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Sinn Fein councillors Larry O Toole and Micheal Mac Donncha were ordered removed from Dublin City Council after protesting at the ruling out of order of their party's motion requiring the city manager not to raise council rents on the basis of the family home tax

Cllrs O'Toole and MacDonncha said:
“This ruling reduced Dublin City Council to farce and all to save the Labour Party from having to vote against our motion to stop rents being raised on the basis of the family home tax. An identical motion was ruled in order and adopted at Monaghan County Council.

We will contine to oppose this unjust tax all along the line.”

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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA has accused those behind the attempted mortar bomb attack in Derry City of being engaged in actions which run directly against the will of the republican community in the city and against the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said:

“It is quite clear from recent events in Derry that the PSNI have managed to foil many of the recent attempts by these small number of people to bring death and destruction onto the streets of the city.

“Last night the PSNI intercepted what was clearly an attempt to launch a mortar bomb attack on one of the local PSNI stations. It was through their good work that we are not talking about a disastrous situation in Derry today.

“If the people involved in these actions believe that they can by attempting to carry out armed actions undermine the political process then they are greatly mistaken. Whatever differences may exist between the parties in Stormont we are all absolutely united in our efforts to stand up against violent attempts to undermine the political progress already made be they from loyalist flag protesters or those involved in incidents like last night.

“There is no going back to the past. The community in Derry City and elsewhere simply will not allow it. The groups still wedded to pointless armed actions need to reflect on that political reality because if they continue on their current path all that will be achieved is more people in prison. This is not about any attempt to advance a united Ireland. This is a vanity trip by those involved and more about money and ego than patriotism.”

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Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said she will not be intimated from representing the people of Fermanagh & South Tyrone following a hoax bomb alert at her home.

A caller to the Sinn Féin office in Dungannon this morning claimed that there was a bomb at her home and that they hoped when it went off Michelle was in the house.

The PSNI were contacted and after a search of the MP’s home it was declared a hoax. The mother of three said it was worrying that people would even consider targeting her family.

The Fermanagh & South Tyrone MP said:

“Targeting my home, in which I have three small children, is a despicable thing to do. Thankfully nothing was found.

“Threats like this will only make me more determined to continue to represent the people of Fermanagh & South Tyrone and push ahead with my work within Sinn Féin.   

“I and the rest of my colleagues in Sinn Féin will not be intimidated from our work by threats of this sort. While it is worrying that someone would

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Sinn Féin finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD, has said Michael Noonan must put retrospective recapitalisation of the Irish banks on the Eurogroup’s agenda.
“Today’s Eurogroup is set to look at the use of the ESM to recapitalise banks. Minister Noonan must make sure that the need to retrospectively recapitalise Irish banks is on the agenda.
“Nine months have passed since the Eurogroup committed to separating banking sovereign debt. Little progress has been made though with deadlines passing by since then. It is far from clear that any move to recapitalise Irish banks retrospectively is being discussed.
“Minister Noonan must step up his game and use the Irish presidency to make progress on this critical issue.
“Every day that passes without a retrospective recapitalisation is another day when the Irish people are carrying the burden for Europe’s failed banking policies.
“The government told us that Ireland would be treated equally but yet this issue seems not to be high on the government’s or EU’s agenda. If the ESM is to be used to recapitalise banks then Ireland must insist that this applies to legacy debts.
“Last June’s commitment should be honoured in full and it is Minister Noonan’s job to make sure that it is.”
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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has expressed his shock and sadness at the news tonight of the death of George Quigley.

The Sinn Féin President said:“George was for many years a senior civil servant and then business leader. He was an experienced economist and was a long-time advocate of the all-Ireland economy.Last year he participated in a Sinn Féin conference in Derry on the issue of uniting Ireland.

On my own behalf and that of Sinn Féin I want to extend my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

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The Sinn Féin by-election candidate in Meath East Darren O’Rourke has challenged Fianna Fáil candidate Thomas Byrne to a head to head debate on issues affecting the people of the constituency.

Speaking today O’Rourke said:

“People in Meath East are struggling. Many bought homes during the height of the boom and are now trying to stay afloat under the weight of massive mortgage debt as well as unemployment and cuts to public services.

“Fianna Fáil’s legacy of economic disaster is plain to see in this constituency. That legacy is now carried on by the government parties, Labour and Fine Gael.

“Thomas Byrne was a TD when Fianna Fáil was in government. That party now claims to be against the very austerity measures they championed while in government.

“This constituency needs alternative representation with a vision for the future. The tired ideals of the Fianna Fáil old guard just won’t cut it.

“I am challenging Senator Byrne to a head to head debate on these issues and the future of this constituency.

“Sinn Féin has an alternative vision for the economy that does not include making low and middle income people shoulder the bulk of the burden; that does not cut public services beyond recognition and does not saddle hard working people with private banking debt. Fianna Fáil claims to have an alternative vision too. I have yet to see it. If Thomas Byrne wants to represent the people of Meath East he should not be running away from these issues.”

