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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 spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights, South Down MLA Caítríona Ruane held a meeting this morning with the Human Rights Commission to raise a series of concerns around new electoral registration procedures.

Caitriona Ruane said:

"Sinn Féin met with the Human Rights Commission today to discuss major concerns regarding the introduction of legislation in May 2002 which has clearly interfered with citizens rights to freely participate in elections.

"Some 211,000 voters, representing 16.5% of the overall electorate who were entitled to vote did not and we believe that the new registration requirements acted as a major deterrent to potential voters.

"We have asked the Human Rights Commission, which has been publicly quiet on these matters to date, to actively pursue this matter in order to establish the extent to which the new registration requirements are in breach of human rights standards and the right to vote.

"We also asked the Commission to initiate a civic awareness raising campaign to encourage people to exercise their voting rights." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Children and Young, Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Thomas O'Reilly has hit out at yet another increase in the cost of school meals due to take effect in September 2004.

Mr O'Reilly said:

"The Department of Education is instructing all education library boards to recoup the increased staff costs resulting from job evaluation agreements that increased the cost of the school meals service by £0.9 million annually. This will mean that boards will have to increase prices by 8% each year.

"Within the Western Education Library Board the 2003/04 school meal price rose by 12% and this is now being followed by another 6 % or 10 pence increase.

"This increase may sound small but the reality is that it will put families under greater pressure to find the extra money for school meals.

"It is wrong that children and their families should be forced to fund increased staff costs. The department should be prepared to invest adequately in the school meals scheme. Research consistently shows that school meals are a vital nutritional source for children from low-income families. In some cases this will mean that families have to make a choice between money spent on school meals and money spent on paying bills.

"I have asked the WELB to make a case to the department for children from rural areas who have a much longer day because of longer travelling times.

Low cost meals are an essential part of school provision to enable them to get the most from their school day. Many schools today provide breakfast as well as lunch this means that for a family with three children at secondary school that the cost could be £40 to £50 per week." ENDS

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Athéilíonn Piaras Ó Dochartaigh, iarrthóir AE Shinn Féin sa toghcheantar Thuaidh agus Thiar, go mbronnfar stádas iomlán san Aontas Eorpach ar an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil oibre. Tagann an t-éileamh seo 16ú Márta díreach tar éis d‚Uachtarán an Choimisiúin, Romano Prodi, agus do na deich gCoimisiúin ainmnithe, gréasán oifigiúil an AE a sheoladh i dteangacha na mballstát úra.

Ag labhairt dó inniu, arsa Mac Uí Dhochartaigh :

"Fáiltíonn Sinn Féin roimh na stáit úra a bheidh ag teacht isteach san Aontas 1ú Bealtaine 2004. Is céim ar aghaidh í go bhféadfar teacht ar ghréasán oifigiúil an AE, EUROPA, ag achan stát ina theanga féin.

"Ach, arís, cuireadh ar leataobh teanga na Gaeilge ag an AE agus ag Uachtarántacht Éireannach an Aontais, mar theanga oifigiúil oibre an AE. Éilíonn Sinn Féin arís ar Rialtas na hÉireann, tré mheán Uachtarántacht an AE, cothrom na Féinne a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge agus cothroime a bheith aici le teangacha eile na hEorpa.

"Leanfaidh Sinn Féin leo tacaíocht a thabhairt don fheachtas Stádas an t-aitheantas sin a bhaint amach. Leanfar leis an bhrú ar Rialtas an Stáit seo stádas iomlán cultúrtha a bheith ag an Ghaeile laistigh den AE." ENDS

Sinn Féin condemns exclusion of Irish language from official EU website

Sinn Féin North West EU candidate, Pearse Doherty has renewed calls for the Irish language to be given the full status of an official and working language of the European Union. Mr Doherty's call comes after the EU Commission President Romano Prodi and the 10 Commissioners-designate, launched the official EU website in the languages of the new member states on the 16th March 2004.

Speaking today, Mr Doherty said:

"Sinn Féin wants to welcome the new accession states to the EU on May 1st 2004, and the fact that all of the accession states will be able to access the official EU website EUROPA, in their own language, must be viewed as a progressive step.

