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Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA today announced that the first round of the Farm Modernisation Programme (FMP) will go ahead as planned.

Following weeks of intense discussions with the European Commission, the Minister confirmed that the first round of funding on the programme can now proceed.

She said: “This is a crucial investment in our farming industry in the current economic climate. Demand far outstripped supply as widely witnessed when the scheme opened for applications in February, with over 9,000 applications received. It is a credit to our industry that during these difficult times it is still prepared to invest money to modernise and look to the future.”

Focusing on the detail of recent discussions with the European Commission, the Minister said: “We have been working hard over the past weeks to explain our approach to the European Commission, to ensure that they fully understand the selection process for the programme and the importance of our proceeding with the first round of funding.

“The European Commission has confirmed that it is not their role to approve the selection process for the programme and that it is therefore up to us to take a decision on how we proceed. The Commission has also said it will continue to make payments to our Programme.”

Addressing the issue of selection and future tranches of the FMP, the Minister said: “Before we launched this scheme we consulted farmers on their preferred approach to its delivery. In response we adopted a unique and practical application method. This allowed the selection of the modernisation projects to be built into the process to keep bureaucracy to a minimum.

“It has always been our intention to have this round of funding reviewed and we will of course be taking account of the many views expressed about the scheme since its launch, including the Commission's. The scheme received much praise for its simple application process and I remain committed to keeping future rounds of this programme as free of red tape as I possibly can."

The Minister also confirmed that the Department will now move to finalise assessment of the applications and to issue letters of offers to successful applicants in the coming weeks.

The Minister concluded by thanking all those involved for their support and patience, saying: “It is now time to move on and to make this important investment in our industry. I am grateful to those who have kept faith in the programme and in our ability to deliver the first tranche. Recent events in relation to the FMP launch have again shown that when we share a common purpose and work together we can achieve much more.”

The Farm Modernisation Programme forms part of the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013, part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

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South Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey has written to Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie to call on her Department to take the lead in providing high profile Executive intervention to ensure a long-term solution to the problems associated with the Holyland area.

Alex Maskey MLA said, “Last October I wrote to the Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie in relation to the Holyland area of South Belfast. In that letter I urged the Minister and her Department to consider an initiative aimed at resolving some of the ongoing problems in that area.

“Over the Saint Patrick’s Day period the Holyland area again attracted a negative media spotlight as a result of unacceptable behaviour. The usual condemnations, hand wringing and finger pointing took place in the immediate aftermath as predictably as ever. That no-one expressed surprise is probably the most telling aspect of the aftermath.

“Political representatives, community leaders, residents groups, and statutory agencies have all expressed their frustration and anger at the predictability of this persistent situation. I believe that this has become both an unacceptable and untenable situation.

“Having spoken to a wide range of representatives I am firmly of the opinion that a long-term resolution of this issue can only be brought about through a high profile Executive intervention. The Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie, has as her mission statement; ‘Building communities’ and further, ‘To improve the physical, economic, community and social environment of neighbourhoods, towns and cities in Northern Ireland with particular emphasis on tackling disadvantage’. With this is mind I believe that the Social Development Department is best placed to provide this intervention.

“While I do believe that the Social Development Department can have the lead responsibility in this matter there clearly is a collective responsibility on all other stakeholders, including other Assembly Departments, to tackle this issue. It is my intention to raise this matter with all of them again myself.

He concluded, “During earlier discussions that I have held with the Minister I raised a number of proposals which I believe could go some way towards tackling the problems which exist in the Holyland area. It is my hope that the Minister will again consider these proposals”. CRÍOCH

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At the invitation of Newry and Armagh Sinn Féin MLA, Cathal Boylan, leading scientists gave evidence to the DoE Committee as to their opinion that the Tyrone – Cavan Electricity Interconnector could and should be put underground. 

Professor Noack, author of the ‘Askon Report’, was joined by colleague Dr. Plegur, and they give a convincing and robust argument as to why the controversial North – South connection, opposed by the vast majority of residents along the proposed route from Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone, could be put underground. 

