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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Senator Pearse Doherty has today welcomed the announcement of the summer works programme for summer 2010, but has said that this is no substitute for full investment into new school buildings.

He said:

“I welcome this announcement today however it should be kept in mind that this is no substitute for real and proper investment into a school buildings programme that allows for new schools and extensions to be constructed. Such an investment would not only give much needed improvement to school buildings but would also create much needed employment, especially in areas such as Donegal where unemployment continues to rise.

“The Summer Works Scheme is important for small works such as roof replacement and repairs, window replacement and toilet upgrades; however without proper investment into a school buildings programme such a programme, in many cases, can never be anything more than painting over the cracks.

“It is significant that Mary Coughlan has made this announcement today in Donegal Town, given that she was only a stones throw away from a school based entirely in prefabs which has to date spent up to half a million euro in the rental of prefabs over the last ten years.

“However this is not unique. There are hundreds of schools across the state in a similar position that are paying phenomenal rents for these prefabs – something which would be entirely unnecessary should a proper school buildings programme be in place.

“Figures released to Sinn Féin in December 2009 show that there are 79 rented prefabs being used as classrooms in Donegal, this of course doesn’t include those prefabs which have been purchased. A number of schools are renting prefabs at a cost in excess of €100,000 per year, while one school in particular was spending in excess of €150,000 in annual rent. All this amounts to a yearly cost of around €1.136 million on the rental of prefabs.

“This is a shameful abuse of taxpayer’s money at a time when ordinary people are being asked to tighten their belts.” ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Natural Resources, Martin Ferris TD, has called for changes to be made to the tax structure governing oil and gas companies operating here. The Kerry North TD was speaking during a debate on energy and pointed out that Ireland will benefit little from any oil and gas that comes on stream unless there is an adequate return in taxing the massive profits that will be made.

Deputy Ferris said:

“Norway is an example often cited with regard to the proper taxation and supervision of energy exploration and the role which the state has played in the development of its natural resources and in accruing revenue through taxation and royalties has laid the basis for a strong economy outside of the EU.

“Of course it will be argued that Norway’s offshore exploration sector has been well developed over more than 30 years but the fact is that it was in place from the beginning and contrary to what some people here say, their tax regime and state oversight did not frighten away foreign companies. That was the excuse given here for the decisions to change the tax and royalties regime, but that has not been the international experience even in countries where multi nationals have exerted considerable influence over the local Governments. Obviously a certain influence has been exerted here as well, given the ridiculously easy terms which have been handed to companies like Shell.

“Nor did those companies involved in exploration in Norway refuse to enter into partnerships with the Norwegian state exploration company. Indeed it is ironic that because of the involvement of the Norwegian state company Statoil in the Corrib project that when that comes on stream the Norwegians will benefit more than the people of this state because of that involvement.”

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Speaking today Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Social and Family Affairs
Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD responded critically to Minister Gormley’s announcement of the introduction of water charges to households in the future.

Ó Snodaigh stressed the urgent need for the government to abandon its plans to impose water charges on ordinary households and in particular their intention, unveiled by the Minister yesterday, to base the rates on the German model which charges its citizens more for water than any other country in the world.

Instead, he advocates substantial upgrading of the existing water distribution network from which up to 58 per cent of water supplies are currently wasted. He stressed that rather than imposing more costs on struggling taxpayers, there is a fairer and more cost effective approach to water conservation which would not add to the dire financial circumstances so many find themselves in today. ENDS

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Commenting on the publication of the draft legislation on parading which goes out to consultation today, Sinn Féin Assembly member John O’Dowd said:

“The Working Group set up after Hillsborough delivered its report to OFMdFM and that report has been drafted into legislation which will now go out for 12 week consultation.

“Central to the legislation is a legally enforceable Code of Conduct for those who parade, and the bands and supporters who take part in Parades, and any hangers on.

“Both the Code of Conduct and the Draft Parades bill include the right for communities and individuals to live free from sectarian harassment. For the first time in any legislation, the right to live free for sectarian harassment, is enshrined, and a legal definition is put forward. The Loyal Orders will be legally bound by the Code of Conduct, as will any hangers on, supporters, and their bands.

“The Draft Bill places an emphasis on Dialogue, formal and informal, between the loyal orders and objectors to the parades and those that raise concerns, and will provide a mechanism for Mediation, if required. Dialogue will be the norm and it will be encouraged, with failure to engage, taken into account in subsequent adjudications.

“The adjudication body will be representative of the community and the power to make decisions rest with the full body. We hope that the new improved framework for the issue of Parades will help resolve this difficult issue

“It is now important that all communities affected by parading issues use the opportunity presented by the consultation period.” CRÍOCH

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Speaking at a meeting of Quinn Insurance workers in Blanchardstown this evening Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald has the administration process at the company must prioritise the maintenance of jobs and their viability into the future.

Ms. McDonald said:

“Quinn Insurance and the Quinn group in general are major employers in Ireland. We are currently in the midst of a jobs crisis and the Government has its head in the sand on the issue.

“We cannot afford anymore job losses and therefore the administration process at Quinn Insurance must priorities the maintenance of jobs and their viability into the future.

“There is huge dependence on this employment, not least here in Blanchardstown where other opportunities are so limited. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation need to keep closely in touch with this situation.” ENDS

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West Belfast MLA Paul Maskey has welcomed the news that Sinn Féin has successfully today called on the Assembly to bring forward legislation to enable the development of a ‘Café Culture’ in our towns and cities. Such legislation would allow those in the hospitality industry to use space at the front of their premises for outside dinning or hospitality in line with other European cities.   