"However, once again the Irish language has been overlooked by both the EU and the Irish Presidency, as an official and working language of the EU. Sinn Féin is once again calling for the Irish Government, through the EU Presidency to lobby for equality for the Irish language and for parity with other European languages.

For our part, Sinn Féin will continue to support the Stádas campaign for such recognition, and will continue to lobby the government of this state for full cultural equality within the EU"ENDS.

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Sinn Fein North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has said that the Democratic Unionist Party will have to share power with Sinn Fein if they want to be part of local political institutions.

Mr Kelly said:

"We disagree with the DUP on a lot of things, but Sinn Fein respect their mandate and we acknowledge it.

"It is time that the DUP woke up to the reality that the majority of nationalists vote for Sinn Féin. They need to respect our mandate whether they like it or not.

"In America this week the DUP engaged with many parts of Irish America including those who believe that inclusivity and power sharing must be at the heart of any agreement that holds out the prospect of progress and lasting peace.

"The challenge now for the DUP is to engage with Irish people here at home. The inescapable logic is that they will go nowhere unless they engage with those who speak for the vast majority of nationalists living in the north, namely Sinn Féin." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said today that the party has rejected the Government's plan to strip the citizenship rights of children born in Ireland to non-national parents as violating rights secured under the Good Friday Agreement by creating "citizenship based not on birth but on race".

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The proposal to grant some people the right of citizenship by birth but to remove the right of citizenship by birth from other babies with a different ethnic background is nothing less than an introduction of citizenship based on race. This goes against everything Sinn Féin has worked for in building an Ireland of Equals, and is also contrary to the Good Friday Agreement. We reject the Government's proposal as dangerously irresponsible.

"The Government is constructing this as an election issue in order to deflect attention away from their abysmal record on health, housing, education, and indeed the Minister's refusal to confront the problem of high crime rates and failures of policing in working class communities. The Government is particularly trying to scapegoat non-nationals for the crisis in the hospitals system to deflect from their mismanagement over almost ten years. This is totally unacceptable. The Irish people can see through this pre-election ploy and won't fall for it.

"The Minister has twisted the facts to fit his ideological agenda. He knows that his proposal will inflame bigotry and poison the national atmosphere but he is prepared to do this in the hopes of electoral gain. As it stands, racism in this state has prompted a rising level of hate crime, which has already resulted in assaults and deaths. It is the height of Ministerial irresponsibility to politically exploit this issue and it once again calls into question the fitness of Michael McDowell for his post.

"The fact remains that the people have spoken on the issue of citizenship in their overwhelming endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government has already subjected us to a referendum re-run on the Nice Treaty. We do not need a re-run of this issue too. The proposed referendum should not go ahead. Not during an election campaign. Not at all.

"Whatever about the policies of some EU states, Ireland is not alone in the democratic world in granting citizenship on the basis of birth. We are in the good company of Canada and the United States. If anything, we should be encouraging other EU states to consider de-racialising their own citizenship laws to bring them into line with this democratic practice.

"Therefore, we are taking the opportunity of the commencement of European Week Against Racism to call on the Government to use the Irish Presidency to do the right thing and send the right message "of respect for a truly diverse and inclusive Ireland and EU." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald called on all political parties, north and south, to give a public commitment to keep the forthcoming elections racism-free.

Ms McDonald said: "This Sunday marks International Day against Racism and hundreds of events will take place across Ireland. The theme this year is the full participation of minority ethnic groups in broader society and it is something which we fully support and are working for.

"Sinn Féin is calling on all political parties on the island of Ireland to reaffirm their commitment to the anti-racist protocol for political parties and give a commitment to keep the Local Government and European Union elections racism-free.

"Sinn Féin has always played a leading role in our communities and in elected chambers across the country opposing racism. Last July we launched a Charter on Racism, which we brought to Local Councils across Ireland. Alex Maskey, as Mayor of Belfast, made tackling racism and sectarianism one of the main priorities of his term in office. Our elected representatives speak out against racism and work to ensure that the human rights of all are upheld. And as part of our preparations for the forthcoming elections, all of our candidates are currently taking part in anti-racism training. We are calling on other parties to follow our example on this issue, so that together we can make the anti-racist protocol a reality.

