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Commenting on the report of the Expert Group on Resource Allocation and Financing in the Health Sector, Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the report recognised the inequalities and inefficiencies in the Irish health system but ignored the best solution – universal provision based on need alone. Describing the report’s core proposals as flawed, he said:

“The report of the Expert Group on Resource Allocation and Financing in the Health Sector recognises that there are ‘serious inequalities in access to care’ in the health system. These include high GP fees which deter many people on low incomes who do not qualify for the medical card from making necessary visits to their doctors. Another inequality identified in the report is faster access to hospital services for people who can afford private health insurance.

“While the report thus confirms the two-tier and grossly inequitable nature of the health system it does not set out to remedy this. It proposes solutions supposedly based on better use of resources but without altering the inequitable and inefficient structure of the two-tier system.

“The report’s core proposals are flawed, paving the way for further privatisation of the health system. The proposal for an expanded and tiered medical card system for GP care is highly complex and would be a bureaucratic and logistical nightmare to deliver. While Minister Harney has praised the report she is actually undermining the existing medical card system by cutting back on entitlements and imposing prescription fees.

“The report ignores what is, in Sinn Féin’s view, the best solution and that is universal provision of healthcare for all based on need alone. This would be free at the point of delivery and funded from fair general taxation. Tinkering with the current system is not enough.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan has welcomed the news today that the Government will not include a property tax in this year’s budget. Deputy Morgan said a flat rate universal property tax would unfairly punish struggling families who are already hit with a range of direct and indirect regressive taxes and duties by this Government.

Speaking today Deputy Morgan said:

“I welcome the fact that the Government has backed down from this proposal. This was a dangerous proposal that, rather than fixing the economy, had the potential to contract it to the point of depression. It would have severely cut the disposable income of thousands of families doing untold harm to consumer confidence.

“A flat rate, universal property tax would have unfairly punished struggling families who are already being hit with a range of direct and indirect regressive taxes and duties such a consumption taxes and the pension levy.

“Many have been hit with pay cuts and those unfortunate enough to lose their jobs have been hit with cuts to social welfare payments as this Government continually targets the least well off to pay for the bail out of bankers and developers.

“The Government’s property tax proposal was both economically dangerous and despicably unfair. I welcome its removal from the table.

“Sinn Féin is the only party which has put forward a stimulus programme aimed at lifting this state out of recession without targeting the vulnerable, who did not cause this crisis. We are the only party at this point in time presenting a clear vision for an alternative economy that does not rely on either regressive taxation measures or D4 economists’ cuts.” ENDS

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Commenting on the reports that the Police Ombudsman has decided not to publish his report into the UVF bombing of McGurks Bar in 1971, Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said:

 

“The report given to the relatives of those killed in the UVF attack on McGurks bar yesterday was so inaccurate that it couldn’t even get year the attack happened and the names of those killed correct.

 

“It has caused justifiable anger and it is only right that the Ombudsman bins this deeply flawed report. What needs to happen now is not for a rehash of what was given to the families yesterday but a new report which accurately deals with the facts in the case. These include the reality that the RUC wrongly and deliberately blamed the IRA for the bombing and that this was backed by the political establishment of the time.

 

“The way in which the office of the Police Ombudsman has conducted this report reflects badly on them. There is now a job to rebuild public confidence in their work. This needs to start with the production of a report into the McGurks Bar bombing which gets to the truth and delivers for the families.

 

“I have sought a meeting with the Ombudsman and I will also be meeting with the relatives in the coming days.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin west Belfast MP Gerry Adams has strongly condemned a decision today by Libraries NI to go ahead with the closure of Andersonstown Library.

Mr. Adams and Paul Maskey MLA this morning met the Libraries Board to outline the extent of public opposition in Andersonstown to their plans to close the local Library.

The two Sinn Fein representatives, and a local user of the Library, made a very strong case for the retention of library services in Andersonstown.

Speaking this afternoon Mr. Adams said:

“This decision by the Board is wrong and discriminates against the people of Andersonstown. It is at odds with sensible decisions the Board took in respect of other libraries, most notably Woodstock and Ballyhackamore.

The people of Andersonstown are entitled to the same equality of service in respect of Library facilities as other areas.

An Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) carried out as part of the consultation process for the Board highlighted the fact that “Andersonstown library is unique in that it caters for a wide Irish speaking population.” The EQIA went on to say; “Libraries NI should acknowledge the need to preserve a high level of support for the Irish speaking community in west Belfast.”

The Boards decision today means that it is rejecting the recommendation of the EQIA and is turning its back on local Irish language users.

The Board has also ignored the representations of a wide a range of local community groups, a petition from 2,000 residents and has disregarded the views of the elected representatives of the area.

I believe that the Board’s decision to close the library will attract widespread community opposition, including likely legal action.

It had the opportunity today to review its earlier decision in light of new information. It has rejected that opportunity”.

Note to Editor:

Libraries NI proposes to close Andersonstown Library, despite widespread opposition from local public representatives, local library users, other members of the local community and the local newspaper.

