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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 Councillor for Ardoyne Margaret McClenaghan, has slammed today's Parades Commission determination allowing a Royal Black Preceptory march to pass by Ardoyne and Mountainview on Saturday the 30th of August.

Speaking today Cllr McClenaghan said:

"The decision by the Parades Commission to allow the Royal Black Preceptory to march past Ardoyne, Mountainview and the Dales is pure and simply wrong.

"Each year we are seeing Orange, Black and Apprentice Boys marches being allowed to march through a nationalist community while local residents are subject to militaristic operations hemming them into their homes.

"This is despite the continual best efforts of the local residents and their community and political representatives, who have attempted to foster dialogue in order to achieve a long term resolution. However there is no reciprocation whatsoever coming from any of the Loyal Orders.

"The Parades Commission have time and time again turned a blind eye to this fact and have rewarded the Orders for their intransigence. It is high time these senseless determinations ended and pressure is brought to bear upon the Orders to sit down and talk with nationalists residents." ENDS

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Lagan Valley Sinn Féin Representative Cllr. Paul Butler has accused loyalists in the area of being involved in a systematic campaign of intimidation against Catholics. Cllr. Butler said:

"In recent times my family home was attacked by loyalists and numerous threats, including one naming my partner, have been painted on walls in Dunmurry and Lisburn. It is part of a fairly sustained effort to intimidate me from continuing to expose sectarianism both inside and outside Lisburn Council.

" In other areas in the constituency, particularly in Stoneyford, over a dozen Catholic families have been forced to put their homes up for sale in recent times such is the level of ongoing intimidation. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

" The MP for Lagan Valley Jeffery Donaldson has so far remained silent both on the attacks against me and also the ongoing campaign of intimidation which has resulted in numerous Catholic families having to move from their homes. We need to see a united political front to expose and end this vicious anti- Catholic `campaign and the local MP needs to be to the forefront of this." ENDS

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Commenting in advance of tonight's meeting of the UUP Executive Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP said the meeting was 'the latest installment of what has become an increasingly frustrating saga'. Mr Doherty said:

"Tonight's meeting of the UUP Executive is the latest installment of what has become an increasingly frustrating saga for those of us committed to seeing the Good Friday Agreement implemented.

" Five years on from Good Friday it is not acceptable that the British government are content to sit on their hands while the UUP lurch from one internal crisis to another.

" Politics cannot be repeatedly put on hold to satisfy the demands of Mr Trimble and the UUP. We must see urgency injected into the political process. This requires a firm date for the cancelled Assembly elections being set and the British government moving forward to honour its outstanding commitments under the Agreement." ENDS

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ny the children the right to the company and protection of their parents or make them non-citizens in another country, must be stopped.

"This case highlights the very real dangers involved in this policy and should act as a wake-up call for the Minister of what the consequences of his actions are.

"All Irish children, regardless of ethnic or religious background must be afforded the same rights and entitlements and this must extend to their right to have the care and company of their parents in Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. has welcomed reports that the Thorp nuclear reprocessing plant is to close by 2010.

Deputy Morgan said

"Firstly it must be said that the Thorp plant should never have opened. Whereas I welcome reports in this morning's newspapers that the Thorp Nuclear Plant is to close by 2010 we need to hear confirmation of this from the British Government. We also need to see details in relation to what actions are to be taken in relation to all other activity at the Sellafield site, which has caused almost an epidemic of cancer on the East coast of Ireland generally and in Louth in particular.

"A change in direction by the British government has been signalled since the recent publication of the British White Paper on Nuclear Energy. Since Blair overruled then Energy Secretary Brian Wilson's plan for 20 new nuclear plants people on both sides of the Irish Sea have been hopeful for movement towards the closure of the Thorp plant.

"Hopefully this will also mean an end to the transportation of nuclear waste trough the Irish sea for storage at the BNFL site which now represents a huge nuclear waste dump.

"Because we could never believe a word BNFL said it is important that neither the Government of this State nor the Irish people should in any way lessen their campaign for the closure of all operations in Sellafield." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Arthur Morgan TD has described as "alarming" a report from the Bank Of Ireland today that claims house prices will continue to rise this year by up to 14% and he called on the Taoiseach to create a position of Minister for Housing. This report he said, "clearly indicates that the government's housing strategy has failed miserably and the profiteering developers are continuing to call the shots".

Deputy Morgan said: "This latest report from the Bank Of Ireland makes for very alarming reading. It gives lie to the Government's bogus claims that they are tackling the housing crisis. That house prices are expected to rise by up to 14% this year clearly indicates that the Government's housing strategy has failed miserably. It also indicates that it is the profiteering property developers who are continuing to call the shots.

