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Sinn Féin solidarity vigil with the Palestinian people

Sinn Féin solidarity vigil with the Palestinian people as Israel continues its horrific bombardment of Gaza



“HAP is not a solution and if the government succeeds in passing it into law, it will have wide ranging negative effects on the future of housing in Ireland and our ability to tackle housing need in the years to come.”



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Responding to the report on the National Employment Action Plan today Sinn Féin Social Protection Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said it confirms his view that the plan is not fit for purpose.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“I acknowledge the commitment in the Jobs Initiative to reinvigorate the National Employment Action Plan. That plan is badly in need of an update as it is no longer fit to activate people in any significant numbers. However effective activation measures are resource intensive and I fear the government are not making the necessary investment.

“It takes money and staff to conduct the requisite interviews and meetings with jobseekers, to properly map and match each and every job seekers skills and experience with the appropriate education, training and ultimately job opportunity.

“Last month this government made a commitment to the EU and IMF that it will reduce social expenditure year on year. In that context it is unlikely that even the very basics of activation will be provided for by government never mind the more extensive supports such as affordable childcare which are no less vital to enable the transition to work.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin north Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly, commenting on speculation in the media this morning that an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane is to be announced by the British Government within weeks said;

“A commitment was made to establish an inquiry into Pat’s murder in 2004 – it is totally unacceptable that the British Government is continuing to stall on this issue.

"Pat’s family deserve truth and they deserve justice; the prolonged delay by British Secretary of State is completely unacceptable and only delays the process of truth and justice.

"All of those who strive for justice will hope that Pat's family will be brought the justice they have waited on for so long.” CRÍOCH

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Commenting on reports of exorbitant expenses claimed by the President of Waterford Institute of Technology Professor Kieran Byrne, Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane has called on Mr. Bryne to be suspended without prejudice pending a full investigation of the claims.

Speaking from Waterford Senator Cullinane said:

“With the spectre of a return to tuition fees and/or a graduate tax still on the table and with the student registration fee having been increased year on year since its inception, going to college is fast becoming a preserve of the wealthy with many working class families being unable to pay to put their children through college.

“Today’s revelation will come as a smack in the face to students and their families who have had to deal with the rising costs of going to college.

“I believe that Mr. Byrne should be immediately suspended, without prejudice pending a full investigation of the expenses claims.”

“Such an investigation should be independent, thorough and time-framed.

“We in Sinn Féin want to see a total overhaul in the public sector and an end to wasteful spending and exorbitant salaries and expenses.

“We would cap the maximum salary available to public sector workers at €100,000 and tackle expenses corruption by ending the payment of unvouched expenses for public servants.”

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Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson, Seán Crowe, TD, has described this week’s publication of the Government’s Jobs Initiative as an ‘inadequate response to the spiralling unemployment crisis’.

Deputy Crowe, who spoke on the matter today in the Dáil said:

“The proposals announced this week lack ambition and fall way short of the commitments made during the election by FG and Labour who promised to generate 45,000 new employment and training places.

“Their very modest proposals show they have reneged on their promises and represent a serious downgrading of the Programme for Government and Jobs Initiative.

“And whilst any increase in placements in this area is to be welcomed, the fact that the total spend in this area amounts to €29million, of which a meagre €11 million is additional, speaks volumes about this Government’s commitment to the unemployed.

“It suggests a lack of commitment on the part of the government to help the unemployed or those on low or middle incomes.

“It’s seems acceptable to tax the bejaysus out of ordinary people but by contrast there is always some barrier or lame excuse when it comes to taxing the wealthy, particularly those who ultimately created this crisis.

“Current unemployment trends illustrate the extent of the challenge facing this government - job losses are destroying the social cohesion of rural and urban communities. Addressing the unemployment crisis was supposed to be central to the FG/Labour parties’ plans to stimulate our economy yet does anyone believe that Tuesday’s proposals contained in the Government’s Jobs Initiative will have any meaningful impact?

“It certainly will not inspire hope of a new beginning in anyone suffering the effects of unemployment.”

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Speaking today during Dáil statements on the Government’s Job Initiative Sinn Fein’s Michael Colreavy who said “The Government’s so-called Jobs Initiative plan is a plan for a town – not a plan for a nation.”

He went on to say “the initiative goes no-where near far enough to address the employment problem that the state is currently facing.”
Deputy Colreavy called on the government to create jobs through the building of schools, restoration of local roads and to utilise Ireland’s natural resources in favour of all Irish citizens.

In conclusion he stated “this nation needs a government with vision, courage and a passion for the small things right. This nation needs a government that seeks an economy working for the people, not people working for the economy. This nation needs a real jobs initiative.”

