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Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, has said that an updated plan for future development of the Middletown Autism Centre will go ahead as soon as possible.

The Minister was speaking after the Department for Education and Science in the south confirmed that they had lifted the pause on capital funding for Middletown.

The Minister said: “Middletown is a joint north–south initiative and I welcome the announcement that funding will now be available from the Department for Education and Science to move ahead with a new phased development plan. Funding from my Department continued to be available to Middletown during the year and this important project has already provided training to hundreds of professionals.

“A new phased multi-annual plan for the future development of the Centre will be developed in conjunction with the Board and will take account of international best practice and the development of autism services on the island of Ireland since the Centre was established. Middletown will be dedicated to improving and enriching the educational opportunities of children and young people with autism.”

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has today sent her deepest condolences to the family of baby Millie Martin who died as a result of horrific injuries inflicted upon her.

Speaking today Ms Gildernew said;

“Firstly my thoughts and prayers are with Millie’s family at what is no doubt a horrific time of pain and sorrow for them; as a mother I can only imagine the type of suffering the family will be going through at this tragic time.

“When I heard of nature of Millie’s death I was physically shaking.

“Obviously questions need to asked of many agencies in relation to what happened to allow Millie to endure such a horrific death and I will certainly be asking those questions but I am also conscious at this time of the wishes of family to grieve in peace.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Social Affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said the row over Paul Gogarty's use of the F word in the Dáil has distracted from the real issue - Deputy Gogarty's support and that of the Green Party and Fianna Fáil TDs for savage cuts to social welfare.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The row over Paul Gogarty's language in the Dáil has distracted from what he was actually saying - he was defending his support for savage cuts to social welfare that hit the most vulnerable in our society. He voted along with his Green Party and Fianna Fáil and so-called 'Independent' colleagues to slash payments for people living in poverty, very many of whom are in his own constituency. The F word is the least that he and his fellow Government backbenchers have to apologise for having ensured the passage of a Social Welfare Bill that is a recipe for impoverishment and emigration.

"Deputy Gogarty should hang his head in shame, not for his unparliamentary language but for his betrayal of the people who elected him." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald has welcomed today’s allocation of €200,000 from Dublin City Council to keep three swimming pools open for at least six months. The swimming pools were to be closed before Christmas.

Ms. McDonald has been heavily involved in the campaign to keep Seán McDermott Street Swimming Pool open. Speaking after Dublin City Council made its announcement today she said the campaign must continue to see the long term future of the pool secured.

Ms. McDonald said, “This news is obviously a welcome development and shows how people putting pressure on the council and the elected politicians in the North Inner City can make a difference. However, the council has not made a commitment to retain the pool in the long-term, only for the next six months.

“It is vitally important that people keep up the pressure and not just to keep the pool open, but to see it upgraded and improved. I and Sinn Féin will continue to campaign to keep this pool open in the long term. The community here in the North Inner City cannot afford to lose more of what are already too few facilities.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has condemned the scandalous decision of the Fianna Fáil and Green coalition to inflict cuts of between €50 and €100 on young people currently out of work.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “According to figures published by the National Youth Council of Ireland there are almost 3,300 young people under the age of 25 who are out of work in the Dublin South Central constituency alone.

“Youth unemployment has trebled in the last three years and one in four young people in Ireland are now unemployed. The reduction of the jobseekers benefit will trap many in poverty, encourage more to emigrate and inflict significant hardship on many Irish young people.

“The Government is determined to sacrifice a generation of Irish young people to appease the bankers.

“They say they are doing it to encourage young people to take up jobs. What jobs? The disastrous economic policies of this Government have ensured there are no jobs available. Young people want jobs, they don’t need a cut in their supports to make them want it more. What we needed from this budget was investment in job creation and that was sorely absent.

“There is an alternative. Earlier this year Sinn Féin was the first party to publish a comprehensive job protection and creation strategy with over 80 proposals focused on our number one priority, getting people back to work.

“Instead of looking to that, or the ideas put forward by the trade union movement and the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, the Government chose to cut public services, cut the wages of nurses, teachers and fire fighters and to target our young people for cuts.”

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Local Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has welcomed today’s announcement that the Council will continue to find Crumlin swimming pool into the New Year. But he warned that the community and the Council must work together to ensure its long-term survival.

“The announcement this morning that the Council has allocated €200,000 to ensure Crumlin swimming pool can survive for the next eight months is to be welcomed and is a tribute to the work of local people in campaigning to keep it open,” said Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

“But we need to start to work together now to ensure that in eight months time we are not scrambling around again to try and save the pool.

“The Council needs to sit down with local representatives and, most importantly, the local people who use the pool, and work out a plan to ensure its long-term survival. Sinn Féin is committed to assisting this in any way we can.

“But part of that has to be about encouraging people to use the pool more. The more of us who make use of the facilities provided there the harder it would be for anyone to threaten to close it down in the future.” CRÍOCH

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Speaking at a press conference this morning organised by the United Alliance Against Cuts (UAAC) Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald said the consequences of this budget for poorer communities will be absolutely devastating. Ms McDonald said the Government has lost the plot and must be replaced.

Ms McDonald said:

“This Government is attacking people who are currently only just threading water in terms of trying to survive. The consequences of this budget, particularly on poorer communities, will be absolutely devastating as will the consequences for the economy as a whole.

“The challenge for the Government was not only to fix the economy and the public finances but also to protect society.

“They have failed to protect any citizens that rely on welfare or are struggling on low pay. They have failed to provide any vision or plan around employment.

“What they have offered is a recipe for despair and division, a recipe for further unemployment and a strategy that is fundamentally about driving people into poverty and debt.

“I think now at Christmas time that it is absolutely sick that we have a Government that would inflict this kind of pain on its citizens.

“Now is the moment for people to say enough is enough. People who live on welfare, people who struggle on low pay now need to stand up for themselves and for each other.

