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Michelle O’Neill has been named the new leader of Sinn Féin in the North.

Please watch and share this exclusive interview below which tells a bit of her life story as a mother of two from a small village in County Tyrone, her work in politics and in the Executive, standing up for equality, respect and integrity in government and continuing the work that Martin McGuinness has done stretching himself for peace and reconciliation.

You can view a biography of Michelle O’Neill here


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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Seán Crowe TD has called on Minister Rúairí Quinn to ‘get his act together’ and do everything in his power to bring down the costs of sending children to school including the growing costs of school uniforms.

Deputy Crowe said the Minister has failed to deliver on his promised reforms in relation to this matter.

Speaking today Deputy Crowe said:

“The cost of sending children to school is putting huge financial strain on thousands of families who are already suffering the effects of the recession and the budget cutbacks.

“It is essential that everything that can be done to reduce these costs is done. This must include bringing an end to the current situation which sees a small number of retailers charging a fortune for school jumpers which have the crests emblazoned on them.

“Some retailers are clearly abusing the monopoly they have on the market for school uniforms. It has been described as an out and out racket by many of the parents that I have spoken to.

“This significant cost factor could be transformed overnight if each school provided students with crests for a small cost to be sown onto standard school jumpers.

“The issue of school books also needs to be looked into. The use of books that require students to write answers into them means that these books cannot be passed onto other students at the end of the year.

“This also needs to change and the Minister needs act on this and the many other ways to reduce school costs.

“When I raised this issue with the Minister at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills in July he agreed to consider some initiatives but so far we have seen nothing and parents are still struggling.

“This is simply not good enough from the Minister. Parents have been expecting action to be taken yet nothing has happened. He needs to get his act together and introduce new initiatives to bring down the costs of sending children to school.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann has welcomed the decision by former internees to take a court case against their unlawful arrest and detention.


Speaking on the 40th anniversary of the introduction of internment Mr McCann said,


“As a former internee I have firsthand experience of what the men and women who were arrested went through. Many people were badly beaten and tortured by both the British Army and RUC during the arrest operation for internment.


“Many of the people interned still suffer the traumatic effects of that period yet have never been issued with as much as an apology even though the British Government recognised that many of the people arrested were innocent.


“I welcome the decision today to serve papers on the British MOD, RUC, British Secretary of State and the estate of the late Brian Faulkner and I am fully supportive of it.


“Listening to the stories today reminded me of the pain endured not only by the internees but by entire communities due to the illegal nature of this British government operation.


“I would call on all former internees to come forward and have their story documented so that other cases can also be lodged.

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Sinn Féin Sligo-North Leitrim TD Michael Colreavy, a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Health & Children, has said Health Minister James Reilly still has the authority to re-instate the Emergency Department at Roscommon County Hospital.

Speaking on the day the 'urgent care centre' at the Hospital is due to end its 24-hour service, Deputy Colreavy said:

“Today sees the winding down of the 24-hour 'urgent care centre' put in place after the disgraceful closure of the Emergency Department at Roscommon County Hospital. Once again people are quite rightly protesting at the downgrading of the Hospital and the resulting dangers to the health, safety and lives of people from the wide hinterland served by Roscommon Hospital.

“In addition to the longer journey times to other hospitals, people also have to face longer stays in Emergency Departments as a result of the savage cutbacks being imposed in our health services, the latest being the extension of the recruitment ban to front-line services.

“Health Minister James Reilly still has the authority to reinstate the Emergency Department at Roscommon. He should do so. And public pressure should be maintained on the Fine Gael/Labour Government which plans even worse health cuts this coming winter.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD this afternoon demanded that an Independent International investigation is carried out into the Ballymurphy massacre in 1971. Mr Adams was addressing a 40th Anniversary event in West Belfast.

Mr Adams said:

“After the publication of the Saville Report, the British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the events of Bloody Sunday did not define the role of the British Army in Ireland. He is wrong. It does. I am from the democratic tradition that believes the British Army has no right and never will have a right to be in Ireland.

“1971 is history for some people. For those of us who survived or who lost loved ones on that day it is part of our lives. The Civil Rights campaign was only a few years old. The pogroms had occurred two years earlier. This area has opened its homes to the refugees. We were also under military occupation.