The clear message coming through from the experts was that putting the connection underground was not only feasible, but more reliable and economically viable. 

Cathal Boylan, who chaired the meeting, said afterwards; 

‘The evidence given today certainly impressed the Committee members. It was a very detailed study and report. The case was strongly made that putting these cables underground are a sensible solution for transmitting electricity.’ 

‘Having heard Professor Noack today, an eminent expert in his field, he made a convincing argument that undergrounding makes sense.’

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (South Antrim) commenting on the loss of almost 1000 jobs at Bombardier said:   "This announcement is a devastating blow to the workers and their families and I extend Sinn Féin's solidarity to them. It is also a further blow to the economy coming in the aftermath of other similar announcements.   "While I recognise the need to attract inward investment we need to learn a lesson from these recent job losses at F.G. Wilson Engineering, Visteon car parts manufacturing and now at Bombardier. In economic situations such as we presently find ourselves in a global economic downturn multi-national companies will always look to their foreign operations first when taking cost saving measures. Our economy has been too dependent on direct foreign investment to the detriment of indigenous industry and enterprise.   "InvestNI while obviously seeking direct foreign investment should have had a special focus on assisting indigenous manufacturing to expand and seek foreign markets to build up our exports. We must not allow present conditions to inhibit our enthusiasm and determination to create opportunity out of adversity. We must concentrate on identifying sectors of potential expansion and invest in them now in order to secure the future.   “There is little or no obvious sources of immediate large scale foreign investment therefore InvestNI and other investment and job creation agencies should pool their resources in a collaborative effort to assist viable small and medium businesses struggling to retain employees and create an advisory body to go into companies where jobs are in jeopardy to trouble shoot and offer advice.   “These agencies should join with their southern counterparts to develop an export sales strategy. This strategy should be aimed at assisting indigenous companies to access export markets as well as advising local employers on setting up manufacturing businesses with the potential to compete with our largest imports. Currently over 75% of our exports are from foreign owned multinationals. Foreign owned firms also import the majority of the materials they use, thus  bypassing Irish suppliers.   “A focus should also be directed at research and development of sustainable energy sources through the all-Ireland Energy Strategy with the core aim of developing Ireland as a world leader in green and alternative energy technologies   .“Finally, third level and Further and Higher Education sectors need to have a joined up approach to ensure that we are training people for the areas that will provide the jobs of the future. ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for East Tomás Sharkey, has voiced his concerns over the announcement by Minister Dermot Ahern regarding the end of funding for the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing campaign. Mr Sharkey has called upon the Government to do all they can to secure this vital campaign.   Concerns come after it was announced that there will be no more funding for the successful phone-line, after their €300,000 allocated funding runs out this year. Mr Sharkey said “In 2007 alone, over €10 million had been seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau for the exchequer and only a small proportion of this is needed to help facilitate the Dial to Stop Drug Dealing phone-line”.   Mr. Sharkey went on to say “The non Garda phone line plays a vital role in preventing drug crime by providing tip offs to the Criminal Assets Bureau and in turn has resulted in many seizures. If both programmes were to work together, it would lead to significant benefits for the exchequer but more importantly the community”.   “The Government should do everything in its power to secure the future of Dial to Stop Drug Dealing as this programme has proven itself as a huge success at a very low cost.” END

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Sinn Féin President and west Belfast MP Gerry Adams has revealed on his internet blog that he will be travelling to the Middle East next week.   Writing yesterday Mr Adams said,   I have long been concerned about the plight of people throughout the globe. The conflict in the Middle East has been a long and enduring one. In my time I have raised the situation in that region, and particularly the need for a negotiated peace settlement, with US President Clinton and President Bush as well British PM Tony Blair.

In September 2006 I spent a brief 40 hours in Israel and the Palestinian territory on the west Bank. It was a very informative, exhausting and emotional journey.   My purpose in travelling to the region again is to meet as wide a range of Israeli and Palestinian opinion as practicable.