"Racism must be addressed at two levels: through local communities and at policy level. Local communities must be directly involved in the campaign to tackle racism and discrimination. Elected representatives must work to make sure that all policies and procedures are human rights-proofed. That is the message that we will be bringing to the people during this election campaign." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing and member of the Oireachtas All-Party on the Constitution Arthur Morgan T.D. has commented on leaked reports of the contents of the forthcoming report of that Committee on Property Rights.

Deputy Morgan said:

"The Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution is due to publish its report in the coming weeks. It has been indicated in media reports that it will make a number of significant recommendations. Sinn Féin has worked hard in this Committee to ensure that the common good is given precedence over the rights of private property and to ensure that progress can be made on righting the wrongs which currently exist in relation to land and house prices. Sinn Féin has also pursued the necessity to resolve the scandal of ground rents and I believe this will be reflected in the forthcoming report.

"Sinn Fein is however concerned that this report will be used as an election tool by Fianna Fáil and will be waved about by An Taoiseach in advance of the local and European elections in an attempt to show that the Government is doing something to address the housing crisis. The OAPCC has spent in excess of a year enquiring into the issue of property rights and the constitution. This report cannot be treated in the scandalous way which the majority of the other reports of the Committee have been treated. The majority of those 8 reports have been ignored by the Government and have simply sat on the shelf. Without a commitment to implementation all the work of the Committee will be worthless." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Daithí Doolan, today called on Minister Seamus Brennan to come clean and take responsibility for the current new low in industrial relations.

Mr. Doolan said:

"In the last few days we have witnessed a new low in industrial relations. Where workers and the public are being held to ransom by a government Minister who would rather engage in megaphone politics and a Taoiseach issuing mysterious letters as opposed to engaging in meaningful dialogue in order to resolve the ongoing industrial dispute within our public transport sector.

I have spoken to senior union officials and registered my concern at the government‚s behavior and reiterated Sinn Féin‚s support for the NBRU and SIPTU‚s position. These unions are attempting to defend a critical public service and the standards it offers. The blame for the the current mess lies fairly and squarely at the door of Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan. It appears that the Minister would rather try to divide and break the unions in this state rather than do business with them. The public want and deserve a better service than what Brennan has on offer. This city needs a transport system based on need and accessibility not one based on Brennan's daft plan of unbridled privatisation than has been proven to fail the world over."

Mr. Doolan concluded by demanding the Taoiseach, "put manners on his Minister and engage in meaningful dialogue . The unions, the workers they represent and the public deserve nothing less." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Belfast Council Group Leader Cllr Tom Hartley has said that it is time for unionists on the council to support the St Patrick's Day festivities.

Cllr Hartley said:

"The festivities in Belfast City Centre were an overwhelming success. Thousands of young people and families brought a sense of enjoyment and pleasure to Belfast city centre. It was a well-organised, well-attended and well-stewarded event.

"However, I am concerned at the strong anti St Patrick‚s Day agenda being pursued by unionists and the onslaught on this peaceful event.

"When St Patrick‚s Day is celebrated from Moscow to Tokyo it is a disgrace that Ireland‚s second city is unable to put a bigger event together because unionist councillors continue to block financial support. It is time for unionists on the council to support the St Patrick‚s Day festivities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey has expressed concern at the targeting of a bar in South Belfast by Loyalists on St Patrick's Day.

Mr Maskey said:

"This intention of this device was clearly to create havoc on St Patrick's Day. If it had exploded it appears to have been an attempt at mass murder. Given that there were also two other pipe bomb attacks last night this would appear to part of a co-ordinated series of attacks from loyalists.

"This latest pipe bomb attack shows that Loyalists are still active. Loyalist violence continues.

"This morning we have heard many unionist representatives comment on what were clearly minor disturbances in Belfast City Centre yet remaining silent on acts of attempted murder emanating from within their own community and directed at people taking part in the St Patrick's Day festivities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Policing Spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has said that Hugh Orde's PSNI will be judged by both their actions and inaction.

Mr Kelly said:

"Hugh Orde is correct when he says that people will judge the PSNI on their action but he must also be aware that the PSNI will be judged by their inaction also.

"We have achieved substantial progress since 1998, but six years on from the Good Friday Agreement we are still some distance from achieving a democratically accountable and representative, civic policing service which is free from partisan political control as agreed in the Good Friday Agreement.