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Dublin City Councillors have been urged to back a motion at tonight's (Monday) monthly meeting of Dublin City Council to prevent the Family Home Tax being added to the rent of Council tenants. The motion is in the name of the five Sinn Féin councillors.

Urging support, Sinn Féin Cllr Mícheál Mac Donncha said:
"We are urging all councillors from all parties and independents to back this motion which, if passed, would prevent the City Manager from increasing the rent of Dublin City Council tenants on the basis of the so-called Local Property Tax, which is really a Family Home Tax. “This is an unjust and inequitable tax which takes no account of ability to pay. We have the farcical situation where the Fine Gael/Labour Government has made local authorities liable for this tax on the houses and apartments they own - even though it is supposed to be a tax to raise funds for local authorities. The government wants this passed on to tenants in the form of rent increases - in other words asking them to pay a so-called property tax on properties they do not own. This proves it is indeed a Family Home Tax.

"Many local authority tenants are unemployed, dependent on social welfare and elderly, or else in employment but struggling with low pay and all the other impositions from this Government. To add a rent increase to the burden is totally unacceptable.

"The Family Home Tax should be repealed and Sinn Féin in the Oireachtas is bringing forward legislation to do so. The alternative to this unjust tax is to make the highest earners pay their fair share through a new top rate of tax and a wealth tax."
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 Sinn Féin Newtownabbey councillor Gerry O’Reilly has slamming those responsible for the latest in a series of sectarian attacks on St Mary’s on the Hill church Carnmoney.

 The Sinn Féin councillor said:

 “Last night’s attack on St Mary’s on the Hill was the latest in a series of despicable sectarian acts against the church and this community

“Those involved must be condemned by the whole community and be swiftly brought before the courts.

“I’m calling on the PSNI to step up efforts to identify those involved. Anyone who believes it is ok to attack a place of worship is clearly a danger to the public and must be taken off the streets.” 

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD speaking at today’s Sinn Féin organised conference ‘A century of workers in struggle 1913 -2013’said:

“100 years after the Lockout this state is only one of three EU member states in which workers have no legislated right to workplace representation – have no right to sit across from their employers and negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment. Workers have no right to collective bargaining. The government claimed that current legislation provides adequate protection. Workers deserve protection and they don’t have that. They deserve the legal protection of the government, particularly a government which has a Labour party component. 

 Far from protecting workers on low and middle incomes the government has aggressively gone after their increments and unsocial hours pay. The Government threatens worse if the trade unions don’t acquiesce to this plan. This threat, understandably opened up a dilemma for Trade Union leaders. Is the outcome of the recent negotiations better than one which would be produced in a Government legislated pay adjustment? Clearly some think it is.

Which means that they have little confidence in this government, and while that may well be a given about Fine Gael what does this lack of confidence say about the relationship of the wider Labour movement and the Labour Party? What is the point of Labour in government if it is not about protecting workers and working families and promoting equality? And what say does the wider Labour movement have in these matters?

These are difficult times. Sinn Féin understands that. The working people of this island, and I include workers from the unionist constituency, need to hear an alternative to the right wing ideology which underpins many of our political and media institutions. There is a battle of ideas to be won and an alternative to be forged. Surely the leaders of organised Labour in the trade unions have a role and a duty to be part of this.

Full Text of Mr. Adams remarks:

Protecting Workers Rights

 Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chuir roimh na cainteoirí óna Ceardchumainn; na staraithe, na hiriseoirí, na ceoltoirí agus na scríbhneoirí atá ag glacadh páirt san ócáid speisialta ceiliúrtha seo “Céadbliain de streachailt oibrithe 1913 – 2013”

 I want to welcome all of our guest speakers from the Trade Union Movement; the historians, journalists, musicians and writers who are participating in this very special event celebrating ‘A century of Workers in Struggle 1913-2013’.

 I want to especially commend Seanadóir David Cullinane and the Sinn Féin organising committee who put a lot of time and effort into this event.

 The Dublin of 1913 was a city of grinding poverty and exploitation. Infant mortality was among the highest in the world at that time. Thousands of families lived in single rooms in crumbling tenement houses. Workers had no rights. They were hired and fired at the whim of employers. The children of workers had no childhood and no future. They often worked from a very young age.

In my home city of Belfast at that time female and child labour predominated in the Linen Mills. Other citizens lived and worked in appalling conditions; in the Docks, the Shipyards and in casual labour.

In 1911 James Connolly was appointed Belfast organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Connolly organised the workers of Belfast, and especially the linen slaves.

He described their conditions: ‘Many Belfast Mills are slaughterhouses for the women and penitentiaries for the children …’ where ‘with clothes drenched with water, and hands torn and lacerated as a consequence of the speeding up of the machinery, a qualified spinner in Belfast receives a wage less than some of our pious millowners would spend weekly upon a dog.’

Ireland was also part of the British Empire. Impireacht a bhí tógtha ar droch-íde agus ar mí usáid na céadta milliúin daoine.

As a colony Ireland was used and abused and exploited in the interests of British capitalism. As our long history of struggle for freedom records, in every generation Irish men and women have opposed British government involvement in Ireland.