“It goes without saying that this Government has got to go. They have quite frankly lost the plot. They think it is politically and ethically ok to target the weak, the vulnerable and those who have least. That to me is a Government that is not only past its sell-by-date it is a Government that is deeply dangerous for the country.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Social and Family Affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh today led a protest at Leinster House which aimed to highlight which TDs are set to vote in favour of cuts to dole payments later this evening.

Speaking at the protest Deputy Ó Snodaigh criticised the Government for rushing through the Social Welfare Bill describing it as the behaviour of a worried Government running scared from the electorate.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Government TDs cannot simply vote for these savage cuts to social welfare payments without facing the consequences from the electorate.

“The fast tracking of the Social Welfare Bill is a blatant attempt to avoid lobbying from constituents over the weekend. It is the behaviour of a worried Government running scared from the electorate.

“Shame on a Government that seeks to make the least well off pay for their economic incompetence.

“Sinn Féin will continue to highlight which TDs voted in favour of these cuts in each and every constituency in the state.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and deputy chair of the Health Committee Michelle O’Neill has welcomed the decision by the Belfast Health Trust to review their decision to treat vulnerable men and women with mental health problems together in a single ward in Knockbracken

Speaking today Ms O’Neill said:

“The decision to merge two single sex wards into one ward in Knockbracken healthcare centre was extremely concerning and these concerns were expressed by a number of groups, but especially those who are directly affected including patients and their families.

“Current best practice is moving more and more towards single sex wards so I don’t see how the Belfast Trust could justify making this initial decision and I welcome this review.

“People who present to this ward are already vulnerable adults. To further expose them to the risk of extra contributory factors that may very well arise as a result of this forced integration would be a serious worry.

“The Belfast Trust now needs to consult and listen to very carefully to those who use the wards, their families, and past patients to understand the anxieties out there with regards to this move and seek to address them.

“This initial decision appears to be a measure to save money rather than putting the patient’s needs first and it is a move that is avoidable. What we are seeing is a not what can be called an efficiency saving but a way to save money. Efficiency means that a service is provided at a better level of quality and competence, not a cut back of services.”

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Sinn Féin Social and Family Affairs Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has described the Social Welfare Bill as a despicable piece of legislation. Speaking in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Snodaigh called on young people to stand up to the Government and fight back.

He said:

“This is a despicable piece of legislation. Quite simply, it attacks the incomes of the most vulnerable – those the Minister for Finance claims the government is trying to protect. Widows, the disabled and carers are targeted for cuts as are lone parents. Particularly savage cuts are declared at the young unemployed.

“Rather than declaring war on poverty, this legislation gives effect to the government’s war on the poor. People affected by these cuts are also bearing the brunt of range of other cuts that will further inbed inequality in our society – cuts to funding for educational disadvantage, drugs task forces, community support services, and family resource centers will all contribute the hardships felt by a certain section of society.

“Minister Lenihan spoke of how we need to regain our optimism – but today as the impact of this budget sinks in many families, parents and young people are plunged into despair. They see no future. No choices. No ways out. The blight of emigration looms once more over many communities – particularly in the west.

“Minister Mary Hanafin’s concluded her speech today by saying that after the cuts ‘social welfare recipients are therefore still better off in real terms.’

“Please tell that to our thousands of young people coming out of education and training facing a future of unemployment and then the prospect of cuts of between €50 and €100 a week in their weekly income.

“People have another option and that is fighting back. It is especially a time for young people to make their voices heard. Don’t take this from the government which is throwing your future away. Take a stand. Fight back. They have calculated that you won’t. They think you wont vote – they hope you will emigrate. Prove them wrong.

“I fervently oppose this Bill and all that it proposes.” ENDS


Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s speech follows:
Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2009

This is a despicable piece of legislation. Quite simply, it attacks the incomes of the most vulnerable – those the Minister for Finance claims the government is trying to protect. Widows, the disabled and carers are targeted for cuts as are lone parents. Particularly savage cuts are declared at the young unemployed.

Sinn Féin rejects in its entirety the thinking behind this bill: That the economic crisis can be addressed in large part by cutting the incomes on those who have the least rather than those who will remain comfortable at the very top. Token gestures of cuts to Ministers and the Taoiseach’s salaries are laughable when put into the context of how on the flipside, cuts are going to impact people on 100 or 150 euros a week. Earlier on Newstalk Mary Hanafin referred to a 10 euro cut as minimal in the greater scheme of things. A 10 euro cut can mean the difference between having a meal or not. Such a reference in itself highlights the complete disconnect and disparity between what is being experienced by those in government and the regular normal worker or unemployed person in our country. It is arrogant, out of touch and nothing short of an insult to those struggling with the little they have to get by on. Also the €8 reduction in most social welfare payments will make a huge difference to the household budgets of many people who are struggling to get by.

It is a brutal budget for the poor, the unemployed, the pensioners, the low paid workers in both private and public sectors, the disabled, the carers and the families or young couples struggling with massive mortgages to pay. Those are the real people who are being hit. A salary of over 150,000 can take a cut. What I and so many can’t abide is the injustice in expecting people who are most at risk to bear the burden of this economic crisis. We are told consistently that we must all play our part. That we must all row in. That collectively we will get out of this mess if only we would all just change our mindframe, get positive, grit our teeth and dig deep. It is unethical to tell the people most at risk in society to take responsibility for the hideously irresponsible decisions and enormous careless risks made by this government in the past. What part did a single mother, a carer, a voluntary worker play in this financial disaster? The government would have us believe that the economic crisis in this country was brought about solely by global banking eventualities beyond their control. The conditions for the succeeding property crash were created right here by you and your government. The irresponsible manner in which the taxpayers money was squandered and the obscenity of telling the nation that we were “awash with money” has brought us to this doomsday scenario. The decision to not safeguard services or not invest sufficiently in hospitals and schools was made here. And now the people feeling the effects of these bad decisions are also being told they must tighten their belts and exist on even less than in the past. It’s not fair and it’s not good enough. The vast majority of people are not unreasonable. They know we are suffering hard times and that difficult decisions need to be made. There is little dispute over that. The fury on the streets stems from the seriously unbalanced way in which the proportion of the picking up of the tab is being weighted. People are outraged by the government’s hypocrisy and gaul in telling us that this is a case of collateral damage. It is not. And everyone knows it.

