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Speaking in advance of his participation this evening (Friday, 27 March) in the Annual General Meeting of Inclusion Ireland in Monaghan, Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said that cuts to social welfare and to disability services in the forthcoming Budget must be resisted.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also described as "a recipe for disaster" the prospect of the HSE not renewing the contracts of up to 14,000 ‘temporary’ staff as highlighted by the trade union Impact.

He said:

"Our health services rely to a great degree on so-called temporary staff who are in full-time jobs that are vital to the delivery of health and personal social services. If the HSE refuses to renew these contracts we will be faced with a massive staffing crisis in an already overstretched system. The Minister for Health & Children Mary Harney must reverse any such decision."

Predicting the imposition of social welfare cuts by the Fianna Fáil/Green Government in the Budget, Deputy Ó Caoláin said there is "a better way forward."

"I believe we are going to see significant cuts in Social Welfare in the forthcoming Budget. Twice in the past month I have asked the Taoiseach in the Dáil if there would be a new Social Welfare Bill arising out of the Budget. He indicated there would be and replied in the context of so-called savings.

"In other words major cuts are on the way. This will hit people with intellectual disability and their families hard.

"The first reflex of the Government when the economy took a turn for the worst was to cut public services. It began in the autumn of 2007 when health cuts, including the recruitment embargo in the health services, were imposed.

"At the same time, as we learned this week, the Minister for Health & Children was sanctioning massive rises in the salaries on offer to recruit senior executives to the HSE. Those salaries – some of over €200,000 per annum - are still in place. Contrast that with family home carers who get little or no support and save the State untold millions every year.

"The picture is indeed bleak but we in Sinn Féin believe there are alternatives and it is possible to chart a better way forward.

"We have this week put forward comprehensive proposals for job creation and job retention. We want to see fair and progressive taxation, the closing of loopholes for wealthy tax dodgers, real efficiency in public spending and the protection of public services including health, education and support for people with disabilities."

Note: Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD is participating with other party political representatives in a Questions & Answers Panel Discussion at the Inclusion Ireland AGM, 6.30pm, Friday 27 March, Hillgrove Hotel, Monaghan town.

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As leaving certificate students from across the state start their Irish oral examinations this week, Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Senator Pearse Doherty has come out to wish them good luck and to urge the Minister for Education and Science, and the Taoiseach Brian Cowen to commit to resourcing the improvement of Irish oral skills.

Speaking today Senator Doherty said, "As the seanfhocail goes, "beatha teanga í a labhairt" – the life of the language is in its speaking.

"In 1960 the Leaving Certificate Oral exam for Gaeilge was introduced. At that time it carried only one sixth of the marks. Today’s students can receive up to 25% for their béalscrúdú. This is good progress.

"Two years ago I welcomed circular 0042/2007 which plans for 40% of the marks in the 2012 Leaving Certificate and 2010 Junior Certificate to be awarded for the béalscrúdú. I welcomed the establishment of the Second Level Support Services Gaeilge team.

"However, Minister Batt O'Keefe now needs to give schools, students and teachers some clear information; What will the 2010 Junior Certificate and 2012 Leaving Certificate exams look like? What questions will be removed and what new ones will be added to the paper? How will the listening comprehension be reduced? I ask these questions so that teachers and students are made aware before the 2009/2010 school year what exam they must work towards.

"The Minister needs to publish immediately the sample exam papers. He must advise teachers as to how the 40% oral will be designed and assessed. The Minister must also give a strong commitment to broaden the support services to múinteoirí Gaeilge into the future.

"I am calling on the Minister to recognise the importance of the spoken language in schools and to ensure that teachers are sufficiently resourced and equipped to improve the oral Irish skills of students." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA’s Michelle O’Neill, Claire McGill and Conor Murphy today attended a protest held by the trade union Unison against proposed cuts to frontline health care services. They spoke with representatives and health care workers from across the Six Counties.

Speaking this afternoon deputy Chair of the Health Committee Michelle O’Neill said,

“Today’s rally allowed Sinn Féin the opportunity to meet with grassroots health care workers from right across the north.

We share many of their concerns and acknowledge that even in the midst of the economic recession front line services must be protected.

We have committed to meet with Unison reps over the coming period to discuss these important issues further.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin will tomorrow (Tuesday) launch the annual campaign encouraging people to honour Ireland’s dead and wear an Easter Lily.

The Lilly will be launched by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy in the party office at Stormont.