But nationalists and republicans were not alone in combating the evil of colonialism. The early trade unions of the 1700s – combinations of skilled and unskilled workers –like the Belfast Cabinetmakers Club, the Regular Carpenters of Dublin, and the Ancient Corporation of Carpenters of Cork and others, all stood in defiance of those who sought to exploit their members.

The first anti-union laws were introduced in Ireland in the 1720’s. But it also has to be acknowledged that colonialism and discriminatory industrial development, primarily in the Lagan basin around Belfast, and the use of sectarian politics, led to an early division among Irish trade unionists with the creation of Irish based and British based trade unions. In 1894, the year in which the Irish Trades Union Congress was established, there were 51 Irish based unions with a total membership of 11,000. British based unions had a similar number of members.

But for all trade unionists the 1913 Lockout was the tipping point in modern Irish trade union history. Workers and their families and their union, found themselves in a pitched battle against the political, economic and media establishment of their day. When the Irish Transport and General Workers Union succeeded in recruiting the workers in the Dublin United Tramways, the Company proceeded to dismiss all known union members. The Dublin bosses demanded that employees across hundreds of workplaces sign a pledge never to join or associate with the ITGWU.

However, in a remarkable display of solidarity thousands of workers refused to sign and were dismissed as one after another places of work closed their gates to union members. The employers had the backing of the British authorities in Dublin Castle and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. During the months of the Lockout, police and workers fought running battles, when the DMP moved against protesting workers.

 James Nolan and John Byrne were killed. And on August 31 the British authorities banned a mass meeting in O’Connell Street which was then savagely attacked by the police resulting in Ireland’s first Bloody Sunday of the 20th century.

 One consequence of this was the formation of the Irish Citizen Army. The end of the Lockout in early 1914 was inconclusive but the result was not. Poverty forced strikers back to work but far from breaking the trade union movement the Lockout saw it consolidate its strength and significantly grow in the following decades. The central issue in that dispute was the right to join a union, to organise, to be able to engage in collective bargaining. It was about the right of workers to be treated decently and fairly. Regrettably, these problems still persist.

 Díreach i ndiaidh an Lockout – thug O Conghaile agus daoine eile in Airm na Saoránach a gcuid polaitíocht, a gcuid socialachas agus a gcuid saineolas isteach go dtí na rancanna a bhí ag pleanáil réabhlóid.

 Connolly understood the importance of the connection between the national and the social. They are the opposite sides of the same coin. He famously linked the cause of Ireland with the cause of Labour - and was a fierce opponent of plans for partition. He argued, correctly, that it would create a carnival of reaction. Connolly and Pearse and the leaders of 1916 presented a vision of a different Ireland. It is found in the words of the Proclamation.

These, for me, should be the guiding principles for workers and republicans and socialists and democrats today. It is anti-sectarian; it embraces every Irish citizen; it declares the ’right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland’. The Proclamation: ‘guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens … cherishing all the children of the nation equally.’

 Those are great words – great ideas. These words are a promise to every Irish citizen that she and he can share in the dignity of humankind, as equals with equal opportunity; that we can enjoy freedom, educate our children, provide for our families and live together with tolerance and respect for each other. However, the two states imposed by partition failed to deliver these principles. Both have been characterised by economic failure, by emigration, by backwardness on social issues, by inequality and by the failure to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

Those who built this state also turned their backs on the north. Thréig siad an Tuaisceart. They turned their backs also on the ideals of independence and a genuine republic. The Southern State that developed was in hock to the Catholic Hierarchy while the six counties became a ‘Protestant state for a Protestant people’ in which structured political and religious discrimination was endemic. Two conservative states ruled by two conservative elites in their own narrow interests. The old colonial system replaced by a neo-colonial one.

 And this is the context in which the trade union movement has laboured. It has been a difficult 100 years. Conditions in the north saw the emergence of a trade unionism which many republicans and nationalists viewed as largely ineffective.

There are exceptions. Among them my friend and our comrade Inez McCormack who died recently. Inez was an exceptional trade union activist. She took part in the civil rights campaign in the ‘60s; was an extraordinary trade union leader; an internationalist; and a strong advocate for equality and for women’s rights. Inez spoke out against discrimination and supported the MacBride principles campaign for fair employment. She also played a key role in the peace process.

 I found her advice on equality and anti-discrimination measures crucial in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. Inez was a remarkable human being and I know she will be missed by everyone in this hall.

 In this state workers’ rights have not been protected or advanced as they should. 100 years after the Lockout this state is only one of three EU member states in which workers have no legislated right to workplace representation – have no right to sit across from their employers and negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment. Workers have no right to collective bargaining.

When Sinn Féin introduced an Employment Rights Bill into the Dáil last May it was to provide adequate safeguards for workers, including, to enhance the period of notice for workers who are to be made redundant, and to expedite the hearing and processing of claims to entitlements. Fine Gael and Labour argued that it was unnecessary. The government claimed that current legislation provides adequate protection. Does any trade unionist in this hall believe that?