"If the Government is really serious about tackling the housing crisis then they need to start by creating a position for a housing minister who has sole responsibility in this area and is not distracted by other issues. The need to realise that they through their actions and inactions are creating a ticking time bomb as people continue to over-stretch themselves with excessive mortgages and are liable to be left exposed if there is even a marginal increase in the rate of the economic downturn.

"We need a strong Minister for Housing who is not afraid to tackle the vested interests, who will put an end to the speculation that has led to the massive hike in costs of development land, and who will work closer with local authorities to ensure that there is adequate provision of social and affordable homes in all local authority areas." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Eoin O Broin will this week launch his book MATXINADA Basque Nationalism & Radical Basque Youth Movements. The launch will take place on Thursday 28th August at 7pm in Connolly Books, East Essex Street, Dublin.

Matxinada sets out to provide the reader with an introduction to Basque nationalism and a chronology of the last 30 years of conflict between the Basques and the Spanish and French states. It also provides the first history of the various organisations and expressions which constitute the contemporary radical Basque youth movements

Walk through any protest or demonstration in Euskal Herria, whether in support of national independence, economic justice, women's rights, the Basque language, or environmental issues and you will be immediately struck by the age profile of those taking part. Meet with any of the organisers of these activities or the organisations who support them and you will find the same thing. Glance across the photographs of ETA political prisoners displayed throughout the bars and cafes in every city and town and again the first thing that comes to mind is the ages of the men and women imprisoned as a result of their desire to be free. Across the Basque Country, young people are at the forefront of the struggle for equality, justice and independence.'

Despite being the site of the last remaining armed conflict in Europe, little is known about the Basque Country, its people and its struggle for independence. Moreover, the last 30 years have seen the emergence of a vibrant and radical youth culture at a time when young people across Europe are turning away from politics.

Matxinada sets out to provide the reader with an introduction to Basque nationalism and a chronology of the last 30 years of conflict between the Basques and the Spanish and French states. It also provides the first history of the various organisations and expressions which constitute the contemporary radical Basque youth movements

Eoin Ó Broin is a Sinn Féin councillor from North Belfast . He has worked with political and social organisations in the Basque Country for the last number of years. He is also the editor of Left Republican Review.

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has expressed his continuing disgust at the failure of the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring charges against the man responsible for crippling Elizabeth Heapes, a five-year-old girl, last November. He went on to accuse the Government of seeming to be 'happy to tolerate anti-social behaviour and thuggery in Tallaght and other disadvantaged areas of Dublin' and 'treating the working class people of Tallaght and elsewhere with absolute contempt'.

Speaking after attending a protest organised by the family outside the DPP's Office the Dublin South-West TD said: "The Heapes family has been betrayed by the authorities of this state. It is disgusting that the man who pinned a five-year-old girl against iron railings with his car during a violent row, crippling her for life, can just walk away. To add insult to injury, the family of the man involved intimidated the Heapes' from their family home in Tallaght.

"Michael McDowell claims to be Minister for Justice. Would he mind telling the Heapes family, and the people of my area, where this justice he speaks of is to be found because there's very little of it in the constituency I represent. From the Heapes family, to the murder of Ben Smith five years ago this week, to the Kevin Reilly case, the Government seems happy to tolerate anti-social behaviour and thuggery in Tallaght and other disadvantaged areas of Dublin. People in the area are feeling more and more alienated from the authorities and their perceived lack of interest in tackling the problems of the area.

"We need the authorities to take action against anti-social behaviour and against the families who are heavily involved in it. We need the resources and assistance necessary to tackle the causes of anti-social behaviour. And above all, we need the Government and the institutions of this state to stop treating the working class people of Tallaght and elsewhere with absolute contempt." ENDS

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Mid Ulster representative Cllr Francie Molloy, who was on the original 1968 Dungannon to Coalisland Civil Rights March said "Austin Currie's revisionist comments should be left in the 1980s where they belong. The involvement of republicans in the civil rights movement and in support of the demand for equality is well documented and won't be white washed out of the history books just because Mr. Currie would like it to be so." Mr. Molloy said that "The issue of people being allowed to exercise their democratic right to vote is still as relevant today as it was 35 years ago following the cancellation in May of Assembly election by Prime Minister Tony Blair and that is why Sinn Féin organised last weekends Dungannon to Coalisland march."

Sinn Fein councillor Francie Molloy said

"The issue of people being allowed to exercise their democratic right to vote is as relevant today as it was 35 years ago following the cancellation in May of Assembly election by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"As someone who was a steward on the original march, I was disappointed that civil rights activists like Austin Currie did not respond to our invitation to take part in Saturday's march. What we were campaigning for back then was 'one man - one vote'. Now we find that even though we have the right to vote, we are being denied the right to exercise it by Tony Blair.

