Commenting this evening in London on today's meeting between the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said:
" I will be in touch with the two governments this evening to get a read of today's meeting.
" Sinn Féin welcomes the movement into more intense discussions. We have been calling for this since last October. For our part we have given a detailed menu to both Dublin and London and we would expect them to come forward with a plan for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
" Today's meeting between An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be judged by us on whether the basis for such a plan was agreed. It is crucial that the substance, timeframe and management of this phase of the process is got right.
" Essentially what London has to do - in line with Mr Blair's speech in Belfast last October - is come forward with an act of completion for the Good Friday Agreement." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice and Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has expressed his "deep disappointment" at the ruling by the Supreme Court, which has cleared the way for the Government to deport non-Irish parents of Irish children. The Dublin South Central TD said the judgement made second-class citizens of some Irish children and would "encourage racism".
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"This ruling by the Supreme Court is a deep disappointment to all of us who value the fundamental equal rights of all Irish children and indeed equality amongst citizens. Sinn Féin believes that all Irish children regardless of parentage are entitled to the care and company of their families. Rather than cherishing all the children of the nation equally the judgement in effect makes second-class citizens of some Irish children because of the ethnicity of their parents. I believe this will encourage racism in that it will give succour to those who feel that Irish children born to people of a different ethnic background are somehow less Irish.
"Sinn Féin believes that all Irish children are equal, regardless of parentage. We believe all Irish children are entitled to the care and company of their families as a right. The law must reflect this." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, condemned yesterday's detention of Castletownbeare fisherman Mike Orpin, skipper of the Ardent. The boat was detained by the Navy because it had exceeded the monthly quota. Deputy Ferris claimed it was another example of the attempt to criminalise Irish fishermen who are striving to earn a living under increasingly difficult circumstances.
Deputy Ferris said; "This arrest confirms the feeling among fishermen that they are being unfairly treated. Not only are they forced to operate under increasing constraints with regard to quota and other regulations, but they contrast this with the opening up of the Irish Box to foreign fleets, and what they regard as the lenient manner in which the latter are treated when found to be in breach of regulations.
"I am calling on Minister Ahern to renegotiate the current regulations governing the fishing industry and to ensure that Irish fishermen are able to earn a living without being subject to this kind of harassment. I will be raising this issue in the Dáil next week and hope that the Minister will provide a satisfactory response to the concerns being voiced by fishing communities around our coast". ENDS
Sinn Féin delegate to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.Marylou McDonald speaking at today's session dealing with inter community relations has said:
"To try and suggest that the northern statelet was some kind of benign apartheid state is to turn reality on its head.".
She went on to say "Intercommuity relations cannot be crudely reduced to a matter of Protestant versus Catholic, it is a matter a fundamental social rights. There is a need to embrace the equality agenda and to adopt universal rights, as the Good Friday Agreement demands, across a range of issues including policing. These rights are due to all citizens whether they are Protestant or Catholic."ENDS
Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly speaking at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin today called on the UUP to take the political lead within unionism and re-engage in dialogue.' Mr. Kelly said:
"Today's meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation provides all of us with the opportunity to hear first hand the concerns and experiences of people living in interface areas.
"Sinn Féin has always promoted and encouraged inter-community dialogue as a necessary step to resolving our differences and we believe that today's meeting of the Forum will faciliate that process further. It is however regrettable that it is now taking place against the backdrop of the suspended institutions and the recent PUP descision to end its contact with my party.
"It is also regretable that Ann Bill of the Glenbryn Residents was unable to attend today's meeting of the Forum. But it is difficult to blame groups from within the unionist community for withdrawing from dialogue when the UUP's philosophy seems to be no dialogue.