Paul Maskey said:

“A café culture encourages the use of the frontage of building used in the hospitality industry such as cafés, hotels, bars and restaurants for leisure and dining.

“The fact that places like Derry ,Belfast or Omagh do not have specified legislation to allow for this shows we are lagging behind our European counterparts when it comes to providing for both the hospitality and tourism industry.

“There is current situation is one of frustration and confusion, where local councils and planning authorities at many times contradict each other in the advancement of such schemes. One day a venue gets congratulated on its outside facade and usage while on the very same day another venue is told to remove awnings and displays for its premises.

“There are many hotels, restaurants and cafes crying out for legislation to enable them to use space on the frontage of their premises. If you were to travel to any European country or check travel guides, one of the mains selling points is the look of a cosmopolitan city with pictures displaying outside dinning and hospitality.

“The benefits of such an approach are many. It encourages tourism, can improve the atmosphere and environment of our city centre’s and can help in the regeneration of urban space.

“However, most importantly in a time of economic downturn this can bring extra customers and much needed revenue to the hospitality industry.

“It is my view that this would not necessarily  be  a huge amount of effort required to bring forward thinking legislation together from the relevant bodies that such a scheme would fall under such as the Social Development department, the Department of the Environment, Department of Regional Development and local councils.

“This certainly needs to happen so that our villages, towns and cities can develop not just in line other European countries but with the wishes of local people.”

Note

Rún/Motion - Creation of a Café Culture Society

Molta/Proposed:

That this Assembly calls on the Executive to bring forward legislation to enable the hospitality

industry to create a café culture society similar to that in other European cities, towns and

villages, to help promote the tourism, leisure and hospitality industries.

Mr P Maskey

Mr B McElduff

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Transport Minister, Conor Murphy, today said that local transport providers are working hard to deliver rail, bus and ferry services to aid passengers affected by the volcanic ash situation.

The Minister said: “I have been receiving updates from the key agencies responding to the challenges posed by this situation and those transport bodies who are trying to facilitate alternative travel arrangements for those affected.

“Additional cross channel coach services are being operated by Translink in conjunction with Scottish Citylink, National Express and Eurolines.  Translink is also working closely with P&O and Stena Line to deliver additional rail and bus services in order to meet the high demand from passengers coming off the ferries in Larne Harbour and Belfast.

“The ferry companies have allocated additional booking staff to assist air passengers affected and although peak daytime sailings are heavily booked, there is still spare capacity on Stena Line overnight sailings and on the Larne routes.

“I am receiving regular updates from the Department of Transport in London and the National Air Traffic Service on the latest position regarding flight restrictions.  I have also been in contact with Noel Dempsey, my counterpart in the South and am also receiving updates on the position within Irish airspace. The Department of Transport in Dublin advises that all their ports are open, providing options for passengers who may wish to travel to or from the North to the Continent.

“My officials will continue to monitor the situation and work closely with transport providers to ensure we have the capacity to accommodate the additional demand on Ferry, Bus and Rail services.”

Information for travellers is available through the NIDirect website with links to all of the key government, airline and airport websites. This contains travel updates, advice for stranded passengers and consumer rights information in relation to travel insurance and passenger compensation.

The latest information from NATS is that local airspace is closed until 0100 hrs on Tuesday at least. All flights from airports in the North have been cancelled except for the Manx airline service from George Best Belfast CityAirport to the Isle of Man and Blackpool.

Notes to editors:

1. All media queries should be directed to the Department for Regional Development Press Office on 02890 540817. Out of hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.

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Speaking at a protest outside Leinster House today Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh slammed the Government for forcing thousands of skilled Irish workers to emigrate.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said the Government’s obsession with bailing out failed banks instead of focussing on creating jobs is the cause of the mass emigration of some of Ireland’s most talented people.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“The Government must get a handle on the jobs crisis. Last week’s ESRI report confirmed that emigration is acting as a safety valve for the Irish economy.

“This is not acceptable. The failure to bring forward and economic stimulus and a plan to create jobs means thousands of educated and skilled Irish people are forced to leave our shores.

“These are the very people who we should be relying on to help build a new vibrant Irish economy.

“The Government’s obsession with bailing out failed banks instead of focussing on creating jobs is the cause of the mass emigration of some of Ireland’s most talented people.

“Sinn Féin is campaigning for jobs for the unemployed. We have published a set of proposals get at least 50,000 young people off the dole and into jobs or training and education programmes. This includes a proposal for a youth jobs fund to create 20,000 new jobs.

“The Government must take these proposals into consideration. They can no longer ignore the jobs crisis and the plight of our unemployed.” ENDS

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Dublin Sinn Féin activists along with a number of unemployed workers will take part in creative street theatre to highlight Government failure to tackle unemployment and the increasing number of people emigrating.

Disgruntled workers will form a queue outside Leinster House with their passports and suitcases to highlight the emigration of thousands of Ireland’s tradesmen and skilled workers as a result of the Government’s failure to bring forward an economic stimulus and a plan to create and retain jobs.

The photocall event will take place at 11:30am on Monday 19th April at the Kildare Street entrance to Leinster House. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Dublin Spokesperson for the party’s campaign on Jobs for the Unemployed Councillor Cathal King will be available to speak to the media.

For more information contact Shaun Tracey on 0877735218.