"The British Government cannot unilaterally cancel elections like it did in May and think it can escape criticism. It is a denial of a basic right of all people - the right to vote - and it underlines how much further society needs to progress. That should be the focus of all nationalists at this time."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has described as a 'marriage of convenience' recent similar criticism of Sinn Fein by the UUP and the SDLP.

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"The crisis in the peace process, the suspension of the institutions and the cancellation of the elections result from a British government fixation with protecting the interests of one sections of unionism. Sinn Féin has repeatedly argued that the peace process and the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement cannot be subject to the whims of, or the internal divisions within, the UUP. Yet this is exactly what has happened. The British government is fixated with the divisions within the UUP and the peace process has been paralysed as a result.

"The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by a majority of the Irish people. It is undemocratic and unacceptable that a minority of a minority should hold the entire process to ransom.

"Of course the UUP leadership's excuse for all of this is that the IRA's position is not clear. It is disappointing to hear the SDLP breath credibility into this most recent unionist excuse for resisting change. The IRA's position is absolutely clear. In contrast, the attitude of the UUP, and its various factions, towards the Good Friday Agreement is anything but clear. Of course, many suspect that the UUP's resistance to an early election is mirrored within the SDLP and that this may explain their support for the UUP stance.

" The British government must end its fixation with the internal dynamics of the UUP and instead focus on delivering upon its commitments under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. That means setting a date for the cancelled Assembly election and it means re-establishing the political institutions which anchor this process."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has reacted angrily to reports of a "radical plan to privatise the prisons" in the event of industrial action by the Prison Officers' Association (POA).  Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"While I accept that the enormous levels of prison officer overtime are a problem that needs to be solved I do not accept for one minute that privatising the prisons is a viable solution – or even an option.

"Not only do I have a problem in principle with privatising prisons, the international evidence around the operation of private prisons gives cause for serious concern.  Not only do we find that there have been significant problems with private prison conditions and the protection of the human rights of the prisoners, we also find no conclusive evidence that they save the state money at the end of the day. 

"Privatisation would represent a major shift in penal policy and I demand to know where this proposal is coming from.  There was no indication that this was part of the coalition Programme for Government, and there has been no public debate on this issue, so how can this plan materialise out of nowhere? If such a plan does in fact exist, it is another despicable example of this Government being hijacked by the right-wing agenda of its Justice Minister who pursues his agenda by stealth.

"If such a plan exists it is unacceptable and the public deserves immediate clarification by Minister McDowell."   ENDS

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Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member and EU Candidate for Dublin Marylou McDonald has accused the Minister for Justice of being paranoid for introducing further self-serving draconian measures dealing with the Gardai and their access to the media.

Ms McDonald said: "This is the latest in a long line of draconian measures that Michael McDowell and this governments have introduced as they have become increasingly paranoid about the media. And once again they have picked the wrong target and the wrong issue.

"But lets face it the Gardai have not exactly covered themselves in glory on this issue. For too long elements of the Gardai have been allowed to interfere in the political process for their own self interest. As republicans we know only too well that their unfettered access to the media through un-sourced briefings has very often been used to try and halt the growth of Sinn Féin and indeed to interfere with the natural out workings of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Michael McDowell needs to be stopped. He needs to stop introducing totally unwarranted draconian measures and to stop acting in self interest. He needs to set about the real task of reforming the Gardai and bringing about a fully accountable policing service with an independent Garda Ombudsman who can initiate independent investigations."

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU Candidate Marylou McDonald has slammed the government's complacency in relation to growing inequality in Irish society. She has described as disgraceful the fact that the government policy has resulted in one third of the population, the most marginalised in society, now living on less than 10% of the wealth created in the economy. She said periodic bleatings of concern are not enough and added 'we need to redistribute resources in a positive way, to invest in those parts of society suffering economic marginalisation and social exclusion, to redress inequality.'

Ms McDonald said:

"In the last week, three reports issued from the Department of Finance, FAS and the Department of Social Welfare all show that not only is the economy clearly in recession but that there is the real possibility that things could get worse. Economic growth is forecast to slow to 1.5% for the year, which when you account for inflation means that the economy is actually shrinking. Exports are falling, unemployment growing and total employment will only grow by 11,000 this year. Tax revenue is falling and the Finance department belatedly recognise that there is a €500 million gap between tax revenue and spending.

