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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 MLA for South Belfast Alex Maskey is travelling to the Basque Country this weekend to attend a conference on conflict resolution and the need for multi party talks. Speaking prior to his departure Mr. Maskey said: "I welcome the opportunity to travel to the Basque Country this weekendú and to discuss Sinn Féin's experience of conflict resolution and the need for a peace process to be established. Sinn Féin supports efforts within the Basque Country to establish such a process and believes that such moves should be responded to positively and supported by the international community."

Mr. Maskey said:

"Following the Good Friday Agreement Gerry Adams travelled to the Basque Country and the message that he brought was the need for a peace process to be established and that it was essential that it be on the basis of equality, not criminalisation and exclusion.

"All of us share a responsibility to address conflict and injustice and in particular Irish republicans have sought to share our experience of conflict resolution and the lessons, which we have learned with others, just as we learned much from the ANC in South Africa.

"Sinn Féin believes that all sections of Basque nationalism want to seriously engage in a peace process. If dialogue can work in Ireland it can work in the Basque Country.

"I welcome the opportunity to travel to the Basque Country this weekend and to attend this conference ú which will be attended by political parties, churches, trade unions and peace groups. I will outline to the conference Sinn Féin's experience of conflict resolution and the need for a peace process to be established. Sinn Féin supports efforts within the Basque Country to establish such a process and believe that such moves should be responded to positively and supported by the international community." ENDS

Note:

The conference, which is being organised by Batasuna, will be attended by:

PNV (Partido Nationalista Vasco), EA (Eusko Alkartaguna), Udalbiltza - group of elected representatives, Elkarri - group made up of peace groups and the Churches who have sponsored round table discussions of all parties in the Basque Country, LAB and ELA - Basque Trade Unions

The day-long conference will address conflict resolution, multi-party talks and nation building.

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Sinn Féin will be holding more than 100 Easter commemorations throughout the country this Sunday and Monday. Please see below for a list of the main commemorations - dates, locations and speakers.

Sunday 11 April Easter Commemorations

Belfast - Assemble 1.00pm Beechmont Avenue. Main Speaker: Bairbre de Brun MLA

Cork City - Assemble 2.30pm National Monument. Main Speaker: Mitchel Mclaughlin MLA

Crossmaglen, Armagh - Assemble 10.30am Rangers Hall. Main Speaker: Arthur Morgan TD

Derry City - Assemble 2.30pm Bogside Inn. Main Speaker: Gerry Kelly MLA

Donegal - Assemble 3.00pm Johnson's Corner, Drumboe. Main Speaker: Pearse Doherty, North-West EU candidate

Dublin - Assemble 1.30pm Garden of Remembrance. Main Speaker: Gerry Adams MP/MLA

Dundalk - Assemble 12.00pm Memorial statue. Main Speaker: John Dwyer East EU candidate

Fermanagh - Assemble 2.30pm St. Aidan's High School, Derrylin. Main Speaker: Michelle Gildernew MP/MLA

Galway city - Assemble 3.00pm Liam Mellow's Statue,Eyre Square. Main Speaker: Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Kerry - Assemble 3.00pm Denny Street, Tralee. Main Speaker: David Cullinane, South EU candidate

Mayo - Assemble 10.00am Dookinella Church, Achill. Main Speaker: Caitríona Ruane MLA

Monaghan Town - Assemble 2.45 O'Hanlon memorial, Clones Road. Main Speaker: Pat O'Rawe

Sligo - Assemble 3.00pm City Hall. Main Speaker: Anne Brolly, Limavady Mayor

Tipperary - Assemble 3.00pm Banbasa, Nenagh. Main Speaker: Ella O'Dwyer, Ard Comhairle member

Tyrone - Assemble 3.30pm Memorial Garden, Carrickmore. Main Speaker: Martin McGuinness MP