Speaking ahead of the event Mr Murphy said,

“Tomorrow we gather to launch this year’s campaign encouraging people to remember and honour our patriot dead. The wearing of the Easter Lily is a symbol of respect and remembrance but also of hope for the future and the realisation of the objectives of Easter 1916.

Tomorrow our Assembly team and others will come together to launch this important yearly imitative and I am honoured to be taking part.” CRÍOCH

Notes to Editors: The launch will take place on Tuesday at 12:30pm in the Sinn Féin offices at Stormont – Conor Murphy will then be available to speak to the media

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Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald MEP has today described Taoiseach Brian Cowen indications on the content of next weeks emergency budget as an “entrenchment of  bad Fianna Fail policy. Fianna Fáil squandered the boom years, now we have the same policy making in reverse. Brian Cowen’s emergency budget looks set to exacerbate the recession.”

The Sinn Féin Deputy Leader said:

“Yesterday’s one to one between the media and the Taoiseach in the Sycamore Room amounted to little more than a scene setter in advance of next weeks emergency budget. People know difficult choices and tough decisions have to be made.

“The people accept that increased taxation measures need to be sought. The hundreds and thousands of workers across the country who have either lost their jobs or are feeling the brunt of substantial pay cuts are already experiencing a severe drop in their living standards.

“So let’s get real here. Instead of bringing forward a framework and strategy for growth Brian Cowen and his government have introduced a set of non-aligned short-term initiatives, many of which are counterproductive. The government’s handling of the public finances is putting economic recovery at risk. It’s that simple.

“The only way to secure the economic future of this country is to retain existing jobs and to create new ones; to create a fair and progressive taxation system; to reduce the trade deficit and to stabilise the financial sector. Next weeks emergency budget MUST include measure to start stimulating, as well as stabilising, the economy.

“The crisis in public finance must be addressed but in a manner that is fair. Sinn Féin will tomorrow put forward what we believe are fair and effective recovery proposals. The government cannot entrench its response to the recession in cuts indefinitely. Economic stimulation and growth must be a priority.” ENDS

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Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA has paid a visit to the 11th Ballygawley and Roscavey Bygone Farming Day at Ballygawley, County Tyrone.

The Minister was welcomed by Councillor Allan Rainey, President of the Ballygawley and Roscavey Farming Bygone Day and the Chairman James McAnenly who introduced her to fellow members and took her on a tour of the site at Clarke’s farm. During the visit she had the opportunity to speak with competitors, and view the many attractions on display for visitors. She was enthralled by the tractor building display at which three teams competed to build a tractor in the fastest time.

Acknowledging the hard work of the event organisers and the local community, the Minister said: “Our bygone heritage in rural areas is one to be cherished and events like the Ballygawley and Roscavey Bygone Farming Days are a great tribute to those who worked off the land all their lives.

“Maintaining farming traditions is a key part of our rural way of life and events like this one help keep old ways alive. It is wonderful to see so many age-old practices such as threshing and horse ploughing living on into future generations. Although it is also important to provide attractions for the whole family and this was offered through a dog show, music and model aircraft display.”

Touring the show, the Minister added: “I am sure farmers know only too well how times have changes, as the work from Bygone days was hard but enjoyable and was something of a social event with neighbours helping each other. Agricultural days are key dates in the rural community’s calendar and it’s great to see such a broad range of all ages taking part and enjoying the sights. ”

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Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, highlighted the importance of strong leadership to school leaders in Belfast today.

The Minister was speaking at the second of three school improvement conferences “Leading in a changing education landscape – from policy to practice”.

After the event the Minister said: “Strong effective school leadership is a key factor in school improvement and the building block on which a successful school is built. Successful schools lead to confident, creative and articulate children and young people who are able to fulfil their potential and make the most of life’s opportunities.

“Since becoming Education Minister I have visited schools all over the north. I have met with teachers and principals and seen the good practice that is happening in our schools and classrooms. Conferences such as these enable us to identify, celebrate and share that good practice.

“Although we have much to be proud of in our education system, we must also recognise that there is no room for complacency. Far too many children are still leaving school without sufficient levels of literacy and numeracy. Raising standards is my Department’s top priority and I will shortly be publishing ‘Every School a Good School’, our new school improvement policy. This policy aims to ensure all our children have access to a high quality education, in schools and settings that are committed to excellence, equality and inclusion. It is through the hard work and dedication of governors, principals and teaching staff that this will be achieved. Excellent leadership is crucial to progress and through the leadership of people here today we will achieve an education system where there are no barriers to success and every child can set their aspirations high and achieve their ambitions.”

