Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams will be joined by all the Sinn Féin election candidates for a formal launch in Belfast Castle at 12 noon tomorrow, Friday November 14th.
Former Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety Bairbre de Brún and former Education Minister Martin McGuinness speaking in Belfast today said "After this election it is our belief that we will be in a position to achieve either the first or deputy first minister, in addition to this we want to continue the work that we started in Education and Health and will be seeking these Departments once again in the new Assembly. "
Ms. De Brún said
After the last Assembly elections Sinn Féin took a decision to seek those Ministerial positions that most directly impacted on people's lives. We chose to nominate our two Ministers for the portfolios of Education and Health.
These are the two departments that most directly affect every man, woman and child.
These two departments suffered through decades of British Direct Rule, under funding and neglect. Sinn Féin took a conscious decision to tackle this. We decided to use our mandate to bring about real change.
Other parties did not see Education and Health as priorities. We did. This remains the case.
As Ministers we invested considerable resources in school buildings and hospital services. Facilities starved of investment for decades were replaced and upgraded.
I prioritised cancer and cardiac care, the provision of children's services and the ending of inequalities in health. Martin took the decision to end the 11 plus, protect small rural schools and invest in integrated and Irish language schools. We increased the level of all-Ireland co-operation in Education and Health and delivered real benefits to people on the ground.
Mr McGuinness added:
" As Bairbre has said over the past three years we have made progress in reversing the years of decline, under investment and Direct Rule. We are now eager to finish the job.
After this election we will once again seek to take on the challenge of both Education and Health. They remain our priority.
In education Sinn Féin will work for:
In health we will work for:
We have made great progress in recent years and for this to continue we are asking people to endorse and validate our work in this election." ENDS
Responding to an appeal by Seamus Mallon for unionists to support his party, South Belfast Sinn Féin Representative Alex Maskey said that the comments 'were an acknowledgement by the SDLP that Sinn Féin has the support of the majority of nationalists in this election'.
Cllr. Maskey said:
" Sinn Féin's position is to ask for votes for Sinn Féin candidates and beyond that for people to transfer to other pro-Agreement candidates in order of their own preference.
" A number weeks ago in advance of the election, Gerry Adams proposed a pro-Agreement transfer pact to Mark Durkan. The SDLP rejected this.
" The SDLP's appeal today for unionists to vote for them is not as alleged about protecting the Good Friday Agreement. It is about protecting the SDLP and is a further sign of a party in crisis.
" The SDLP position is an acknowledgement that Sinn Féin has the support of the majority of nationalists in this election." ENDS
Sinn Féin former Education Minister Martin McGuinness and former Health Minister Bairbre de Brún will hold a press conference at 11am tomorrow, Thursday, in the Culturlann on the Falls Road in Belfast.
Speaking from Queen's University where he and Alex Maskey met with students, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has said the SDLP Minister Carmel Hanna 'failed to deliver for our third level students'.
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"The SDLP have a paper policy position calling for the scrapping of student fees and the reintroduction of a maintenance grant. Yet despite holding the ministerial brief with Sean Farren and Carmel Hanna the reality is that we still have student fees and there is still no maintenance grant. Instead we have more loans, more debt and still no mechanism for widening access to third level education particularly for students from poorer backgrounds.
"There was an opportunity to close the door of student fees instead the SDLP have left the door wide open and there is a very real danger that even more students will priced out of the opportunity of studying at university. The SDLP failed our students when they had the chance to do something, It is therefore somewhat ironic that having failed our students once that they are claiming that they will now end student fees if the electorate give them the opportunity." ENDS
Responding to the British Secretary of State's issuing of a consultation document on the priorities and budget for government from 2004-2007, Sinn Féin Cllr Francie Molloy stated:
"To issue a draft programme for government and to expect consultation on it to be completed just two days after the election is nothing less than a denial of democracy. What right do the British have to slip this blueprint for government through under the cover of an election campaign? What right do they have to set the agenda for the new Assembly before that Assembly has even been elected?
"It is the business of locally elected representatives to decide what their priorities will be for the next three years. It is not the business of the Secretary of State to decide those priorities for them.