Waterford City - Assemble 2.45pm The Glen. Main Speaker: Martin Ferris TD

Monday 12 April Easter Commemorations

Derry- Assemble 2.30pm The Diamond, Swatragh. Main Speaker: Martina

Anderson, Ard Comhairle member

Downpatrick - Assemble 6.00pm SF Office. Main Speaker: Bairbre de Brun MLA

Dublin - Assemble 2.30pm Baker's Corner, Dun Laoighaire. Main Speaker: Mary

Lou McDonald, Dublin EU candidate

Galway - Assemble 1.00pm Teach Piarsigh, Connemara. Main Speaker: Pearse

Doherty, North West EU candidate

N.Belfast - Assemble 11.30am Marsden Gardens, Newington. Main Speaker:

Francie Brolly MLA

Tyrone- Assemble 2.30pm Diamond Corner, Ardboe. Main Speaker: Geraldine

Duggan MLA

Wexford - Assemble 2.15pm Templeshannon Quay. Main Speaker: John Dwyer, East

EU candidate

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Daithí Doolan, has publicly endorsed the campaign to unionise home helps throughout the state. Speaking following a meeting with SIPTU, Mr. Doolan said, "The Invisible No More Campaign is aimed at unionising the home help industry in this state and we endorse it fully."

Mr. Doolan said:

"Following a very productive meeting with SIPTU officials we have given the campaign our full backing. Sinn Féin will actively support this campaign at both local and government level. It is a disgrace that up to 15,000 workers are still not unionised in this industry.

"The aim of the campaign is to ensure that everybody involved in the home help industry has the opportunity to join a union. In this way home helps can be ensured that their pay and conditions should reflect the skill, effort and commitment of their work. For far too long those involved in this work have been seen as volunteers or in fact in most cases they work was not recognised at all. This campaign aims to change that and with the proper cross party support it will succeed.

"The government, in particular Mary Harney to reverse the savage cuts in home help hours imposed on health boards following budgetary cuts. The home help service provided needs to be recognised, strengthened and supported not attacked by this government."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has welcomed the decision of Phoenix Natural Gas to freeze the proposed 20% price increase for 2 months. Ms Gildernew said:

"This decision is welcome. It creates the space to properly explore all of the relevant issues surrounding this decision. Many questions still need to be answered.

"There is obviously a need for Phoenix to agree a long-term deal with the Regulator over gas transmission, distribution and supply which would guarantee price stability in the gas industry for the foreseeable future. There must be a long term commitment to develop a reasonably priced gas industry in the north of Ireland and indeed throughout the island of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East Daithí Doolan has called on people to ignore unfounded media hype and spin and take part in May Day protests and said that 'Similar efforts to discredit peaceful protests are a hallmark of media coverage of such events'. Speaking at a press conference held in the Earl of Kildare Hotel this morning and organised by Another Europe is Possible, Mr Doolan said the protests were not against expansion, but against the 'kind of EU we are building' and that Sinn Féin was 'opposed to a Europe written on terms dictated by big business and corporate lobbyists.'

Mr Doolan said: "There has been a lot of unfounded hysteria in the media about the protests planned for May Day. Similar efforts to discredit peaceful protests are a hallmark of media coverage of such events.

"But the media has given very little coverage to what the protests are actually about. People have suggested it is a protest against expansion, against letting in the new countries. On the contrary, we support expansion, but we, new member states and old, need to have a debate about the kind of EU that we are building.

"Sinn Féin firmly believes another Europe is possible. One where 55 million men, women and children are not living in poverty, where vital public services are not open to privatisation and where the ongoing militarisation of the EU and erosion of Irish neutrality is halted, and reversed. People accuse us of being anti-EU, when in fact we‚re simply opposed to a Europe written on terms dictated by big business and corporate lobbyists. I am calling on people to see through the hype and the spin and turn out to the march and carnival on May Day." ENDS

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In an initial response to the publication today of the DUP proposals on the All-Ireland arrangements, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said:

"The idea of long fingering a referendum on Irish Unity for 30 years is totally unacceptable. It runs contrary to the terms of the Agreement and is a non starter.

"All-Ireland arrangements are an immutable political reality. If today‚s announcement from the DUP marks an acceptance of that then they need to engage in direct dialogue with Sinn Féin.