"People passed judgement on Hugh Orde's PSNI only six months ago when within the nationalist community Sinn Féin's position was resoundingly endorsed by the electorate. Is it any wonder when the PSNI will aggressively arrest and charge a 14-year-old boy with possession of an offensive weapon when all he is doing is walking down the road with a hurley stick that nationalists still have little confidence in the PSNI.

Perhaps the most critical obstacle to be overcome is the inaction on the transfer of power on Policing and Justice to democratic and accountable structures. Power needs to be wrested from the NIO and intelligence agencies in London and handed over to the accountable institutions of the Assembly, the Executive and the All Ireland institutions.

Other outstanding issues include:

· Plastic bullets need to be withdrawn from use;

· Repressive legislation continues to be used by the PSNI, as it was by the RUC;

· PSNI stations and vehicles have not been demilitarised;

· Key positions in the PSNI are held by human rights abusers involved in collusion with loyalist paramilitaries to kill citizens;

· Ongoing interference and opposition to inquiries and inquests;

· The PSNI Chief Constable continues to withhold vital inquest evidence on controversial killings involving British state forces;

· The Special Branch has transferred unhindered from the RUC into the PSNI.

· Political destabilisation at key points in the peace process, has been effected by the police Special Branch, which has been at the centre of politically damaging leaks and briefings to the media or actions by PSNI;

· The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a branch of the failed status quo in policing and justice, continues to prevent prosecutions against human rights abusers in the PSNI;

· The DPP and Special Branch continue to interfere with forensic evidence and the activities of the Forensic Science Agency, particularly in

politically motivated prosecutions;

· The Policing Board has failed to use its own powers to instigate an inquiry. The Policing Board is failing to fulfil its primary function - to hold members of the PSNI fully to account.

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Sinn Fein spokesperson on EU affairs, West Belfast MLA Bairbre de Brún has described as a 'missed opportunity' the publication of general policy advice, information and guidance on meeting the obligations in respect of Irish and Ulster-Scots by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Ms de Brún has said that it is disappointing that DCAL took a minimalist approach in giving guidance to officials, particularly where the use of Irish is concerned.

Ms de Brún said:

'The commitments the British Government made when the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was signed and ratified must be upheld. To do this officials in government departments and associated bodies need to be made aware of the extent of the obligations this places on them. Emphasising Article 10 only and referring them to their own Departments for any further guidance on the other articles is a missed opportunity if not a downright cop-out.

"The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is designed to protect and promote regional or minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe's cultural heritage.

"The British Government signed the Charter on 2 March 2000 and ratified on 27 March 2001. It came into force on 1 July 2001.

"Irish speakers who have waited over two and half years for DCAL to publish these guidelines were clearly expecting a more fulsome promotion of the 36 provision that the British government signed up to in relation to Irish here. Yet all we have here is guidance about one aspect of this, in relation to Article 10 of the Charter. Telling officials to inform themselves about all other aspects of their responsibilities or to check with their own departments is just not good enough. The impression is given that it will suffice for officials to give a nod in the direction of Article 10 only. It will not.

"The guidance also continues to give the erroneous impression that there is a direct correlation between Irish and Ulster Scots. This is not the case either for the Charter or for the Good Friday Agreement.

"The European Charter places a responsibility not just in relation to day-to-day dealing with the public, but also in specific areas such as research, education, training and the media.

"It requires, for example, that resources be made available across all the education sectors and that the British government address the issue of Irish language broadcasting.

"Sinn Féin will continue to raise the issue of Irish language rights in the Review and specifically the need for an Irish language Act and Irish language Commissioner.

"The guidance issued today represnts a missed opportunity. This does not bode well for that aspect of the Review."ENDS

Note to Editors

This means, for example, that there is a responsibility to:

· Ensure that users of minority languages are not excluded from society

· Include language users in the decision-making processes that affect their language

· Take resolute action to promote regional or minority languages

· Ensure that languages are dealt with appropriately within the education system.

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Sinn Féin will hold a press conference in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street on Friday next (March 19th) at 11.30am to outline details of the party's anti-racism strategy in advance of International Day against Racism on Sunday March 21st.

The Government's proposed referendum on citizenship will also be addressed.

Attending the press conference will be Sinn Féin EU candidate for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald, Alex Maskey MLA, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD and Daithi Doolan, Dublin South East representative.