Ask workers from Waterford Crystal, or Vita Cortex, Visteon, Lagan Brick, Vodafone, GAME, La Senza, Diageo, HMV and many more if their rights as workers are protected. They have had to make a stand against injustice. I am pleased to welcome to this conference today some of those who made a stand for themselves and for other workers. So, I would ask the hall to give a huge welcome to workers from Visteon, from Waterford Crystal, from Lagan Brick and from Vita Cortex. Their courage is an example to us all.

 But they shouldn’t have been forced into taking the action they did. Workers deserve protection and they don’t have that. They deserve the legal protection of the government, particularly a government which has a Labour party component. Today the rights of workers are under severe attack. That includes the denial of a right to a job with decent terms and conditions.

Unemployment is at 14.2%. Youth unemployment is 27.7%. 87,000 have emigrated in 2011 and that trend has continued. Companies are tearing up agreements with workers, arbitrarily paying them off or denying them wages or redundancy payments. It is a truism that there are employers who do not believe in wasting a good recession. During the boom of the Celtic Tiger there was a stubborn and dismissive refusal to socialise the wealth and tackle inequality.

Proposals by Sinn Féin for investment in sustainable jobs, social housing, infrastructure or hospitals and schools were ridiculed. But when the bubble burst there was an immediate move to socialise the debt and to force the disadvantaged and those on low and middle incomes and other citizens to carry the burden of paying for the debts of the elites. For right wing elites a recession is an opportunity to drive down wages; sack workers; hire others at cheaper rates; cut overtime payments; demand longer hours for less, and ignore the trade unions.

The austerity policies of the British conservative government and of the Fine Gael and Labour government are a part of this approach. In the last two years there have been a succession of savage cuts to wages and incomes in the south and the introduction of new additional stealth taxes, like the Household charge and family home tax; water charges; increased VAT; Increased motor tax; as well as cuts to child benefit; cuts to homehelp hours, to the carer’s respite care grant and much more.

This week the government again targeted the most vulnerable in our society by scrapping the Mobility Allowance Scheme and the Motorised Transport Grant Scheme.

I believe the Croke Park 2 agreement will exacerbate the austerity driven agenda of this government and that working families – those on low and middle incomes – will be squeezed again. Frontline workers have been especially and unfairly targeted. Oibríonn  Altraí, Gardaí, Fir Dóiteáin agus Seirbhísí Éigeandála seacht lá na seachtaine ag tabhairt cosaint agus seirbhís dúinn. Seo iad na hoibrithe is mo atá buailte.

 They have mortgages to pay; children to feed and clothe; school books to buy, and bills to pay. None of their outgoings are going to be cut, just their income. Far from protecting workers on low and middle incomes the government has aggressively gone after their increments and unsocial hours pay. The Government threatens worse if the trade unions don’t acquiesce to this plan. This threat, understandably opened up a dilemma for Trade Union leaders.

Is the outcome of the recent negotiations better than one which would be produced in a Government legislated pay adjustment? Clearly some think it is. Which means that they have little confidence in this government, and while that may well be a given about Fine Gael what does this lack of confidence say about the relationship of the wider Labour movement and the Labour Party?

 What is the point of Labour in government if it is not about protecting workers and working families and promoting equality? And what say does the wider Labour movement have in these matters? These are difficult times. Sinn Féin understands that. We also understand tactics and strategy and compromise.

 But all of these matters need continuously contextualised in our vision for the future, our core values and our objectives so that decisions on these issues advance our vision, our core values and our objectives. If we fail to do that then we risk losing our way. This may not be a disaster in itself provided we are alert enough to find our way again, before we lose all sense of what we are about and where we are going. But we have to be constantly mindful of who we are. Where we come from. What we stand for and where we want to go. So too with the Labour movement.

The working people of this island, and I include workers from the unionist constituency, need to hear an alternative to the right wing ideology which underpins many of our political and media institutions. There is a battle of ideas to be won and an alternative to be forged. Surely the leaders of organised Labour in the trade unions have a role and a duty to be part of this.

Austerity is not working. The government has alternatives – it has other options. It could have brought in a wealth tax. It could have introduced a third band of tax on those earning more than €100,000. Instead it is ordinary workers who will bear the burden – again. This is not fair.

Public service workers will decide your position on the Croke Park proposals. That is a decision that you will come to.

We wish you well in your deliberations. But whatever the outcome of those deliberations it is important that you know that the trade union movement today is needed more than ever in the Ireland of the 21st century. Workers are looking to their respective unions for leadership and hope and solidarity in the difficult time ahead.

Tá bród ar Sinn Féin seasamh libh.

And we will continue to work with you in securing protection for workers and policy changes that will enhance the quality of life of all Irish citizens.

Today’s event is part of Sinn Féin’s contribution to the centenary of events that marked the second decade of the 20th century. It is a packed schedule of debate and discussion with many excellent contributors, including Brian O Donoghue from LIUNA.

I hope you all enjoy the day.

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Securing the Future – Martin McGuinness MLA

Address to Sinn Féin Youth An Comhdail

It is a great pleasure to be invited here this afternoon to close this year’s An Comhdail

I know the past 12 months have been one of reorganisation and building for the youth wing of the party.

