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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD today welcomed the publication of the National Women’s Council of Ireland policy document ‘A Parliament of all Talents: Building a Women Friendly Oireachtas’.

The Dublin Central TD said:

“There is absolutely no doubt that women have been failed by the political system. It’s time now for women to claim our space and our voice in the Dáil and Seanad.

“Politics is not a family or woman friendly environment and this reality serves no-one. Quotas are an important step in the right direction for increasing women participation in parliament, but there is so much more to be done if we are to achieve equal representation.

“I want to commend the work of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and encourage all to support their recommendations for building a women-friendly Oireachtas.”

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Louth TD and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams today joined the Louth Irish Farmers Association as they gathered at the Department of Agriculture to highlight their anger about cuts to beef prices paid to them in recent months.

They were among several thousand farmers who participated in the protest.

Teachta Adams said:

“Government policy is imposing significant hardship on farming families and communities.

“Its Food Harvest 2020 plan is failing to get to grips with the financial loss to farmers who, this year, risk losing up to €175m if beef prices are not restored. Currently beef and cow prices are down between €180 and €200 a head. This is not sustainable.

There is a responsibility on the government to protect beef farmers. Specifically, the government needs to reject the factory cuts and specification changes. It should also move speedily to tackle the live export and labelling issues.”

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Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD raised the issue of a call by families of victims of the Stardust tragedy for a new Commission of Investigation into the fire which killed 48 young people in Artane, Dublin in 1981.

Mr Adams asked the Taoiseach or Minister for Justice to address discrepancies between the report by Senior Counsel Paul Coffey, tasked with reviewing the Stardust affair, which was submitted to the Government, and the version of the Coffey report that was eventually published.

In his response to Gerry Adams, the Taoiseach said he would not commit to a new Commission of Investigation but if the solicitor for the families forwarded to him any new evidence, he would look at it.

Gerry Adams said:

“The original inquiry into the Stardust fire claimed that it was caused by ‘probable arson’. That finding has long been disputed by the families of the victims, by the people of this city and by others who have looked closely at the evidence.

“The families of a number of those who died in the Stardust have tasked various experts to review transcripts of the original inquiry into the case and they have come to a different conclusion.

“Taoiseach, the families of victims of the Stardust fire are seeking a new Commission of Investigation into this dreadful tragedy. The main basis for this is the report by Senior Counsel Paul Coffey, who was tasked by the previous government with reviewing the Stardust affair, and the Foy report commissioned by the families.

“Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has so far rejected calls for an inquiry into the Stardust tragedy.

“Taoiseach, will you meet the families of the Stardust victims to discuss their demands? Will you support the families in their search for justice over responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones? And will you establish a new Commission of Investigation, headed by an International Judge and other international experts/academics on fire safety/fire forensics, to look into this tragedy?”

The Sinn Féin Leader said that it was important to note that the Coffey Report on the Stardust tragedy, submitted to the government on 10th December, 2008 was not presented as a first draft or an interim report:

“This was clearly Coffey’s report with findings, conclusions and recommendations.

“However, according to the families of the victims, dozens of changes, some very substantial, were made to the report, after it was submitted to the Department of Justice.

“Coffey's terms of reference were limited but one area that he was asked to consider was whether or not a new inquiry was needed.

“In his report, sent to government on 10th December, 2008, on page 70, Section 5.13, Coffey states:

‘I further accept that a new inquiry is necessary if it is the only way of placing on the public record a finding that is based in evidence.’

“However, this recommendation is not in the published report of January, 2009.

“Taoiseach, if you cannot tell the Dáil today why this is the case, would you undertake to do so as soon as possible?”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture and fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, called again on Minister Simon Coveney to come to the aid of fishermen unable to put to sea due to bad weather.

Deputy Ferris said:

“Minister Coveney has to act to help those who cannot earn a living in bad weather conditions. There are skippers who have been unable to put to sea since before Christmas and they, their crews and their families are in dire straits.

“I am appealing again to Minister Coveney to recognise that this is an emergency situation and needs emergency measures to meet it. There are people who have no source of income and who are experiencing great difficulty.

