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Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson, Deputy Séan Crowe, has accused Minister Ruairi Quinn of ‘reneging on promises made in the Labour’s Party’s election manifesto’ after he refused yesterday to rule out an increase in student contribution fees.

Deputy Crowe said the Labour Party should be ashamed of its track record in Government after less than 100 days in power.

He said, “In the run-up to February’s General Election, Minister Quinn made a pledge that the Labour Party would oppose the introduction of third level fees including student loans, graduate taxes and any further increase in the Student Contribution.

“He also went on to say that he would reverse the €500 increase in the student contribution fee once in office.

“Yesterday, in an interview with RTE, he made a complete U-turn and refused to rule out additional student fees stating clearly that the pledge he made in February now ‘no longer stands.’

“This is just the latest example of how this Government is failing to live up to the pledges it made during the election campaign and they are treating the electorate with contempt.

“Labour particularly should be ashamed of their track record in a government that has not yet reached 100 days in power. The increases to Third Level Fees, like the cuts to SMAs, will impact on the most disadvantaged sections of our society.

“A college education should not be the sole preserve of a middle class elite but that is what will happen if this Government presses ahead with charging excessive fees to students.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has described as wholly inept the procedures and mechanisms being employed by many companies and bodies that gather and retain personal data.

The recent findings of the Data Protection Commissioner’s annual report detail numerous security breaches which were facilitated by weak data protection policies by certain organisations.

The Government needs to step up to the mark and ensure that adequate personal data protections are introduced for the general public.

Speaking today Deputy O’Brien said:

“As it stands at the minute a data controller needs the consent of the individual in question in order to disclose personal information to a third party. This is not happening.

“The Data Protection Commissioner has exposed many serious incidents of improper accessing of personal data records in the insurance industry.

“It appears that Insurance Link, which is a database, maintained by the insurance industry, containing the details of around 2.5 million claims, is wide open to data access abuse. There was no access policy or restrictions and there were cases of insurance staff viewing the details of people they knew or those who came to their attention through the media.

“The report also showed situations of banks utilising customers’ direct debit information for marketing purposes.

“There were cases of bodies retaining information which they didn’t really require to carry out their legitimate functions.

“I was shocked by the worrying number of complaints in the report in relation to ‘big brother initiatives’ such as a CCTV camera in a school toilet and the introduction of biometric systems in schools and workplaces.

“Sinn Féin calls for the introduction and consistent enforcement of more robust data protection legislation, with meaningful penalties for violations.

“Today in the Dáil during the debate on the white collar crime, Criminal Justice Bill I will again be asking for the Minister to move swiftly to introduce the promised whistleblower legislation. Any data protection legislation needs to facilitate, rather than inhibit whistle-blowing in the public interest.

“In the same vein we will also be looking for protections for individuals who would possibly come forward with information around white collar crime to avoid the withholding information charge proposed in the Criminal Justice Bill.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has described as “deeply worrying” the fact that the prison service failed to properly investigate the deaths of prisoners in custody.

Deputy O’Brien called for the recommendations contained in the report by the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly to be addressed as soon as possible.

Speaking today Deputy O’Brien said:

“Sinn Féin supports Judge Reilly’s timetabled demands on prison governors to deal with substandard conditions and practices within the prison system. The Minister for Justice needs to ensure that these demands are maintained and met.

“It is not good enough in this day and age that the prison service doesn’t properly investigate the deaths of prisoners in custody. There is a need for suitable complaints and disciplinary procedures.

“Living conditions in prisons need to be reasonable. They should not be dirty, deplorable living spaces with broken windows or damaged equipment, like the circumstances that Judge Reilly reported on.

“Judge Reilly’s call for a timetable for the elimination of overcrowding could be helped by the Minister for Justice moving as quickly as possible to ensure that the measures included in the Fines Bill as alternatives to prison are put into practice.

“Sinn Féin strongly welcomes any move towards drug-free support areas in all prisons and this needs to be a priority for the Minister.

“We have also called for the introduction of an Ombudsman for Prisoners, who in addition to the current powers of the independent Prison Inspector would also be empowered to investigate and adjudicate prisoner complaints and investigate deaths in custody.”

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Sinn Féin Environment spokesperson Brian Stanley has welcomed the announcement that Germany is to close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022.

Deputy Stanley said he hoped other States that use nuclear energy would follow suit and that this should now signal the end of the nuclear debate in Ireland.