After the proposal was accepted at a Board meeting on the 27th May 2010, Andersonstown Library was scheduled to close at the end of June 2010. This closure was postponed until 9th July 2010 following a meeting with Sinn Féin representatives to enable a deputation to petition the Board to withdraw the closure proposal.

There are alternative proposals to ensure library provision in the Andersonstown area which would win the support of the library users and local community and which did not form part of the original decision.


On 10th December 2009, the Board of Libraries NI approved a strategic review of library provision across the six counties, beginning with greater Belfast.

It was agreed that Libraries NI would undertake a public consultation about its strategic review. That consultation was held in the first quarter of 2010. Libraries NI have stated publicly that “in response to information obtained during the consultation process and public feedback received regarding the closures, the Libraries Board agreed that 4 of the libraries originally proposed for closure should remain open. The four libraries which will remain open are Ballyhackamore Cloughfern; Tullycarnet; and Woodstock.”

It appears that the Board was not furnished with copies of the responses to the consultation but received a report providing a summary. This did not quantify or identify the extent of the objections to the proposal to close Andersonstown.

MLA Paul Maskey contacted Irene Knox, the chief executive of Libraries NI and arranged to meet to ask for the proposal to close Andersonstown to be reconsidered.

A petition began which has so far gathered upwards of 2,000 signatories supporting the call to keep Andersonstown library open.

On Thursday 17th June, west Belfast MP Gerry Adams and local MLA Paul Maskey met with Dr David Elliot, chair of the Board of Libraries NI and Libraries NI chief executive Irene Knox. At that meeting, a number of points were put about steps which ought to have been taken by Libraries NI rather than the option of immediate closure of Andersonstown Library.

A decision was take by Libraries NI to postpone the closure until after the next meeting of the full Board on 8th July and also for a deputation to be permitted to address the Board on the subject.

A further follow-up visit to the Andersonstown area was facilitated in late June 2010 by MLA Paul Maskey for Irene Knox of Libraries NI. This was to help to garner further information for the Board of Libraries NI about one of the aspects of Sinn Féin’s proposals. This is to co-locate library resources to an alternative location within the immediate vicinity of the existing library on an interim basis pending the provision of long-term, enhanced library in the Andersonstown area.

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Sinn Féin Councillor Seán Crowe has called on the Government to urgently bring forward a strategy to tackle the haemorrhaging of jobs in Tallaght.

Councillor Crowe was speaking this week as it emerged that 400 jobs are at risk at the Citywest Hotel.

He said: “The Government must ensure that everything that can be done to save the jobs at Citywest Hotel is being done. If the jobs cannot be saved then there must be assistance for these and all the other unemployed people in Tallaght to find new jobs.

“Just last week it was revealed that Tallaght has one of the worst unemployment rates in the state behind only Cork City, Limerick City and Waterford. There are currently 10,662 people on the live register in Tallaght and now 400 jobs are at risk at the Citywest Hotel.

“I think we can safely describe Tallaght as an unemployment black spot which needs special attention from the Government. The manufacturing sector which traditionally provided lots of jobs in Tallaght went with the loss of Jacobs, Gallaghers and Fruitfields and now we could be losing a significant number of jobs in the services industry.

“There must be specific training courses made available to Tallaght’s unemployed community to train people to work in new and emerging industries, and these industries must be fostered and invested in.

“While the jobs crisis is a state wide problem there are certain areas that have been hit severely and need specific attention. Tallaght is one of these priority areas and I am calling on the Government to urgently bring forward an active strategy to encourage new investment and tackle the continued haemorrhaging of new and traditional jobs in this community.” ENDS

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In a speech given in the European Parliament in Strasbourg today Bairbre de Brún MEP has welcomed a report which contributes to the debate around the European Common Agricultural Policy in the years ahead.

Ms de Brún, however, communicated some disappointment when she said that "it does not succeed in laying out a vision for the CAP which will prevent flight from the land and ensure that active farmers can produce goods and services that society demands."

"The CAP needs to be reformed to help those who need it most. Presently, the largest proportion goes to the largest landowners and producers. Instead, the Single Farm Payment should be more equitably distributed and capped at €100,000."

Ms de Brún restated her commitment to a CAP which ensures that "good quality food is produced to high standards, through sound environmental practices with jobs in rural areas and strengthening the rural economy."

"We need simplified procedures and less bureaucracy." ENDS

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Martin McGuinness speaking at the AOH Convention in Cincinatti, Ohio attended by Seamus Boyle President of the AOH and Mary Ryan President of the LAOH and the Irish Ambassador to the United States Micheal Collins said:

We share the same objectives of Irish Reunification by Peaceful and Democratic means.

We know that it is not enough to hold the aspiration; it is about what we do to make our objective real.

I am proud that the AOH, LAOH and the bulk of Irish America has worked to make our shared objective of reunification a job under way.

Tom Paulin in his poem, ‘The Wild Birds Act of 1931’, likened the experience of nationalists and republicans in the northern state as being like tapping through granite with a spoon. We have always recognised that our struggle would not be easy. No grand gesture by a few would win freedom. Change comes from the small steps, and the resolute actions of the many.