"But one of the most startling facts came from the Department of Social Welfare 'Statistical Report on Social Welfare Service' which highlighted that 938,999 people were in receipt of weekly social welfare payments at the end of 2002. In total when you include children and other dependents there were 1.5 million beneficiaries of social welfare in the 26 Counties or one in three of the population. However when you look at government spending in 2002, it accounted for just over €9.52 billion spending, that is 9% of the economic wealth created in the economy during the same year.

"It is unacceptable that government policy has resulted in one third of the population, the least well off, the most marginalised in society living on less than 10% of the wealth created in the economy over the same time period.

"Periodic bleatings of concern are not enough we need to redistribute resources in a positive way, to invest in those parts of society suffering economic marginalisation and social exclusion, and to redress inequality."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking at the Parnell Summer School said: "When Tony Blair or Bertie Ahern claim that the reason for the crisis is a 'loss of trust' between the parties - it's a cop out. Trust was never the basis for the Agreement. We all hoped that trust and mutual respect would develop organically as we worked and deployed the historic Accord." He said "Tony Blair now stood at a crossroads. He can prevent a dangerous political vacuum by announcing a definite autumn date for Assembly elections. Or he can continue to de-stabilise the situation by denying the peaceful and democratic right to vote. The choice is his." Mr. McLaughlin called for a cross-party consensus to manage the process through to a political settlement"

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"Since the suspension of the political institutions and the subsequent cancellation of elections we have heard much talk about the 'loss of trust' between the parties to the Agreement. But the fact of the matter is that there never was a basis of trust between the parties to the Agreement. Political opponents and political enemies who never trusted each other eventually hammered out an Agreement. In fact - the Agreement was negotiated without the Ulster Unionist Party ever once speaking directly to Sinn Féin.

"When Tony Blair or Bertie Ahern claim that the reason for the crisis is a 'loss of trust' between the parties - it's a cop out. When David Trimble says that republicans betrayed the trust of Ulster Unionists - it's a cop out and he knows it. When other political figures attempt to score political points by pointing to alleged republican activities as the reason for the 'lack of trust' - it's a cop out.

"Trust was never the basis for the Agreement. The Agreement was based on a 'confidence' of the parties that they each had achieved the best agreement possible in the circumstances for their respective constituencies. We all hoped that trust and mutual respect would develop organically as we worked and deployed the historic Accord - Conflict Resolution to be followed by Reconciliation.

Role of Unionism

Obviously some within Unionism recognise that changes are occurring in every aspect of life - social, economic, political, electoral and demographic. But the Unionist community have not as of yet, produced a leadership, which will come to terms with the inevitable constitutional implications. If it was otherwise then the Unionist community through its political leaderships would have the 'confidence' to embrace the Agreement in all its elements, go back into the Institutions and allow the process to develop unhindered. Therefore we may need to be patient until such a leadership emerges within Unionism.

Irish and British governments must back democracy

Tony Blair can prevent a dangerous political vacuum in the North that will inevitably be filled by those ill disposed to the entire Peace Process. He can do that by declaring his commitment to the democratic process by announcing without further delay a definite autumn date for Assembly elections. Or he can continue to de-stabilise the situation by denying the peaceful and democratic right to vote.

The failure to fully develop and sustain the Executive and the cancelling of the Assembly Elections is a damaging blow to the Good Friday Agreement. The denial of the right to vote in fresh elections has sent shockwaves through popular opinion here, in Britain and internationally. What we are dealing with here is not a blip but the possible melt down of the political conditions that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

We have all made mistakes, individually and collectively. Whilst it is true that clear majorities exist in both states on this island to support the Agreement, it is equally true that powerful anti-Agreement forces exist and in some instances are being aided and abetted by elements of the securocratic system.

At a time when those, including the Sinn Féin leadership, have been arguing that politics can and will deliver change, change has been prevented. At a time when we needed an effective visible and dynamic alternative to conflict we have been presented with a political vacuum, the abdication of political leadership and the initiative handed to those on all sides, who want to return to the failures of the past.

Republicans committed to the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Of course there are issues on the Republican side which must be addressed and allow me reiterate once again that Sinn Féin's public position on the question of arms is also our private position. The Sinn Féin leadership are totally committed to doing everything in our power to maintain the peace process and to removing the guns forever from the politics of our country. Decommissioning was addressed comprehensively in the negotiations leading up to Good Friday and is addressed directly in the Agreement itself. The section on decommissioning makes clear that addressing this issue is dependant on two key elements;

· a collective responsibility on all participants to work in good faith with the International Commission; and

· the implementation of the overall agreement.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement all of the participants have a responsibility to deal with the decommissioning issue. This includes the two governments.