People are also furious that without any consideration of alternative proposals, the government remains steadfast in protecting the wealthy, the banks and developers. This budget is void of vision and this Social Welfare and Pensions Bill reaffirms that.

Cutting social welfare will further deflate the economy. Earlier today on News Talk even Eddie Hobbes declared that the government’s decision on cuts in Social Welfare would bare long term catastrophic effects to the economy. With further deflation, more jobs will be lost. More people will be unemployed. The social welfare bill will increase. But for this government, the penny has still not dropped.

Fr Seán Healy, director of Social Justice Ireland said without social welfare payments, 43 per cent of Ireland’s population WOULD BE in poverty. This notion that a decrease in social welfare payments will get people back to work is a nonsense at a time when there are no jobs to be found and no credible alternative employment schemes being offered in proportion to the number of people needing them.

Rather than declaring war on poverty, this legislation gives effect to the government’s war on the poor. People affected by these cuts are also bearing the brunt of range of other cuts that will further inbed inequality in our society – cuts to funding for educational disadvantage, drugs task forces, community support services, and family resource centers will all contribute the hardships felt by a certain section of society.

Minister Lenihan spoke of how we need to regain our optimism – but today as the impact of this budget sinks in many families, parents and young people are plunged into despair. They see no future. No choices. No ways out. The blight of emigration looms once more over many communities – particularly in the west. In Dublin and in my own constituency unemployment is rampant. There are 20,363 young people under 25 out of work in Dublin right now. 1 in 4 young people are out of work nationally. What was announced yesterday did very little to get them back to work and into training or education. Minister Lennihan continues to admonish the nation that “anger is not a policy”. Let me remind him that neither is arrogance and disrespect.

Minister Mary Hannafin’s concluding remarks in her speech today went like this: “We have ensured that cuts in weekly rates for those aged under 66 are lower than the decreases in prices over the past year or so and that welfare recipients are therefore still better off in real terms.”

Please tell that to our thousands of young people coming out of education and training facing a future of unemployment and then the prospect of cuts of between €50 and €100 a week in their weekly income. The National Youth Council of Ireland said today and I quote, “ In our view emigration was the only incentive offered to young people in the Budget yesterday. That is bad for young people, their families, their communities, but also a loss for our country……. In our view young people can be key players in the drive to revive and renew our country. The response to date has been totally inadequate, we have a crisis in youth unemployment-it has trebled in 3 years. We welcomed the announcement of the Work Place Programme in April, if even at 2,000 places it was a modest start. Yet 6 months later only 129 people have been placed by the scheme, this is unacceptable.” End quote. What we will begin to see is a repeat of the 80’s Brain drain. There are over subscriptions in colleges, courses and training schemes.

If people in this country are now better off in “real terms” then why are St. Vincent de Paul receiving in excess of 500 phonecalls a day? The organization has come out and said that reduction in the adult social welfare rate is very bad news. That it compounded with the loss of the Christmas Bonus will force people in to debt and inevitably money lending. The seriousness of this fact can not be emphasized enough. And Sinn Fein has been pointing this out at nauseum and it has fallen on deaf ears. After Christmas you will witness the disastrous effects. You are out of touch and have no idea how the people you have targeted struggle every day to survive.

If long-term or visionary thinking underpinned this budget the young would not be targeted as they are.

Young working class people will suffer most from this budget. That is a certainty and this Bill cements that. More and more young people will be alienated from the political system and from society. The social costs of this will be felt for years into the future. They will remember the €1 million golden handshake to former FAS general secretary Roddy Molloy when they search hopelessly for a job on the notice board in their local FAS offices and work out how to live on €100. Young people who grew up during the celtic tiger era and despite being educated in dilapidated unsafe school buildings have achieved educational excellence have had the carpet pulled from under them.

Despair and disillusionment will push people into addictions. This is a fact.

Should this Budget go through, you will have created a new lost generation. A generation who will leave the country and whose skills and enthusiasm and ability will be lost. They could be rebuilding the economy of this country rather than leaving it.

The way to reduce the Social Welfare Budget is not by making cuts. It is by making job creation a priority. Our party has outlined ideas around how this can be done in our pre-budget submission where central to our Submission is the need for economic stimulus to protect and create jobs. We have come up with strategies, you have ignored them.

People have another option and that is fighting back. It is especially a time for young people to make their voices heard. Don’t take this from the government which is throwing your future away. Take a stand. Fight back. They have calculated that you won’t. They think you wont vote – they hope you will emigrate. Prove them wrong.

I fervently oppose this Bill and all that it proposes.

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Ógra Shinn Féin today reacted with disgust to the Budget, in particular singling out the cuts in Jobseekers Benefit for scathing criticism. In announcing its intention to take the streets forcefully, National Organiser Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire stated that this budget indicated a complete and utter lack of interest in Young people from the government, who clearly see them as expendable.

Mr. Ó Laoghaire said:

“The track record of the government in terms of young people is far from enviable – they did their very best to introduce student fees, they inflicted enormous cuts in education, and on community services.

“This Budget is surely the most scandalous and shocking example of this governments callous and short sighted disregard for young people.

“Brian Lenihan spoke in terms of protecting the vulnerable, and of the young being the greatest resource we have. However the Government’s actions speak far louder than their words. They seem almost determined to cast an entire generation to the scrapheap, whilst they write blank checks for the Banks.

“The reduction of the jobseekers benefit will trap many in poverty and encourage more to emigrate, and the cuts to social welfare will inflict significant hardship on many Irish young people. These cuts are short sighted in the extreme, and the money saved is a pittance to the potential loss of young people to our workforce.

