict resolution should happen under the auspices of the United Nations. We are fully committed to "UN primacy" in this regard.

The policy we propose is "positive" in the sense of proposing constructive alternatives to militarism and to military alliances. It goes beyond "just saying no" to membership in formal military alliances.

For us neutrality also does not stop with non-membership of military alliances. It goes further. It means taking fuller responsibility by refusing to facilitate international conflict in any way. The policy therefore proposes "neutrality" in keeping with the minimum international definition common to other neutral states, that is, upholding the rights and duties defined in the Hague Convention.3 Article 2 forbids the movement of foreign troops or convoys of munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral state. Article 3 forbids the establishment of foreign military installations. Article 4 forbids foreign recruitment of combatants. Article 5 instructs that it is the responsibility of the neutral state to ensure that no acts under Articles 2-4 occur on its territory. So for Sinn Féin "neutrality" also includes non-collusion with belligerents. In our view, it must also preclude direct contribution to foreign conflicts through trade (for example: the arms trade, trade in dual-use goods that can be used for torture and other human rights violations, the trade in conflict diamonds, etc).

The policy we propose involves "action" in the sense that it requires committed promotion of these principles and of non-military instruments for conflict prevention and resolution at every available opportunity. In keeping with the republican spirit, it is a campaigning approach that goes beyond the lip service of other parties.

Defining "Positive Neutrality in Action"

The policy of "Positive Neutrality in Action" is equally well defined by what it is not, as much as by what it is.

What it is NOT

• Pacifism -- We accept that the use of force can sometimes be necessary as a last resort to prevent the deaths of others or the oppression of peoples.

• Ambivalence or apathy about conflicts and crises -- We believe that Ireland should be actively engaged in conflict resolution.

• Isolationism, disengagement, or "free rider-ism" (i.e. happy to benefit from the protection of others but not willing to reciprocate) -- We believe that Ireland should play a full and active part in the United Nations, including in its collective security and peacekeeping role.

We emphatically do not accept the argument that neutrality equals "defencelessness". No one could characterise the heavily militarised but neutral Switzerland as defenceless. On the other hand, neither military alliance nor military might protected the United States from the unprecedented 11 September attacks. This argument is a red herring.

What it IS

1. A commitment to the right to national self-determination, and a recognition that this right is not absolute but rather is subject to the constraints of international law. This involves:-

• A preference for dialogue, negotiation, co-operation and participatory democratic reform, coupled with a recognition that there are cases where a specific and limited application of force -- within the confines of international norms, guided by international law, and under conditions of international legitimacy -- may be justified. For example, the international community has a responsibility to act to prevent genocide;

• A recognition that no single state or limited group of states has the right to impose their will over other states through military force or other means;

• A recognition of the necessity for international consensus at UN level on military intervention;

• A refusal to co-operate with belligerents acting without United Nations authorisation for the use of force;

• A willingness to participate actively in international peacekeeping operations under UN auspices (reflecting international consensus on the need for action).

2. An acceptance that "Human Security" is the most appropriate doctrine to guide the policy. This involves:

• A fully inclusive sense of global justice and solidarity that balances respect for international norms including human rights, state sovereignty, and respect for all peoples;

• A recognition that injustice, inequality and discrimination are at the core of many conflicts around the world, and that in such cases conflict resolution will require grievance redress and reform;

• A commitment to harness the political will to eliminate the primary sources of human insecurity: hunger, poverty, disease, debt, inequality, dependence, domination, exploitation, dictatorship, state-clientelism, torture, abuse, and other systemic sources of suffering;

• An active commitment to global social justice, freedom and rights, grounded in a belief in equality and a desire to divert more resources, including human ingenuity, away from profiteering and war and towards the realisation of a better world where all human needs are met;

• A vision of truly common, integrated security, predicated on a refusal to see state security as superior to the security of people, or our own security as ultimately separate from the security of others;

• A recognition of the need for global co-ordination and global solutions to the problem of human insecurity.

