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Speaking in the Dáil tonight the Sinn Fein representative for Cork North Central, Jonathan O’Brien TD accused Fianna Fáil of hypocrisy when it comes to the issue of mortgage arrears.

Deputy O’Brien said;

“In the programme for government the coalition said that ‘a more radical approach is needed to protect families in fear of losing their homes.’

“The shocking reality is that from the middle of 2009 until the end of 2012, serious arrears on residential mortgages grew by 360 per cent.

“The government’s proposal does nothing to tackle any of these issues and while the banks have been told to offer sustainable arrangements to those in trouble, there is no definition of what sustainability actually means and no independent appeals board to which people can appeal if they feel they have been unfairly treated by the bank.

“While in power Fianna Fail were singularly responsible for the over inflation of the housing market, and thousands of families are now at risk of losing their homes.

“Sinn Fein is of the view that the current insolvency legislation gives far too much power to the banks. We also believe that sooner or later some form of debt forgiveness or write down will have to happen.

“Of course any discussion of mortgage arrears or household finances must now factor into the debate an additional burden in the form of the Family Home Tax.

“This is an extra tax burden for homeowners. It is unfair and should be scrapped immediately.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on environment, community and local government Brian Stanley TD has today said that the issuing of incorrect family home tax bills is causing mass confusion and worry.

Raising the issue in the Dáil today, Deputy Stanley said;

“My office has been inundated with calls from households who have received local property tax letters with an over inflated valuation of the house. I have also received calls from local authority tenants who received bills demanding equally large payments. But local authority tenants are not liable for the property tax.

“Houses in Portlaoise are being put into the band of €150,000 to €200,000. This is over valuing the properties. The most recent houses sold were sold for between €95,000 and €120,000.

“The Revenue Commissioners have used a blunt instrument of districts and post codes to decide, wrongly, what value is put on people’s homes. This has led to the situation whereby Ryan Air’s Michael O’Leary will be expected to pay less than low and middle income families in County Laois and elsewhere.

“One Dublin City Council tenant received a letter from the Revenue Commissioners claiming their home was valued in the band €150,000 to €200,000 and demanding €157 for 2013. All local authority properties, according to the legislation, are in the valuation band of €100,000.

“The local authority is the property owner not the tenant. The resident contacted the revenue only to be told they do have to fill out the valuation form and return it. This is confusing and very stressful.

“It is another indication of how ill-considered this unjust family tax really is. Sinn Féin in government will repeal this tax.”

ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD called on the Taoiseach to clarify if he shares his Labour cabinet colleagues’ view that the government’s handling of the Family Home Tax has been ham fisted, unfair and a complete mess.

Deputy McDonald said:

“Yesterday Sinn Fein published legislation providing for the abolition of the Family Home Tax. This legislation is in addition to our revenue generating alternatives such as a wealth tax and tax increases for high earners in the private and public sector.

“The Family Home Tax is lifted straight out of Fianna Fáils four year plan and is just the latest blow that Labour and Fine Gael have delivered to hard pressed families.

“One in four mortgage holders are in distress and yet these same families are being hit with this unfair tax which takes no account of ability to pay, negative equity, arrears or those who have already paid thousands in stamp duty.

“Thousands of families up and down the country will be pushed over the edge by this tax. It’s the difference between having enough to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the electricity or gas bill, to be able to fill the tank with heating oil and not doing so.

“Low and middle income families have borne the brunt of this government’s austerity as they did Fianna Fáil’s and they cannot take any more.

“Sinn Féin in government will repeal this Family Home Tax. We will repeal it because it’s not fair. There is no fairness in taxing the homes of those in negative equity, in mortgage distress, living in ghost estates or those who simply have no ability to pay.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on environment, community and local government, Brian Stanley TD, has branded the reduction in polling station hours for tomorrow’s Meath East by-election as: “a cynical, damage limitation move by the government”.