"It is crucial to persist in dialogue and maintain contact if we are to resolve all the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and to build inter-community relations. Sinn Féin remains committed to reaching out and engaging in dialogue with the Unionist community. We need the leadership of Unionism to do the same." ENDS
"Sinn Féin has formally joined the Irish anti-war effort, and we will continue to support the building of a popular mass mobilisation against the Government's complicity in war preparations. We firmly believe that this Government must be held accountable for its actions. Sinn Féin will leave them in no doubt that they are not acting in the peoples name or interests by allowing Shannon Airport to be used as a staging post to an unjust war."
Deputy Ó Snodaigh concluded by saying "we were encouraged by the large turnout for the protest last Saturday in Shannon and especially the massive protests that took place around the globe and in the US itself. The protests in the US put pay to some of the more mischievous comments that have sought to define the anti-war movement as anti-American." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this morning led a party delegation to meet with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen. Also on the Sinn Féin delegation were Martin McGuinness MP, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA and Ard Chomhairle member Rita O'Hare.
Speaking following the meeting Mr. Adams said "Thursday's meeting between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister will probably be the most crucial meeting yet in the peace process." During the meeting Mr. Adams spoke to the Taoiseach about 'unhelpful' briefings which he believed were coming from government sources in relation to current difficulties. Mr. Adams said:
"We were very pleased to have met the Taoiseach this morning to discuss the urgent need to re-instate the political institutions and end the current impasse in the peace process. Other items which we discussed this morning were the recent government cutbacks in Irish language funding and the Electoral Office fiasco in the Six Counties which has led to the disenfranchisement of almost 200,000 people.
"We are at a very important point in the process and we are very concerned at the lack of progress and lack of substance in the discussions to date. The British government haven't shown a willingness, beyond rhetoric, to deal with outstanding matters. There is still no evidence that they are going to fulfil their obligations on a range of issues including policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.
"Thursday's meeting between the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will probably be the most crucial meeting yet in the peace process.
"The outcome of this meeting will be pivotal in indicating whether it will be possible to move forward in the process at this time. And there is a huge responsibility on Tony Blair in this regard. We need to see an action
plan from the British government for the implementation of the Agreement, including the substance of outstanding issues, timeframes and the management of the process to bring all of this about.
"There is a lot of work to be done and Sinn Féin's commitment to securing the successful implementation of the Agreement is absolute. Others need to engage in the process with the same urgency."ENDS
Commenting on the rejection by the North Eastern Health Board of the Service Plan for 2003, Health Board member and Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD, said it gives the Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin the opportunity to restore services at Monaghan and Dundalk hospitals. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"Under the 1996 Health Act the Minister is empowered to require the Chief Executive of the Health Board to prepare and submit a Service Plan if the Board fails to adopt a plan within a given period. Following the rejection of the Service Plan by the North Eastern Health Board the Minister should now provide the necessary increased funding and require the Chief Executive Officer to prepare and submit an amended plan which would restore maternity, accident and emergency and other lost services to Monaghan and Dundalk hospitals."
Deputy Ó Caoláin, who seconded the motion for rejection of the Service Plan presented by the CEO to Monday's Health Board meeting, said:
"The Service Plan has been quite rightly rejected as it does not meet the growing needs of the people of the North-East region comprising Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath. The budget allocated by the Minister for Health and Children is totally inadequate. The region has the lowest per capita funding of the 11 health board areas in this State. The 10% increase sought by the Board from the Minister is the minimum required.
"This is not just a funding issue. I voted against the plan also because of the proposed deployment of resources. The Plan fails to provide for the restoration of essential services to Monaghan and Dundalk hospitals.
"The North East region has a growing population, including many people moving into these Counties because of overcrowding in Dublin. Health service needs are therefore becoming greater and more complex. The budget from the Minister and the rejected plan failed to recognise that reality. Not only would it not provide for increased need, it would prevent existing services being properly maintained.
"The ball is now in the Minister's court. He must secure additional funding and direct that those services axed in Monaghan and Dundalk, including maternity and accident and emergency units, are restored. Nothing less will be acceptable in this neglected region." ENDS
A Sinn Fein delegation of party Vice President Pat Doherty MP MLA, Dail Group leader Caoimhghin 6 Caolain TD, Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy MLA will meet British Secretary of State Paul Murphy tomorrow (Tuesday 21st January 2003) at 9.30 am at Castle Buildings to discuss the operation of the All Ireland Implementation Bodies.