So next week I will again visit Israel and Ramallah. But this time I will also travel into Gaza and Sderot and Ramallah where I will meet with senior members of the Palestinian Authority.” CRÍOCH   Notes to Editors/Newsdesk:   Gerry Adams’ blog can be read by visiting www.leargas.blogspot.com   ‘Léargas’ is the Gaelic/Irish word for ‘Insight’

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Speaking as he helped to launch Sinn Féin’s programme of events to mark the 93rd anniversary of the Easter Rising Dublin Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the politics of ‘mé féin’ have failed and it is time for the politics of Sinn Féin.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh called on all Irish men, women and children to wear an Easter Lily to honour all those who died for Irish freedom in 1916 and since.

He said, "This Easter Sinn Féin will once again pay tribute to the unselfish men and women, boys and girls, who struck a blow for Irish freedom at Easter 1916 on the streets of our capital city. Their example is an inspiration because they were prepared to give their all to achieve Irish independence and I would urge all Irish men, women and children to wear an Easter Lily to honour all those who died for Irish freedom in 1916 and since.

"As the country faces the worst economic recession in decades people are looking for inspiration and hope to find a better way forward for Ireland. For the past decade and a half the politics of ‘mé féin’ as championed by successive Fianna Fáil led Governments has rewarded the greed of the wealthy few and neglected the needs of many in our society. As a result our economy has been brought to its knees.

"Ninety-three years on Sinn Féin is continuing to work for a new Ireland based on the principles of equality outlined in the proclamation of 1916. The politics of ‘mé féin’ have failed. It’s time for the politics of Sinn Féin." ENDS

Note to editor: Dublin events to mark the 93rd anniversary of the 1916 Rising are

detailed below.

Monday April 6th

7:30pm, 44 Parnell Square

Wednesday April 8th

2pm Kildare Street entrance to Leinster House

Thursday April 9th

7:30pm Wynns Hotel, Abbey Street

Friday April 10th

1pm Arbour Hill

Speaker: Sinn Féin Councillor Séamus McGrattan

City Centre Rebel Walking Tour

2:30pm Sinn Féin Shop, 58 Parnell Square

Saturday 11th April

Dublin South Central Commemorations

Parade to Markievicz Park

Speaker: Sinn Féin Councillor Louise Minihan

2pm Errigal Field

Parade to Eamonn Ceannt Park

Speaker: Sinn Féin Councillor Ray McHugh

Easter Sunday 12th April

Wreath laying Ceremony

Speaker: Sinéad Cooke, Sinn Féin local election candidate for tallaght South

Main Dublin Easter Commemoration

Parade to GPO, O’Connell Street

Main speaker: Mary Lou McDonald Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin

Followed by Easter function, Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square

Easter Monday 13th April

Speakers: Mary Lou McDonald MEP, Councillor Daithí Doolan and Oisín Dolan

2pm Bakers Corner, Dún Laoghaire

Parade to Deans Grange Cemetery

Main Speaker: Mary Lou McDonald MEP

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams this morning spoke by phone to John Fleming the CEO of Ford Europe.

Later the West Belfast MP will hold two emergency meetings with Ministers. Mr. Adams will be accompanied by party colleagues Jennifer McCann MLA, Paul Maskey MLA and Paul Butler MLA. Two representatives of the Visteon workforce will also be present.

The first at 12.30pm will be with Arlene Foster, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

The second at 1.00pm will be with Reg Empey, Minister for Employment and Learning.

The delegation will hold a press conference at 12.15pm in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings.

Following the meetings Mr. Adams will go to Visteon to report back to the workforce on the outcome of the meetings.

Mr. Adams will speak to the media at the plant.