And like everything else we do organisationally this is a vital area of work.

Republicanism all of the time needs to be renewing – renewing our membership, renewing our politics and renewing the way we do our business.

We do not have the luxury of standing still.

You are the first generation of young Republicans sine partition who have grew up without the scourge of war as a backdrop to your politics.

You are the generation of Republican leaders who have developed your politics and your aspirations in a political playing field that was for the first time level. Levelled by the Good Friday Agreement and the principles of equality and respect, which underpin it.

Your identity, your politics and your outlook is rooted in Irish Republicanism but secure enough in its own right to be open to debate and discussion with others from a different viewpoint.

And I commend the event you have put together this weekend. It would be very easy to construct a conference where we simply talk to ourselves. It shows a certain confidence to open this event to other voices and other opinions and sets out a marker to us all about how we need to do politics going forward.

And I also commend those unionist voices who are confident enough in their politics to come here to the Felons club and engage in debate and discussion about the sort of society we want to build on this island in the years ahead.

The past three months have been bad ones for the peace process and for those of us wedded to the creation of a new type of politics and a new type of society.

I have listened very carefully to the various reasons being put forward by those involved in the protests and in the violence. Indeed I have met with some of those involved. None of them can excuse what has been happened on our streets.

I know from experience what it is like to feel discriminated against, to feel powerless and to feel under threat. Nobody should be in that position in 2013. The unique political structures we operate within lend themselves to political opponents being able to exercise power jointly and in a spirit of respect and equality for the benefit of all citizens. There is space for everyone in the process.

It is my firm view that issues of identity and culture have been quite cynically used by some to promote their own narrow sectarian agenda. The result has seen dozens of young Protestants arrested and jailed and the community in the Short Strand put under siege while those who set the path sit happily in their ivory tower denying culpability and blame.

Far better those young people, who clearly care about their community, where in forums like this, discussing the future with their republican peers, than lying in Hydebank or Maghaberry.

There is a better way to do business. We must return to the basics of the Good Friday Agreement. A commitment to non violence, a need for inclusivity, a respect for difference and a commitment to reach agreements.

Difficult issues are not insurmountable issues. But difficult issues will not be resolved on the streets or at the front of City Hall on a Saturday afternoon. Difficult issues are resolved through dialogue, through engagement and ultimately through compromise and agreement.

I will absolutely guarantee the right of any citizen here to their British identity. All I ask in return is for the same respect and recognition to be given to my Irishness. For too long we have approached issues of identity as wins or losses for one community or another. That is not sustainable going forward.

It disappoints me that we have not yet got to the stage where political unionism can give the same absolute guarantee that I have just given about identity going forward. I genuinely want to hear from a Gregory Campbell or Mike Nesbitt about how they see protecting and respecting the Irish identity of their neighbours as we build a shared society and likewise I am sure unionists are interested in how their British identity is given equal respect and protection by political leaders like me.

But building the sort of new Ireland I want to see has to be about much more than issues of identity or symbolism. It must be about real substance – it must be about delivering a future where young people aren’t forced to emigrate and can get access to a first class education system across the island. We have made a welcome move in recent months when we as an Executive have managed to secure EMA for students here at the same time the British government have abolished it in their jurisdiction.

In the course of the past year or so Sinn Féin have sought to engage with a cross section of society in exploring the prospects for constructing a genuine process of reconciliation. This has involved private events and indeed public events like the one here this afternoon.

I have to say the response from political unionism while predictable has been a disappointment. I think the political leadership of unionism is behind where many ordinary unionists are on this issue. I think there is a realisation across society that the sticking plaster approach or even the head in the sand approach to dealing with the past isn’t sustainable going forward.

Such an approach is not only short sighted it is in my opinion selling all of your generation short. It is simply wrong that people like those gathered here, who have developed your politics in an environment of peace see the political process contaminated and distorted by a failure to tackle in a proper way the legacy of our troubled past.

And that provokes challenges for republicans also. Reconciliation is not a one way street. Republicans caused much hurt also. We need to recognise that and deal with it in a proper fashion. Declan Kearney has characterised this as a difficult conversation we as a society need to have. Difficult as it may be not having it stores much more difficulties for us and for you in the future.

I am an optimist. I am confident in you and your generation. I am also confident in the political system we have built. I am also confident that in the future new negotiations will be had. New agreements will be reached. More positive change will be delivered. More relationships will be built.

The sort of society I want to see, at peace with itself, built upon equality and mutual respect has the foundations already laid. That happened 15 years ago in Castle Buildings. Since then despite ups and downs steady sure progress has been made. Now is the time to grasp the potential that is there and raise us to a new level. You as young political activists need to play your role in that. Your voice is important, but even more important is your contribution. You need to step forward and you need to actively build the sort of Ireland you want to see. You need to engage with your peers from whatever political background or none.

Transforming our island is a massive challenge. Rebuilding broken relationships and creating new ones is central to that nation building task. But as Republicans it is our duty to reach out and to build. To stretch ourselves and our politics. You can only do that if we are confident in our own vision and our own belief that a united Ireland offers the best hope for the future and for all of the citizens who live on this island.

