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Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has accused the Government of “overselling last night’s European Council agreement”.

Deputy Adams said:

“Sinn Féin welcomes any increase in investment in job creation and reduction in the cost of the State’s debt burden. 

“Cuirfidh Sinn Féin fáilte roimh aon athrú súntasach a thiocfaidh amach as seo.

“Before the European Council summit this week Sinn Féin recommended to the Taoiseach that he replace his policy of austerity and bank bailouts with a strategy of investment, debt write-downs and market return.

“Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore described this morning’s agreement as a ‘game changer’. He said it would lift the bank debt burden from Irish taxpayers and that the deal was retrospective and would be applied to the Irish recapitalisations.

“Tá an rialtas ag cur in iúl go bhfuil éacht déanta acú aréir leis an comhaontú Comhairle Eorpach. Níl na sonraí ar fad again go fóill.

 “However this is not what this morning’s European Council statement says. It appears that the Government is over selling the implications of the agreement for Ireland.

“It is clear that the Spanish and Italian governments have secured some movement from the German government and that this may have some positive implications for this state. However the detail of this has yet to be agreed.

“It is also clear that the agreement reached last night on the growth agenda is also being over sold.

“There is only €10 billion of new investment by the EU. Austerity remains a key pillar of the EU’s approach to the crisis. Yet the EU continues to pour billions of into the banks. It is clear that the European Council is still not serious about growth.

“Níl ach €10 billiún do infheistíocht nua a sholáthar ag an EU. Tá sé soiléar nach bhfuil an Comhairle Eorpach dáiríre faoi fás agus borradh.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has welcomed the commitment from Department of Environment Minister Alex Attwood to include councillors being part of local planning groups working on the Review of Public Administration.

Mr Boylan said,

“I have got a commitment today from the Minister Alex Attwood during a meeting of the Environmental Committee that he would look at putting councillors onto the working groups on RPA.

“These working groups were set up under the reform process to explore ways to make the implementation of RPA as smooth as possible. 

“As councillors are at the heart of local government it is important that they have an input into this process so todays decision is to be welcomed.

“I also welcome that legislation is now being brought forward that will allow the shadow councils to be in place in 2014 which will add immeasurable to the smooth transition to the new council model.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has said that the Environmental Committee was briefed today on the Department of Environment response to the flash floods that occurred yesterday.

Mr Boylan stated,

“The committee was briefed today on the response by the DOE to the flash floods that occurred yesterday.  First of all I would like to say that I sympathise with everyone who has lost property in the floods.

“We seem to be in a situation where we learn little or nothing from previous experiences and this is not acceptable if we are to have a long term strategy to protect vulnerable areas that flood year in and year out during poor weather.

“While the people who responded last night worked hard to minimise the damage from the floods it is obvious that there was a lack of emergency planning in how to deal with the floods.

“I will be pursuing the matter through the committee to ensure that lessons are learnt and that we put in place measures to minimise the risk in future.”

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Sinn Féin Public Expenditure and Reform Spokesperson Mary Lou McDonald TD has welcomed the HSE Chief’s confirmation at today’s Public Accounts Committee meeting that he intends to tackle top up payments to senior managers across the health service.

Public Accounts Committee member Deputy McDonald said:

“Following the recent controversy of top up payments to senior managers in Tallaght Hospital over and above their already generous salaries HSE Chief Cathal Magee today confirmed the HSE will carry out an audit over the next three months to identify the scale of the problem.

“Whilst I welcome the decision by the HSE to carry out the audit the Health Minister’s silence on the issue is deafening. Of course Dr Reilly has form when it comes to looking for pay increases for those who work for him but he cannot continue to preside over excessive extra pay for senior management in the health service.

“The HSE Chief also conceded that the practice of rehiring retirees back into the health service needs to be looked at. Last year the HSE rehired 686 retirees paying out salaries in excess of €11 million euro. Cathal Magee also confirmed that €200 million will be spent on agency staff (including locum staff) in 2012.

