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Opinion piece by Martin McGuinness on current political situation in the Assembly

This is a time when the Executive parties need to stand together to defend our public services particularly in health, education and welfare. We need to stand up for the people who elect us, rather than acting in the interests of a Tory elite.

Martin McGuinness

Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has commended the strides made yesterday for equality, but has highlighted the many other aspects of...




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In a hard hitting speech on her party’s motion of no confidence in the government this evening Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald described the government as the a coalition of the heartless leading the gutless.

Deputy McDonald said;

“This Fine Gael /Labour coalition, is a coalition of the heartless leading the gutless.

“The self-righteous bleating of Fine Gael is rivalled only by the snivelling submission of the Labour party.”

Full text of Deputy McDonald’s speech follows:

On the first day that this Dáil met we were urged by two young, first time government deputies to hang out our brightest colours to welcome the election of Enda Kenny and Éamonn Gilmore as Taoiseach and Tánaiste, and to embrace the new ‘historic moment’ that the Fine Gael/Labour union represented.

The naiivité of those deputies is one thing. The calculated cynicism of their senior colleagues is quite another.

Twenty months in and two budgets on, that cynicism is writ large.

The promise of the democratic revolution was patent nonsense.

Indeed so many of the promises made during the last election and on the formation of government, have been dumped as Labour and Fine Gael adopted the failed policies of their predecessors.

We now realise that this government is actually Fianna Fáil, in all but name.

Different personalities but the same bad political choices, different voices but the same message.

‘We will not have the word defaulter written across our forehead’ – so said Enda Kenny. So the bondholders are paid in full, banks and bankers are propped up, no deal on the debt, no deal on the Anglo promissory note.

The government of tough decisions meekly submits to the will of the big boys at EU level, and the Troika.

High rollers in the public sector, high earners across the economy, the wealthy are all unashamedly, unapologetically protected. Same old same old Fianna Fáil.

The middle classes have been abandoned by this government; left struggling with unmanageable debt, loss of income, loss of hope. The government it seems couldn’t be bothered to shape policy and budget decisions in favour of middle Ireland.

The low paid fare no better. The changes to the PRSI income disregard in the latest budget screams out the government approach. Protect the rich and screw the rest. Same old same old Fianna Fáil.

Deficit reduction is to be achieved by hammering citizens of modest means, by cutting the meagre supports that are afforded to the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the children.

This is toxic stuff – maladministration. It is incompetent, it is the Labour and Fine Gael echo of Fianna Fáil.

Sinn Féin moved this motion of no confidence in the government because confidence in this administration has now run out.

You should go.

Never mind the re-shuffle signalled by an Taoiseach – just reshuffle yourselves out of office and allow a fresh election in which the electorate have a chance to return a government that will actually protect the common good, defend the collective interest, stand up for citizens and lead from the front.

Twenty months in office and it is clear that you are incapable of any of this.

The government slaps itself on the back for dealing with the economic crisis in ‘as fair a manner as possible’ – to borrow the words of the self-congratulatory amendment you have tabled to our motion.

Last night Ministers Howlin and Varadkar extoled the virtues of their government, it was pretty nauseating stuff. The two boys are clearly not in touch with reality.

The truth is that this government is not interested in fairness. That’s what all the evidence tells us.

The government lives in a bubble, occupies a parallel universe, has a distorted sense of reality.

This Fine Gael /Labour coalition, is a coalition of the heartless leading the gutless.

The self-righteous bleating of Fine Gael is rivalled only by the snivelling submission of the Labour party.

Senior ministers make all the noises about fairness, about understanding the hardship endured by carers and the pressures that parents are under and the rights of children. Joan Burton was at that last night as she introduced her welfare cutbacks. All noise, empty rhetoric, meaning nothing.

When it comes to it you have no problem punishing carers – you will rush through a cut to their respite grant. When it comes to it, all the solemn promises made to children mean nothing – you cut child benefit again, you cut the back to school clothing and footwear allowance again.

The family doesn’t really matter – not to bleeding heart Labour or conservative Fine Gael. Protecting families and family values can be invoked and dispensed with as you see appropriate and as you deem politically advantageous. That’s how you operate.

We are on to you now.

Let me tell you the parents, the carers, the mothers, the women of Ireland see you as you really are now.

And it is not a pretty sight.

A grey, cabal of pompous ego trippers, who beat their chests and lecture us about all the tough decisions you have to take.

