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The Sinn Féin spokesperson on energy, Martin Ferris TD, has questioned the new measures proposed by Minister Pat Rabbitte to improve home energy efficiency.

It is proposed to replace existing grant schemes with a form of loan in which households will access money to pay for improvements and then repay what they have saved on their energy bills.

Deputy Ferris said:

“The measures outlined by the Minister are not altogether clear yet and I would be concerned by the factoring in of loans to be administered through the banks.

“It is true that measures taken to date, and the large expenditure on various schemes and grants, have not tackled the issue of fuel poverty. That needs to be central to any plan to tackle both energy efficiency and the fact that a large and growing number of people are unable to pay their energy bills with all the consequences that has in terms of health and well being.

“The government was to have framed an innovative fuel poverty programme but I remain to be convinced in what way these proposals will be part of that. I look forward to questioning the Minister on these issues tomorrow in the Dáil”.

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Sinn Féin public expenditure and reform spokesperson Mary Lou McDonald TD has today written to Coillte boss David Gunning calling on him to immediately reduce his salary in line with his commercial semi state counterparts.

Deputy McDonald said:

“Families across the state are facing unprecedented hardship and financial uncertainty and it is in this context that commercial semi-state chiefs were asked to take a meagre 15% voluntary pay cut.

“David Gunning’s on-going refusal to accept a 15% pay cut has been a bad call on his part and I’ve written to the Coillte chief today demanding that he show leadership at this time of crisis.

“Sinn Féin in its Budget 2012 proposals has called on all public sector salaries, including commercial semi state Chiefs, to be capped and we also want to see the introduction of a third tax band of 48% on incomes over €100,000 per year.

“If the government believes it cannot enforce pay cuts on current commercial semi state chiefs then it needs to impose emergency taxation measures to claim back the cash.”

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Speaking on the first anniversary of the EU/IMF austerity programme Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty described the programme as “a bailout for the banks not for ordinary citizens.”

Deputy Doherty said:

“It has been a year since Fianna Fáil and the Green Party handed over control of our economy to the EU and IMF. How have we fared under the diktat of the EU/IMF austerity programme?

“Contrary to the positive reports from the Troika and the hand wringing from Fine Gael and Labour it has been a year of missed opportunities, failed policies and spineless politics.

“It has been twelve months since the Troika arrived and the government still has no strategy for altering the details of Fianna Fáils EU/IMF austerity programme.

“But who has really benefited? Who has been bailed out? The government would have you believe that money from the EU and IMF is being used to pay teachers, nurses and guards. Unfortunately the truth is very different.

“At the end of October the exchequer deficit was €22.1 billion. Half of this, a staggering €10.7 billion, is money given by Fine Gael and Labour to the banks since taking office, including €3.1 billion to Anglo Irish Bank.

“A further €10 billion was given to the banks by Fine Gael and Labour in July. This is not recorded in the exchequer figures as it came from the National Pension Reserve Fund. And a further €3.7 billion was injected into AIB by Fianna Fáil in the dying days of 2010.

“So simply put the deficit is currently €22 billion, payments to the banks since the Troika arrived amount to €24.4 billion.
“These figures speak for themselves. The EU/IMF programme is a bailout for the banks not for ordinary citizens.”

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Sinn Féin activists across the 26 counties are out on the streets over the weekend communicating the party’s alternative budget to the public.

Elected representatives and activists across the state are engaging in protests, information stalls and leaflet drops on Saturday and Sunday.

Sinn Féin social protection spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh will be marching with many others at the DCTU rally today to demand a fair budget and to show that there is an alternative to cuts and charges.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also called on the public to attend the Sinn Féin ‘Stop the Handover’ rally which will be held at Leinster House on Tuesday evening.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Sinn Féin activists across the State are this weekend out on the streets communicating our party’s alternative message to the public.

“We are constantly told that there is no alternative to austerity. This is completely false. We in Sinn Féin, as well as other progressive economists and groups, have shown that there is an alternative. Our fully costed and comprehensive pre-budget submission showed how the necessary revenue can be raised without cutting frontline services or slashing benefits for hard pressed people.

“Our alternative budget is good for jobs, good for families and good for public services. We would reduce the deficit by €3.5 billion through making the wealthiest in society pay their fair share and cutting wasteful spending in the public sector.

“I will be out on the streets this weekend along with many other Sinn Féin activists communicating this alternative message to the public.

“I am also urging people to join with us in a rally outside Leinster House this coming Tuesday at 6pm

“We need to send a clear message to the government – there is an alternative to cuts and charges. We need to demand a fair budget.”