"The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people of Ireland, north and south. The Agreement will not be re-negotiated and is the benchmark for any proposals the DUP make." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Daithí Doolan, will tonight address the launch of the Ringsend and District Response to Drugs annual report. Speaking ahead of tonight's launch Mr. Doolan said:

"The launch of this report marks an important development in Dublin's battle against the scourge of drugs. After 20 years of tackling heroin we now have to deal with the arrival of cocaine on our doorsteps. While many of us have been to the fore in tackling both the causes and consequences of heroin in our communities, we now have to redouble our efforts if we are to ensure cocaine does not take a foothold in this city. But we need a concerted commitment from this current government to work with us and not against us as they so often have in the past.

Tonight's launch allows us to give recognition to the work people in this part of the inner city who have continuously battled against heroin addiction and offered hope and help to those families who needed it. We can now proudly say we have one of the most successful community based treatment and rehabilitation services anywhere in Dublin. The Paul Spellman Centre offers a wide range of services to this community and is an example to the whole of Dublin of how we managed to turn a tragedy that is heroin addiction in to a beacon of hope for hundreds of people."

The launch will take place at Clanna Gael GAA Club, Sean Moore Road, Ringsend, Dublin 4. Also in attendance will be Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform Michael McDowell.

Mr. Doolan concluded by calling on, "The government to ensure no community or service is left without adequate support or resources in the battle against drug addiction. It has taken over 20 years to come this far lets not lose the battle due to government inaction."ENDS

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In response to media speculation that the BBC may not be among the number of public bodies designated by the British government under the Equality duty Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane said:

"It is our understanding that the British government's imminent announcement regarding public bodies to be designated under the Section 75 equality duty will not include the BBC. The apparent excuse will be that placing the BBC under equality scrutiny would interfere with the independence of the media.

"This is a completely at odds with the British government's responsibilities to advance the equality dimensions and mechanisms created under the Good Friday Agreement.

"In our view the British government has a responsibility to prioritise equality considerations regarding the BBC over and above any perceived concerns about interference with the independence of the media. The issue here is about ensuring that a public body like the BBC, which is a large-scale employer using public money complies in its policies and practices with all dimensions of equality legislation.

"Sinn Féin argued that the BBC, Translink, the British Secretary of State and other bodies to be designated. Commitments were subsequently given by the British government in the Joint Declaration to seriously consider these. These bodies are only the tip of the iceberg. Others like the Director of Public Prosecutions office, the Ministry of Defence and Housing Associations are also left out of equality scrutiny and compliance.

"If the BBC and other bodies are not designated it is our view that the British government would be acting at variance on a key commitment it made in the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration."

Ends.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will address this year's Dublin Easter Commemoration, which takes place on Sunday, 11 April. The annual parade will assemble at 1.30 pm outside the Garden of Rememberance, Parnell Square, before proceeding to Glasnevin Cemetery. Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald will share the platform with Mr Adams.

Please see below for further details of Dublin Easter commemorations.

Dublin Easter Commemorations 2004

Easter Saturday 10th April - Wreath laying ceremony

11.00am Arbour Hill Cemetery.

Easter Saturday 10th April - Asgard Commemoration

2.30pm East Pier, Howth. Speaker: Mary Lou McDonald.

Easter Saturday 10th April - Ballyfermot Easter Commemoration

1.00pm Dublin South Central Constituency Office, Ballyfermot Road. March to Markievicz Park. Speaker: Aengus Ó Snodaígh.

Easter Saturday 10th April - Crumlin Easter Commemoration

3.30pm Errigal Gardens, Drimnagh / 3.45pm Crumlin Shopping Centre, Crumlin. March to Eamonn Ceannt Memorial Park. Speaker: Aengus Ó Snodaígh.

Easter Sunday 11th April - Dublin Easter Commemoration

1.30pm Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, marching to Glasnevin Cemetery. Speaker: Gerry Adams

Easter Monday 12th April ú Dún Laoghaire Easter Commemoration

2.30pm Bakers Corner. March to Deansgrange Cemetery. Speaker: Mary Lou McDonald.ENDS

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Dúirt an Teachta Aengus Ó Snodaigh go bhfuil sé "dochreidte" nach mbeidh cúiteamh á thabhairt ag an Aire Iompair Séamus Brennan do lucht na bhfeithiclí a bhfuil an comhartha "Tacsaí" orthu nuair a diúltaíodh teastais NCT a thabhairt dóibh de thoradh comhartha as Gaeilge a bheith orthu.