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Commenting on the establishment by Health Minister Mary Harney of the Expert Group on Resource Allocation and Financing the Health Sector, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that its terms of reference are too narrow and that it should examine the two-tier nature of the health system. He said:

"This Expert Group is being set up by the Minister at a time of major health cutbacks. The question must be asked if it is being set up merely to act as another buffer between the Minister and her public accountability for the allocation of resources for the delivery of health services. We may very well find that objections to the fundamentally flawed health policy of this Government will be responded to with the reply that the 'Expert Group is looking at it'. Meanwhile cuts will devastate our public health services and put at risk, or worse, our citizens who depend on them.

"Any examination of the allocation of resources must look at the unjust two-tier public-private structure of our health services . This should be included in the Terms of Reference of the new and ‘Expert Group’ and should come before the Oireachtas for approval." ENDS

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Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has announced plans to bring forward new animal welfare legislation.

The Minister said: “I have made it clear that a new Animal Welfare Bill is one of my key ministerial priorities. My review of animal welfare legislation is nearing completion and I can now announce that I expect to be in a position shortly after the summer recess to seek Executive approval to bring forward a Bill”.

Discussing the work of the review into existing legislation, the Minister said: “As part of my review of current legislation, I met a range of key stakeholders in order to hear their concerns at first hand. I found these meetings to be very informative. I will seek to reflect the concerns of stakeholders in my proposals for new legislation.

“As I believe that it is vitally important that animal welfare legislation across the island of Ireland is broadly compatible, the new legislation that I bring forward will also reflect on developments in the South, where new animal welfare legislation is also under consideration. I will also seek to ensure that we learn lessons from Britain where welfare legislation has already been introduced.”

The Minister added: “In bringing forward new legislation, I want to ensure that the maximum penalties are available to the Courts for animal cruelty offences, so that these penalties can act as a sufficient deterrent, and provide adequate protection for animals. This is one of the key areas that I will seek to address in the new legislation.”

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Speaking in the Seanad today Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty said at a time when 180,000 jobs have been lost in the past year and possibly a further 100,000 could be lost this year the only jobs that Fine Gael propose creating this year is a board of management of yet another quango.

He said Fine Gael are no different to Fianna Fáil and are wedded to misguided policy of privatisation.

Senator Doherty said, "The Fine Gael party have shown, with these proposals that they are no different from 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.

"Any claim that they will not repeat the mistake made with 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 must 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.

"At a time when 180,000 jobs have been lost in the past year and possibly a further 100,000 could be lost this year the only jobs that Fine Gael propose creating this year is a board of management of yet another quango.

"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.

"Sinn Féin has proposed a €2.3billion stimulus package to create and retain jobs including the building of major pieces of critical public infrastructure such as schools and houses. We cannot simply cut and tax our way out of this economic crisis. The Government’s focus must be the creation and retention of jobs." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has described Fine Gael’s pre-budget proposals as scant on detail and an attack on public services. He said Fine Gael have shown that they are no different in their approach to Fianna Fáil.

Speaking this evening Deputy Morgan said, "Fine Gael’s pre-budget proposals, published today, are very scant on detail, an attack on public services and lack a plan for job retention and creation. They have shown that they are no different in their ‘tax and cut’ approach than Fianna Fáil.

"Fine Gael have chosen to attack the public services at a time when ever greater numbers of people are dependent on them due to record levels of unemployment.

"There is no plan in relation to job retention or creation other than to create a new board of management for yet another state quango. In fact, on the very day when our unemployment figure hit record levels, Fine Gael have actually proposed to lay off yet another 15,000 workers. They have proposed an increase in indirect taxes such as petrol and diesel and a cut of €50million in social welfare payments this year.

"I am genuinely finding it difficult not to come to the conclusion that Fine Gael’s pre-budget proposals are not actually of an elaborate April fool’s joke." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh today attacked the short sighted and discredited policies of neo-liberalisation and privatisation as well as their supporters within the E.U.

Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said; "Last month’s meeting of the EU Council focused on finding solutions to the current economic crisis and once again came up very short. Not only were the solutions inadequate they also failed to even recognize that it is policies such as deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation which have been pursued fanatically at Member State and EU level which are at the heart of the current global recession. And if we are going to get to grips with this crisis then these policies need to be reversed."

