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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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Sinn Féin MLA Megan Fearon has welcomed the announcement by Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy that he is to introduce more diversity into public appointments on boards such as NI Water, NI Transport Holding Company and the three Harbour Boards in Belfast, Derry and Warrenpoint.

Ms. Fearon said,

“It is important that public boards reflect society and at present groups such as women, ethnic minorities and disabled people are clearly underrepresented.

“The announcement by the Minister Danny Kennedy that board members will now not be automatically reappointed as members for second terms is also a positive move in bringing about positive change.

“In conjunction with a more widespread advertising campaign for positions, it is my hope that we see boards becoming more reflective of society. This is a welcome step and all public bodies should seek to improve on their representation.”

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Speaking after yesterday’s Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris has called on Minister Simon Coveney to intervene on the current beef pricing situation that is damaging the Irish farming industry.

The Committee heard from representatives of the Irish Farmers’ Association, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, as well as representatives of the Meat Industry Ireland.

Deputy Ferris said:

“What we heard at committee suggests that our system is deeply flawed when it permits meat factories to apparently determine the quantity of product and price per unit while changing specifications at will.

“This damages farmers’ interests, consumers’ interests, indeed it damages Ireland’s interests. I call on Minister Coveney to intervene, perhaps with the involvement of the Competition Authority or the Monopolies Commission to resolve this situation which for some farmers has turned out to be a crisis.”

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said that Health Minister James Reilly’s proposed public consultation on his proposals for Universal Health Insurance has a “pre-determined outcome”, is too narrowly based and must examine other options for health reform. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“Minister for Health James Reilly has today promised public consultation on his plans for Universal Health Insurance. He has stated that hearings will be conducted by the Oireachtas Health Committee. I am a member of the Committee and this is the first I have heard of any such proposal for public hearings of our Committee. Our Committee has received no communication from the Minister or the Department on this matter.

“The Minister and the Department are asking the Oireachtas Health Committee to do their work for them and to shield them from direct contact with the public whom the Minister allegedly wishes to consult.

“To add insult to injury the outcome of the public consultation has already been pre-determined. The public consultation is not to consider whether Minister Reilly’s proposal for Universal Health Insurance based on competing private for-profit health insurance companies is the appropriate way to reform and fund our health system. Instead the agenda has, apparently, already been set and it is to determine what will be in the so-called ‘basket’ of care covered under UHI.

“The Minister should immediately publish the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance and the estimated costings for UHI.

“There should real public consultation and debate, not confined to the Oireachtas Health Committee, but including a citizen’s health assembly which would receive the views and input of people throughout the country

“Consultation should not to be confined to options within the Minister’s proposed UHI scheme, but to examine other options of reforming and funding our healthcare system.

“We in Sinn Féin are very clear what we bring to the debate about healthcare reform. We demand an end to the savage health cuts that are causing misery in our health system. We strongly advocate a universal healthcare system with equal access for all based on need and need alone. We want to see the two-tier public-private system abolished so that no sick person can be left behind. The Minister’s fundamentally flawed private insurance based model will not achieve that.”

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Peadar Tóibín TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has cautiously welcomed the decrease in the numbers on the Live Register while warning that an unemployment figure of 11.9% is still a crisis and demands urgent action.

Speaking today, Deputy Tóibín said:

“In these difficult times all job creation is to be welcomed. However the manner in which this government is proceeding lacks the necessary urgency to deal with the unemployment and emigration crisis. 11.9% unemployment is a crisis and it demands urgent action.

“These figures hide the personal damage that has been done to over half a million people by this government’s inertia. If it were not for the plethora of dubious new schemes and record emigration the unemployment rate in this state would be almost 20%.

“A quarter of a million Irish people, most against their will, have been uprooted from their friends and families to uncertain futures abroad. The energy and initiative of many communities across the length and breadth of this state has been wiped out.

“Serious structural damage has been done to the labour market. Last year 42 per cent of those of working age in Ireland were not in employment. The proportion of those aged 20-24 not in employment, education or further training is more than a quarter in Ireland, higher than Greece, and over twice the level of most OECD countries.

“Almost half of those aged under 25 are already unemployed for more than 12 months. Many of the jobs created are part time jobs and there is a continuing increase in underemployment. There is little regional balance with much of the increase in a limited geographical area in the east.

“Indigenous enterprise has still not experienced the necessary reforms with regards to credit provision, cost of doing business, and progressive rates. Three years on the much heralded Strategic Investment Bank is still in limbo and promises to insulate a million homes have been moth balled.

