Sinn Féin - On Your Side

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin Mc Guinness speaking at a meeting in London this evening outlined the next steps required to put the political process back on course. During a two day visit to London Mr Mc Guinness will seek support for elections in the North of Ireland in meetings with Diplomats and briefings with the Foreign and American Press Associations as well as the British media.

Giving the keynote address to a London gathering this evening Mr. Mc Guinness said:

"Central to all of our efforts at this time must be in convincing Tony Blair and the British government of the serious blunder it was to cancel the Assembly elections. I believe that the unilateral action of the British government was ill-advised and undermines the efforts of those working tirelessly to convince and bring on board those that are still disaffected from the political process. I will be asking all those whom I meet while in London to lend their support to this campaign and to use their influence with the British government to end this denial of democracy.

"For too long the two governments have pandered to the worst elements of anti Agreement unionism resulting in the undermining of an Agreement which was endorsed by the majority of people in Ireland. The same effort, which has been put into stalling, managing and suspending progress over the last five years, needs to be directed into active support for the full implementation of the Agreement. This is an effort, which must be led by the two governments, particularly the British government.

"I believe that Mr. Blair made a serious mistake in cancelling the Assembly elections, in effect saying to the world that democracy in the Six Counties is subject to the will of anti-Agreement unionists. The right to vote is just that ˆ a basic right and cannot be subject to any preconditions. I am calling on the governments to end the stalling and set the election date now.

"The only thing that Mr Blair achieved by firstly suspending the political institutions and then cancelling the election was to disempower the pro-Agreement Parties and give encouragement to the rejectionists. This action must be reversed and an early Autumn date set for elections to renew mandates that will re-empower those of us that wish this process to succeed."ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin representative Cllr. Alex Maskey has responded to today‚s comments from Dr. Ian Paisley as political fantasising.

Cllr. Maskey said:

"The DUP demand for the disbandment of Sinn Féin is as farcical and unrealistic and unrealisable as their demand for a re-negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement.

"The reality is that Sinn Féin is supported by the majority of the nationalist community in the north. The reality is that there will be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. Some of Dr. Paisley‚s party colleagues know, and privately accept, this. Today‚s comments are less about Sinn Féin and more about constraining those in the DUP who accept that they will have to come to terms with and deal with Sinn Féin."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams today met former US President Bill Clinton in Derry. Speaking after the meeting a Sinn Féin spokesperson said:

" Gerry Adams met with President Clinton for around 30 minutes. Mr. Adams expressed his concern about the failure of the British government thus far to publicly set a definite date for the Assembly elections.

" The discussions were a useful engagement and the two men discussed the ongoing efforts to ensure that the summer months are calm and Mr. Adams brought President Clinton up to date on Sinn Féin efforts to out reach to unionism.

" Although Gerry Adam's briefs Mr. Clinton regularly on developments in the peace process, today's meeting was important because it was face to face in nature." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness will spend two days in London next week, Monday 7 and Tuesday 8, to meet politicians, trade unionists and diplomats seeking their support for the Assembly elections to go ahead. Mr. McGuinness will also brief the American press corps and the Foreign Press Association and address a public meeting titled 'Democracy Denied'.

Speaking prior to his departure Mr. McGuinness said:

"Central to all of our efforts at this time must be getting the British and Irish governments to set a date for the twice cancelled Assembly elections and that is the message that I will be taking to London next week when I meet with a wide range of political and public opinion. I will be asking all those whom I meet to lend their support to this campaign and to use their influence with the British government to end this denial of democracy.

"For some time now we have seen the two governments pander to the worst elements of anti Agreement unionism and what it has achieved is the undermining of an Agreement which was endorsed by the majority of people in Ireland, five years ago. I would like to see the same effort, which has been put into stalling, managing and suspending progress over the last five years , transferred into active support for the full implementation of the Agreement. This is an effort, which must be led by the two governments, particularly the British government.