Bhí Aengus Ó Snodaigh á fhreagairt ag an Aire sa Dáil an seachtain seo.

D'fhiafraigh an Teachta Ó Snodaigh den Aire chomh maith cé mhéid gluaisteán ar diúltaíodh teastais dóibh in Ionaid Tástála NCT na tíre mar gheall ar an fhocal "Tacsaí" a bheith thuas orthu in áit "Taxi". Ní raibh aon eolas le fáil mar nach thiomsaíonn an Aire Iompair an t-eolas.

Dúirt an Teachta Ó Snodaigh:

"Tá sé dochreidte, i mo thuairim, nach bhfuil an tAire Brennan toilteanach cúiteamh a thabhairt do na daoine ar theip orthu teastais NCT a fháil sa chéad dul síos mar gheall ar an chomhartha a bheith as Gaeilge. Seo daoine atá ag iarraidh a gcuid obair lae a dhéanamh agus tacaíocht a thabhairt don Ghaeilge agus cad a tharla ag Ionad Tástála an NCT? Theip orthu teastais a fháil agus dúradh leo nach dtig leo an comhartha "Tacsaí" a chur suas. Agus, níos measa fós, bhí orthu dul faoi scrúdú arís, íoc as arís, agus comharthaí úra a fháil dá ngluaisteáin. Tá sé sin náireach. DEIREADH

Taxi or Tacsaí - that is the question for the Minister

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said it was "unbelievable" that compensation was not being allowed by the Transport Minister Séamus Brennan to the owners of vehicles who had the sign 'Tacsaí' on their cars (instead of Taxi) resulting in their cars failing the NCT test.

Minister Brennan was anwering written questions put to him by Deputy Ó Snodaigh on the issue.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister also how many cars were refused the test pass in the NCT centres in the country because of the word 'Tacsaí' being on the roof instead of 'Taxi'. The Transport Minister's reply was that he did not know because the department does not collect this information.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"It is unbelievable and unacceptable that Minister Brennan is not willing to give compensation to people whose cars failed the NCT in the first instance

because of the sign on the roof being in Irish. These are people who are simply trying to do their day's work and to support the Irish language in this way, and what has happened to them as a result at the NCT centre? They failed to get the NCT certificate and were told that they are not allowed put the word 'Tacsaí' up on the roof of the car. What is even worse is that they then had to go to the trouble of having their NCT test again, had to pay for the test again and had to get new signs for the cars. The Minister acknowledges that the rule on this must be changed immediately but the fact that these people are not to be compensated is absolutely disgraceful." ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has hit out at remarks made by the Chair of the West Belfast DPP, the South Belfast Women's Coalition member Anne Monaghan, who has recommended keeping Andersonstown military base open.

Mr Ferguson said:

"It says much about the state of the current policing arrangements when the Chair of the DDP sub group covering West Belfast is a South Belfast based Women's Coalition representative. Anne Monaghan represents precisely nobody in West Belfast, yet she has taken it upon herself to demand that the military base in Andersonstown remains open.

"Anne Monaghan's political party did not even contest the West Belfast constituency at the last election such was the pathetic results achieved in this area by them in the past. She has herself sought election to various bodies in the past and failed to get community support, yet she now feels confident enough to demand that the people of West Belfast continue live under military occupation.

"If Anne Monaghan is so confident of her ground on this issue why does she not stand for election in this area. Why does she not take her message of militarisation and repressive policing to the people and seek a mandate to speak on their behalf. Otherwise Anne Monaghan would be better off keeping quiet than pretending that the people of West Belfast endorse her or the brand of failed policing she is attempting to force upon this community." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Higher and Further Education Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has said that any plans to introduce top-up fees here will create a university marketplace and discourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds from taking up university opportunities.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Sinn Fein are opposed to introduction of top-up fees. We believe that education is a basic right. Tuition fees should be abolished and the student loan should be replaced with a proper maintenance grant.