“The practice of rehiring retirees must be challenged however of even greater concern is the HSE’s spend on agency staff. HSE retirees who are rehired into the health service via an agency do not have to adhere to public sector pension abatement rules. Clearly the HSE’s increasing reliance on agency staff is a false economy.”

ENDS

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The Sinn Féin education spokesperson Seán Crowe has expressed disappointment that a database of survivors who received compensation under the Redress Board cannot be used to provide information of the existence of the Residential Statutory Fund Bill.

Deputy Crowe was speaking after raising the matter with Minister Quinn during Dáil Questions on Thursday.

He said:

“When I spoke with the survivors of residential abuse, a common complaint was that their views and what they want from the redress process have been consistently ignored.

“Many feel they have been left side-lined from the process and unable to have serious input into how they are compensated.

“There have been serious difficulties in communicating to survivors their entitlements under the Redress Board, particularly for those people who live abroad and have little contact with Ireland.

“When I met recently with the Munster Survivors Support Services they made the very sensible suggestion that the Department’s database of survivors who had applied to the Redress Board be used as a way of directly communicating information relating to the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund.

“This would open a direct line of communication between the Department and a significant percentage of people who suffered in Residential Institutions.

“The Minister stated this was not possible under the existing confidentiality arrangements and problems with sending unsolicited letters to survivors of abuse who applied for redress. Whilst understanding the legal issues involved, it is important every effort is made to inform people of the existence of the Statutory Fund and the services that it covers.”

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Sinn Féin Education Minister Seán Crowe has said the government must do more to ease the financial burden on parents when sending their children to school.

Deputy Crowe was speaking after confronting the Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn in the Dáil on the implementation of measures that would reduce the cost school uniforms.

Describing the cost of uniforms as “a racket”, Deputy Crowe said that school jumpers were costing €60-€70 when their true value was around €15. Parents, he continued, were paying €50-€60 for the right to wear a school crest.

“A 2011 survey of 1,000 people by the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) found that on average, €400 will be spent annually on each individual child attending school. A significant percentage of the sum is spent on school uniforms.

“When I raised this matter with Minister Quinn I reminded him of his public commitments to help parents meet the cost of paying for school uniforms. He claims his ‘hands are tied’ and that he cannot intervene despite accepting that parents are paying too much for school uniforms.

“We are talking about relatively straightforward, sensible measures that would include standardising the design and colours of uniforms and providing an option for parents to sew on school crests. This would allow families the opportunity to shop around for better deals and not be forced to rely on a select number of retailers who can charge outrageous prices for uniforms.

“A further meeting is to take place in early September but any arrangements between school authorities and parents are unlikely to gain much.

“The Minister is showing a complete lack of any urgency in how he is addressing this matter. It is unacceptable that over a year after promising to take steps to reduce the cost of school uniforms, parents are now facing the usual outrageous costs of clothing their children for the new school year.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Daithi McKay has welcomed the decision by Edmund Rice School Trust to move away from selection at eleven.

Mr McKay stated,

“The announcement by Edmund Rice Schools Trust which runs the Abbey Grammar in Newry, St Mary's Christian Brothers Grammar in west Belfast and the CBS Grammar in Omagh that they will phase out academic selection is to be welcomed.

“Academic selection has failed the majority of children and does nothing to enhance academic excellence amongst the pupils.  Moving away from selection at eleven will bring equality into the classroom and allow all of our children the opportunity to achieve their maximum potential.

“The Catholic Bishops have recently called on grammar schools to move away and the response from Edmund Rice School is very positive indeed.  I would call on other grammar schools to follow suit and move away from selection now.”

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The Sinn Féin education spokesperson Seán Crowe has expressed support for the efforts of thePortobello Educate Together multi-denominational school start-up group who are working to secure a new school for their locality.

Deputy Crowe has written to Education Minister Ruairí Quinn in support of the proposal.

He said:

“The report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism has made a number of recommendations including divesting patronage in areas of stable population which they recommend should begin immediately.

“The advisory group report recommends that where there is evidence of a significant demand for a new school type then the Department of Education should make a building available as soon as possible.

“There is general agreement from the group that additional surveys are not required to justify the construction of a new multi-denominational school in the area.