Moving forward - what we can learn from Parnell

Parnell's recognition of political synergy, his awareness of the interrelatedness of constitutionalism and popular direct action, is what is required now. We have had Parnell's example. We have also in more modern times witnessed the benefits of the Nationalist Consensus in the early stages of the Peace Process. We all of us have our pasts, like it or not, but we also have our futures. We can work together on this project to achieve a democratic peace in Ireland. Of course we will have our differences, we will retain our own beliefs and principles, but we should agree that the success of this process will be for the betterment of our people as a whole. Why not a cross-party consensus to manage the process through to a political settlement? Why not an approach to the last great debate of the conflict resolution process, the constitutional future of the island of Ireland and its people? Why not a negotiation process based on mutual respect and openness to any of the possible constitutional options rather than pre-determined outcomes that reflect a legacy of violence and failure and injustice?"

Full Text - Reflections on the Peace Process

From the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 the peace process has limped from one crisis to another.

This period of time could have been used to fulfil the huge expectations generated by the all-Ireland referenda in May 1998. It could have been a period during which the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement took hold, when Irish nationalists, unionists and the British stepped towards each other in an effort to put behind us the enmity resulting from centuries of conflict.

It could have been a time when former enemies gave space to each other to learn new ways of thinking of speaking, of trying to understand one another. It could have been a time of certainty and decisive, forward looking leadership to demonstrate that we had opened a new chapter in Irish-British history - one of compromise, tolerance and genuine reconciliation.

Instead the past five years will be remembered as a time of recrimination, of bitterness, of the blame game.

Since the suspension of the political institutions and the subsequent cancellation of elections we have heard much talk about the 'loss of trust' between the parties to the Agreement. There have been accusations bandied back and forth about who is responsible for this 'loss of trust'. Regularly we hear politicians, Church spokespersons, political analysts and anyone that wishes to voice an opinion tell us that we must 'rebuild trust'. But the fact of the matter is that there never was a basis of trust between the parties to the Agreement. Political opponents and political enemies who never trusted each other eventually hammered out an Agreement. In fact -- the Agreement was negotiated without the Ulster Unionist Party ever once speaking directly to Sinn Féin. So, no handshakes between equal and willing participants to a partnership deal. That is the measure of trust or the lack of trust that existed when the Agreement was achieved.

When Tony Blair or Bertie Ahern claim that the reason for the crisis is a 'loss of trust' between the parties -- it's a cop out. When David Trimble says that republicans betrayed the trust of Ulster Unionists -- it's a cop out and he knows it. When other political figures attempt to score political points by pointing to alleged republican activities as the reason for the 'lack of trust' -- it's a cop out. Could someone tell when the Unionist's were prepared to trust republicans? Or for that matter the British Government, the Irish government, or the SDLP? Or indeed its own leadership or each other? Trust was never the basis for the Agreement.

The Agreement was based on a 'confidence' of the parties that they each had achieved the best agreement possible in the circumstances for their respective constituencies. We all hoped that trust and mutual respect would develop organically as we worked and deployed the historic Accord. Conflict Resolution to be followed by Reconciliation.

But unfortunately the Good Friday Agreement cannot reconcile mutually exclusive constitutional aspirations. The nationalist and particularly the republican constituency have a confidence that the Agreement -- fully and faithfully implemented will provide the vehicle that will enable us to achieve our political goals through exclusively peaceful and democratic methods. That is why we are committed to pursuing its implementation in all its aspects.

On the other hand, the Unionist political leadership's 'confidence' in their ability to maintain and strengthen the status quo through the Agreement is diminishing. If they were, for instance, 'confident' when they accepted the Agreement that it would copper fasten the Union, why are they now attempting to frustrate its implementation? Is it because they recognise that in a society where everyone is treated equally the raison d'être of partition -- dominance by one section of the population over the other -- will be gone forever?

Obviously some within Unionism recognise that changes are occurring in every aspect of life -- social, economic, political, electoral and demographic. But the Unionist community have not as of yet, produced a leadership, which will come to terms with the inevitable constitutional implications. If it was otherwise then the Unionist community through its political leaderships would have the 'confidence' to embrace the Agreement in all its elements, go back into the Institutions and allow the process to develop unhindered. Therefore we may need to be patient until such a leadership emerges within Unionism.

But in the meantime, what of the two Governments and in particular the British? In terms of Iraq, the 'hand of history' was never more firmly on Tony Blair's shoulder or is it on his neck? But Tony Blair can prevent a dangerous political vacuum in the North that will inevitably be filled by those ill disposed to the entire Peace Process. He can do that by declaring his commitment to the democratic process by announcing without further delay a definite autumn date for Assembly elections. Or he can continue to de-stabilise the situation by denying the peaceful and democratic right to vote.