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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, MP, MLA was among the guests who attended a special event in Newcastle today to honour the All Ireland winning Down team of 1960/61, the first team from the North to win the Sam Maguire.

As well as members of the victorious team other guests included President Mary McAleese and GAA President Christy Cooney.

Mr McGuinness said: "It is a great honour for me to attend this event which marks the 50th anniversary of an iconic moment in Irish sport. As a young boy I can remember the excitement of that historic occasion and the likes of Kevin Mussen, Sean O’Neill, the MacCartans and Paddy Doherty remain legends in the history of the GAA.

"Many of those players went on to make the 60s a glorious decade for Down and Ulster football with victories in 1961 and 1969 earned those teams a rightful place whenever debates are held about the greatest GAA teams of all time."

Mr McGuinness paid tribute to the organisers of the event and also took the opportunity to welcome the GAA Congress, which begins on Saturday, to Co Down for the first time in 30 years.

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South Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey, speaking after this morning handing in his nomination papers to the Electoral Office, has said that the forthcoming election presents nationalists with the opportunity of building on the success of the June European elections when, historically, Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the North.

Alex Maskey MLA said,
“It is a great honour and privilege for me to stand as the Sinn Féin candidate in South Belfast.

“The forthcoming election presents nationalists with the opportunity of building on the success of the June European elections when, historically, Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party in the North.

“Since the revelation that unionist unity talks were taking place, even before the Hillsborough negotiations, between the DUP, UUP, Conservatives and the Orange Order, there has been growing anger amongst nationalists in South Belfast and elsewhere.

“That anger has heightened in the past number of weeks when the Orange Order directly intervened in the South Belfast election, and unionists agreed a unity candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone.

“On the doorsteps of South Belfast people are asking what nationalist politicians are doing to counter this?

“I believe that we have an obligation to consider the wider implications that this will have on the nationalist population to the extent that I was willing to stand aside in this election.

“The decision of the SDLP leader not to meet, refusing to even take a phone call, to discuss the issue of an electoral pact has caused widespread dismay and anger in South Belfast, and amounts to a snub to the nationalist people of this constituency and their concerns.

He concluded,
“I am satisfied that we in Sinn Féin are continuing to build our support in South Belfast. When people vote for Sinn Féin they know they are voting for a better future; a Party that delivers real change, that makes a positive difference in their lives, a Party that will defend the peace process against all comers and provides effective local representation. Our track record of hard work in the constituency speaks for itself, and I look forward to May 6th when the electorate in South Belfast will have their say.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin east Belfast candidate Niall Ó Donnghaile has blasted PSNI actions in the Short Strand this afternoon.

Mr Ó Donnghaile was commenting after two young residents car was stopped and the occupants removed and handcuffed on the ground with weapons pointed at them.

He said;

“The community in the Short Strand are rightly angered by the over reaction of the PSNI this afternoon; they claim they were acting on ‘intelligence’, yet this so-called intelligence proved to be false and two young residents are suffering as a result.

Understandably the community in the area are looking at this type of action yet wondering why the PSNI is failing to take similar action in dealing with the real problems of antisocial behaviour affecting our area.

I have contacted the PSNI this afternoon and will be raising this issue with colleagues on the Policing Board immediately.

This unacceptable type of policing will not be tolerated by our community.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Social and Family Affairs Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has revealed that the Government has no idea where it will source the money required to pay the once off bonus payment in relation to auto enrolment pensions which was included in the recently launched National Pensions Framework.

In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Ó Snodaigh the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin was unable to provide a direct answer to the simple question of where the money would come from.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“It is clear that the Government has thrown in this once off bonus payment as a sweetener for their cynical attempt to make people work till they are 68.

“However, as it turns out, it is a sweetener that dissolves under scrutiny. The Fianna Fáil Green Party Government clearly has no idea how it is going to fund this bonus payment but has announced it in a cynical attempt to buy support for their move to make people work until they are older.

“If it helps them stay in Government it will more than likely become yet another false promise and if they fail to get re-elected then it will conveniently become a problem for the new incoming Government.” ENDS

Editor’s note: Below is the relevant parliamentary question from Deputy Ó Snodaigh and the answer from former Minister Mary Hanafin.

Question No: 580 Ref No: 12624/10

To the Minister for Social and Family Affairs

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs where the money necessary for the proposed once off bonus payment in relation to auto enrolment pensions as described by the recently launched National Pensions Framework will come from
- Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 23rd March, 2010.