“If this is not possible and a survey must be conducted before progressing to the divestment/patronage stage, then the Portobello group should be one of the first five pilot areas to be surveyed. The survey should include the areas of Dublin 6W and Dublin 12 along with Dublin 6 and Dublin 8.

“I fully support the efforts of the Portobello group and their demand for a different type of school that can meet the diverse background of children and their families from these areas of Dublin.”

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Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty has released the following statement regarding the use of his travel expenses.

The Donegal South West TD said:

“Since 2009 I have published my accounts on the Web. I have at all-times been up-front that I use a portion of my wages (over €19,000) and a portion of money that was paid to me for expenses to employ additional staff in my Donegal offices. I am a registered employer with the revenue commissioner and my employees enjoy all of their statutory entitlements. Last week an issue arose as to whether this was allowed. I have always stated that if I breeched any rules that I would rectify that.

“Over the past week I have met with Oireachtas officials on a number of occasions to discuss my travel and accommodation allowance.

“I have stated on my website that the cost of traveling to and from Dublin and throughout my constituency was €11,273.67 in 2011. This cost was calculated factoring in the cost of the Diesel and toll charges only.

“The representatives have informed me that in order to calculate and certify the travel expenditure that I incur that I am entitled to take into account a number of travel cost factors besides fuel costs. These vehicle related expenditure include Diesel, Oil, Tyres, Maintenance, Insurance costs, Car tax, Driving licence, AA membership, and the cost of replacing the car i.e. depreciation.

“They have informed me that these items are incorporated into the civil service mileage rate on which the Standard Travel Allowance is based. The appropriate rates are 95.05 cent for the first 4000 miles and 45.79 cent thereafter.

“The mileage that I incurred in 2011 was in excess of 45,000 miles which if applied to the rate that underpins the TAA scheme would be in excess of the portion of the Standard TAA allowance which relates to travel that was paid to me for these purposes in 2011 and when added to the cost of accommodation that I incurred during that same period which was €13,005.64 would be in excess of the total allowance that I received under the TAA scheme.

“I have provided all of this information to the Oireachtas officials and they have confirmed to me in writing today that I haven’t breached any regulations and have stated to me that ‘the regulations have been complied with’.

“I again want to restate my position that the payment of expenses to TD and Senators should be fully vouched and call on the government to introduce such a scheme.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan has welcomed the publication of the Rural White Paper by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Mr McMullan said,

“There are many issues that affect the rural community and the publication of this paper today will outline a strategy of how we address them.

“Whether it is concerns round farming, lack of broadband, health facilities or limited public transport there is a vast array of issues that have to be addressed in rural communities in order to allow them to access services that other people take for granted. 

“The paper outlines a commitment not only from the Agriculture Department but from all the departments in the Executive to an action plan that will make a positive impact on the entire rural community.

“I would commend the Minister Michelle O’Neill for bringing all the departments together and the publication of this paper which will drive equality in rural life for the foreseeable future.”

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Speaking in the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD called on the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to clarify that public sector increments are covered by the Croke Park Agreement and called on him not to go after the pay packets of low paid public sector workers at the behest of his Fine Gael colleagues.

Deputy McDonald TD said:

“This week we saw two Ministers call for the government to breach its commitments under the Croke Park agreement. The Transport Minister went so far as to call for the suspension of public pay increments. All of this in the same week when the government has yet again breached its own salary limit for the new Chief Executive of the VHI.

“Any attempt by government to withdraw increments will disproportionately hit low paid public servants and new entrants.

“Those on the highest grades in the public and civil service have a single pay point. It will take a new entrant Clerical Officer on a start off salary of €20,859 seventeen years and 13 increments to reach a salary of €33,607. By comparison a Secretary General has a single pay point of €200,000 regardless of performance.

“The new chief executive of the VHI is to be paid a salary of €238,727, that’s nearly €50,000 more than the starting rate for new chief executive officers in the State-owned health insurer which was set out by the Government just a year ago.

