Proposed health cuts to frontline services will be fiercely opposed by Sinn Féin, North Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has said.
Speaking following a series of consultation meetings across the North at which potential spending cuts were outlined, the North Belfast MLA branded the plans an attack on the most vulnerable.
“This was a cynical and divisive exercise.
“The pressures on the Health budget are the direct result of repeated cuts imposed by the Tory government which have seen more than £1 billion slashed from the North’s finances,” she said.
“This Tory austerity is of course now supported by the DUP which may explain why they didn’t even turn up to some of today’s meetings.
“Many of the proposals outlined are completely unacceptable and would represent a direct attack on frontline services for some of our most vulnerable citizens, including cuts to hundreds of care packages for 75 year-olds, and will be fiercely opposed by Sinn Féin.”
Carál Ní Chuilín also criticised the British Secretary of State and those parties, which are now advocating a return to Stormont without any progress on the issues, which caused its collapse.
“These cuts are not the result of the crisis at Stormont – they are the result of austerity policies conceived and implemented by a Tory cabinet in London. So it’s not weasel words from James Brokenshire we need, it’s our money back.
“Of course a sustainable and properly resourced local Executive would help mitigate against the worst impact of austerity but the DUP continue to block its restoration through their insistence on discrimination against many sections of our society.
“And I would challenge any other party who are now calling for an immediate restoration of the Executive whether they are prepared to do so on the DUP’s terms and to abandon their own position in support of rights and equality for the LGB and T communities, Irish speakers and families of victims.”
Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has today described Fine Gael’s attempts to introduce a mandatory National ID Card by the back door as a textbook example of a government that does not believe it is accountable to the people
The Dublin Central TD said:
“By refusing to sign up for the Public Services Card and losing out on her pension as a result, the elderly woman in question has done us all a great service by shining a spotlight on the government’s attempts to introduce a mandatory National ID Card by the backdoor.
“There are a number of government agencies now refusing to provide important personal documentation and services such as passports and driver theory tests unless applicants have a Public Services Card.
“Where is the necessary public scrutiny and debate regarding the very significant privacy and data protection rights concerns associated with the introduction of a mandatory National ID Card? On what legal basis are departmental agencies enabled to make the Public Services Card a mandatory requirement?
“Introduction of a mandatory ID system by the bad door flies in the face of good governance and public administration. Ministers’ refusal to come clean on the purpose of the Public Service Card is a textbook example of a government that believes it is not accountable to the people.”
A reported £12 million shortfall facing public transport operator Translink is the direct result of Tory austerity supported by the DUP, Sinn Féin Transport spokesperson Sean Lynch has said.
The Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA was speaking after Translink warned that it needs an additional £12m next year in order to continue operating services at current levels.
“Sinn Féin are committed to accessible and sustainable public transport,” he commented.
“We have met with both Translink and the Department for Infrastructure to raise our concerns about current funding and the negative impacts upon rural and accessible transport for disabled people.
“However, lets be clear. The current funding shortfall facing Translink is a direct result of Tory austerity cuts which have now been bolstered by support from the DUP.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Brexit, and all-Ireland Spokesperson on Workers Rights David Cullinane TD today launched a document outlining the party’s position on workers rights and the need for legislation to protect those rights.
Deputy Cullinane said:
“In the past year two of my Bills on workers rights were passed at second stage by the Dáil and are now in committee.
“One of these, the Banded Hours Bill, was recently referenced by the Labour Court when it agreed to suspend a case between Dunnes Stores and Mandate trade union for six months pending the passing of the bill into legislation.
“This shows the critical importance of legislation to secure a peaceful and constructive relationship between employees and employers, and I hope the Jobs Committee and the Dáil will enable the Bill to progress as quickly as possible.
“A society where workers are protected through legislation and collective organisation is one where decent levels of care and community thrive and survive.