Full text of speech below:

This jobs initiative plan reminds me of the person that closes their eyes, walks a bit faster and whistles as they pass the graveyard hoping that things will work out ok. The reality is that we have IMF/ECB austerity budgets for the next four years which will take more money from local economies. The government could have chosen to cap public service pay, including the Taoiseach’s at €100,000, the government could have chosen to introduce a new higher rate of tax for those earning €100,000 per annum. The government could have chosen to introduce a wealth text; the government could have chosen to renegotiate a better deal on our oil and gas licences. The government did none of these things.
We cannot fix the national economy by taking money from the pockets of the very people who sustain local economies. There has to be a better way and there is a better way.

The Government’s Job initiative is well-intentioned but closing your eyes will only get us into further trouble. You are making it hard, the next four budgets will deflate local economies and thereby the national economy.

Deputy Gerry Adam’s had it right when he said that the Government’s Job initiative plan is a plan for a town – not a plan for a nation. The initiative goes no-where near far enough to address the employment problem that this state is currently facing. It would be unfair of me to rubbish the initiative entirely - it is not completely redundant. Sinn Fein welcomes 20,900 new training places which have been provided for under the various schemes announced by the government on Tuesday. However in no way does it go as far as it needs to go. To say that it is disappointing is an understatement – In an election that was won on one issue and one issue alone – jobs, we have seen almost all promises made by the government on the issue broken.

On top of not actively creating any jobs, the government has gone further by not encouraging or offering any incentives for entrepreneurs. Nothing within this initiative is of a promotional nature. The government are continuing to make it extremely difficult for anyone who wishes to step out alone and start a new business.
Government Impediments:

More than not creating new jobs the government is actually going further by making it difficult for people who actually have jobs. Even those who are employed are facing problems under the current government. Under the current regime, rates on businesses are based on the size of the building as opposed to being based on the money that is actually generated there. People are being put out of jobs purely because they cannot afford such payments. There is a better way than this. By charging rates based on how much is generated there rather than the size, small to medium sized businesses are given a better chance to thrive rather than being strangled and forced to close as is the case at the minute. All over Sligo and North Leitrim businesses are closing because they simply cannot afford the rates that they are being forced to pay.
Water charges which were strongly opposed by Sinn Fein are yet another issue standing in the way of business owners. They are strangling local businesses and are a millstone around the neck of any business owner. People simply cannot afford to pay these charges; they are finding it increasingly difficult to keep their businesses afloat.

There are many opportunities for job creation in this country.
Schools

In my own constituency of Sligo/North Leitrim there are several schools were children are being taught in prefabs. What is the sense in this? First of all these are not fit for purpose, our future generations deserve more than this given the boom in which they were born. But furthermore why would we pay rates and rent to private individuals when there is an opportunity for job creation through the building of schools? In the long run this will inevitably save us money. Such a project not only creates jobs but it also ensures that these schools will be there in years to come. Sinn Fein is advocatingan increased school-building and refurbishment programme for 2011 to take at least 125 schools through the construction stage. A 16-classroom generic repeat design project costs approximately €3million in current market conditions. This would cost €375million in total and create approximately 4,000 jobs directly and 1,600 indirect jobs. A minimum of 150 school-building projects should enter the architectural and planning stage each year so that school projects are ready to proceed as quickly as possible to the construction phases.
What about the NAMA owned buildings?

I think it is really important to mention the buildings owned by NAMA. We are surrounded by empty buildings that are more than fit for purpose, why aren’t we using these? Are they just going to lie empty and un-used? What is the sense in this? Surely these can be used in a better way given the state the country is currently in? Why are tax payers funding private landlords in leases for state offices while so many buildings owned by tax funded NAMA lie idle? We could use these to let out cheaply or even for free to job-seekers who could then use them to set up industries/businesses. As it stands these empty buildings are not being used and not bringing in any money, we should change this. Why aren’t we making it easy? Why are we making it difficult for the people? With the economy, as in life, we should be making it easy to do the right thing.
Natural Resources

Another huge area for revenue is our natural resources. We need to ensure that these are being utilised to the maximum possible gain for the citizens of this nation, we need to remain conscious of the declaration in the Democratic Programme that ‘the Nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women of the Nation, but to all its material possessions, the Nation’s soil and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-producing processes within the Nation’ We have seen how mistakes were made under previous governments, particularly with the Corrib gas issue. The deal was done behind closed doors and the Irish people did not see a red cent of the money gained from our natural gas. It is of the utmost importance to ensure that in the future these mistakes are not repeated.