“Ógra shinn Féin will be actively campaigning on this in the weeks and months to come, and to highlight the difficulties many young unemployed people face in the current climate. Brian Lenihan targeted the young unemployed, which constitutes some 25% of all young people, because he thought they would not fight back. We intend to prove him wrong.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has criticised the cutting of funding for the community employment and jobs initiative schemes in the budget.

Speaking today Deputy Morgan said:

“The announcement by the Minister for Finance of €50million of savings to be made in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment will have ramifications for the Community employment sector and indeed for social welfare.

“The proposed measure to reduce allowances for community employment and the jobs initiative will have the serious repercussions of undermining the valuable contribution being made by these schemes and will dissuade people from taking them up, keeping them on social welfare.

“Sinn Féin believes that more attention should be devoted to the development of the Irish social economy and both the Jobs Initiative Scheme and the Community Employment Scheme are central to this. The social economy transcends the often exploitative relationship between worker and employer and encourages empowerment, collective approaches to production and ecological stability.

“It is increasingly recognised that the social economy has an important role to play in society particularly by enhancing the economy within communities suffering social and economic exclusion. The social economy is necessary to build a strong, stable and egalitarian economy and Sinn Féin oppose vehemently any moves to reduce allowances for the Jobs Initiative and Community Employment schemes being run through FÁS. These schemes are productive both for the community and those who are unable to find work.

“Reducing allowances for the Jobs Initiative and Community Employment schemes is short-sighted and will be detrimental.

“For years Jobs Initiative has played a significantly important role in the lives of droves of people – it has given them confidence, it has given them access to training, self development, and allowed them to experience working in the mainstream when all other options were closed under the free market.

“Jobs Initiative and Community Employment workers have become an invaluable support in the communities they work in. These schemes have become the only lifeline to employment that many people, especially those in the disability sector, can access. To reduce these allowances will seriously undermine the work of thousands of people across this State.” ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Workers’ Rights Martin Ferris has claimed that the impact of the cuts to Jobseekers Allowance and the lack of support for retraining and employment creation will drive tens of thousands of young workers to emigrate.

The Kerry North TD said, “In my county, which has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the state, there are currently 2,858 people under the age of 25 on the dole and I know that many are considering joining those who have already left to seek employment abroad.

“The cut in Jobseekers allowance is, in my opinion, a cynical move that is in fact designed just for that reason. This Government hopes to export its young unemployed just as successive Irish Governments have done when faced with the consequences of their failure and the failure of those who have wealth in this country to sustain economic growth. As someone once said the young unemployed follow Irish capital abroad.

“The cut in the allowance is compounded by other cuts in training programmes and other community schemes and has to be placed in the overall context of a Budget that will do nothing whatsoever to stimulate economic growth and employment.” ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáíl today on Budget 2010 Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the budget was cobbled together by economic illiterates. He described Brian Lenihan’s speech as “one of the greatest examples of self delusion we have ever had to listen to.”

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“Last night the gulf between Government TDs and those who elected them grew wider than ever before.

“The people of Ireland looked on with horror as the members of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party applauded a savage budget, a budget that attacks the poor, the low-paid and the medium income earners. It was a budget cobbled together by economic illiterates.

“Minister Lenihan’s speech must rank as one of the greatest examples of self-delusion we have ever had to listen to. Either that or he is deeply cynical. Certainly he is trying to delude the Irish people.

“The Fianna Fáil backbenchers are the greatest shower of hypocrites that ever sat on those benches. Their only hope now is to try to hang together and pray they are not plunged into an early general election when many of them may hang separately.

“The sheep will be driven willingly through the voting lobbies tomorrow. Then at the weekend they will go home and bleat to their constituents that they had no choice, that there was no other way, that the public purse was empty and we all have to bear the pain. Shame on them all and shame on their pathetic followers in the Green Party.

“Sinn Féin’s proposals are not for resting on a shelf. They are campaigning proposals and we will advance them in the months ahead. We welcome the fact that people are fighting back against the disastrous policies of this Fianna Fáil/Green Government. People have been on the streets in the past year in unprecedented numbers in demonstrations, strikes and other forms of protest.

“We need economic policies founded on fairness and with the ability to succeed in providing a decent livelihood and decent public services for all. Such policies also need to instil confidence.

“Sinn Féin is confident that the Irish people can emerge from this economic crisis and that we can build a fairer society and sustainable economy.

“To do that we must reject the policies on which this Budget is based and get rid of the politically bankrupt Government which produced it. We demand a better, fairer way. We say to this Government get out of office and give the people back our country and our economy.” ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech follows:

Budget Statements 10/12/09

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Sinn Fein Dáil Leader

Last night the gulf between Government TDs and those who elected them grew wider than ever before.

The people of Ireland looked on with horror as the members of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party applauded a savage budget, a budget that attacks the poor, the low-paid and the medium income earners. It was a budget cobbled together by economic illiterates.

Minister Lenihan’s speech must rank as one of the greatest examples of self-delusion we have ever had to listen to. Either that or he is deeply cynical. Certainly he is trying to delude the Irish people.

He told us we are “on the road to economic recovery”! Who does he think he’s kidding?

Like a First World War general Minister Lenihan told us the worst is over and that this is “the last big push”. I was expecting him to say it will all be over by Christmas. If it’s the last big push we know who he’s sending over the top – the low paid workers and their families, the social welfare recipients, the carers and the young unemployed.

The Fianna Fáil backbenchers last week staged a mock revolt over the talks with the public service unions. But there will be no revolt when they troop through the lobbies tomorrow to support cuts to the welfare payments of the most vulnerable sections of our society.

The Fianna Fáil backbenchers are the greatest shower of hypocrites that ever sat on those benches. Their only hope now is to try to hang together and pray they are not plunged into an early general election when many of them may hang separately.