"I believe that Mr. Blair made a serious mistake in canceling the Assembly elections, in effect saying to the world that democracy in the Six Counties is subject to the will of anti-Agreement unionists. The right to vote is just that -- a basic right and cannot be subject to any preconditions. I am calling on the governments to end the stalling and set the election date now."ENDS

Itinerary

Monday 7

1.30pm Bloody Sunday Inquiry, Central Hall Westminster

3.30pm South African High Commissioner

5pm Parliamentary Labour Party NI Committee, House of Commons

7.30pm Keynote address at public meeting 'Democracy denied in Ireland -- voting a right not a privilege, Brunei Gallery, Thornhaugh St London WC1

Tuesday 8

10.30am American Press Corps, Room 8 Portcullis

11.30am Press Conference, Room W1, House of Commons

12.45pm Foreign Press Association, Carlton House Terrace

4pm Meeting with trade union General Secretaries Room O, Portcullis House

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Belfast Sinn Féin councillor Tom Hartley has welcomed today's decision by the Parades Commission not to allow the Orange Order to return along the Springfield Road on the 12t of July. He described it as the only reasonable conclusion that they could come to but has said that given the consistent breaches of the Parades Commission determinations by the Orange Order they should not have been allowed to march on the Springfield Road at all.

Cllr. Hartley said,

" Today's decision not to allow the Orange Order to return along the Springfield Road on the Twelfth was the only reasonable decision which they could have come to.

" However, given that the marchers have continually broken the determinations made by the Parades Commission it is my belief that they should not have been allowed to march on the Springfield Road at all".

" The reality is that the residents of the Springfield Road have made an imaginative proposal in an attempt to resolve the marching issue and yet the Orange Order has still refused to enter into meaningful face to face dialogue. While today's decision is welcome we still see the Orange Order rewarded for their intransigence and the Residents punished despite their genuine attempts to resolve this issue".ENDS

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Responding to the release of the latest unemployment figures Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said: "Today's unemployment statistics, showing a rise of almost 12,000, coupled with the Exchequer figures from earlier in the week makes for depressing reading and represents a failure on behalf of the Government to properly manage the economy.

"With jobs losses being felt across the state from Donegal to Meath and from Dublin to Kerry it is clear that the Celtic Tiger has long departed these shores. It is also abundantly clear that this Government has obviously failed to use the boom years to strategically plan for leaner times.

"While the Government was happy to engage in spending splurges to further benefit the wealthy in Irish society over the last number of years it is now the ordinary Irish worker who is going to pay the price as the unemployment queues continue to rise." ENDS

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Commenting on the announcement by An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of a new housing initiative, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on housing, Arthur Morgan T.D. said, "this scheme will be worthless" if these lands are being "handed over to private property developers at knock down prices." "These lands must to be given to either the local authorities or voluntary housing schemes to make any real difference", he said.

Deputy Morgan said

"This Government has shown very little commitment to tackling the housing crisis. In 1999 the Taoiseach together with the former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Noel Dempsey T.D. announced a range of initiatives in relation to the housing market. One of these was the examination of the potential use for housing of lands in State ownership. Nothing happened and earlier this year we were treated to the spectacle of Tom Parlon announcing the open market sale of state lands. The Government is obviously beginning to feel to pressure and are seeking to deflect the real anger which is set to impact on Fianna Fáil vote in the Local Elections.

"I would welcome any genuine initiative to build social and affordable housing on State land at Inchicore and Infirmary Road. However, the Taoiseach's assertion that there would be no local authority housing as part of these developments suggests that a game of smoke and mirrors is being played. If it is the case that these lands are just being handed over to private property developers at knock down prices to reduce building overheads then the scheme will be worthless.

"These lands must to be given to either the local authorities or voluntary housing schemes to make any real difference." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Belfast representative Cathy Staunton speaking at the party's press conference opposing the introduction of water charges said:

"The proposed charges will fall outside the rate rebate system - there would be no relief for low-income households in any system of charging for water and sewerage services in any of the options suggested by the consultation.

"The introduction of a uniform charge is regressive - lower income households would pay proportionally more of their disposable income on this charge.

A charge based on the value of the property would discriminate against those who live in high rateable value homes. A combination of both would still have the regressive affect because it takes no account the consumer's ability to pay.

"None of the three options in the consultation places any onus on the Water Services to reduce the level of water wastage. Individuals are instead being penalised for under investment in the water system and poor performance.

"Across the political spectrum, throughout the trade union movement and right across the six counties there is widespread opposition to the imposition of water charges.