“I see that the Sinn Féin minister in the North, Michelle O’Neill, managed to release funding to help fishermen in this situation. Minister Coveney must do the same.”

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has said the latest quarterly figures from the Central Bank on mortgage arrears are proof of three years of complete failure by Fine Gael/Labour in tacking the mortgage crisis.

Deputy Doherty said:

“Today’s figures show that after three years the numbers in mortgage arrears stands at over 136,000- 17.9% of all mortgages. There are today twice as many mortgages in arrears of over 90 days that when the government came to power.

“This week the Dáil will discuss the Programme for Government which included a commitment to a ‘more radical approach to protect families in fear of losing their home.’

“The fact is that twice as many are now facing the possibility of losing their homes and this government has actually removed the legal protection that did exist to protect the Family Home.

“The Central Bank figures show the crisis may have levelled off and that is to be welcomed but in no way can the slight decrease be attributed to government policy.

“This is a government that promised much in tackling the mortgage crisis but has actually made the situation twice as bad. In March 2011 the numbers in arrears of over 90 days was 6.3%, today’s figures show it now stands at 12.6%.

“Sinn Féin would implement a genuinely radical approach of standing up to the banks and empowering the courts to side with the homeowner when every effort is being made to repay.

“We have outlined a fair approach that would involve an independent body imposing reasonable arrangements on banks and homeowners where necessary.

“We would also make it clear publicly to the banks that they cannot repossess or threaten their way out of this crisis. “

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Brian Stanley TD, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Environment has welcomed last night’s decision by Dublin City Council to abandon plans to build a waste incinerator at Poolbeg. He also called on the City Manager Eoin Keegan to withdraw what Deputy Stanley claims is a spurious threat that scrapping the plan will cost €150 million.


Deputy Stanley said:

“I am sure that residents of Dublin will welcome this decision. The failed project has already cost €100 million since it was first proposed in 1997. Now the City Manager is claiming that it will cost a further €150 million on the basis of some spurious ‘letter of comfort’ that no-one has seen. He must withdraw that threat.

“Sinn Féin has argued from the outset that not only is an incinerator a threat to people’s health, but that it is unnecessary on the basis that it should be possible to move towards a ‘zero waste’ position.”

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In February Martina Anderson MEP hosted a sporting delegation from across the province of Ulster comprising the three major sporting codes; GAA, Rugby and Soccer.

Following the trip, Anderson said. "With the beginning of the current 7 year funding cycle in January 2014 this was a very opportune moment for the three codes to visit Brussels to discuss the funding opportunities that exist at the EU level. Significantly the new Erasmus + Programme 2014-2020 with a distinct funding stream for Sport represents the first time in the EU's history that there is a designated budget line for sports projects."

She continued, "Representatives from all three codes engaged enthusiastically with Commission officials from the Department of Education and Culture who manage the Erasmus + Programme. There were other very useful meeting including that with the EU Sports platform where we discussed the importance of networking with other sports organisation across Europe. In addition to Erasmus + we also discussed other funding sources for sports related projects such as research activities in Horizon 2020 and potential funding from PEACE IV."

"This was an extremely beneficial visit. My objective was to introduce organisations such as the GAA, IRFU, IFA and FAI to the opportunities of EU funding and show that we will assist and direct them in any way we can in order to get the support they need in the process of securing funding", she concluded.

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Louth TD Gerry Adams has expressed his ‘shock and sadness’ at news of the death of an employee of Finlay’s Coffin and Casket Services in Ardee.

Teachta Adams expressed his sympathy to the family and friends of the dead man and to the staff of Finlay’s.

Mr. Adams said:

“This is a tragedy for the family and friends of the man who has lost his life. It is also a blow to the owners and other employees of Finlay’s. Every effort should be made to assist Finlay’s to repair the damage and secure its future.”

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Sinn Féin Louth TD and party leader Gerry Adams and EU party candidate Matt Carthy last night addressed a meeting in the Granvue Hotel in Omeath.


The event focused on the crisis in rural areas and the threats posed to rural communities by rural crime, the threat to the post offices, Narrow Water Bridge and future European funding.


Teachta Adams urged those present to support Matt Cathy who is standing for Sinn Fein in the European elections. “Matt is an enthusiastic and energetic public representative. He will make an excellent MEP representing the needs of this area in Europe.”


