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Sinn Féin Culture Committee member Billy Leonard MLA has said that the DCAL Committee must explore urgently the legal ramifications of the failure of the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure to bring forward a comprehensive Irish Language policy.

Mr Leonard was speaking after Human Rights Commissioner Monica McWilliams submitted a letter to the Committee outlining their position following the report from the EU’s Committee of Experts into the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages.

Speaking this afternoon Mr Leonard said;

"The Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure received a letter today from Monica McWilliams regarding the report from the EU's Committee of Experts which has considered the implementaton of the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages.

The letter highlights further a number of the findings from the Committee of Expert’s report; notably their call for the implementation of a ‘comprehensive Irish Language policy’.

As Sinn Féin has been stating for some considerable time now, the report also stresses the need for both An Ghaeilge and Ulster Scots to ‘be treated in accordance with its own specific situation’.

The Human Rights Commission has asked the Minister Nelson McCausland if he intends to take any measures to promote respect for Irish given the conclusions of the Council of Europe. Mr McCausland needs to spell out clearly his intentions with respect to this.

Given the findings of the Committee of Experts, the Assembly scrutiny committee on culture, arts and leisure will now have to explore the legal ramifications for the Department and the Minister for the failures with respect to the Irish language.

Nelson McCausland must now move to implement his languages strategy and introduce Act na Gaeilge.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin deputy Chair of the Health Committee Michelle O’Neill MLA has proposed at today’s Committee meeting that a joint sitting of the Health and Justice Committees takes place to discuss outstanding questions around the return of the McDermott Brothers to the village of Donagh.

Speaking from the Assembly this afternoon Ms O’Neill said;

“I proposed the joint sitting after it was revealed at today’s meeting that the Lord Chief Justice had written to the Justice Minister David Ford seeking to clarify the position around the judgement in relation to the McDermott brothers and their allowing their return to Donagh.

A number of serious questions around the judgement in this case remain unanswered, even after several weeks of two scrutiny committees, Health and Justice, having sought answers on behalf of the victims and survivors.

The Chairs and deputy Chairs of both Committee’s will be coming together to discuss this matter. We must ensure that the victims and survivors of abuse in Donagh are central to all of this and that we learn the lessons in order to prevent a repeat of this type of incident in the future.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin DETI Committee Member Jennifer McCann MLA (West Belfast) has called on the Minister to give assurances that the Social Economy Budget will be treated as a priority.

Following a meeting of the Enterprise Committee today Jennifer McCann said:

“I have grave concerns that the Social Economy Budget could see its funding reduced by up to £50,000 a year.

“The Social Economy Budget is a vital component in efforts to revitalise the economy and in the drive towards economic recovery. It not only creates local employment but also assists in regenerating communities. Rather than considering a reduction in this funding I believe it would assist regeneration of communities and strengthen the local economy if there was more focused investment in this sector.

“I am calling on DETI Minister, Arlene Foster to ensure that the Development of the Social Economy remains a priority within her department and that she ensures that it is given the attention and financial support it requires to grow and make its full contribution to economic recovery. CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin has today contacted Gardaí in Pearse Street Garda Station requesting an investigation into possible acts of fraud and deception by An Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and the Chief Executives and Chairmen of Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank under Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act, 2001.

Mr Ó Broin asked the Gardai to investigate whether or not Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan deliberately withheld information from the Dáil regarding the insolvency of Anglo Irish Bank or whether or not the officials from Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank withheld information from Cowen and Lenihan in meetings before the enactment of the bank guarantee scheme.

Speaking today Ó Broin said:

“In September 2008, in the run up to the bank guarantee scheme, David Drumm & Sean Fitzpatrick of Anglo Irish Bank met Brian Goggins and Richard Burrows of Bank of Ireland and informed them of Anglo’s insolvency.

“They then met Dermot Gleeson & Eugene Sheehy of AIB and informed them of Anglo’s insolvency.

“Following this Brian Goggins, Richard Burrows, Dermot Gleeson and Eugene Sheehy all met with Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan to urge them to introduce a bank guarantee scheme.

“Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan then went to the Dáil and introduced the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill commonly known as the Bank Guarantee. During the course of the debate on this Bill neither Brian Cowen nor Brian Lenihan informed the Dáil that Anglo Irish Bank was insolvent.

“The passing of this Bill led to huge financial loss for the Irish Taxpayer.

“I have today asked the Gardaí to investigate whether or not Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan deliberately withheld information from the Dáil regarding the insolvency of Anglo Irish Bank or whether or not the officials from Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank withheld information from Cowen and Lenihan in meetings before the enactment of the bank guarantee scheme.” ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation including MEP Bairbre de Brún and Alex Maskey MLA will be visiting the Basque Country to take soundings on the opportunities presented for developing the peace process following ETA’s statement declaring a ceasefire.


Speaking from the Basque Country Mr Maskey said:


“This visit to the Basque Country is at the invitation of the Abertzale. Sinn Féin has been engaged with the situation in the Basque Country for some time. We are keen to share our experiences of peace building in Ireland with people here and take soundings on the ground in the wake of the recent ETA statement.


“Our experience is that inclusive dialogue is key to political progress in conflict resolution. In Ireland, that was the point at which progress tilted in the direction of becoming irreversible.” CRÍOCH


NOTES TO EDITORS:


ETA cessation: Background Note:


There is a long affinity between Irish republicans and the Basque people.
Gerry Adams and other senior party leaders have been there many times.
Since the collapse of the ETA cessation in December 2006 there have been behind the scenes efforts to restore the peace process.
These have involved Gerry Adams and other senior Sinn Féin activists engaging in an ongoing dialogue with Batasuna and others in an effort to rebuild the stalled Basque peace process.
In February at a conference of the Abertzale Left Regional Assemblies, which includes Batasuna, a new political strategy for progress was agreed.
It draws heavily on the peace process in Ireland, including a specific reference to the Mitchell Principles, and commits Abertzale Left to using ‘exclusively political and democratic means’ to advance its political objectives.
It seeks to advance political change “in a complete absence of violence and without interference’ and ‘conducted in accordance with the Mitchell Principles.’ And its political goal is achieve a “stable and lasting peace in the Basque country.”
It is crucial that the same mistakes made in 2006 are not repeated. Dialogue is urgently required.
The Basque separatist groups have spent a lot of time internally agreeing a new way forward. ETA has now announced its cessation. There is now an opportunity for progress which I hope the Spanish government will grasp.
There is also an important role for the international community in encouraging a resurgent peace process in the Basque country.

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Sinn Féin MLA (west Belfast) Jennifer McCann has welcomed today’s news that Phoenix Gas prices are to remain unchanged for around 130,000 homes and business in Belfast.

Speaking from the Assembly this afternoon Ms McCann said;

“Today’s news from Phoenix Gas is very welcome as we head into the winter months; last year showed us the potential for extreme cold and weather disruption that can affect many people.

The fact that prices are to remain unchanged for those people in Belfast will go some way to reassuring, particularly our older and more vulnerable citizens, that prices will not drastically increase at a time when we use our gas heating most.” CRÍOCH

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson Sport, Martin Ferris TD has extended his best wishes to RTÉ commentator Micheál O Muircheartaigh on his retirement.

Deputy Ferris said: “It is difficult to imagine what the GAA will be like in the absence of one of the distinctive voices of our games. Micheál has been an intimate part of the life of the country for decades and he will be greatly missed and impossible to replace.

“Apart from his role as a commentator he also took part in many club events around the country, travelling long distances at his own expense to make presentations. Indeed my own club Ardfert were honoured with his presence, an occasion that is fondly remembered by all who were there.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy today launched a £10 million traffic control system which will improve the management of traffic flows on the M1/Westlink in Belfast.

The system, which was procured under the M1/Westlink construction works, will operate on both carriageways of the road network between M1 junction 3 (Black’s Road) and A12 Westlink at Clifton Street.

The Minister said:"This new system monitors the speed and flow of traffic on M1/Westlink by detection loops buried in the carriageway. As congestion starts to occur, the traffic control system will automatically adjust the speed limit accordingly, displaying a mandatory speed limit on the overhead gantries and information on variable message signs to inform drivers why the speed limits are being implemented.