The failure to fully develop and sustain the Executive and the cancelling of the Assembly Elections is a damaging blow to the Good Friday Agreement.

The denial of the right to vote in fresh elections has sent shockwaves through popular opinion here, in Britain and internationally. It stands democracy on its head and causes uncertainty about the future. At a time when politics must be seen to work, to deliver change, we have a political vacuum.

What we are dealing with here is not a blip but the possible melt down of the political conditions that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

We have all made mistakes, individually and collectively. Whilst it is true that clear majorities exist in both states on this island to support the Agreement, it is equally true that powerful anti-Agreement forces exist and in some instances are being aided and abetted by elements of the securocratic system.

At a time when those, including the Sinn Féin leadership, have been arguing that politics can and will deliver change, change has been prevented. At a time when we needed an effective visible and dynamic alternative to conflict we have been presented with a political vacuum, the abdication of political leadership and the initiative handed to those on all sides, who want to return to the failures of the past.

The Good Friday Agreement was signed up to by the British government. It is therefore British government policy. The British government have a responsibility to implement the Agreement as negotiated.

It would be preferable if unionism was not divided but instead generally embraced the spirit and the letter of the Agreement. But the Good Friday Agreement was voted for by a majority of the electorate in the two states on this island. It cannot be subjected to a unionist veto. It has to be implemented. That is the democratic imperative.

At every stage in the peace process, particularly before, during and after periods of negotiation, there are conflicting and confusing signals from some of the participants and from the media. Most of this is unhelpful, though not always malign or malicious. But when seeking to get across a particular view of events no party can match the British government in resources and influence.

In fairness after the most recent round of negotiations the Irish government has, by and large, been measured in its pronouncements and media briefings. The British government on the other hand has been blowing up a storm of media spin, of which the so-called 'Steak-knife' affair is a particular example.

This has been totally unhelpful. Of course, if the British government spin-doctoring had the effect of settling the unionists then Sinn Féin could take the pain and given the messing, prevarication, delay (and deceit) of the last number of years that would be a small price to pay. But it is my belief that media campaigns will not resolve the unionist divisions.

It is a contention of many commentators that every election in the North (European, Westminster, Assembly and Local Government) is at a basic level about the 'Constitutional' issue. An analysis of election results of the past 30 years demonstrates that electors increasingly are voting for those parties who proclaim either for the pro-union or pro United Ireland options. This study also reveals a consistent 'squeezing' of the so-called 'Other' or 'Independent' candidates. If it valid to suggest that this underlying influence can distort electoral outcomes then equally it can impact on other aspects of the political process. Eg. The Peace Process itself, sectarian interface violence and efforts at developing political dialogue, etc.

I would contend that Unionist insecurity on the 'Constitutional' issue explains amongst other political matters, the discriminatory policies of the old Unionist Stormont Government, the current resistance to Equality and the constant factional disputes and leadership challenges which now characterise Irish Unionism.

Of course there are issues on the Republican side which must be addressed and allow me reiterate once again that Sinn Féin's public position on the question of arms is also our private position. The Sinn Féin leadership are totally committed to doing everything in our power to maintain the peace process and to removing the guns forever from the politics of our country. Decommissioning was addressed comprehensively in the negotiations leading up to Good Friday and is addressed directly in the Agreement itself. The section on decommissioning makes clear that addressing this issue is dependant on two key elements;

· a collective responsibility on all participants to work in good faith with the International Commission; and

· the implementation of the overall agreement.

· .

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement all of the participants have a responsibility to deal with the decommissioning issue. This includes the two governments. The British government in particular has been a hugely negative factor in the development of the conditions of conflict in Ireland. I believe that Mr Blair has a sense of responsibility and has given more time than any other British Prime Minister to the quest for peace between our two islands and among the people of this island.

He knows that Sinn Féin's position has been consistent and that we want to play a full and advanced role in this quest. But he knows also, as does the Taoiseach that we have made it clear that through the good faith implementation of this Agreement that we can achieve an end to the 'armed force' dimension of Irish Republicanism.

Paradoxically, the unresolved nature of our colonial past in Ireland should give us hope. Despite the achievements and the glosses of the past century, we still live in an unmade country. And because of that fact, we, as a people, still have the possibility to remake the country. This opportunity to change history is not available to many people and we should not throw away our chance.

Politics need not necessarily follow the line of least resistance, but can, and should, be vibrant, challenging, with a sense of purpose. The people of Ireland have, at certain significant moments in our history, developed a purposeful politics that for one reason and another we have let slip away.