“The country cannot afford continuing government inertia when it comes to job creation.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Arts, Heritage, Tourism & Sport, Sandra McLellan TD, has demanded government action to increase the number of child psychologists within the HSE.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Deputy McLellan said:

“The forthcoming Health Reform Bill must contain provision to increase the number of child psychologists within the HSE.

“The current moratorium has greatly reduced their numbers of child psychologists and this is having damaging effects on the welfare of children. It is also damaging their families who have to wait up to a year for an assessment and in many cases there is no follow up services being provided due to lack of child psychologists.

“This is unacceptable and the government must address the issue as a matter of urgency.”

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"In the last year alone, 3,000 jobs have been axed from the Local Authorities. The Government is now trying to fill the gap by using the long term unemployed as cheap labour for local authorities.  This is exploiting the unemployed."

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Sinn Féin Louth TD and party leader Gerry Adams has called on the Minister for Health to define Anaphylaxis as a long term illness, under the Long Term Illness Scheme, as is the case with Diabetes, Haemophilia, Epilepsy and other diseases and medical conditions.

Mr. Adams has also urged the establishment of a state wide education programme to alert teachers, health care professionals, citizens and parents about the dangers of Anaphylaxis.

The Louth TD has asked the Minister to look at introducing a scheme to make Epi-pens available in schools, workplaces and other public places, similar to the provision of defibrillators, and for a scheme to be introduced to train volunteers as first responders.

Defining anaphylaxis as a long term illness would allow those suffering from Anaphylaxis to access free drugs and medicines for the treatment of their condition. This scheme is administered by the Health Service Executive (HSE), under Section 59 of the Health Act 1970.

Gerry Adams TD said:

“Anaphylaxis is a dangerous and permanent condition that creates breathing difficulties, a sudden drop in blood pressure and swelling of the face. It arises from an allergic reaction to food or drugs and if not treated with adrenaline it can quickly lead to death. In this state almost 700 adults and children are brought to hospital each year suffering from this life-threatening condition.

“Just before Christmas, a 14 year old girl died in O Connell Street after she inadvertently ate Satay sauce which contains nuts and went into anaphylactic shock. Her mother was refused an epi-pen by a pharmacy without a prescription. The young girl died a short distance from the pharmacy as her mother tried to bring her to a hospital.

Following this tragedy I wrote to the Minister for Health asking him about the availability of Epi-pens which allow patients to self-administer adrenaline.

The Minister stated that “Adrenaline pens, as injectable medicines, are prescription only under EU law and may only be supplied on foot of a valid prescription. However, there is provision in the current Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations 2003 (as amended) which permits pharmacists, in emergency circumstances, to supply certain prescription only medicines without a prescription.” He said that his department is “considering a review of the Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations 2003.”

Last week, in a subsequent answer to further PQs I had submitted the Minister for Health acknowledged that there is provision in the Medicinal Products (Prescription and Control of Supply) Regulations “which permits pharmacists, in emergency circumstances, to supply certain prescription-only medicines, including adrenaline pens, without a prescription.”

I had specifically asked the Minister what steps had the Department of Health taken to ensure that all pharmacies are aware of this?

The Minister said that this is the responsibility for the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), which is an independent statutory body.

The Minister also revealed that in May 2012 his department had “issued up to date advice to pharmacists on the emergency supply provisions of the medicines legislation”.

I welcome the Minister’s statement that he is currently examining the possibility of amending the Prescription and Control of Supply Regulations to facilitate the wider availability of adrenaline pens without a prescription in emergency situations. This must be done as a matter of urgency.

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Speaking in the Dáil this morning on Labour and Fine Gael’s record in government Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD described the parties’ poor record on reform as not so different to Fianna Fail’s.

Deputy McDonald said:

“On taking up office this government’s job was never going to be an easy one. Decades of Fianna Fáil’s short termism and self-interest resulted in a catastrophic shock to the Irish economy.

“The challenge for any new government was always going to be immense, but it was also an opportunity to challenge the fundamental faults in our political system.

“Yet little of the fundamental reforms, cultural changes or fairness that people voted for in 2011 has materialised. Fine Gael and Labour simply took up where Fianna Fáil left off.

“The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has kept his focus solely on the bottom line. Brendan Howlin has refused to concede that the measures set out in his public service reform plan are at best modernisation.

“This government has continued the work of Fianna Fáil by indiscriminately savaging public sector numbers, a policy that has back fired and government is now quietly backing away from.