“Internment was part of a planned military and political strategy by the British government. The Paras were sent into this area to create a killing zone. None of those killed were members of any armed group. The IRA was very strong and active in this area but none of its Volunteers were killed or injured in the onslaught by the Paras. In my view the British knew they were killing unarmed civilians. Everyone in this area was a target. No one was killed in crossfire. There was no crossfire. They were all shot in the back and for 40 years a compliant media have pedalled the British Army lies about that day.

“The Peace Process continues – slowly but surely bringing about change, but the Peace Process will become organic only when those who lost loved ones in the conflict have closure. The Ballymurphy and Springhill killings are not disputed. They are an open and shut case. The British government know what happened. So do the Irish government. What is needed now is an Independent International investigation.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness MLA, has raised the case of the ongoing imprisonment of Brendan Lillis with the Irish Government.

Speaking today Mr McGuinness said:

“I have raised the issue of Brendan Lillis’s continued detention with the Irish Government. It is abundantly clear that Brendan Lillis is seriously ill and should be released immediately to secure the necessary medical care that is required.

“I also made it clear to the Irish Govenment that the use of prisoner licencing and the revoking of licences on occasion by the British Secretary of State amounts to internment without trial. It is this mechanism that see’s the further detention of Brendan Lillis and is undoubtedly a complicating factor in this case.

“I have pressed on the Irish government to use what ever influence that they may have, as a matter of urgency, to see that Brendan Lillis is released immediately on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.” ends

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Sinn Féin TD for Dublin North West Dessie Ellis today said that the industrial action being undertaken by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is the unfortunate but inevitable result of cuts to essential frontline services by the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition.

Deputy Ellis said

“The INMO’s decision to enter into a work to rule action is following the complete failure of the HSE to address the issue of overcrowding in Beaumont Hospital and the recent decision to place patients in trolleys on wards.

“This is unsafe and unfair on patients and professionals. Nurses and other health professionals are stretched to the maximum in Beaumont. Trolleys on wards will make their job harder and endanger patient care.

“The HSE must properly address the issue of overcrowding which is being exacerbated by recent cuts to services and staffing. They must halt the running down of services in regional hospitals which is mounting more pressure on Beaumont.

“You cannot expect hospitals to treat more patients with less funding, staff and support. It is a recipe for disaster.” ENDS

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Speaking today as CSO figures showed an increase of 1,500 people signing on the live register Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said ‘the Government is not doing enough to tackle rising unemployment.’

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Unemployment has risen again. In July 1,500 more people signed on the Live Register. A staggering 447,900 people are now out of work. And of course this figure does not include those who were self employed and those who have emigrated.

“The Government’s anaemic jobs initiative launched just a few months ago has done little to address the growing problem of unemployment and long-term unemployment.

“This is simply not good enough when set against the pre-election promises of both Government parties. Fine Gael promised an investment of €7 billion to create 100,000 jobs. Labour promised a jobs fund of €500 million and a Strategic Investment Bank with funds of €2 billion.

“Yet only weeks after taking office they announced a jobs initiative that promised a meagre €29 million of expenditure on capital projects and €11 million on additional training places.

“There is an urgent need for serious investment in job creation. The only way to get the economy back on track is to invest in a major job creation stimulus package.

“Sinn Fein believes that the government must invest €2 billion from the National Pension Reserve fund to fast track labour intensive infrastructure projects and to assist small and medium sized businesses to save and create jobs.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast Paul Maskey has called on the Parole Commission to meet as a matter of urgency and to release  Brendan Lillis.



Speaking today Mr Maskey said:



“The Justice Minister, David Ford, despite legal advice to the contrary, has claimed  that he does not have the power to release Brendan Lillis. He says that this is the responsibility of the Parole Commission. 



“Jennifer McCann and Fra McCann, who have both visited Brendan Lillis this week state clearly that Mr Lillis’ health is deteriorating. 



“There must not to be any further delay in this case. The Parole Commission needs to meet as a matter of urgency and make the right decision on this particular case.

 

“Mr Lillis should be released immediately in order to secure the necessary care that he requires.”

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Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West Seán Crowe has called on Health Minister James Reilly to intervene to ensure that Tallaght Hospital reconsiders its policy of outsourcing transcription services in light of reports of a data breach of patient information and growing unemployment in the Tallaght area.