38 years ago the British Army shot 27 innocent people on the streets of Derry. 14 of them died. These were people who were on a march for civil rights. A march which was banned from entering the centre of their own city!

The British compounded that tragedy by setting up the Widgery Tribunal and claiming that those killed were in someway guilty and complicit in there own deaths. They maintained that lie for 38 years.

But Bloody Sunday cannot be taken in isolation from the many acts that led up to it. The actions of the same troops in Ballymurphy left 11 innocent people dead. The same army enforced the Falls Curfew and internment without trial! It cannot be divorced from the countless acts of collusion, shoot to kill and intimidation that was visited on the nationalist community.

I also recognise and sympathise with that loss endured by the unionists and other communities due to the actions of Irish Republicans. Over the most recent period of the conflict in Ireland we have all suffered grievous loss. No one was exempt.

But over that period we built a movement for peace, a movement for equality and a movement for reunification We had many partners including the Irish Government and British Government led by Tony Blair. We have moved from conflict, through negotiations and towards an inclusive power-sharing administration in the North.

At times it did indeed feel like tapping through granite with a spoon.

But by working together with the Irish Government other political parties and the involvement of America we have achieved:
Ceasefires
British Army being taken off the streets and returned to barracks
the signing of the Good Friday Agreement
the ending of the IRA campaign
the establishment of the Executive and Assembly
the establishment of the North South Ministerial council. Only last Monday a crucial meeting with an Taoiseach Brian Cowan and Cabinet sitting with Ministers from the north including Unionists to share ideas and solutions for economic recovery took place in Dublin.
the signing of St. Andrews agreement which led to the establishment of power sharing between Ian Paisleys ‘s party the DUP and ourselves in Sinn Féin
Most recently we have successfully negotiated for the return of policing and justice powers from London to our administration in the North. We have now a policing and court service which recognises human rights and is accountable to the people it serves.

And over the last two elections Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the North.

At all these junctions we were told that no further progress could be made. But we continued.

In all of this progress we have been accompanied by the AOH, LAOH and our friends in Irish America and the American political establishment. Clinton, Bush and Obama and Hilary Clinton

The recent release of the Saville Tribunal into Bloody Sunday demonstrates how far we have travelled together.
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A British Prime Minister recognised that those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday were innocent. He said that the actions of the British Parachute Regiment were unjustified and unjustifiable. Maybe now after nearly 4 decades the British media will call it what it was in the words of the coroner of the time, ‘Unadulterated Murder’

When David Cameron apologised on behalf of the British Governments and acknowledged the injustice of Widgery his words were beamed directly into the centre of Derry where the families were gathered. The very place to which the original march was barred!

This only came about because of the lobbying and campaigning by the families of those injured and murdered. It came about because of the pressure of those who marched every year in the biting wind of January to mark the anniversary of the original march.

The people of Derry and the north are grateful for the support of the AOH and LAOH who marched loyally with us in Derry and who were part of making the apology possible. For the past 38 years the AOH and LAOH have marched in support of the families. When others thought that it was pointless you persevered. I was delighted to be invited here, because the families and the people of Derry owe the AOH and LAOH a debt of honour. You stood with the people of Derry and we never forget our friends.

Yes a thousand spoons tapping through granite long and hard enough can reduce a mountain to rubble.

Yet we cannot rest on our laurels if we are to achieve our objective of a unified Ireland.

We support reunification because it is the right of the Irish people in the fullest sense to define our own destiny. We support reunification because it makes sense. It makes economic sense, it makes political sense and it is the way to heal the divisions in our society.

We need to continually build support here and at home for peaceful democratic change.

I thank the many legislative and other bodies across this great nation that has supported resolutions in favour of reunification.

We also have much to do to build support at home for reunification.

Partition had an impact not just along the border. It infested a mindset in the 26 counties that turned its back on the north and it entrenched community division and promoted sectarianism in the North.

We need to unpick 90 years of partition and knit our society back together. We are working with Unionists and the Irish government in this regard.

The visit to the Bogside of the leaders of the main Protestant Churches in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday Report to meet with the relatives of those killed and injured was inspiring. It was an act of leadership bourn out of compassion and respect for the families and people of Derry. I know you will applaud them for it.

Every one in the community needs to feel the benefits of peace and change. As we build our coalition to support reunification there are those that seek to take us back to conflict, whose actions seek to have the British Army returned to our streets. They offer no strategy or plan to achieve Irish reunification and have repeatedly been rejected by the community. They should now go away.

I am mindful that we are in the lead up to the 12th July at home. A tense time for many communities! A time when another fraternal organisation celebrates its heritage! I am of course referring to the Orange Order. I think that the Orange Order has much to learn from the open, generous and pragmatic approach to marching and working with host communities demonstrated by the AOH at home.

We recognise that the Orange Order is part of our shared heritage. They are part of our diverse nation and history. There is no greater symbol of this than our national flag. A symbol of peace and equality between green and orange!

All communities want to move forward together with equality and respect. I look forward to the day when the leaders of the Orange Order are willing to engage positively with the political and civic representatives of the Nationalist people of the North in the process of creating a better future for all our people.

