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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 Equality and Human Rights Spokesperson, Bairbre de Brún has expressed concern at the failure of the British government and the Human Rights Commission to address serious problems in the make up and operation of the commission. Bairbre de Brún has also written to the Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson about the need for it to restore public confidence in its willingness to protect the rights of all.

Ms de Brún said:

"The Human Rights Commission is a key component of the Good Friday Agreement which Sinn Féin strongly argued for and supported. We are very concerned at the Human Rights Commission's approach to a number of issues such as fair employment and the Chief Commissioner's inappropriate behaviour in the Holy Cross case. We approach this issue on the basis of wanting the best possible Human Rights Commission.

"The Chief Commissioner's actions in respect of the Holy Cross case, particularly his correspondence with former PSNI Chief Ronnie Flanagan, has undermined public confidence. It was totally inappropriate. The rights of little children should not depend on the area in which they live or the religion of their family.

"The Chief Commissioner has not dealt satisfactorily with these concerns about the way the Commission has developed under his stewardship. We have discussed our concerns and what is required fix the problem with the two governments. We need to look at a restructuring that includes the composition, the appointments process and then the powers and resources of the Commission. The British government need to put in place the measures to guarantee the integrity, independence and effectiveness of the Commission. The Human Rights Commission is broken. It needs fixed.

"I have written once again to the Commission stressing the need for it also to restore public confidence in its' integrity and its' willingness to promote and protect the rights of all regardless identity or political persuasion. ENDS

Note to Editors

The case which was taken by the parent of a child attending Holy Cross Primary School in North Belfast against the then RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan is due to start proceedings today.

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Sinn Féin County Councilor Gerry Murray has condemned a statement by Minster Sheamus Brennan suggesting that CIE should immediately start selling its property portfolio in order to fund its current capital spending. Minster Brennan was addressing a meeting of ISME when he made the statement.

Cllr Murray said.

"The selling of property at our Railway stations would very seriously compromise the future development of our Rail Network. In terms of the Western Rail Corridor it is extremely important that the CIE property along the line should not be sold, as it would compromise the opening of the railway. Minster Brennan seems to be more interested in pandering to the agenda of developers rather than making provision for the future transport needs of the country.

"The existing CIE land banks at our Railway stations should be left intact in order to allow for future expansion of our Rail Network. With more and more commuter, inter city and freight trains due to come into service, these land banks will be needed in order to make provision for car parking, warehouses and other services. I am astonished at the Minster's proposals and one must question his commitment to the future development of our Rail network."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the EU Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called the Government's plan to solicit private sponsorship of aspects of the Irish EU Presidency "a deplorable idea reflecting appalling bad judgment".  Speaking after the Minister's announcement at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"I was absolutely floored by his suggestion.  Surely this Government cannot be unaware of the widespread perception among the Irish public that the EU represents the interests of profit over people, or the equally widespread perception of corruption among Irish establishment politicians.  Given all the expensive tribunals, scandals and controversies about brown envelopes and backroom deals, you would think that the Government would make every effort to overcome the automatic association of government with business interests, not make it worse.   

"This sponsorship proposal sets a bad precedent and sends the entirely wrong message about the appropriate relationship between government and the private sector.  Ultimately it reflects what everyone fears - a drive towards a future where all of public life is for sale.  I hope it will not come to this and moreover that the Irish EU Presidency will not bring it closer to this point."   ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokespersons on Agriculture Martin Ferris TD and Assembly Member Gerry McHugh have welcomed the EU Court of Justice decision this morning supporting the right of member states to temporarily ban GM foods if they are suspected of posing a risk to public health or the environment. The ruling was in a case brought by the US corporation Monsanto which, with the support of the US Government, has been attempting to force the EU to accept GM products.

Deputy Ferris and Mr McHugh said:

"We fully welcome the decision of the court and hope that it will encourage other member states including Ireland and Britain to resist the pressure to admit these unnecessary and unproven products into Ireland. The case against GM is strong and the Court of Justice has now opened the way for regional and national authorities to conduct proper independent scientific and economic investigations to prove why they ought not be allowed to be grown or sold under their jurisdiction. In this regard we again call upon the Irish Government to conduct a full public consultation prior to making any decision on GM".ENDS

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Sinn Féin in Waterford makes history while launching its Local Election Candidates for 2004. The party is standing six candidates, three in the city and three in the county. This is the largest team of Sinn Féin candidates to contest an election in Waterford in the history of the state. Local Representative David Cullinane has also been selected as the Sinn Féin European Election Candidate for Munster.  This election will take place on the same day as the local elections.