Deputy Crowe was speaking today after reports that the hospital will continue to outsource transcription services to the Philippines.

He said:

“Reports today that Tallaght Hospital will continue to outsource the transcription of medical consultation reports and letters to the Philippines is an affront to those whose private data was breached and also to those locally unemployed people who could easily be hired to do this job.

“I am calling on hospital chiefs at Tallaght Hospital to reconsider this policy of outsourcing transcription services. There is a major risk of identity theft and fraud of those people whose data is breached.

“I recently asked the Health Minister James Reilly to outline his policy on this contracting of clerical work outside of Ireland by some hospitals and the minister did not even acknowledge that it is an issue.

“This is simply not good enough. The minister must intervene to ensure the safety of patients’ private data.

“At a time of a major unemployment crisis the minister cannot allow this outsourcing to continue.” ENDS

Editor’s note: PQ from Deputy Seán Crowe is below for your information.

46. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Health his policy on the practice in some hospitals of contracting routine clerical work outside of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17909/11]
Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly): It is not a matter of Government policy that hospitals or other health services contract clerical work outside of Ireland, as suggested by the Deputy. However, all bodies in receipt of public funding, not just in the health sector, must manage their resources in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible.
The Deputy will also be aware that the Government is also carrying out a Comprehensive Review of Expenditure. Under this review, it is committed to examining all aspects of public expenditure, with a view to ensuring that all resources are used in the optimum manner to deliver services to citizens.

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Sinn Féin education spokesperson Seán Crowe TD has described the government decision to increase class sizes as another U-turn from Fine Gael and the Labour Party which is based on meeting EU/IMF targets regardless of the social consequences for children.

Speaking today Deputy Crowe said:

“This cut represents another U-turn from Fine Gael and Labour who when in opposition argued correctly that larger class sizes not only affect the quality of teaching but make it more difficult to concentrate on children with special needs.

“This proposal comes at a time when the government is slashing special needs assistants. We already have some of largest class sizes in Europe with 100,000 in classes of more than 30 pupils.

“Large class sizes have, in the past, resulted in pupils leaving school without basic skills like being able to read or write. They also increase the disadvantage already felt by children of lower socio economic backgrounds.

“This is a bad decision which is based on meeting EU/IMF targets regardless of the social consequences for our children who deserve so much better.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast, Fra McCann, commenting on the issue of the high number of ghost estate's throughout the North has said many of these estates are in areas which would not be classed as in severe housing need and that the story has not highlighted is the tens of thousands of empty homes in towns and cities which have become a problem for many residents who are unlucky enough to live beside an abandoned house or those who are currently on the housing waiting list.


Speaking today Mr McCann said:
 
“A survey was carried several years ago by the Housing Executive stating that over 30,000 homes are lying empty this at a time of severe housing need. The majority of these houses are in areas of high demand. I have previously made it clear to the Housing executive that I believe this figure was a serious under estimation.

“Many of these houses were bought at the height of the market as investments and put out to rent in the private rented sector but due to the economic climate many owners have simply walked away from them and left them to rot, something which not only blights and area but also impacts on neighbouring houses.
 
“I believe the Housing Executive need to begin an up to date survey in order to accurately record how many of these houses exist as the previous survey was carried out in different financial circumstances and in a buoyant housing market, circumstances which have undoubtedly changed over the past 3 years.
 
“Given the price of many of the houses which are lying empty it should be investigated  how cost effective it would be to purchase these houses and bring them up to a decent standard and allocate them to people are in dire need of housing.  This would go some way to alleviating the demand.

"While there may be a focus on private ghost estates we must re-examine as a matter of urgency how many empty properties are lying idle within already built up areas especially within areas of high need.” 

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South Down Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Gribben has said that while he welcomes the closure of the Mox plant in Sellafield he believes it does not go far enough.

Councillor Gribben stated,

“The announcement that the Mox plant in Sellafield is to close does not go far enough as the entire plant should be shut.

“The contamination from this plant has caused untold damage including higher rates of cancer along the South Down area.

“The recent tragedy in Japan highlights the dangers associated with nuclear power plants and while other European countries are designing their future power needs without nuclear power Britain is continuing to plan to build more.

