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


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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty has accused the NIO of attempting to deceive the public into believing that it has made a reasonable pay offer to striking Civil Servants when in reality it has just rehashed its previous unrealistic offer in a new format.

Mr Doherty said:

"The fact that the NIO communicated its so-called new pay offer to the media before it had relayed it to NIPSA is a clear sign that this is not a genuine attempt to reach a fair and equitable resolution to the dispute.

"However, when the fog of spin is cleared away, it is obvious that there is nothing new in this offer. Instead of attempting to bring an equitable resolution to the long running dispute the NIO is attempting to deceive the public.

"Senior Civil Service Managers have been awarded pay rises of between 4-9% over consecutive years, yet ordinary Civil Service workers are being expected to accept having their pay frozen over the past two years and little prospect of any improvement over the next few years.

"I believe that this NIO ploy will lead to a further escalation in industrial action and increased disruption to a wide range of public services and to the community as a whole.

"To date, representations from local parties have been ignored. All local parties are equally angry about the mishandling of this issue by the NIO, British direct rule Ministers and senior civil service management. A cross party showdown with British Secretary of State Paul Murphy is long overdue. Only by presenting a united front can we embarrass Paul Murphy and the NIO into backing down from its totally unreasonable stance towards civil service workers." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. has confirmed that his party has requested a meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Martin Cullen T.D. in relation to the proposal by Dublin City Council to offer its stock of almost 16,500 council flats for sale to its tenants.

Deputy Morgan said

"Sinn Fein is seeking a meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Martin Cullen T.D. in relation to the proposal by Dublin City Council to offer its stock of almost 16,500 council flats for sale to its tenants.

"Some time back Dublin City Council indicated its intention to end its involvement in the provision of social housing. We believe the latest proposals from City Council represent another significant move in that direction. While recognising that tenants often wish to buy their flats and that tenants in local authority houses already have that right, our concerns are centred around the fact that unless there is a significant social housing building programme put in place, the proposals from Dublin City Council will result in a dramatic diminution in the level of local authority social housing rental stock. While some will no doubt benefit from this move by being enabled to move onto the property ladder, many will suffer as a result of it. We have been given no indication regarding how the City Council proposes to house those in need of social housing once its social housing stock has been sold off. The revenue raised from the sale would not be enough to build replacement units given the cost of building land in the Dublin area. We are concerned that the most disadvantaged and marginalized in the City will suffer as a result of these moves. We believe it is part of a wider agenda by Dublin City Council to abandon its role in housing provision to which Minister Cullen and the Government are acquiescing. The other component of this agenda is the handing over of local authority flats complexes to the semi-private or voluntary housing sector.

"There is no reason that the social housing rental sector cannot work if proper maintenance and management procedures are put in place. It is the failure of consecutive governments to make adequate revenue available for the upkeep of local authority housing that is responsible for the fact that many flats complexes and housing estates have fallen into disrepair. Consecutive governments have failed to ensure that these flats and estates have a social mix along with proper facilities and amenities. The lack of such amenities is largely responsible for the social problems which have characterised many local authority flats complexes and estates. The City Council is attempting to tell us that it is only through the ownership of private property that people will maintain their properties. This is disingenuous given the fact that most local authority tenants go to great lengths to maintain both the interior and exterior of their properties and are badly let down by the failure of the Council to carry out necessary maintenance works.

"The only solution to the housing crisis in this state is the construction of more social housing, to increase the level of social rental housing stocks which have now hit an all time low. This is the only way we can end homelessness and ensure that all those resident in the State have access to proper housing, regardless of their income. Sinn Féin will be raising our concerns with Minister Cullen as soon as he makes himself available to meet with us. We will be making clear our opposition to all attempts by local authorities to abandon their responsibilities with regard to the provision of social housing." ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has demanded that the DUP take action against their South Belfast Councillor Ruth Patterson after comments she made concerning an attack on a Protestant woman's home in the Donegal Pass area yesterday.

Mr Maskey said:

"Ruth Patterson last night demanded that the unionist paramilitaries explain why a Protestant pensioner from Donegal Pass was intimidated from her home. Cllr. Patterson demanded the explanation as the woman 'was not from an ethnic minority community or a Catholic'. The clear inference from her remarks was that such attacks on groups other than Protestants are acceptable. They are not and it is up to people in political leadership to give a lead on these issues.