"At council level, in representations to the varies direct rule ministers and in support of campaigns organised by the Campaign Against Water Taxation and the Trade Unions Sinn Féin will continue to oppose the introduction of water charges." ENDS

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Summary

Sinn Féin is opposed to the introduction of a water charge. We believe that the introduction of such charges has more to do with British Treasury insistence on further taxation than EU directives or misleading comparisons with the British level of rates.

In short people are being expected to pay for decades of neglect on the part of successive direct rule administrations, which has resulted in the unacceptable deterioration of a critical service.

Sinn Féin is opposed to the metering of domestic water charges. We support the option of water and sewerage services being provided through a statutory corporation.

Sinn Féin also believe that the consultation process has been unsatisfactory.

Introduction

Sinn Féin are opposed to the introduction of water charges. We view it as an additional tax. We are concerned that this consultation is premised on limited options around water charging and misleading perceptions about how people here have in the past paid for their water.

To suggest that people have not been paying for their water services is misleading because people have been paying for water through their rates bill.

Sinn Fein are also deeply concerned that the clear indication is that a decision has already been made. We believe that this current consultation must be extended to ensure that all stakeholders are included, and the views of Trade Unions, political parties and communities, particularly those in poverty be given due weight in any final decisions.

Sinn Féin would also question the specific narrow remit of the consultation.

The case has not been made that the introduction of Water Charges is either justified or will lead to improvements in water services or lead to a reduction in the usage or wastage of water.

The terms of the debate set out in the current consultation are totally unsatisfactory. Instead the clear assumption can be drawn that the introduction of a water tax is a foregone conclusion and the debate is being framed about what charging mechanism will be used.

We endorse the view that everyone has the right to an adequate supply of safe, wholesome water as a basic entitlement.

After 30 years of under investment our water and sewerage services here are drastically underdeveloped and are incapable of meeting international and European health and safety standards. The result is that we now require a major investment in our infrastructure.

What is required is a long-term injection of public money to bring our water services up to date with stringent European legislation.

Options for Determining Domestic Water and Sewerage Charges

Sinn Féin has deep reservations about the terms of reference contained in this consultation document. We believe that they entail a pre-determined position, which is one that we cannot accept.

The Consultation proposes a number of options for the payment of water charges.

· Uniform standard charge applied to all households.

· Charge based on the value of the property.

· A combination of fixed and variable charges.

Current arrangements whereby water charges are funded through taxes and rates is not included as a possible option. This, we believe, closes down real debate about the appropriate funding of basic services. We cannot accept any of the three options laid out in the consultation document.

The introduction of a blanket or uniform charge would have a regressive effect in that lower income households would have to pay proportionally more of their disposable income on this charge. There is no incentive to reduce water usage.

A charge based on the value of the property would discriminate against those who live in high rateable value homes. It does not consider the size of the family in that home or indeed water usage. Again there is also no incentive to reduce usage or wastage.

A combination of both charges would still have the regressive affect in that it does not take into account the consumer‚s ability to pay. It also still has no incentive to reduce wastage.

None of the three options outlined places any onus on the Water Services to reduce the level of water wastage. Individuals are instead being penalised for under investment in the water system and poor performance.

Metering of Domestic Water Supplies

Given that we oppose direct charges for domestic rates, we cannot support proposals for metering of domestic water supplies. The Executive of the Northern Assembly has already ruled out the option, and it is our belief that there is no reason to revisit that decision.

Safeguards for Vulnerable Groups

Given that we propose that water services continue to be ion litres of water a day as a result of leakage or 37 per cent of the treated water put into the distribution system. Despite spending £22 million on leakage reduction over the past four years leakage has continued to increase each year. The PAC report put a figure of £47 million on the cost of leakage based on the Accounting Officer‚s figure for total expenditure of £255 million.

Given this poor performance the PAC report recommends that the Water Service must ensure that its processes and procedures for addressing leakage are working effectively to ensure that best use is being made of the very substantial resources being devoted to this area.

Tackling these problems that require an extra 37% to put into the water system represents an area of savings that have not been fully explored, particularly as a mechanism for releasing extra resources for capital expenditure.

Local Revenue

Sinn Fitain. Or the fact that there are higher levels of Identified Need. There are also high levels of fuel poverty in the North of Ireland; we already pay more for our fuel, light and power than households in Britain.