Speaking at the European Election convention in Limerick Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams congratulated the party membership in Waterford and wished all the candidates well. He added that the party would again 'make history' by electing Sinn Féin Representatives onto Waterford City and County Council.

The selected candidates are Joe Kelly-City Ward 1, Frank Walsh City-Ward 2, David Cullinane City-Ward 3, Brendan Mansfield-Dungarvan Town and County Council Wards, John Power-Suir C.C. Ward and Liz Whelan-Kilmacthomas C.C.Ward. Longstanding party representative Davie Lane was elected as the Director of Elections.  

Sinn Féin Waterford Representative and Ard Comhairle Member David Cullinane said the number and calibre of the chosen candidates is a tribute to all those who have worked tirelessly in developing the party over recent years. He paid a special tribute to the party members whose commitment he described as incredible. He said he looked forward to contesting the election and predicted that the story of the election will be the success of Sinn Féin.

"Sinn Féin received a tremendous vote at the last general election here in Waterford which was a clear signal of what is to come. We are putting forward our Republican Labour analysis to the people of Waterford and offering them a real alternative. At present Sinn Féin has no elected representatives here in Waterford yet we are the only political party with a full time constituency office. Our commitment to serving the people is unquestionable with more and more people responding to this fact."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has welcomed the publication of draft legislation that will enable Sunday racing.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Sunday racing has been in existence since 1986 in the south. There are now over 50 Sunday fixtures and over 335,000 people enjoyed Sunday racing in Ireland last year. The relaxation of on-course betting restrictions in the Six Counties is long overdue and will allow the development of Sunday racing.

"Given the problems facing our tourism industry and rural communities the potential to bring money into local communities as a result of the relaxation of Sunday on-course betting rules and the development of Sunday racing should not be under estimated.

"This issue was dealt with by the Assembly almost three years ago. While Sunday racing is permitted the failure of the DUP Social Development Ministers to back on-course betting, despite Assembly support, has hindered the industry's ability to develop it. How much money has been to the local economy lost since then as a result of DUP fundamentalism?" ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has this morning been meeting with parents who may be forced to drop out of VTOS run back to work schemes, due to the Government's decision to remove childcare assistance from the courses. Deputy Crowe asked 'are the Government now so far removed from reality that they don't realise that removing childcare support will force many parents to drop out of these courses trapping them in a cycle of poverty.' He will be contacting the Department of Education to discuss the matter.

Deputy Crowe said:

"This morning I have been in touch with women in the Tallaght area who may be forced to drop out of back to work schemes because the Government removed childcare assistance from the courses in a shock decision last week.

"This decision follows on from serious cutbacks in CE schemes and FÁS moves to lay off workers on the Government-backed employment scheme, the Jobs Initiative.

"This highlights the complete contradiction that exists at the heart of government. On the one hand they are publicly saying that they are concerned at the numbers from disadvantaged backgrounds taking up higher education places, on the other hand they are attacking full time courses such as those run by VTOS, which are designed to help people back into education and into the workforce.

"If the government is serious about tackling disadvantage they need to completely reverse the direction that they are taking.

"It is time that they were honest and admitted that it is ordinary workers and the disadvantaged who are going to pay the price for ten years of mismanagement of public finances."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin MCGuinness MP will meet British Secretary of State Paul Murphy today, Monday 8th September, at 3.30 pm at Castle Buildings.

Mr McGuinness will discuss the current political situation, the need to set a definative date for elections, the ongoing problems with the operation of the Human Rights Commission and today's announcement on Maghaberry.

He will be available to speak to the media both before and after the meeting.

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Sinn Féin Prison Spokesperson Cllr Michael Browne has said that the recommendations from the Steele Review into safety at Maghaberry should lead to the early introduction of segregation.

Cllr Browne said:

"The setting up of this Review was a tacit admission that forced integration does not work. There is no logic in trying to force politically hostile prisoners to live together in prison.

"Now that the NIO have accepted the recommendations of Steele Review into prison safety it is a question of when and how segregation will be applied across the board.