Raising the issue today in the Dáil during the Order of Business, Deputy Stanley said: “This government had sawed two hours off the day for voting. This means frontline staff, those on shift work and those commuting from Dublin have all been denied the right to cast their vote.
“Minister Hogan claimed that reducing the hours was in the, ‘continued interest of reducing costs.’ This simply does not make sense. Democracy comes at a cost. The saving will be minimal. More savings would be made if the government jet was grounded for a week. To deny people the right to vote will only fuel the public’s cynicism about politics.”
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Deputy Michael Colreavy, Sinn Féin spokesperson on communications, energy and natural resources, has welcomed the launch of the report “Promoting a sustainable future for the post office network” by the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.

Speaking at the launch today in Leinster House Deputy Colreavy said:
“Communities have suffered from the loss of many services: closure of schools, garda stations and local businesses has resulted in a reduction in infrastructure and identity for communities.
“The post office network relies heavily on the Social Welfare contract. It should be an imperative that the contract is retained by post offices. However, it should also aim to attract business from other sources. This report outlines a number of options for post offices such as assuming responsibility for the payment of motor tax renewals, business rates, rents and other government payment services.
“The report also recommends that An Post clarify and make public the criteria they use to establish the viability of post offices, to allow the public a role in determining the future of their post office. The report also recommends that an amber light warning system be established where communities could be notified whether their local post office was in danger of closing and allow the community to respond.
“While the number of letters that are passing through post offices has fallen, a trend that is replicated throughout Europe, there has been an increasing number of parcels being handled by post offices. This change has been brought about by the increase in online shopping and the post office network should adapt to these changing conditions.
“With the loss of so many services in rural areas, it is essential that the post office network is retained to provide and cater for communities across the country.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin education spokesperson, Jonathan O’Brien TD, has raised concerns about apparent inconsistences in how the State Examination Commission (SEC) allocate grammar, spelling, reading and writing waivers to students with learning difficulties when sitting their Leaving Certificate exams.
Deputy O’Brien is raising the matter with education minister, Ruairí Quinn, after being contacted by parents of children whose applications have been supported by child psychologists but have been turned down for waivers by the SEC.
He continued: “I am concerned at the tendency of the SEC to refuse the allocation of waivers to young people sitting their Leaving Cert, even when teachers and healthcare professionals have supported their applications.
“In cases I have been dealing with, the SEC has failed to provide any plausible explanation for its decision and there are even instances where students have been turned down for a waiver despite exact same support when sitting their Junior Certs.
“Education Minister Ruairí Quinn, if he is serious about ensuring children of all abilities have equal opportunities at school, must ensure these essential supports are available.
“Refusing to provide support will mean students who need a little assistance will at a massive disadvantage during their important second level exams, which can have long-term implications for their future prospects.”
NOTE TO EDITORS: Deputy O’Brien has submitted the following for Topical Issues’ Debate:
To discuss the apparent inconsistences in how the State Examination Commission (SEC) allocate grammar, spelling, reading and writing waivers for young people with learning difficulties sitting the Leaving Cert Exam and their tenancy to ignore the recommendations of evaluations teachers and healthcare professionals when making a decision on this matter. Deputy Jonathan O’Brien

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD will tomorrow, Wednesday March 27, host a briefing in the Dáil with parents from the Happy New Ear Campaign Group.

The Happy New Ear group have been campaigning for the introduction of a bilateral cochlear implant programme. Currently, children in the state who are profoundly deaf only receive one cochlear implant, rather than the two which is accepted as best international practice.

Wednesday’s briefing will consist of four short contributions from Denise Martin from Louth who will explain how, why and when the parents got together; Roger Connor from Roscommon who will deal with the present, including parenting a deaf child on a daily basis; Shay Kearns from West Dublin who will speak about their engagement with the HSE; and Danielle Ryan from Dublin’s Northside who will talk about the positive impact the provision of two implants can have for the children.

The speakers will also be accompanied by other parents from Westmeath, Dublin, Donegal, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Laois and Wexford.

Teachta Adams said:

“The provision of cochlear implants for children is an issue of fundamental rights. There are around 200 throughout the state and they deserve the best possible medical treatment.

“International best practice demands that children receive bilateral implants. For the last 17 years the practice in this state has been for a single implant.

“The overall amount of additional money required would be in the region of €4 million which is not a prohibitive amount even in these straitened times.