Let us secure the new future that is out there. Not doing so is not an option for me, for you or for Ireland.

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This is another time of significant challenge for our peace and political processes.

We know from our history that particularly during such periods, more not less engagement and dialogue are vital.

A willingness to engage in dialogue paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). It’s fifteenth anniversary fast approaches.

Our peace process has been a journey of great change for us all.

Engagement and dialogue offer the best way to solve problems and manage and progress the transformation of our society.

The Agreement and political institutions provided a framework for political coexistence and the means by which unionists and republicans in partnership could deal with the great challenges of conflict resolution, political disagreement and government.

The core principles of equality, parity of esteem and mutual respect represent the bedrock of the Agreement.

They established a direction of travel for the peace process and set practical criteria for how it was to operate.

Today the North is unrecognisable from 15, 20, or 25 years ago. Huge progress has been made.

However, we are not yet at peace with ourselves because we are still emerging from conflict.

Although we are right to admire the progress, we have no right to be complacent. The peace process cannot be taken for granted.

The potential for increased instability from the ‘flags dispute’, extending into the marching season, demonstrates the fragility of the peace.

Key faultlines continue to exist in the North in the form of sectarianism, segregation, and divisions created by the hurt caused during the political conflict.

One by-product is that the practical outworking of key principles such as equality or parity of esteem has never been agreed.

Recent events show how much disagreement exists over their meaning with regard to the public use of symbols and emblems.

Equality and parity of esteem need to be embraced as instruments of inclusion and integration and a means to encourage mutual understanding.

They are not zero sum concepts designed to create winners and losers.

The decision to fly the union flag on designated days was a compromise.

Compromise doesn’t discriminate against one section of society; it benefits us all.

There is a solution to the ongoing ‘flag dispute’. It will be found through engagement and dialogue, and on an inclusive cross-party, community, sectoral basis.

There is obvious need for real engagement on what equality and parity of esteem should mean. This responsibility must be taken up by unionism and republicanism, and all political leaders. The alternative to that discussion is to continue lurching from one zero sum disagreement to the next with all the attendant fallout.

Affirming equality between and respect for all cultural traditions, and political allegiances in the North is not about ‘one-upmanship’. It should represent common ground to be built upon.

Sinn Féin’s position is absolutely clear, our Party will guarantee British and Irish identities.

Equality and parity of esteem should threaten no one, nor be allowed to engender fear in any community.

We have hurt each other enough, and we still live with too much fear.

Engagement and dialogue is the only way to deal with the reality of fear, real or imagined, and how we agree not to hold, or use it against each other.

During the last twelve months there has been acknowledgement in public discussions that reconciliation is required in our society.

This is an important first step and should be built upon. We share a collective obligation to ensure the next generation grows up in a better place than we did.

Reconciliation is a vision which we should all seek to share.

Discussion, including uncomfortable conversations, is central to that. Agreement on equality, parity of esteem and mutual respect are essential.

In taking that forward it is very important that we all communicate sensitively, and listen carefully to each other.

Republicans have to listen unconditionally to what unionist people are saying to us – to be flexible with our thinking, and allow our views and ideas to be influenced and shaped.

Our republican vision should be a synthesis of how we unify our people, as well as democratically achieving territorial reunification.

Seeking to persuade the hearts and minds of others with our vision for the future, also requires that republicans must be willing to open our own hearts and minds.

It’s a reality that the future we are destined to share with one another will remain contested for as long as we continue to contest the past, and how far back it extends.

So, perhaps we, as political parties and citizens, should begin to reflect upon and discuss the value of trying to build a reconciliation process in the here and now, by setting aside recrimination and committing to replace the divisions caused by the hurt inflicted during our conflict with new human and political relationships.

In other words, that we all begin to accept who we are, and where we are now, and start to look towards the future, new possibilities and new generations.

That idea is hugely challenging.

But it is not impossible.

The alternative is to let the discourse on reconciliation and its potential for opening a new phase in our peace process, be reduced to a poker game about the past.

The rhetoric of recrimination and whataboutery has nothing to offer. It will ossify politics and undermine the potential for new thinking.

This is a period which requires leadership, initiative and courage from all political parties and leaders.

A willingness to open our hearts and open our minds to the need for compromise, generosity and forgiveness by us all.

Acceptance that engagement and dialogue are key to continuing the journey of transformation begun by the peace process.

Commitment to design political processes which facilitate acknowledgement of the pain, resentment and hurt in all communities, unionist and republican; which has been done to us all, and caused to others.

And agreement to try to heal past hurt and injustices by what we say and do in the future as leaders and parties.

Engagement and dialogue have brought us to this point, and shown what is possible in our peace and political processes.

Now mature and all-inclusive discussion are needed to develop an authentic reconciliation process and a strategy to take that vision forward.

That is how we will create new relationships between republicans and unionists, and Ireland and Britain, and build the trust which will re-energise our peace and political processes.

This prospect may offer the best potential with which to positively manage and deal with the legacy of our past.

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Chris Hazzard has welcomed the injection of £92m into the education system over the next two years.