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Sinn Fein West Tyrone MLA Claire Mc Gill heralded the U-turn by the Western Trust’s to keep Greenfield Residential Care Home open as a victory for people power.

She said, 

“Everyone is delighted for the residents, their relatives and committed the staff of Greenfield and Friday’s news was met with great joy and massive relief by all concerned.

“The case for Greenfield was overwhelming and as the campaign gathered pace it became increasingly clear that the proposal to close the Residential Care Home was fundamentally flawed on so many levels, not least because there was absolutely no alternative provision planned for the residents in the Trust’s proposals.   

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone in the community who rallied in behind the campaign to force the Trust to reverse its recommendation to close Greenfield in what has truly been a victory for people power.”  ENDS  

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Huge inequalities based on religion and social status still exist in the North of Ireland according to the latest labour market statistics, Sinn Féin Equality and Human Rights spokesperson Martina Anderson has said.

“The latest Labour Force Survey (LFS) which was published on Friday confirms that significant inequalities still exist within this society both between Catholics and Protestants but also increasingly between those of different social classes,” Ms. Anderson commented.

“Although the report confirms that there have been significant improvements with regards to employment equality over the past 15 years, it is clear that much more needs to be done.

"For example, over the period 1992 – 2007 there has been an increase of approx 115,000 Catholics in employment compared to an increase of around 18,000 Protestants.

“But it's important to go beyond the simple definition ‘unemployed’ as an indicator. Unemployment figures alone do not paint the full picture as they ignore a whole range of people such as those on certain benefits or training programmes who are defined as ‘economically inactive’. It is only by taking these two categories together that we will get a true reflection of who we are failing as a society.

“And when you look at the statistics in greater detail, they show that there are still twice as many Catholics (31000) who are economically inactive and who want work, as there are Protestants (15000).

“However, there are also significant shifts taking place within the two communities. For instance, while the Catholic middle class continues to grow because of more Catholics obtaining third level education and getting better jobs, working class Protestants are becoming more vulnerable to unemployment because of the demise of the industries they were traditionally employed in.

“So while the inequalities between the two communities are narrowing, we are also witnessing a high proportion of both Catholics and Protestants who are being left behind. This is borne out by the large number of unemployed and economically inactive people of both communities within the areas of highest deprivation.

“The ‘peace dividend’ has still not reached these people and that reaffirms the need for direct government intervention in these communities. This should be done through a range of measures such as ensuring maximum community benefit from regeneration schemes and the use of public procurement to create jobs and training etc.

“I welcome the latest LFS report and I welcome the confirmation that the employment gap between our communities is narrowing but these statistics also demonstrate that decisive action is required to ensure that peace delivers for all of our people.”

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Sinn Féin MEP for the Six Counties Bairbre de Brún has expressed concern about attacks on the homes of Polish residents in Belfast yesterday and also about the city centre violence in the run up to yesterday’s football game.  Ms de Brún said,  “I am concerned at the attacks on homes of Polish residents in Belfast following yesterday’s football game. Those attacks are utterly wrong.  Polish people offer a great deal to our community and I know that people will be horrified to hear of these attacks.  “Those involved in yesterday’s trouble are in no way representative of the wider community and those from Poland who were involved in violence in the city centre do not represent the Polish community here in Ireland who contribute such a great deal to our society and to our economy.  “We must all stand together against the thuggish and reckless behaviour of those using a football match as cover for violence and destruction in the centre of Belfast.  No one should ever try to use such hooliganism to justify racially motivated attacks." CRÍOCH

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Fra McCann Sinn Féin MLA for west Belfast has called on the minister for Social Development to go back to the drawing board with regards her proposed budget for 09-10.   Fra McCann said the minister is,   “Putting all her eggs in the one basket, she has said that all replacement schemes and maintenance schemes will be hit hard as she concentrates on new build.   Many small building firms will go to the wall and hundreds will lose their jobs if the minister goes down this path.”   At this week’s social development committee meeting Fra McCann asked the minister to spread the budget across all aspects of housing.   Cllr McCann said,   “To discontinue kitchen and other replacements as well as aspects of maintenance only costs more in the long run, homes will deteriorate if not dealt with and will cost more in the longer term.   People have been expecting these essential upgrades for some time now but with this decision they have once again been let down by the minister   Small builders who rely on this work for employment will be greatly affected by this decision; this once again shows Margaret Ritchie is incapable of running her departmental budget.   She has shown no imagination in bringing alternative proposals to fund social new build schemes, all we have had is broken promises.   For the second time in months I have suggested that she use land which is situated in areas of high housing demand to build new houses, this can cut in half the unit price of new build if given to housing associations. Up until now all we have been told is that this Sinn Féin proposal is being looked at.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD described proposals from Fine Gael to sell off Bord Gáis, ESB International and Aer Rianta International as reckless behaviour.  He said Fine Gael have shown that they are no different from Fianna Fáil accusing them of learning nothing from Ireland’s disastrous experience of privatisation which has helped to create the current economic crisis.