Once again, at the start of a new century, we have the possibility of remaking the country. We have all in varying degrees been engaged in a Peace Project for many years now, and because the Process is ongoing, unfinished, fluid and developing, it is everyone's project. We can all be involved in it; we can all breathe life and colour into it, we can all agree to shape it for the betterment of the people of Ireland. We are not presenting the people with a fait accompli, a secret deal done in back rooms. We are saying, come and join us in this process, help us to radically alter the political landscape of our country. Get rid of the venality, cynicism and corruption in this state, the growing poverty and despair, and in the North, recognise the Unionist dependence upon a Britishness that may no longer actually exist, but is none the less of vital importance to the confidence of the Unionist community.

Ironically, one of the great attempts to seize the moment was attempted by Parnell, a man who earned the wrath of all involved in the Irish struggle for independence, and while it might be possible to argue that political leaders who make the truly remarkable revolutionary choices will be condemned to an eternity of misunderstanding and hostility, it need not always be the case.

The only purpose of a colonial power is to make the colony profitable, stable and governable, and so the Victorians went to work in Ireland, testing this, trying that, modifying, tinkering, seeking new forms of control that were cost effective and sustainable. Admittedly, some of the experiments were relatively benign -- the introduction of a countrywide postal network, years before they established one in Britain -- while others were violently coercive -- mass deportations, evictions, curfews, martial law.

And during this period we saw the flowering of Charles Parnell's particular vision. He realised that the oppressed could mirror the oppressor that the Irish could experiment too, that we could develop dual strategies towards Britain, and that a potent combination of constitutionalism and Fenian insurrectionary action could achieve what neither could achieve on its own.

Parnell's constitutionalist tactics in Westminster were not of the passive variety. With his filibustering and his imaginative use of a relatively small number of seats he could reduce that great parliament to immobilised frustration. He could bring its workings to a halt. And while he paralysed Westminster, the Land League and the rump of the Irish Republican Brotherhood could combat the ravages of the landlords and the military, unifying the people of Ireland in a popular mass movement for independence. Despite repeated attempts by the British to link Parnell to 'organised crime', it was the issue of adultery that brought him low in an Ireland of small-minded clergy and bitter, jealous politicians, including many who would have considered themselves Republican, all whipped up by a British tabloid-style campaign of character assassination.

But Parnell's recognition of political synergy, his awareness of the interrelatedness of constitutionalism and popular direct action, is what is required now. We have had Parnell's example. We have also in more modern times witnessed the benefits of the Nationalist Consensus in the early stages of the Peace Process. We all of us have our pasts, like it or not, but we also have our futures. We can work together on this project to achieve a democratic peace in Ireland. Of course we will have our differences, we will retain our own beliefs and principles, but we should agree that the success of this process will be for the betterment of our people as a whole. Why not a cross-party consensus to manage the process through to a political settlement? Why not an approach to the last great debate of the conflict resolution process, the constitutional future of the island of Ireland and its people? Why not a negotiation process based on mutual respect and openness to any of the possible constitutional options rather than pre-determined outcomes that reflect a legacy of violence and failure and injustice?

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Lagan Valley Sinn Fein Representative Councillor Paul Butler has said that fresh graffiti which has appeared both outside Lisburn Council Offices and in Dunmurry is 'a pathetic and crude attempt to intimidate him'.

Cllr. Butler said:

" Earlier this month the UDA threw a flammable device at my home. They have in the past sent a live bullet to me in the post and in recent weeks sectarian and offensive graffiti threatening me has appeared in Dunmurry.

" Yesterday fresh graffiti appeared in Dunmurry and also outside the Lisburn Council offices. Council staff removed this particular slogan shortly after it appeared.

" All of this is part of a fairly pathetic and crude attempt to intimidate me from continuing to speak out against these sectarian thugs and drug dealers. Neither myself or my Sinn Fein colleagues on Lisburn Council will allow unionist paramilitaries to intimidate us from representing our electorate.

" We will not be silenced by these sorts of tactics and we will continue our campaign to expose the sectarianism both inside Lisburn Council and on the streets of Dunmurry, Lisburn and elsewhere." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Upper Bann Cllr. John O'Dowd has said a statement from the BNP ordering its members not to associate with the White Nationalist Party because they are racist is 'bizarre to say the least'. Cllr. O'Dowd said:

"I have to say I was a bit shocked to hear the BNP ordering its members to stay away from the White Nationalist Party on grounds that it is racist. The reality is that the BNP is a racist party. It is trying to clean up its image at present and couch its racism in softer language but they fool nobody.