Speaking ahead of the meeting Conor Murphy said:
"Across the whole area of the All Ireland Strand of the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein are seeking to ensure that the work in progress is taken forward.
"We need clarification that the work of the North South Ministerial Council is taken forward and developed, we need to see the work in the designated areas of co-operation such as agriculture and transport progress and that the operation of the All Ireland Implementation Bodies will not be frustrated in any way. Sinn Fein also want to see what work has been done on the establishment of both the All Ireland parliamentary Forum and the All Ireland Civic Forum." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA speaking during a meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle in Dublin today has called on the UUP to come clean on their strategy to stop the Assembly elections going ahead on May 1st. He said that it was entirely unhelpful, at a time when all attention should be focused on ending the deadlock and re-instating the political institutions, that there were those working behind the scenes determined to undermine democracy and prevent elections taking place. Mr. McLaughlin said:
"It is now three months since the power sharing government was brought down by the British government and with every day that passes the deepening political vacuum is having a dangerously corrosive effect right across society. With all momentum being sucked out of the process it is imperative that the political institutions are re-established urgently. We need a clear commitment from the British government that the Assembly elections planned for the 1st of May will go ahead on time and as planned. It would be very welcome to hear David Trimble today supporting this call in the interests of the democratic process."
In relation to the Electoral Office fiasco and disenfranchisement of almost 200,000 people across the north Mr. McLaughlin said:
"Every day more and more people are coming forward who are not currently eligible to vote, due to the deeply flawed process of registration which has taken place. It is incredible that it was Sinn Féin and not the Electoral Office who informed the public that up to 200,000 people had been disenfranchised in this process. Time is moving on and with less than eight weeks to turn this situation around the Electoral Office need to urgently put in place a strategy to rectify the situation. They need to let those who have registered know that their vote is secure and set in place a publicity and information campaign encouraging those who have still to register to do so now."ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris is this afternoon joining Anti-War protesters at Shannon in opposition to the governments decision to allow the US military to use the airport as a base. He has called for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers. The Kerry North Deputy will be joined by Sinn Féin activists from across the island.
Speaking from Shannon this afternoon Deputy Ferris said:
"The large crowds gathered here today reflect the concern right across Ireland at the government's decision to allow US warplanes to use Irish airports and airspace on their way to the Gulf. The majority of Irish people do not support the drive to war against the Iraqi people. We do not support the use of Shannon airport as part of US war preparation.
"I came here today to stand in solidarity with the protesters who have been taking part in the 'Peace Camp'. The courageous and selfless actions of these people stands in stark contrast to the lies and actions of the Irish government.
"It is time that the government listened to the people and stop allowing Irish airports, airspace, or seaports to be used for war preparation by foreign powers."ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking at today's meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin titled 'Political issues in and affecting Northern Ireland - views of Unionists and Protestants - said: "We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. All of this requires a willingness on our part to explore and to be open to new concepts." Mr. Adams said:
Sinn Féin has been engaging in dialogue with members of the Protestant and Unionist community particularly in the Six Counties for many years now. This engagement took on an added intensity and gained added importance with the public emergence of the embryonic peace process in 1993; in a few short weeks it will be ten years since John Hume and I issued our first public statement in April of that year.
The engagement takes place at a number of different levels: with the Churches and business people; with mainstream political parties and individuals from these parties; with loyalist representatives and people from the community and voluntary sector. Many of these exchanges are ongoing and remain an important part of our work.
We have sought through this dialogue to get to the root of the deep-seated misunderstanding and mistrust that separates nationalists and unionists and which contributes to the divisions on this island; and to pursue this as an essential element of the desired and required process of reconciliation.