"I call on the British government to withdraw immediately this consultation document until after the elections." ENDS
Gerry Kelly has welcomed the visit to Belfast and Derry this week of a delegation being led by New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi who is here to take assessments from a range of political parties, government agencies responsible for investment, the Equality and Human Rights Commissions, NGO's and community sectors regarding how equality and fairness is being progressed.
Speaking after the meeting with Alan Hevesi in North Belfast Gerry Kelly said:
"Obviously I am delighted to welcome Alan Hevesi and his delegation to North Belfast to discuss both the political situation and the growing disparities and inequalities that continue to affect communities despite the range of government policies supposedly focussed on tackling the gap between the rich and the poor.
"Clearly as some S15 billion of New York State and New York city pension fund money is invested in US companies here on the basis that they must comply with fair employment practices and the MacBride principles, Mr Hevesi evidently has a vested interest in establishing whether or not equality and fairness is being progressed in the workplace in general and society overall.
"Mr Hevesi recently expressed concerns that the approach of the Human Rights commission could potentially undermine fair employment monitoring provisions. Sinn Féin have expressed similar concerns and have raised these with the Human Rights Commission and the Council of Europe experts who recently visited Belfast. It is our view that any interference with, refinement of or redefinition of these protections is unacceptable in a society where clearly disparity in the overall workforce still prevails. Existing employment protections should be strengthened not diluted. We will explore this and a range of other matters with Mr Hevesi with a view to continuing this dialogue on an ongoing basis." ENDS
Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan TD raised the issue of underfunded local government and the large levies imposed on home-buyers.
Deputy Morgan said:
"It is essential now that the Government address the serious underfunding of local government which has resulted in local authorities imposing substantial levies on already stretched first-time home buyers while doing nothing to address the serious problem which exists in the state in relation to inflated land prices as a result of decades of unhindered land speculation.
"These levies will cause a further escalation in house prices across the state and will force ever-increasing numbers of people out of the house market and onto social housing waiting lists while increasing the hardship for those young couples who were already hit by the removal of the first time buyers grant. This housing situation, as we all know, has reached crisis point already and it is a matter of serious public concern if the local authorities are not adequately funded". ENDS
Speaking during a debate on the deployment of Irish troops to Liberia Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs and Defence, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, said the motion to send the troops was "in keeping with Sinn Féin's commitment to positive neutrality in action". He also called for the UN to be reformed and strengthened. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"The Government originally planned to take this motion without debate. I am glad they have since recognised that any decision to deploy Irish troops in the service of international peace deserves proper time for both debate and solemn reflection in the House. We have the duty not to take such decisions lightly and not to play toy soldiers with the lives of our citizens.
"I welcomed the establishment in September of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia. I understand that its role is to monitor compliance with the Accra Peace Accord signed by Liberian Government, Movement for Democracy in Liberia and Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy in August of this year, and to support the Liberian Peace Process which has the potential to end more than 15 years of continuous conflict in Liberia and contribute positively to stabilisation of the region.
"In Liberia the Irish Defence Forces will be serving as UN troops with olleagues from Nigeria, Kenya and Bangladesh, and under West African command. Since UNMIL was deployed on October 1 good progress has been made. It has already succeeded in establishing a National Transitional Government and the disarmament process has also begun: the capital Monrovia is now a weapons-free zone. This initial progress is welcome, and I hope it will continue apace. "In keeping with Sinn Féin's commitment to positive neutrality in action, Sinn Féin supports this motion and Irish participation in the UN-led force UNMIL. We take this position having full regard to the available facts and to the potential dangers to the people who will make up the Irish contingent. On behalf of my party I would express our appreciation to the men and women who will be representing Ireland by serving in Liberia. It is a worthwhile endeavour in which they have the full support of the Irish people. It is intended that the troops depart for Monrovia very soon, on November 19. I wish these volunteers every success in their mission, and that each one of them will return safely home to this island.
One thing that sets this peacekeeping mission apart from many others at present and what further commends it for our support is the very fact of it being UN-led, not merely UN-mandated or UN-authorised, but UN-led. Such a mission is increasingly rare and worthy of strong support in principle. Sinn Féin would prefer to see a situation where the UN is reformed and strengthened and given the support it deserves so that so-called outsourcing of peacekeeping operations to regional military alliances such as the EU Rapid Reaction Force and NATO will end.