"What we have witnessed from Cllr. Patterson effectively gives a green light to those within her community intent on continuing with racist and sectarian attacks. In recent weeks she instructed Catholics living in a Sandy Row apartment block to move to the South if they were offended over loyalist flags.

"The approach adopted by Ruth Patterson, a member of local policing structures, has added to the difficulties experienced by ethnic minorities and Catholics attempting to live in parts of south Belfast free from harassment and attack. It is now up to the DUP to act after her latest outburst." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development Martin Ferris TD, has claimed that the Government's Progress Report highlights numerous areas where the current administration is failing farmers and rural communities. Deputy Ferris said that while the Report is full of vague commitments and good intentions, that not only have many of the commitments made two years ago not been honoured, but that overall Government policy has worsened the situation for many farmers and rural dwellers.

Deputy Ferris said:

"This Report is revealing more for what it fails to say, rather than what it actually contains. For example, while it refers to a number of new Teagasc courses it fails to mention the effects of the scandalous closures and cutbacks in Teagasc centres which are seriously impairing the ability of Irish farmers to adapt to an ever changing and challenging environment. While referring to the implementation of decoupling it makes no reference to the lack of research and preparation that ought to have been done in many areas including the provision of entitlements to young farmers, and providing for those who took up the Early Retirement Scheme.

"The Report, in relation to horticulture and organic farming, nowhere provides practical ways in which these sectors can be expanded. For example, why did the Government not argue for more flexibility in the Single Payment to allow farmers to expand into those sectors which current regulations prevent them from doing? Also, why has this Government decided to do a u-turn on Genetically Modified food which presents a massive threat to the image of Irish food produce at home and abroad? The Report also claims that progress has been made on cross border animal health and disease prevention when in fact we know that almost nothing has been done in practical terms.

"One of the most pressing issues that needs to be addressed at present is the scandalous gap between the prices that farmers receive for their produce and those charged to customers by the major retailers. No reference is made to this despite evidence that farmers often receive barely 25% of the retail price. At the end of the day it is issues such as this which determine whether farmers are able to survive, and not vague generalisations and repeating unfulfilled commitments that were made when this Government came to power two years ago."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Eoin O'Broin has said that he is in no doubt that an ongoing security alert in Ligonel is resulting from loyalists leaving a device outside a Catholic home.

Speaking from the scene Cllr. O'Broin said:

"A device of some kind has been left outside the first Catholic home in Ligonel. It is a home which has suffered in the past from ongoing attacks from unionist paramilitaries. I am in no doubt that this latest incident is a further escalation of an ongoing campaign against nationalists in this area.

"Previous to the Twelfth parades this small nationalist community was blockaded into their homes by a UDA led picket which took place every night for a week. No action was taken to stop it. It is therefore not surprising that as we face into another series of contentious parades in North Belfast that the allies of the loyal Orders within the unionist paramilitaries will once again attempt to use violence in order to influence parades determinations." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Antrim Assembly member Philip McGuigan has called on the entire community including leading unionist politicians to get a grip on the blight of sectarian and racist attacks. Mr McGuigan's remarks come after two homes in Cullybackey were attacked in racist attacks today.

Mr McGuigan said:

"It has been confirmed that the two attacks on homes in Cullybackey were racially motivated. There has been a significant rise in racist attacks across the six counties in recent times. These attacks are unacceptable and must end.

"The entire community including leading unionist representatives in North Antrim need to make their voices heard on this. Unfortunately in the past they have been slow to speak out against sectarian attacks on Catholics in this area. They have failed to provide the necessary political leadership to try and stop sectarianism and I had feared that the recent racist attacks in Belfast would spread to areas like this.

"Sectarianism and racism are two sides of the same coin. We need to tackle both with equal vigour. The Cullybackey attacks taken with recent sectarian attacks in Ballymena now make that challenge very real for representatives in North Antrim." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy has restated his view that the PSNI raid on the Sinn Féin Office in Stormont was politically motivated and designed to damage the peace process.

Mr Murphy said:

"It is the view of Sinn Fein and indeed the vast majority of nationalists that the stage managed raids on the Sinn Féin Offices in Stormont were politically motivated and part of a wider anti-peace process agenda operating within the PSNI. Just because Nuala O'Loan has failed to uncover evidence to support this does not mean that this widely held belief is flawed.