Speaking this afternoon he said:

“Today’s announcement from the German Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen is a massive step forward and should be seen as an example by other States that use nuclear energy around the world.

“I very much welcome this announcement and hope that other nations will follow suit.

“This should now put an end to the debate on nuclear energy in Ireland. The situation in Japan has highlighted to the world the severe dangers of nuclear power.

“We should now concentrate on enhancing our renewable energy capabilities and maximising the use of our natural resources such as the gas in Rossport for the benefit of the Irish nation.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has said it is a disgrace that a Garda found guilty of assault causing harm can walk free from court while 550 people were jailed last year for non payment of fines.

Deputy O’Brien said the case of Garda Dean Foley makes a mockery of the justice system.

Speaking today he said:

“The fact that people are still being imprisoned for non payment of fines is hard to believe given the passing of the Fines Bill last year.

“This is a very costly practice and an extreme waste of time.

“The Minister must urgently ensure that the measures included in the Fines Bill as alternatives to prison are put into practice. We can’t have a situation where legislation has been enacted without the resources necessary to implement it.

“It is a disgrace that a Garda found guilty of assault causing harm can walk free from court while people are still being jailed over failures to pay fines.

“This makes a complete mockery of the justice system and shows that there is one rule for ordinary people and quite a different rule for those in positions of power in this State.” ENDS

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Reacting to Eamon Gilmore’s interview on RTÉ’s This Week programme today, in which he indicated his commitment to reform of the Joint Labour Committee system, Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has called on the Labour Party leader to give a cast iron commitment that the lowest earners will not have their pay cut.

Deputy Tóibín said:

“There are real and very serious fears out there that any review of the Joint Labour Committee system will result in the lowest earners once again taking a hit.

“Sinn Féin will oppose any such move and I am calling on Eamon Gilmore to give a cast iron commitment that the pay of the lowest earners will not be cut as a result of the review which he has committed to today.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe and Councillor Máire Devine has been campaigning against the Universal Social Charge in Kilnamanagh this afternoon.

The Sinn Féin politicians were collecting signatures as part of a wider Sinn Féin campaign against the Universal Social Charge.

Speaking this afternoon Deputy Crowe said:

“Despite promises from the Labour Party to abolish the Social Charge if elected to Government people are continuing to suffer the effects of this unjust tax three months after the election.

“Sinn Féin put forward a Dáil motion to abolish the charge in March but the Labour Party performed a dramatic and shameful u-turn by voting against our motion.

“The charge is having a devastating impact on ordinary working people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

“Sinn Féin will continue to oppose this charge and to stand up for the least well off in our society as this Government continues the Fianna Fáil policy of unfairly burdening the least well off to pay for the economic mess.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Jonathan O’Brien TD has said that he is sick and shocked to hear that the evidence of important witnesses in the Anglo Irish Bank investigation has still to be taken.

Deputy O’Brien was referring to the comments of the Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton, made today at the Annual National Prosecutors' Conference at Dublin Castle in which he claimed that a lack of resources wasn’t an issue in this investigation.

Deputy O’Brien said:

“This would be an absolute comical situation if it wasn’t for the detrimental impact of Anglo Irish Bank on the people of Ireland.

“I am sick and shocked to hear today’s comments from the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“If resources are not the issue, why have important witnesses not been questioned? And why are we not further down the road towards necessary prosecutions?

“The people investigating these shady operations really need to get the finger out.

“I hope this isn’t another case of those in the establishment having more rights than ordinary people.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD has welcomed the reopening of the Egyptian border crossing with Gaza at Rafah for the first time in four years.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn described the decision by the Egyptians as “a crucial first step in the dismantling of the illegal blockade of the Palestinian people of Gaza.”

Deputy Mac Lochlainn said:

“The blockade of Gaza is an outrageous denial of human rights. The international community have rightly condemned it but sadly have also stood idly by in not confronting Israel on their injustice.

“This decision by the new leaders of the Egyptian people is the right decision and further evidence of the positive contribution Egypt can now make to peace and justice in the region.

“The reality however is that much more remains to be done. The international community must meet its responsibilities once and for all in the region to defend human rights and confront blatant injustice.

“The blockade of Gaza must stop immediately. The construction of more Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory must end and the UN must recognise a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.”