The sheep will be driven willingly through the voting lobbies tomorrow. Then at the weekend they will go home and bleat to their constituents that they had no choice, that there was no other way, that the public purse was empty and we all have to bear the pain.

Shame on them all and shame on their pathetic followers in the Green Party.

Shame on them for what they are doing to those who depend on social welfare. They have cut a swathe through social welfare benefit schemes and assistance schemes. Jobseekers Allowance, Farm Assist, Pre-Retirement, Supplementary Welfare Allowance – all cut. Widow and Widower’s pensions cut. Deserted Wife’s Benefit Allowance cut. One-Parent Family Payment cut. Disablement Pension and Invalidity Pension cut as well as the Disability Allowance and Blind Pension.

Quite disgracefully and inexcusably this Budget cuts both carer’s benefit and carer’s allowance. They are taking €8.20 and €8.50 respectively per week out of the pockets of people who are caring for elderly and/or disabled relatives in their homes. People on Disability Allowance are going to lose €8.30 per week.

The person on Carer’s Allowance will be out of pocket by €34 per month or €408 per annum. The Carers’ Association has quite rightly pointed out that carers are the only social welfare recipients who have to work for their payment by providing full time care in the home to elderly, sick and disabled.

It has been estimated that 161,000 family carers provide over 3.7 million hours of unpaid care each week contributing more than €2.5 billion to the Irish economy each year. The 40,883 family carers providing full-time care - more than the 39,000 nurses employed by the HSE - contribute €1.6 billion to the economy.

This cut is the thanks that carers get. And Minister Lenihan claims the over-riding objective of the Budget has been to “strive for fairness”!

Where is the fairness in the savage cuts to social welfare support for young unemployed people?

This Budget cuts Jobseekers Allowance for 20 and 21 year old new applicants from €204 to €100 per week and to €150 per week for those between 22 and 24. This is a further attack on young people who are facing the ordeal of the dole queue. It follows the April Budget’s slashing of Jobseekers’ Allowance for 18 and 19 year olds.

Who are these young people? These are the children who did their Junior Cert between 2001 and 2007 at the height of the Celtic Tiger and their Leaving Cert between 2006 and 2009 as it was coming to an end. They were told they were being educated in a knowledge economy and that if they worked for the best academic results they would reap rich rewards in a State with full employment. But now, thanks to the disastrous policies and gross mismanagement of Fianna Fáil-led governments, they are being thrown on the unemployment scrap-heap.

In the past two years the numbers of young people that are unemployed under the age of 25 has soared by 173%. We have the 2nd highest level of unemployment among 18-24 year old males in Western Europe at 26.5% - more than twice the State unemployment rate of 12.5%

It is 25 years since Thatcher was on the rampage in Britain but here in the Fianna Fáil/Green Budget of 2010 we find Thatcherism alive and well. The Minister tells us the purpose of his cuts to young people’s dole is “to encourage them to stay close to the labour market”. He claims that the experience of the 1980s was that the welfare system “was out of step with labour costs in the rest of the economy” and “trapped people in protracted joblessness”. Well, Minister, that type of Thatcherite thinking was wrong then and it is wrong now. It translates as saying that you shouldn’t pay the jobless any more than the barest subsistence or they won’t want to work. The same mentality is on display in the decision to slash the dole to €150 per week for anyone where “job offers or activation measures have been refused”. What kind of job offers, what kind of activation measures? There can be many legitimate reasons why a person would not take up a particular offer.

But then there was no real recognition in this Budget of the catastrophe of unemployment. There are 423,400 people on the Live Register in this State, an increase of over 146,000 in one year. There has been an increase of 63% in those applying for Jobseekers Allowance since December 2008. But where is the Jobs Strategy in this Budget? There is none. There is a rag bag of mainly training measures amounting to a paltry €136 million. It is an insult.

But let’s be real about this. The Government does not prioritise fighting unemployment because it represents the greedy in our society. And the greedy have always secretly welcomed a high rate of unemployment because it allows them to hold workers to ransom. The message is simple: Accept lower wages and poorer conditions or get out – there are plenty more out there waiting in line.

And what of people who are in work? This Budget attacks low and modest income families by imposing a 5% across-the-board cut in the wages of workers in the public service earning under €30,000 per year and 7.5% on earnings between €30,000 and €70,000. These public service workers, who make up the single largest bloc of public service employees, are amongst those who will be hit the hardest by this Budget.

This Budget crucifies those families on modest incomes. They are now bearing the brunt of pay cuts and the disgraceful cut to Child Benefit. A family with three children loses nearly €50 per month. Many such families have just one pay packet coming into the household and have to meet exorbitant mortgage payments out of that single income.

The cut to Child Benefit is an attack on children and an attack on families. Net childcare costs in this State are 45% of the average wage compared to 16-17% in EU and OECD states. Childcare cost accounts for 30% of family income in this State as against 12.5% in EU and OECD countries. Over the past decade when people called for a real State childcare strategy with proper infrastructure, and places that were affordable and accessible to all who needed them, we were told that we had the most generous Child Benefit system and that this was how childcare would be funded.

Once again it is those families bringing in wages and struggling to make ends meet who will be hit hardest. Their Child Benefit will be cut and if they are above the income threshold they will receive no Family Income Supplement to compensate. It is these same families and others like them who will be hit by the increase in the threshold for the Drugs Payment Scheme, meaning they now have to pay more every month for medicines.

To justify its cuts to pay and social welfare the government claims that the cost of living has gone down but this is not the case for the majority of people, especially for struggling families. This year prices went up for a range of essential items such as electricity, gas, bus fares, childcare, primary education and hospital services.

In her Health Estimates Statement Minister Harney claims that planned reductions in the drugs bill in 2010 will save €141 million in addition to €133 million saved this year. Of course such savings could and should have been made long ago and more savings can be made, through reduction in price and wider use of generic drugs and the establishment of a State wholesale distributor, as Sinn Féin has long advocated. Why then does the Minister choose to target medical card holders with her prescription charge of up to €10 per month? This charge undermines the General Medical Services and Long Term Illness Schemes. Once established it will remain in place to be increased year on year at the expense of those who rely on our public health system.