“Far from improving the capacity of SMEs to tender for public sector contracts, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is often acting as a blockage to the sector.

“Government contracts are worth billions of euro to the local economy, yet small and micro enterprises are not accessing this important market.

“Social clauses are still not a staple of government procurement contracts, and to date government have offered up no sensible argument as to why this is.

“Freedom of Information has still not been restored to its former glory, and the last time the legislation came before TDs Minister Howlin endeavoured to pull a fly one on the issue of charges.

“Reforms, rare as they are, only happen in an environment of crisis.

“Government has decided to set aside the Programme for Government commitment to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation.

“Fine Gael and Labour made a raft of promises on equality.

“Government is not pursuing gender quotas within its own cabinet never mind state boards. They committed to require all public bodies to take due note of equality and human rights in carrying out their functions, yet they refuse to sign up to equality budgeting.

“Despite promises of the participation of immigrants in the economic, social, political and cultural life of their communities – government continues to stand over direct provision.

“Little has changed for the travelling community.

“The little promised to some, not all, survivors of the Magdalene Laundries has yet to be delivered on and government has turned its back on those who survived Bethany Home.

“Illegal adoptions have yet to be grappled with.

“Louise O’Keefe was forced by the state to take her case to Europe, and it was this government who last year argued that the state had no liability for what happened to children whilst attending primary school.

“So whilst Labour and Fine Gael clap each other on the back and wax lyrical about budget consolidation and doing more with less, the reality is this government is not so different to the last.”

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Sinn Féin MLA’s Megan Fearon and Mickey Brady have said that they are concerned about the time being taken to decide the scope of the Goods, Facilities and Services legislation.

Children and Young Peoples spokesperson Megan Fearon said,

“This delay is incomprehensible and if the Assembly is embarking upon a piece of anti-discrimination legislation then surely no right thinking person would want to start that process by discriminating against any section of our society”.

 “Many young people already face discrimination simply because of their age, with negative stereotypes about them dictating how they are treated”. 

It was pointed out that the Assembly had debated and passed a motion supporting the call that everyone should be covered within the scope of the legislation.  Whilst some concerns were expressed it was made it clear that proscribing age discrimination did not mean the removal of age-based services. 

Older persons spokesperson Mickey Brady added,

“The need for the protection provided within the proposed legislation needs to apply to everyone.  Older people of course want protections but I am sure that as grand parents or great grand-parents they do not want to see their grand-children or great grand-children discriminated against”.

 “There are occasions where age based services are appropriate, such as free travel for the elderly or vaccinations for infants”. 

“Everyone understands that there are reasons for treating adults and children and young people differently but that there has to be justifiable reasons for doing so. 

“We often talk about inter-generational issues and we believe that this legislation is a perfect example of where those interests meet”.

“Children, young people and older people need the protection of this legislation and we are sure that no one wants to see any section of our society discriminated against.

“Following on from the debate in the Assembly Sinn Féin is calling upon all parties, but particularly the DUP to set out their positions on the proposed legislation.”

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“For many the supplement was the difference between keeping their heads above water and sinking in the pool of austerity for which the government and Fianna Fáil are responsible."

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Sinn Fein Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has said that the Government has failed miserably to address the mortgage crisis.

Speaking from Leinster House tonight, Deputy Doherty said:

“Currently, 17.9% of all mortgages are in arrears.

“Legislation is needed to protect the holders of all mortgages sold to unregulated companies.

“Recourse to the Financial Services Ombudsman should be a right for all mortgage holders.

“The ‘commitment’ by potential buyers of mortgages to honour the Code of Conduct has been shown to be legally meaningless, vague and short-term.

“The Government has legislation planned for 2015. This will be too little and too late for struggling mortgage holders.

“Furthermore, Minister Noonan has it within his power to halt the sale of the IBRC loan book. Instead, he prefers to allow vulture hedge fund managers to pick the meat from the bones while preventing the mortgage holders from bidding for their own loans.

“Minister Noonan and this Government have sided with financial opportunists and the banks and in doing so they have failed miserably to address the mortgage crisis in this state.”

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Fine Gael and Labour assumed office on the promise of a new way of doing politics but yet have compounded the worst excesses of their Fianna Fáil predecessors.

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Any talk of recovery has to start by focusing on the ability of middle and low-earning families to consume and that can be done by investing in them in the next budget.

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Sinn Féin Social Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said that the Fine Gael/Labour Government cannot claim to have protected vulnerable people over the last three years.