Recent attacks on Orange Halls, places of worship, GAA, Sinn Féin Offices and other premises are to be unreservedly condemned for the hate crimes they are and I know you will all wholeheartedly agree with me that sectarianism like racism has no place in the New Ireland which is under way.

In republican parlance we refer to the cause of reunification as ‘the struggle’. We use the term because it will only be achieved by hard work, commitment and sacrifice. I am confident that it will be achieved. I am confident it will be achieved when I look back at how far we have come working together. And I am confident because it is the way to secure prosperity, inclusion and peace for all in our diverse community across Ireland.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has described the decision by the Orange Order’s Grand Lodge to reject draft proposals on parades as “deeply disappointing”. He said: “The decision by the Orange leadership sends out a negative message to all progressive sections of our society and is a stark reminder of the sectarian undercurrent that marks the parading issue.”

The Sinn Fein leader also accused the Ulster Unionist Party of “reprehensible behaviour” by “indulging in disgraceful party politics”.

He said: “The UUP approach, as articulated by Tom Elliot and David McNarry, has been dictated not by what is best for the community and the future peaceful resolution of contentious Orange marches, but by the UUP’s desire to score political points against the DUP.”

Mr. Adams said:

“There are now almost 4,000 parades annually by the various marching orders and most of these pass off peacefully. There are however a small number of contentious parades and the agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP at Hillsborough is a serious and genuine attempt to provide a legal framework within which this matter can be resolved.

The proposals currently being processed are a common sense approach to tackling a very difficult issue.
The legislation seeks to protect the rights of the marching orders and the rights of host communities.

Unfortunately, a section of the Grand Lodge, some of whom are also members of the UUP, are seeking to undermine this endeavour. So too is the SDLP. This is reprehensible behaviour.”

The Sinn Fein President added:

“I have written to the leaderships of the various marching orders in recent weeks asking to meet with them to receive a briefing on the issue of parades and to discuss with them the role and place of orangeism in modern Irish society.

I believe a dialogue between us would be very helpful in reducing tensions and creating a climate in which greater understanding could be encouraged.

This is particularly important in light of the efforts by some on the fringes of unionism and nationalism who seek to provoke conflict and street disorder around the 12th.

This must be strenuously opposed. I would appeal to everyone to behave in a dignified manner in the next few days." ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin spokesperson for Justice said that the Government should do the country a favour, step aside and allow for change rather than return after the their 3 month holiday.

Voicing his frustration at Ministers’ ambivalent attitudes as they head into a three month summer break, Ó Snodaigh said that this Government needed to seriously assess the grave damage they have done to the country during their time off, do the right thing and allow people a change in Government on their return.

He said:

It’s time this Government give the electorate the choice to change stale status quo politics. To be downing tools for a period of 3 months while the state is in an unemployment crisis is beyond conceivable and a clear indication of where their priorities lie. This is in the context of a mortgage arrears crisis, public outrage at the hugely disproportionate cuts to the community/voluntary sector and yet more cuts to the most basic social welfare schemes on whom more and more people now depend.

And still this Government remains steadfast in their refusal to tax the rich. Cowan and his cronies need to acknowledge that they no longer have a mandate from the people to run this state, a fact that underpins their refusal to hold three by-elections which they know they could never win. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann John O’Dowd as ‘severely criticised’ the decision of the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to appeal a High Court ruling which supported the decision of the Coroner in a number of Shoot to Kill cases, which would see the PSNI disclose the necessary information to the lawyers representing the families which would allow the inquests to proceed.

Mr O’Dowd said:

“The families of those killed by the RUC in North Armagh in the early 1980s have fought a long battle for the truth. This has been met with resistance by the British government agencies at every turn. The fact that it has taken over 25 years in some of the cases to get to this stage in the Inquest process says much about the British commitment to truth.

“In the course of recent months the Coroner has decided that the relevant information contained within the Stalker/Sampson Reports needs to be disclosed in order for the Inquests to proceed. The PSNI have consistently sought to resist this.

“This course of action is completely unacceptable. The PSNI should not be wasting its time and resources fighting legal battles to cover-up the activities of the RUC.

“Matt Baggott needs to step forward and show leadership on this issue. He needs to co-operate with the Inquests not try and disrupt them further. These families deserve the truth. Sinn Féin will continue to support them in the time ahead.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson John O’Dowd has welcomed the publication of Transfer 2011 policy by the Department of Education.

Mr O’Dowd stated,


“The publication of the Transfer 2011 guidelines outlines in the clearest way how children can move from primary to post primary school based on the principle of equality.


“This year we have seen a decreasing number of schools subject children to selection through entrance exams which have been the cause of so much stress, hurt and disappointment to many children and parents.


“The Transfer 2011 guidlines eliminates the need for grading children at age eleven and allows each and every child the chance to fulfil their potential based on the principle of equality.


“More schools are now considering abandoning academic selection and with the Catholic Bishops planning to end selection by 2012 it is time that the remaining schools realised that the way forward is through nurturing each and every child by treating them as equals.