“Our proposals include:
· banded hours legislation
· the protection of employees in collective redundancies,
· the right to access for trade unions to their members in the workplace
· the right to join a trade union for members of an Garda Siochána and the defence forces
· raising the minimum wage to a living wage
· additional resources to the Workplace Relations Commission
“Trade unions have an important role to play in ensuring that workers get not only a fair share of the proceeds from growth but enjoy decent working conditions and that this is best achieved through social dialogue that can peacefully resolve individual and collective disputes.
“After years of attack we need to legislate to protect workers rights and social cohesion."
Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Karen Mullan MLA has congratulated all students across the north who have received their GCSE examinations results today.
Karen Mullan said:
"I would like to congratulate all those students getting their GCSE results today.
"I believe they are the result of the hard work and dedication. They are also a credit to the professionalism and commitment of teachers and parents.
"I would like to commend the three successive Sinn Féin Education Ministers for their work in developing our education system.
"If you did not achieve the grades you wanted, there are other options out there. I would urge you to explore these by talking to your teachers and careers advisers.
"There is a lot of pressure on young people now a-days and I would tell them follow your heart, follow your passion.
I wish you all every success for the future, whether you decide to go on to study A-Levels, take up a new course, go into training or employment.”
Isolated communities badly affected by this week's floods must be assisted in the official response and clean-up operation, Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has said.
Speaking after visiting some of the devastated areas, the West Tyrone MLA commented:
"I am shocked by the sheer scale of what I witnessed and the human impact.
"Major landslides resulted in thousands of tonnes of gravel and bog making its way to the Glenelly river. Fencing, gates, posts, strainers, bridges, roads, round bales and livestock got caught in its path and washed away. Tonnes of this debris is deposited along the Holmes at the river bank.
"The rest of the deluge made its way downstream to Plumbridge where it devastated the factory and workshop and submerged the mart.
"It then destroyed the playgroup and community hall, dislodged containers which pummelled and damaged the bridge and destroyed the new 3G - Multi Use Games Area.
"The scale of the damage is unbelievable.
"I raised these issues at the inter agency meeting on Wednesday and I have written to the Agriculture Department requesting an urgent meeting and intervention."
Every Sinn Féin MP and a number of Assembly members will be attending a series of Health Service consultations across the North today, to ensure strong representation for the needs of citizens in every constituency.
Stressing the importance of the consultations, the party’s Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy said: “Each Health Trust is holding a public board meeting at which future savings plans will be discussed so Sinn Féin feels it is crucial that we send a very strong message in every trust area that frontline services must be protected.
“All of our seven MPs and a significant number of MLAs will be in attendance to ensure the needs of all constituencies and every citizen are strongly represented.
“Our frontline services including health and education are obviously under severe pressure as a result of sustained austerity cuts on our block grant by the Tory government now supported by the DUP.
“The best way to mitigate against that is through a sustainable and credible Executive which is properly resourced to combat the impact of Tory-DUP austerity.
“In the interim however, every step must be taken to protect frontline services and Sinn Féin will be strongly arguing for spending decisions to reflect that objective in the time ahead.”
Sinn Féin Senator Rose Conway-Walsh has welcomed the publication of Sinn Féin’s 5 year plan for apprenticeships as a practical measure to addressing the failure of Government to tackle youth unemployment.
Speaking today, the Mayo Senator said;
"The Government seem keen to play up reductions in the numbers on the live register which is of course welcome, but this masks the reality of regional and youth unemployment. In July 2017 there were 32,237 people under 25 signing onto the live register.
"There is an urgent need for new solutions as the current State response is not working. It is leading to a generation who have no hope of employment or of access to third level education after finishing secondary school.
"For many young people not currently employed there are very few opportunities outside formal education to obtain skills and experience that will benefit them in the future. The apprenticeship scheme is a vital element to tackling this.
"The regional disparity in unemployment figures means that rural areas are not only hit by high numbers of people without a job, but these same people are very often far removed from any centres for training.
"Those who are unemployed experience added difficulty accessing training due to associated transport and sustenance costs.