R E P L Y

The recently published National Pensions Framework is the Government's plan for future pension reform. It encompasses all aspects of pensions, from social welfare to private occupational pensions and public sector pension reform. Development of the framework was informed by the range of views raised during the comprehensive consultation process which followed publication of the Green Paper on Pensions.
The aim of the framework is to deliver security, equity, choice and clarity for the individual, the employer and the State. It also aims to increase pension coverage, particularly among low to middle income groups and to ensure that state support for pensions is equitable and sustainable.
At present only 50% of workers have a private pension, with low levels of coverage among moderate to middle incomes a particular concern. While the State Pension is expected to provide sufficient retirement income for the lowest paid workers, most people will have a significant income gap if they do not have some extra private pension provision. Inertia and procrastination are among the main reasons for not taking out a pension. A key element of the framework is the introduction of a new auto-enrolment system which provides a way of overcoming this problem.
Employees earning above a certain income threshold will be automatically enrolled into this new scheme, with the employee, their employer and the State all making contributions. Those employees already in a more favourable occupational pension scheme will not be enrolled.
For those who are included in the scheme, contributions will only be paid on earnings above a certain minimum level and below a certain maximum. The level of these thresholds will be decided closer to the implementation date and they will be set in such a way as to ensure that the scheme focuses on those on low and middle incomes.
Within these thresholds, the employee will pay 4% of their salary, with this being topped up by 2% from their employer and a further 2% by the State. The State’s contribution will therefore be equivalent to 33% tax relief. The same 33% State contribution will apply to existing occupational and personal pension schemes and will replace the current system of tax relief at the standard and higher rates. This will represent a major increase in State support for the pensions of lower paid workers.
Employees will be able to opt out of the scheme after a period of 3 months. While they will be automatically re-enrolled every 2 years, they can opt out again if they wish. As an additional incentive to encourage people to remain in the scheme, the Government has decided that a once-off bonus payment will be paid, to people who stay in the scheme for 5 years without a break in contributions.
An implementation group is being established to develop the legislation, regulatory and administrative infrastructure required to introduce the auto-enrolment scheme, including in relation to the once off payment, and the other elements of the framework. We expect the implementation phase to take three to five years to complete.
It is intended that the auto-enrolment scheme will be introduced in 2014 but the Government will review the introduction date depending on the prevailing economic conditions closer to the time.

ENDS

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Responding to the ban on the sale of mephedrone which takes effect in Britain and the north of Ireland today Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has called on the Gardaí and Customs to be on the lookout for shipments of the drugs being brought to Ireland for sale in shops here. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said it is important to note where the drug is destined for in order to confiscate it when Ireland’s ban comes into place in the summer.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also called on the Gardaí to increase surveillance of head shops and to enforce the existing law under the Childcare Act 1991 which already bans the sale of inhalable products, including mephedrone, as it can be reasonably assumed that these products are being purchased for the purposes of intoxication.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“There is a big concern that the ban on the sale of mephedrone by Britain will lead to the sale of large quantities of the drug at depressed prices in this state where it remains a legal product.

“Gardaí and Customs need to be aware of this possibility and keep on the lookout for shipments coming into the country. It is very important that the authorities are aware of the location of the major stocks of this drug so that they can be immediately confiscated when Ireland’s ban comes into place in the summer.

“It is also very important that the Gardaí increase surveillance on Irish head shops and enforce existing laws which ban the sale of inhalable products, including mephedrone, to under eighteens as it can be reasonably assumed that these products are being purchased for the purpose of intoxication. This law was introduced in the nineties to deal with the problem of solvent abuse or glue sniffing by young people but I believe it can be applied to prohibit the sale of many products currently on sale in head shops around the country to under eighteens.

"Earlier this week I drew the Garda Commissioners attention to the powers contained in this Act and urged him to direct members to enforce it.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and Chair of the Finance and Personnel committee in the Assembly Jennifer McCann has welcomed that the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee at Stormont agreed to bring in front of the committee the major fuel supplier for the North of Ireland following Ms McCann requesting this.  They will be brought in front committee of the in order to ascertain what they are doing to help reduce the high price of fuel at the moment.

Speaking today Ms McCann said:

“The current, and record peak of oil prices is placing a huge burden on both domestic and business users alike.

“Not only are people facing the high costs when fuelling their cars or heating their homes but the high prices are having a direct and negative impact on many aspects of life.

“If for example we just take the delivery section, the costs of transporting goods will increase and therefore those costs may very well be passed on to the consumer whether it be in supermarkets, local shops or at building trade suppliers.

“The high cost of fuel will also have a further impact on those who live in rural areas as they depend more on their cars for travel and access to work.

“While the cost of fuel has been increasing steadily over the past year due to a weakened pound sterling, we also need to explore what options are available to protect consumers.

“As such I have requested at the Finance and Personnel Committee that we call in front of us the major oil suppliers to the north to examine what they are doing or can do in relation to reducing costs and this has been accepted. I will also be taking similar measures at the Committee for Finance and Personnel.  

“Ultimately I think what we need to examine is what mechanisms can be put in place to regulate this industry in a similar way that the Utility Regulator would operate for electricity users, ensuring that consumers get a fair deal.

Ms McCann added:

“Further to this we will also be examining what the British government can do to alleviate the immediate pressures that people are facing. Currently the vast majority of the price of a litre of petrol is tax.

“In the current economic climate this is no way sustainable and certainly is detrimental to attempts to come out of recession.  What clearly needs to happen is that the British government must mitigate against rises in world fuel costs by reducing the tax burden to offset such increases.”

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Cllr Dessie Ellis has called for immediate action from Pickerings Lifts following the Labour Court recommendations on Monday. Cllr Ellis has also criticised the “deafening silence” on the issue from local TD’s representing the area especially Cabinet Minister Pat Carey who has done nothing on the issue.

Cllr Ellis used this months Dublin City Council meeting to again raise the plight of the more than 200 residents in Ballymun who are affected by the ongoing dispute. The City Manager confirmed to Cllr Ellis at Monday’s City Council meeting that the army will be brought in this coming Friday.

“The dispute cannot be allowed to continue from a humanitarian and a health and safety viewpoint. This dispute is now nearly three months old and there and has been a source of hardship to the local community with many of the lifts now out of service. This now includes one of the lifts in Joseph Plunkett tower which is 14 storeys high.”