Deputy Morgan said, “The Fine Gael party have shown with their economic proposals that they are no different to Fianna Fáil and are wedded to the misguided policy of privatisation.  They have learned nothing from Ireland’s disastrous experience of privatisation which has helped to lead us into the current economic crisis.

“The claim that they will not repeat the mistake Eircom is immediately rubbished with proposals to sell off Bord Gáis, ESB International and Aer Rianta International.  These are all profitable state companies with strategic importance to the economic development of the state.  To be advocating the sale of these very valuable state assets at a time when the price would be at rock bottom exposes immature economic thinking.

“These proposals are reckless in the extreme.  They are aimed at making short term gains at serious risk to the economy and at a longer term and much larger loss to consumers and the state.  Now is not the time for short term stop gap measures.  What is required is strategic thinking with a vision to bring about long term sustainable economic growth.

“The lessons need to be learned from the disastrous privatisations of Eircom and Aer Lingus.  We must also learn the lesson from Enron’s disastrous privatisation of California’s electricity sector and the implications it had for California’s economy.

“Unfortunately at a time when the Country requires new thinking and innovative ideas it seems all Fine Gael can come up with is more of the same.” ENDS

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Education Minister Caitríona Ruane has highlighted the opportunities that lie ahead for young people, if we can work together and embrace change.

Speaking at the Ulster Teachers’ Union’s (UTU) annual conference in the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle, the Minister said: “When I came into office 22 months ago, I had a choice, I could either accept the current system which disadvantages thousands of children, or I could make a change for the better which would benefit the lives and futures of children across our society.

“Now is the time to embrace that change, to be brave and lay the foundations for a new education system which has equality and fairness at its core. We have a unique window of opportunity to secure a system which looks, not towards the institutions and traditions of the past, but one which is modern, fit for purpose and is capable of meeting the needs of all children in our society.

“The new system will build on the individual strengths that every single one of our children possesses whatever that strength or talent is. The singular focus on academic ability must be replaced by a focus on all talents and aptitudes and allow children to pursue either academic or vocational pathways.”

Speaking about Transfer 2010, the Minister said: “Last year’s test was the last 11 plus. It was a system designed 60 years ago and was clearly not fit for the modern world. I have set out the criteria which should be used to transfer children to post-primary education from 2010 and beyond. The department’s Transfer 2010 guidance provides a set of admissions criteria already used widely and promising clarity and, for the first time, fairness. The consultation process for this guidance ends on the 27 April 2009 and I would encourage everyone with an interest in education to respond and make their voices heard.”

The Minister spoke to the delegates about a range of subjects including the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority, the Common Funding Formula, raising standards and the policies within the department.

The Minister said: “My department is currently reviewing and implementing a range of progressive policies. They are interconnected, interdependent and together will revitalise and invigorate our out-dated system. I have progressed the Special Education Review, the Review of Irish-medium education, the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority, the policy to make' Every School A Good School' and changes in how children transfer from primary to post-primary provision.

“While we have much to celebrate, there is still a concerning level of under-achievement. The aim is to protect and enhance the positive, whilst tackling and addressing the negative. If we can do that, if we can agree on the way forward, surely we can build an education system which is a shining example of progression and change.”

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Minister Michelle Gildernew, MP MLA, has presented certificates to a group of disabled people in Enniskillen who have recently completed a Human Rights training programme.

The programme was the first human rights focused training for disabled people to be held in County Fermanagh and hosted by the Centre on Human Rights for People with Disabilities at Disability Action.

Speaking during the presentation ceremony, Minister Gildernew said: “It is clear that this type of training is very valuable. Participants develop a better understanding of the current equality and human rights laws that apply here and what they actually mean in practice for disabled people. It also helps raise awareness of key issues that impact on the lives of disabled people, especially the needs of those living in rural locations such as Fermanagh.”