"Plans to introduce top-fees are yet another stealth tax. Sinn Féin believe that education should be paid for through a progressive general taxation system.

"The way that the British government have approached the problem of increasing resources for universities and increasing access is deeply f lawed. It will lead to the introduction of the marketplace into our universities and a two-tier third level education system. It will also act as a further barrier to expanding access to universities particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"This fiasco highlights a deep flaw at the heart of British government education policy and the failure of the previous Employment and Learning Minister to deal with it's impact here. We need to look at how be develop our workforce here so that it is able to drive forward a modern economy. This means that we need to widen access and it means that we need to support people financially across all the third level education options." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald will meet with EU Ministers of State in Wicklow this morning as part of a delegation from the National Forum on Europe Steering Committee. The event, entitled 'Bringing the EU closer to the citizen' will take place at the Marriott Hotel, Druids Glen in Co. Wicklow at 10.00am.

Speaking prior to today's meeting, Ms McDonald said:

"This event has been organised to promote a greater engagement of citizens in EU affairs. Thus far, the Irish Presidency has failed to engage with Irish citizens on crucial EU matters, which affect them. The citizens of this state need to be aware that this government is negotiating and taking decisions on their behalf, on serious matters like the draft EU Constitution and sovereignty. Irish citizens are being kept in the dark.

"On a broader level there has been an ongoing failure to deal with the democratic deficit within the European Union - how decisions are reached, the ongoing diminishing of sovereignty - including the decision of the Government to re-run the Nice Treaty when they didn't get the result they wanted the first time. And in the Six Counties, people are not consulted at all on any decisions that affect them in relation to the European Union.

"I look forward to the National Forum Meeting today, to put forward the Sinn Féin view on EU engagement with local communities." ENDS

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Speaking on the last day for people to register for the forthcoming EU election Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has called on the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley to 'give public and categoric assurances that all of the forms entered before the deadline will be processed and those applying will receive their vote'.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Today marks the final date for those wishing to vote in the June elections to register. The debacle which the registration process has become since the introduction of the new legislation has been well documented. Up to 211,000 people have been disenfranchised.

"In the short term I am calling on the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley to give a very clear public assurance that those individuals who have submitted their forms before today will have the application processed in time for the June election.

"I say this because in the Assembly election in November, many people entitled to vote who had submitted registration and ID forms did not receive their vote due to a bureaucratic bottleneck within the electoral office.

"In the period after June the whole issue of the legislation needs to be looked at again. Annual registration and other demands have proven to be a disaster for the electorate and for overall confidence in the political and democratic process.

"Sinn Féin will be continuing our campaign in conjunction with wider civic society to see the legislation amended and public confidence in the electoral process restored." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin accused Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Greens of joining the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. However, he said, "Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy."

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say that "Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups, the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country.

"This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin, " he said.

Full text of speech by Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin to Fine Gael Private Members Motion

I move the amendment in the name of the Sinn Féin Deputies.

I welcome the fact that Fine Gael has at last used its Private Members time to address an aspect of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. This is a very rare occurrence and Fine Gael has been joined on this occasion by the Labour and Green Party deputies. It is a pity then, that the motion to which they have put their names is so fundamentally flawed. The motion is ostensibly based on the Good Friday Agreement. Its real political context, however, is the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and President of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Michael McDowell. Minister McDowell has decided that such a crusade is a good electoral ploy for his party, especially in its battle for Fine Gael votes, just as he did when he launched his own personal election campaign in 2002. But the Minister and his colleagues in Government have no regard for the impact of his utterances on the wider peace process, as distinct from the electoral contest in this State.

Many of the Fianna Fáil Front Bench are happy to see the Minister unleashed, happy to benefit from any damage they think he may inflict on Sinn Féin electorally. I hope the weather keeps fine for them. No doubt Minister McDowell has sneaking regarders also in the Fianna Fáil back benches, but I believe that many in that party, and many more among their current supporters, are very concerned at the leading role Minister McDowell has now been given in driving Government policy on the peace process and the Six Counties. The Minister's increasingly hysterical statements have been manna from heaven to those unionists who do not wish to share power with nationalists and to those in the British state system who are determined to deny Sinn Féin's democratic mandate. Ian Paisley himself, in an RTE Prime Time interview on 10 February defended the DUP's refusal to deal with Sinn Féin by citing Minister McDowell's accusations. "What better witness could I call?" asked Mr. Paisley. Is that the kind of endorsement the Deputies who support this Cabinet want to receive for their policy on the peace process?

Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We are committed to the Good Friday Agreement and to its full implementation. We recognise what has been achieved so far and what has yet to be achieved. We take our responsibility very seriously and we stand on our record of achievement. We have delivered and we continue to deliver. So we will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy. We are democrats and we are committed to totally peaceful and democratic means of achieving our political objectives. Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups ? the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country. This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin.

Equally absurd was the statement from Deputy Kenny that the IRA won't go away without what he called the full rigours of the law. For Deputy Kenny's information that was tried for decades North and South of the Border. A so-called law and order solution failed and failed miserably. The lesson was learned and that is why we have a peace process.

Deputy Kenny and others praised the DUP. Fair enough. Sinn Féin has also recognised movement on the part of the DUP where appropriate and we will continue to encourage them. But what Deputy Kenny and others prefer to forget is that the DUP is an anti-Agreement party. They are in no position to accuse Sinn Féin of being in breach of the Agreement since they themselves reject and denounce that Agreement.

To ignore that reality, to feed DUP intransigence, to play to the agenda of the British securocrats who are trying to defeat republicans in peace as they failed

to do in war is to subvert the entire peace process. It is to act as recruiting sergeants for so-called dissidents who will try to say that peaceful methods

have failed. I urge Deputies to think very carefully about that and to measure their approach accordingly.

Sinn Féin does not seek a slap on the back for our role in bringing about a new direction for republicanism, including the IRA cessations since 1994. That was not our role alone. What we do seek is a continued commitment from the Irish Government and from all sides in this House to the process of change which made that new direction possible.

Deputy Rabitte said he wanted to see a post-IRA Ireland. So do I. I want to see a post-IRA Ireland, a post-British Army Ireland, a post-collusion Ireland and a post-British colonial Ireland. He referred to the dark secrets of the past. I will avoid the temptation to delve into the dark past of the so-called Official Republican Movement of which Deputy Rabbitte was once a member. I will just say that I am glad that no obstacles or preconditions were placed in his path to the Cabinet table and that his democratic mandate has been recognised at all times.

I don't think it is too much to ask Deputies on all sides of the House to acknowledge that the use of force, necessitated by the intransigence of successive British governments, played a crucial role in the achievement of independence for 26 of the 32 Counties and that recognition of the right to use force to achieve independence has been a central tenet of Irish nationalism for generations, including among the founders of most political parties in the Dáil. In that context the transformation achieved in Irish republicanism over the past decade is truly historic.

As the Sinn Féin amendment states, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was provided for in legislation by both Governments to deal with the issue of arms. The IRA has put substantial quantities of arms and ammunition beyond use on three occasions. Anyone who knows anything about Irish politics recognises that such a development would have been inconceivable up to the very recent past. The Taoiseach himself has acknowledged in this House that the latest such action on the part of the IRA, carried out as part of the agreed sequence of statements and actions of 21st October last, was sufficient for the Irish Government.

There were real and protracted negotiations between the UUP and Sinn Féin which were to culminate on 21st October. This was the second such attempt to break the deadlock in 2003. The first had been scuppered by the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Despite this massive setback and the outrageous decision of the British government to cancel Assembly elections last May, Sinn Féin again entered negotiations with the UUP. At Hillsborough Castle on October 19th Sinn Féin and the UUP reached agreement on a sequence of events.

When the two governments were informed that agreement had been reached they also signed on for it.

This agreed sequence was the product of many weeks of intense discussions involving Sinn Féin, the UUP and the British and Irish governments and would allow for the restoration of the political institutions and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and allow elections to be held in a positive context. It involved many hours of direct engagement between Sinn Féin and the leadership of the UUP.