 Mr. Hazzard stated,

 “I would like to congratulate the Minister for this timely interjection that will relieve the stress on the entire system through a prudent dispersal of funding right across the department.

 “From Aggregated Schools Budget, school maintenance to youth provision this money will have a positive impact in delivering a better learning experience for all of our students.

 “The many areas of the system that will benefit form this funding will create more certainty amongst the schools allowing to bring forward plan knowing that funding for two years has now been ring fenced.

 “Sinn Fein is committed to building a world class education system and the Minister has proven that he is willing to put money into areas of need to tackle the inequalities that presently exist and I welcome that.”

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Responding to the news that five garda vans are to be deployed to replace the service to communities from 143 garda stations closed over the last year, Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn described the news as “farcical” and a “sticking plaster rather than a real solution”.
Deputy Mac Lochlainn said:
“This is just farcical. 143 garda stations have closed across the state. Policing is being decimated in rural communities. Garda numbers are being reduced dramatically. The numbers of garda vehicles have been reduced and many of the existing vehicles are not up to scratch due to heavy mileage.
And what is the solution? Five vans.
“We do not need a sticking plaster solution. We need real leadership and a real solution to a growing crisis.
“Garda morale is on the floor. Frontline gardaí will see an 8% cut to their pay under the new Croke Park deal. They have had to work under tougher and tougher conditions without the necessary back up in terms of personnel and vehicles. The Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors have continually made the crisis clear to both the Garda Commissioner and Minister Alan Shatter.
“I repeat my call on Minister Shatter to engage with the Garda representative organisations and to hear their concerns directly and find a real solution. Sadly, this proposal demonstrates how desperately the Minister requires a reality check.”
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Sinn Féin finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD, has reiterated Sinn Fein’s commitment to repeal the Family Home Tax.
“Later this week and over the coming week or two every eligible and some ineligible households across this state will receive yet another demand from a government fixated on austerity and implementing the failed policies of Fianna Fáil.
“Only last week 70,000 homeowners heard that the AIB will be increasing its variable mortgage interest rates. This comes at a time when one in four mortgages is in distress. The last thing the 180,000 mortgage holders in distress need is another letter bearing unsustainable demands. For the 1.6 million people left with €50 or less at the end of the month once the essential bills have been paid, this will be the tipping point.
“We have showed how an alternative wealth tax could bring in more revenue, not dampen the domestic economy and hit those already struggling to pay.
The new “snitch clause” represents a new low for this government. This is an amendment coming from a government that no longer trusts the people. I believe the feeling is reciprocated.
“For Sinn Féin opposing a tax on the family home is a core issue and is not one we will discard as others have done. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign in the Oireachtas and across the state to repeal this unfair tax.”

ends

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The Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, will lead a Sinn Féin delegation to Brussels next week to discuss the proposals to reform the Single Farm Payment as part of the overall reform of CAP.
The delegation will also include Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Councillors Gerry Murray and Rose Conway Walsh of Mayo and several representatives of small farmers in the west.
The delegation will meet with officials from the Commission and representatives of the Parliament who have been central to framing the proposals.
Sinn Féin will also be launching a substantial report and consultation document on rural Ireland next Thursday, March 7.
Deputy Ferris said: “Our general view is that the payments system need to move towards a more equitable area based payment and we will be outlining our position in Brussels. More importantly we are facilitating what is a wide-ranging debate within the farming community, particularly among small to medium producers on the proposed reforms. I do not believe that the level of support for a fairer system, including the capping of individual payments, is being adequately reflected.”
ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has welcomed the publication of the EU Heads of Mission Jerusalem Report which was handed over to EU governments in January.

The Sinn Féin leader has called on the Irish government, which holds the Presidency of the EU to “give leadership on this vital matter of international concern and act urgently on the information and recommendations made by EU officials. This should include the introduction of EU wide legislation to prevent Israeli products manufactured or grown in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank from benefitting from preferential tariffs agreed under an Israeli-EU trade agreement.”

Teachta Adams said:
“This report is a scathing indictment of the Israeli government’s flouting of international law and its violation of the rights of Palestinian citizens living in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories.
The report finds that the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the west bank are ‘the biggest single threat to the two state solution.’

The EU report accuses the Israeli government of implementing a settlement policy that is ‘systematic, deliberate and provocative’.

It concluded that Israel is pursuing a deliberate policy of seeking to drive Palestinians out of East Jerusalem through restrictive zoning and planning, demolitions and evacuations, discriminatory access to religious sites, an inequitable education policy, difficult access to health care and inadequate provision of resources.

The 15-page report from the EU diplomats identified settlement construction on the southern flank of east Jerusalem -- in Har Homa, Gilo and Givat HaMatos - as being the "most significant and problematic".

The diplomats warned that this construction would likely cut the area off from Bethlehem by the end of the year.

‘The construction of these three settlements is part of a political strategy aiming at making it impossible for Jerusalem to become the capital of two states … If the current pace of settlement activity on Jerusalem's southern flank persists, an effective buffer between east Jerusalem and Bethlehem may be in place by the end of 2013, thus making the realization of a viable two-state solution inordinately more difficult, if not impossible.’