“Sinn Féin will continue to press the British Government to shut the Sellafield plant completely so we can begin an environmental clean up along the eastern board of Ireland and protect Irish citizens from this menace.

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien TD today met his party colleague, MLA and Policing Board Member Gerry Kelly, along with a number of Sinn Féin activists from North and South to discuss party policy and to plan political initiatives in what is the start of a refocused all Ireland approach to ensuring better, more accountable policing and justice mechanisms.

The discussion related to utilising the Assembly, Leinster House and the party’s connections within the community to advance these aims.

The group met with Louth county councillor Jim Loughran, the vice chairman of the Dundalk /North Louth Joint Policing Committee, as part of a consultative process being carried out throughout the island to advance localised community safety strategies.

The Dundalk /North Louth JPC will hold its first public session in Dundalk Town Hall on the 5 September, which will focus on Community Restorative Justice.

Commenting after the meeting Deputy O’Brien said:

“We are committed to bringing about a policing and justice system on this island responsive to the needs of the community. Nothing else is acceptable.”

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Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness has expressed his concern at the circumstances surrounding the continuing detention of Brendan Lillis. Mr McGuinness’ remarks come after a Sinn Féin delegation once again met with Mr Lillis in Maghaberry prison today.

Mr McGuinness said:

“The decision of the British Secretary of State Owen Patterson to revoke the licence of Brendan Lillis is reminiscent of internment without trial. I have on several occasions expressed my opposition directly to Mr Patterson in regard to the British government’s use of this tactic.

“There can be no doubt that Brendan Lillis is seriously ill and does not represent a threat to anyone. It has already been decided that he is too ill to stand trial. David Ford is aware of my concerns and my view that Brendan Lillis should be released on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. Brendan Lillis needs to be in a proper hospital in order to receive medical treatment. He should not be in Maghaberry Prison.

“I have sought and received legal opinion on this matter. It is crystal clear that Mr Ford has the power to release Brendan Lillis on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. The advice I have received states that David Ford has the legal power to act and is not accountable to the British Government’s Life Sentence Review Commission. I trust that David Ford will take the right decision on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.”

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Speaking after accompanying Brendan Lillis’ partner Roisin, to a meeting with the Justice Minister David Ford, Sinn Féin Assembly member Jennifer McCann said that it ‘was our firm view that Mr Ford had the power to release Brendan Lillis one humanitarian and compassionate grounds and that is what now needed to happen’.

Ms McCann said:

“David Ford needs to step forward and do the right thing. Brendan Lillis has already been deemed by the authorities too ill to stand trial. He has been bed ridden for two years. He is a threat to nobody.

“The legal advice that I have seen is very clear. David Ford has the power to act. He does not have to wait on the Life Sentence Review Commission to meet. Brendan Lillis should be released on compassionate and humanitarian grounds now and allowed to be admitted to an outside hospital where he can receive proper medical care.”

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Sinn Féin TD for Dublin North West, Dessie Ellis, has expressed concern for mental health services in the North city and county as industrial action begins today (3 August) as a result of what he described as HSE mismanagement and the continuing cuts being imposed by the Fine Gael/Labour Government.

Deputy Ellis said:

“Members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) at St. Ita’s Hospital, Portrane, today begin industrial action over the imminent closure of the male and female admissions units at the Hospital from 31 August and related issues.

“The HSE is required by the Mental Health Commission to close these units due to the failure to carry out essential refurbishment works to bring them up to the required standard. The HSE and Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, in reply to a Dáil Question from my colleague Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, have failed to set out what alternative facilities will be made available for admissions for acute mental healthcare in the densely populated region currently served by St. Ita’s.

“I am very concerned for mental health services in Dublin’s north city and county in this situation. It comes as a result of Government cutbacks and HSE mismanagement which have seen the required refurbishment at St. Ita’s stalled and the promised development of the acute admissions unit at Beaumont Hospital delayed for years. We are told by the HSE and the Minister that work on the Beaumont unit may begin later this year. But what happens in the meantime to patients who require acute in-patient mental healthcare?