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Sinn Féin President and TD for Louth and East Meath Gerry Adams has condemned the decision of Vodafone to cut 139 jobs with another 45 at risk and he has called on the Government to urgently intervene to save these jobs.

Mr. Adams said:

“Vodafone's decision to cut 139 jobs at Dundalk and Leopardstown, and move many of them to Egypt and India is disgraceful and is in stark contrast to the huge profits it has made on its Irish investments. Last year it cleared €120m. Vodafone's thank you to its Irish workforce and customers is to cut jobs.

“This is unacceptable and to be condemned. This evening I spoke to a representative of the workforce.

“There is an urgent onus on the government to immediately intervene to save these jobs.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Jonathan O’Brien TD has said that to see a garda convicted of serious assault walk out of court with a suspended sentence is “outrageous”.

Deputy O’Brien was referring to the case of Dean Foley who had been sentenced to 18 months in jail but had his sentence completely suspended today.

Deputy O’Brien said:

“I am absolutely shocked that a member of An Garda Siochána has been allowed to walk free from court after being convicted of serious assault.

“The fact that this man had his sentence suspended on the grounds that he may “face greater hardship in prison” is unjust and unfair.

“It amounts to immunity for gardaí who break the law.

“If this Garda was an ordinary guy from a working class background would he have had his sentence suspended?

“This shows the mindset of certain sectors of society which believe that those in a position of power have more rights than ordinary people.”

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Sinn Féin President and TD for Louth and East Meath Gerry Adams has welcomed the news that the Sellafield reprocessing plant will be included in the round of stress tests to be conducted on European nuclear facilities due to begin next month.

Mr Adams said the Government should engage in a significant international campaign to exert pressure on the British government to close Sellafield.”

The Louth East Meath TD said:

“I raised the issue of Sellafield two months ago during the first leader’s questions of the new Dáil and the danger it poses to the people of this island. The Taoiseach agreed to raise this matter with the British government.

“The nuclear crisis in Japan, which resulted from the earthquake and tsunami, has heightened public concern about the dangers of nuclear power. In addition there have been two recent earthquakes in the north of England, one of them a 3.6 magnitude earthquake in Cumbria – the site of the Sellafield plant.

“In February there was another in a long list of contamination incidents at the British plant.

“All of this has serious implications for the East coast of Ireland which is a short distance across the Irish Sea from Sellafield.

“While Sellafield may no longer generate energy it is a major nuclear installation with huge amounts of nuclear materials stored on site. This includes a vast underground nuclear contamination bunker which was built there last year and which can store 100 million tonnes of raw plutonium.

“The tragic experience of the people of Japan reminds us of the grave dangers nuclear power presents.

“The Sellafield plant presents a major threat to the lives, health and wellbeing of citizens in Ireland.

“Recently, Sellafield was the site of a major security alert. I welcome its inclusion in the round of stress tests to be conducted on European nuclear facilities due to begin next month.

“The government here also needs to engage in a significant international campaign to exert pressure on the British government to close Sellafield.” ENDS

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Meath West Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has welcomed the seizure of cocaine and heroin with an estimated value of €2million in Navan today.

Deputy Tóibín said:

“I welcome today’s drug seizure in Navan and congratulate the Gardaí involved in the operation.

“The scale of this seizure is reflective of the scale of the drug problem currently facing this state.

“It is imperative that Garda Drug Squads are properly resourced and that Gardaí who are fully trained in the fight against crime are taken out from behind their desks and put on the streets to do what they where trained to do.

“This means civilianising many of the administrative duties of the Gardaí.” ENDS

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Sinn Fein’s Education Spokesperson, Deputy Séan Crowe, has condemned last Friday's announcement by the Department of Education that it is to cut the number of English Language Teachers by 250 from September onwards.

Deputy Crowe, speaking after filing for an adjournment debate on the issue, said: “The loss of 250 English Language Teachers from September is double the cut that schools had expected.

“The Minister needs to explain how he can justify these measures which will impact on an education system that is already failing the literacy needs of our children. It is a decision that will have the most profound impact on the primary schools sector.

“I also condemn how this announcement was made as clearly there was an attempt to bury bad news when the media’s focus was on the visits of the English Queen and President Obama and the death of former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald.

“I also agree with the Irish National Teachers' Organisation who rightly point out that this decision, by a Labour Minister, is yet another attack on disadvantaged and marginalised children. It exposes the double standards of this Government who claim they are committed to improving literacy standards in schools.