3. A willingness to assert Ireland's rights and responsibilities as a neutral state. This involves:-

• A refusal to get drawn in to military conflicts as a result of standing military alliances or mutual defence pacts;

• Ending Irish involvement in conflicts by refusing to allow the island to be used as a military base for refuelling warplanes or civilian flights carrying troops to the theatre;

• Enforcing the law banning military overflights and stop-overs;

• Ending Irish profit from war, and introducing human rights-proofing of all government spending and subsidies;

• Ending involvement in the arms trade and instituting adequate and fully transparent export controls on dual-use goods;

• Promotion of the demilitarisation of conflict and challenging militarisation;

• Active campaigning for universal nuclear disarmament and for the permanent destruction of all stocks of weapons of mass destruction -- including those held by the NATO states -- under UN supervision;

• Active contribution to conflict resolution through dialogue, fully inclusive negotiation, and managed social change directed towards the causes of conflict;

• Pursuit of (non-military) alliances with other progressive neutral states, with those nations struggling with the legacy of colonialism, and with all those peoples within states struggling against social and political oppression and economic exploitation, and for recognition of their common rights;

• Full compliance with all international instruments and agreed norms;

• Active promotion of UN primacy;

• Active promotion of UN reform and capacity-building;

• A commitment to democracy and full inclusion at the both lowest and highest levels of human political organisation.

Defining "Positive Neutrality in Action"

The policy of "Positive Neutrality in Action" is equally well defined by what it is not, as much as by what it is.

What it is NOT

• Pacifism -- We accept that the use of force can sometimes be necessary as a last resort to prevent the deaths of others or the oppression of peoples.

• Ambivalence or apathy about conflicts and crises -- We believe that Ireland should be actively engaged in conflict resolution.

• Isolationism, disengagement, or "free rider-ism" (i.e. happy to benefit from the protection of others but not willing to reciprocate) -- We believe that Ireland should play a full and active part in the United Nations, including in its collective security and peacekeeping role.

We emphatically do not accept the argument that neutrality equals "defencelessness". No one could characterise the heavily militarised but neutral Switzerland as defenceless. On the other hand, neither military alliance nor military might protected the United States from the unprecedented 11 September attacks. This argument is a red herring.

What it IS

1. A commitment to the right to national self-determination, and a recognition that this right is not absolute but rather is subject to the constraints of international law. This involves:-

• A preference for dialogue, negotiation, co-operation and participatory democratic reform, coupled with a recognition that there are cases where a specific and limited application of force -- within the confines of international norms, guided by international law, and under conditions of international legitimacy -- may be justified. For example, the international community has a responsibility to act to prevent genocide;

• A recognition that no single state or limited group of states has the right to impose their will over other states through military force or other means;

• A recognition of the necessity for international consensus at UN level on military intervention;

• A refusal to co-operate with belligerents acting without United Nations authorisation for the use of force;

• A willingness to participate actively in international peacekeeping operations under UN auspices (reflecting international consensus on the need for action).

2. An acceptance that "Human Security" is the most appropriate doctrine to guide the policy. This involves:

• A fully inclusive sense of global justice and solidarity that balances respect for international norms including human rights, state sovereignty, and respect for all peoples;

• A recognition that injustice, inequality and discrimination are at the core of many conflicts around the world, and that in such cases conflict resolution will require grievance redress and reform;

• A commitment to harness the political will to eliminate the primary sources of human insecurity: hunger, poverty, disease, debt, inequality, dependence, domination, exploitation, dictatorship, state-clientelism, torture, abuse, and other systemic sources of suffering;

• An active commitment to global social justice, freedom and rights, grounded in a belief in equality and a desire to divert more resources, including human ingenuity, away from profiteering and war and towards the realisation of a better world where all human needs are met;

• A vision of truly common, integrated security, predicated on a refusal to see state security as superior to the security of people, or our own security as ultimately separate from the security of others;

• A recognition of the need for global co-ordination and global solutions to the problem of human insecurity.