The Sinn Féin Deputy went on to highlight the democratic deficit facing the E.U., which is alienating citizens "It is absolutely astonishing that Brian Cowen updated his colleagues in Brussels on the Lisbon Treaty and the development of guarantees for Ireland, yet feels no compulsion to extend the same courtesy to the Irish electorate. Sinn Féin has been calling on the government for months now to publish the wording of the guarantees – if in fact any real guarantees have been secured, could be secured or will we end up with legalistic verbage.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh concluded by stating that as a result of new economic and political realities "Ireland must remain at the heart of Europe. But we want a change of policy direction in Ireland and also in Brussels. We need a new Treaty for a new time. We need new political leadership." ENDS

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Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin MP MLA for west Belfast and party colleagues Jennifer McCann MLA and Paul Maskey MLA this morning visited the Visteon Plant in west Belfast, which yesterday announced its closure.   The Sinn Féin group met with the trade union leadership in the plant and with the workforce, who have taken over the factory. The three Sinn Féin politicians were joined by Lisburn DUP MLA Edwin Poots for a meeting with the administrator.   Speaking after the meeting Mr. Adams made clear Sinn Féin’s support for the workforce and his anger at the “shabby treatment of workers by Ford and Visteon.”                                   Mr. Adams said:   “Sinn Féin has been involved with the Trade Union leadership at Visteon and with the workforce over recent years in an ongoing effort to keep the factory open.   Our objective has been to retain jobs at the plant. It is easier to retain jobs than to create new ones.   I have also spoken to senior Visteon and Ford managers about this. And I have been in touch with the New York City Comptroller’s office which has millions of dollars of pension funds invested in Ford.   I believe that Ford has a responsibility to the work force and that it has thus far dealt with a loyal worker force in a most disloyal and shabby manner.   Ford must do the right thing. It must stand by its moral and contractual obligations to the workers. It has a duty to ensure that workers, who have given loyal service, receive their full rights and entitlements.   I am also concerned at the role of Invest NI and whether it alerted the Minister to the seriousness of this situation. I also want to know what it was prepared to do to secure the future viability of this plant and of the 200 jobs here.   My colleagues Paul Maskey, Jennifer McCann and Sue Ramsay have already been in touch with the Department seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister, Arlene Foster.   It is also crucial that every effort is made to ensure that the skills resource is not lost and that these workers are not abandoned to the dole queue. We intend raising this matter with Reg Empey at the Department of Learning." CRÍOCH

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Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, has launched a policy to support newcomer children participate fully in education.

Speaking in Botanic Primary School for the launch of the policy ‘Every School a Good School – Supporting Newcomer Pupils’, the Minister said: “In recent years we have seen a growing number of children from around the world attending schools here. We now have nearly 7,000 children from around the world enrolled in schools here speaking over 40 different languages. Children from countries such as Africa, Asia and the Americas have added to the rich diversity of cultures and languages spoken in our schools.

“The aim of this policy is to support schools and teachers in welcoming newcomer children into their communities, partake fully in school life, make friends and settle in. Last year nearly £6.5million was provided to support newcomer children and their families within the education sector. ‘Every School a Good School – Supporting Newcomer Pupils’ will help schools to target these resources and address the barriers to learning and success these children face.

“Through the Education & Library Boards’ Inclusion and Diversity Service, we presently offer a number of means of support including diversity coordinators, interpreting and translating services, a multi-lingual website and a toolkit for primary schools. This policy draws together the good practice that is already happening in our schools and classrooms and outlines the plans for the future.

“I would like to thank everyone here at Botanic Primary School for making me feel so welcome and I would like to offer a big Cead Milé Failte to all the children here. With children from over 23 countries enrolled in the school, they truly represent the new multi-cultural diversity of both our schools and wider community.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and deputy chair of the Health Committee Michelle O’Neill has welcomed the establishment of a single health board but said that savings that are made from the amalgamation of the four existing health boards must be redirected into improving the health service.