"It is a question of commonsense." ENDS

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The Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin should establish a public inquiry into how dozens of unnecessary caesarean hysterectomies were allowed to be carried out at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, according to Sinn Féin Health spokeperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD. He was commenting on the beginning of the Garda investigation into the activities of former consultant obstetrician Dr. Michael Neary after the Medical Council submitted their report on Neary to the gardai at the weekend. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The commencement of the Garda inquiry is very welcome. It should not be used as an excuse by the government to put off the necessary public inquiry. The issue here is not simply the activities of one obstetrician. Women were victimised in this way over a period of years in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. No-one shouted stop, except the victims themselves who realised too late what had happened to them. Members of the medical and nursing staff and the hospital management must have been aware of what was going on but chose not to act, or worse, co-operated in practices whereby women were treated in an horrific manner.

"The women victims of this scandal, some of them teenagers at the time of their operations, have been through dreadful experiences. Without their knowledge or consent, they had their wombs removed unnecessarily and were prevented from having more children. These women are victims of a form of medical butchery.

"I met the Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin on this issue on two occasions, including with members of Patient Focus, and I repeat the call made then. There must be a full public inquiry and there must be a scheme of compensation for the women. We must know how such practices were allowed to continue for so long in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and the lessons for the structure, management and delivery of our health services must be learned and acted upon."ENDS

„On my proposal the North Eastern Health Board recommended an appropriate process of compensation, and requested the Minister for Health and Children to establish a full public inquiry into the delivery of Maternity Services at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. This should now be announced by the Minister without delay.‰ ENDS

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Dublin City Manager John Fitzgerald's threat, that bin workers will be ordered to leave behind the domestic waste of those who have refused to pay the service charges, is due to begin tomorrow (Monday). The Campaign Against the Bin Tax will lobby bin workers tomorrow morning. Residents will lobby bin workers at the Rathmines depot tomorrow morning at 7am.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow's action Sinn Féin spokesperson Daithí Doolan said the lobbying was aimed at supporting the City Council workers in their stance of refusing to implement dictates from City Hall.

He said:

"Communities are in full support of the worker's attempt to collect everyone's rubbish regardless of payment or non-payment. It is vital that workers and communities stand together in their opposition to the imposition of this bin tax. Neither bin workers nor residents benefit from this double taxation. We all understand that the introduction of this tax has nothing to do with an environmental strategy and everything to do with double taxation and privatisation of our public services."

"I have every confidence that both workers and residents will continue to support each other during this campaign.

"Tomorrow's actions are just the start of us stepping up our campaign against this tax.

"Sinn Féin remain committed to this campaign and to ensuring a real strategy for the environment is implemented. This strategy must be based on reducing, reducing and recycling our waste."ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has voiced his deep concern that tomorrow morning many parents will be forced to drop out of VTOS (Vocation Training Opportunities Scheme) schemes due to a government decision to remove childcare assistance. Of the 5000 people on VTOS courses more than 1,000 are young parents and the government gave them just one week to make alternative arrangements.

Deputy Crowe said:

"Last week the government contacted all those who were accepted onto VTOS schemes and those running the courses to say that childcare assistance would no longer be provided to those on the courses. There was no consultation or no advance notice. With many of the courses, which are designed to help people back into the workforce, due to start tomorrow morning, parents were given less than one week to try and make alternative arrangements. Give the cost of childcare in Dublin City what it effectively means is that parents will no longer be able to participate in such courses.

"It is clear that the governments answer to a down turn in the economy is to attack those most disadvantaged in our society to try and make savings. It's short sighted and defies logic. All it will do is trap young people in a cycle of poverty that they will not be able to get out of alone. Even at this late hour I am calling on Education Minister Dempsey to reverse his decision. "ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Waterford David Cullinane was this afternoon selected as the party's Munster candidate in next year's European elections. Speaking following the convention Mr. Cullinane said:

"I am delighted to have been selected as the party's candidate for Munster and will be building on the foundations laid by the previous candidate Martin Ferris. Over the last five years Sinn Féin has gone from strength to strength in Munster. Our success in the local and general elections shows that our agenda for change - in terms of the peace process, rural regeneration, the environment and the direction of the European Union - is popular.

"The public debate on the European Union during the two referendums on the Nice Treaty and indeed the deliberations of the National Forum on Europe have reflected significant public disquiet about the political character of the EU. People the length and breath of the country have demonstrated an appetite to engage, challenge and exert their influence on the shape and direction of the EU.

"With deliberations on the draft new EU Constitution well under way it is essential that the voices of those, who are concerned about the direction of what is the most radical reassessment of the EU political project to date, continue to be heard.