"Sinn Féin remains committed to this vision. We all must redouble our efforts to make the UN system work in the way it was intended, and not accept its gradual sidelining and marginalisation in favour of less inclusive and more elitist multilateral organisations such as the EU or NATO. The UN must have the capacity to play a more vigorous role - particularly in the prevention of genocide, which is really the ultimate duty of the international community acting as one. But the UN is suffering the death of a thousand cuts. The fact that the UN is so often now prevented from taking up its rightful role represents a totally unacceptable situation about which many in the international community - including the Irish Government and others in this House - have grown complacent. The progressive marginalisation of the UN has surely fed the resurgent unilateralism that so appals us in the Iraq case. Let all of us also commit to heed the call of the UN Secretary General and help lead the campaign for UN reform and capacity-building, a campaign that has been far too long in coming." ENDS
Speaking at Sinn Féin's press conference on the All-Ireland agenda, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
A key demand in Sinn Féin's all-Ireland agenda is representation in the Dáil for citizens in the Six Counties, pending the establishment of a national parliament representing the 32 Counties.
At the time of the Good Friday Agreement the Taoiseach asked the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution to consider how the people of the Six Counties might play a "more active role in national political life". It took the Committee from 1998 to last year to report on the issue. The All-Party Committee made a range of findings and recommendations and while they do not go as far as we would like, they provide a basis for progress.
In the Dáil I have repeatedly called on the Taoiseach to act since 1998, and since last year's General Election when I was joined by my four Sinn Féin TD colleagues. The time for action is now and it is long overdue. The Taoiseach has said that he agrees with the Committee's recommendation that representatives should have the right to speak in the Dáil. That was welcome but we need a pro-active engagement by the Taoiseach to make this happen.
Most recently in the Dáil the Taoiseach linked the delay in implementing Six-County representation to the absence of the Assembly. There will be no such excuse after 26 November.
Sinn Féin is seeking:
Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP speaking in Belfast today with party colleagues Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Martin Ferris TD, Armagh Mayor Pat O' Rawe and Ard Chomhairle member Mary Lou McDonald said: "Sinn Féin has made significant progress in advancing the all-Ireland agenda. Today we are setting out our ten point plan for Irish Unity. All-Ireland approaches and institutions are now universally accepted, even by the DUP. That in itself is significant progress. Sinn Féin intends to build on this through our Ten Point Plan for Irish Unity."
Mr. Doherty said:
"No one can doubt that the all-Ireland political institutions exist because of the tenacity, determination and the substantial growth in support for Sinn Féin.
"Sinn Féin is now the third largest party on the island and the largest nationalist party in the north
"Our political strength, our political representation across the island, and our clear focus on Irish Unity secured the establishment of the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and the all-Ireland institutional architecture of the Good Friday Agreement
"We have a roadmap for Irish Unity and the Ten Point Plan we are setting out today will take the United Ireland agenda decisively forward after this election."ENDS
Sinn Féin 10 Point Plan for Irish Unity
Sinn Féin is setting the All-Ireland agenda and preparing for Irish Unity through:
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has criticised the Minister for Justice's plans for restructuring the prison service, saying they "fall far short of the comprehensive and systematic reform needed to stop the overspend and to bring Irish prisons into line with best practice." Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"From a public interest point of view, it makes no sense to close one of the least expensive, and one of the most effective prisons in the state. It makes no sense to privatise the prisoner escort service contrary to a Departmental Expert Group's recommendations. We don't know how to interpret his plans to temporarily transfer the management of two open prisons 'outside the Prison Service'. The Minister must have a plan beyond this, and we have the right to know. If it is a stepping-stone to privatisation or to semi-private PPP institutions, he must at least explain publicly why he would consider this move, which does not conform with international best practice models for a prison service.
"From what we know of them, the Minister's plans do not tackle the fundamental and underlying structural problems of over-incarceration for non-violent and minor offences and excessively high prisoner-staff ratios - both of which are imposing unreasonable costs to the state. They do not address the need to close several other prisons for health and safety reasons as recommended by the Prison Inspectorate. They would not appear to increase rehabilitative and other services to reduce recidivism, and as recommended by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Mr. McDowell needs to explain the basis for his apparently chaotic and reactionary plans, which would seem to bear no relation whatsoever to expert opinion or evidence.