“The M1/A12 Westlink route carries approximately 65,000 vehicles per day and this system is an example of how Roads Service is using the latest technology to improve traffic management of this part of the road network. The scheme will enhance road safety, improve traffic flows and lead to more reliable journey times, improved air quality and reduced traffic noise."

The implementation of this traffic control system on the A12 Westlink will be the first time that variable mandatory speed limits have been applied to a road here in the North of Ireland.

This system was part funded by the European Union.

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Sinn Féin MLA (Foyle) Martina Anderson has criticised the opportunist attack from Alex Attwood in this morning’s Irish News.

Speaking this morning Ms Anderson said;

“The criticism levelled by Alex Attwood and the SDLP is one of the most bizarre to date from a party who stand for little but are opposed to lots. Are the SDLP telling us that we should not develop programmes to tackle poverty and social disadvantage? Is Alex telling us that additional monies should not be ear marked to programmes to lift areas such as his own constituency of West Belfast or my own constituency of Foyle out of disadvantage?

OFMdFM have the responsibility to tackle poverty in our society.

As part of seeking to help assist areas suffering the greatest levels of deprivation OFMdFM put forward a bid to be considered as part of the next Comprehensive Spending Review and are in the early stages of developing a programme to tackle poverty in the most disadvantaged communities in the north.

That information was sent to the OFMdFM committee, which SDLP members sit on, so it can hardly be considered that something was being ‘hidden’ or that OFMdFM were ‘cooking’ something up.

The bid, like all others, will be considered by the Executive and it is they who will decide. The SDLP’s track record in actually delivering for deprived working class nationalist and unionist areas hardly basks them in glory; so Alex’s latest attack will come as no surprise to the people who have been working on the frontline and doing much work to deliver for those most in need more often than not despite the SDLP.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA has extended his best wishes to Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh following his announcement that he is to retire.

Mr. Adams said:

“For as long as I can remember Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh has been the impassioned voice of Gaelic games for generations of players and supporters.

Rinne sé éacht ag cur cluichí Gaealacha agus a n-imirt chun tosaigh.

Micheál’s exciting and insightful commentary will be greatly missed.

I wish him well in his retirement. “ ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillors Seán Crowe and Cathal King will be joined by their party’s Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD at the launch of a new document containing proposals to save and create almost 100,000 jobs in Dublin in 2011.

The document, entitled Let’s get Dublin working, will be launched in St Dominic’s Community Centre in Tallaght tomorrow evening at 7.30pm.

For more information or media queries contact Shaun Tracey on 0877735218.

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Sinn Féin Policing Board member and Foyle MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed a report by the Board’s human rights Advisor that the PSNI should not release images or details of anyone under 18 unless it is absolutely necessary.

Martina Anderson said:

“The board’s Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee met today to discuss the PSNI decision to release photographs of young people wanted for questioning.

“The Human Rights Advisor made clear her concern that images or other details of any person under the age of 18 years should not be released unless it is absolutely necessary in terms of protecting the general public or the young person from serious injury and only after all other methods have been tried and failed.

“This issue is addressed as part of a Thematic Review conducted by the Board on the rights of Children and Young People. It recommends that each and every decision to release a single image or other detail must be justified. In each case before the decision is taken the PSNI should conduct a detailed risk assessment and consult with all relevant individuals and agencies. A record of the risk assessment and consultation must be recorded.

“This was endorsed by the committee and will now go to the full Policing Board and there are obvious implications for PSNI operations such as ‘Operation Exposure’ where the images of young people allegedly involved in serious disorder were widely publicised.

“I would like to welcome this development because there is an onus on all of us to ensure that the human rights of children and young people are protected.”

Notes to Editors

The Thematic Review on the rights of Children and Young People will be published in November.

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Speaking at the opening of a GUE/NGL conference on the European Citizens' Initiative* with Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, Irish MEP Bairbre de Brún said that mobilising people to engage in decision-making should be at the heart of the Citizens' Initiative.

 

Speaking earlier Ms de Brún said:

 

"It is extremely important that the Citizens' Initiative is as accessible as possible. This should be about mobilising people and creating a direct link to "Brussels". We have two choices: we can create an initiative that empowers and involves people, especially young people, or we can create an inaccessible bureaucratic nightmare with a whole series of restrictions and obstacles.