Speaking today Ms O’Neill said:

“The establishment of a new single Health Board, replacing the four health boards that previously existed, is to be welcomed. Across the north of Ireland there are waiting lists that are too long, inefficiencies and duplication of services given that four boards that were doing the same job.

“The amalgamation will unfortunately see job losses, however the savings that are made, approximately £53 million a year, must be redirected into other aspects of improving and enhancing the health service and indeed supporting key frontline staff and services such as the retention of 700 nursing staff that are currently under threat.

“Ultimately this amalgamation, alongside the other new health restructuring moves brought forward, need to be a streamlining of services and provision and not a downgrading exercise.  The weeks and months ahead will be the test for the new Health Board in proving that it can meet peoples expectations in the delivery and overseeing of a first class health service.”

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Sinn Féin Equality and Human Rights Spokesperson Martina Anderson MLA (Foyle) has called on the British Government to honour its commitments to implement a Bill of Rights for the north without delay. 

Speaking after meeting with the Human Rights Commission today (Wednesday), the Foyle MLA said fears were growing that the necessary legislation could be delayed.

Martina Anderson said:

“The Human Rights Commission advice on what the Bill should contain was handed over to the British Secretary of State last December.”  

“It then became the responsibility of the NIO to take the process forward by carrying out the required consultation and tabling the necessary legislation to implement the Bill.

“We share the concerns of the Human Rights Commission that the consultation has been unduly delayed and needs to be published as soon as possible.

“However, there is a relatively short window in which this can happen if the legislation is to be implemented in the next parliamentary year.

“Four months since the advice was handed over, we are still waiting on the consultation to be published and there are growing concerns among human rights organisations – and shared by Sinn Féin - that the NIO is stalling on this issue.

 “That is unacceptable and Sinn Féin will be raising the matter directly with the British government and calling on it to honour its commitments in relation to the Bill of Rights. We will also be calling on the Irish Government to implement its responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement.

"The Bill of Rights is a fundamental and long overdue part of the Agreement and I believe it represents an incredible opportunity to make a real and positive difference to the lives of all our people.

"The onus is now on the British Government to legislate on the Human Rights Commission's advice and not to allow yesterday's men and women to prevent us securing a shared and better future, for all of our people." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty speaking after meeting with British Minister Paul Goggins has welcomed the engagement on the need to defend the right of all citizens to vote.

Mr Doherty was speaking after a party delegation meet with Paul Goggins to discuss a number of concerns about the approach of the Chief Electoral Officer Douglas Bain to ensuring that everyone entitled to vote can get on the electoral register without having to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops.

Mr Doherty said:

“We all have a role to play in defending the democratic right of all citizens to vote. I welcome agreement from Paul Goggins to look a number of areas that are of concern because of the way that they make it more difficult for people who are entitled to vote to get on the electoral register.

“I also raised serious concerns at the way in which the Electoral Office is interpreting the identification requirements and particularly the implications of the Electoral Office questioning of the legitimacy of people living in larger households because it does not comply with its’ criteria for what constitutes an average family.

“We also made it clear to Paul Goggins that the denial of the right of Irish citizens living abroad to register as overseas voters on the same basis as British citizens is a clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement which recognises the rights of both British and Irish passports holders.

“The objective must be to ensure that everyone entitled to vote can register without having to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops. In terms of the Electoral Office this mean ensuring that the register is both accurate and comprehensive. Yet when we have a situation where the accuracy is very good yet the almost 200,000 people are not on the register who should be then there is clearly a problem.

“We are concerned at the number of people who are being removed from or are finding it difficult to get on the Electoral Register because of the multiple pieces of identification being demanded by the Electoral Office. Instead of making it as difficult as possible for people to exercise their democratic right to vote the Electoral Office should be seeking ways in which to simplify the process.”