“Health Minister James Reilly should intervene and require the HSE to respond to the invitation of the Labour Relations Commission to talks, an invitation accepted by the PNA but not by the HSE.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin social protection spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said cuts to the household benefits package and fuel allowance could lead to an increase in deaths this winter as a result of cold.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh today concluded a series of consultations with organisations representing older people and people with disabilities.

Over the last two weeks Deputy Ó Snodaigh has met with Age Action Ireland, the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and the Disability Federation Ireland. Each organisation reaffirmed Sinn Féin’s view that the cuts to the household benefits package and fuel allowance will hit pensioners and people with disabilities very hard.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said today:

“These cuts were quietly announced by Joan Burton, Labour Party Minister for Social Protection and there is very little awareness of them amongst those affected. As a result there is a danger that many people will commence the winter months unprepared for the higher energy bills they will face.

“Sinn Féin will be distributing leaflets across the country informing people of the detail of the cuts and urging them to contact their local government TDs to object.

“The government has options. It does not have to make these cuts.

“The state is the biggest bulk purchaser of fuel in the country. The Government should have used its bulk purchasing power to negotiate savings from the energy provider. It is absolutely scandalous that they have instead chosen to cut the fuel available to people who really need it.

“The government has chosen the lazy and cowardly option. They are hitting people where it will hurt most. Not only will those affected by these cuts have to find significantly more cash to meet their fuel needs they will also have to find €100 for the government’s new household utility charge.

“The last two winters were particularly harsh and the coming winter may be just as bad or worse. There are already between 1,500 and 2,000 avoidable deaths here every year as a result of the cold.

“These cuts really can be the difference between life and death. I am calling on the government to make the right choice, keep their election promise, and reverse their decision.” ENDS

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At a commemoration of Kieran Doherty TD for Cavan Monaghan, who died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, 30 years ago tomorrow (Tuesday), current Sinn Féin TD for the same constituency, Caoimhghín ÓCaoláin told the crowd:

“We are proud that we, our friends and comrades and the people of these two proud counties stood with the oppressed in 1981 while the overwhelming number of those in the corridors of power in Leinster House cowered before the intransigence of Margaret Thatcher,” he said, referring to the election of Kieran Doherty to the Dáil in the general election of June 1981.

In an empassioned address, he continued: “In February last we elected 14 Sinn Féin TDs and three Sinn Féin Senators soon followed. We achieved a record vote in this constituency, 18,500 first preference votes, and we went on to elect Cavan’s own Kathryn Reilly to the Seanad. I commend all Cavan and Monaghan republicans for your tremendous efforts in the General Election and I welcome Kathryn once again to our elected ranks, a young, articulate and able republican woman, she is at the heart of a new emerging youthful leadership.

There is only one real Opposition party in this State – and that is Sinn Féin. There is only one All-Ireland party on this island – and that is Sinn Féin.

We have stood firmly for the Irish people, for Irish sovereignty and against the conspiracy of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Fine Gael and the Labour Party who have sold this State and its economy to the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union.

That act of these parties, in selling out Irish independence, ranks with those who took bribes to abolish the Irish Parliament in 1800 and with those who accepted the Treaty of 1921. All were major betrayals of the Irish people.”

The event in Monaghan, which included poetry and music, was chaired by Senator Kathryn Reilly.
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Full text of speech below:


Kieran Doherty Commemoration
Monaghan Town 1st August 2011

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

“Thirty years have passed since the death of Kieran Doherty, Teachta Dála for Cavan-Monaghan, republican prisoner of war in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh and Irish Republican Army volunteer.

For those of us who campaigned for Kieran and his fellow prisoners the passing of three decades has not dimmed our memories of that tragic year of 1981 when ten of our comrades died on Hunger Strike to defeat the criminalisation policy of the British government led by Margaret Thatcher.

The sacrifice of Bobby, Frank, Ray, Patsy, Joe, Martin, Kevin, Kieran, Tom and Mickey inspired our generation and subsequent generations. It taught us the value of comradeship, it broadened our politics, it helped us to think strategically, it made us focus more clearly on our ultimate goal and on how to achieve it.

Out of the crucible of the terrible H-Block/Armagh struggle a renewed Republican Movement emerged. Nowhere was that more evident than here in Counties Cavan & Monaghan where the circle of friends and comrades who campaigned for Kieran’s election in June 1981 went on to build Irish Republicanism in these Counties.