The Sinn Féin leader warned that “at a time when rural Ireland is under attack and thousands of citizens, mainly young people, have been forced to emigrate, we need an MEP and a strong team of Sinn Féin local councillors who will defend rural Ireland and prioritize its needs.


“The policies of Fine Gael and Labour; including the property tax, septic tank charges, water charges later this year and other stealth taxes are impoverishing families and hurting rural communities.”


Gerry Adams said:


“The recent report from the Irish Postmasters Union warns that the postal network will have declined by 48% by 2017 without a proper government plan.

“This would be devastating for rural communities and must be opposed.


“Sinn Féin is for equality of access to services, and greater investment in infrastructure and facilities outside of urban centres.”


Speaking on rural crime Gerry Adams said:


“One of the biggest issues now facing rural communities is crime and the fear that crime generates, especially among vulnerable citizens. Many elderly people in rural Ireland feel that they have been abandoned.


“The closure of Garda stations has put the safety of communities at risk as criminals and anti-social elements receive a boost of confidence in the absence of nearby Garda stations.


“The Irish Farmers’ Association, the Garda Representatives Association, political representatives from across rural Ireland and the vast majority of Gardaí, have rejected Garda station closures as they know the value of community policing.


“County Louth ranks fourth among the 26 counties for crime levels.


“Recently myself and Councillors Edel Corrigan and Jim Loughran met both An Garda Siochaná on the issues of policing, crime levels and cross-border crime. I have also met senior PSNI officers.


“Gardaí have acknowledged that the limited resources under which they have operated for many years, have now been cut further and that this is having a negative impact on policing.


“In recent responses to my PQs the Minister for Justice revealed that Garda numbers in Louth have fallen from a high in 2010 of 314 Gardaí to a low in 2013 of 286.


“Falling Garda resources will do nothing to reassure the community. What we need to see is a fully-resourced Garda plan for Louth which includes greater Garda visibility and an increase in community-based Gardaí.”


The Louth TD called for greater emphasis on partnership policing between communities and the Garda. He said:

“We need effective partnership between the police and local communities. The Department of Justice and Equality must give proper recognition and resourcing to such groups.


“Sinn Fein will continue to lobby the Minister for Justice on concluding the review of the Joint Policing Committees and will seek to ensure that the recommendations are effective and implemented.


“Sinn Fein will also lobby the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to be more pro-active in conjunction with the IFA in relation to security on the farm. In the north, Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has made this a priority.


“The issue of crime and anti-social behaviour in this region cannot be separated from the general economic well-being and development of the county.”


Teachta Adams has called for a proper funding package to be put in place by government to deliver the Narrow water Bridge.

He said:

“The failure of the Government to ensure that the Narrow Water Bridge was built is an opportunity missed. It has been a bad blow to County Louth.


“Money from Europe became available through Special European U Programmes Body because of an under-spend and Sinn Fein Cllr Jim Loughran asserting a judicial challenge. The money offered was not enough to cover the costs and the project promoters were not in a position to raise the extra capital to cover the shortfall.


“The government needed to provide a relatively small €6 million funding package from the Taoiseach and the Department of Transport.


“When I raised this issue with the Taoiseach in the Dáil, Enda Kenny said that he was in support of the project. I am disappointed that the Taoiseach’s actions did not match his words.

“The bridge will be not be built on promises. A proper funding strategy needs to be put in place.


“The Narrow water Bridge project can still go ahead in the future if the political will exists.”


Finally Gerry Adams called for the creation by local councils on both sides of the border of a European Union Funding Unit that would service the region of Louth, Armagh and Down.


This would allow councils to take full advantage of the opportunities provided by the European programmes, in particular the 2014-2020 INTERREG budget.


This has been done to great effect in Belfast where millions of additional funding has been drawn down as a result.


If parties are serious about investment, infrastructure, job creation, energy efficiency and tourism, they should back Sinn Fein’s proposal for a more professional approach to drawing down funding from the EU and promoting the County Louth Border region in Brussels.”