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Sinn Féin transport spokesperson Dessie Ellis TD has called on Minister of State Kelly to release the report on the review of the taxi industry without delay.
He made his comments entering the final weekend of November when it had been promised the review would complete its findings and publish a report.

Ellis said,

“Taxi drivers have already lost a lot of the hope they had for this review when they were left out of the process when Minister Kelly selected primarily representatives of multiple licence holders and firm operators instead of the majority single licence holder.

“Now it would seem he will not be releasing the findings of this flawed but needed review until December if even this year. This is not good enough. We need serious legislative reform of the taxi industry in favour of the single licence holder which will allow them to uphold their reputation, make a living and provide a good service which is accessible and safe.

“I have met representatives from almost every Taxi group and discussed the issues plainly. We requested a meeting with the Minister and the review group and received no response. The Minister must be clear on when the report will be published so we can set about on the real hard work of fixing the problems of the industry.”

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A £1.75million flood prevention scheme to protect these properties in Beragh is now scheduled to commence in the 2013/14 financial year. The Red Knights GAC Clubhouse and 17 dwelling houses suffered major flood damage during the heavy rain fall in October.

Speaking today during a visit to Beragh to update residents and local councillors, the Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill said additional money and a review of the Rivers Agency’s flood alleviation programme, had allowed her to bring forward this scheme.

She said:  “In response to the recent floods I announced an additional £1million would be made available to Rivers Agency to help with flood defences. I also asked Rivers Agency review their flood alleviation programme, and as a result I have been able to bring forward the flood prevention scheme for Beragh. This is now scheduled to commence construction in the 2013/14 financial year.

“Time is needed to complete the design and tender process and obtain necessary approvals and Rivers Agency intends to undertake this as quickly as possible.

“In the interim, Rivers Agency will engage with the community through a representative group to ensure that all possible measures are put in place to reduce the risk of flooding until scheme is commenced.”The Minister added: 

“I am pleased that the report being undertaken by my Assembly Private Secretary Pat Doherty MP, MLA into the operational response of Rivers Agency to the recent flooding is reaching a conclusion and I look forward to reading the report.”

In relation to Ballygawley, the Minister said: “Following the updating of the capital programme and the additional money the Ballygawley scheme has also been brought forward.”

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Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillors have announced that they will be opposing the proposed City Council budget for 2012. The councillors said it would impose further financial burdens on citizens and is based on the unjust Household Charge and the privatisation of the waste collection service.

Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha said:

“Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillors will be opposing the City Council draft budget for 2012. Councillors are being asked to support a draft budget presented by City Council management in a situation where the city’s funding from central government for 2012 is totally unclear.

“From January 2012 the unjust and inequitable Household Charge is to be imposed on citizens and this flat tax will form the basis of the Local Government Fund. Many citizens will be unable to pay this further tax, thus depleting funding for local government. Once again central government is shifting the burden onto the backs of citizens and reducing public services.

“Three times in the past two months the elected members of Dublin City Council have voted against the privatisation of the city’s waste collection service. Yet the City Manager is proceeding with privatisation in defiance of democracy and the draft 2012 budget is based on the elimination of this service. We do not even know at this stage to what extent – if any- people on low incomes will qualify for waivers of bin charges from the privatised service as they do at present from the City Council service.

“This budget also seeks to impose a charge on householders for calling out the Fire Service. This is a dangerous proposal which may deter some people from calling the emergency services. It is also inequitable given that people already pay such a charge as part of their insurance premium, even though the insurance companies do not pass payments on to the local authorities.

“We accept that the Council staff have worked hard to maintain services with greatly tightened finances. However the draft budget 2012 is the implementation at Dublin City Council level of the failed austerity programme of central government – begun by Fianna Fáil and the Greens and now continued by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Thanks to these parties, the City Council is under monthly scrutiny by the IMF.

“Sinn Féin nationally has presented an alternative economic strategy based on fostering jobs and growth, fair taxation and sharing the burden equitably. As councillors we will campaign on the basis of those demands, representing our communities and standing shoulder to shoulder with those resisting the imposition of further hardship on citizens and the further erosion of local and national democracy.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, spokesperson on Policing and a member of the Policing Board, has echoed the concerns of bereaved families about the inability of the Police Ombudsman to investigate up to 50 killings by the RUC.

“This adds insult to injury and is a further injustice to the families. The Police Ombudsman must have known about this before the court hearing in May. Either they were sleeping through it or they decided not to act upon it.

“Families who have loved ones killed have the right to an effective, independent and prompt investigation under law. This appears to be a legislative anomaly.

“If that is the case then it needs to be fixed in legislation. I will be seeking clarity from the Minister for Justice because he is responsible for the powers vested in this Office.”