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Sinn Féin Vice-President Mary Lou McDonald has welcomed Cork City Councillor Chris O’Leary into Sinn Féin.

Speaking at an event in the Metropole Hotel this morning, Ms McDonald stated:

“I am delighted to welcome Cllr Chris O’Leary as the party’s latest recruit in Cork. Chris is well known as a grass-roots campaigner and a leading figure in the community development sector.

“His decision to join Sinn Féin further reinforces what was already a strong team on Cork City Council, where our party doubled its representation in the 2009 elections. I look forward with confidence to seeing Sinn Féin candidates challenging for seats in both Cork North Central and South Central at the next general election.

“I am sure other elected representatives seeking a progressive party that stands up for ordinary people and offers a clear political alternative will look at Chris’s decision to join Sinn Féin and consider whether this would also be the right decision for them.”

Cllr Chris O’Leary said:

“Today is about building a strong, united and real alternative to the politics of the establishment in Cork.”

“Over the past few years I have established a good relationship with my Sinn Féin colleagues on Cork City Council. I have watched the party become a progressively stronger force in the politics of the city. I have seen Sinn Féin members and representatives campaigning on issues that are also important to me – for a real job creation strategy, for investment in communities, for action on anti-social behaviour and drugs, against NAMA and public service cutbacks.

“I have come to the conclusion that joining Sinn Féin is the best way I can contribute to building the genuine political alternative our city needs.”

“As a Sinn Féin councillor, I intend to continue the effective local representation and passionate advocacy of the interests of ordinary people in Cork on which I have built my reputation in politics.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin west Belfast MP Gerry Adams and Paul Maskey MLA will lead a delegation tomorrow, Thursday, to meet the Board of Libraries NI to press it to reverse its earlier decision to close the Andersonstown Library.

Mr. Adams said: “The people of Andersonstown are entitled to the same equality of service in respect of Library facilities as other areas. The Andersonstown Library is a vital asset to the local community which last year was used by over 30,000 people.

The decision by the Board was wrong and discriminatory.

Unlike the discussion it had on other Libraries, most notably Woodstock and Ballyhackamore libraries, the Board did not have all of the pertinent facts when discussing Andersonstown.

Very clear public opposition to any closure was made during the consultation process. Local community groups, including the Greater Andersonstown Neighbourhood Renewal Partnership expressed their support for the Library. And a submission from Sinn Fein by Paul Maskey MLA was also given to the consultation process. None of these important and relevant facts were put to the Board’s meeting.

In addition, I don’t believe that sufficient importance was placed on the use of the library by local Irish language users. An Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) carried out as part of the consultation process for the Board highlights the fact that “Andersonstown library is unique in that it caters for a wide Irish speaking population.” The EQIA goes on to say; “Libraries NI should acknowledge the need to preserve a high level of support for the Irish speaking community in west Belfast.”

In the same report the importance of the Woodstock Library for the Polish speaking community is recorded and it argues that this is one reason why the proposed closure of Woodstock should be reviewed. The Board decided to keep Woodstock open.

Sinn Féin believes that there is overwhelming evidence to support library provision in Andersonstown.

Cleary the existing building does not meet the standards of the 21st century nor can it hope to cater for the diverse uses which a modern library should provide for.

Paul Maskey has spoken to the Chief Executive about a number of alternatives, including co-locating the library within the vicinity of the existing library as an interim measure pending the provision of a long term enhanced library in Andersonstown.

Closure should not be an option. It would strip away a much need public service. Nor would the provision of a mobile library meet the needs of the community.”


Note to Editor:

Libraries NI proposes to close Andersonstown Library, despite widespread opposition from local public representatives, local library users, other members of the local community and the local newspaper.

After the proposal was accepted at a Board meeting on the 27th May 2010, Andersonstown Library was scheduled to close at the end of June 2010. This closure was postponed until 9th July 2010 following a meeting with Sinn Féin representatives to enable a deputation to petition the Board to withdraw the closure proposal.

There are alternative proposals to ensure library provision in the Andersonstown area which would win the support of the library users and local community and which did not form part of the original decision.


On 10th December 2009, the Board of Libraries NI approved a strategic review of library provision across the six counties, beginning with greater Belfast.

It was agreed that Libraries NI would undertake a public consultation about its strategic review. That consultation was held in the first quarter of 2010. Libraries NI have stated publicly that “in response to information obtained during the consultation process and public feedback received regarding the closures, the Libraries Board agreed that 4 of the libraries originally proposed for closure should remain open. The four libraries which will remain open are Ballyhackamore Cloughfern; Tullycarnet; and Woodstock.”

It appears that the Board was not furnished with copies of the responses to the consultation but received a report providing a summary. This did not quantify or identify the extent of the objections to the proposal to close Andersonstown.

MLA Paul Maskey contacted Irene Knox, the chief executive of Libraries NI and arranged to meet to ask for the proposal to close Andersonstown to be reconsidered.

A petition began which has so far gathered upwards of 2,000 signatories supporting the call to keep Andersonstown library open.

