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


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Sinn Féin T.D. Arthur Morgan today questioned the decision by an Post to downgrade Clonakilty Post Office from a branch office to a sub office. Speaking following the presentation by the Clonakilty Post Office Committee to the

Committee for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Deputy Morgan urged An Post to reverse what he termed a disgraceful decision.

Deputy Morgan said

"The decision by an Post to "re-designate" i.e. downgrade the post office in Clonakilty from a branch office to a sub office in inexplicable. This very busy Post Office, based in the fastest growing town in County Cork, is set to experience a significant increase in business with the proposed re-location of part of BIM and a section of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to the town. That this expanding town should face a downgrading of its post office services raises many questions. An Post needs to respond to allegations that the central motivation for downgrading this viable branch office is the possibility of selling the premises.

"The decision with respect to Clonakilty Post Office is representative of what is happening in many parts of the State where local communities face loosing vital services provided through the post office. Sinn Féin is fully supportive of the campaign to retain the current status of Clonakilty Post Office and supports the vital role that the local post office plays in most rural communities. ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD was this evening highly critical of the decision to create additional three seat constituencies in Dublin, Meath, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim. He said the loss of five seat constituencies will favour the establishment parties and prevent the emergence of new voices in Irish politics, making the Dáil even less representative than it is today."

Deputy Morgan said: "Given the constraints placed on the Constituency Commission by the 1997 Electoral Act, which limits constituencies to a maximum of five seats, there are few surprises in today's report.

"However, the decision to increase the number of three seat constituencies and decrease the number of five seat constituencies is a backward step. It is something, which will favour the establishment parties and prevent the emergence of new voices in Irish politics, making the Dáil even less representative that it currently is.

"Sinn Féin, in our submission, called for a return to larger constituencies, as the number of members returned per constituency is a crucial component of our electoral system. We believe that a wider political spectrum is more democratic and more representative. It is disappointing that such a position was not adopted.

"Today's report is good news for the establishment parties and bad news for representative democracy. Despite this Sinn Féin is confident that the electorate will continue to support radical voices in Irish politics." ENDS

The full report will be available at www.constituency-commission.ie

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Donegal Sinn Féin Chairperson and EU candidate, Pearse Doherty, has welcomed the decision taken by the Parents Committee of Gortahork National School, that children will return to class on Monday if certain immediate health and safety concerns are met.

Responding to this morning statement from the Parents Committee, Mr Doherty said:

Today's decision must be welcomed, as it is in everyones interest that these children are educated, but this education must be delivered in a safe environment that is acceptable to all parties - Teachers, Parents, Pupils, and the Department.

"Therefore this window of opportunity that has been created by the parents decision must be seized upon, and all effort made to ensure that between now and Monday that the concerns that have been raised in relation to the health and safety of their children are addressed. The Department of Education must make the necessary funds available to the Board of Management in order for them to tackle these problems.

"This decision also provides Minister Dempsey the chance to right the wrongs of the past. There is no doubt that this school should have been included in this year's school building programme. The additional schools that are to be announced by the Minister for inclusion in the programme, at the end of the month, must include Gortahork national School.

"A request has been formally made by myself, on behalf of the Parents Committee, to Minister Dempsey that he meet with a delegation of the Parents committee without delay. This will be re-iterated by my party colleague Deputy Sean Crowe when he meets the Minister at 2 pm today. ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has again repeated his party's opposition to the International Monitoring Commission which is established today. Mr Maskey said that the IMC 'ran totally contrary to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement'

Mr Maskey said:

"The International Monitoring Commission which comes into effect today is completely outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and will be used as a smokescreen to justify arbitrary acts of exclusion by the British government.

"Many nationalists are angered by the fact that the two governments have proceeded with this measure which is outside the terms of the Agreement while choosing to stall on their commitments across a range of issues including policing, demiltarisation, human rights and equality.

"The powers of exclusion which are now being granted to the British Secretary of State contradict democratic norms and contravene the rights of the electorate." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Anti-Poverty Spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton has welcomed comments from the architect of the Barnett Formula, that is used to work out the block grant allocated to the Six Counties, that the formula is out of date, is not based upon need and called has for a replacement of the formula to ensure that we get a fairer block grant that reflects the levels of need that exist here.

Ms Stanton said:

"Poverty is a key issue in the Six Counties. Nearly 40% of our young people live in poverty and young families, particularly lone parent families and our elderly all face significant level of risk in terms of living in poverty. Clearly we have failed to define a strategy for tackling and eradicating poverty.