Monica Wilson, Chief Executive of Disability Action said: “We would like to congratulate all those that have completed this training which has been designed to enable people with disabilities to become human rights activists in order to campaign and lobby securing the human rights of disabled people and ensure their voice is heard on issues that matter to them.

"This is the first time this particular programme has run in Fermanagh and has had a very successful start in targeting and engaging disabled people from rural communities. It is vital that disabled people know how the work of the Assembly impacts on them and how to use this to increase the level of protection of disabled people’s human rights through effective lobbying and engagement with the Assembly and all stakeholders.”

Following successful completion of the training programme, participants become part of the Rights Empowerment Action and Lobbying (REAL) Network which aims to encourage people with disabilities to work closer together as well as to lobby and campaign on important issues of particular concern to disabled people.

The Minister added: “I encourage all the certificate winners to put this training to good use, to work with others across the REAL network and beyond and help bring about the changes that you want to see in place to ensure that the rights, needs and aspirations of all disabled people are fully upheld and respected.”

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"Colin Duffy is as entitled to due process as anyone else"  

Commenting after Lurgan man Colin Duffy was charged in connection with the attack at Antrim Barracks, Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann John O’Dowd has reminded the media that Mr Duffy is entitled to due process and more importantly the presumption of innocence.

Mr O’Dowd said:

“In the wake of Colin Duffy’s initial arrest his name and details were placed prominently in the media.

“Mr Duffy is as entitled to due process as anyone else. And importantly he must be presumed innocent of these charges. There seems to be some within the media who assume that because someone has a past history of involvement with republicanism they can assume guilt and report accordingly. This is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

Commenting on statements from Eirigi spokespersons directed at Sinn Féin O Dowd said:

"I was somewhat surprised to be challenged over these arrests by Eirigi given the fact that in the days following the arrests they moved quickly and publicly to distance themselves from Mr Duffy and others. Opportunism will not bring justice and accountable policing.  Commitment to radical change and strategic proven leadership will.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin assembly member Cathal Boylan has spoken out after attending a meeting of the Southern Health Trust’s Board of Directors today. Mr. Boylan expressed his disappointment following the decision of the board to approve proposals for Mullinure, Saint Luke’s and Longstone.

Contained in the proposals is the reduction of services in Mullinure, the removal of beds from Saint Luke’s and Longstone and transfer to Craigavon.

Mr. Boylan said,

“These decisions will have far reaching consequences for the patients, relatives, employees and the local economy.”

Mr. Boylan added there was mixed feelings throughout the day as Skeagh House and Slieve Roe care homes are to be maintained while up 200 jobs could be lost at Mullinure.

“Yesterday I witnessed tears of joy in the morning and tears of despair in the afternoon. The much needed care homes have been saved but this was followed by the disappointing news of huge cuts and closures in Armagh Hospital.”

Mr. Boylan concluded by stating that he is seeking an emergency meeting with the Minister Michael mc Gimpsey to discuss these proposals.

Note to Editors:

UNISON will be traveling to Stormont on Monday 30th March regarding these cuts.

Conor Murphy MP MLA, Cathal Boylan MLA and Mickey Brady MLA have confirmed that they will meet with the trade union’s representatives.

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Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy, MP, MLA today welcomed research on customer views of water and sewerage services.

The Consumer Council research report, “Tapping into Consumer Views,” was commissioned by NI Water.

Commenting on the research, the Minister said: “It is important that people have a say in the future of our essential services and tell us how those services are doing. Today we face new challenges of how we will invest in our water and sewerage services to provide the infrastructure necessary for the twenty- first century.

“We want to deliver high quality services to customers. We want those services to be efficient, affordable and sustainable. We need to bring our infrastructure up to scratch, meet our legal obligations and protect the environment.

“But even with the investment we are making we cannot address everything and therefore it is a question of getting the priorities right. That is why it is vital that we listen to people’s views in deciding how to move forward. The Consumer Council’s research allows us to do this.”

Chris Mellor, Chairman/Chief Executive of NI Water said: “At NI Water our priority focus is our customers. They deserve the best quality drinking water and wastewater services and we must meet their expectations. NI Water is grateful to all those who participated in the research which has provided us with a greater sense of what matters to our customers and where our customers want us to target resources in the future. We look forward to working together with all our stakeholders to transform the experience of water customers in NI”.