On Thursday 17th June, west Belfast MP Gerry Adams and local MLA Paul Maskey met with Dr David Elliot, chair of the Board of Libraries NI and Libraries NI chief executive Irene Knox. At that meeting, a number of points were put about steps which ought to have been taken by Libraries NI rather than the option of immediate closure of Andersonstown Library.

A decision was take by Libraries NI to postpone the closure until after the next meeting of the full Board on 8th July and also for a deputation to be permitted to address the Board on the subject.

A further follow-up visit to the Andersonstown area was facilitated in late June 2010 by MLA Paul Maskey for Irene Knox of Libraries NI. This was to help to garner further information for the Board of Libraries NI about one of the aspects of Sinn Féin’s proposals. This is to co-locate library resources to an alternative location within the immediate vicinity of the existing library on an interim basis pending the provision of long-term, enhanced library in the Andersonstown area.

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Sinn Féin Policing Board member Alex Maskey MLA has welcomed the fact that the uses of Section 44 stop & search powers has now effectively ended.


Speaking this evening Mr Maskey said;


“Existing legislation must be used to the highest standard of human rights compliance and in a way that instils confidence within the community and doesn’t alienate them from policing.”


Mr Maskey continued;


“Obviously the PSNI have to work to ensure the safety of everyone within the community and to challenge any threat, regardless of the where it comes from. In saying that, they must do so in a way that is transparent and gains the confidence of citizens.


The high proportion of the use of Section 44 powers caused clear concern amongst a wider range of sectors.


I welcome the fact that this power has now been effectively brought to an end and that we can work to ensure the PSNI carries out their responsibilities in an open and transparent way.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the Prescription Charges Bill as “a disgraceful piece of legislation that targets the least well off in Irish society”. He said there was “not a bleat” from the Fianna Fáil backbenchers about these unjust charges. Speaking against the Bill in the Dáil, Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“The most dishonest thing about this Bill is where the actual fees are cited. It is a smokescreen, a device to get the Bill passed. When Government representatives are challenged their main argument in favour of these charges will be: ‘It’s only 50 cents, it’s only €10.’
“But that’s pure deception because in Section 1 the Bill empowers the Minister to make regulations to vary the charges. We know very well that this Minister and future Ministers will increase the prescription charges for medical card holders.
“The Fianna Fáil backbenchers have been much concerned lately about hounds and stags and hares. But it seems that last night the sheep-dog from Clara barked at them and the sheep are now being herded exactly where he wants them to go. There’s not a bleat out of them about this Bill.
“Make no mistake, any Deputy who supports this Bill is opening the way for higher prescription charges in the years to come.
“Instead of making real savings, instead of targeting the profiteers in the drugs industry, the Government has once again gone for the easy targets – the elderly, the infirm, low income families with children. It is shameful.” ENDS

Full text follows


Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010
Prescription Charges Bill
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Sinn Féin Dáil leader & Health & Children spokesperson

I move the amendment in my name:
That Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a Second Reading as prescription charges represent an unjust imposition on medical card holders and undermine the General Medical Services Scheme.
We in Sinn Féin totally oppose this Bill which enables the Minister for Health & Children to impose prescription charges on medical card holders. It is a disgraceful piece of legislation that targets the least well off in Irish society.

It is also a sneaky and dishonest Bill.

It was initially signalled by the Minister for Health & Children and listed as the Prescription Charges Bill. This was changed to the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill in the vain hope of taking the bad look off it.
The legislation sets a charge of 50 cents per item up to a maximum of €10 per month and the Bill has been sold politically and in the media on the basis that the charges are small.
The most dishonest thing about this Bill is where the actual fees are cited. It is a smokescreen, a device to get the Bill passed. When Government representatives are challenged their main argument in favour of these charges will be: “It’s only 50 cents, it’s only €10.”
But that’s pure deception because in Section 1 the Bill empowers the Minister to make regulations to vary the charges. We know very well that this Minister and future Ministers will increase the prescription charges for medical card holders.
At the end of last year it was leaked to the media – deliberately perhaps – that the Minister’s officials were seeking a charge of €2.50 per prescription. This was after Colm McCarthy recommended a €5 flat fee for every prescription in his notorious Bord Snip report. I might add in passing that Mr. McCarthy’s prescription for the ailing Irish economy was a strong dose of deadly poison. The Government deserves no credit for prescribing a slightly lesser dose - but deadly poison nonetheless.

On 19 November last year Minister Harney addressed a body much in the news lately – the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. She floated the 50 cent prescription charge and it was reported afterwards that Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators supported the proposal. Only one TD was reported as expressing concern and he hit the nail on the head when he said he was worried that the charge could be increased in future years.