" The facts are very clear.

  • No evidence of intelligence gathering was found in the raid on the Sinn Féin Offices.
  • Two disks removed by the PSNI were returned within days
  • Charges against people relating to intelligence gathering in government buildings have been dropped
  • The media were present for the raid to create maximum effect
  • It was heavy handed operation with scores of armed PSNI in riot gear
  • The operation was directed by the Special Branch
  • It was designed to cause maximum political damage
  • It succeeded in seeing the political institutions collapsed

"This entire Special Branch operation from start to finish has been characterised by lies and misinformation and driven forward by a fundamental anti-peace process agenda within the PSNI Special Branch. This remains the case." ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member has branded a decision by the British Direct Rule Minister John Spellar to remove the Lower Ormeau area from the proposed Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme as 'typically without logic and totally unacceptable'.

Mr Maskey said:

"Under the original proposal the Village, Donegal Pass, Market and Lower Ormeau were to come together under the Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme. John Spellar this morning announced that the Lower Ormeau would not now be included in the scheme. There is no logic to this decision and it is totally unacceptable.

"The Lower Ormeau area has suffered from decades of neglect and lack of investment in the community infrastructure. The advent of the Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme offered a prospect of reversing this under funding. Now for reasons best known to himself John Spellar is attempting to block this chance of progress.

"I have already complained to the department and I have demanded an urgent meeting with Mr Spellar to insist that this disgraceful decision is reversed and the Lower Ormeau area is included as planned in the scheme." ENDS

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Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP speaking at the opening day Féile an Phobail parade has urged the community to stand together against racism, and, commenting on the tragic death of a teenage girl in West Belfast, also called for greater support for the young people of the area.

Mr Adams invited members of the Philippine community to join him on the stage in the Falls Park where they were warmly received. Mr Adams said:

"This community is a diverse and welcoming community. It is vital that we all stand together against racism and that the hand of friendship is extended to everyone who lives and works here. I want to congratulate the many anti-racism initiatives that are springing up throughout the city and particularly here in West Belfast.

In reference to the tragic death of a young teenager in the city cemetery last night Mr Adams added:

"Féile an Phobail and especially the opening day is about our young people. We need to celebrate and treasure our young people.

"As a community and as a society we need to give every support we can offer to ensure that they can make the best possible start with their lives.

Local West Belfast Councillor Marie Cush added here sympathy. Cllr Cush said:

"This is a sad and tragic loss. The community is in a state of shock. I want to extend sympathy to the entire Barnes family circle and also to this young woman's many friends." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly has accused the DUP MP Gregory Campbell of breathtaking hypocrisy after he spoke out against the promotion of a British soldier who had killed one of his colleagues but continues to ignore the case of Peter McBride and others.

Mr Kelly said:

"Gregory Campbell has been campaigning against a decision by the British Army to promote William Graham after he was convicted of the manslaughter of one of his colleagues. This is the correct approach. It is outrageous that the British Army retains convicted killers within its ranks and subsequently promotes them.

"However people would take Gregory Campbell's opposition to this move a bit more seriously if he displayed some consistency on the matter. No unionist politician has come out and supported the family of Peter McBride in their campaign to remove their son's murderers from the British Army. No unionist politician spoke out when Lee Clegg was retained by the British Army and promoted.

"From Gregory Campbell's intervention in this case and his lack of action in other cases, we can only assume that he views the retention and promotion of individuals who killed unarmed catholic teenagers as acceptable, while on the other hand he clearly believes that those who kill fellow British soldiers should be treated differently. His hypocrisy is breathtaking." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Assembly Group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy commenting on selective briefings that have accompanied the publication of the Ombudsman's report into the PSNI raid on Sinn Fein's Stormont offices has said that the report fails to tell the truth about the politically motivated raid.

Mr Murphy said:

"It has been claimed that no evidence has been found to prove that the Special Branch raid on Sinn Fein's offices was politically motivated. However, it is difficult to see how this conclusion is reached when there is no reference to operation Torsion, the Special Branch dirty tricks exercise which culminated in the Stormont raid.