The Budget has dealt a further blow to that already struggling public health system. The two-tier public private system is hugely costly in terms of inequality and the poorer health outcome it entails and in terms of its inefficiency in using public money to subsidise the private healthcare industry. Privatised healthcare will not be affected by this Budget. It will still be pampered but the public system will continue to deteriorate. This Budget takes €106 million out of current expenditure in the HSE under so-called economies and reduces capital spending by €37 million.

The funding for mental health is too little too late. It is typical of the mismanagement by this Government and the HSE that they have waited until the total collapse of property prices to try to sell the properties of former psychiatric institutions. We have yet to see how much this will realise and when.

With the recruitment embargo still in place, with nurses still in short supply and now going to be paid less, with trolleys and chairs still clogging our hospital corridors, with our primary care system still not properly developed and with hospital services continuing to be centralised we are in for another winter and many more winters of healthcare misery thanks to this Government.

One of the headings under so-called economies for the HSE is transport. In my home County people rely more than ever on HSE-provided transport since the closure of acute services in Monaghan General Hospital and that need will become even greater in the North East with the impending closure of acute services at the Louth County Hospital in Dundalk. Yet we are told that transport is going to be cut. It is an outrage in a region which in recent weeks has seen its already totally inadequate hospital infrastructure further undermined with outbreaks of C Difficile in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, resulting in the closure of scores of beds and the cancellation of operations and procedures.

I have a question for the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health & Children. Will every TD who votes for social welfare cuts get a 40-bed hospital facility in his or her constituency? Good luck to the people of Kenmare but remember the hospitals across the State who have been closed or have lost or will lose services due to the compliance of backbenchers in the health policies of this Government.

The full extent of the health cutbacks in this Budget will become clear in time and public patients will pay dearly for them.

I spoke earlier of the Government’s oft-repeated claim that we are a knowledge economy. But Minister Lenihan chose not to highlight in his speech the cuts of €200 million to Education in 2010. It is an outrage that 27% has been cut from the budget for building, equipping and furnishing primary schools. Children will continue to be taught in dilapidated buildings and millions will continue to be wasted in rents for so-called temporary pre-fab accommodation.

Earlier this year the Government announced a €150 million programme for installing IT equipment in schools – but only those schools which have been newly developed or renovated. This cosy deal with the IT companies leaves all other schools out of the loop. The money should have been spent on providing school buildings for those who need them most, thus putting in place essential infrastructure and helping to provide employment in the construction sector.

The Government’s claim to be protecting the vulnerable as well as encouraging people to educate themselves out of disadvantage is exposed as a lie when we see the cuts to Student Support Grants, to allowances for VTOS and Youthreach, the removal of grants from recipients of Back to Education Allowance, the 11% cut in alleviation of disadvantage measures to help people access third level and the 62% cut for the same purpose from the Dormant Accounts Fund. And of course teachers’ pay will be cut.
So much for the knowledge economy.

This Budget has been preceded by efforts throughout the past year to divide and conquer public sector and private sector workers. It has been aided, regrettably, by Fine Gael and Labour and by large sections of the media. The acceptance by the so-called main opposition parties of a figure of €1.3 billion for the slashing of public service pay in 2010 was a major victory for the Government. Public service workers were demonised and the stage was set for the stage-managed collapse of the negotiations with the public service unions. The phoney revolt of the Fianna Fáil backbenchers was the trigger for the collapse and the field was clear for the Government to impose the pay cuts. Yes, the highest earners have been hit and rightly so, but the across-the-board 5% cut for low and modest income earners in the public service is wrong.

And, make no mistake, any ordinary workers in the private sector who were misled enough to think that they will benefit from this cut to the incomes of ordinary workers in the public sector are in for a shock. If the Government gets away with this attack on low and modest income earners in the public sector then the private sector will be next for an even worse hit. The next target will be the minimum wage and wages and conditions right across the private sector.
While ordinary workers and families have been hit hard the wealthy have been protected once again. There was no tax reform in this budget. There should have been a new third and top rate of tax at 48% for income in excess of €100,000 which would have raised €355 million. Standardising all discretionary tax relief would have raised €1.1 billion.
The Government has tried to convince us that the wealthy are now over-taxed. But in 2007 the top 5% of households in this State held €320 billion in assets. That did not all vanish into thin air with the property price collapse. In 2008 1,447 people or 0.6% of all earners, took in approximately €3.459 billion between them. And, most tellingly of all, more than 25% of the top 400 earners paid tax at a rate of less than 20%.

The price of not introducing a wealth tax for the few is misery for many.


But there were some tax changes. The carbon tax has been brought in as a revenue raising measure that once again will hit those least able to afford it, which is why Sinn Féin voted against it last night. And we have been threatened with water charges. The Minister announced a metering system for every household in the State but he did not say how much this will cost before a cent is raised in water charges. The cost will no doubt be huge and instead of wasting this money on metering and charging for a basic necessity, the Government should spend it on improving our water infrastructure and reducing the massive waste of water in the system.

The 21.5% VAT rate was reduced but by not nearly enough and should never have been increased in the last Budget. The alcohol excise measures should help restore some balance in trade along the badly hit Border towns. But this should be seen as a temporary expedient only. Much more needs to be done to help revive the economy of the Border region – and I mean on both sides of the Border. The only real solution will be tax and currency harmonisation on this island.

The real background to this Budget, the herd of elephants in the room, is the €54 billion of the people’s money poured into NAMA to bail out banks and developers and to indebt future generations. The Government’s claim of needing to take €4 billion out of the economy to close the deficit and show fiscal prudence is a total contradiction when set against the €54 billion wasted in NAMA. Those young people not forced to emigrate by this Government will have to bear the burden of NAMA for years to come. NAMA and this Budget, and further Budgets ahead of us, are the legacy of the golden circle of conservative politicians, corrupt bankers and insatiable developers who have wrecked the Irish economy. And it is the most vulnerable who are being forced to pay.