"Sinn Féin politics are about democracy, equality, the rights of citizens and of nations.   We are the radical alternative to the failed politics of the establishment parties who have been invisible for so long in Europe. Our campaign begins here in Munster today. We will be taking the debate on the EU Presidency, the new draft EU Constitution and the re-formulation of CAP to towns and villages throughout Munster. We are campaigning to make a real difference and to see an all Ireland Sinn Féin team returned to Europe."ENDS

Profile of David Cullinane

David Cullinane is the Sinn Féin representative for Waterford and is a member of the party's Ard Chomhairle. He is also keenly involved in Munster Sinn Féin and is a leading player in its re-development.

He played a leading role in the first and second Nice Treaty referendum campaigns and is involved in the campaign to secure a radiotherapy unit in the South East.

David was educated at St Pauls Community College Lisduggan and later at the Dublin Institute of Technology studying management. He is currently employed as Assistant Spare Parts Manager at Autoboland Garage Waterford.

David is actively involved in community development. He is a Director and Management Committee member of the Larchville & Lisduggan Community Development Project. David is a committee member of Waterford Against Racism, a broad-based group set up to combat racism.

He was the party's candidate for Waterford in the 2002 General Election and received 2,955 votes.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking at the Munster EU election convention in Munster this afternoon gave delegates an update on the peace process and current contact with the Irish and British governments. He said that 'Without the British Government calling an election as soon as possible it would be impossible to accelerate to the process.' Mr. Adams then went on to congratulate David Cullinane on his selection as the party's EU for Munster which he described as the most important EU election that the party had ever faced. Addressing delegates Mr. Adams said:

"Four and a half years ago Sinn Féin set out a marker in Munster when Martin Ferris received 29,060 votes. And then last May we took one seat in Kerry and saw our vote increase massively in Cork, Waterford and Tipperary.

In the coming months the Irish government faces a series of important hurdles that will be the acid test of whether it is committed to a better Europe, a better world, a better Ireland.

Next week Foreign Minister Brian Cowen addresses the Leinster House Committee on Europe. he must spell out the Government's position on how it will use the coming Presidency to voice the social justice agenda so often overlooked in the corridors of power within the EU.

We want to hear the Government's plans for an EU Presidency that will put debt cancellation and fair trade at the centre of the EU agenda. We want the Irish Presidency to be a voice on social justice issues such as making cheap medicines available to developing countries. We want an Irish Government that is promoting nuclear disarmament, not letting its airports be used as a stopover for the international arms industry. We want to hear how the Kyoto accords will be implemented and when Europe's nuclear industry will be dismantled. We want to hear real plans that will guarantee a future for farming not just in Ireland or the EU but internationally.

Shortly after that on October 4th there will be a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference where European leaders will be discussing the draft new EU Constitution. Again the Irish Government has to show leadership. There are some positive elements in the new draft constitution dealing with social and economic goals and with individual rights. These however are swamped with more powers for unelected EU institutions, with the same old story of no accountability, no transparency and no democracy and an EU more in tune with the needs of international business than the wants and desires of its own citizens.

The Irish Government as a voice for small states must make itself heard on these issues.They must also consult widely and fairly with the Irish people on the questions raised by the constitution. We need to have debate here in Ireland on what the voters think about issues such as more losses of the veto, of more powers for the EU Commission president, on what are the acceptable roles if any for a EU defence force to play.

The millions of people who took to the streets of Europe during the run up to the war in Iraq and the failure of the actual EU member governments to agree a common position on the war showed that there is a huge diversity of opinion on these issue throughout Europe. The Irish Government must allow debate on these issues. Sinn Fein must be there, campaigning systematically on these issues."ENDS

Full text

Last night I was in Tipperary for the launch of Paddy Hackett's new book and it was brought home to me the role that Munster has played over many years in the fight for Irish freedom. Building on the work of men and women like Tom Barry, Dan Gleeson, Ella O'Dwyer and Paddy Hackett we know the levels of support that we have across Munster and know the challenges that face us if we want to bring about an Ireland of equals.

I know that you are up to this challenge. Munster Sinn Féin is one of the fastest growing regions of the fastest growing political party in Ireland. Across Munster, Sinn Féin has been to the fore in campaigning on a wide range of issues including cuts in Public Services, the gross inequality in healthcare, the housing crisis, the future direction of Europe and the Irish peace process.