“Last year’s OECD report found a dramatic fall in literacy standards in Irish schools across this state. These cuts will also have a significant impact on children from International backgrounds who cannot speak English or whose English is too weak to enable them to thrive in the classroom.

“The loss of 250 posts represents a cut of 18% to the number of language support teachers currently working in the system. Presently, there are 1,400 posts dedicated to supporting children whose English is weak and 80% of these posts are in the primary sector.

“Even the previous disastrous Government restricted the cuts to English Language Teachers to 125 and it is quite scandalous that Minister Quinn believes it is now necessary to speed up a process that will have serious and widespread consequences for many of our children.

“The Labour Party’s ‘Plan for Fairness in Education’ pledged to reintroduce up to 250 teaching posts of the 1200 posts being taken out of the system under the Four Year Plan proposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. How can Minister Quinn implement these cuts after making that commitment? It will be the families and children from disadvantaged backgrounds who will suffer most from these loss of services.” ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil today Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Gaeltacht and the Irish language Peadar Tóibín urged the Government to begin work on the 20 year strategy for the Irish language immediately.

Directing his comments towards the Government Deputy Tóibín said:

“The Irish language is a part of who we are as a nation. It has been spoken for almost 2,000 years and thanks to the trojan work of campaigners and enthusiasts it is growing in some areas. In spite of all this, support from Government for the language is declining fast.

“Certain aspects of Fine Gael policy are totally contrary to the proposals contained in the 20 year strategy. For example they want to make Irish an optional subject for the leaving certificate, they want to end the 'Irish Speaker’s Scheme' and change the rules in relation to the establishment of new Gaelscoileanna will make it much more difficult for Gaelscoileanna to become established in the future. These proposals fly in the face of everything contained in the 20 Year Strategy.

“There was much made of the amount of Irish that the Queen of England and the President of America used on their recent trips but its incredible to think that there is more Gaelic on the Queen of England's website than there is on the websites of Fine Gael and Labour. Unless the Government do a radical overhaul of their attitude and the attitude of the Department towards the Irish language it is in danger of being lost forever.

“I implore the Government to take action, stand up for the Irish language and start work on the 20 year strategy immediately.”

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Ag labhairt sa Dáil inniú dúirt Úrlarbhraí Gaeilge Shinn Féin Peadar Tóibín go gcaithfidh an Rialtas tús a chur le obair an Stráitéis 20 Bliain anois díreach.

Ag labhairt leis an Rialtais Dúirt an Teachta Tóibín:

“Tá stair fada bródúil ag an Gaeilge sa tír seo. Ta sí á labhairt againn ar feadh ar a laghad dhá mhíle bliain. Tá grá agus meas ag móramh na daoine fós uirthi. Tá an-chuid obair á dhéanamh ag eagraíochtaí iontach timpeall an tír. Tá fás ag teacht uirthi in áiteanna. Ach ní leor sin. Tá sé soiléar anois go bhfuil tacaíocht an rialtas ag laghdú.

“Tá ráitis áirithe déanta ag Fine Gael atá glan i gcoinne moltaí sa Straitéis 20 bliain, ar nós deireadh a chuir le Gaeilge éigeantach ag leibhéal na hArd teiste, deireadh a chuir le Scéim Labhairt na Gaeilge, agus rialacha maidir le bunú Gaelscoileanna nua a dhéanamh níos déine.

“De réir cosúlacht níl an rialtas seo i ndáiríre mar gheall ar an Gaeilge. Múna athróidh an rialtas a aigne agus a pholasaí beidh an Gaeilge caillte ag ár nglúin go deo mar theanga beo. Impím ar an rialtas in ait a bheith ag caint faoin Gaeilge tosaigh obair an Straitéis 20 Bliain anois díreach.”

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Speaking following recent gun attacks in Dublin which left one man dead and one injured, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice Jonathan O’Brien has said that the Minister for Justice should provide adequate funding to the gardaí to tackle the scourge of gun crime instead of ploughing millions into garda overtime.

Speaking from Leinster House Deputy O’Brien said:

“On a yearly basis, the amount of money spent on Garda overtime has ranged from €77.7 million in 2005 to €135.4 million in 2007.

“Last year the figure was €76.6 million. This is an excessive amount of money which cannot be justified, particularly in these very difficult times. The size of last week’s over the top security operation to facilitate the visit by the English Queen to our capital city will undoubtedly skew this year’s figures upwards.