Cllr Ellis also expressed his “profound disappointment that Pickerings had not availed of the mechanism provided by the Labour Court to resolve this dispute and welcomed the ruling of the court which clearly forms the basis of resolution of this dispute.” ENDs

(Note to editor)
The recommendation from the Labour Court were

That the Company offers:
• An ex-gratia lump sum of 4 weeks' average pay per year of service, average pay to be determined by reference to the method of calculating pay for the purposes of the Redundancy Payments Acts, without the application of a weekly cap on earnings.
• Statutory redundancy entitlements in accordance with the terms of the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2007.
• In the first instance the company should seek volunteers for redundancy from amongst the workforce.
• In the event that additional compulsory redundancies are necessary these should be selected on a last in / first out basis.

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“Scrap plan for prescription charges” urges Ó Caoláin

Speaking today (Wednesday) at a conference in Dublin on ‘Financing Universal Healthcare in Ireland’ Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health & Children has called on Health Minister Mary Harney to scrap her plan to impose prescription charges on medical card patients.

Deputy Ó Caoláin reaffirmed Sinn Féin’s demand for a single-tier universal helthcare system funded from fair and progressive general taxation.

He said:

“A perfect example of the valueless direction of the Government in health policy and delivery is the decision to undermine the General Medical Services Scheme by introducing prescription charges for medical card holders. I take this opportunity to call on the Minister for Health & Children not to proceed with the legislation to introduce such charges, which will hit the most vulnerable in our society.

“Such a measure, along with the other cutbacks we have seen, serve only to deepen health inequalities and health inequalities kill. The late Susie Long, a cancer patient, was brave enough to highlight her own case nationally, not for personal redress but to expose the injustice of the system. As a public patient she had to wait seven months for vital cancer tests. As a private patient she would have got those tests in time – possibly in time to save her life. Before she died she summed up the position simply and clearly when she said:

“I believe that people should be seen on the basis of how ill they are, of their symptoms, not on how much money they have.”

“We need a universal healthcare system based on that fundamental principle of justice and equality as outlined by Susie Long.

“Achieving such a system in Ireland is one of the key objectives of Sinn Féin and our vision is set out in our policy document Healthcare in an Ireland of Equals. Our core policy proposals on Healthcare are:

• A new universal public health system for Ireland that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from general, fair and progressive taxation.

• Fundamental re-orientation of the health system to adopt a central focus on prevention, health promotion and primary care (including mental health care), and on ultimately eliminating the underlying social and structural causes of ill-health and premature death, such as poverty and inequality.

• Immediate establishment of a Health Funding Commission to report within a reasonable timeframe on the projected costs of the transition to an all-Ireland system of universal provision, taking into account all
spending on health services under the current systems, including state funding and spending on private insurance, and to make recommendations on how the state can best harness these resources in the interests of more equitable and efficient delivery.” ENDS

FULL TEXT FOLLOWS

I commend the Adelaide Hospital Society and the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, TCD for their initiative in organising this conference.
The key phrase in the title of this Conference and in its Objectives is ‘Universal Healthcare’. The achievement of Universal Healthcare in Ireland should be our common purpose. Of course the current Government and some others would argue that a Universal Healthcare system already exists here. In doing so they are, in our view, defending an indefensible system.

We know too well that the essential features of the healthcare system in this State remain as they were before the advent of the so-called Celtic Tiger. This is not to in any way belittle the major advances in medical science, the improvements in the delivery of care on many fronts or, above all, the dedication of people working in the health services. Nor is it to under-estimate the huge sums of public money spent on the health system.
But the reality remains that the system in this State continues to fail people because it is a grossly inequitable two-tier, public-private system. The standard of care is generally high but access to care is not based on need alone. Ability to pay is still a key determining factor in access to care both in terms of timely access and, in many cases, quality of care.

In June 2007 one of our hosts - the Adelaide Hospital Society – together with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice - joined forces to warn against the trend in healthcare policy that private hospital co-location represented. They said it “sends out a powerful message about Government backing and support for the existing two-tier hospital system” and that it “represents a significant threat to the fundamental values of care and justice, which require that health provision is seen first and foremost as an essential service, which should be available on the basis of need”.

Much of the co-location scheme now seems to have run into the sand - at what cost in terms of waste of money and effort we do not yet know. But this we do know. A Government which sponsors such a scheme can never be relied upon to deal with the underlying inequalities which contribute significantly to ill-health in our society. In this country the smaller your income and the greater the social and economic disadvantages you suffer the more likely you are to die from cancer. The Public Health Alliance of Ireland points out that death rates for cancers are 100% higher among the lowest paid and most disadvantaged of our people.

I will come to our different perspectives on the issue of healthcare funding in a moment, but I think it is important firstly to acknowledge that Sinn Féin and the Adelaide Hospital Society share the same objective in terms of universal access based on need alone. And we recognise that there has to be root and branch reform and that reform must be based on values. As the Society states: “Clarity about the values which determine health policy and which influence the implementation of health policy is crucial.” Values identified by the Society are justice, caring and patient and public participation in healthcare. We certainly endorse those values.

Such values definitely influence the work of people throughout our health services but they do not determine and influence policy as decided at Government and HSE level. That policy is influenced by political expediency, short-termism, playing to privileged vested interests, a privatisation mentality, bureaucracy, careerism, a drive to centralisation and book-keeping. The result is an unholy mess both in terms of policy and delivery. The 2001 Government Health Strategy Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You was deeply flawed, but at least it had some coherence; it is now in tatters.