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Sinn Féin Councillor for Laganbank in South Belfast, Deirdre Hargey, has stated that action must be taken by Belfast City Council following the UDA show of strength that took place in the Sandy Row community centre, a council owned building, at the weekend.

Speaking today Cllr Hargey said: “The UDA show of strength at the weekend in the Sandy Row community center was totally unacceptable. This is a council facility that was rented out to the Sandy Row Ulster First flute band when this incident occurred.

“As a council facility it is open to all sections of the community for numerous events and actions such as this will only keep people away.

“I have raised this with council officials who have instigated a full investigation into the events of the night.

“Twenty years after the first ceasefires we must be asking ourselves why the UDA are still in existence, carrying out such events and where is the money going too?

“I would expect that unionist Councillors who represent this area stand with me become vocal on this issue to.”

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice and Equality, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn has described comments from Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power on the issue of why Sinn Féin withdrew their participation from a video she organised as “dishonest and disappointing”.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn said:

“Last Tuesday 25th February, I received an email from Fianna Fáil Senator Averil Power in which she asked if I would take part in a video message on LGBT equality and the need for all St Patricks day celebrations to be inclusive.

“As I had a prior engagement last Thursday, my office called Senator Power's office the following day to confirm that our Seanad Spokesperson on Justice and Equality, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh would take part in the video on behalf of Sinn Féin.

“However on the Thursday, Senator Ó Clochartaigh was given a written script from Senator Power with the words he and the other participants were to read out on the video.

“It was now clear from this written script that rather than the video presented to me and my party in her email, this was now a video endorsing one St Patrick's event in New York over another and that the video was clearly not an all-party initiative based on each party's policies in support of the LBGT community and inclusivity.

“Senator Ó Clochartaigh then relayed our concerns to Senator Power outlining that we objected to the last paragraph of her script, endorsing one St Patrick's celebratory event over another but we were happy to read any of the remaining script as presented. Unfortunately Senator Power refused to change her script and what Senator Ó Clochartaigh was to read out in the video so he had no choice but to withdraw his participation in the video.

“The attempts by Senator Power to misrepresent our party's reasons for withdrawing are dishonest and disappointing.”

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Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD has supported a call by families of Stardust fire victims for a new Commission of Investigation into the tragedy.

Mr Adams has also challenged the Minister for Justice as to why the Department for Justice changed the Coffey recommendation for an inquiry.

Speaking today, Gerry Adams said:

"I want to support the call by families of Stardust victims for a new Commission of Investigation headed by an International Judge and other international experts/academics on fire safety/fire forensics.

"The main basis for this is the Coffey report by the Senior Counsel tasked by the previous government with reviewing the Stardust affair and the Foy report commissioned by the families.

"Coffey's terms of reference were limited but one area that he was apparently to make a recommendation on was whether or not a new inquiry was needed.

"In his report, sent to government on 10th December, 2008, on page 70, Section 5.13, Coffey states "I further accept that a new inquiry is necessary if it is the only way of placing on the public record a finding that is based in evidence".

"This recommendation was edited out in the published report from January, 2009. It has been alleged that there were dozens of changes, some substantial to Coffey's report.

"It is important to note that the report submitted to the government on 10th December, 2008 was not presented as a first draft or an interim report. It was clearly his report with findings, conclusions and recommendations.

"The questions remains as to why was it edited by the Department of Justice? We need an answer from the present Minister for Justice."

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Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Arts, Heritage, Sports & Tourism, Sandra McLellan TD, has this evening congratulated, "St Patrick's Athletic on winning the President's Cup."

Speaking after the match, Deputy McLellan said:

"The match was a great show piece for League of Ireland football. It had two great teams, St Pat's and Sligo Rovers playing in this the inaugural President's Cup.


"I would like to take the opportunity to thank Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, for giving so generously of his time and attending the game. He is a great fan of domestic football and his decision to revive this cup is a great credit to him.


"I would hope that next year RTE does the right thing and televises this cup final. As the national broadcaster it has a duty to promote home grown talent and League of Ireland football."

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One year after Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology to the Magdalene survivors, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has called on the government to introduce the long awaited Restorative Justice Bill.

Speaking after the annual Flowers for Magdalene event in Glasnevin today, Deputy McDonald said:

“A year ago Taoiseach Enda Kenny made an emotional address to survivors from the Magdalene laundries in Ireland.