"The Stormont raid on Sinn Fein's parliamentary offices was planned and executed by an RUC cartel of political detectives, in the name of the PSNI. It was a politically motivated raid with the clear intent to collapse the institutions and undermine the peace process.

"The Special Branch version of events given to the Police Ombudsman about the Stormont raid varies from the version offered by the PSNI Chief Constable at the time of the raid.

"On 7th October 2002, in offering a half-hearted, public apology for the Stormont raid, Hugh Orde said 'In terms of planning, we need to look at how planning took place. There was no pre-planning in relation to Stormont.' However, one of those behind the Stormont raid told the investigators from the Ombudsman's office that he planned the raid based on prior Special Branch intelligence.

"The same pattern of leaks, misinformation and political smears which have characterised the Special Branch's operation Torsion from the day of the Stormont raid have preceded today's findings. Since October 2002, many of the original claims made and widely reported have been shown to be a farrago of lies." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has said that the PSNI raid on Sinn Fein's offices in Stormont was clearly politically motivated.

Mr Murphy said:

"The PSNI raid on Sinn Fein party offices in Stormont was clearly politically motivated. They were theatrically stage managed.

"The objective of securocrats was to collapse the political institutions and create a crisis in the peace process that could be blamed on republicans.

"It was yet another example of the damaging agenda of securocrats within the NIO and PSNI as evidenced by the leaks, lies and misinformation from faceless 'security' sources at the time." ENDS

Sinn Fein Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has said that the PSNI raid on Sinn Fein's offices in Stormont was clearly politically motivated.

Mr Murphy said:

"The PSNI raid on Sinn Fein party offices in Stormont was clearly politically motivated. They were theatrically stage managed.

"The objective of securocrats was to collapse the political institutions and create a crisis in the peace process that could be blamed on republicans.

"It was yet another example of the damaging agenda of securocrats within the NIO and PSNI as evidenced by the leaks, lies and misinformation from faceless 'security' sources at the time." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Councillor Joe Reilly has queried why there is waiting list of over 800 applicants in the Navan area waiting to have their cases dealt with by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

"I contacted the department on behalf of a constituent who has been waiting four weeks for her payment and was informed that she would have to wait another six weeks due to the backlog of cases. As she is seasonal worker she will be back in employment having had to manage without an income over the summer months".

"The department informed me that there was a waiting list of over 800 applicants and while they were doing their best there would be a waiting time of up to ten weeks.The delay was due to a shortage of staff and a number of staff on holidays"

"I find it absolutely disgraceful that people have to wait such a length of time for their financial entitlements. Is there anybody in the upper echelons of the department who cares? Do he/she not understand that people need an income to survive? Why can more staff not be seconded to help clear the waiting list? Is the Navan experience being replicated all over the country?

"I call on the Minister of the Department of Social and Family Affairs to immediately put in place measures to reduce the waiting list. Applicants should not have to wait anymore that ten working days to have a decision made and implemented."

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Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris said today that the ESB cannot be allowed to hike the prices on its bills anymore. Deputy Ferris was speaking following an indication today from the Commission for Energy Regulation that it will allow the company to raise its bills by 8% in October.

Deputy Ferris said:

"This is out and out madness. In January of this year the ESB got a price increase of 5% and over the last year has reaped the benefit of a total of 30% in price hikes. The company recently announced massive after-tax profits of €249 million. We're talking here about another 8% on top of what is fast becoming the bill that householders dread the most every second month.

"No political party is as committed to supporting state companies as Sinn Féin, but this is in part because of a belief that privatised companies put pursuit of profit before anything else and take no account of the damage massive price increases can cause.

"ESB has just increased profits by over 50% in one year while cutting operational costs and increasing productivity. That is a massive success and the workers of ESB are to be congratulated. And I am aware of the impact rising fuel prices will have on the bottom line, but there seems to be no case for inflicting a heavy price increase on consumers when the company is so financially healthy and rising costs are causing such hardship across the state.

"I am calling on the Commission for Energy Regulation to refuse the ESB permission for a price increase this year." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has said that the conviction of a Lurgan based former RIR man for possession of ammunition provides further compelling evidence to support the demand for the immediate scrapping of the RIR.