A perfect example of the valueless direction of the Government in health policy and delivery is the decision to undermine the General Medical Services Scheme by introducing prescription charges for medical card holders. I take this opportunity to call on the Minister for Health & Children not to proceed with the legislation to introduce such charges, which will hit the most vulnerable in our society.

Such a measure, along with the other cutbacks we have seen, serve only to deepen health inequalities and health inequalities kill. The late Susie Long, a cancer patient, was brave enough to highlight her own case nationally, not for personal redress but to expose the injustice of the system. As a public patient she had to wait seven months for vital cancer tests. As a private patient she would have got those tests in time – possibly in time to save her life. Before she died she summed up the position simply and clearly when she said:

“I believe that people should be seen on the basis of how ill they are, of their symptoms, not on how much money they have.”

We need a universal healthcare system based on that fundamental principle of justice and equality as outlined by Susie Long.

Achieving such a system in Ireland is one of the key objectives of Sinn Féin and our vision is set out in our policy document Healthcare in an Ireland of Equals. Our core policy proposals on Healthcare are:

• A new universal public health system for Ireland that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from general, fair and progressive taxation.

• Fundamental re-orientation of the health system to adopt a central focus on prevention, health promotion and primary care (including mental health care), and on ultimately eliminating the underlying social and structural causes of ill-health and premature death, such as poverty and inequality.

• Immediate establishment of a Health Funding Commission to report within a reasonable timeframe on the projected costs of the transition to an all-Ireland system of universal provision, taking into account all
spending on health services under the current systems, including state funding and spending on private insurance, and to make recommendations on how the state can best harness these resources in the interests of more equitable and efficient delivery.

We seek to reverse the privatisation of the health services and phase out the role of the private for-profit sector in the provision of essential care. We see a new system on the island as a whole being under the aegis of an All-Ireland Strategic Health Executive with overall responsibility for ensuring national level co-ordination of the delivery of public health services.

You can see right away that Sinn Féin favours a public healthcare system funded from general taxation. This would clearly be a very different means of funding and management from the current two-tier public-private system and from the health insurance model favoured in the Adelaide Hospital Society Policy Paper Universal Health Insurance: The
Way Forward for Irish Healthcare.

The key questions are: ‘Which system would have the fairest and most effective outcome?’ and ‘Which system would be most sustainable?’

The challenge has been made infinitely more difficult by the economic recession. The tragedy is that fundamental reform and the transition to a truly equitable system were not undertaken when Government revenue was reaching record levels year after year. By the same token equity and efficiency are more vital now than ever.

We believe that there is no more important area of State spending than healthcare. We believe we should aim for the best and most accessible and equitable healthcare and that that requires ring-fenced funding from general taxation and provision by a fully public system. Policy in such a system would be democratically accountable at national level and based on a network of community health partnerships at local level.

We would establish a Health Funding Commission to help plan the transition to such a system. Its first task would be to provide a full account of all spending on healthcare in this State, both public and private.

In our party’s 2010 Pre-Budget Submission The Road to Recovery we identified just some of the savings that could be made in our public health system by reversing privatisation. Ending the co-location scheme would save €400 million over seven years; phasing out all subsidies of private practice in public hospitals would save €100 million; introducing measures to reduce the cost of medicines, including the establishment of of state wholesale distribution of drugs and use of generics would save €200 million; a cap of €150,000 on salaries of hospital consultants would save €210 million. These are just some of the hugely wasteful costs associated with a two-tier system.

Of course a fully public system would have to be delivered in the context of fundamental tax reform that would ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share. And the development of a renewed public health system would also go hand in hand with a programme of economic recovery, involving a real strategy to retain and create jobs.

We would have a number of concerns about a funding system based on health insurance. The example of The Netherlands is often cited and on the surface it is attractive. However serious issues have been raised about the role of the insurance companies. In such a system the danger is that the interests of insurance companies and their share-holders may become a more important consideration than public health policy. An insurance-based system here, while genuinely proposed as a solution based on sound values, could be seized on for the purposes of profit with the public interest taking second place yet again. I would not trust any conservative political party in Government with such a system.

As I said at the outset, the initiative of this Conference is most welcome.

The aim of Universal Healthcare is shared.

But the debate needs to be widened to include other models of healthcare funding and delivery, including that which I have outlined.

The Irish people need and deserve a better health system, based on our shared values of justice and fairness. I believe such a system can be delivered if we harness the talents of our people, both inside and outside the health system, and if we use the resources of the nation for the public good.

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Speaking today in the Moy, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said that there was ‘anger, dismay and disappointment’ at the decision of the SDLP to reject Sinn Féin attempts to maximise nationalist representation. She called on the SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie to come to Fermanagh and explain to the nationalist community why she has rejected this initiative.

Ms Gildernew said:

“Sinn Féin made a genuine initiative to try and ensure that nationalists in both Fermanagh South Tyrone and South Belfast retain their representation. We offered to stand aside in South Belfast in return for the SDLP doing the same in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

“This initiative came in direct response from demands of the voters on the doorsteps. Last night while on the canvass I have to say that I was met with a mixture of anger, dismay and disappointment at the decision of the SDLP to reject this initiative without even the courtesy of a meeting.

“Margaret Ritchie now needs to come to Fermanagh and South Tyrone and explain to the nationalist community why she has rejected this initiative and why she wants to give a leg up to a unionist Tory. Sinn Féin have a meeting organised tomorrow night in Enniskillen, she is more than welcome to attend and explain her failure to lead directly to the people.