“The apology was a historic recognition to the women survivors of the abusive Magdalene Laundry regime.

“Despite the Taoiseach’s apology many surviving women have been excluded from the redress scheme and just a fifth of the eligible women have received their payments.

“Pensions, medical care and the other provisions recommended by the Quirke report and signed off on by government have been delivered on. Confusion still remains for the small number of women living outside the state who wish to access medical services where they currently live.

“These delays are of deep concern given the age of the women with many in declining health. Sadly, we know of at least three of the women have passed on in the year since the apology.

“It is to this government’s great shame that it has failed to prioritise the Restorative Justice legislation and we are today calling on the Justice Minister to publish the bill as a matter of urgency.

“It must also be noted that the government’s provision of compensation and benefits is in no way a substitute for establishing the truth of what happened in the laundries.

“The nuns have still not apologised, nor will they contribute to the compensation fund.

“The lives of the women survivors have been and continue to be characterised by psychological suffering, poverty and stigma. They should not have to suffer further due to additional delays in the restorative justice process.”

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Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle Raymond McCartney has stated that given the ongoing investigation into the events of Bloody Sunday by the PSNI the comments by Peter Hain are ill judged and ill timed.

Speaking today Mr McCartney said: 

“Sinn Féin have always supported the families of those killed by the British army on Bloody Sunday.

“Some of those families wish to seek prosecution against those responsible for the death of their loved ones.

“Given the ongoing investigation by the PSNI following the Saville inquiry’s findings into the events of Bloody Sunday Peter Hain's comments are ill judged and inappropriate.”

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Responding to yesterday’s remarks by Enda Kenny at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, Sinn Féin Leader Gerry Adams TD said that unfairness has been the hallmark of Fine Gael/Labour government.

Mr Adams alsocriticized the fact that the Taoiseach failed, as Eamon Gilmore did two weeks ago to address the North whatsoever in his Leaders address.

Gerry Adams said:

“In 2011 Fine Gael and the Labour Party promised that the old way of doing politics was over, that they would govern differently than Fianna Fail. They promised to transform political culture and to end cronyism.The reality though has been the same old failed politics and the same old way of doing things.

“Fine Gael and Labour have failed on the central issue of banking debt, ensuring Irish citizens will have to pay an unsustainable debt for decades to come.

“Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore have merely implemented the Troika policy programme as set out by Fianna Fail.They have presided over emigration levels not seen since famine times, unprecedented cuts to living standards and vital public services, brutal cuts to supports for people with disabilities and 140,000 householders in mortgage distress.

“This Fine Gae/Labour coalition has governed with even more arrogance than their predecessors. This has been evident in its handling of the establishment Irish Water/Uisce Eireann, the GSOC and Garda whistleblowers scandals and the manner in which they have continued to breach pay caps for Ministerial advisors while cutting supports for the most vulnerable citizens.

"Most Irish citizens understand that difficult choices must be made to restore the country’s finances.  What they resent is the unfair way this is being done under Fine Gael and Labour. This unfairnesss has been the hallmark of the coalition’s tenure so far.

“I note that despite the Fine Gael Ard Fheis passing a motion to set up a group to explore contesting future elections in the north, the Taoiseach failed, as Eamon Gilmore did two weeks ago to address the North whatsoever in his Leaders address. Considering the importance of resolving outstanding issues in the peace process, this is deeply disappointing."

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Speaking in Westmeath this week after meeting with residents who suffered from the severe flooding of 2009 and who are presently in a constant state of fear for their homes, businesses and farmlands Sinn Féin’s Midlands North West EU candidate, Matt Carthy, hit out at the Government for failing to attempt to secure funding for flooding and storm damage from the EU Solidarity Fund. 

Carthy, who was in Westmeath at the invitation of local councillor Paul Hogan, also said that investment in flood defences would pay off through the creation of jobs in the short term and by saving substantial costs associated with flood damage in the long term.

Carthy said

“Government support and funding for flood victims, and those living in areas at risk of flooding, has been totally inadequate.