On 20th August 1981, the last of the ten Hunger Strikers, Michael Devine, died in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh. It was his 60th day on hunger strike and it was also the day the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone went to the polls for the second time that year and elected Owen Carron as their anti-H-Block/Armagh MP. Owen's election followed a not untypical exercise in British democracy. The Government of Margaret Thatcher refused to recognise the will of the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone when they elected Bobby Sands as their MP. He was allowed to die and the electoral law was changed so that prisoners could not stand for election.

Denying the will of the people, the travesty of democracy and the indifference to the plight of the hunger strikers and their families, was not confined to Westminster and Downing Street. In June 1981 the people of County Louth elected as their TD, H-Block prisoner Paddy Agnew and the people of this constituency of County Cavan and County Monaghan, elected as our Teachta Dála the young man we honour here today. They chose Kieran Doherty of Andersonstown, then not yet 25, but who had already spent five years of his young life in the hell-hole of Long Kesh.

We are proud that we, our friends and comrades and the people of these two proud counties stood with the oppressed in 1981 while the overwhelming number of those in the corridors of power in Leinster House cowered before the intransigence of Margaret Thatcher.

We remember with pride our fallen comrades, the ten in the H-Blocks and all who have since died in the struggle for Irish freedom. We remember too those friends and comrades who have passed away after devoting so much of their lives to the cause of Irish freedom and unity. To all their families we extend our continuing sympathy and solidarity.

We are here not only to remember the struggle of the past. We are here because the struggle continues. Our most important task is to renew our commitment to achieve the free and peaceful and just Ireland for which Kieran and his comrades sacrificed so much.

Today Sinn Féin is the vehicle for carrying forward the real struggle for Irish freedom. The peace process began a new phase of struggle and through it Irish republicans have constructed a peaceful path to Irish unity and independence. That peaceful path was constructed against all the odds because it was, and let there be no mistake about it, it was the British government that created the conditions for conflict in Ireland.

The republican leadership of today has achieved remarkable progress. It has brought Irish republicanism into a conflict resolution phase. It has ended the reliance on physical force. It has challenged the Irish and British governments to engage in a real peace process.

We have dismantled the Orange state, ended one-party Unionist rule, ended direct military rule from London, made huge progress on demilitarisation and made a new beginning to policing. There is still much, much work to be done.

There are still elements in the system who are prepared to block progress. The recent conduct of the PSNI - which has been criticised openly by Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness – is a case in point. So also is the treatment of a seriously ill political prisoner in Maghaberry, Brendan Lillis. We call here today for his immediate release.

The people of Counties Cavan and Monaghan took the lead in 1981 when they elected Kieran Doherty as their TD. They did so again when they elected the first participating Sinn Féin TD to Leinster House in 1997. On that foundation we built a strong and effective Sinn Féin team in Leinster House.

In February last we elected 14 Sinn Féin TDs and three Sinn Féin Senators soon followed. We achieved a record vote in this constituency, 18,500 first preference votes, and we went on to elect Cavan’s own Kathryn Reilly to the Seanad. I commend all Cavan and Monaghan republicans for your tremendous efforts in the General Election and I welcome Kathryn once again to our elected ranks, a young, articulate and able republican woman, she is at the heart of a new emerging youthful leadership.

There is only one real Opposition party in this State – and that is Sinn Féin. There is only one All-Ireland party on this island – and that is Sinn Féin.

We have stood firmly for the Irish people, for Irish sovereignty and against the conspiracy of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Fine Gael and the Labour Party who have sold this State and its economy to the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Union.

That act of these parties, in selling out Irish independence, ranks with those who took bribes to abolish the Irish Parliament in 1800 and with those who accepted the Treaty of 1921. All were major betrayals of the Irish people.

When Fine Gael and Labour took office after the General Election they could and should have told the IMF and the ECB that the previous Government had no mandate for the ECB/IMF deal, that the Irish people cannot accept the burden of massive debt imposed on them and that the bondholders who gambled and lost must be made to take their medicine. The new Government, standing on its mandate, should have stood up for Ireland and would have had the backing of the Irish people for such a stand. I for one would have commended them for it.