The report also focuses on plans announced by Israel late last year to build 3,426 units in E1 -- a strip of West Bank land east of Jerusalem. If this project goes ahead the EU report concludes that it will effectively cut the West Bank in half.

The Heads of Mission Jerusalem Report 2012 indicts Israel of violating ‘international humanitarian law’.
The report, which was written by the EU heads of mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah, makes six recommendations. It calls on the European Union to ‘prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions, including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services.’

It recommends that the EU, which is Israel's largest import and export market and accounts for about a third of Israel’s total trade, should take sanctions against settlements in East Jerusalem and the west Bank. It wants settlement products clearly labelled to ensure that ‘imports of settlement products do not benefit from preferential tariffs’. “

The Sinn Féin leader said:

“The information in this report cannot be ignored or set aside.

The Irish government currently holds the Presidency of the EU. This report provides clear evidence of Israeli breaches of international law and the implementation of policies that are reminiscent of the homeland policy of the old apartheid regime in South Africa.

The Irish government must give leadership on this vital matter of international concern and act urgently on the information and recommendations made by EU officials. This should include the introduction of EU wide legislation to prevent Israeli products manufactured or grown in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank from benefitting from preferential tariffs agreed under an Israeli-EU trade agreement.”

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Commenting on the decision to charge South Armagh Republican Sean Hughes with IRA membership Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy said:

“It seems the same political charade that was being played out before Christmas with Padriac Wilson is again being played out with Sean Hughes. As we said then those behind this agenda need to be removed from policing before they inflict further damage on the Peace Process.

“This is not about bringing the killers of Robert McCartney to justice. It is in fact the opposite. That became very clear in the court proceedings before Christmas.

“It is no coincidence that the PSNI chose to move against Sean Hughes on the same day they finally moved to act on those who have organised 12 weeks of illegal protests in Belfast and elsewhere. In a bid to create a media impression of balance they underline in very stark terms the very political nature of this move.

“Sinn Féin will continue to support Sean and his family until this political charade is brought to an end and Sean is released.”

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Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has launched Creativity Month – a celebration of innovation and creativity demonstrated by local people, organisations and the creative industries.

A series of events and workshops are taking place throughout March to stimulate new thinking and collaborations to tackle economic and social challenges.

Carál Ní Chuilín, said: “Creativity connects things not previously connected – it connects people, ideas and organisations and inspires us to think differently and to look to the possibilities of the future.

“Our society faces many challenges in the economy, education, health and the environment. Creativity Month will showcase the work of organisations across the region in developing creative and innovative solutions to these challenges. This year's theme will include a particular focus on tackling poverty and social exclusion.

“I am encouraged by statistics published yesterday which show how this sector is contributing to the local economy. While this is a small sector, it is one which is gaining in confidence and performing well. The creative industries are recognised across the world as catalysts for wider economic and social innovation. Our focus is therefore on helping this sector to grow further and to maximise its potential. ”

The Minister added: “Creativity Month is about inspiring and helping creative people, creative ideas and creative organisations and businesses to emerge and flourish. Our creative and cultural industries across the region can lead new ways of rebuilding and rebalancing our economy and in tackling disadvantage and inequalities.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and spokesperson on the Middle East Pat Sheehan, along with a number of European elected representatives, will be visiting Palestine this weekend, Friday 1st March until Sunday 3rd March. This delegation is being organised by the CEPR (Council for European-Palestinian Relations).

Speaking ahead of the visit Mr Sheehan said:

“The visit to Palestine is organised by Council for European-Palestinian Relations and will include elected representatives from across Europe. 

“During the visit we will meet with Palestinian children who had spent time in Israeli jails, the families of Samer Al-Isawi and Aiman Al-Sharawna , who have both been on a hunger strike in the Israeli jails for more than 200 days. We will also be with the family of Arafat Jaradat, the Palestinian prisoner who died in Israeli custody in the past week.

“The delegation will also meet with the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council Dr. Aziz Dwaik. 

“This will provide an opportunity to see first hand the impact that the current punitive Israeli detention strategies are having on all aspects of Palestinian life and allow us to bring this experience and the experience of those affected to a wider audience.”

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Commenting on the publication of HSE 2013 Service Plans for HSE Dublin/North East and for HSE South, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

"No amount of spin from the HSE in these regional plans can hide the fact that they implement the Fine Gael/Labour Budget 2013 and the HSE's National Service Plan 2013 which imposes €721 million in cuts to our public health services.

"An initial reading of the HSE Dublin/North East Service Plan, for example, shows a staff reduction of 750 (whole time equivalents WTEs) and 55 fewer public nursing home beds for older people.

"It shows that the HSE in the region is owed €15.75 million by health insurers for the use of beds in public hospitals by private patients.

"The HSE claims that home help hours that were cut in the last quarter of 2012 have been reversed but there is no evidence to support this and people who lost hours have not had them returned. A real reversal would see these hours restored in 2013 and this is what should happen.

"There are also reductions for children and family services and disability services and closer scrutiny of these plans will be needed to see the reality behind the spin." ENDS

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