All elements of the sequence were agreed in advance, including the public statements containing the commitments, which we would all make as part of this agreement. The sequence involved:

· An announcement by the British Government confirming the date for an Assembly election.

· A statement by Gerry Adams

· A statement by the IRA

· A further act of putting arms beyond use by the IRA, verified by the IICD.

· A report by the IICD

· A statement by David Trimble

· A joint statement by the two governments.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinnes have in their possession copies of the statement that David Trimble was to make. They have copies of the Joint Statement that the two governments were to issue.

Sinn Féin delivered our part of this sequence. The IRA delivered their part of the sequence as agreed. The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. The UUP however, at the point of delivery on their side, effectively walked away.

The two governments failed to publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of this agreement.

The Irish Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot be party to such an agreement, acknowledge that republicans played their part and then demand more after unionists walk away. When the electioneering is over the Irish Government will have to come back to the correct position and deal with the realities of the situation.

Sinn Féin wants to see force and violence in all its forms removed forever from the political equation in Ireland. To respond positively to Deputy Jim O'Keeence of one point or another or the phrasing of this or that element, let us at least pledge to each other and to all who have placed their trust in this process our commitment to continue to engage, to search and ultimately to succeed in delivering on the hope and promise of the Good Friday Agreement and the potential that flows from it. For my part, as Dáil leader of Sinn Féin, I do so pledge on my own behalf, on behalf of my colleague Dáil deputies and on behalf of Sinn Féin.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Social, Community and Family Affairs, Seán Crowe TD, tonight welcomed Minister Mary Coughlan's "dramatic u-turn" regarding cuts in payments to widows and widowers.

Deputy Crowe said:

"While I would like to welcome the Minister for Social Welfare's dramatic u-turn on payments to widows and widowers it must be acknowledged that it has come about as a result of the massive public backlash against her crass and mean-spirited cuts and not because of some altruistic motivation.

"That she even contemplated, never mind implemented, such a move that victimised one of the most vulnerable groups in society while her fellow Ministers continued to pour money hand over fist into the coffers of their pet projects clearly shows how out of touch this Government has become.

"I would like to congratulate all those who campaigned against these cuts and who forced this right-wing Government into a spectacular climb down." ENDS

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Speaking following the Publication of the ninth progress report of the Oirchtas All-Party Committee of the Constitution on Property Rights, Committee member and Sinn Fein spokesperson on Housing, Arthur Morgan T.D. has called on the Taoiseach to act on the report in order to demonstrate that his attachment to developers/speculators responsible for his appearance at the Mahon Tribunal today is a thing of the past. Deputy Morgan went on to outline what Sinn Féin saw as the key recommendations while making it clear that the party had difficulty with a number of elements contained in the Report.

Deputy Morgan said, "That a small number of developers and speculators were making huge profits on the backs of the inability of ordinary citizens to access housing is a shameful indictment of successive governments in this State. Sinn Fein is calling on Bertie Ahern to demonstrate that Fianna Fáil policy on these issues is no longer dictated by their close association with developers and speculators whose interest they have protected throughout recent decades.

"Sinn Féin made a substantive submission to the Committee and welcomes the fact that the Committee as a whole has taken on board the overriding principal put forward in our submission that social justice and the common good must be given precedence over the rights of private property if we are to address the housing needs of our citizens.

"While looking at many of the proposals as positive we need to accept that the Government parties have a majority on this committee and the likelihood of any radical proposals making it past the bulwark of government backbenchers which fill out such a committee is extremely unlikely. While looking at this report we should not forget that the one positive piece of legislation which enabled the government to recoup some of the windfall gains made by property developers and utilize it for the common good, the Planning and Development Act 2000 which required all developments to have 20% social and affordable housing was watered down as to make it unrecognisable by Minister Cullen in 2002. That move in itself indicates the Government is far from serious about tackling this issue.

"Sinn Fein welcomes:

  • The recommendation that the Community should recoup the increase in value of land arising from decisions being taken by local authorities
  • The recommendation that local authorities be given the power to compulsorily purchase land at current use value, similar to what was proposed in the Kenny report, to provide for social and affordable housing.
  • The recommendation that the Government should prepare legislation for the abolition of ground rents and the fact that the Report clearly states that there is no constitutional impediment to their abolition while putting forward a practical proposal on compensation scheme to be provided for in the legislation abolishing ground rents. As the most fervourent voice in the Committee calling for the abolition of ground rents both myself and my part colleagues will pursue the government until this recommendations is acted upon."