Speaking in the Dail tonight, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said while there was an alternative, the government had chosen to target the most vulnerable people in our society.

He said:

“How can this government claim to have protected core social welfare rates, when in reality you cut the core Maternity Benefit payment? First you taxed it, then you cut it. The majority of Maternity Benefit recipients will now see their weekly payment cut by €32 this is a cut of €832 over the course of their six month leave. For many new mothers maternity benefit is their only income during that time.

“For those mothers who are fortunate enough to have their maternity benefit supplemented by their employers the cumulative impact of this government’s benefit cut and tax measure could see their payment shrink by up to €126. That’s a potential loss of up to €3,276 for new mothers.

“How can this government claim to have protected core social welfare rates, when in reality you cut the core Invalidity Pension rate for 65 year olds. The cut to invalidity pension means 65 year old disabled pensioners are looking at a cut of €36.80 per week or €1,914 over the year. Invalidity Pension is paid to people with the requisite contributions record who cannot work due to long term illness or disability (most will have been receiving illness benefit for the previous year). The government language in relation to the Invalidity Pension cut is that 'the rate of €230 will be discontinued and the rate of €193.50 will instead be payable' - how they can claim with a straight face that they have protected core weekly rates is beyond me!

“Child Benefit warrants separate mention. Despite the pre-election posters and promises, despite the programme for government commitment to protect the vulnerable and maintain welfare rates – you cut child benefit two budgets running. In Budget 2013 alone you dipped your hands into the pockets of families and ripped out, in the case of a family with four children €58 of child benefit each month. This was despite your earlier acknowledgment that child benefit is what keeps many families afloat, that child benefit puts food on tables and pays the energy bills.”

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The Sinn Féin candidate for the EU Midlands Northwest constituency, Matt Carthy, has reiterated his party’s opposition to the proposed levy on HGVs crossing the border which is soon to be imposed by the British government.

The proposed charge, he said, is the latest example of the need for the transfer of fiscal powers to the north.

Speaking in Monaghan today Carthy highlighted the detrimental impact that such a charge would have on border economies:

“Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the imposition of this proposed HGV levy which would see HGVs crossing the border from this April liable to pay up to £10 a day.

“As a representative from the border region I know all too well the potential damage this will cause. The imposition of this levy would have a detrimental effect on the expanding island-wide trade which currently generates £2.3 billion for this island and could dissuade investment in northern operations by southern based parent companies. This would have a particularly negative impact on the agri-food sector - our fastest growing sector north and south.

“Sinn Féin has been proactively campaigning for the north to be exempt from this regressive charge. Conor Murphy MP has travelled to London to lobby politicians and the British Secretary of State Theresa Villers for an exemption. Pearse Doherty TD also took part in a delegation which met with Transport Minister Leo Varadker on the issue.

“I am reiterating my call on the British government to amend the legislation to exempt the north from this regressive charge. The Irish government must also ensure that they challenge their British counterparts to stop this charge which has the potential to severely affect the future viability of small and medium businesses especially along the already struggling border region.

“It is time to focus on building, not splitting the island economy. A single island economy for all citizens across Ireland would provide the opportunity for fair and harmonised progression taxation, regulation and trade. It would provide the tools to create greater opportunities for growth, harmonise workers’ rights and create a better business climate for advancement of entrepreneurial spirit north and south.”

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Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD today welcomed the publication of the National Women’s Council of Ireland policy document ‘A Parliament of all Talents: Building a Women Friendly Oireachtas’.

The Dublin Central TD said:

“There is absolutely no doubt that women have been failed by the political system. It’s time now for women to claim our space and our voice in the Dáil and Seanad.

“Politics is not a family or woman friendly environment and this reality serves no-one. Quotas are an important step in the right direction for increasing women participation in parliament, but there is so much more to be done if we are to achieve equal representation.

“I want to commend the work of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and encourage all to support their recommendations for building a women-friendly Oireachtas.”

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Louth TD and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams today joined the Louth Irish Farmers Association as they gathered at the Department of Agriculture to highlight their anger about cuts to beef prices paid to them in recent months.

They were among several thousand farmers who participated in the protest.

Teachta Adams said:

“Government policy is imposing significant hardship on farming families and communities.

“Its Food Harvest 2020 plan is failing to get to grips with the financial loss to farmers who, this year, risk losing up to €175m if beef prices are not restored. Currently beef and cow prices are down between €180 and €200 a head. This is not sustainable.