People with no clue of what it takes to care for and love a chronically sick child or a profoundly disabled child. With no respect for carers. With no regard for what a loss of €325 means to a carer.

People who cut jobseekers, tax maternity benefit, cut services, heap charges on the ordinary citizen and brazenly defend the very well off.

People who are not worthy to govern because you are so hopelessly out of touch.

Last Friday I thought of the last crowd in government – the utter disgust and despair that they engendered.

They came to my mind as I listened to the parent of a child with spina bifida. A mother who cares for that child 24/7, who tends to that beloved child, who does a service to her family and the state.

That mother cried on the steps of this parliament. Bitter tears of frustration, of impotence, of anger.

When the mother of a spina bifida child is reduced and degraded to tears outside this place then that is the clearest evidence that you must go. This far and no further, enough is enough.

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Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly has said that volunteers in Credit Unions should not be barred from being members of the board in local Credit Unions.

Speaking today Senator Reilly said;

“I tabled amendments today in the Seanad asking the government to allow volunteers serve their community through membership of their local Credit Unions. There is no logic in ruling out volunteers from sitting on the board of their local Credit Unions. I am disappointed by the government’s rejection of my amendments. The effect of that rejection will be extra pressure on local Credit Unions to find capable board members from outside the area.

“There is still time for the government to change the Bill and reverse this nonsensical exclusion. There is a limited pool of skilled and willing people capable of contributing to their local Credit Union and this extra burden is one our Credit Unions could do without.

“Government Senators should explain to our local Credit Unions why they voted against my proposal today.”

ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil this evening on the Social Welfare Bill Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said this government cherishes CEOs over children and accused the Labour Party of breaking its commitment to protect core social welfare rates when it agreed to cut child benefit.

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech follows:

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health & Children

Who were the winners in Budget 2013? The Government pretends there were no winners. But the reality is that the most highly paid, the wealthy elite, escaped yet again and those struggling on the edge of poverty suffered most.

The more you have the least you lose. Winner takes all. These are the mottos of Fine Gael, the big political winners in this Budget. They beat the Labour Party hands down.

Labour boasts that they protected the core social welfare payments. It is a false claim. They claim to have fought the good fight in cabinet and pushed for a 3% increase in the Universal Social Charge for those earning over €100,000. They lost. Michael Noonan rejected them and instead took his lead from the bosses of multinational corporations.

Don’t take my word for it. Minister Noonan has admitted it: “The people who were advising us not to do it were the multinational sector in the country...”

He said it was down to the pay packets of multinational chief executives.

That sums it up. This is the government that cherishes all the CEOs equally. The children are left out in the cold.

I deplore the cuts to Child Benefit in this Budget. They are possibly the most far-reaching of all the cuts. This IS a core payment and it has been slashed, contrary to Labour Party claims and Labour Party pre-election commitments.

The incomes of households with children were already falling further and faster before this budget. The Central Statistics Office Survey on Income and Living Conditions demonstrates that the incomes of households with children fell five times more than the incomes of childless households between 2009 and 2010, the latest figures available.

Households with children are three times more likely to be in debt arising from ordinary living expenses than households without children.

The Social Protection Department’s own value-for-money review of Child Benefit published in 2010 demonstrates the dependence of middle income families on this payment. Its analysis found that households in the 4th and 5th of ten income brackets fall below or onto the poverty line after paying their taxes and it is Child Benefit that then lifts them onto and over the line respectively. These are the families that pay for everything and are entitled to nothing.

The Child Benefit cuts come on top of other penalties and obstacles being encountered by struggling families. In November the Minister informed us that working families who are in poverty and who applied for Family Income Supplement in June of this year may be waiting as long as until April next year for a decision on their claims.

Child care and after school care are extremely expensive. In terms of affordability this State has almost the worst child care and after school care provision in Europe. Working families with young children are spending up to 41% of their income on child care.

According to the Energy Regulator families with children are having the most problems falling into arrears on their energy bills.

Despite Programme for Government commitments, basic healthcare for children is extremely expensive. According to a report by the European Observatory, published at the end of November this year, this is the only State that does not offer universal coverage of primary care. The average cost of a GP visit here is €51 compared to €22 in France. We are one of only three states to charge individuals for essential prescription drugs and common medicines are many multiples more expensive to purchase in Ireland than elsewhere. We are one of only six countries to charge for attending hospital emergency departments. The hospital charge is much higher here than elsewhere – €100 compared to only €2-€30 in the other countries that charge.