Mr O'Dowd also described as astonishing the sentence - a £250 fine - given to the RIR soldier for the his second conviction for the possession of ammunition.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"This is the second time that this RIR man has been convicted in relation to possession of ammunition. Can anyone imagine a nationalist walking out of court a free man after telling the story this RIR man relayed to the court, never mind getting a £250 fine for a second arms offence. Any nationalist convicted in similar circumstances would have undoubtedly received a prison sentence.

"This case shows the blatant discriminatory nature of the judicial system. It also again shows why nationalist are correct to be deeply concerned about the RIR and the activities of its members both in and out of uniform.

"This comes in the middle of the Castlereagh collusion scandal where RIR personnel were suspended from duties including manning observation posts in nationalist areas following an investigation into the disappearance of a document containing the names of hundreds of people.

"The RIR and UDR have a track record of collusion with unionist paramilitaries. Few nationalists will doubt that this illegal cache of ammunition was destined for use by unionist paramilitaries. Similarly few will doubt that the document missing from Castlereagh is not now also in the hands of unionist paramilitaries.

"This is further compelling evidence, is any was needed, that the RIR is heavily involved in collusion with unionist paramilitaries. It is nothing more than an 'official' unionist paramilitary force. The RIR should go. While collusion continues to exists and the RIR remain nationalists will have little confidence in the ability of the British government or the NIO to deliver of Good Friday Agreement commitments." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for the Six Counties Bairbre de Brún, has today said that 'DUP belligerence towards the Irish language will not deter the campaign to have Irish recognised as a full official working language of the EU'.

Ms de Brún was responding to comments made by the DUP's Jim Allister MEP, who said that to make Irish an official language within the EU would be a 'waste of taxpayers money'.

Speaking today, Ms de Brún said:

"I am not surprised by Jim Allister's latest outburst on the status of the Irish language within the EU. The DUP have been consistently opposed to the principle of equality in all sectors of Irish society. DUP belligerence toward the Irish language will not deter those campaigning to have Irish recognised as a full official working language of the EU.

"This is about equality. Irish language activists and speakers have tirelessly lobbied to ensure that the Irish language will no longer be treated as a second-class language, either within the EU institutions or in Ireland. Mr Allister should understand that equality threatens no one.

"I welcome the current efforts by the Irish Government to seek the full official recognition of the Irish language within the EU. Sinn Féin MEPs are ready to assist those working toward this goal." ENDS

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Commenting on the Flynn report on decentralisation implementation today, Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said: "This report vindicates Sinn Féin's criticism of the ill-planned and opportunistic manner in which the Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy and his colleagues have approached decentralisation. There was clearly no real consultation and no research to inform the decision-making process in terms of the numbers to be relocated and the chosen locations. This undermines the claim that this scheme is entirely voluntary and has led to justified concerns on the part of public servants and their families about their future career paths and quality of life.

"This Government had ample time to implement decentralisation in a coherent manner, maximising the undoubted benefits for public servants, for host communities and for our overcrowded capital city. Minister McCreevy signalled in his Budget speech in 1999 that he intended the biggest decentralisation scheme yet attempted. Yet nothing was done between '99 and 2003. Real research and real consultation would have come up with a realistic figure and a realistic time-scale for delivery.

"Instead, what did we get? We got a rabbit out of the hat in Budget 2004 with the figure of 10,300 posts seemingly plucked from thin air.

"The government chose to launch their plan as a pre-election initiative - first for the local and EU elections and then for the next General Election. The roll-out of the plan is timed for completion by the end of 2006, just months before the assumed date of the next General Election. This is not just an Opposition accusation. The Minister himself stated last March:

"The prospect of a hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully and I have made no secret of the reason why I set out a December 2006 deadline for decentralization."

"Sinn Féin supports much greater consultation with stakeholders, including staff and their unions and the prospective host communities. We believe the central aim should be to ensure that the maximum possible decentralisation is achieved consistent with the efficiency of State services, the rights of public and civil servants and the needs of the regions."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has criticised the NIO for failure to genuinely engage in finding a resolution to the ongoing civil service dispute.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Some of the most marginalised people are suffering as a result of the refusal of British NIO Ministers to genuinely engage in finding a resolution to the ongoing civil service dispute. The elderly people in receipt of pensions, people on benefits, learner drivers, the farming community and many others are suffering because of the arrogance and inflexibility of NIO Ministers.