We also came face to face with the human legacy of pain and hurt suffered by unionists over the last thirty years of the conflict. I have acknowledged this in the past and I do so again here today. Much hurt was inflicted on all sides and by all sides in the conflict.
I would describe the engagement with unionists and Protestants as a journey of discovery and understanding for all involved.
It has not been an easy process. It is also not possible to come to a political understanding of the complexities involved without taking into account the influence of British policy and the British connection.
Sinn Féin has brought an Irish Republican perspective and analysis to all of this. In our dialogue we sought to develop a comprehensive appreciation of the complexity of the people who live on this island.
I believe that one example of this is to be found in the actions of Belfast's Mayor Alex Maskey. In his time as Mayor Alex Maskey has made a good faith attempt to be a Mayor for all the people of Belfast.
I know there is deep concern among unionists about the future and in particular about a threat to their identity. I want to assure them that republicans are committed to a future based on democratic principles and to creating a pluralist society on this island.
I know from my own personal experience as a citizen denied by successive British and Unionist governments the right to express my cultural identity how much this type of discrimination fanned the flames of conflict.
Let me make it quite clear it is not our intention to put unionists into the political space that nationalists and republicans have long sought to escape from. There is of course much that is wrong and much injustice remains to be eradicated. But I am convinced if the leaders of unionism, nationalism and republicanism work together then the causes of conflict will be resolved peacefully. However difficult, I am committed to intensifying the required dialogue. The Good Friday agreement emphasises respect for cultural diversity. It creates a political framework in which there can be peaceful co-existence with Britain and on this island. The cornerstone of such diversity is equality. Political, social, economic and cultural equality; equality of opportunity; equality of treatment and parity of esteem. These remain both objectives and ingredients of peace.
Peace will emerge through dialogue, through negotiations. No one should be afraid of peace. No one should be afraid of dialogue.
Talking especially to those who have different political views can be a liberating process. It can also be an empowering process.
Irish republicans believe that Irish unity, on the basis of equality, offers the best future for all the people of this island. Therefore there is a responsibility on republicans to spell out to unionists what sort of united Ireland we seek. We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. All of this requires a willingness on our part to explore and to be open to new concepts.
Republicans are also happy to engage with unionism on their vision for the future. We're open to listening to unionism about what they believe the union offers citizens. The opening up of a public debate around these key issues can only be a positive step forward.
In negotiations we all try to change each other's perspectives. In doing so there is the prospect and very often the reality that the negotiations will change everybody.
Possibilities not seen before begin to emerge. New ways of seeing an old problem begin to take shape.
New solutions have their seeds in such dialogue and engagement. This is how the future is shaped. This is how republicans want to shape the future with unionists.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality, and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called for the Minister for Justice to scrap the Government's present European Convention on Human Rights Bill and introduce a new bill incorporating the Convention directly into domestic law.
Speaking following the resumption of the Oireachtas Joint Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights Committee consultation process on the Bill, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"Legislative incorporation would make the Convention superior to ordinary laws but still subject to the Irish Constitution, and this is the approach Sinn Féin favours. It is crucially important that we get this legislation right ? for the sake of all Irish people, but particularly those who are discriminated against. Under the Bill currently in front of the Dáil Irish people would still have to travel all the way to Strasbourg to avail of an effective remedy under the Convention. This is neither fair nor right. I am also concerned that the current Bill would undermine the effectiveness of the new Human Rights Commission.
"I appeal to the Minister for Justice to heed the criticism that has been leveled by human rights groups and legal experts against the legislation as drafted, to scrap the bill in its present form, and table a new bill that directly incorporates the ECHR directly into Irish law. We cannot afford to accept anything less." ENDS
"In our Pre-Budget submission last November we in Sinn Féin highlighted this waste of €12 million and called for the immediate introduction of electronic patient records and/or unique person identifier numbers. This would reduce inaccuracies in the Health Board/GMS databases and avoid such huge waste of resources. This element of the National Health Strategy should be brought forward as a matter of urgency. Any attempt to delay it because of budgetary restrictions would be totally counter-productive, costing the system dearly in the long run."ENDS
Sinn Féin TDs Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Martin Ferris, Arthur Morgan, Seán Crowe and Aengus Ó Snodaigh have called on Environment Minister Martin Cullen to end his bully boy tactics and remove his threat to give Dublin City Council the chop and replace it with unelected and unaccountable government appointed Commissioners.
Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
"The very survival of Dublin City Council hangs in the balance tonight as Environment Minister Martin Cullen has signaled that he intends to abolish the Council if Councillors don't give into his threats and impose increased service charges on the people of Dublin.
"It is scandalous that any democratically elected local authority can be threatened in this manner. It completely undermines the constitutionally recognised position of Local Government and sends the wrong message to an already disillusioned electorate. The power to abolish local councils should be done away with immediately.
"I am calling on Minister Cullen to remove this threat and allow Dublin City Councillors - who were elected by the people to run this city - to get on with their jobs."ENDS
Commenting on the leaked review of health service structures Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said the proposals if adopted could lead to greater centralisation of the health service, making it les accountable to the needs of patients and communities. Deputy Ó Caolain said:
"While we must await the publication of the full report to comment in detail, the proposed changes could lead to greater centralization which would be bad for patients and for the provision of services in an equitable manner. There is general agreement that there are too many health boards and too much bureaucracy in the administration of the health services. But it is also true that there is a lack of democratic accountability and these proposals would make the services even less accountable to the citizen and the community.
The Prospectus proposals would:
* Result in far greater levels of centralization
* Reduce local control over health and personal social services
* Maintain the current status quo in terms of who controls our health services and our hospitals.
"Local health boards represent the only countervailing power there is to the power of medical consultants. Medical consultants run the services as well as the hospitals. There is frequently a clash between the needs of medical providers and the needs of local communities, as the closure of the maternity services in Monaghan and Dundalk showed so clearly.
"As has been revealed in the North-East region, there was a concerted consultant plan to close the maternity units in Monaghan and Dundalk. Small units, like small hospitals, whose services are so vital to the needs of their communities, do not serve consultant interests. Denise Livingstone's birth took place at the side of the road because consultant obstetricians withdrew their labour from the maternity unit in Monaghan Hospital. She was a casualty of centralisation and consultant power.
"Reducing the number of elected representatives on health boards and replacing them with Consumer Panels would undermine local democracy in health and personal social services. Locally elected representatives build up significant expertise in these areas. Consumer panels have been tried in England and dismissed as toothless: they are simply an exercise in spin, pseudo-democracy, giving a veneer of consultation to decisions taken at a higher level.
"The North Eastern Health Board has taken more doctors to court in the last ten years than any other health board in the country. One such case concerned bed-blocking, one of the root causes of long waiting lists. Bed-blocking is a well-known and widespread practice, whereby a consultant maintains a private patient in bed, for no medical reason other than to hold on to the bed, until his next private patient can be organised to take it over. While this results in a streamlined private practice for the consultant, it leads to waiting lists as beds are needlessly tied up. It also results in huge wastage of scarce resources for the health board, i.e., the taxpayer.
"Significant representation of voluntary health groups and patient organisations, which unlike "consumers" have built up a range of expertise over the years, would be a far better alternative to toothless Consumer Panels.
"Health boards administer a vast range of health and personal social services, including care of the elderly, medical cards, home helps, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech and language services, disability services, and mental health services. W need to know how these services will be affected by the proposals." ENDS
Sinn Féin group leader on Dublin City Council, Councillor Christy Burke, has called on the people of Dublin to come out in suppport of democracy and defend their right to proper representation. He is seeking public support for an anti bin tax protest in advance of what might be the last meeting of Dublin Council. Environment Minister Martin Cullen plans to give the Council the chop if Councillors don't impose increased service charges on the people of Dublin.