"The reality is there is a pressing need for comprehensive and systematic reform of the prison service based on best international practice, not unproven rightwing ideology. The Minister should go back to the drawing board." ENDS
Sinn Féin representative for north Belfast, Gerry Kelly, has slammed the Greater Shankill's Community Council's report as stale and that it offers nothing new. Speaking today Mr Kelly said that the GSCC needed to pursue dialogue as the only way forward and not get caught up in dinosaur politics.
Speaking today Mr Kelly said:
"This report, published by the Greater Shankill Community Centre, is stale and offers nothing progressive or new. It is quite clear that the GSCC are lashing out at all others except the Orange Order and their supporters who continue to refuse to talk to local residents.
"What we see is the report making wild assertions about the residents protest, people taking part in the protest and even the Independent International Observers. It uses the language of the political dinosaurs such as DUP and the UDA.
"I have to say if those from the Greater Shankill Community Council are genuinely interested in identifying a way forward then dialogue between the relevant parties must be seriously considered and placed within this document.
"It is only through dialogue between the Orange Order and the local nationalist community that a lasting and satisfactory resolution to this problem can be achieved." ENDS
Sinn Féin candidate Mary Nelis has welcomed the fact that the SDLP have now adopted the Sinn Féin position on decentralisation.
"In the Assembly I proposed that Governmental Departments and Civil Service jobs be decentralised to towns and cities across the Six Counties. This however failed due to lack of support from other parties including the SDLP. I also had a motion passed through Derry City Council on the issue of decentralisation when I served on the Council.
Now that the SDLP have realised that this is an initiative worth pursuing I hope that when the Assembly is reconstituted that we can rely on the SDLP and the other parties to support us in our efforts to make decentralisation a reality - not just an electioneering ploy. After all, Mark Durkan, first as Minister of Finance and then as Deputy First Minister had the opportunity to initiate a policy of decentralisation of Departments but failed to do so."ENDS
Sinn Féin North Belfast representative, Kathy Stanton, has slammed today's pipe bomb attack on a Holy Cross parent. The attack on the home at Kerrara Street targeted of a mother of two children who attend Holy Cross Girls Primary School.
Speaking today Ms Stanton said:
"This attack is completely unjustifiable. The RHD, who have claimed the attack, is simply a cover name for the UDA. They have stated that they were specifically targeting a spokesperson for the Holy Cross Parents. This is a fallacy. What they have done is to select the most vulnerable target and attack a mother and her children in their home.
"What we see here is a continuation of the loyalist campaign against nationalists in North Belfast and as such I would urge nationalists to be vigilant in the coming weeks.
"The UDA is a group that are not on ceasefire and who have been responsible for countless sectarian gun and bomb attacks against nationalists over the past two and a half years. In the run up to an election they may try to flex their muscle, especially in north Belfast, and use intimidation instead of politics." ENDS
Upper Bann Sinn Féin Representative Dr. Dara O'Hagan has welcomed the publication of the Disability Rights Manifesto. The manifesto was produced by Disability Action in association with NIPSA.
Speaking at the launch in Belfast Dr. O'Hagan said:
" It is important that the voices of disabled people are heard, particularly during an election campaign. The publication of this manifesto today provides a template for all of the political parties, and more importantly for the newly elected Assembly and Executive."ENDS
Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP will be joined by party colleagues Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD and Martin Ferris TD at a press conference in Belfast tomorrow morning.
They will set out Sinn Féin's all-Ireland agenda and outline our priorities for the incoming Assembly as we continue to prepare for Irish Unity.
The press conference will take place at 11am in the Cultarlann, Falls Road, Belfast.
Speaking at a press conference today before a debate in the Dáil later on a Bill which would enshrined the right to housing in the Constitution, Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan TD said:
"Adequate housing is universally viewed as one of the most basic human needs. Sinn Féin believes that housing is a fundamental right, which must be enshrined in the Constitution and that is why we are launching this campaign today and bringing a constitutional amendment Bill before the Dáil. It is totally unacceptable that people are living in this State without access to adequate housing.