We in Sinn Féin are presenting the real alternative. We are committed to social and economic freedom for the people of Ireland. We are just as determined to achieve an Ireland where poverty and inequality are eliminated as we are to achieve an end to partition.

Sinn Féin - bringing an all-Ireland agenda to Europe

The next twelve months are likely to be dominated by events in Europe as Dublin takes over the Presidency of the EU, discussions conclude on the new EU Constitutions and elections to the European Parliament take place.

This is an important election for Sinn Féin, probably the most important EU election that we have ever faced. We have been a leading voice in the debate on the future direction of the European Union. We have debated the key issues in our communities, played a leading role in both Nice Treaty referendums and made a detailed submission on the draft European Union Constitution. I believe that people are responding to our message.

Last May I predicted that the story of the General Election would be the story of the rise of Sinn Féin and that places like Kerry North would be key to this. Next year I believe that the story of the European elections will again be the story of Sinn Féin when we secure our first ever representation in the European Parliament.

Four and a half years ago Sinn Féin set out a marker in Munster when Martin Ferris received 29,060 votes and we had such local government success across Cork, Kerry and in Tipperary. And then last May we took one seat in Kerry and saw our vote increase massively in Cork, Waterford and Tipperary. The hard work, the long hours and the dedication each Sinn Féin activist put into the campaign gave us this success.

Here in Munster you also played a key role in both Nice Treaty referendums. The many thousands of people who shared our concern that this Treaty would bring us closer to the creation of an EU superstate and an EU Army are looking to Sinn Féin as we enter into a defining period in Europe.

In Ireland we have a substantial role and responsibility in this period. It is not just in the context of the upcoming Presidency of the EU. As citizens, as republicans we need to make our voices heard and opinions felt in the coming months. The Sinn Féin vision of what Europe could be needs to be heard as widely as possible. It needs to be heard on the doorsteps as you canvas, on the posters you put up, at public meetings, on radio phone in shows, in the news columns and letter pages of local newspapers and not forgetting the political discussion chat rooms on the internet.

We need to make it clear that Sinn Féin wants to be part of a Europe where the core objectives are full employment, no homelessness or hunger or poverty. We want a Europe that uses its power for social justice inside and outside its borders. A Europe that is nuclear free, that leads the world in how it protects and enhances the environment.

In the coming months the Irish government faces a series of important hurdles that will be the acid test of whether it is committed to a better Europe, a better world, a better Ireland.

Next week Foreign Minister Brian Cowen addresses the Leinster House Committee on Europe. he must spell out the Governments position on how it will use the coming Presidency to voice the social justice agenda so often overlooked in the corridors of power within the EU.

We want to hear the Government's plans for an EU Presidency that will put debt cancellation and fair trade at the centre of the EU agenda. We want the Irish Presidency to be a voice on social justice issues such as making cheap medicines available to developing countries.

We want an Irish Government that is promoting nuclear disarmament, not letting its airports be used as a stopover for the international arms industry. We want to hear how the Kyoto accords will be implemented and when Europe's nuclear industry will be dismantled.

We want to hear real plans that will guarantee a future for farming not just in Ireland or the EU but internationally.

We want to hear that there is a future for places like Munster where lush farm lands, proud towns and cities can thrive together.

Shortly after that on October 4th there will be a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference where European leaders will be discussing the draft new EU Constitution.

Again the Irish Government has to show leadership. There are some positive elements in the new draft constitution dealing with social and economic goals and with individual rights. These however are swamped with more powers for unelected EU institutions, with the same old story of no accountability, no transparency and no democracy and an EU more in tune with the needs of international business than the wants and desires of its own citizens.

The Irish Government as a voice for small states must make itself heard on these issues.They must also consult widely and fairly with the Irish people on the questions raised by the constitution. We need to have debate here in Ireland on what the voters think about issues such as more losses of the veto, of more powers for the EU Commission president, on what are the acceptable roles if any for a EU defence force to play.

The millions of people who took to the streets of Europe during the run up to the war in Iraq and the failure of the actual EU member governments to agree a common position on the war showed that there is a huge diversity of opinion on these issue throughout Europe. The Irish Government must allow debate on these issues.

Sinn Fein must be there, campaigning systematically on these issues.

Where do we go from here?