But Minister Harney saved the day because, we were told in a newspaper report, “observers said Ms Harney made clear that no final decision had been taken”. And so the Cabinet was saved from rebellion in the ranks once again. Then came the Budget with its savage cuts to public services, including health, and its confirmation that prescription charges would indeed be imposed. Did we hear the faintest protest from the ranks of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party? Not a bit of it.
After all the talk of rebellion in the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party in recent weeks where are they when this Bill comes before the Dáil?
Is there even one of them to stand up for the people who are being penalised by the prescription charges provided for in this Bill?
The backbenchers have been much concerned lately about hounds and stags and hares. But it seems that last night the sheep-dog from Clara barked at them and the sheep are now being herded exactly where he wants them to go. There’s not a bleat out of them about this Bill.
Make no mistake, any Deputy who supports this Bill is opening the way for higher prescription charges in the years to come.
This Bill, therefore, undermines the General Medical Services Scheme in a fundamental way. Access to essential medication free of charge has always been a corner-stone of the medical card scheme. It has lifted a potentially huge financial burden from people on low incomes, especially families with young children.
As well as being penalised financially people with medical cards are being scape-goated for the high cost of medicines in this State.
We all agree that the cost of medicines to the State and to individuals is too high. We all acknowledge that there is wastage and over-prescription of medicines. We all agree that measures must be undertaken to address these problems. But the very last way to address this is to punish those who are least able to pay.
I agree with Age Action when they state:
“Over-prescribing and inappropriate prescribing is a problem in Ireland but the Minister needs to address this issue with the doctors who write the prescriptions, rather than hitting their patients. The patient is not the person writing the prescription so penalising them will do little to change prescribing practices.”
For many older people on a State pension who are reliant on medication this Bill will mean an extra annual burden of €120 each, initially, and an as yet unknown higher amount when the Minister and/or her successors inevitably increase the charges.
These prescription charges on low income individuals and families come in the wake of the abolition of the social welfare Christmas bonus and the reduction in social welfare payments generally.
And that’s only on the payment side. We are seeing services for people on medical cards and for all who rely on the public health system being reduced on a weekly basis. Dental treatment for medical card holders has been confined to what are called emergencies – with the HSE failing to state what emergencies mean in the context of dental treatment.
Public hospitals are in deeper crisis than ever. Waiting lists and queues are worsening. The promised primary care network has not been delivered. And now we have this disgraceful Bill.
The Government claims that the purpose of this legislation is to make savings and to reduce the State’s drugs bill. For years we in Sinn Féin and others have been calling for greater use of generic drugs and for control of the gross profiteering by pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. The Government and successive Minister for Health & Children from 1997 failed to act.
Very belatedly the Minister for Health & Children has moved on the issue of generic substitution. She has also promised to bring in a Reference Pricing Bill. But that bill has not been published. Instead she has rushed in with this legislation to penalise the least well off for a problem not of their making.
As I have stated, there is widespread agreement that the cost of medicines to the State needs to be reduced but it has already been shown that huge savings can be made without imposing prescription charges. Last February an agreement between drugs manufacturers and the Minister for Health & Children made projected savings of €94 million in a full year.

Add to this the further savings that will be made through the use of generic drugs and reference pricing and set that against the estimated €20.5 million that will be raised by these charges. These charges are totally unnecessary from a budgetary point of view, as well as being unjust and unfair.

We have been accused of not coming up with alternative proposals. But we have indeed come forward with such proposals.

In our Pre-Budget 2010 submission ‘The Road to Recovery’ Sinn Féin proposed measures to reduce the cost of medicines in our health system, including establishing State wholesale distribution of drugs. Based on figures provided to us by the Department of Finance, those measures would have saved €200 million, nearly ten times what will allegedly be raised by prescription charges. Ending the notorious co-location scheme would save €100 million in 2010, nearly five times the revenue from the charges, and €400 million over seven years.

Instead of making real savings, instead of targeting the profiteers in the drugs industry, the Government has once again gone for the easy targets – the elderly, the infirm, low income families with children. It is shameful.

Even at this late stage we call on the Government to withdraw the Bill. If it does not do so we call on every Deputy with a conscience to vote against this Bill. Let us see the Fianna Fáil backbenchers find a backbone on a real issue, one that affects over 1.3 million medical card holders in this State. Reject this Bill.
ENDS

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Responding to the Government’s proposals to protect mortgage holders who are struggling with their repayments Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson Martin Ferris said the Government has a responsibility to struggling homeowners as they encouraged reckless lending during the economic boom years.

He said:

“Sinn Féin has long been calling for measures to help homeowners who are in trouble. During the economic boom we called on the Government to intervene to stop banks giving out irresponsible mortgages to people who were desperate to get onto the so called property ladder.

“However, instead the Government actually encouraged such activity and this has led to the current situation where thousands are in negative equity and facing home repossession.

“Sinn Féin has put forward a number of proposals to help homeowners who are struggling to keep up with repayments.

“These include a provision for mortgage holders in arrears to pay principal only repayments as opposed to interest only payments which ultimately benefit the bank rather than the mortgage holder.

“We called for a provision to allow mortgage holders to negotiate with their banks to move from fixed mortgages to flexible mortgages without financial punishment and we said a proportion of negative equity should be written off for those struggling to keep up.

“We also supported an increase in mortgage interest supplement and a change of the means test to allow for a decent standard of living. However, we said that it is crucial that negative equity is marked down as otherwise increasing the supplement would simply bulk up the banks at the taxpayers’ expense.