"Sinn Féin's plan to increase apprenticeship programmes from 30 to 100 will give people the option to upskill and gain valuable experience in a wide range of industries.
"This will also benefit the businesses themselves. It is a win win situation but once again, the political will is needed to drive this on.
"I am calling on local TDs to give this initiative their full support in order to see it come into effect as soon as possible."
Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North-West, Matt Carthy, has acknowledged that he has received confirmation that the Government has still not provided a single Flood Risk Management Plan as required under EU Regulations.
Matt Carthy said:
“Our solidarity and immediate support must go to those communities, particularly in the North-West who are facing the aftermath of this week’s torrential rainfall.
"Of course, there will always be occurrences of freak weather that cannot be planned for and there will always be instances of flooding as a result.
"However, that should not prevent the government and statutory agencies from doing their utmost to forecast and minimise flooding potential.
“The EU Floods Directive entered into force in Ireland in 2010. Despite a deadline of December 2015 by which to have completed Flood Risk Management Plans, the European Commission has recently confirmed to me that it has still not received any of Ireland’s plans.
“It is outrageous that the Government is almost two years late in producing these plans, with no sign of their publication on the horizon.
“The importance of the delivery of these plans cannot be over-stressed. Bad flooding in various parts of the country at different times has led to large-scale damages to property, loss in value of property, loss of livelihoods and overall social and economic impacts caused by disruptions to daily life.
"This week we again witnessed people awakening to find their way to work blocked by floods or collapsed routes.
“Good planning and management can help curb the risks of flooding, as well as contribute to reducing insurance premiums for people living in flood prone areas.
"Without the delivery of these plans, many local councils will be inhibited in actions they can take, and many developments may be allowed to go ahead without the necessary risk assessments leaving farmers and the wider public at risk during seasonal storms.
"People may also receive hikes in their insurance contracts due to the history of incompetence by successive governments on this issue.
“The fact that Minister Naughten or the Fine Gael government have not made flood planning a priority means that Ireland will fall behind in the 6 yearly flood risk assessment cycle required under the Directive, due to restart again next year.
“I have written to the Minister demanding to know the time-scale for the production of these reports. There’s no point donning wellies for a photo-op when the time comes if important flood management deadlines are repeatedly disregarded in this manner.
“The European Commission has confirmed to me that they have initiated infringement procedures to enforce compliance on this issue. It would be shameful if Irish communities had to depend on EU legal processes to ensure that the government begins to act in their interest.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture and TD for Sligo, Leitrim, West Cavan and South Donegal, Martin Kenny said that the government’s spin on the implementation of the Action Plan for Rural Development bore little relationship to the reality of rural life.
Speaking in his constituency today, Deputy Kenny said:
“It is amazing that Minister Ring can drive home to Mayo from Dublin and not see the effects of his government’s neglect on rural Ireland.
“Does he not see the boarded-up shopfronts, the state of many roads and can he genuinely say that he has mobile phone coverage for his entire journey?
“Again today, we hear commitments on broadband, which seem to come around every six months or so, but people living outside the cities are still stunted by the lack of coverage and many are prevented from making a living in rural areas for the absence of reliable broadband.
“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael do not have the political will to reverse the brain drain felt across rural Ireland. Last week we saw young people in rural communities all over the country celebrating their Leaving Cert results and their achievement of points for college entry.
“The reality is that we are still rearing our children to leave because there are no jobs for graduates in the communities from which they come and once they go to college, most of them cannot come back to live and raise families in their home places.
“I am sick and tired of the platitudes and lip service about attention to rural Ireland. We need money on the table for investment in infrastructure, we need job creation and business development and we need to nurture sustainable communities if our future in rural Ireland is to be secure.
“That means all the other services necessary must be available to country people the same as they are to their urban counterparts: health services, schools, transport and policing must be maintained and improved."
Sinn Féin Leader in the North Michelle O’Neill has pressed for a concerted multi-departmental response to the floods, which have caused extensive damage across the north.