 

"In my experience, restrictive age and identity requirements for registration will prevent people becoming involved. Any talk of restricting participation to registered voters is wrong. Let's make this a user-friendly instrument and empower people and communities."

 

Also speaking at the conference, GUE/NGL Chair Lothar Bisky told Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič that forms of direct participation can be very positive but must be taken seriously, in a reference to the French and Dutch referendums on the European Constitution. "The ECI can bring added value if it inspires people to participate but the current proposals on this are insufficient and in need of improvement."

 

*Provisions for the ECI are included in the Lisbon Treaty. The initiative enables one million citizens who are nationals of a "significant" number of Member States to call directly on the European Commission to bring forward an initiative of interest to them in an area of EU competence.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Senator Pearse Doherty has called on the Minister for Education and Skills Mary Coughlan to act immediately to alleviate what is likely to be another grants crisis.

The Senator said that in Donegal County Council alone, of the 650 first time applicants the vast majority have not yet been processed, meaning that the majority of new applicants will not receive their grant when it is due out in mid-October.

Senator Doherty said:

“Last year saw thousands of students in crisis situation while left waiting months for the first instalment of their grant. One year on and the indications are such that, far from learning the lessons of last year, the Department of Education and the Minister look set for yet another grants crisis.

“Information given to me by Donegal County Council has shown that of the 650 new grant applicants, the vast majority have not yet been processed. With the council almost 6 weeks behind in processing applications it looks like the majority of new applicants will not receive their grants by October and the vast majority will not receive their letters of offer.

“By not receiving the letter of offer, students who are due back in college this and next week, are faced with a crisis situation. Registration has already started. Students who are not entitled to a grant have to pay a €1,500 fee for registration. Without the letter of offer showing that they are entitled to a grant, grant applicants will be faced with two options: pay up or drop out.

“The very fact that students apply for a grant means that they are hard-pressed for money and cannot afford the exorbitant registration fee. Already l have received phone calls from worried parents and students saying that they will be forced to drop out of college if they do not receive their grant on time.

“The Minister for Education needs to act fast so that this situation does not spiral out of control again. I believe that there are three immediate steps that need to be taken:
1. There should be an immediate review of the backlog that exists in councils and VECs and of their ability to handle the crisis.
2. Temporary staff should be deployed to process applications.
3. The Minister should issue a directive to all third level institutions ordering temporary registrations of all grant applicants in order to allow them to participate fully in their courses.

“These are simple steps which the Minister could and should take immediately in order to alleviate this crisis.” ENDS

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Deputy Chair of the Justice Committee Raymond McCartney has cautioned Justice Minister David Ford against pre-empting any findings from the ongoing review into prisons here.

Speaking after Mr Ford ruled out a ‘Patten style’ reform of the Prison Service following the publication of the Billy Wright Inquiry yesterday, Mr McCartney said;

“The first part of the Prison Review Panel’s brief is specifically looking at the situation in Maghaberry; what is clear is that the entire Prison System in the north needs a radical overhaul.

The Justice Minister is premature when he rules out any measures before the panel have published their findings. David Ford would do well to firstly listen to whatever recommendations emerge as well as the views of the various parties and stakeholders in the round.

Sinn Féin is to meet the Review Panel this Friday and we will putting directly to them our concern around the number of reports that have found major failings and issues of concern within prisons in the north; as well as this we will be stressing our serious concerns around the combative culture of the Prison Officers Association and their role within Prisons here.” CRÍOCH

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Commenting after the publication of the IMC report into the murder of Shankill loyalist Bobby Moffett which blamed the UVF for the killing, Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast Paul Maskey said:

“While the murder of Bobby Moffett was clearly a tragedy for his family and friends the IMC today after spending weeks inquiring into the murder told us what everyone already knows that Moffett was killed by the UVF. Given the recent resignation by Dawn Purvis from the PUP there will be no political consequence arsing from this report.