"I welcome the comments from the architect of the Barnett formula, that is used to allocate our block grant and therefore determine our overall level of expenditure, that the formula does not reflect need and should be replaced. Sinn Féin have consistently argued that the Barnett formula is unfair and that it fails to recognise the levels of need that exists here. It was Sinn Féin that insisted that a challenge to the Barnett formula was included in the Programme for Government.

"Within a number of departments we have already carried substantial work to define need through the Needs and Effectiveness Evaluations. It is time for the Barnett formula to go. Direct rule Ministers must continue with the commitments in the Programme for Government that Sinn Fein secured.

"In essence the Barnett formula means that in successive budgets we have received a smaller increase in expenditure than we need. If you factor in the levels of poverty here and the geographical and social profile of the Six Counties we are getting a very bad deal from the British Exchequer. If we are going to tackle poverty then the resources we have available must reflect the real situation on the ground. This is not a sterile debate about numbers it is about the human face of poverty and the impact it has on people's lives." ENDS

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Commenting on allegations made today in the Belfast High Court concerning the role of missing Armagh man Gareth O'Connor in the arrests of four men in Tyrone, Sinn Féin representative for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy demanded that the British State disclose the full facts and do not hide behind a public interest immunity certificate.

Mr Murphy said:

"This morning in the High Court in Belfast it was alleged that missing Armagh man Gareth O'Connor was a paid PSNI agent who was involved in setting up four other men for arrest. It has now emerged that the British State intend to apply for a Public Interest Immunity Certificate in order to suppress information regarding this matter.

"In the past the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has made public comment on this man's disappearance. He made a number of allegations claiming IRA involvement in this without providing any evidence. Others have subsequently ran with this line despite a statement from the IRA categorically denying any involvement in the matter.

"In light of today's revelations Hugh Orde has a duty to lift the lid on this entire case. I am demanding that he disclose the full facts surrounding this case and does not hide behind a Public Interest Immunity Certificate." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin has called on the government to use increased revenues to provide more social housing in 2004 and to reverse cutbacks in the Rent Allowance scheme. Commenting on the exchequer figures which show tax revenues coming in €450 million ahead of target, Deputy Ó Caoláin said there was "either a serious flaw in how the exchequer figures are calculated or there has been manipulation of the figures".

The Sinn Féin Dáil leader said:

"These are a remarkable set of figures but hardly surprising given past experience. The Minister for Finance promised no cutbacks before the last General Election but shortly afterwards it was revealed that plans for €900 million in public spending cuts were being prepared in his Department. Cuts were duly imposed on both subsequent budgets.

"The substantial increases in both Stamp Duty and Capital Gains Tax now shown in the Exchequer figures are primarily being put down to the so-called buoyant housing and property market. I don‚t believe the Government should be taking any credit at all for this.

"It is clear that far from addressing the chronic housing crisis that has existed over the lifetime of this and the previous FF/PD Coalition, the Government have been content to preside over spiralling house prices in a market designed to benefit speculators and landlords. The Government now has a moral obligation to use increased revenues from this speculative and inflated market to increase the supply of social housing. It should also immediately reverse the cuts and restrictions in the Rent Allowance scheme which are driving people into homelessness."ENDS

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Speaking this afternoon in advance of the launch of the International Monitoring Commission tomorrow, Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that 'the IMC is outside the terms of the Agreement and its powers contradict democratic norms'.

Mr Murphy said:

"The International Monitoring Commission is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It is ironic that the only aspect of the Joint Declaration which the two governments have advanced upon is the IMC. They have repeatedly failed to implement their commitments on policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality, all of which are within the terms of the Agreement.

"The legislation gives the power of exclusion to the British Secretary of State. Such powers contradict the democratic norms and the rights of the electorate. Indeed the British Secretary of State who has been given these powers is himself in breach of the Agreement by virtue of his refusal to lift the suspension of the political institutions.

"Successive British Secretaries of State have suspended the Assembly on four occasions, at the behest of unionism. Nobody should be in any doubt that the additional powers given to the British Secretary of State will be used similarly.

"The IMC reports will be based upon information supplied by securocrats. The IMC will be no more than a smokescreen to validate arbitrary acts of exclusion by the British Secretary of State." ENDS

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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

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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

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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

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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.

MrDoherty said:

"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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

He said:

"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

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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

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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

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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

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