Minister Lenihan and the Taoiseach have tried to put a positive spin on this disgraceful Budget. Unbelievably, Minister Lenihan invoked the community spirit of the people who rallied to the aid of those hit by the recent catastrophic flooding. He has some neck given the lack of urgency in the Government response to the flooding, the inadequate funding made available to deal with the aftermath, and above all, the fact that Government neglect left people across the country vulnerable to flooding in the first place.

Also invoked by Minister Lenihan was the ancestry of the Kennedy family in Co. Wexford. This was appropriate but not in the way Minister Lenihan intended. His Budget and his Government’s policies are a recipe for the mass emigration of unemployed Irish youth. Last year he charged them €10 per head to leave the country. This year he is making damn sure that Ireland is a cold house for jobless young people and that the door is wide open for them to get out.

There was and is an alternative to this disastrous Budget. Sinn Féin presented that alternative in our Pre-Budget Submission ‘The Road to Recovery.’ Central to that alternative is the provision of stimulus to the economy so that recovery can come about in the only way possible – the provision of jobs. We proposed a €3.218 billion economic stimulus package with a range of measures to get Ireland back to work. We proposed measures and savings amounting to €7.623 billion which protected those on low and modest incomes, social welfare recipients and public services. In contrast this anti-jobs Budget will depress the Irish economy and worsen our economic woes.

Our proposals are not for resting on a shelf. They are campaigning proposals and we will advance them in the months ahead. We welcome the fact that people are fighting back against the disastrous policies of this Fianna Fáil/Green Government. People have been on the streets in the past year in unprecedented numbers in demonstrations, strikes and other forms of protest.

We need economic policies founded on fairness and with the ability to succeed in providing a decent livelihood and decent public services for all.

Such policies also need to instil confidence.

Sinn Féin is confident that the Irish people can emerge from this economic crisis and that we can build a fairer society and sustainable economy.

To do that we must reject the policies on which this Budget is based and get rid of the politically bankrupt Government which produced it.

We demand a better, fairer way.

We say to this Government: “Get out of office and give the people back our country and our economy.”

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Lisburn Council Office was the venue on Tuesday evening, 8 December, as Sinn Fein activists met to select their party’s candidate for the Lagan Valley constituency at the next Westminster election.

The selection convention took place in the Maple Room in the Lagan Valley Island Centre and marked the first time that Sinn Fein has held an official party event in Lisburn town.

The Irish national flag took pride of place as Republicans packed the room, in an area where the Sinn Fein vote has grown substantially over the last several years.

The event was chaired by Belfast Sinn Fein leader Bobby Storey who welcomed everyone to Lisburn.

Mr Storey said:

‘’The fact that this selection convention is taking place here tonight in the centre of Lisburn is an example of the growth of Sinn Fein.

‘’Nationalists in Lisburn and across Lagan Valley will be reassured and buoyed by our presence here tonight.

‘’Paul Butler has represented Sinn Fein on social and economic issues and, in particular, has vigorously challenged sectarianism in this area.

‘’He is a great battler for equality for nationalists in Lagan Valley .’’

After Mr Storey’s welcoming remarks, ex-pow Terry ‘Cruncher’ O’Neill gave a powerful rendition, as gaeilge, of the Irish national anthem, Amhran na bhFhiann.

Bobby Storey then oversaw the selection procedure.

As Republican campaigner Paul Butler was the only candidate nominated by party activists, he was thereby returned unopposed as Sinn Fein’s candidate for Lagan Valley in the upcoming Westminster election.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Butler said:

‘’It is a great honour to be selected to stand for Sinn Fein.

‘’I want to thank the party for nominating me and I want to thank everyone here tonight. I am very proud.

‘’As I was sitting here tonight, I thought of my late friend and great comrade Michael Ferguson who was with us when we first went into Lisburn and who battled with us against unionist discrimination.

‘’He helped lead the way in the growth of Sinn Fein in Lisburn and I feel it is important to remember him tonight.

‘’In the last election in 2007, the pundits were predicting that Sinn Fein would be in a fight for the last Assembly seat out of six in Lagan Valley.

‘’When the results came in, we had finished second and a big part of this was because people in Lisburn, in Moira, in Hillsborough, in Lambeg and other growth areas voted for Sinn Fein and for our project of equality and Irish unity.

‘’As we go into the campaign for the Westminster election, we will continue to work hard for the people of Lagan Valley and we will continue to give leadership.’’

The main speaker of the evening was South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey who said:

‘’There was a time when we wouldn’t have considered having a Sinn Fein event in the centre of Lisburn, but here we are tonight doing just that.

‘’This is a sign of the increased confidence and the continued growth of our party and our Republican message.

‘’Our vote has consistently increased over the past few elections and there is still potential for our vote to increase further.

‘’Standing here tonight as ‘Cruncher’ sang our national anthem, I recognised that this was a proud milestone.

‘’The fact that Paul Butler was the only candidate nominated by our party members is a massive vote of confidence in Paul’s record as a representative in this area and in his ability to continue to work for constituents and battle unionist discrimination.

‘’The project we are involved in as Republicans is massive, and we must continue to do our best for our supporters and for those who cannot be with us tonight.

‘’Sinn Fein is ready to fight any election.

‘’We will take no vote for granted and we will fight for every vote.

‘’Congratulations to Paul Butler on his selection tonight as Sinn Fein’s candidate for Lagan Valley in the Westminster election.

‘’I wish Paul and all our candidates all the best.’’

 

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Discussions hosted by Sinn Féin over recent months concluded this week between relatives of the Milltown Babies, the Ulster Wildlife Trust and the Down and Connor Diocese.