“If the Government is serious about reform and cost reductions in the public sector this needs to start at the top. Labour and Fine Gael need to get serious about tackling runaway pay for high rollers across the public sector, including their own pay packets.” ENDS

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Speaking from Leinster House the Sinn Féin spokesperson on the arts Sandra McLellan has expressed her disappointment at the Government’s failure to support the Private Members Motion on the arts.  

Deputy McLellan said:

“Sinn Féin is deeply concerned by the proposal to merge the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Crawford Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Ireland. We are also opposed to the proposed merger of the National Archives and the Irish Manuscript Commission; and to any change in the “arm’s length principle” or to any proposals that would interfere with the independence of key artistic and cultural institutions. 

“The Government has not produced any information regarding  cost-benefit analysis, head- count reductions etc. that would justify the proposed changes yet it is hell bent on embarking on a process of amalgamations, mergers, dissolution of independent boards and non-renewal of vital leadership roles.

“In a time of fiscal austerity, cutbacks, mass unemployment and national despondency the arts offer a valuable and creative outlet for people. In a mature society that values expression and creativity the arts have the potential to enrich lives. They help us to think about the world and our place in it in a more imaginative, innovative and abstract way.

“I call on the Minister to respect and adhere to the ‘arm’s length principle’. He must also immediately establish an independent recruitment process to fill the CEO vacancies in the key cultural institutions and to meet with the National Campaign for the Arts.

“As we begin the decade of commemoration it is imperative that we have independent, robust, and well-funded national artistic and cultural institutions. Only then can the various commemorations be seen as an opportunity to revisit our past with the aim of building a more equal and caring society.

“Sinn Féin calls on the Minister to develop an all-Ireland approach to arts and culture. And we would urge him to remember that sometimes, there are very rare institutions, whose societal value far exceeds any monetary value.”

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Speaking after a decision on costs was announced by the High Court in Pearse Doherty TD’s case against the Referendum Commission, the Donegal South West TD said that “my decision to take the case was vindicated by the court today.”

Deputy Doherty said:

“I took this matter to court in good faith and because I believed it to be an issue of central importance to the referendum. I believe that both the substantive judgement on the case and the decision today on costs vindicate my decision to pursue this course of action.

“Judge Hogan's substantive ruling stated that the case ‘raised profound and very difficult questions, which at their heart involved complex and intricate issues’,  that it was  ‘impossible for me at this juncture to express a definitive view on the ultimate question raised’.

“On the central matter in dispute between the Referendum Commission and myself, Judge Hogan said that ‘there is unquestionably room for legitimate legal and political debate on this issue.’

“I welcome today’s determination by Judge Hogan on the issue of costs. I believe it vindicates my decision to take this challenge.

 “Despite accusations from some quarters that this was ‘nothing more than a stunt’, the judge said today that this was ‘a serious, worthy and bona fide case that raised legitimate important issues which were crucial to the referendum debate.’

“It is also significant that though my legal team did not seek costs against the Attorney General the judge indicated that he would have awarded costs against them measured at €7,500.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the environment, community and local government Brian Stanley TD has accused Minister Phil Hogan of failing to give a commitment on financial assistance for households who must upgrade their septic tanks.

Responding to the publication of septic tank guidelines by the Department of the Environment Deputy Stanley said:

“Sinn Féin fully supports protecting our water system and wants septic tanks to meet EU standards. Our submission to the septic tank guidelines was comprehensive and solution-based. We welcome their publication but Minister Hogan has once again failed to provide people with financial means to upgrade their septic tanks to meet these new standards.

“The Minister must give a commitment that financial assistance will be provided to households that need it. It is simply not good enough to arrive in forty years too late with standards and no financial plan to ensure they are fully implemented.  If households are expected to register they must know what assistance will be available.

“The concern with group schemes is that they will only function when connected to existing sewers and will not work in isolated rural areas. The €2,000 grant for group schemes is totally inadequate. The Minister knows this and has given assurance that this will be revised upwards as a matter of urgency.'

“It is also important that local authority staff is used to carry out the inspections. It would be far more cost effective to utilise council engineers rather than private contractors to carry out this work.

“Sinn Féin will continue to put pressure on Minister Hogan to provide financial assistance for households in order to meet the septic tanks standards.”