The proposed charges would be outside the rate rebate system ˆ there would be no relief for low-income households in any system of charging for water and sewerage services in any of the options suggested by the consultation

Concerns

Sinn Féin are opposed to the introduction of a separate direct water charge. We would also be particularly concerned if this is a prelude to the making the water services attractive to privatisation.

The implementation of privatisation in the water services would have a particular affect on those living in rural areas, which already have a limited access to services.

£3 billion is required to bring our water services up to scratch but privatisation is not the answer. Privatisation will particularly hit people living in rural communities where connection charges will be higher and isolated communities will not be profitable. Privatisation would also mitigate against the levels of investment required to bring our water service up to scratch.

We share the concerns of Trade Unions that the possible job losses, in the region of 500-600, will not be cost effective for either the Water Service or our water services but instead will translate in a profit differential generated within the private sector.

If we look at the Welsh not-for-profit model we see a considerable investment prior to moving to self-financing basis. If we look at Scotland the Water Industry Commissioner Alan Sunderland has said that the Scottish bills are 60% higher than necessary.

It is particularly telling that there will be no cash injection directly from British Treasury (as was the case in Scotland and Wales) prior to the introduction of water charges to bring the standard of services up to scratch. Instead the concern is that revenue raised as a result of charges will be spent in part on ensuring that existing water services meet the requirements of today.

We feel that there is a lack of imagination in how we raise money to pay for the much needed infrastructure investment. Almost 10 years into the Peace Process, to date there has been no peace dividend.

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Former Chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, Cllr Francie Molloy speaking at the publication of Sinn Féin's response to the consultation on water reform has vowed to continue the campaign to halt the introduction of water charges.

Mr Molloy said:

"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the imposition of water charges. We see water charges as an additional tax.

"We believe that the introduction of such charges has more to do with British Treasury insistence on further taxation than EU directives or misleading comparisons with the British level of rates.

"People have already been paying for their water services for water through their rates bill.

"The terms of the debate set out in the consultation were totally unsatisfactory. There is an assumption that the introduction of a water tax is a foregone conclusion and the debate was about what mechanism will be used for paying.

"But the case has not been made that a separate direct water charge is either justified or will lead to improvements in water services or lead to a reduction in the usage or wastage of water.

"After 30 years of under investment our water and sewerage services here are drastically underdeveloped and are incapable of meeting international and European health and safety standards. The result is that we now require a major investment in our infrastructure.

"What is required is a long-term injection of public money to bring our water services up to date with stringent European legislation. Money from the EU, money from the rates and money from the British Exchequer were misused by direct rule ministers after being ring fenced by Alf Dubs.

"In short people are being expected to pay for decades of neglect on the part of successive direct rule administrations, which has resulted in the unacceptable deterioration of a critical service."ENDS

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Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness has said that moves by the two governments to implement commitments in the Joint Declaration on Criminal Justice, equality and the Irish language represent progress on these important issues.

Referring to the outcome of yesterdays British Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting, Mr McGuinness said:

"The most important issue facing us is the cancellation of the election and on-going suspension of the political institutions. There is widespread concern that the two governments have not set a fixed date for the cancelled elections.

"However, there has been progress on a number of key issues as a result of the commitments which Sinn Fein achieved in the recent negotiation.

"We will see movement on the issue of the Irish language and on equality matters. In addition, the entire issue of Criminal Justice has been opened up. There will be a new Bill to address some of the major flaws in the earlier legislation and this will cover the important issues of human rights and representativeness. It will also become an offence to interfere with or try to influence the prosecution service. This will have implications for cases involving agents or agencies of the state and there will be a new mechanism to deal with complaints against the prosecution service.

"All of this represents progress but much work remains to be done to ensure that the two governments deliver on their obligations under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein will continue to apply the Agreement as the essential benchmark in all of this." ENDS

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Speaking during the motion on Flood and referring directly to the Taoiseachs handling of the resignation of Justice Flood Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said it is "the holding back of information that leads to legitimate speculation". He went on to say that if some people were successful in challenging costs because of the resignation of Justice Flood then "we face the nightmare scenario of the taxpayer paying massive legal costs to some of the members of the rogues' gallery who have appeared at the Tribunal". Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"This motion is necessary because of the resignation of Justice Flood as Chairperson of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. I put on record our appreciation for the work of Justice Flood who deserves praise for his conduct of the Tribunal. The Flood Tribunal has helped to expose much about the corrupt nature of planning in this State over many years. Despite its duration and cost the tribunal has also ensured the return of much taxation revenue both directly and indirectly as a result of its activities.