“The EU solidarity Fund in theory exists to help areas like the Shannon region and coastal areas which are affected by floods and natural disasters. But the thresholds are too low and the fund discriminates against rural areas where the financial cost of the damage is less than in cities because of the lack of investment in infrastructure in the regions.

“What we need to ensure is that at the centre of EU fund mechanisms like the Solidarity Fund is fairness and equal ability to access funds for rural areas.

“Minster Phil Hogan recently told the Dáil that the Irish government would not be applying for funding under the solidarity fund citing the fact that the flood and storm damage would not reach the required thresholds under the scheme.

“He failed to mention the fact that exceptions have been made to these requirements – as was the case with Austria in 2005.

“The simple fact is that this government is not standing up for Ireland in Europe. A strong case put forward may have succeeded but the government chose not to try.

“Minister Hogan also cited the fact that the fund was reduced last year. What he failed to tell us is what position the Irish Government took on the decision to reduce the Solidarity Fund? 

“There are a number of clear steps that must be taken by the government.

“Investment in flood defences would create jobs, stimulate the local economy and in the long term save considerable amounts of money that are required to deal with the aftermath of flooding such as that experienced by Athlone in 2009.  

“The Government needs to act to assist those homeowners and businesses who cannot access insurance. 

“In relation to the EU, we must be making a case at Governmental level and through the Commission that the threshold for emergency aid from the EU fund be altered. This is something that I will be pressing for.” 

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has described as ‘momentous and very welcome the announcement today by ETA that it has begun a process of putting all of its arms beyond operational use. The statement also confirms the report last weekend of the International Verification Committee”

The Sinn Féin leader said:

“Today’s announcement by ETA is a historic development. The decision by ETA to put all of its arms beyond operational use is evidence of that groups’ commitment to the Basque peace process agreed by the Basque people in recent years and to peaceful and democratic politics.

Many in the Basque country look to the success of the Irish peace process as a template for their endeavours.

Sinn Féin has worked closely with the Basque parties to help encourage the building of a peace process.

There is an onus on the Spanish government to respond positively to this announcement.

There is an opportunity for peace. It must not be squandered. Peace processes need constant attention and encouragement, and the active and positive participation of all sides.

Confidence building measures – which were an important part of the Irish peace process - can assist in this. In this context the release of Arnaldo Otegi, Secretary General of SORTU would be an important step, as would the ending of harsh penal policies aimed at Basque prisoners.

These and other related measures would make a real difference in strengthening the peace process and facilitate progress toward demilitarisation and national reconciliation.”

Note to Editor:

In 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement Gerry Adams travelled to the Basque country. He travelled again in 2005, 2006 and again in 2011.

In September 2010 ETA announced a ceasefire. It came after a long process of dialogue and internal discussion among Basque activists. This dialogue involved Gerry Adams and other Sinn Féin representatives.

In October 2011 ETA announced a definitive cessation of its armed activity.

In October 2011 a Sinn Féin delegation, including Gerry Adams, travelled to the Basque country along with Jonathan Powell, former Chief of Staff to Tony Blair, and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; Pierre Joxe, former French Defence and Interior Minister; former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Gro Harland Bruntland, a former Norwegian Prime Minister.

They participated in a conference in Donostia - San Sebastian in Euskadi entitled; ‘International conference to promote the resolution of the conflict in the Basque County’.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has described the grandstanding by the DUP and other unionist politicians over OTRs as “a sham crisis which has more to do with upcoming elections than with dealing with and resolving legacy issues.”

Speaking today at a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle in Dublin, Gerry Adams said:

“In recent days there has been deliberate misrepresentation about the OTR issue and the provision of letters by the British government.

"Unionist leaders have intentionally engaged in hyperbole and feigned anger over an issue that has been on the political and public agenda since the Good Friday Agreement negotiations.

"The fact is that there was no agreement between Sinn Féin and the British government on how to resolve the issue of OTRs. Those who received the letters, as they are entitled to, were citizens who were not wanted by the British forces and they received their letters because this was the case.

"Others who were wanted by the British for alleged offences would have been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement if they had been in prison. If they were tried and sentenced at any time after the Agreement they would have served only two years in prison.