And now families who face Child Benefit cuts must also face higher charges for medicines, through the trebling of prescription charges for medical card patients and the increase of the Drugs Payment Scheme monthly ceiling to €144. The reduction of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance is another heavy blow to those least able to sustain the hit.
I have no doubt that this Social Welfare Bill, in combination with the Health cuts, will damage the health of children.

It would be fairer, simpler and economically sounder to introduce a third rate of income tax on all high earners. But Fine Gael and Labour Ministers have set their faces against fairness. Will all members of their parliamentary parties follow them?

ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s Senator Kathryn Reilly has said that volunteers in credit unions should not be barred from being members of the board in local credit unions.

“I tabled amendments today in the Seanad asking the government to allow volunteers serve their community through membership of their local credit unions.

“There is no logic in ruling out volunteers from sitting on the board of their local credit unions. I am disappointed by the government’s rejection of my amendments. The effect of that rejection will be extra pressure on local credit unions to find capable board members from outside the area.

“There is still time for the government to change the bill and reverse this nonsensical exclusion. There is a limited poll of skilled and willing people capable of contributing to their local credit union and this extra burden is one our credit unions could do without. Government senators should explain to our local credit unions why they voted against my proposal today.”
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Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Trade and Diaspora, Seán Crowe TD, has criticised the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and Colombia. The FTA was given the go ahead by the European Parliament yesterday.

In the European Parliament yesterday, MEPs voted 486 to 147 to support the FTA.

Speaking after he raised the issue with the Taoiseach and with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in the Dáil, Deputy Seán Crowe said:
“Firstly I want to commend my party colleague, Martina Anderson MEP, for voting against this FTA, as well as all the other MEPs who voted against it.

“The FTA agreement between the EU and Colombia gives a clear signal that the EU is more concerned with the profits of multi-national companies than with human and worker’s rights.

“This trade agreement, which was ratified by the European Parliament yesterday, was opposed by all major trade unions in Latin America and Europe, nearly all human rights and environmental organizations, and 147 MEPs.

“This is in a week when the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and today the European Parliament will award its annual Freedom of Thought Prize. Yet a majority of MEPs saw no contraction or difficulty in supporting a Free Trade Agreement with a country that has one of the world's worst human rights records.

“We know that Colombia is the most dangerous place on earth to be a trade unionist and an estimated 60% of all trade unionists that are killed every year, are Colombian.

“Documents released from the Justice for Colombia human rights group show that 225 trade unionists were killed in Colombia between January 2007 and June 2012.

“In return for EU support for this FTA the Colombian authorities have offered little or nothing but weak promises on the important issue of human, civil, and worker’s rights.

“Those in Colombia who are committed to democratic and peaceful change, and who stand up for the vulnerable sections of society, need greater support and protection from the international community.

“This FTA rubber stamps the abuses and bad practices of the Colombian authorities and will be seen by many as rewarding and ignoring basic human rights abuses.

“I am disappointed that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil MEPs, as elected Irish representatives in the European Parliament, voted in favour of this trade agreement.”

ENDS

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Speaking in response to the publication of the de Silva report today Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said;

“I want to commend the family of Pat Finucane for their courage and diligence in pursuing this case.

“The de Silva review into the killing of Pat Finucane in February 1989 concludes that there was collusion by British state agencies.

“Everyone already knew this.

“David Cameron today sought to use the review as a pretext for denying the family a public inquiry – a commitment that was made by the British government at Weston Park in 2001.

“This is not acceptable to the family or to Sinn Féin and it should not be acceptable to the government here.

“The information provided by Desmond de Silva is a damning indictment of British state collusion in the murder of citizens.

“It reveals some of the extent to which this existed.

“It does not diminish the need for a public inquiry.

“On the contrary it makes such an inquiry more necessary than ever.”