"There are questions to be answered about the circumstances which led to this motion coming before the Dáil. The Oireachtas should have been informed at least as early as 16 June when Minister Cullen received the letter from Justice Flood stating his wish to resign as chairperson. The Government was aware of this from late May. We were not informed by the Taoiseach until last week, on 24 June. The Taoiseach stated yesterday that "simply to have circulated the letter would have given rise to wild and damaging speculation that would be contrary to the best interests of the Tribunal".

"I believe the opposite is the case. It is the holding back of information that leads to legitimate speculation. That is why questions have been raised about the handling of this resignation. And it's no wonder given the action of this government in gutting the Freedom of Information Act. It cannot expect public trust in the wake of that anti-democratic move.

"The Government has indicated that it will have to legislate to ensure that challenges on costs because of the resignation of Justice Flood do not succeed. It seems to be confident that such legislation will succeed in its purpose. Let us hope so, or we face the nightmare scenario of the taxpayer paying massive legal costs to some of the members of the rogues' gallery who have appeared at the Tribunal.

"I believe the Government should also introduce separate legislation to properly regulate the exorbitant fees of legal teams involved in tribunals. There is a wider need for fundamental reform of the legal profession and, in particular, the whole area of legal fees and costs.

"What is the Government doing instead? Minister McDowell has published this week his Commissions of Investigation Bill which provides for private investigations. I am concerned that the Minister and this Government will exploit legitimate public concern over the cost of the tribunals to introduce a process which will go on behind closed doors and lack the transparency and public accountability that is essential if truth is to be established. For example new evidence recently emerged on the murder of Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton. The events surrounding his murder, collusion by British forces and the role of the gardai need to be fully and publicly investigated.

"The Interim Report of the Flood Tribunal confirmed that former Minister Ray Burke enriched himself with the help of property speculators and developers who themselves benefited hugely from the corrupt planning system. When the Report was debated here last October we tabled an amendment in the name of the five Sinn Féin deputies calling for the oil and gas exploration licences negotiated and granted by former Minister for Energy and Communications Ray Burke to be fully investigated by the Tribunal. The Government rejected that amendment but I take this opportunity to again call for a public inquiry into the Corrib gas scandal, one of the greatest ever rip-offs of the Irish people.

"I indicate our support for the amendments of the Labour Party and the Green Party."

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Speaking at a protest this afternoon outside Leinster House against the deportation of Irish children and their parents Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh said:

"The 1916 Proclamation called on us to cherish all the children of the nation equally. That sentiment and the vision it represents is more relevant today than ever. It is shameful that the prospect of full equality for Irish citizens is nearly as remote as it was when the Proclamation first appeared on Dublin streets.

"We are here today because more than 11,000 Irish children face either separation from their parents or effective exile as a result of this Government's policy. This Government is washing its hands of its obligation to uphold these children's basic constitutional rights, their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Ireland is a party.

"And why does this Government and this Minister feel they can do so? Because these children are not official "Europeans". Because in many cases, these children are of African, Asian, or Arab descent. Because, in the Government's view, these characteristics make these children somehow "less Irish" than other children born here. But they are wrong in this. These children have the same right to the full benefits of Irish citizenship by virtue of their birth on this island as do those whose ancestors were also Irish.

"What the Minister proposes to do is to create a two-tier citizenship, with a tier of second class citizens based on their race and ethnicity. As republicans, Sinn Féin cannot accept this. This is racist and it is wrong and we will fight it.