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Sinn Fein Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has said 'the continuing refusal of the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings is symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system'.

Ms Gildernew said:

"This latest refusal by the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings is unacceptable. The families who have demanded disclosure are entitled to the truth about the killings of their loved ones.

"It is ironic that at this moment Hugh Orde, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, is in the United States promoting the lie that the PSNI today is different from the RUC .

"When Mr Orde says that the PSNI should be judged on their actions he should remember the simple truth that for the past 10 years, first the RUC and then the PSNI, including the PSNI under his control, have refused to give vital evidence to the inquest hearings into the murder of 10 people in Tyrone. No one will be fooled by Hugh Orde's dishonest claims that things are different now. His assertions are an insult to the families who have fought for many years to have the truth about these killings revealed.

"The continuing refusal to reveal relevant information to these inquests is symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system. It amounts to a state sponsored cover up. Hugh Orde should explain why he is withholding information from these families rather than telling lies in the United States.

"The refusal to provide information to these inquests is not an isolated case. It must be seen in the context of the British government's refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system and the on-going attempts to cover-up the extent of British collusion and control of loyalist death squads.

"Sinn Féin will continue to stand with those families who continue to campaign for the truth. There must be full disclosure by the British state of its real role in Ireland over the last three decades of conflict." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Vice President, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty MLA speaking at a Press Conference in London today has said that it is time for the two governments to live up to their commitments.

Mr Doherty said:

"I note the stated intention of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to step up the pace of talks to restore the political institutions.

"However the problems in the peace process are wider than the British and Irish governments admit.

"The difficulties in the process go beyond the problems of the armed groups and the refusal of unionists to commit to inclusive government as claimed by the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.

"While these are important matters and Sinn Fein will continue to work to see them resolved the refusal of the Governments to deliver on their obligations has a more serious negative effect on the overall process. This results in the ongoing denial to citizens of fundamental rights including equality, human rights and justice.

"We will not get the progress or the stability required unless this is rectified.

"Commitments in the Good Friday Agreement, Weston Park and in the numerous talks since then by the two governments have not been moved on. In October last year republicans stepped up to the mark and delivered. Unionism reneged on its commitments and so have the British of Irish governments.

"However, Unionist parties are, yet again, seeking the exclusion of Sinn Fein and many republicans believe that the two governments are actively considering the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the political process in the north as an option.

"The failed policies of the past, the politics of exclusion will not work. It is a destructive politics and it betrays an absence of real debate." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Daithí Doolan, speaking today at the anti war press conference, called on the Irish government to use it's Presidency of the EU to promote peace and dialogue.

Mr. Doolan said:

"This Saturday marks the first anniversary of the US, British and Allied troops going to war in Iraqi, which has led to the ongoing occupation. The question we need to be asking is, has this illegal war and continued occupation made the world safer and more peaceful. I firmly believe that the answer is clearly no. The world is in fact less safe than it was 12 months ago."

The press conference held today in Buswells Hotel was organised jointly by the Irish Anti War Movement, Peace And Neutrality Alliance and the NGO Alliance for Peace. The press conference highlighted the forthcoming march to be be held this Saturday, March 20th. The March is being organised to highlight the ongoing illegal occupations of Iraq and Palestine.

Mr. Doolan said:

"The Irish people know only too well the causes and the consequences of occupation. We have continued to struggle for unity, peace and freedom on our own shores and as we look further a field we see the same division being perpetrated by western colonial powers in the Middle East.

Allied forces need to withdraw from Iraq as a matter of urgency and we must then ensure that the UN have the power and resources to oversee a transformation to national democracy. While in Palestine the Israeli forces must withdraw from the occupied territories and enter into dialogue with the Palestinian leadership. We understand that it is only through such dialogue with your opponents can trust be built on. Politics of exclusion never works, be it in the Middle East or in Ireland."

In conclusion Mr. Doolan called on: "Everyone to play their part this Saturday and come out and support this march for peace. We can use this opportunity to send a clear message, the Irish people want a peaceful world free from occupation and division and this means our government must stop Shannon being used to fuel US war planes." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has said that whatever happens in terms of the current political process there can be no return to the dark days of unionist misrule and systematic discrimination against nationalists.