Instead, what did they do? They have followed exactly the same path as Fianna Fáil and the Greens. Billions are poured out to banks and bondholders. We are told these bondholders cannot wait. But the patients on trolleys and chairs in our hospitals have to wait. The children with special needs have to wait. The young people with no prospect of work have to wait and, in many cases, and all too sadly, like generations before them have to look abroad for a chance in life.

And then, to add insult to injury, a Labour Party Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, tells us that jobless young people who claim social welfare are making a ‘lifestyle choice’! How dare that party claim the legacy of James Connolly. How dare they.

We in Sinn Féin have set out clear alternatives to the disastrous economic path now being followed by the Fine Gael/Labour Government. Austerity is not working. The senior bondholders must bear their burden. Those who can pay more in this society must be made to do so.

We deplore the targeting of older people, hospital patients, children with special needs, the low paid, the unemployed, people on social welfare and carers in the cuts regime now being imposed. We will stand with them and we will resist.

My dear friends, mo chairde dhíl. Much progress has been made over these past twelve months. Republican Ireland is stronger and more confident than ever. Let us year on year incrementally build on these successes recognising that through solid united action we can, and I declare, we will build the political strength and the momentum to bring us to our republican objectives of Irish unity, sovereignty and a true lasting peace and prosperity for all our people. Tiocfaidh ár lá.”

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA has welcomed the ‘very good’ grade awarded to the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in a recent Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) report.

The recently published report follows an inspection of food and agriculture industry training courses at CAFRE campuses earlier this year which found the quality of education and training provided by the College to be ‘very good’.

Commenting about the report the Minister said: "This report offers another vote of confidence both in the high standard of education provided across all three CAFRE campuses, and the local agri-food sector as a whole. Access to good quality education and training, to meet the needs of business and employers is vital to the success of our agri-food and rural economy.

"Our agri-food industry is very well respected around the world and this report will help build its reputation further as our agri-food sector continues to be the success story as we emerge from the economic downturn."

In conclusion, the Minister said: "The Education and Training Inspectorate’s recent report on my Department’s Industry Training provision at CAFRE reflects the quality of education which we provide across the College. I wish to thank the Inspectorate for all their work and commend CAFRE staff and students for the high standards achieved across the three campuses."

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 Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson commenting on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects released under a Freedom of Information (FOI) inquiry has reiterated her criticism of Invest NI’s failure to address the issue of Regional disparity. 

Martina Anderson said:

“These statistics confirm the criticisms that I have been making of Invest NI's failure to deliver short, medium and long-term strategies to tackle the issue of regional disparities – particularly in areas like Derry. But I am hopeful that Invest NI CEO Alastair Hamilton is now in listening mode and I have been working closely with him on a number of projects recently which if they come to fruition will hopefully act as the impetus for further FDI.

“I believe that Regional disparities is one area that Invest NI has failed dramatically in since it's inception with the impression given that so long as it can get regular headlines with jobs announcements in Belfast that that is all that is required of it.

“I have at times felt a lonely voice in my criticisms of Invest NI when exposing how it routinely failed to bring investment to the North West Region while squandering millions of pounds on a new headquarters in Belfast which it didn’t need, rented empty buildings in Derry and favored attracting investment into more affluent regions such as South Belfast.

“These latest statistics provide further evidence for the need of a complete restructuring and refocusing of Invest NI strategy if we are to change the approach it presently adopts to developing the economy. The fact that the average support per job in Derry of £7675, is less than half the support per job in Belfast speaks volumes for the type of job which Invest NI is directing towards the North West.

“Too many of the jobs have been low-wage and insecure. This has done nothing to raise living standards or tackle the poverty and inequality at the heart of our economy. The past practice of Invest NI where it has a fixation that call-centre type jobs is good enough for the North West has to be challenged and refocused on attracting high value jobs in areas such as Research and Development. Attempting to maintain a low wage economy in the North West has proved disastrous for the local economy as it is prone to attracting transient investors who are continually on the lookout for an even lower wage economy to transfer its operations to when the grants here run out. 

 “It is also imperative that Invest NI move beyond the world of favored ‘clients’ where the same10% of applicants continue to receive over 75% of support to all businesses. If such a favored approach is to be adopted I believe it should be towards indigenous industry and R&D.”

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