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson and Cavan-Monaghan Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described the Open Letter from two general practitioners who have resigned as GP Unit doctors as "a further blow to the credibility of the HSE in the North East region".

In their Open Letter (see copy below) Dr. Seamus Clarke of Clones, Co. Monaghan and Dr. Paddy Halligan of Bailieborough, Co. Cavan, state that they have resigned as GP Unit doctors, citing the attitude of the HSE as the reason for their departure.

Deputy Ó Caoláin:

"The Open Letter to HSE Chief Executive Brendan Drumm from two prominent GPs in Counties Cavan and Monaghan is a further blow to the credibility of the HSE in the North East region.

"The doctors describe the dismissive attitude of HSE management to the concerns of GPs in the region and the exclusion of GPs from consideration of how health services should be delivered.

"Crucially, the GPs highlight the ‘spinning’ by the HSE of information regarding service delivery in the region. This is especially the case regarding the reconfiguration of hospital services, including the removal of acute medical services from Monaghan General Hospital to Cavan General Hospital without the provision of a single additional in-patient bed at Cavan.

"These two doctors were among the 41 GPs from Cos. Cavan and Monaghan who last February, for reasons of patient safety, called on the HSE not to go ahead with the planned closure of 56 acute medical beds in Monaghan General Hospital.

"HSE management in the North East region have become unaccountable enforcers for fundamentally flawed Government policy. That policy and the HSE in its present form are barriers to better public health and should be set aside." ENDS

1/4/09

Open Letter   Prof. Brendan Drumm,CEO HSE, Dr. Steven’s Hospital Dublin 8 31st March 2009. Dear Prof. Drumm We write to you having recently resigned as GP Unit Doctors from the GP Unit, HSE Dublin NE. We have been with the Unit for almost 10 years. Our decision to resign resulted from several factors which has been prevalent in recent times within the organisation which you run namely: 1. The recent complete waste of our time attending service planning meetings at which a token GP representative was required but at which the needs and views of General Practice were completely ignored by the HSE. We refuse to be a token GP presence on committees whose outcome has been predetermined from the outset. 2. The hierarchical nature of the organisation in which any view on service issues other than that of the official HSE was ignored and undermined. 3. The dismissiveness by some senior HSE managers of the General Practitioner role, and our professional views on the planning of services. This makes a mockery of GP involvement in the Primary Care Strategy such as it is. 4. The sole use of Hospital Clinicians in determining local services, and how they are to be delivered to our area. This is without reference to the local General Practitioners and our patient’s requirements. It seems only Hospital Clinicians know what services our patients need. 5. The cynical way in which information regarding service delivery changes has been "spun" by the HSE to the media to disguise that lack of consultation with the General Practitioners in our area and any cognisance of our professional views. No form of constructive contribution with your organisation to the improvement of local health is achievable by our continuing to hold these posts. Yours sincerely Dr. Seamus Clarke,                             Dr. Paddy Halligan 4 Annalore Street,                              The Cottage Surgery, Clones,                                                 Bailieborough, Co. Monaghan.                                   Co. Cavan.

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Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed confirmation that a small business rates relief scheme will be in place by next year.

“I recently called for the swift introduction of such a scheme to assist small and medium businesses, particularly in the current economic climate,” Ms. Anderson commented.

“I also wrote to the Finance Minister Nigel Dodds and I am pleased to say that he has now confirmed that he intends to have the scheme in place by next April.

“It is expected that the scheme will significantly reduce the rates burden for about 16,000 smaller businesses across the North providing a much-needed boost for the economy.

“When you consider that small indigenous companies make up 98% of business here, it becomes clear that a rates relief scheme is long overdue.

“Such programmes are already in place in England, Scotland and Wales while the South offers very low rates of corporation tax.

  “All of this is putting our small business sector at an unnecessary competitive disadvantage and I congratulate the Minister for taking action on plans to bring forward a rates relief scheme.”

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