3. A willingness to assert Ireland's rights and responsibilities as a neutral state. This involves:-

• A refusal to get drawn in to military conflicts as a result of standing military alliances or mutual defence pacts;

• Ending Irish involvement in conflicts by refusing to allow the island to be used as a military base for refuelling warplanes or civilian flights carrying troops to the theatre;

• Enforcing the law banning military overflights and stop-overs;

• Ending Irish profit from war, and introducing human rights-proofing of all government spending and subsidies;

• Ending involvement in the arms trade and instituting adequate and fully transparent export controls on dual-use goods;

• Promotion of the demilitarisation of conflict and challenging militarisation;

• Active campaigning for universal nuclear disarmament and for the permanent destruction of all stocks of weapons of mass destruction -- including those held by the NATO states -- under UN supervision;

• Active contribution to conflict resolution through dialogue, fully inclusive negotiation, and managed social change directed towards the causes of conflict;

• Pursuit of (non-military) alliances with other progressive neutral states, with those nations struggling with the legacy of colonialism, and with all those peoples within states struggling against social and political oppression and economic exploitation, and for recognition of their common rights;

• Full compliance with all international instruments and agreed norms;

• Active promotion of UN primacy;

• Active promotion of UN reform and capacity-building;

• A commitment to democracy and full inclusion at the both lowest and highest levels of human political organisation.

Conclusion

Sinn Féin believes that true security is universal, and based on social justice, fully meeting human needs, and respecting human rights and human equality.

We support full foreign policy independence, underpinned by support for UN primacy and complemented by Positive Neutrality in Action. We believe that neutrality must be enshrined in the Constitution. We see our commitment to demilitarisation of the EU and universal nuclear disarmament as an extension of our commitment to fully demilitarise the conflict on this island.

Positive Neutrality in Action is not about sitting on the fence. It is not about taking no action. It is not about pacifism. It is about actively promoting and participating in conflict resolution, demilitarisation, and making politics work to redress legitimate grievances and achieve needed social changes -- at both state and international levels.

Sinn Féin recognises that militarisation does not increase security because the biggest threats to security presently are not military threats; they are poverty, hunger, disease, and injustice. Therefore, our policy of Positive Neutrality in Action recognises the need to adopt a wholistic "Human Security" approach -- which means understanding, confronting, and redressing the social, political and economic roots of conflict, including the structural roots.

Sinn Féin also recognises the urgent need for UN reform and a return to the primacy of the UN system, which has been undermined. For all its shortcomings, it remains the most globally representative and inclusive international forum and therefore our best prospect for international peace. We reject both standing military alliances and unilateral action in international relations in favour of collective action at UN level.

We also oppose in principle the outsourcing of peacekeeping to regional groupings such as the EU. This is a negative development that both undermines the development of UN peacekeeping by rendering it redundant and encourages the creation and consolidation of regional military alliances -- the very phenomenon that the UN was formed to render obsolete.

Building capacity in a reformed UN, so that it is able to take on the missions that are necessary, so that it can respond early and proactively to prevent genocide, for example, should be a global policy priority. We believe that the creation of an EU Army and the focus on EU Defence undermines this project by diverting energy and resources that should rightfully go directly to the UN system.

These principles and beliefs outlined above have informed Sinn Féin's policy of Positive Neutrality in Action. It is our belief that if Ireland followed this policy our nation could make a highly significant contribution towards the long-held global objective of international peace with justice, and towards the achievement of Human Security, to which everyone has a right.

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Commenting on the latest revelations of tax evasion by senior AIB executives, Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:

"It is a scandal that AIB, with the other banks, has benefitted hugely from the Government's cut in Corporation Tax from 16% to 12.5%. AIB made a profit of 1,375 million euro in 2002- the highest ever recorded for an Irish company. Now we are told senior executives have been evading tax.

"Every day brings new revelations about how AIB has ripped off its customers, that it has been doing so for many years, and that it has done so with impunity.Now we have revelations of tax evasion by senior executives using an in-house AIB account.