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD speaking this afternoon outside the Dail said:

“I want to welcome today’s historic meeting in Belfast between the President of Ireland, the Queen of England, First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.
It brings our journey of relationship building within this island and between these islands onto a new plane.

“I would to think we will build upon that. When Queen Elizabeth visited here and made the positive remarks that she did, and visited the Garden of Remembrance, I said at that time that it needed to be built upon.

“That’s what Sinn Féin is trying to do in terms of this engagement but there are issues that have not been brought to a conclusion, specifically the issue of the legacy of the conflict. Both governments have a big role to play in that.

“I know that some people in the north – especially in my own home district of Ballymurphy – who are big supporters of the peace process are hurt. Just last week they were told by the British Secretary of State Owen Patterson that they would not have the type of inquiry that they were looking for, the kind of investigation that they wanted, into the deaths of their loved ones by the British Army.

“So, the government in London needs to stop obstructing these matters; and the government here needs to press them to do just that.

“But all in all it’s a good day for Ireland and a good day for the people of these islands.
The significance will be seen in how much we can build upon it.

“I think the vast majority of unionists will be pleased that this happened because they know it’s essentially a real gesture beyond the rhetoric towards their sense of identity and their sense of allegiance.

“Ireland is changing; its changing because of the peace process, it’s changing because of all the revelations of sleaze and scandals and corruption in this state and its changing because of the economic crisis. So people know we deserve a better society and republicans like everyone else who thinks about the future and thinks about Ireland want to be part of shaping that out and the unionists are a very essential part of that equation.” ENDS

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Speaking during a topical issues debate in the Dáil today on the IT crash at Ulster Bank, Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said that “bank management, the regulator and the government still have questions to answer regarding the on-going debacle at Ulster Bank.”

Deputy Doherty said:

“The debacle at Ulster Bank continues. This morning managing director of branch banking at Ulster Bank, Jim Ryan admitted that despite earlier assurances, customers will continue to experience disruption into next week.

“More than 150,000 people have been affected. It is causing enormous distress to individuals, families and businesses.

“We are almost a week into this debacle and still key questions remain unanswered. How did a relatively minor software upgrade lead to such widespread disruption of the banks payments system?  Where was the bank’s disaster-recovery safety-net? 

“Crucially the public want to know could this kind of problem occur at any of the other banks operating in the state?

“The Central Bank, the Financial Regulator and the government need to address these questions publically. Given the seriousness of the issues I strongly believe that the Minister and the regulator as well as Ulster Bank management need to appear before the Finance Committee to answer these questions.”

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Speaking in the Dáil today on the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information against Children) Bill 2012 Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD described the Bill as an important piece of legislation that “signals the end of a culture of containment and silence in Ireland.”

Deputy McDonald said:

“This legislation seeks to further protect our children and vulnerable adults. It is a foundation to build upon. Robust support mechanisms must now be implemented without delay.

“This legislation is an acknowledgement by the Government that the decades of horrific abuse experienced by our children will never be tolerated again.

“However we cannot talk about the future protection of children and vulnerable adults without highlighting the failure of this Government to redress the wrongs of the past.

“In opposition Fine Gael and Labour regularly berated Fianna Fáil led Governments for failing to provide redress to the survivors and an apology to the women and children incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries and Bethany Home.

“The reality of course is that the State has already conceded this abuse that took place as documented in the Ryan Report. There is a mountain of physical evidence showing State involvement in the Laundries and the Bethany. Heart-breaking testimonies support this evidence. 

“Survivors do not have time on their side; they are elderly and many have serious health problems as a result of the abuse they suffered. They need urgent access to healthcare. Magdalene women continue to be denied pension supports despite decades of work in the laundries, once used by government departments.

“Fine Gael and Labour in Government can no longer shirk their responsibility to the survivors of Bethany and the Magdalene Laundries.”

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Speaking in the Dáil the Sinn Féin spokesperson on justice and equality Jonathan O’Brien TD called on the Government to amend the Proceeds of Crime Acts to ensure that monies seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau can be put back in to communities that are worst affected by drugs.