"Sinn Féin calls for a moratorium on deportations of Irish citizens and their parents - and also supports the demand for the immediate and unconditional granting of residency to the non-national parents of these Irish citizens. It is this Government's responsibility to provide a proper legislative remedy that will reaffirm and protect the equal rights of these citizens and allow them to remain in Ireland with their parents, and I call on the Minister to take such action on an urgent basis." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing, North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly has launched a blistering attack on the policing Board following its decision to depart from the 50/50 recruitment policy. Describing the SDLP's defence of this as blatant dishonest, Mr Kelly said:

"The 50/50 recruitment policy is at the core of the Patten recommendation to deliver a representative policing service. We have already seen the dilution of other elements of Patten by the British government. But now we have the policing Board, which was established to implement Patten, breaching a core policy of Patten.

"This sets a dangerous precedent both in terms of the recruitment policy but also in terms of the wider implementation of the changes necessary to deliver the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement.

"This decision by the Policing Board was wrong. The SDLP's support for it is wrong. I am shocked that the SDLP supported this retrograde step and have been attempting to defend it on what is a patently dishonest basis." ENDS

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Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness has said that moves by the two governments to implement commitments in the Joint Declaration on Criminal Justice, equality and the Irish language represent progress on these important issues.

Referring to the outcome of yesterdays British Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting, Mr McGuinness said:

"The most important issue facing us is the cancellation of the election and on-going suspension of the political institutions. There is widespread concern that the two governments have not set a fixed date for the cancelled elections.

"However, there has been progress on a number of key issues as a result of the commitments which Sinn Fein achieved in the recent negotiation.

"We will see movement on the issue of the Irish language and on equality matters. In addition, the entire issue of Criminal Justice has been opened up. There will be a new Bill to address some of the major flaws in the earlier legislation and this will cover the important issues of human rights and representativeness. It will also become an offence to interfere with or try to influence the prosecution service. This will have implications for cases involving agents or agencies of the state and there will be a new mechanism to deal with complaints against the prosecution service.

"All of this represents progress but much work remains to be done to ensure that the two governments deliver on their obligations under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein will continue to apply the Agreement as the essential benchmark in all of this." ENDS

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Thirty years ago on the 3rd of February 1973 six nationalists were murdered in the New Lodge area.The British Army were directly responsible for the murder of four of the men while there is strong evidence to show that they were also deeply complicit in the murder of James Sloan and James McCann.

The British army maintains that they shot six gunmen in the area despite countless eyewitness accounts and forensic data countering these claims. There is also substantial evidence pointing to collusion between the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries.

This was premeditated mass murder of innocent Catholics in the New Lodge and shows clearly that Bloody Sunday was clearly not an isolated incident. For over thirty years of conflict British state forces have lied, impeded investigation, allowed forensic evidence to vanish without trace or reason, and have refused to co-operate outright with investigations into State killings. This tactic remains as strong today as it did thirty years ago.

The families of those murdered in hundreds of other such incidents through out the six counties must have justice and closure. They have faced the double injustice of having a loved one murdered and also facing a regime that is intent on denying them a voice or platform when they demand justice.

The British state is guilty of denying the most basic human right, that of the Right to Life through a myriad of actions. Whether it is shooting dead with a plastic bullet twelve-year-old Carol Anne Kelly with a plastic bullet as she went for milk for a neighbour; watching on as a young man from Portadown, Robert Hamill, was brutally kicked to death by a gang of loyalists; the shooting in the back of a nationalist father of two, Peter McBride, as he walked away from a British Army stop and search patrol or the shooting dead of three unarmed volunteers, Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage by the SAS as they held their hands in the air, this right was denied and lies were told to protect the perpetrators.

This however does not include the most sinister of actions. That of collusion and cover up. Slowly but surely the facts that republicans were already well acquainted with - that British state forces sanctioned, trained, armed and provided intelligence to loyalists deaths squads - is being opened up. MI5, The FRU, Special Branch and other such agencies have manipulated and maintained loyalism as a paramount counter insurgency method regardless of the right to life. The state is guilty, up to the highest levels, of covering up these actions in order to protect its own interests.

It is an indictment on the British government that the families of those murdered through the actions of the State have had to pursue justice on their own or through domestic campaign groups against a silent wall of securocrats and civil servants.

The Good Friday Agreement asserts, "It is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation." The British government must recognize this as an integral part of the agreement and move to fulfill its obligations.

There is no construction of a victim. Those killed by the British state forces are as equal in death, as they were in life, to any other victim of this conflict. The way in which the British government has approached and addressed this issue is criminal and downright insulting to the memories of those who have died at the hands of the State.