We need to make the most of what we have. We have vast untapped potential that exists off our shores in oil and gas reserves, estimated by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in 2006 to be ten billion barrels oil equivalent, which at current prices amounts to a potential value of around €700 billion;

Sinn Fein is calling for:
— a complete review of licensing and revenue terms and the immediate revoking of the consents given to the Corrib consortium and the license for Lough Allen pending such a review;
— the establishment of a State oil, gas and mineral exploration company that would hold a 51% majority share in all oil and gas finds and would have its own research facility in order to collect full and up to date information on reserves;
— the imposition of a 50% tax on oil and gas profits; and
— a 7.5% royalty;
And that the revenues that would accrue from this would provide towards the resources for long term and sustainable growth in place of the current indenture to the EU and IMF because of the unsustainable bank debt.

Bunker management

The way in which government departments and semi state offices work will also have to change. Tendering for example needs to be done in such a way that we get people out of the dole queue and into jobs. Only then will the true economic cost be known. We don’t want false economics; the only unit of measurement that counts is the tax payer. Every government agency and government department needs to take into account the wider economic impact of their choices and decisions in spending public money. Every decision must take into account the need to provide work for those who are jobless.
Roads Issues

There is huge potential for job creation through roads. There are many roads around the country that need major work. In my own constituency there are several roads that are not fit for purpose momentarily. The unfinished 12 km stretch of N4 from Dublin – Sligo at Clonemahon is unfit for purpose.

The N 16 Sligo to Blacklion section of Sligo – Belfast road is a disgrace – an upgrade has been promised for at least 20 years and still nothing has happened.

The N59 from Sligo – Ballina and the R280 from Tullaghan to Carrick-on-Shannon similarly need major work.

Fixing these roads will not only provide employment but it will also do great things for rural Ireland by attracting more people into the areas thereby further stimulating local economies.

If we want to help the economy lets tackle the delay in paying Agriculture grants to farmers. People who should have been paid in December still have not been paid, they have been told there is a computer problem and that they won’t be paid until June or July. I imagine that if the Departmental officials were told this there would be serious problems.

This initiative will do very little for the 8983 unemployed people in Sligo/ Leitrim; it will do very little for the thousands who have been, and will be forced to emigrate.

Let us remove impediments to business people by implementing the proposals contained in Burke and Mc Ivor business plan for the development of the fishery harbour centres.

Conclusion

This nation needs a government with vision, courage and a passion for the small things right. This nation needs a government that seeks an economy working for the people, not people working for the economy. This nation needs a real jobs initiative.

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Speaking after today’s debate on the Jobs Initiative Sinn Fein spokesperson on Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Peadar Tóibín has said that, ‘the government’s pension levy proposal is deeply inequitable.’

Deputy Tobin said:

“Today at the conclusion of the Jobs Initiative debate I directly questioned Minister for Finance Michael Noonan on what appears to be a number of serious inequalities in his pension levy proposals.

“As the proposal stands it operates as a flat tax on which rich people pay the exact same amount as those who are struggling to get by.

“There are also reports that company directors and high earners may be exempt from the levy.

“And it appears the outworking of the proposals will have a greater impact on people with defined contribution pensions compared with those on defined benefit pensions.

“I asked the Minister to clarify these matters as many ordinary people who are currently investing in their pensions are concerned with exactly how the Government’s proposals will impact on their savings.

“I also asked the Minister if he had established the exact cost of the levy to individual pensions holders.

“Unfortunately the Minister would not answer any of the questions posed.

“Sinn Féin has long argued for progressive tax reform and for increased taxes on high earners and on wealth. However we are opposed to regressive forms of taxation. We are also opposed to increased taxes, on the income and savings of ordinary working people.

“The Government’s pension levy is deeply inequitable. As with the previous government’s decision to introduce a Universal Social Charge that punished low income earners while easing the burden on high earners, it appears that Fine Gael and Labour are taking the same approach, adding an additional burden on low and middle income earners, while at best failing to make the very rich pay their fair share and at worst allowing them to contribute nothing at all.

“The Jobs Initiative itself has proven to be very disappointing amount to little more than to creation of 400 jobs. This is the equivalent to the opening of two Tesco stores or the stemming of immigration for just three days. It simply is not good enough as a measure to tackle the unemployment crisis.” ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil today Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD accused the government of putting the completion of personal insolvency legislation on the long finger.

Deputy McDonald said: “The Master of the High Court has set out very clearly the catastrophic consequences of aggressive banks pursuing desperate people laden with debts they cannot meet. Current law is clearly inadequate to tackle these challenges. It has been agreed by this government that we need an overhaul of bankruptcy law and Sinn Féin believes we urgently need mechanisms to deal with debt resolution.