Mr Kelly said Sinn Féin will be proactive in pursuing this:

“This is another blow to the leadership of this Police Ombudsman. It underlines why he must leave. The independence and effectiveness of the Office must be restored.

“That means that the Office must be given the freedom and resources to use its existing powers and be given the additional powers the Office requires to do its job successfully. This includes the power to compel retired police officers to co-operate with investigations by the Police Ombudsman.”

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Sinn Féin MP for West Belfast has welcomed the jobs boost by Andor Technologies, located on the Springfield Road, which will see an extra 166 jobs created by the company.

Speaking today Mr Maskey said:

“This is a very welcome boost to the local economy by a world leader in technological development. Andor Technologies began in a small unit with a small work force in 1989, and now through hard work and foresight, can look forward to building its work force by 166 jobs. I want to thank all those involved that made this happen, this is a great news story for west Belfast”.

“Andor Technologies will end up employing over 350 people in West Belfast and around 500 people world wide.

“This has been possible through the total investment of  £18m with Invest NI bringing £1.5m to this project.

“We look forward to Invest NI identifying similar projects which have the ability for significant job creation opportunities in West Belfast, an area that has seen a lack of direct investment over the years.

“What today’s announcement highlights is that despite a global recession there is the capacity to grow and invest. It is this strategy that is the best way to escape recession and create sustainable long term employment.”

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Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff said that plans for a trip by the Assembly's Employment and Learning Committee to San Diego without a business plan and involving most of the 11-member committee would be nothing more than a junket.

The Sinn Féin MLA is a member of the DEL Committee along with party colleague Michelle Gildernew.

Barry McElduff said:

“We have not seen any rational or business plan for this trip and Sinn Féin has made it known to the committee that we would not support a waste of public money and valuable working time. To say that the 11 members of the committee would be invited is ridiculous

“There is of course things to learn from other regions and countries and if that information cannot be gathered through video conferencing, which is available in the Assembly, or other methods then a visit is an option to consider.

“But in all of these trips there needs to be value for money, clear outcomes and business cases put in place which is not the case in this instance. Without these mechanisms such a trip and involving so many members, would be nothing more than glorified junket.” CRÍOCH/END

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Sinn Féin Social Protection Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has this morning published a Dáil Private Members’ Motion which would mandate the government to maintain current child benefit rates and other social welfare rates.

The motion will be debated in the Dáil next Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Speaking today as he published the motion Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“The government is continuing to perpetuate the myth that they have no choices in this budget. The truth is that they do have choices and Sinn Féin’s pre-budget submission has shown that choices can be made that do not punish those already on social welfare.

“Cutting child benefit by €10 per week would save the state in the region of €150 million on this scheme. But as Sinn Féin has shown, the government has a whole host of alternative options available to choose from if they want to protect children.

“For example, a 48% third rate of tax on incomes in excess of €100,000 would raise €410 million and a wealth tax of 1% on assets worth more than €1 million, with some exclusions, would raise €800 million. It’s a question of political choice.

“Sinn Féin truly believes in cherishing all of the children of the nation equally. We don’t just pay lip service to it.

“Latest figures show that there are 96,000 children living in consistent poverty in this state with a further 205,000 at risk of poverty. Children are going to school hungry and without proper warm clothes.

“This motion is about protecting those children. It is about showing the government that they can choose the children of this state or they can choose unguaranteed bank bondholders.”

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Sinn Féin's Cork East TD Sandra McLellan has called on the Government to ban the below cost selling of alcohol claiming it could save the exchequer as much as €20 million per annum.

Speaking today Deputy McLellan said:

“Figures released today by the National Off-Licence Association estimate that the 21% VAT rebate on the cost of losses, which retailers can claim back on alcohol sold below cost, could be worth up to €20 million each year to the exchequer.

“This practice is completely unacceptable. It perpetuates an already unhealthy relationship with alcohol that many people have, and lends itself to alcohol abuse and misuse. It is often a simple marketing ploy by retailers who use cheap alcohol as a loss-leader to encourage people into their stores.

“This figure is even more horrifying when we think of the effects of the government’s programme of austerity on ordinary families. €20 million would go some way to addressing some of the major cutbacks in health, education and social welfare which have been implemented and many more of which are planned for the upcoming budget.

“I am calling on the Government to address this issue as a matter of urgency.” ENDS

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The importance of recognising and protecting the rights of Citizens on a firm international, and statutory footing cannot be underestimated, according to Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane.

The Sinn Féin leader in the Seanad was speaking during the course of a Seanad discussion on the ‘Importance of the Seanad to me as a Human Rights Activist’, given by former Irish President and UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson.