“But the implementation of international best practice would have a huge and lifelong and positive impact on the lives of these children.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Martin Ferris TD has again called for an end to exorbitant payments to individuals and in particular to companies which are not directly or exclusively engaged in farming.

He also expressed regret at the fact that negotiations on CAP failed to come to an agreement on allowing member states to impose an upper limit on payments below €150,000. Minister Coveney stated that he had argued in favour of a €100,000 limit but that was not agreed to.

Deputy Ferris said;

“There is a disproportionate amount of money which is paid to a small percentage of those entitled to payments. Less than two per cent of farmers in receipt of payments get a sum more than the total paid to the 40% of farmers at the bottom of the scale who receive less than €5,000 grand a year.

“There has been a lot of reference in the debate on changing the farm payments scheme to the need to protect active productive farmers. There is also the insinuation that some smaller scale producers are not proper farmers at all. Indeed there was reference made by one defender of large farmers to the minister needing to remember that he is the Minister for Agriculture not the Minister for Social Welfare.

“In that context I fail to see how defending the payment of over €500,000 to one of Larry Goodman’s companies, or €680,000 to Abbott which is a company involved in the pharmaceutical sector, fits in with the defence of productive or active farmers. And the same applies to beneficiaries in other states like the Queen of England who has received around €10 million in single farm payments over the last ten years. There are similarly ridiculous sums handed out to people and companies who are by no stretch of the imagination active farmers in other EU states.

“Such payments make no sense in relation to the stated aim of the Common Agricultural Policy to preserve the European family based farming system. Bringing them to an end would free up funds to ensure a fairer distribution of payments to small and medium producers. I would hope that the concession on the payments limit does not signal a surrender by the minister to the interests of larger beneficiaries.”

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The youngest member of the Oireachtas, Cavan senator, Kathryn Reilly, has welcomed the publication today of the Constitutional Convention report on the reduction of the voting age. According to the report 52% of convention members want the voting age reduced and 48% wanted it reduced to 16.

Senator Reilly was at the Convention meeting that discussed the issue of the voting age and voted for reducing it to 16.

Senator Reilly said: “Sinn Féin has long advocated the lowering of the voting age. We live in a highly globalised, politicised world where young people are connected to the world through various social media platforms. Any argument that young people are too apathetic or incompetent to engage in the electoral process is redundant.

“Young people are knowledgeable and passionate about the world in which they live and are as capable of engaging in the democratic system as any other citizen.

“I was honoured to have been able to participate in the Constitutional Convention deliberations on this issue and strongly advocated reducing the age to 16.

“The government now has four months to respond. I am hopeful that before the adjournment of the Oireachtas in July we will see a positive response from Government on its intentions to hold a referendum to reduce the voting age to 16.

“How government responds will send out a very clear signal on its intentions with respect to the reform of the constitution. While the initial proposal was reducing the voting age to 17, I hope the government listens to the outcome of the Convention and act accordingly.” ends

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD today encouraged voters to come out in force for change in Meath East.
“The Meath East by-election is an opportunity for the electorate to reject austerity and to vote for positive change by choosing Darren O’Rourke as their TD.
“Sinn Féin is the only party that offers a real alternative to the established parties, including the need to repeal the property, or family home, tax.
"Vote Sinn Féin. Vote Darren O’Rourke.”
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Speaking in Dublin today Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said his party in government will repeal the property tax.

Deputy Adams was speaking at the launch of his party’s Financial Local Property Tax Repeal Bill today. He said;

“We have had two years now of this Fine Gael/Labour Government. Despite all the promises to change how things were done in politics and government, we have seen instead a continuation of the failed policies and bad practices of Fianna Fáil. The latest blow to already hard pressed families is this family home tax.

“Many families up and down the country will be pushed over the edge by this tax. The difference between having enough to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the electricity or gas bill, to be able to fill the tank with heating oil can come down to having €50 left at the end of the month, or being another €50 euro overdrawn, or in debt to your credit card or behind in your payments to the bank, credit union or building society.

“Sinn Féin has alternatives that are fair, including wealth tax. The government had that option and chose not to take it.

“Politics is about making a difference. What we are saying today is that this tax, like any other unjust law can be repealed. That is what Sinn Féin intends to do if and when we get into government.”