The discussions have been led by West Belfast MP Gerry Adams and MLA Paul Maskey who both welcomed the final agreement that was reached this Wednesday (9th December 2009).

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:

“Paramount in this process has been undoing the wrong done to families many years ago. Some of the relatives who have been affected by these events joined us in these discussions.

“Their persistence in campaigning has been rewarded with an agreement.

“I hope that this will give all of those families who have been affected over many years some peace of mind as we approach Christmas.”

West Belfast MLA Paul Maskey said:

“This dispute has been deeply emotive and at times appeared to be intractable. I think it is a credit to all of those who have participated in this dialogue that we have overcome differences and defined a basis for agreement.

“I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in trying to find a resolution. Our focus will now move to the prayer service on Saturday 19th December and to ensuring that all aspects of this agreement are speedily progressed.”

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Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed today’s announcement that the
University of Ulster has signed an option agreement with Foyle and Londonderry College to secure 30 acres of land for the expansion of Magee

“The fact that Magee has secured the option on these sites is welcome progress towards the expansion of the University and I look forward to seeing Magee moving onto this site when Foyle moves to Clooney,” Ms. Anderson said.

“I would also like acknowledge the commitment of Education Minister Caitriona Ruane whose Department is providing over £14 million of funding for Foyle’s land purchase.

“When Magee moves onto the Foyle site - hopefully within the near future – it will have almost doubled its physical presence in the city and we are continuing to press both the Minister and the University to increase student numbers in line with the physical expansion.

“The expansion of the University is crucial to the social and economic regeneration of the north west and today’s announcement is a welcome step on the road.

“However, it is just one step and I will continue to drive both the University of Ulster and the Department for Employment and Learning until we get the kind of thriving, expanded university that this city demands and deserves.”

Ends

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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson John O’ Dowd MLA has congratulated all those involved in signing and the collecting of a petition of over 10.000 names delivered this week to the Assembly Education committee opposing any return to the failed 11plus.

Mr O’ Dowd said:

“The signature of over 10.000 names collected in a 2 week period shows the strength of feeling in regards opposition to the 11plus and academic selection.


“While sections of the media solely concentrate their attention on those schools and parents who support selection, it is clear that there are many who are opposed to selection and who have a right to have their voice heard.

“There is no educational requirement for Academic selection, there are schools all across the Island of Ireland who prove on a daily basis as to why there is no requirement to select and reject 10 and 11 year old children.

Concluding Mr O’ Dowd said :

“Academic excellence is a priority for Sinn Féin and I have no doubt those 10.000 people who signed the petition are as keenly interested in the education of their children and their broader family as anyone else.

“ It is time we moved education into the 21st century an education system based on Equality , Excellence, the needs of the Economy and one which encourages all children to meet their potential.” CRÍOCH

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Discussions hosted by Sinn Féin over recent months concluded this week between relatives of the Milltown Babies, the Ulster Wildlife Trust and the Down and Connor Diocese.


The discussions have been led by West Belfast MP Gerry Adams and MLA Paul Maskey who both welcomed the final agreement that was reached this Wednesday (9th December 2009).


Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:


“Paramount in this process has been undoing the wrong done to families many years ago. Some of the relatives who have been affected by these events joined us in these discussions.


“Their persistence in campaigning has been rewarded with an agreement.


“I hope that this will give all of those families who have been affected over many years some peace of mind as we approach Christmas.”


West Belfast MLA Paul Maskey said:

“This dispute has been deeply emotive and at times appeared to be intractable. I think it is a credit to all of those who have participated in this dialogue that we have overcome differences and defined a basis for agreement.


“I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in trying to find a resolution. Our focus will now move to the prayer service on Saturday 19th December and to ensuring that all aspects of this agreement are speedily progressed.”


ENDS


Details of the Agreement


Agreement has been reached between Relatives of the Milltown Babies, the Milltown Cemetery Trustees and the Ulster Wildlife Trust about the future of the disputed land between the Bog Meadows and Milltown.


As a consequence all of the 5.9 acres involved will be returned to the Cemetery.

In addition the transferred lands will be blessed and work will commence on a Commemorative Garden which is intended to be completed by Cemetery Sunday 2010.

The Ulster Wildlife Trust will have limited access to Section D for specified purposes, for example bird ringing.

This section will not be developed for at least a ten year period and will be reviewed at that time.


Should evidence of burials in this section emerge at any time relatives of those involved will be given appropriate access.


A prayer service will be held at the bottom of Milltown Cemetery at 3pm on Saturday 19th December 2009.


Information from the burial records will be available to families.

This requires at least 24 hours notice. These will also be digitalised and in due course placed in the Public Records Office.


ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described today’s budget as a savage budget from an economically illiterate Government.

Speaking this evening Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“This is a savage budget, an economically illiterate budget and a budget that attacks low and middle income earners.

“The Minister told us the worst is over. Tell that to the families whose Child Benefit has been cut tonight. Tell it to the unemployed young people whose welfare has been cut by half.

“This Budget is anti-children, anti-young people and anti-jobs.

“The most vulnerable are being punished for the sins of the very wealthy and their political cronies in this Government who have wrecked the Irish economy.

“This Budget imposes prescription charges for medical card holders, it increases the threshold for the Drug Payment Scheme, meaning sick people will have to pay more for their medicines.

“Not only is there no jobs strategy in this Budget, it is anti-jobs because it takes many millions out of the pockets of ordinary families and out of the economy.

“The Minister spoke of the last big push and a return to growth. He is deluding himself and trying to delude the people. We have over 423,000 people unemployed, an increase of over 146,000 in one year. Many of these are young people and he is cutting their payments to €100 per week.

“There was an alternative approach for this Government to take which was put forward by Sinn Féin. It was an alternative which would have seen the economy on the road to recovery based on fair and equitable measures. Instead what we got was a savage budget from an economically illiterate Government that can only lead to further ruin.” ENDS

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