"The White Nationalist Party and the BNP are peas from the same pod and commentary from the BNP to the contrary simply does not wash. I suspect that this statement from the BNP is motivated more by inter racist rivalry than anything else." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD has accused the Banks of operating an "old boys network" to maximise their "grossly bloated profits" against the interests of their customers. The Sinn Féin Deputy was responding to the report from the Director of Consumer Affairs.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said: „Operating what can only be described as an old boy network the main banks have conspired to maximise their grossly bloated profits against the interests of bank customers.

"Before the summer break I successfully called on the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service to invite the main banks to appear before the Committee to answer concerns that myself and other political representatives along with consumer groups had. At the time AIB had recorded the highest ever profit for an Irish company which were in excess of €1,300 million. The main banks, including AIB and BOI had also refused to pass on a European Central Bankinterest rate cut while at the same time increasing banking fees, with credit card rates rising to an average of 16%. That is 7% higher than the European average.

"The answers given by a number of the banking representatives confirmed my belief, as I stated at the time. that the Irish people both as individual consumers and as a society and an economy are being grossly exploited by the banks and other financial institutions.

"It is time for the Minister for Finance to tackle the banks head-on to end their excessive profiteering at the expense of customers who are increasingly suffering from reduced services and increased fees."ENDS

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North Belfast Sinn Fein representative Kathy Stanton has said that nationalists and republicans are 'sick and tired of the double standards which operate at the heart of the judiciary in the six counties'. The North Belfast Sinn Fein representatives remarks come after loyalist Gary McKenzie, who faces gun charges, was today granted bail of £250.

Ms Stanton said:

" Nationalists and republicans are sick and tired at the sectarian double standards which operate at the heart of the judiciary in the north.

In recent times we have seen the judiciary in the six counties release on bail a leading loyalist caught with a firearm in the middle of an internecine loyalist turf war and a man was convicted of assembling intelligence information on a Sinn Fein councillor received a suspended sentence. Last month an RIR member accused of stealing firearms and ammunition was granted bail and Jim Fulton was given a judges blessing to attend the Twelfth parades.

" This runs in stark contrast to the recent case involving North Belfast man John O'Hagan who has been held in custody awaiting trial on documents charges for almost 18 months with no prospect yet of a trial or bail.

" At the core of the criminal justice system in the six counties are the Diplock judges. These are the men who rubber stamped the Special Branch activity in the torture centres. The men who refused to back Sinn Fein Councillors in their demands for security measures on their homes, and who continue to operate with a blatant anti-Catholic securocrat agenda. Nationalists will never have confidence in the Criminal Justice System as long as this ethos is allowed to operate." ENDS

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Lisburn Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Butler has described reports that the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) is to carry out a preliminary survey of Long Kesh as ' a step in the right direction in bringing some legal protection of the buildings that make up Long Kesh'.

Cllr. Butler said:

"Long Kesh is on a standing with Robben Island, Auschwitz and the Berlin Wall and we cannot afford to lose that history.

"Long Kesh is the most famous and infamous building of the conflict. Everybody in ireland knows of it as do many people around the world.

"The importance that Long Kesh has had in the history of the conflict should form part of the survey that EHS are to carry out on the buildings of the former prison.

"Long Kesh remains the ideal place to give future generations an understanding of the historical significance of the jail."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has hit back at criticism of the North South Bodies from DUP MP Gregory Campbell.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Whatever the DUP believe the reality is that we have an All Ireland framework that is here to stay. It is in the Good Friday Agreement and it is given form through the All Ireland Implementation Bodies and the North South Ministerial Council.

"The DUP are blind to the potential of the All Ireland Agenda. This political short sightedness does not put the people living in Ireland first; it puts the blinkered political agenda of the DUP first.

"The All Ireland Implementation Bodies benefit people across Ireland and Sinn Féin want to see work programmes in the agreed areas of co-operation consolidated and expanded.

"In areas such as education and health can we open the doors of opportunity and the sharing of skill and expertise. We have also seen projects such as the Autism Centre being set up in the border region and the cancer research partnership between the north and south of Ireland and the USA that pool resources and expertise.

"In animal health and agriculture evidence is mounting that an All Ireland policy approach is vital to the long term viability of farming across the Ireland. On environmental issues it is clear that pollution and meeting the demands of waste management, including issues such as the building of incinerators, require a stronger All Ireland approach and Sinn Féin has called for the establishment of an All Ireland Environmental Protection Agency.

"It is illogical that a small island nation of slightly over 5 million people should have two political structures, two economies, two transport systems, two Education, Agriculture, Health, tourism systems. This duplication requires two bureaucracies that if challenged could I believe generate significant new money fore expenditure on front line services, investment and staff." ENDS

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