ENDS

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Speaking following the High Court ruling today which says that rent for the lease of Bewley’s Oriental Café should be allowed to fall, Peadar Tóibín TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on jobs, enterprise, innovation said:
“While is it too early to fully access the implications of this judgement it is clear that the judge has recognised the odious and unjust nature of these clauses.
“The continued operation of upward only rent clauses in leases signed before February 2010 is costing jobs, closing viable businesses and creating a two-tier commercial property market.
“There is a need for the government to act to clarify the position and to make good on their promise to end the continued application of these clauses in all existing rents. They need to act immediately to save jobs and businesses.”
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Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Críona Ní Dhalaigh has said that City Council tenants have received local property tax letters causing huge confusion and worry.

Councillor Ní Dhalaigh said;

“I have been inundated with calls from council tenants who have received local property tax letters from revenue even though tenants are not liable for this tax.

“This is causing huge confusion and worry especially to families already struggling on low incomes. Revenue could have avoided this by using the lists of their rented dwellings held by the local authorities.

“It is another indication of how ill-considered this unjust family tax really is.”

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Speaking to republicans from throughout the North at the Party AGM in Derry Martin McGuinness MLA told Party activists that:

"If we are to become persuaders for a new Ireland … a land of equals… and if we are to respond appropriately to the fears and uncertainties of those who see us through different eyes than we see ourselves.

“We want and need unionists to understand what we are about and what our politics is about and what it really means for them.

“The transformation of society must include addressing their needs.”

Full script of Martin McGuinness’s speech

A chairde -  Céad Míle Fáilte romhaibh  go léir go Doire

It’s good to see you all here in County Derry, in the city of Derry.

I know many of you have travelled here today from some distance and, given the weather conditions, no doubt you will all want to be away on your journey home as quickly as possible.

So, I don’t intend to keep you too long.

This is a busy time of year for the party. AGMs, the Ard Fheis and Easter Commemorations on top of all the other stuff we are all involved in.  And that means we are all very busy.

And that is where I want to begin, to say a word of appreciation to all of you here,  and also all of those not here, who are driving our project forward  -  who are at the wheel of change across this island, who have withstood and overcome every obstacle placed in our way,  in decade after decade,  in year after year ,  day after day… and who bring a commitment that  represents the surest guarantee  that we will .. some day in the not too distant future… secure our objective… of reunifying our country and establishing a new republic.

Struggle, by its very nature, brings many highs and many lows.   I don’t have to tell you all of that.   All of you will have firsthand experience of what that means over many long years of struggle.  

And while I’m confident – as I am sure you all are – that some day we will have an Ireland to be proud of ,,,,, we don’t have to wait until then to be proud of our achievements.  And nor should we.

We have a huge job of work ahead,  we all know that,   but we should remind ourselves now and again of just how much we have done  and  the progress we have made.

This country – this entire island - north and south is undergoing a process of change, huge change, in every sphere of life   -  and not least on the political front.

In recent years we have experienced and are continuing to experience significant political change.  And Sinn Fein has been at the heart of much of that.

The political transformation in the earlier part of the peace process was up in lights…it was with the eyes of the world upon us and it was in the full glare of the media.     

The manifestations of the process of change were enormous and unquestionable.   

The peace process  - with Sinn Fein as a  central player -  brought us ceasefires,  negotiations,  political agreements,  new political institutions,  power sharing government and an all-Ireland architecture,  demilitarisation,  release of prisoners,  new policing and justice arrangements.

And it opened new doors, marked out new paths upon which further progress can and must be made. 

None of this has come easy.  Change doesn’t happen of its own accord.   But nor does It all happen in a planned-out or mapped-out-beforehand sort of way.

Change brings hope and confidence and surety to some, but    anxiety, fear and uncertainty to others,

And one of most crucial lessons from the peace process is that change, once begun, has a dynamic that can build a momentum for further change.

When change begins, and we have the confidence to embrace it as an opportunity and a friend, and show honest and positive leadership, then so much is possible.

And I would ask you all to think about that .. not here now.. but when you get a chance to reflect. 