Cllr McGuigan said:

"There can never be a return to the dark days of unionist majority misrule here in the north. We have had that experiment for 50 years and it failed miserably. No one should need reminded of the experience of discrimination, gerrymandering and exclusion that occurred across the north.

"Unfortunately some of these practices are continuing today in Unionist controlled councils. The fight for equality is nowhere near over.

"If we ever needed an example of why nationalists should not accept any attempts to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement and the safeguards contained within it then we need look no further than local councils in areas like Ballymena, Ballymoney, Lisburn, Castlereagh and others controlled by Unionists.

"In these places Unionists continue to diminish the mandate given to Sinn Féin and the nationalist electorate. They continue to harbour policies that treat Nationalists and Republicans as second-class citizens.

"It has to be said, unfortunately that in some places they do so with the passive compliance of the SDLP.

"The DUP in particular long to bring the north back to 1969. They control some local councils like mini dictatorship led states. They hold the main positions within councils with an iron grip and change the rules to suit themselves. They fear equality. That is why they react as they do in

relation to the current political process and the Good Friday Agreement.

"The safeguards contained within the Good Friday Agreement were agreed and endorsed by the vast majority of people in Ireland to ensure that parties would attain position in relation to their mandate. Instead of attempts to diminish the power-sharing nature of the Assembly we should be attempting to ensure that these good practices, such as D'Hondt, contained within the Agreement are rolled out into local councils." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North West EU candidate Pearse Doherty has this week challenged Fine Gael's Madeline Taylor-Quinn to a debate on neutrality. The challenge comes after Fine Gael's anti-neutrality Bill failed to get support in the Dail on March 10th 2004.

Speaking today, Mr Doherty said:

"I want to issue a direct challenge to Madeline Taylor-Quinn to a public debate on neutrality. This is an issue of huge importance and it is important that the people of the North and West have an opportunity to directly hear the positions of the parties on the matter. Last week in the Dáil Fine Gael introduced an anti-neutrality Bill, which failed to receive any support. This Bill included proposals to involve this state in the continuing militarisation of the EU and we led opposition to it in Leinster House.

"Sinn Féin believes that a full public discussion around neutrality is required.

"Our position on neutrality is clear. We want to see neutrality enshrined in the Constitution, we oppose the militarisation of the EU and we support a policy of positive neutrality in action. We will actively defend neutrality at every opportunity, against those who wish to draw us into conflicts, many of which are designed to serve the interests of big business, and the selfish and strategic interests of the EU's elites.

"I would like to debate these issues out with Madeline Taylor Quinn in the coming weeks and allow the people of this area the chance to have their say."ENDS

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Sinn Féin councillor Sue Ramsey has said that the arrest, charging and violent treatment of a 14-year-old boy in West Belfast for carrying a hurley stick by the PSNI is further evidence of the lack of an accountable and representative policing service.

Sue Ramsey said:

"To arrest and charge a schoolchild for possession a hurl is a obscene. To label it an offensive weapon a disgrace. But even more serious the head injury that this 14 year old received when he was arrested points to a police force that treats young nationalists with violent disdain. This is nothing less than child abuse.

"The PSNI men who targeted this young nationalist would not have done so if they knew that they would be held to account for their actions. Their attitude towards this young GAA player is totally unacceptable and further highlights the unrepresentative nature of the current PSNI.

"The reality for nationalists living in areas like West Belfast is that the PSNI behave no differently from the RUC. The reality is that the PSNI continue to harass and target particularly young nationalists." ENDS

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Sinn Fein MLA for north Belfast and spokesperson on Policing and Justice Gerry Kelly has slammed today's comments from the Chief Constable Hugh Orde regarding the possibility of a tense and difficult marching season.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde is increasing acting in a highly political manner and his comments today are indicative of this.

"In the past number of years in was the former Assistant Chief Constable, Alan McQuillan, who actively sought to raise tensions and exploit Orange marches for political gain instead of addressing the issues of loyalist attacks and the hemming in of nationalist communities that have surrounded the marching season.

"In the current political vacuum Hugh Orde's comments could be seen as raising tensions before what is already an extremely tense time of year. Hugh Orde's comments will in no way make the tireless work, that has been going on to ensure that we achieve a quite summer, any easier." ENDS

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