We as a party and all those within our communities who have lived this for over thirty years know what we have to do. The British government will not concede any acknowledgement of wrongdoing or release any information without pressure. At all levels we must continue to expose this and in the end win justice for those that the British government and their agencies have sough

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has accused the British and Irish governments of pandering to unionism. Mr. McLaughlin said:

"A firm date for the cancelled Assembly elections should be the outcome of today's meetings of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference and between the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Anything short of this will be a disappointment.

"We need to see political progress. The political process needs to be restarted. The cancellation of elections and the continued absence of political institutions can only undermine confidence in politics.

"the establishment of an International Monitoring Body that is entirely outside of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement would be entirely the wrong focus. The idea of such a body is a sop to unionism and encourages negative unionism in its opposition to equality and inclusivity.

"Instead the two governments should defend the Agreement and demonstrate that politics and the political process is effective."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Victim's Spokesperson, North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly has welcomed the publication of the Human Rights Commission report on victims but expressed concern at the failure to research the issue of state killings.

Mr. Kelly said:

"The Human Rights Commission identifies the need to meet the many and varied needs of victims. This may require a judicial response, a truth response, acknowledgement or resources. This is welcome.

"However, the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration specifically deal with the issue of acknowledging there is no hierarchy of victims. This report fails to adequately deal with the victims of the British government policy of killing citizens.

"The European Court of Human Rights, in its ruling yesterday, highlighted the failure of the British government to protect the rights of Pat Finucane. Article 2 of the European Charter of Human Rights demands action. The Human Rights Commission needs to address such issues in a comprehensive manner.

"A central component in addressing the needs of all victims is for the British government to commit to the full disclosure of all documents relating to state killings and collusion."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Seán Crowe has said he is extremely disappointed at the Government's failure to deliver on its pledge to publish the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill before the end of this Dáil session.

The Dublin South-West TD said: "We have been waiting all year for this piece of legislation. Along with the Disabilities Bill, which the Government has also failed to bring forward, it was to provide the basis for real inclusion for the Disabled. I am extremely disappointed that Minister Smith announced today in the Dáil that the Bill would not now be presented before the summer. Another promise has been broken, another community has been betrayed.

"When the Government Chief Whip Mary Hanafin announced the legislative programme for this Dáil session, those two Bills were the first ones she mentioned and the Government's top priorities. The Disabled community and its representative organisations have been waiting a very long time for the Government to bring this legislation forward and get its act together on this issue.

"The Government has succeeded in publishing not only the deeply flawed Intoxicating Liquor Bill but also a massive array of amendments to the Immigration Bill and ramming them through the House with little debate and in double quick time. Clearly when a PD Minister feels strongly about an issue the Government swings into action, but the rights of the Disabled remain low down the list of this Government's priorities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development Martin Ferris TD and Assembly Member Gerry McHugh met today with members of the ICSA National Executive to discuss a number of issues including CAP reform and the development of an all Ireland approach to the problems facing Irish farmers. The Sinn Féin representatives also pledged their support for the ICSA's demand to be included in Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh's negotiations with the farming organisations on the implementation of the CAP reforms.

Deputy Ferris and Mr McHugh said:

"Now that the EU Ministers have agreed on the outline of the proposed CAP reform, we are about to enter into negotiations on the details of their implementation. Of particular importance will be the issue of decoupling. Sinn Féin will be urging that the Minister opt for full decoupling and we will also be outlining our detailed proposals on how we would like to see the overall package being implemented and how that should fit with overall strategy.

"We would also like to record our full support for the ICSA's right to be included in the negotiations. Although it is not currently recognised as one of the social partners, the ICSA has earned that right through its excellent record of engagement in the debate on the CAP reforms since they were first proposed in July 2002. Alone among the major farming organisations, the ICSA conducted a thorough analysis of the proposals and initiated a wide ranging debate among its members and the broader farming public.

"Having done so, it came to the conclusion that decoupling represented the best possible option for the future of Irish farming. We believe that it must now be given the opportunity to argue this position within the formal consultations on their implementation".

Deputy Ferris formally requested that the ICSA be included during his contribution to a debate on the Department of Agriculture's Statement of Strategy that took place at the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food held this afternoon. ENDS

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