"Paul Murphy and Ian Pearson along with other senior managers within the NIO need to wake up to the urgency of this situation. It cannot be allowed to drift on forever. We need to see genuine dialogue without pre-conditions. In failing to sort out this dispute the NIO and British direct rule Ministers are failing everyone living in the Six Counties.

"It is a disgrace that the NIO and civil service management are refusing to recognise the legitimate concerns of the Trade Unions. Instead they have used threats and intimidation to make a difficult situation worse." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has called for an end to so-called roaming charges for mobile phone users throughout Ireland.

Ms Gildernew said:

"The European Commission carried out an investigation two years ago that concluded that Mobile Phone service providers are guilty of charging inflated 'roaming' tariffs.

"The investigation focused on the high cost of calls charged to travellers≠ abroad - mostly on holidays. But anyone here in Ireland that uses a mobile phone will be aware that this practice affects - on a daily basis - inhabitants that live in close proximity to or have to travel regularly cross border.

"Those travelling abroad are aware that using a mobile phone in a foreign country will incur additional costs. But living in close proximity to the border often results in involuntary 'roaming' charges being imposed on unsuspecting mobile users because of a competing stronger signal from the opposite side of the border. Mobile phone signals do not recognise borders and therefore short of turning the phone off when travelling there is no option but to pay. That is unless the mobile phone service providers cease to exploit their customers on either side of the border.

"The imposition of these 'roaming' charges is even more unacceptable given that the major providers operate throughout the island of Ireland. There is no rational explanation why the regulators North and South should not be able to co-operate in devising a formula for a single tariff for the 32 counties. The Minister responsible for Communications in the 26-counties has pledged to look into the practice and although O2 Ireland introduced an all-Ireland tariff for southern customers its sister company O2 UK that operates in the North has made no such provision.

"Sinn Féin have been in contact with the providers North and South to highlight this anomaly and while they acknowledged the problem and promised to investigate ways in which to address it, it is not being treated with the urgency it deserves.

"Despite the fact that roaming calls≠ account for only 5% of total calls made it is estimated that a disproportionate 15% of profits are derived from these calls.

"I have written to the regulators North and South requesting meetings to discuss this unfair practice and I will also be contacting both Ministers to request that they actively pursue measures to address the problem. I intend to continue in my efforts to have this practice eradicated and replaced by a system of fair and equitable charges for service provided which is not impacted by where on this island a person lives." ENDS

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A Sinn Fein delegation including South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton and Lisburn councillor Paul Butler have meet with the Eastern Health Board to discuss concerns about the arrangements to provide out-of-hours GP services.

Speaking after meeting EHSSB representatives in Belfast City Hall Mr Maskey said:

"Sinn Fein have particular concerns about the arrangements to provide out-of-hours cover in West Belfast and in the area between Inner East and Inner South Belfast. It is also clear that there are important financial limitations on the level of out-of-hours cover that can be provided. It is vital that the direct rule Health Minster Angela Smith ensure that sufficient resources are committed so that communities such throughout Belfast are not left exposed and vulnerable.

"These are vital services that are particularly used by families and the elderly. Under these plans EHSSB estimate that 95% of patients would be able to access an out-of-hours centre by car in less than 15 minutes and 99% in less than ∏ hour. Given the higher levels of need associated with working class areas coupled with the low levels of car ownership it is wrong to judge access times on car travel times. The rule of thumb should be that they are no more than one bus journey away. This cannot be argued about any of these centres.

"Sinn Féin greatest concern is that none of the out-of-hours centres are in areas that could be considered to be neutral, but in areas that the nationalist community will feel unsafe to travel to.

"It is not about being prescriptive about where services are located but the bottom line is these proposals will have an adverse impact on working class communities and the nationalist community in particular." ENDS

Note to Editors

From the 1st January 2005 the EHSSB will have responsibility for providing out-of-hours services in the greater Belfast area. They will be responsible for out-of-hours GP services that run from 630pm- 8am Monday - Friday and all weekend, including Bank Holidays. These account for 40,000 attendances at out-of-hours centres and 20,000 home visits per annum by GPs.

The current EHSSB proposals are for new out-of-hours centres at:

· Close to the Mater Hospital initially and then probably at the new Primary Care Centre at Lincoln Ave

· Forster Green Site, Saintfield Rd

· Lagan Valley Hospital

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