There is a responsibility on the government to protect beef farmers. Specifically, the government needs to reject the factory cuts and specification changes. It should also move speedily to tackle the live export and labelling issues.”

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Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD raised the issue of a call by families of victims of the Stardust tragedy for a new Commission of Investigation into the fire which killed 48 young people in Artane, Dublin in 1981.

Mr Adams asked the Taoiseach or Minister for Justice to address discrepancies between the report by Senior Counsel Paul Coffey, tasked with reviewing the Stardust affair, which was submitted to the Government, and the version of the Coffey report that was eventually published.

In his response to Gerry Adams, the Taoiseach said he would not commit to a new Commission of Investigation but if the solicitor for the families forwarded to him any new evidence, he would look at it.

Gerry Adams said:

“The original inquiry into the Stardust fire claimed that it was caused by ‘probable arson’. That finding has long been disputed by the families of the victims, by the people of this city and by others who have looked closely at the evidence.

“The families of a number of those who died in the Stardust have tasked various experts to review transcripts of the original inquiry into the case and they have come to a different conclusion.

“Taoiseach, the families of victims of the Stardust fire are seeking a new Commission of Investigation into this dreadful tragedy. The main basis for this is the report by Senior Counsel Paul Coffey, who was tasked by the previous government with reviewing the Stardust affair, and the Foy report commissioned by the families.

“Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has so far rejected calls for an inquiry into the Stardust tragedy.

“Taoiseach, will you meet the families of the Stardust victims to discuss their demands? Will you support the families in their search for justice over responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones? And will you establish a new Commission of Investigation, headed by an International Judge and other international experts/academics on fire safety/fire forensics, to look into this tragedy?”

The Sinn Féin Leader said that it was important to note that the Coffey Report on the Stardust tragedy, submitted to the government on 10th December, 2008 was not presented as a first draft or an interim report:

“This was clearly Coffey’s report with findings, conclusions and recommendations.

“However, according to the families of the victims, dozens of changes, some very substantial, were made to the report, after it was submitted to the Department of Justice.

“Coffey's terms of reference were limited but one area that he was asked to consider was whether or not a new inquiry was needed.

“In his report, sent to government on 10th December, 2008, on page 70, Section 5.13, Coffey states:

‘I further accept that a new inquiry is necessary if it is the only way of placing on the public record a finding that is based in evidence.’

“However, this recommendation is not in the published report of January, 2009.

“Taoiseach, if you cannot tell the Dáil today why this is the case, would you undertake to do so as soon as possible?”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture and fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, called again on Minister Simon Coveney to come to the aid of fishermen unable to put to sea due to bad weather.

Deputy Ferris said:

“Minister Coveney has to act to help those who cannot earn a living in bad weather conditions. There are skippers who have been unable to put to sea since before Christmas and they, their crews and their families are in dire straits.

“I am appealing again to Minister Coveney to recognise that this is an emergency situation and needs emergency measures to meet it. There are people who have no source of income and who are experiencing great difficulty.

“I see that the Sinn Féin minister in the North, Michelle O’Neill, managed to release funding to help fishermen in this situation. Minister Coveney must do the same.”

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has said the latest quarterly figures from the Central Bank on mortgage arrears are proof of three years of complete failure by Fine Gael/Labour in tacking the mortgage crisis.

Deputy Doherty said:

“Today’s figures show that after three years the numbers in mortgage arrears stands at over 136,000- 17.9% of all mortgages. There are today twice as many mortgages in arrears of over 90 days that when the government came to power.

“This week the Dáil will discuss the Programme for Government which included a commitment to a ‘more radical approach to protect families in fear of losing their home.’

“The fact is that twice as many are now facing the possibility of losing their homes and this government has actually removed the legal protection that did exist to protect the Family Home.

“The Central Bank figures show the crisis may have levelled off and that is to be welcomed but in no way can the slight decrease be attributed to government policy.

“This is a government that promised much in tackling the mortgage crisis but has actually made the situation twice as bad. In March 2011 the numbers in arrears of over 90 days was 6.3%, today’s figures show it now stands at 12.6%.

“Sinn Féin would implement a genuinely radical approach of standing up to the banks and empowering the courts to side with the homeowner when every effort is being made to repay.

“We have outlined a fair approach that would involve an independent body imposing reasonable arrangements on banks and homeowners where necessary.

“We would also make it clear publicly to the banks that they cannot repossess or threaten their way out of this crisis. “

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