“We will be examining the Government’s proposals with a critical eye. We welcome the move to help struggling homeowners however, in the past too many of the Government’s proposals have been about saving the banks with taxpayers’ money rather than helping struggling homeowners.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that it “beggars belief” that the HSE is to spend €1,000 per day to rent the third floor of a high rise development in Carlow town while the local St. Dympna’s Hospital has a huge amount of vacant accommodation.

The Carlow Nationalist this week reports that the HSE has just signed a five year contract to rent the third floor of the Shamrock Plaza, at the cost of €365,000 per annum. The HSE will move their physiotherapy, public health, speech and language and occupational therapy services to the high rise office block from their current location at St Dympna’s Hospital.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“While disabled people and their carers and families have had to take to the streets to protest against cuts to respite and other essential care services, the HSE is squandering money on rents to private landlords, when it has plenty of accommodation in its own hands.

“The wasteful folly of this HSE action in Carlow is being highlighted by HSE workers who have spoken to the media and who are described as ‘beyond furious’ at what is taking place.

“The HSE has claimed that this is about providing primary care. There is nothing in Government policy, as stated publicly so far, to say that no primary care service can be provided at existing hospital sites. The policy calls for more and better use of primary care; it does not dictate that primary care services cannot be at hospital sites as claimed by the HSE. If there is some new Government directive or regulation to that effect then it has huge implications for the entire public health service, including massive cost implications.

“I believe this is another example of HSE mismanagement and bureaucratic waste. The only beneficiary would seem to be the prospective landlord.” ENDS


Link to The Nationalist, Carlow
http://www.carlow-nationalist.ie/

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan has said the report from the OECD this morning underlines calls for the Government to bring forward a job creation strategy.

However Deputy Morgan rejected calls from the OECD for social welfare rates to be cut.

Deputy Morgan said:

“The report from the OECD this morning shows that the nature of Ireland’s economic recovery will be so weak that it is unlikely to absorb the growth in unemployment caused by the recession.

“This means that unemployment rates will continue to rise prolonging the hard realities of the recession. So, in reality, the consequences of the recession for ordinary workers and the unemployed are set to continue even after the recession has ended.

“This report underlines calls from Sinn Féin and others for the Government to bring forward a jobs creation strategy.

“However, I do not agree with the report’s recommendation for social welfare rates to be cut as an incentive to work. The fact is that there is no work out there and cutting social welfare rates will reduce the disposable income of nearly half a million people which, in turn, will further depress the economy.

“I do not agree that there is a significant body of people who are inclined not to work when work is available.

“Unemployment has grown from 4.4% in August 2007 to 13.3% in May 2010. Many of these people now face the prospect of long term unemployment. Many of them are skilled workers, many more of them are highly educated. They do not want to sit at home on the dole for the rest of their lives and it is an insult to suggest that they do.

“It is successive Fianna Fáil led Governments that have led us into the recession and it is the current Fianna Fáil led Government’s failure to deal with the jobs crisis that has led the current situation which will see unemployment continue to rise even after the recession has officially ended. They must bring forward a job creation strategy immediately.” ENDS

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Sinn Fein Housing Spokesperson Fra McCann MLA, commenting on the audit office report into housing associations here has said that the Department of Social Development “needs to carry some of the responsibility for the problems in a number of housing associations”.

Speaking after the publication of the report Mr McCann said;

“The management of associations is ultimately the responsibility of DSD; it is incumbent on them to ensure that the governance and financial controls are in place to ensure the smooth delivery of social housing. It is not surprising that maintenance has been targeted by the audit office; another issue of concern is the ability to actually deliver much needed housing on time.

I realise that there are many associations which have good records but decisions many years ago to remove housing new build from the housing executive and transferring it to housing associations was wrong and from my understanding was based purely on the amount of private finance which could be drawn down from financial institutions.

I have worked closely with a number of local housing associations, several which have been facing difficulties, but through hard work and support have come out the other end in a healthier position. The fact that there are a sizable number of associations which have been identified in this report highlights the need for a radical relook at the delivery of social housing in all its aspects.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (South Antrim) welcoming proposals by ESB to purchase NIE Transmission and Distribution (T&D) facilities said that he believes it could benefit consumers throughout Ireland.


Mr. McLaughlin said:


"This is a welcome and progressive move that I believe will help deliver more affordable energy prices to consumers across the island. The introduction of the all-Ireland Single Electricity Market (SEM) in 2007 enabled all energy generators on the island to contribute to a single pool which provided opportunities for more efficient business planning and corporate savings. I believe that ESB's acquisition of NIE's Transmission and Distribution (T&D) will provide opportunities to harmonise and curtail energy prices.


"The benefits to consumers of one energy T&D provider are obvious. It will assist in all-Ireland harmonisation and should deliver efficiencies through elimination of duplication of resources resulting in lower energy prices to consumers.


“I believe that in recent years the Energy sector has demonstrated through its collaborative approach that it can deliver benefits for consumers throughout the island. Perhaps the purchase of NIE’s T&D is an opportune time to consider establishing a common remit for utility regulators North & South or even amalgamating the two offices.”

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