None of this can be achieved without greater political strength for Sinn Féin. In the local government and EU elections next year Sinn Féin will be presenting its largest ever number of candidates. We are determined to send strong teams of Sinn Féin councillors onto councils across Munster. And we are also determined to to bring success in the European elections.

This means a busy autumn and winter for everyone here. It means planning now at cumann level upwards how to get the best results possible next June. In the last decade Sinn Fein members have again and again been asked to raise their game, to do more and with each election the barrier has been raised. We know that at each time of asking we have reached beyond what we thought was possible and succeeded when our detractors sniped and frustrated our efforts.

Republicans in Munster have been at the leading edge of political struggle in Ireland for the last century. I know that in this new one they will continue that tradition, with new names, new stories yet to be added too this noble history.

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Sinn Féin Chairperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin commenting on the outcome of the UUC meeting today said:

"The Ulster Unionist Council today made its decision. It backed the Party Leader, David Trimble giving him a clear mandate. It is now time for the two governments to stop looking over their shoulders at the Ulster Unionists and get on with implementing the Agreement.

"The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair should immediately set a date for Assembly elections so that the Parties can seek a fresh mandate from the electorate.

"The infighting in the Ulster Unionist Party can no longer be used as justification for suspension of the peoples‚ right to vote. We must move on to rebuild the political process."ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Munster EU election convention will take place tomorrow afternoon, Saturday 6th September, in the Glentworth Hotel in Limerick City.

Contesting the convention are Cork Councillor Jonathan O'Brien, David Cullinane from Waterford and Nancy Irwin from Limerick.

The meeting is open to the media at 2.45pm when Gerry Adams and the winning candidate will address the convention. They will both be available to speak to the media directly afterwards.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is in Munster holding a series of meetings with party activists and to attend an EU selection convention in limerick on Saturday.

This evening he will be speaking in Thurles, Co. Tipperary at the publication of a book by former political prisoner Paddy Hacket. The book 'Keep their names ever green' is the story of the second Tipperary Brigade of the IRA between 1920 and 1923.

Commenting on the current political situation Mr Adams said:

"Whatever the outcome of the internal battle within unionism the rest of us, the two governments and the pro-agreement parties, have to ensure that all shades of unionism clearly understand that the GFA is as good as it gets. Unionists must face that reality.

"Of course, those unionists who are fearful of change and who don't want to be part of building a new political dispensation -- a new an better future for the people they represent - can absent themselves from this process. But they cannot stop it. They can slow it down but they cannot stop the process of change.

"Irish republicans clearly have a responsibility to listen to unionists, to speak with them at every opportunity and to seek to persuade them of the benefits of working together. That is a huge challenge for us but it is one I believe we are up to.

"In the short term our priority has to be to have elections held as soon as possible and to see the political institutions restored. Elections are the only way to create a new context, a new dynamic in which progress can be made.

"I believe, and my recent discussions with the two governments support this view, that we can still make progress if the political will can be found and if political leaders are prepared to lead.

"We should, all of us take considerable pride in what we have collectively achieved in recent years.

"We have to keep going -- we have to keep pushing ahead. There remains so many matters still to be resolved -- the human rights and equality agenda, the policing issue, demilitarisation and much more.

"The GFA identified what was wrong and how it could be fixed. We have to stay focussed on achieving this.

"The British government in particular cannot run away from its responsibilities. The decision to cancel the elections has undermined the political process. A refusal to call elections soon will further subvert it. Mr Blair's remarks yesterday are evidence that he understands this. But he cannot forever wait on the UUP to catch up with the rest of us. There is a matter of political principle involved. He needs to face up to the democratic imperative sooner rather than later." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has said that a definitive date for elections must be the starting point for progress.

Ms Gildernew said:

"This weekend the focus is on the continuing tensions within the Ulster Unionist Party. The UUC appears to be the only issue that the British government, in particular, is treating with any urgency. Yet there is no sense of urgency around the stagnation of the peace process and Good Friday Agreement.

"All it appears that the British government are intent on doing is undermining the integrity of the Agreement by stepping outside its‚ terms to meet the needs of factions within unionism.

"The British government must stop pandering to Unionism. The rights and entitlements of citizens cannot be held to ransom because Unionists refuse to accept change.

"Also, and crucially, Mr. Blair must set a firm date for the elections - without qualification or precondition. The fundamental right to vote cannot be withheld. It is a basic democratic right. A date for the elections will create a new political context, injecting a much needed dynamic back into a process that is stagnating." ENDS

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