Think of what that means for you and for what you do.   That’s the single most important thing that I can ask of you today.

We need to understand the process of change… if we are to build our organisation, if we are to get better at what we do,   if we are to build support for our political project, if we are to become persuaders for a new Ireland … a land of equals… and if we are to respond appropriately to the fears and uncertainties of those who see us through different eyes than we see ourselves.

We want and need unionists to understand what we are about and what our politics is about and what it really means for them.

The transformation of society must include addressing their needs.

Equality, mutual respect, parity of esteem must apply to everyone.  

Our peace strategy has worked and continues to work.

We are making progress politically across every county in Ireland.

As we continue to build we are entering another phase of the process of change.  This phase doesn’t carry with it the same attraction for international or media focus.

It is not up in lights like it was before.     

Economic difficulties across the world, manifestations of the anxieties of political opponents here in Ireland, the slower pace of change all combine to feed the agenda of our opponents.. to fuel the fires of detractors.

We must not allow ourselves to be derailed by any of this.   

We have to continue to build,  to deliver,  to pursue a genuine  reconciliation across our society, to tackle inequality wherever it arises and to eliminate sectarianism and Racism  and to build  an Ireland that truly mirrors the promise of the Proclamation.

The progress we have made has involved and been built upon huge sacrifices, difficult and sad times, hard work, long hours,  selfless commitment, vision, foresight, confidence in ourselves,  and optimism. And that is the platform from which we move forward to the next period.

The challenges are many… we can be sure of that.

Difficulties lie ahead… we can be sure of that… . 

But whatever we face we will face it well.. we can and must be absolutely sure of that.

So,   let us ensure that we keep focused on what has to be done and how best to do it.  We must be realistic, but we must also be optimistic. And we cannot be anything other than confident. And so we should be. Our record tells us that we are entitled to be.

Let us ensure that we stay confident and let us ensure that we mark this next year as another year of change, of progress and of advance.

It is crucial that we keep that momentum in the process and that we are continually questioning ourselves and how our work is impacting on the bigger picture.

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty today launched a bill to repeal the Family Home Tax and committed his party to repeal the tax if in government after the next general election.

Speaking at the launch of the Financial Local Property Tax Repeal Bill Deputy Doherty said:

“This bill is a key part of Sinn Fein’s alternative to austerity for lower and middle income families. These families have borne the brunt of austerity budget after austerity budget under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael/Labour. They need a break.

“This tax was signed off on by Fianna Fáil and has been taken up by the Fine Gael and Labour. There are a wide range of alternatives as Sinn Féin has consistently pointed out.

“The method of collection of this new tax is brutal. Those who are accepted as being unable to pay face a 4% penalty next year while those who can’t pay but are not recognised as being unable to pay face a 8% penalty. The government will raid salaries, social welfare payments and pensions to extract this tax on the family home.

“We know the reality that one in four mortgages are in distress yet these same households who may be in negative equity and have paid stamp duty now face this extra tax. That is blatantly unfair.

“We saw in last week’s list of exempted ghost estates just how few exemptions will be tolerated.

“Sinn Féin in government will repeal this tax. Our bill would refund the tax paid by citizens for the year in which it is scrapped.

“This bill will be introduced on the floor of the Dáil tomorrow and will be debated during our Private Members’ Time at the earliest opportunity.

“We will continue to campaign across the state to win support for this bill.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and Junior Minister Jennifer McCann has criticised Lisburn Council and the Roads Service for their lack of response to clearing roads in the Lagmore area

The West Belfast MLA said:

“We were assured by Lisburn City Council following the lack of response to severe flooding in the area last year that an emergency service would be available from Friday, which would co-ordinate any crisis response.

“It became clear by Friday evening and early Saturday morning that roads in the high parts of Lagmore including Mount Eagles were being badly effected by the snowfall.  Despite repeated calls to the council by one of our elected representatives, who was given the contact role by council, and calls by myself to Roads Service's emergency number there was no snow plough sent into the affected area until Sunday night at 6pm.

“This was in spite of Roads Service and council both claiming that it was a priority. The result was that from early Saturday morning the roads in and out of Mount Eagles and other parts of Lagmore were closed to residents.