Speaking during the course of the debate, the Waterford Senator said:

“Mary Robinson’s commitment to human rights should serve as an example to all of us as public representatives. She was tireless in campaigning for women’s right to sit on juries, retain their employment after marriage, campaigning for the right to legally available contraception and more recently her work for the Irish diaspora.

“People often get complacent regarding human rights. But right now, we are unfortunately seeing how human rights are playing second fiddle to the economy. The proposed merging of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission highlights that fact.

“Putting rights on a statutory footing is essential so that Citizens can actively vindicate and assert their rights. There are many areas in which such a footing is outstanding in Ireland. The introduction of a Bill of Rights in the north, containing economic and social rights protections, was agreed at the Good Friday Agreement, yet it remains an outstanding commitment on the part of both governments.

“Indeed we believe that ultimately there needs to be an All-Ireland bill of rights. This would have to include socio-economic rights, and we have long argued that many of these rights ought to be included in the constitution.

“The right to healthcare, the right to housing and the right to education cannot be considered luxuries or frivolities. They are absolute basics, no one should be forced to go without them and citizens should have the ability to assert these rights if they are denied them.

 “We must remain vigilant in ensuring that the people’s human rights are observed, and that in this time of economic crisis, that economic expediency is not used as a pretext for undermining the rights of citizens.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin justice and equality spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien TD has condemned the government’s decision to withdraw funding for People with Disabilities Ireland (PwDI) and called on the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to reverse this decision.

The Cork North Central TD said;

“The government’s decision to withdraw funding for People with Disabilities Ireland will have a devastating effect on its 8,000 members. This organisation was established as the result of “a Strategy for Equality” which the Labour party instigated when previously in government.

“This body has been in operation for 15 years and is the only umbrella organisation which gives a voice to people with disabilities. It is a shame that Kathleen Lynch, Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People was supportive of the disability sector on being appointed but is now silent on this.

“We are extremely disappointed with the Department’s decision and it demonstrates a complete disregard for the voluntary work of its members. Not only will this have an impact on individuals but it will also have a negative impact on smaller groups across the state. I am calling on the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to demonstrate a commitment to the empowerment of people with disabilities and intervene and ensure that PwDI receives adequate funding to continue their activities in to the future.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Environment, Community & Local Government, Brian Stanley TD has today warned that the Minster for Environment Phil Hogan’s recent u-turn on climate change will cost Ireland millions.

 Speaking at a Stop Climate Chaos protest at the Dáil to mark the Minister Hogan's departure to the Durban environmental summit, Deputy Stanley said:

 “The Environmental Protection Agency figures show that there was a windfall profit in 2010 totalling €90m for Ireland's biggest polluters. This was from the sale of unused carbon credits which they got free from the government.

 “Yet the tax payers, having paid for these carbon credits, paid out a further €86 million to buy offset credits because our emissions still exceed our Kyoto targets. This is unacceptable and immoral.

 “At a time when SNAs are being cut from schools and the HSE is closing hospitals, we will now continue to fork out millions for Hogan's u-turn.  Even today, as Minister Hogan boards his plane for Durban, An Taniste Eamon Gilmore failed to give any date for the introduction of the climate change bill when I challenged him in the Dáil.

 “The future of Kyoto will be decided at Durban, while here in Ireland there remains uncertainty about this government's commitment to reducing carbon emissions. It is vital to our international standing that we are left in no doubt that this government will introduce a climate change bill in early 2012."

 “Sinn Féin will continue to raise the issue of climate change at every opportunity. I look forward to questioning the Minister on his return from the Durban negotiations to find out how he intends to implement any new agreement.” ENDS

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Speaking before today’s meeting of the Executive Education Minister John O’Dowd said that he believed that any public sector worker earning under £32,000 per year should be exempt from increase pension contributions.

Mr O’Dowd said:

“The British Government has imposed a £300m levy on public sectors pensions here. We are opposed to that. It is also clear that the block grant cannot absorb a hit of this magnitude without a significant impact on frontline public services.

"Our approach to this issue, in common with our approach to the overall problem of dealing with the imposed Tory cuts has been to protect the most vulnerable and frontline services.

"In my department I have brought forward proposals that all workers earning under £32,000 per year would be exempted from this British government levy. I also support removing entirely those public sector workers paying into the NILGOSC scheme and I intend to raise this with Executive colleagues today.

"I am also open to hear from the Trade Unions any ideas they have to offset the worst excesses of this Tory cut if the British government continue to adopt their current position.”