Deputy Morgan went on to emphasise that Sinn Féin could not accept a number elements contained in the Report and made it clear that there was no opportunity to record minority views in the Committee's report.

"Sinn Féin has difficulties with large parts of Chapter 2 which addresses the "dynamics of the property market" and which is inconsistent with the other chapters of the report. It does not accurately reflect the conclusions of the committee expressed in other parts of the report regarding the role that the hoarding of land and land prices play in driving up the price of houses. At the Committee I raised my deep concerns at the fact that this section of the report was being authored by a person who had made a submission to the Committee and therefore was an interested party and was biased in his views. I continue to believe this was a fundamental mistake.

"We also had difficulty with the fact that the Committee failed to make a decision on the right to housing despite the fact that a large number of written and oral submission were made and accepted on this issue." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has welcomed the publication of the Causeway Coast and Glens plan and its objectives of increasing tourism and employment for the area nut added that Government must now drive it forward to maximise its potential

Mr McGuigan said:

"Tourism is extremely important for the economic regeneration and prosperity of this region. In the Giant's Causeway we have the only World Heritage site on this island, and yet, to date the full potential for tourism has failed to be realised.

"There is a lot in this plan that is positive and must be welcomed. But it should not be allowed to become a paper exercise.

"There must be long-term commitments to put in place the financial resources required to take this project forward and to develop the infrastructure required to unleash the tourist potential of this area. If this is forthcoming and those within tourism sector work positively together then this can be a beginning to a brighter future for this region. It will benefit the whole of the North Antrim community.

"Recent figures show a rise in visitors to the North. The figures, however still fall short of what is achievable. Despite the formation of Tourism Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, All Ireland tourism remains underdeveloped. There needs to be greater integration between Bord Fáilte and the NITB.

"No sector has the potential to develop and enhance the economy on an All Ireland basis more than tourism." ENDS

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An attempt by the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, to amend the Bill amalgamating Bord Bia and Bord Glas to exclude Genetically Modified produce from the marketing of Irish food, was defeated this morning in the Dáil. Deputy Ferris' amendment would have amended the Bill to define all Irish marketed food produce as "...produced according to traditional or organic methods and excluding genetically modified inputs". The amendment had the support of the Sinn Féin TDs as well as those from the Green Party, Socialist Party, and a number of independents. The Government voted against while Labour and Fine Gael abstained.

Deputy Ferris said: "I am disappointed at the failure to accept this amendment as I believe that it is crucial to the future of Irish agriculture that our food produce retains its traditional clean safe image. Sinn Féin will continue to press this issue and will be calling on the Irish Government to reverse its support for GM prior to the forthcoming meeting of the European Council on April 26 and 27 that will vote on whether to lift the current EU embargo on specific GM products."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Six County EU candidate Bairbre de Brún has today criticised the bias in favour of some EU member states, amid reports that the Commission will issue stern warnings to both Italy and the Netherlands, for breaking the rules underpinning the Euro.

Speaking in advance of a meeting today where the Commission is expected to unveil economic reports for EU member states, Ms de Brún said:

"The EU Commission is expected to reprimand both Italy and the Netherlands for exceeding the 3% of gross domestic product deficit limit imposed by the EU. I am concerned that France and Germany have repeatedly been in breach of this limit in recent years, and have never been reprimanded.

"The difference for France and Germany is that they were able to persuade other finance ministers to suspend these procedures in November 2003. This is a worrying development, as the most influential states of the EU can flout the rules when it suits them, with little comeback from the EU Commission.

"I believe that the smaller states within the EU should be treated in the same manner as the power elites of Britain, France and Germany. We have consistently reiterated our belief that the EU has become a two-tier institution.

"Sinn Féin is calling for a renegotiation of the Stability and Growth Pact, so that member states may deal effectively with the specific problems facing their own economies." ENDS

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