“I realise Road Service was under a lot of pressure but this is unacceptable because if action to employ a snow plough on Friday evening or early Saturday morning had happened then the main roads would have been kept open.

“Local Sinn Féin Councillor David Bell along with other Sinn Fein representatives and activists helped residents during most of Saturday and Sunday to clear roads. The first time the Roads Service came into the area was late on Sunday afternoon with a manual gritter, which by that stage was of no use.

“Lisburn Council have once again let down residents in this area. They had plenty of warnings about the severe weather conditions and if they along with Roads Service had acted sooner residents would not have been stranded in their homes all weekend. I intend to take this issue up with both Ministers who are responsible for councils and the Roads Service.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan said the faceless people behind the bomb found in Derrylin need to realise that their actions are futile.
The Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA said:

“The faceless people behind this type of activity need to realise that their actions are futile.

“They do not enjoy any support in this community and in fact no one knows what they are trying to achieve because they have yet to explain how their actions would deliver Irish unity.

“They should desist from such activities that recklessly and needlessly put lives in danger and join with the rest of us in trying to build a better Ireland for all of our people.” 

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Speaking today from Duleek where he is canvassing with party candidate Darren O'Rourke, Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams said:

“Sinn Féin representatives and members are in Meath East in strength this weekend in a major push before the final days of the campaign.

“The response to Darren O'Rourke is tremendous.

“Sinn Féin's message that there is a fairer and more efficient way to reduce the deficit, grow the economy and create jobs, is clearly resonating with the electorate.


“Meath East doesn't need three Government TDs. Nor does it need a return to the failed politics of Fianna Fáil. It is time for change. Vote Darren O’Rourke.”


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 Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard has slammed Finance Minister Sammy Wilson after he branded a  £250 payment to low paid education workers a disgrace.

 During Assembly questions, Minister Wilson called the decision by Education Minister John O'Dowd to grant a payment of £250 to staff earning less than £21,000, a 'disgraceful populist exercise'.

 Mr. Hazzard said,

 “The only disgrace here is Sammy Wilson's attitude to low-paid workers. With the present economic climate of austerity and pay freezes the gesture by the Education Minister to grant a one of payment of £250 to the lowest paid staff was a practical step in fending of poverty for many people.

 “For a Finance Minister to describe it as a 'disgraceful populist' decision is quite bizarre given the fact many of these people have seen their income drop in real terms as inflation continues to grow at a higher rate than any pay increases.

“As was shown with the recent flag protests the DUP have totally lost touch with the working class communities who are struggling to make ends meet.

 “The people in receipt of these monies were grateful that they have a Minister who lives off an average industrial wage and understands the plight they find themselves in as opposed to the huge sums that Sammy Wilson receives as Minister and MP.

 “Maybe if Sammy came down from his ivory tower once in a while he would see the devastation being caused by the recession and his inability to embrace ideas to help move the North out of recession.”

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Speaking today in Dunshaughlin today, where he is canvassing in the Meath East by-election with party candidate Darren O’Rourke, Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams said:
“This by-election provides an important opportunity for the people here to pass judgement on the broken promises and failed austerity policies of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour. Sinn Féin is the only party that offers a real alternative to this consensus for cuts.
“Despite a receiving a huge mandate for change two years ago, nothing has changed under the Fine Gael/Labour coalition. Instead we have a continuation of failed Fianna Fáil policies and a litany of broken promises.
“Promises not to introduce property tax have been broken. The property tax — first put forward by Fianna Fáil - is unfair to all those households who are struggling and in particular to those in mortgage distress as a result of Fianna Fáil’s failed developer-led housing policy.
“On Monday Sinn Féin will publish legislation to abolish the Property Tax. We are proposing alternative sources of revenue including a wealth tax and an increase tax in on higher incomes.
“The last thing Meath East needs is another government backbencher or a return to the failed politics of Fianna Fáil.
“Darren O’Rourke represents a change to the tired old politics that have failed Ireland in the past. On March 27th voters in Meath East can send a strong signal against austerity and for for jobs and economic growth by viting Darren O’Rourke, Number 1.”
ENDS

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