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Responding to the internal HSE memo obtained by the Daily Mail threatening closures of care homes for older people as well as hospital beds, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, said:

 “The cuts threatened by the Minister and the HSE would utterly devastate our public health services. They would target the old, the sick, the vulnerable and families on low incomes.

We do not know whether cuts as extensive as that will be imposed in Budget 2012. They have been described as three years of cuts rolled into one. Whether imposed over one year or over three years they would be disastrous.

 “The minister and his cabinet colleagues are causing fear and anxiety to people all over the country with their threats in advance of the budget. This is part of an elaborate game within cabinet – between Ministers, between Fine Gael and Labour and between the cabinet and the media. But it is the vulnerable who suffer in advance of the budget and it is most assuredly the vulnerable who will suffer after it.

“The minister and his colleagues may hope that this softening up process will lead people to say on budget day ‘Well, it wasn’t as bad as we thought.’

 “Don’t count on it, Minister. The current cuts, begun by Fianna Fáil and continued by this coalition, are hurting people and damaging our public health system. Further health cuts will worsen the crisis. People know that.

 “Any attempt to impose an annual charge – whether €50 or less – on medical card holders, plus an increase in prescription fees, would be an attack on the most vulnerable. And this from a government in which both parties pledged before the General Election to introduce free GP care for all in their first term, a pledge repeated in the Programme for Government.” ENDS

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Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has welcomed the publication of statistics on the achievement of year 12 and 14 pupils in examinations.The figures show continued improvement in the percentage of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C including GCSE English and Maths.

Describing the statistics as encouraging, Mr O’Dowd said: “This year’s figures reflect the trend of the last couple of years of a growth in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C including English and Maths. This year, the figure stands at 59.8%.“This illustrates the success our school improvement policies are having in closing the achievement gap. It also reflects the hard work of teachers and pupils in our schools.

“In my statement to the Assembly on the future of education here I affirmed that my predecessor’s focus on promoting equality and fulfilling potential was the right one. I also made clear that, once we finalise the Special Educational Needs and Early Years strategies, we will have in place a radical and coherent set of policies that will improve educational outcomes for young people.

“The good work done in recent years to raise standards is already starting to improve the life chances of our young people through education.

“Nevertheless, it is clear that too many differences still remain. Despite these improvements, around 40% of young people still fail to achieve the level 2 qualifications they need to gain employment. We must continue the hard work to ensure that all pupils have the same opportunity to achieve, regardless of their social background or whether they are a boy or a girl.

“I have already signaled my intention to make this a priority of my term as Education Minister and will ensure that the focus remains on driving out inequalities and delivering continued improvements in educational attainment.”

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Sinn Féin’s Fra McCann has spoken out against attempts by the British government to compel young people to work unwaged under the threat of destitution.


The West Belfast MLA was speaking after regulations were brought for consideration before the Social Development Committee, of which he is a member. 

As part of the Tory-led government’s Welfare Reform legislation, the statutory rule under scrutiny is a part of the pending Work Experience Programme which will be targeted at young people aged 16 to 24.

“This programme has proven to be highly controversial in Britain and could even be in breach of the Human Rights Act,” says Fra McCann.

 “Work experience for the young unemployed must be meaningful and fair.  The current global economic crisis has hit the prospects of young people particularly harshly here, with joblessness amongst the 18 to 24 group reaching a 15 year high. Young people had no hand in creating this crisis and should be treated with respect."

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Sligo/North Leitrim TD Michael Colreavy has called on the government to dramatically improve Irish Fisherman’s quota during the upcoming negotiations.

 Deputy Colreavy was speaking in the Dáil this week on sustainable fishing in advance of EU Common Fisheries Policy negotiations to be held on 15th and 16th December,

 He said:

 “EUROSTAT statistics place the accumulated processed value of fish taken in Irish waters between 1974 and 2004 at around €200 billion. Five times the value of the total transfer funds we received from the EU, mainly in CAP and structural funding over the same period.

 “The Common Fisheries Policy is a very bad deal for fishermen, fish processors and for all involved in Ireland with the fisheries industry.

 “We could increase the share of quota for the Irish fishing sector and indeed use it for future development and growth while at the same time reducing the overall fish take in our waters.

 “At present there are almost 5,000 people employed either directly or indirectly or on a seasonal basis in processing. That is not an insignificant figure but it could be far greater if Irish fishermen had a fairer share of the catch in Irish waters and if more processing of the fish caught in our waters was done in this country.

 “There is little point in tinkering around the edges of a blatantly disadvantageous Common Fisheries Policy. Fundamental change is needed, in particular the quota assigned for Irish fishermen in Irish waters. Minister Coveney must ensure that this is done if we are to meet the targets set out in Food Harvest 2020.”

 ENDS

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