Michelle O’Neill was speaking after meeting with the interim Head of the Civil Service who also chairs the Civil Contingencies Group comprising all key agencies who co-ordinate the response to civil emergencies.
“The scale of the damage caused by the floods is shocking and my thoughts are with all those affected,” she commented.
“Thankfully, no lives have been lost and I want to commend the actions of the emergency services, local residents and activists who worked through the night to protect lives and property.
“Clearly questions need to be answered about the state of preparedness and the response of some statutory agencies.
“People are also beginning the long process of cleaning-up and rebuilding and we need to ensure every possible assistance is provided to them.
“That will require a robust and concerted approach across several different government departments.
“I met today with the interim Head of the Civil Service to seek an update on the response and a status report and I stressed the need for a cross-cutting response over the days and weeks ahead.”
West Tyrone MLA Declan McAleer has requested an urgent meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to discuss the introduction of an emergency financial hardship relief scheme to alleviate the pressure on beleaguered farming communities following yesterday’s freak weather conditions.
These storms resulted in 63% of August’s average total rainfall falling in just 8-9 hours.
Declan McAleer said:
“This deluge resulted in severe flooding as rivers burst their banks and roads were swept away by landslides.
“This has had a disproportionate impact in rural communities with livestock and fencing being swept away.
“I spoke to a farmer this morning who lost 76 sheep alone in last night’s floods and I will be impressing on the Department that this is not an isolated case.
“Another farmer I spoke to who is in his 70s said that this was the worst rain he'd ever experienced in all his years of farming.
“Furthermore once you factor in damage to farm machinery and sheds, stores and feed the result is financially catastrophic for many farmers.
“The Department of Communities have a similar scheme targeted at domestic properties but alas this does not cover the unique problems faced by farmers.
“When my colleague Michelle O'Neill was Minister for Agriculture she was able to introduce schemes that offered immediate financial assistance to farmers when similar cases of extreme weather wrought havoc across rural communities.
“These 'force majeure' measures were warmly received and appreciated at the time and I see no reason why they cannot be re-introduced at this time.
“I will be impressing the need for the urgency of such a scheme in my meeting with DAERA and I will be exploring any other avenues that may offer relief to those worst effected.”
Sinn Féin TD for Wicklow John Brady has said that it is utterly unacceptable that a man suffering a severe heart attack was turned away from St. Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown because he did not have a GP referral letter.
Deputy Brady said:
“Last Wednesday, a local man presented at St. Columcille’s hospital complaining of severe chest pains and an inability to breath. He was told by staff that he would not be seen without a GP referral letter.
"Despite pleading for medical assistance, staff insisted that he would not be seen. When the man sat down in the waiting area, unable to remain standing, he was again told there was no point in waiting and that he would not be seen.
“The man took a bus back to Bray in an attempt to reach his GP’s office. After disembarking the bus, and walking towards the GP surgery, he collapsed on the Main Street.
"Luckily, passers-by stopped and eventually resuscitated him before flagging down a passing training ambulance whose crew stabilised the man and brought him to St. James’s. Having undergone major surgery, the man is now thankfully, in a stable condition.
“This is one case which serves to demonstrate the danger of downgrading local hospitals and replacing A&Es with Minor Injury Units.
"I have contacted the Hospital Manager to request an immediate meeting to discuss the protocols and hospital policy in place which seen a seriously ill man turned away from his local hospital. It is only for the heroic actions of passers-by in Bray that saved this man’s life.
“I am calling on Minister Harris to instruct the HSE to carry out an immediate investigation into this serious incident. Minister Harris must ensure that no person in medical distress will be turned away from any healthcare facility.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Brexit David Cullinane TD has said that the British Tories are playing fast and loose with the Good Friday Agreement by ignoring the right of citizens in the North to access the European Court of Justice.
Speaking today, Deputy Cullinane said;
"They have also refused to address their long term view of the European Convention on Human Rights and access to the European Court of Human Rights. This is an fundamental commitment of the Good Friday Agreement.