The Cork North Central TD said;

“Around €14 million was seized solely under the proceeds of crime legislation during 2006-2010. We have asked the Government on numerous occasions to retain this money for community development purposes. This is separate to the money that is seized by CAB for revenue and social welfare fraud. It is the money taken from drug dealers and criminals who are profiting from the communities they are decimating.

“It is Sinn Féin’s view that this money should be set aside for communities that are worst affected by the drugs trade, for example for use as a funding mechanism for the local drugs task forces short-to-medium term projects.

“The Government has cut community funding in general and the current legislation allows for all monies collected by the Criminal Assets Bureau to be returned to the Exchequer in accordance with the provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Acts 1996 and 2005. The funds are then paid into the Government’s Central Fund, from which the Government draws for expenditure. If the Government had the political will to fund these much needed community organisations they could very easily do it by amending the Proceeds of Crime Acts.

“I am calling on the government to introduce this mechanism to fund Local Drugs Task Forces and community groups.”

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Sinn Féin President and Louth TD Gerry Adams has called on the government to abandon its plans to merge the National Library, the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

Teachta Adams warned that “this merger coupled with the Department of Arts reiteration of the need for “necessary structural reform” will have profound and damaging implications for these three institutions.

The Sinn Féin leader said that the arts and culture can make a significant contribution to reshaping society on this island and urged Minister Deenihan “to join with the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the north Caral Ní Chuilin in discussing an all-Ireland strategy to use the arts and culture in the promotion of integration and understanding and national reconciliation. But to do this in a real and meaningful way, the Minister must preserve the independence of the various institutions and honour his party’s commitment to the arm’s length principle. 

“It is imperative that we preserve and safeguard the nation’s past.  In the final analysis, the language of protection, preservation, imagination and creativity must replace the state centred language of structural reform and bureaucratic control.”

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD speaking in the Dáil today recalled his recent personal experience in a health service in serious difficulty because of health cuts.

Teachta Adams described the government’s austerity policies as “taking money from working people and from the most vulnerable and essential public services to pay off the debts of the banks and the elites.”

The Louth TD accused the government of preparing to cut €500 million from the Social Welfare budget while handing over €598 million today to senior bondholders.

Today’s payment is part of €1.14 billion that will be paid in the next three days to senior bondholders for bonds formerly held by Irish nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank.

Deputy Adams said:

“The central problem the state is facing is the failure of government policies and those of Fianna Fáil.

“The government’s austerity policy is based on taking money from working people or from the most vulnerable and using to pay off the debts of the elites. That’s the crux of the failure of its policy.

“So for all the apparent disagreement within the cabinet they are fully in agreement that €500 million should be cut from the Social Welfare Budget while senior bondholders are paid in full. This week €1.14 billion worth of bonds formerly held by Irish Nationwide and Anglo Irish Bank are to be paid.

“Today a bond worth €598 million will be paid, that’s more than the €500 million the government plans to take from citizens who receive social welfare.

“It is a fact that citizens need certainty if they are to have the confidence to spend their money and if the domestic economy is to have any chance of recovery. The austerity policies of the government are stripping away that certainty. Along with the absence of a coherent and effective job creation and retention strategy the government is failing to invest in the economy and public services.

“One consequence of this is the crisis in the health service.

“I recently had personal experience of that when I hurt myself cycling. I attended Louth County Hospital which could not treat me and had to be taken by ambulance to Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda. I spent the night on a hospital trolley and saw for myself the great hardship this imposes on the sick and elderly and young.

“Over the next few days as I returned to hospital for tests I also witnessed the great work done by dedicated nursing and medical staff.

“The HSE and the Minister for Health are also proposing that Louth County Hospital in Dundalk and Navan in County Meath will have their services cut yet again because of the Government’s austerity policies.

“Austerity is not working. It is crippling the economy and destroying our public services, particularly our health service.

“Sinn Féin strongly believes that there is a better and fairer way out of this economic crisis.

“In the coming period we will be outlining our own proposals for investing in jobs and in the autumn we will be launching our own budget alternative.”

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