The report is available by contacting the Consumer Council

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Cllr Toiréasa Ferris will this weekend launch Sinn Fein's Jobs Creation Strategy across Munster. The strategy includes:

· Establish a €300 million jobs retention fund to subsidise workers in SMEs struggling to keep on their employees. The fund should be time limited; and should be implemented in conjunction with increased Revenue and Labour Inspectorate.

· Set up a body to actively pre-empt job losses by going to companies where jobs are in jeopardy to trouble shoot and offer advice, similar to the functions carried out by the Irish Credit Corporation in the 1980s.

· The National Development Plan's immediate priority should be providing essential, labour intensive infrastructure. We are calling for the fast-tracking of the school building programme, expansion of the national insulation programme to cover 100,000 homes by 2010 and 150,000 in subsequent years and broadband rollout.

· Fast track business start ups - there are two issues - businesses need access to credit and expertise. The banks need to start doing their job and we are calling for a re-deployment of staff within current job creation agencies to set up one stop enterprise business points. These would bring together funding, expertise and advice for entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses.

· A new Sales Ireland strategy to help Irish firms access export markets and to help Irish firms looking to set up manufacturing businesses with the potential to compete with our largest imports. Currently 90% of exports from the south come from foreign owned multinationals. And foreign owned firms import over 86% of the materials they use, bypassing Irish firms.

· Establishment within a calendar year of Eolas Glas Eireann, led by Sustainable Energy Ireland, with the core aim of developing Ireland as a world leader in green and alternative energy technologies.

· FÁS, the VECs and third level institutions have a combined budget of almost €4billion. They need to have a joined up approach to ensure that we are training people for sectors that will provide jobs in the coming decade.

Speaking before the launch, Toiréasa Ferris said: "Last month saw 91,321 men and women on the live register in Munster. The haemorrhage of jobs is hitting revenue intake, increasing demand on social welfare and wasting the talents and ability of a whole generation. The number one priority for any government at this point should be retaining and creating jobs. It should be getting Ireland back to work"

For Interview with Toireasa Ferris please contact Frank O Neill 087 673 9036

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Reacting to today’s CSO figures that demonstrate that Ireland's Gross National Product (GNP) is 6.7% down, Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has said disastrous Government decisions over the past six months are running the economy into the ground.

Speaking today Deputy Morgan said, "The increase in VAT, removing money from low and middle income earners and the failure to take action over jobs has had compounded our economic problems.

"The Government’s disastrous decision to increase VAT is directly related to the 4% fall in consumer spending over the past 12 months and has forced thousands of families to look north for their shopping.

"Finance Minister Brian Lenihan will have to reverse his decision in last October's budget and ultimately look towards establishing a harmonised all Ireland VAT rate in conjunction with his counterpart in the Northern Assembly.

"The Government will have to stop focusing on saving their friends in the banking sector and begin focusing on jobs. The priority must be to get Ireland back to work again." ENDS

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Bairbre de Brún MEP will address the West Tyrone Farmers Forum in Greencastle tonight where Sinn Fein will engage with the local community on key issues being addressed at local level, at the Assembly, at Westminster and at EU level.

The event will be held in Greencastle Community Centre on Thursday 26th March at 7.30pm.

Speaking ahead of the meeting Ms de Brún said:

“The Farmers Forums are a key link for those who wish to access elected representatives and raise issues or to discuss current challenges and the way forward.

“Issues discussed at EU level have obviously included the sheep sector, milk prices, the regulations governing the use of pesticides, the Rural Development Programme, the CAP Healthcheck, Farm Nutrient Management Scheme and the need for all-Ireland measures to be put in place regarding animal disease control to avert threats such as bluetongue, foot and mouth disease (FMD) or avian influenza.

“Most recently I have also discussed with our rural communities the consultation process on PPS 21. I would remind those who have raised concerns that they should put these in officially as part of the consultation process.  They would need to send a short note outlining their concerns to the DoE before Tuesday next, 31st March.  Their submission does not need to be lengthy.

“I have raised and will continue to represent our local farmers on a range issues at meetings with European Commissioners and their senior officials as well as on the floor of the European Parliament and at committee meetings.

“Farmers across the EU are facing similar problems and I will continue to strongly argue the case for our local farmers in the weeks and months ahead.  I am delighted to have the opportunity to engage directly with farmers from West Tyrone at tonight’s meeting in Greencastle and I thank Pat Doherty MP for facilitating the discussion.”

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