“This government, like Fianna Fáil before them, has been swift in pumping billions of euros of taxpayers' money into bad banks yet has failed to apply the same urgency to tackling the plight of distressed debtors and mortgage holders. This morning the Tánaiste again stated that the planned publication date for the personal insolvency Bill will not be until 2012. Considering the onslaught of debt for so many it simply does not make sense that such an important piece of legislation is not high on the government’s agenda.

“Interim measures referred to by the Tánaiste this morning for inclusion in the civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill later this year to tackle debt management and enforcement were presented as some sort of holding legislation until the personal insolvency Bill is published. The government continues to long finger this issue and the longer it does the greater wider society suffers.” ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Workers Rights Martin Ferris TD has claimed that employment strategy under the terms of the IMF/EU deal is based on undermining wage rates.

Speaking during the debate on Government’s Jobs Initiative, the Kerry North/Limerick West TD said that the intent behind the review of existing wage agreements, as pressed for by the IMF, was to allow employers to pay below agreed rates.

Deputy Ferris said:

“The simple fact of the matter is that by agreeing to continue to implement the IMF/EU austerity programme, both parties have been forced to abandon their no doubt genuine desire to have tackled the unemployment problem in a more meaningful way.

“The reason they have been forced to do so is that the IMF and the EU has no interest in the sort of stimulus package that would help to get us out of this mess and is insistent that whatever money is floating around will be used to pay off the debt.

“Indeed it is apparent from the updated agenda underlying the ironically named IMF/EU stability programme that was published last week that they do not envisage any real improvement in the jobs situation.

“They state bluntly on page 13 of the update that ‘the unemployment rate is set to remain high over the forecast horizon.’

“That is despite the fact that the IMF takes a fairly positive view of global economic growth which it is forecast will be reflected within Europe over the next few years. Unfortunately the benefit of any such upturn will not accrue to those in this state who will remain on the dole, whose wages will remain under attack, and whose overall standard of living will continue to fall as we remain indentured to the bank debt.

“It would also appear that the IMF and EU believe that whatever employment growth might come about will come about not as the consequence of a stimulus package but through cutting wages. It will be interesting then to hear what the Government’s response will be to the current review of Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements if it as expected recommends that employers be allowed opt out of agreements setting wage rates for 300,000 mainly low paid workers.

“The publication of that review, which I understand is already in the hands of Minister Bruton, comes at a time when low wage employers in the fast food sector are awaiting a High court decision on their application to opt out of the ERO in the catering sector and there are other similar applications pending.

“It is clear then that both the IMF/EU and the employers’ organisations expect that the reversal of the cut to the National Minimum Wage will be offset by the undermining of the structures and agreements in place to protect other low paid workers.

“If the review complies with the clear intent of the IMF, as stated at the time of the bailout, to ‘review with a view to elimination’ of the wage orders, then the race to the bottom will begin in earnest.”

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Speaking in the Dáil today on the Government’s Jobs Initiative Sinn Féin Social Protect Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD criticised those who claim social welfare is a disincentive to work. He said the only disincentive to work in Ireland is the lack of jobs.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh accused Fine Gael and Labour of continuing Fianna Fáil’s approach of placing the burden of recovery unfairly on those in our society who have the least.

He said:

“There has been much discussion in the media and on the airwaves around the jobs crisis. Time and again commentators are depicting social welfare as a disincentive to work. Never was there a less appropriate time for that paradigm. Welfare is not a disincentive to work. The absence of a job is.

“That said a number of unemployment or poverty traps do still remain and these must be addressed. But the solution is not to cut rates and schemes. Rather the solution is to ensure that work pays by allowing recipients to move into low paid employment or increase their hours without fear of an immediate loss of all protections.

“I think the government recognises this and that is why the Programme for Government committed to amend the 30 hour rule for rent supplement and mortgage interest supplement. However I fear that the promise the government made to the EU and IMF indicates that they will instead take a retrograde approach to this issue. They will make life on social welfare so poor and intolerable that the most insecure, lowest paid and black market work will be incentivised.

“The government has committed to reducing social expenditure which means that despite ever increasing dole queues and greater numbers depending on mortgage interest supplement they have implicitly promised to make further cuts to social welfare schemes.

“Considering that the Programme for Government commits to maintain welfare rates I think it is more likely these will be stealth cuts. Eligibility rules will be tightened and secondary payments will be hit by this government.

“Fine Gael and the Labour Party will continue Fianna Fáil’s approach of placing the burden of recovery unfairly on those in our society who have the least.” ENDS

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Michael Colreavy TD & Cllr Darren O'Rourke