"The initial estimate for overcharging of foreign exchange customers was 14 million euro - then it was in excess of 25 million and the estimates continue to grow. Last week we saw that purchasers of travellers cheques were charged 1.5% more than they should have been. Then we learned that between 500 and 600 mortgage holders have been paying up to 50 euro extra per month for the past four years without their approval in yet another rip-off of customers by AIB.

"Protections for bank customers and the sanctions for banks are totally inadequate. What action will the government now take to strengthen consumer

protection and to combat this form of white-collar crime?" ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for Dublin south central Aengus Ó Snodaigh today in the Dáil took to task the Minister for State with responsibility for drugs Noel Ahern calling for his resignation over his failure to address the needs and concerns of the drugs taskforces.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"This Government produced a National Drugs Strategy in 2001 for the period to 2008. Yet, there have been no funding commitments made to the Drugs Task Forces for the last two years, since this Government‚s mandate was renewed in 2002. This has paralysed the Drugs Task Forces. They need allocated budgets as a matter of urgency. Inexplicably, the Regional Drugs Taskforces outside Dublin have not received any money yet.

"While I recognise the good work that local groups do to tackle the drugs crisis, the Government cannot claim credit for this. Minister Ahern has failed to address the specific concerns I have raised today. Despite all the evidence of a growing crisis in cocaine use in the country, the Drugs Taskforces are still waiting for a mandate to develop and provide specific, appropriate and effective programmes for cocaine users. The situation demands urgent and reasoned action backed by adequate resources, but the Government is stalling, obviously having learned nothing from the heroin epidemic that convulsed this city in the recent past. We have a situation where community groups now have to lay off valuable workers because of lack of funding or funding frozen for these vital programmes. This Minister is an utter disgrace for the lack of priority he has given this urgent issue. It is despicable to find that the sum total of monies received by all 14 Drugs Taskforces - €63 million equals that given to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. He should resign immediately so that community groups can regain confidence in measures required to tackle the existing drugs problem.

"The Government obviously exploited the media hype about the drugs crisis, produced another in its series of strategies that promise much but go nowhere, garnered its votes accordingly, and then cynically put that strategy on a dusty shelf with all the others, in total disregard of the ongoing suffering of individuals, families and communities, particularly in working class areas such as those I represent in the South Inner City."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Economy Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has expressed concern at the huge increase in the number of business failures and called for a greater focus on the needs of small and medium enterprises.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Evidence that business failures have increased by a third and bankruptcies by almost 70% so far this year should send shockwaves throughout the Six Counties. This level of business failure and bankruptcy is not sustainable. It highlights an absolute failure in government policy.

"It is particularly worrying that it appears that the small and medium enterprises (SME‚s) sector, that is so important in terms of local economic activity and local jobs which are vital to local communities and rural areas, is facing real difficulties.

"There is been a total failure in dealing with the problems that this increasingly important sector is facing. The increase in retail collapses also highlight a very difficult future for the small business sector unless something is done now.

"Increases in business rates, high energy costs, spiralling insurance premiums, poor planning and a lack of a strategic focus on the needs of this sector have contributed significantly to this worrying trend."ENDS

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South Down Sinn Féin Assembly member Caitriona Ruane has accused the SDLP MPs Eddie McGrady and Seamus Mallon of playing 'little more than a unionist support role in Westminster'.

Ms Ruane said:

"Yesterday once again both Eddie McGrady and Seamus Mallon provided a valuable support role for leading rejectionist unionist David Burnside in Westminster. They rowed in behind Burnside's false allegations about Sinn Féin in contributions littered with typical unionist language.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that both Seamus Mallon and Eddie McGrady are playing little more than a unionist support role in Westminster. Be it in accepting flawed policing legislation, attacking the largest nationalist party in the six counties or defending the role of the IMC in criminalising local nationalist communities both MPs have provided an invaluable support for the rejectionist agenda of the Burnside's and Donaldson's.

"This is a far cry from the days when they claimed to be resident in Westminster to promote and defend nationalist interests. They have now clearly dropped any pretence to be standing up for the rights and entitlements of the nationalist population and have instead adopted a contrary position." ENDS

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