“We will continue to fight for every vote. We will continue to put forward our vision for Irish unity and stand on our record of effective representation here and elsewhere. This will be a close election. Every nationalist vote will count. A vote for the SDLP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone is a wasted vote.” ENDS

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A chairde, Tá mé lán sásta seasamh anseo anocht.

I want to welcome you all here this evening.

Sinn Féin held the first of these Town Hall meetings just before the Special Ard Fheis on Policing in 2007.

We have held them each year since.

Sinn Féin is the only party which consciously holds a democratic public dialogue with citizens.

These meetings are an important opportunity for Sinn Féin to report back to you on the work that has taken place in the previous year; to listen to your views; and to set out some of the work that lies ahead.

I am pleased to be here in Derry this evening for the first of the series of the Town Hall meetings for 2010.

Derry holds a special place in the hearts of Belfast republicans.

The stand taken in the late 1960’s by citizens in this city against discrimination and injustice, and for civil rights, was an inspiration.

Duke Street and the Battle of the Bogside are just two of the events in that period which remain strong in our memories.

Those were exceptional times – unprecedented times – and then, and in the years since many ordinary people made extraordinary sacrifices and displayed great courage in pursuit of equality and justice and freedom and Irish unity.

Yesterday we had another significant step forward with the appointment by the Assembly of a Minister of Justice.

Taken with agreement at Hillsborough several months ago and the transfer of powers on policing and justice, all of this marks further important progress as a result of the peace process.

Earlier this week I wrote to SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie inviting her to meet with me to discuss co-operation between our parties in the upcoming British General Election.

I proposed that the agenda should include the need to co-operate in specific constituencies to ensure as far as possible that unionism does not increase its share of Westminster seats.
It was my intention to propose that Sinn Féin would stand aside in South Belfast in return for the SDLP standing aside in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

In a letter today Margaret Ritchie rejected the approach by Sinn Féin to maximise nationalist representation.

This confused, narrow minded, ill-judged position has marked the SDLP stance in recent times.

Their approach has been dictated not by what is good for nationalists or for the peace process, but by their antipathy toward Sinn Féin.

If the Shinners are for it – the SDLP have to be against it.

And they make the most outrageous claims in order to bolster a shallow and largely ineffectual political record of achievement.

Remember Seamus Mallon’s description of the Good Friday Agreement as Sunningdale for slow learners? He obviously hoped that it was so far in the past that no one would remember the truth.

The fact is that Sinn Féin’s involvement in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations secured significantly more progress in the areas of policing and justice; demilitarisation and arms; discrimination and sectarianism; equality and human rights; the Irish language; and constitutional and political matters.

One revealing fact: equality is reference 21 times in the Good Friday Agreement with processes and policies to advance it.

Equality didn’t rate a single mention in the Sunningdale Agreement!

Then the SDLP abandoned its pretence at being a nationalist party and became a ‘post nationalist party.’

When it realised how deeply unpopular that was it tried to recast itself as a United Ireland party!

In the mid 80’s, while it was involved in campaigning against the MacBride Principles campaign in the USA for Fair Employment in the north, the SDLP was bogusly claiming that discrimination had ended and that equality for all citizens was “now a reality”.

At the same time the SDLP accused the people of West Belfast of being ‘savages’ and also denied for many years the existence of collusion.

In May 2003, the SDLP MPs simply failed to turn up to the keynote parliamentary debate on John Stevens' collusion report.

Almost 10 years ago in 2001 the SDLP gave up on trying to create a new effective policing dispensation.
It accepted the Mandelson Policing legislation; said there would be no more new legislation, and joined the Policing Board.

Sinn Féin said No. It wasn’t good enough.

We kept negotiating, and demanding more and better legislation.

And over the following years, Sinn Féin delivered new policing and criminal justice legislation - including overturning the ban on former political prisoners being on policing boards; gaining increased powers for the Police Ombudsman; gaining increased powers for the Policing Board; cementing community policing as a core function of the PSNI; and securing a new judicial composition more reflective of this society.

The SDLP failed to learn the lessons and continued to fail.

In September 2003, the SDLP published its party policy on British national security in Ireland stating that - quote - "We have no difficulty, however, with a continuing MI5 role" - unquote.

In March 2004, the SDLP voted in favour of continued emergency powers including systems using Public Interest Immunity Certificates - notorious British national security gagging orders.

In November 2005, the SDLP voted in favour of 28-day detention without trial - a re-run of the old Special Powers Act.

In February 2006, the SDLP supported compulsory registration of Irish citizens on a British 'national identity register' - a database for the spooks.

In March 2006, Mark Durkan personally told the House of Commons that - quote - "there would be some issues of national security on which it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State rather than the devolved authorities, to receive reports" - thereby supporting British primacy on MI5.

In June 2006, the SDLP agreed that - quote - "it is essential that adequate provision for non-jury trials for appropriate offences in Northern is maintained" - unquote - in other words, Diplock Courts.

In January 2007 Mark Durkan personally asked how Ronnie Flanagan could be regarded as a credible Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

Yet back when Flanagan was Head of the notorious Special Branch and later when he was RUC Chief Constable the SDLP praised him as one of those within that force who ‘want to edge forward’.