"The Tories are again involved in make believe politics. They are again looking for us all to solve their problem regardless of the impact on Ireland, our economy and our agreements.
"Let us be clear. The mess over the European Court of Justice is one of the Tories' own making
"Theresa May made the ECJ a red line issue because she was pandering to the hard right in their own party.
"As such the implementation of the GFA, and its associated protection of the rights of citizens in the North, is at risk
"The British government is trying to have his cake and eat it.
"They want to pretend they can have the benefits of free trade without any of the obligations and are willing to use Ireland as a hostage in these negotiations.
"They are also ignoring their responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement.
"They have produced a wish list on role of an alternative to the European Court of Justice. They must now make clear that the ECHR and convention will continue to apply to the North as par their obligations under the GFA
"The solution for Ireland is clear. Special status for the North within the EU."
Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson has said Brexit puts the future of the tourism industry in the north at risk.
Speaking after meeting with members of Tourism NI to discuss the impact of Brexit, Martina Anderson said:
"I met with representatives of the tourism industry to discuss the impact of Brexit on the sector and it is clear there is widespread concern about the future.
"Tourists from around the world view Ireland as a single entity and the imposition of an EU border on the island of Ireland would have a huge impact on our ability to attract tourists to the north.
"The main growth markets for visitors to Ireland are the south, the EU and the US and Brexit could put that at risk if it is more difficult to travel throughout the island.
"There is also a concern that one of our key tourist attractions, our natural environment, could be at risk as a result of changes in environmental protection legislation.
"Any changes to freedom of movement of people could also have a far-reaching consequences for the hospitality sector.
"Tourism is yet another area where the Tory Brexit agenda will have a hugely negative impact on our economy and is being ignored by the British government.
"Tourism Ireland is an implementation body established under the Good Friday Agreement. The British government has failed to safeguard or address its continued status and operation post-Brexit.
"We need to secure designated special status for the north within the EU and we need to see the Irish government making that a demand in the negotiations."
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Social Protection John Brady TD has said that Minister Doherty will face questions as to her intentions behind changes to the Public Services Card (PSC) when the Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017 is debated next month.
Teachta Brady said:
“The upcoming Social Welfare Bill includes a number of ambiguous provisions regarding the Public Services Card which I will be questioning Minister Doherty on in the coming weeks.
"The Bill seeks to enable a person to use the card as a means of establishing identity with service providers such as banks and utility providers. The Bill also allows for the person’s date of birth to be included on the card, if requested by an individual.
“These changes further point to an agenda on behalf of the Department to make the PSC a mandatory identity card. On the one hand, the Department continue to insist that the PSC is optional yet, on the other, they are forcing people to have one if they wish to apply for a first-time passport or to sit their driver theory test.
"In fact, the PSC will shortly be required for all passport and driving licence applications.
“So instead of an individual simply applying for a passport, they will first have to apply for a PSC and then for a passport, and the same for a driving licence.
“In recent days, a case came to light where a lady was left without her State Pension because she did not apply for a PSC. There was nothing optional about this case when it came to the PSC.
“The public are becoming increasingly concerned as to the motives behind the need for a PSC and the provisions included in the Social Welfare Bill only add to this.
"I will be questioning Minister Doherty on these provisions when the Bill is debated in September and I expect absolute clarity on the Government’s agenda with these cards.
“Sinn Féin will oppose any attempt by Government to introduce a national ID by stealth."
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has encouraged students who recently received results and who are trying to find places on courses, to make contact with universities to avail of support on the Clearing Process.
The party's Further and Higher Education Spokesperson said:
"Many universities have places available on courses so students should make contact with universities offering courses through the Clearing Process.
"University websites and social media provide information and guidance on courses available and how to apply, so if students are still trying to find a place they should check with the university directly.
"The number of students offered places via clearing on the first day following results publication was at a five-year high.
"Fewer students entered the clearing process this year following a drop in the overall number of applications to universities, so many institutions still have places on offer."