"The Fianna Fail/PD coalition government has consistently failed to address the housing crisis, which has become progressively worse during the six years that this coalition has been in power. Under the stewardship of Martin Cullen and his sidekick Noel Ahern, housing has slipped off the Government agenda. All we get from the Government these days are denials from Noel Ahern that there are hundreds of people sleeping rough on Dublin streets, insinuations that those seeking disabled housing grants are less than genuine and claims that housing affordability has been helped by the now passed economic boom. There is no recognition or acknowledgment from the Government of the crisis that affects, in one aspect or another, every family in the 26 counties.
"Sinn Féin believes that the current absence of such a right to housing has resulted in a relatively weak commitment from government and officials in addressing the housing issue and the increasing levels of homelessness. The absence of such a constitutional protection for the right to housing has allowed the government to get away with not acting in the interests of the homeless and others affected by the housing crisis.
"The tabling of this Constitutional amendment Bill represents the first initiative in Sinn Féin's campaign to force the government to address this issue for which there is widespread support ? for example: A survey carried out on
behalf of the Simon Community proper to the 2002 General election found that 71% of those surveyed support the inclusion of a right to housing in the constitution. Focus Ireland will also be launching their campaign on the "Right to a Home" this coming Thursday (13th).
"Sinn Féin rejects the Government's arguments that the inclusion of social and economic rights in the Constitution is undemocratic. We reject the assertion that social and economic policies are the sole prerogative of democratically elected and accountable politicians.
"The Constitution must be updated to include what are now internationally recognised social and political rights.
"Sinn Féin believes that a rights-based approach ensures that a basic standard with respect to housing provision will be upheld and that the voiceless and most marginalized within our society will not be penalised by their lack of political strength or representation.
"A constitutional right to housing would oblige statutory bodies to provide adequate and appropriate housing for all of the people of this State.
"Sinn Féin is confident that an overwhelming majority of the people of this State would support the enshrinement of the right to housing in the 1937 Constitution. We hope the Government will accept the Bill and that a referendum on the issue will be brought before the people at an early date."ENDS
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP speaking at a press conference in Belfast this morning said: "Sinn Féin has taken real risks for peace. We did so because we have a strategy to bring about a lasting peace. Central to this strategy is the intense dialogue with unionists. Although in an embryonic stage it has already delivered progress and we intend to build on it following the elections." Mr. McGuinness was accompanied by Conor Murphy, Michelle Gildernew MP, Cora Groogan and Philip McGuigan.
Mr McGuinness said:
"A lot has been achieved not just in the last five years but over the last decade and the Ireland we live in today is a very different place. Ten years ago there was a conflict that many said could not be resolved. We believed differently. We set about our peace strategy and worked day and night to develop the Irish Peace Process.
"The result of this effort is to be seen in every town and village in Ireland, not least in interface areas across the north this summer.
"The peace on our streets this summer happened because republicans and unionists worked together to make it happen.
"Dialogue and engagement delivered real benefits at the interface areas. At a wider level the dialogue between Sinn Féin and the UUP is the basis for future progress.
"We have made progress. We need to build upon this after the election.
"We are asking the electorate to join with us and endorse this work. We are asking them to support us in the forthcoming elections so that we can go into the negotiations stronger and bring about the type of lasting change which can be delivered through the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement."ENDS
Upper Bann Sinn Féin Representative Dr. Dara O'Hagan has demanded that the British Security Minister Jane Kennedy remove RIR man Jonathan Russell from the ranks of the RIR. Dr. O'Hagan's comments came after he was convicted of causing a disturbance at Drumcree last year.
Dr. O'Hagan said:
" Today RIR member Jonathan Russell was convicted of a violent offence committed at Drumcree last year. Yet we can only presume that he will be rearmed and placed back onto nationalist streets by his RIR regiment.
" It is not surprising given its history that the RIR contains individuals who would be involved in violent loyalist protests. However this does not make this any more acceptable. Jane Kennedy has a duty to disarm this loyalist and remove him from the ranks of the British Army.
" However, given the British governments failure to remove the murderers of Peter McBride from their army's ranks, people in Upper Bann will not be confident that she will dot he decent thing in this case either." ENDS