Councillor Burke said:
"It is outrageous that Dublin City Council, the largest local authority in the state, can be threatened with the chop for simply not making decisions that the government wants them to make. The government have some cheek to look on democratically elected councillors as puppets to obey their dictats or on local government as a conveyer belt for their policies.
"We as Councillors are elected to represent the interests of our constituents. Our constituents are opposed to increased service charges, therefore our actions must reflect this.
"We are calling on the people of Dublin to attend the protest tonight at 6.15pm outside City Hall to show their opposition to the increased charges, support for democracy in their city and to show Minister Cullen that they won't stand for their Council getting the chop." ENDS
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast today along with colleagues Dara O'Hagan MLA and Pat Doherty MP, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said that the onus was on the electoral office to sort out the gigantic mess that has resulted in over 187,000 people being missing from the register.
Mr Adams said:
"The Electoral Register issued in December 2002 shows that 130,000 people across the North who were on the Electoral Register of June 2002 are not on this register.
"In addition to this the 2001 census figures released in December 2002 show that another 57,683 people across the North eligible to be included on the register do not appear. This brings the total to 187,683 people eligible to be on the register who do not appear.
"This is a seriously flawed registration process and a mess of gigantic proportions. It will affect supporters of all the political parties but particularly those who come from a disadvantaged background.
The Electoral Office and Electoral Commission has for example presided over a situation where:
* In various constituencies citizens have complained that they completed registration forms returned them to the various electoral offices and have not appeared on the register.
* Yesterday the Electoral Office admitted that they had over 13,000 completed forms unprocessed in December when the register was published.
* Supplementary forms for photographic identification which require the exact same information as those for voter registration.
* A revised voter registration form aimed at correcting the shortfall in registration omits the section dealing with photographic identification has been issued.
The hurdles and obstacles put in the way of people seeking to register to vote is unacceptable.
I am therefore calling on the electoral office to:
* Inform all of those people who are registered to vote.
* Canvass the 130,000 people absent from the June 2001 register.
* Launch immediately an effective publicity campaign encouraging the people to register
* Establish Help clinics in local areas to advise how to fill in forms
* Encourage young first time voters to register through issuing forms to 6th formers at school
"The government must take their head out of the sand and respond to the Irish public's very real concerns on this.
"For months now Sinn Féin has been calling for a debate in the Dáil on this issue of crucial national and international importance. But the government - in its typical arrogance - has refused. Their Nice campaign guarantee that they would defend Irish neutrality was clearly just another in a series of broken promises. We therefore also continue to call for neutrality to be enshrined in the Constitution and in legislation.
"Sinn Féin fully supports the anti-war movement, the peace camp at Shannon Airport, and the national anti-war mobilisation on February 15. We look forward to playing our part, together with the other progressive peoples of the US and Europe - and, indeed the world over - on this most important issue." ENDS
Sinn Féin TDs, Dáil advisers and members of the Ard Comhairle held a day long meeting in Dublin today to plan the party's programme for the upcoming Dáil term and begin preparation for next years local government elections. Speaking following the meeting Dáil group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:
"Despite the huge crisis in health, housing and across rural Ireland the government are in a politically strong position and have as yet not been met by concerted opposition.
"The next six months must see more effective co-operation among the opposition parties to put the government on the rack.
"Over the last number of years Sinn Féin has experienced rapid growth right across the country, but particularly in the 26 counties.
"The election of 5 Sinn Féin TDs and the fundamental realignment of the opposition within Leinster House has already impacted on the body politic. This morning we examined the role of the opposition and its failure to effectively challenge the government. We need to use the strengths within the opposition to make the government accountable and challenge the political direction of this right wing coalition.
"Over the next six months Sinn Féin will be campaigning in the Dáil and in communities across the island. We will be challenging the government on the crisis in the health service, growing numbers on the housing list, the decline of rural Ireland and strengthening the Peace Process. We will also be continuing with our work of building Sinn Féin and preparing for Irish Unity." ENDS