“At a political level this report highlights the fact that the IMC as a body serves little purpose and is a waste of time, money and effort. It is a leftover from David Trimble’s era and one which is little more than a cash cow for those involved. At a time when significant pressures are being placed on the public purse can anyone seriously justify continuing to pump millions of pounds of public money into the IMC when there are real and acute pressures on frontline services in education, health and other areas.

“The IMC should be abolished and the monies being wasted in its administration and expenses should be redirected into frontline services as part of the effort to minimise the effect of the Tory cuts.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin M P for Fermanagh and south Tyrone, Michelle Gildernew has facilitated a meeting in Donagh tonight between survivors of child abuse and the Western Health Trust.

Speaking ahead of this evening’s meeting Ms Gildernew said;

“This is an opportunity for officials from the Trust to engage directly with the survivors of sex abuse in Donagh.

Following on from recent presentations by officials to both the Justice and Health Committees, there remains a number of vital and as yet unanswered questions.

I hope that tonight’s meeting will begin the process of answering some the outstanding questions victims and survivors have as well as working to ensure there is no repeat of this situation again.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin MLA Jennifer McCann has welcomed the statement from the Energy Regulator Ian Osbourne that there will be no increase in the price of electricity this year.

Ms McCann stated,

“The statement from Ian Osbourne, the Energy Regulator, that there will be no rise in the price of electricity here is to be welcomed. The North of Ireland already has one of the highest costs for electricity in Europe and the decision to freeze that price will no doubt be well received by both industry and householders alike.

“In the present economic climate it is important that people on low incomes are not deprived from necessities like electricity needed to power and heat their homes but I would like the regulator to look further into bringing the price of electricity into line with other countries across Europe.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson MLA (Foyle) has welcomed confirmation from the Universities Minister that he is seeking extra funds to provide 1,000 additional student places at Magee University.


In response to an Assembly question from Ms. Anderson yesterday (Tuesday), Minister Reg Empey confirmed that he was asking the Finance Minister for increased funding which would be used to create 1000 full-time undergraduate places at Magee.


“Obviously we have been lobbying for several years now to have Magee expanded because a thriving university is vital to the economic regeneration and future prosperity of this city,” Ms. Anderson commented.


“There has been some progress in terms of the university securing extra land on the Foyle site and developing a strategic development plan which was submitted to the Minister last year.


“Implementing that plan would be a welcome first step towards the kind of expansion that we all want to see and I am pleased that the Minister has confirmed to me that he has now submitted a bid for additional funding that would increase full-time undergraduate numbers at Magee by 2015.


“I hope that we can soon start to see some concrete progress on this issue. Magee is the only campus which the University of Ulster is committed to growing in terms of student numbers and it can become a central point of the city’s regeneration if the political will exists to make it happen.”


NOTES TO EDITORS


Martina Anderson asked:


To ask the Minister if he intends to bid for extra resources in order to relax the MASN cap allocation on the number of students at University of Ulster in light of the Magee strategic development plan which is currently with his Department.


The Minister replied:


Yes, I have submitted a bid as part of the Budget 2010 process fo additional funding to support the University’s desire to increase full time undergraduate numbers at Magee by 1,000 by 2015.

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Commenting on this morning’s interview with Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the issue was not the Taoiseach’s physical state but the state of the nation as a result of disastrous Fianna Fáil policies which caused the crash and are now deepening the recession.

He said:

“The physical state of the Taoiseach Brian Cowen after the first night of his party’s think-in is far less important than what he actually said. He defended his Government’s plan to cut at least €3 billion in the forthcoming budget, devastating health and education and other public services.

“455,000 jobless people are now paying for the Fianna Fáil binge of the past 13 years when their Governments, in league with corrupt developers and bankers, inflated the property bubble, leading to the economic crash and the current recession.

“The Taoiseach’s colleague Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keefe, in a Freudian slip, said that they would be taking €3 billion ‘out of the economy’. That is exactly what is going to happen. The billions taken out of the public spending budget will suck the life blood out of the overall economy and lead to further unemployment and poverty.

“This Taoiseach and this Government are politically bankrupt and have no mandate to pursue the disastrous economic policies they have imposed on the Irish people. They should resign and call a General Election.”

ENDS

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