On Monday April 12th during the debate to agree a Minister of Justice the SDLP attacked Sinn Féin for securing the devolution of policing and justice powers because the vote was taken under the cross-community protections of the Good Friday Agreement.
Yet the SDLP voted for the very arrangements which they now rail against!
In fact in May 2006, Mark Durkan told the British House of Commons that he supported - quote - "the possibility of a single [Justice] minister to be elected by cross-community support and by parallel consent" - which is exactly what the SDLP are now complaining about.

And then there is the crucial issue of Leadership!

What sort of leadership does the SDLP offer? It hasn’t been the same since John Hume left.

In 2001 Mark Durkan told the Derry Journal that he had 'little interest' in succeeding John Hume as MP for Foyle.

He claimed that his real interest" was being involved in the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

He said: "As someone who contributed intensely to the negotiations which led to the GFA and the new institutions, it would be decidedly rich of me to commend these bodies to others yet at the same time not be wholly or solely committed to them myself.”

8 years later the same Mark Durkan announced his decision to quit as leader of the SDLP in order to concentrate on Westminster!

One part of his rationale was his belief that you can’t lead the party from Westminster.

He also cited his age. The fact that he is two years younger than Margaret Ritchie and 11 years younger than Alasdair McDonnell doesn’t seem to have penetrated.

But then the truth is that this was a career move by Mark who wanted an easier life style away from the real politics of the north.

And that’s fair enough and I wish him and his family well but then he really should tell the electorate that this is what he is about.

Did you know that the SDLP record of voting attendance at Westminster is so bad that where they attending school their parents would have been taken to court!
They are among the worst attenders of the 646 MPs.

For example: in the first year of the last British Parliament between 2005-6 the average voting/attendance for MPs was 72%.

Mark Durkan was there 28.6% of the time. Alasdair McDonnell was there for 28.9%. and Eddie McGrady was present only 14.6% of the time.

The following year it was even worse. In 2006-7 the average attendance for MPs was 64.4%. Mark Durkan was there for 14% of the time; McDonnell 15.8% and McGrady 12.2%.
Last year Mark had pulled his boot straps up – a wee bit – and with other MPs averaging a voting/attendance record of 64.1% he managed 33% - just over half. Alasdair McDonnell was on 5% - that’s right 5% - and Eddie McGrady was on 18%.
So, the lesson of these records is very clear.

The SDLP MPs know how unimportant their presence at Westminster actually is.
They vote with their feet and stay away for most of the time.

The SDLP have in reality a semi-detached relationship with Westminster; they are the Semi Detached and Lost Party.

Remember when they were going to morph into Fianna Fáil; well some of them were. Others had a Fine Gael merger in mind.

Currently, they say that in the event of a hung British Parliament they will support the British Labour Party.

That means the SDLP are committed to supporting the party that invaded Iraq; invaded Afghanistan; and passed the 28 day detention legislation.

So for anyone thinking of voting to put the SDLP into Westminster look at the record - not the rhetoric.

What you get with the SDLP is a failure of leadership under a pledge of obedience to an English Queen.

Perhaps the NIO for once had it right way back in 1976.

In a secret paper now held in the British National archive at Kew the NIO records the origins of that party and in a review of the status of parties in that year said:
“The SDLP have failed to deliver. We created it and perhaps we now have to let it die.”

Back in the real world Sinn Féin has got on with the business of making politics work; of making the peace process work; of delivering on our commitments.

Few envisaged the DUP in government with Sinn Féin, or a Derry man, Martin McGuinness holding the post of Joint First Minister with Peter Robinson.

Fewer still thought that the unionists would agree the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

But all of these things and much more has happened.

Sinn Féin did this by making the two governments and the DUP face up to their political responsibilities.

And by the end of this year there will also be the transfer of powers from London to Belfast to deal with the issue of parades.

More powers moving from England to Ireland.

Outstanding issues including Irish language rights will also be delivered on and there is additional funding for the language.

It is another staging post on the road to a United Ireland and it is proof that change is possible.

Sinn Féin achieved all this by being bold and by being focused.

And by mapping out a strategy and sticking at it until we succeed.

Of course, there are still significant difficulties to be overcome.

Ireland is still partitioned.

Economic recession north and south means that nearly half a million citizens are out of work.

So, I believe there is no more urgent time than this to promote our republican politics of equality and respect and dignity.

There is no better time to be demanding that citizens have the right to a home; to a safe environment; to good quality education and health care; and to a job.

There is no better time than this to campaign for a united Ireland.

That is our primary political goal.

The key to building this new Ireland, democratically shaped by the people, is to start now.

The key to achieving this is leadership.

And Sinn Fein has that leadership.

A leadership with the experience of years of struggle, and of successfully charting a way forward for the peace process.

Sinn Féin demonstrated that leadership at Hillsborough in March.

Next month there will be a Westminster election.

This will provide an opportunity to endorse our strategy for positive change; to build a better future for all our people but especially our young people.

And to advance the goal of Irish reunification.

We are determined to bring that about. To end centuries of British involvement in Ireland and to construct a republic in which citizens will be treated fairly and equitably."

ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy MLA has criticised those responsible for a bomb alert in Newtonhamilton and asked their spokespeople to explain to the people how this will in any way advance republican objectives.

Speaking today Mr Murphy said;

“I would call on those who support these groups to come forward and explain to us how this act will in any way advance republican objectives.

The reality is that there now exists a peaceful way to achieve Irish unity, Republicans, along with the vast majority of the people of Ireland are committed to pursuing that objective peacefully.

This latest alert has done nothing to further republicanism, it has simply disrupted the community in Newtonhamilton.” CRÍOCH

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