"Despite accepting that the position of OTRs was an anomaly under the Good Friday Agreement the British government did not produce a satisfactory way of resolving the matter. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff has acknowledged: ‘As we were not able to find an across the board solution that worked we had to deal with the ‘On the Runs’ as individual cases through an administrative system ...’

"The administrative system is an entirely legal process, compliant with the law, involving all of the relevant senior law officers of the north and of the British state.

"It is important to understand that the letters provided cannot be rescinded. If you’re not wanted – you’re not wanted.

"The anomaly of OTRs has been referenced to publicly on countless occasions.

"The British and Irish governments acknowledged this at Hillsborough Castle in March 2001.

"Several months later the issue of resolving the issue of OTRs was covered in Paragraph 20 of the Weston Park Agreement.

"In May 2003 following negotiations at Leeds Castle the two governments issued a Joint Declaration, including a separate paper dealing specifically with OTRs.

"And in October 2005 the then British Secretary of State said in the British Parliament that the government planned to legislate in respect of OTRs.

"In January 2006 Sinn Féin and the other parties, for differing, reasons rejected the legislation but the OTR issue continued to be the focus of discussions publicly and privately.

"It has been the subject of discussion at Policing Board meetings at which SDLP and DUP members, some of whom are lawyers, were present; was referenced in the Eames/Bradley proposals; and is covered in Jonathan Powell’s account of the negotiations.

"Powell for example, acknowledged talking to the DUP on this matter and that they accepted the implementation of the Joint Declaration proposals on OTRs provided they had a letter from Tony Blair effectively blaming Trimble.

"The British government should ensure that if anyone else comes forward seeking clarification of their status that they are treated in the same way as the others covered by the administrative system Under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Human Rights Act all persons have a legal right upon request to be informed if the police require them for questioning.

"The letter that those who made application received makes it clear that if any evidence emerges of any offence then the person receiving the letter can expect to face due process.

"Clearly, despite all of the feigned brouhaha and hot air generated by unionist leaders this process is not an amnesty.

"It is also worth recalling that the Good Friday Agreement, which the people of the island of Ireland overwhelmingly voted for in two referenda, saw the early release of over 400 republican political prisoners, and loyalist prisoners from jails in Britain and Ireland, north and south, many of whom were serving lengthy prison sentences.

"The referenda vote reflected the desire of citizens north and south for an end to conflict and for peace and a recognition that the issue of prisoners was one that had to be resolved.

"While the DUP campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement they lost that vote and are obliged to respect the democratic wish of the Irish people, including at that time a majority of unionists.

"The DUP also signed on to work the power sharing institutions in 2007 and now share the Assembly and the Executive with former political prisoners.

"In an effort to ensure that our past does not undermine the peace and the hope for a better future Richard Haass and Meghan O Sullivan produced a comprehensive compromise package to achieve this. Sinn Féin signed up for these. The DUP and other unionists thus far have refused.

"The legacy of the past and parades issues and other matters are of such critical importance that the opportunity presented by the Haass proposals needs to be seized and seized now."

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Sinn Féin member John Downey has decided to cancel the get together that was planned for this evening to allow him to thank those who supported him throughout his arrest and imprisonment in England.

Mr Downey said he would never try to insult or add to the hurt of anyone who is bereaved as has been suggested in the media and that he will not allow the event to be turned into a media circus.

Speaking this morning he said;

“Some elements of the media are portraying the event planned for tonight as triumphalist and insulting to bereaved families.  That was never what it was about.

“On the contrary, since long before the Good Friday Agreement I have been working to promote peace and reconciliation between our people on this island, meeting with members of Loyalism and Unionism in trying to put the past behind us and move into the future in peace together.

“My goal is, as it always was, a united Ireland where everybody is equal.  I would never try to insult or add to the hurt of anybody who is bereaved as I am only too aware of their pain as there are many bereaved families also in the republican community.

“I refuse to allow what was planned as a simple get together of family, friends and neighbours who supported me throughout my wrongful arrest and imprisonment in England to welcome me home and allow me to thank them, to be misrepresented and turned into a media circus,

“For this reason I have decided to cancel the homecoming get together planned for the Lagoon tonight and I know that my friends and neighbours will understand.”

ENDS

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