“Despite the many challenges facing rural and urban based communities across this state, each year a significant portion of garda resources are misdirected into policing operations of questionable value. This information also shows there is a clear need for additional gardaí who are needed to make our streets safer.

“One example is the garda operation in defence of Shell at Bellanaboy, County Mayo which in 2009 cost €11 million in garda overtime alone - more than half of the €20 million budget ring-fenced for Operation Anvil, the intended focus of which is organised crime.

“The misuse of overtime by An Garda is an indication that the organisation is not functioning properly. These most recent figures are indicative of a serious problem in the management of resources and it is a matter that this government must address immediately.”

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Responding to reports of an increase in prosecutions for intimidation of witnesses and jurors Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has said measures must be taken to protect those who help the pursuit of justice while maintaining the open and transparent nature of our justice system.

Deputy O’Brien said:

“I welcome the increase in the prosecution of those who try to pervert the course of justice by intimidating witnesses and jurors. However I am concerned that the increase in prosecutions is a result of an increase in these types of crimes.

“It is crucial that the Government puts in place measures to protect those who help the pursuit of justice by becoming witnesses or jurors. But we must also be careful not to dilute the open and transparent nature of our justice system.

“Measures which Sinn Féin supports include screening witnesses and jurors where necessary, making use of audiovisual equipment for witness testimonies, quicker trials and moving trials to different jurisdictions with jurors not chosen from the area where the crime was committed.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, has welcomed the announcement that the Cabinet has agreed heads of a Bill to address the current lack of regulated access to ‘soft information’ on potential abusers of children. In answer to a question from Deputy Ó Caoláin at Dáil Order of Business today Minister Brendan Howlin said that the heads of a Bill have now been agreed by Cabinet.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“The report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Geoffrey Shannon, published yesterday, exposes the alarming inadequacy of laws, procedures and resources to protect children from abuse. The lack of regulated access to ‘soft information’ on potential abusers of children is one of the main issues that needs to be addressed.

“The Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, of which I was a member in the last Dáil, recommended in September 2008 that legislation to regulate ‘soft information’ be introduced. This is now long overdue.

“Minister Howlin’s confirmation that the Cabinet has agreed the heads of the Bill is welcome. The legislation must be a priority for the new Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and for the Department of Children when it is established in legislation in the coming weeks.”

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Sinn Féin’s newly appointed Spokesperson on Workers’ Rights Senator David Cullinane has welcomed the publication of the Report on wage rates covered by ERO’s and REA’s but has warned against the Minister departing from the reports main recommendations.

Senator Cullinane said the proposals from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton make clear his intention to cut the wages of lower paid workers. He also questioned whether a rift was emerging within Government on the issue

Speaking from Leinster House today Senator David Cullinane said:

“I welcome the publication of the report into wage rates covered by ERO’s and REA’s. We have consistently said that the report must not be about reducing the pay or terms of conditions of employment for hundreds of thousands of low paid workers. Nor should it be used to allow employers to opt out of existing agreements.

“Any cut to the ERO’s will have profound social consequences and will drive down the pay of over 300,000 low paid workers already struggling to make ends meet.

“The Labour Party campaigned in the recent election on a platform of protecting low paid workers and their families. Joan Burton and others in Government repeatedly made the point that current social welfare rates acted as a disincentive to work. Surely cutting the pay of low paid workers will act as an ever greater impediment and is not the way to bring about sustained economic recovery.

“The Government need to realise that cuts in pay or social welfare are counterproductive and damaging to our economy. Reducing the spending power of 300,000 workers will result in a drop-off of consumer spending and will further hurt service, retail and hospitality sectors.

“It is ironic that these are the very areas where those covered by ERO’s and REA’s are employed. It would seem that the Minister is pandering to employer organisations such as IBEC whose agenda is to cut pay and drive down the terms and conditions of working people.

“I am appealing to the Minister not to pander to such vested interests and resist from allowing for derogation from the terms of the ERO and REA’s on economic grounds. Such a move would see existing agreements undermined and would facilitate a potential lowering of wages for several hundred thousand workers.

“I am especially appealing to the Labour Party to stand by their pre-election promise of protecting the most vulnerable in our society including low paid workers and not allow the Minister to go beyond the recommendations of the report.” ENDS

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