ENDS

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Senator David Cullinane has backed the call made by the Migrant Rights Centre, the Domestic Workers’ Convention, SIPTU and ICTU for the Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Employment Richard Bruton to ratify the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers
Speaking today from Leinster House, the Sinn Féin Senator endorsed the initiative taken by these groups, who will today hand a petition over to the Minister as part of a global day of action on the issue.
“Ireland has recently been nominated onto the Human Rights Council in the UN, and will take over the presidency of the EU at the start of next year, and this presents an excellent opportunity for us to show leadership in this area, and to highlight commitment to workers’ rights. "
"Unfortunately, due to the nature of the work, which largely happens behind closed doors, it is far too easy for the authorities to adopt an approach of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’"
"This is unacceptable, and the lack of protection afforded these workers only adds to the difficulties facing an already vulnerable category of workers, who tend to be overwhelmingly female, unionised, and migrant workers."
"I recently conference in UCC which explored the difficulties which exist in protecting migrant domestic workers, and it would be hard not to be affected or angered by some of the accounts that the conference heard, of the abuse and exploitation of such domestic workers both internationally and indeed in Ireland."
"A 2010 MRCI survey indicated 40 per cent of domestic workers reported they did not have an employment contract, while 44 per cent raised a complaint with their employer about their unfair treatment but their concern was ignored. They have also highlighted that these workers can often work 60 or 70 hours a week for as little as 25c an hour."
"This is appalling and unacceptable, however ratifying the convention would constitute a welcome first step in halting the exploitation of domestic workers."
"The groups involved deserve to be commended for their initiative, this day of action is taking place in some 84 different countries, and that is very important given that there was such wide-spread support for the convention, and the rate of ratification remains low."
"We will offer whatever support we can to the campaign, and will continue to put pressure on the Minister to ratify this convention, so that this very vulnerable category of workers is protected."
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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has stated that all threats against democratically elected representatives should be withdrawn immediately.

This follows the news that both Edwin Poots and Jeffrey Donaldson have both been informed of death threats against them.

Speaking today Mr McGuinness said:

“The threats against Jeffrey Donaldson, Edwin Poots and their families are wrong and should be withdrawn immediately.

“There is no justification for this type of intimidation from any grouping or organisation.

“These are the latest in a series of threats against elected representatives since the beginning of the loyalist protests against the decision of Belfast City Council over a week ago.

“Threats remain against other representatives. Each and everyone of these need to be lifted immediately.”

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Speaking in the Dáil this evening on Sinn Féin’s motion of no confidence in the government Martin Ferris TD said;

“It seems that this government is intent on hitting those least well off with an array of cuts from directly taking money out of household income through charges, but also impoverishing communities through cuts in a range of public provisions from transport to libraries to Garda stations, schools and the health service.”

Full text of Deputy Ferris’ speech follows: Check against delivery


There are many grounds for having no confidence in this government, and more so after last week’s budget.

It would also appear to be the case that confidence is weakening even among the government’s own backbenchers so it will be interesting to see in what way they vote on the Social Welfare Bill.

There is understandable unease among Labour TDs in particular regarding cuts such as that to respite care allowance. The pressure on Labour from across the community may hopefully result in a climb down on that particular cut but of course while that would be welcome it would only represent a minor victory in relation to the overall anti-social nature of the budgetary cutbacks.

That is why this motion expresses a lack of confidence in the entire performance of the government and not just in regard to particular individual issues.

Along with all other sectors of the community, farmers were also negatively impacted by the Budget. Among the areas where the axe fell were the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, the sheep grassland payment and the suckler cow welfare scheme. Along with the cut to Farm Assist and a reduction in VAT relief many farmers will suffer a further significant drop in income on top of what has already been a bad year in terms of market income.

The change in the disregard for accountable income and for children for farmers Farm Assist will mean reductions of over €40 per week for some farm families who are already finding it difficult to make ends meet.

There are around 11,000 farmers currently in receipt of the payment so we are talking about quite a large number of people who will be impacted by this cut. In my own county alone there are over 800 on Farm Assist, and over a hundred more in West Limerick.

So it is not the case, as has been suggested by some that this represents a minor cut affecting very few people. The actual amount of money involved – at over €5 million in a full year according to the Minister, but potentially three times that according to others, may not seem significant but the individual losses will mean that thousands of farmers and their children will have a harder time than they already are attaining the basic necessities.

And of course for such families in rural communities, particularly in the west where around 70% of recipients live, this cut comes on top not only of the other farming cuts but on top of the cuts inflicted on the rest of the community.

It seems that this government is intent on hitting those least well off with an array of cuts from directly taking money out of household income through charges, but also impoverishing communities through cuts in a range of public provisions from transport to libraries to Garda stations, schools and the health service.

And all for what we might ask when many people from across the political and economic spectrum are stating that the massive bank debt wedded to the state’s own debt will never be able to be paid anyway.

Is that sufficient grounds for beggaring the country? My party thinks not and that is why we are asking the House to support our motion of no confidence.

ENDS

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