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Sinn Féin budget supports fair and sustainable recovery - Pearse Doherty

Sinn Fein’s Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has said Sinn Fein’s alternative Budget would repair communities, rebuild the economy and renew society. The budget lays out how Sinn Fein would abolish the local property tax and water charges and our programme for investing in disability services, health and education.

Download Sinn Féin's Alternative Budget 2015 here



“The DUP are vocal about the consequences of not implementing these Tory cuts but remain silent on the impact of these cuts which would take hundreds of millions of pounds out of the pockets of the most vulnerable and least able to pay.  These cuts would plunge more children into poverty and take money from hard-pressed working families, people on benefits and from people with disabilities." - Daithí McKay



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In five short years the people of Ireland will commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising.

It is our job as Republicans to map out where we want to be in 2016 – and while five years may seem only a short period in which to bring about the sort of fundamental political, social, economic and constitutional change we want – but reflect for a moment on the changes made in the past five years.

This time five years ago the peace process was deadlocked –the DUP leadership had yet to sit down with Sinn Féin – the political institutions remained in what seemed permanent suspension and the two governments seemed bereft of ideas to free up the process.

The onus lay on us – the party driving the peace process forward to take the initiative, salvage the process and ensure that the potential of the Good Friday Agreement was not lost.

So this time five years ago our negotiating team was preparing to head to St. Andrews – within 6 months what people said was impossible had happened – the DUP and Ian Paisley were in power sharing institutions with Sinn Féin and the other parties on the basis of equality.

Republicans had taken another strategic initiative on policing and fully functioning all-Ireland political architecture was up and running.

Also in the course of the five years from then we have seen the Hillsborough Agreement and the transfer of powers on policing and justice away from London and onto the island of Ireland – another significant milestone on our journey.

And also look at where we are as a party – the advances we have made over that five year period. In 2006 when we gathered would anybody have predicted an Executive jointly led by myself and Peter Robinson seeing out a full term? Sinn Féin Ministers making decision around the Executive table which impacted for the better on thousands of ordinary people’s lives.

Would anybody here hand on heart seriously have suggested five years ago that Gerry Adams would be leading a Sinn Fein Oireachtas team of 14 TDS and 3 Senators – that Fianna Fail would be in the position they now find themselves in.

And I rehearse all of this not for the purposes of history – but for the purposes of showing what is possible. Change does not have to take decades – political circumstances can be moulded and shaped and change can quickly happen.

That is the lesson of the past five years and more importantly it is the inspiration for the next five.

So how do we build the New Republic – how do we continue to make change and at the same time deliver for ordinary people day and daily.
We continue to do what we are doing – Sinn Féin is the party of the New Republic – we are the party with vision, with hope and with commitment.

The worst trait in any political leader is to aim low – it is much better to aim high and come up short than not try at all.

It seems to me that some political leaders in Ireland have waved the white flag – they accepted the loss of sovereignty – they accepted the IMF and the ECB – not necessarily because they wanted to but because they hadn’t the vision to look for another way – there is always another way – there is always something better to aim for.

And that is the way we came at the Tory imposed cuts in the Executive budget here, we could have rolled over. We could have agreed with the approach of others. We decided on different approach. And despite a lack of economic levers we have managed to offset some of the worst of the Tory excesses. But it is by no means an ideal situation and many significant economic challenges lie ahead for the Executive.

But I am confident that working together in proper partnership all of the parties around the Executive table can play a role on one hand in protecting the most vulnerable and on the other in sustaining and indeed creating new jobs for our people.

Indeed next week myself and Peter Robinson will travel to the United States for a number of important meetings aimed directly at securing further foreign direct investment and I am hopeful of further progress in this regard.

And yesterday the Executive acted to ensure no increase in Student Fees will take place during this Assembly term.

But we are not simply involved in institutions to mind the shop.

As republicans we have cause and we have purpose. And given the progress of recent years we rightly carry great expectations of what we can achieve in the future. And those expectations go way beyond simply Sinn Féin supporters or even those who want to see a united Ireland. The expectation of us to continue to succeed is shared by many who don’t ultimately share our primary political goal of unity and independence. But it is our duty to continue to reach out to unionists and it is our duty to persuade them of the merits of a new Republic and of their treasured place in it.

In the five years between now and 2016 I want to see us lead a national conversation on the future of this island. We are haemorrhaging our young people to far flung parts of the world in search of work. A combination of greed and arrogance has left much of the Irish people demoralised. That is not the vision of 1916 and it is not my vision for Ireland approaching its centenary.

And our national conversation needs to be truly national and indeed global. Our Diaspora have a stake in our future. Let us begin the work today of structuring a proper engagement on the type of new Republic we want to build – let us engage without preconditions and engage with those who have previously not had their voices heard.

Let us have meetings in every Irish county in the next year – let us meet every group who has a stake in building a new republic. Remember the men and woman of 1916 came from different backgrounds and different places. They had a vision and they had a purpose.

Let the new republic offer hope to those currently under pressure. Let it be based on equality and fairness and let it be a proper Republic with citizens at its core.
And as part of this let us deal with the legacy of the conflict. For too long this issue has been dodged by the two governments. Proper reconciliation is key to the future.

We have already stated that it is our preferred view that a proper international truth commission be put in place. Others have reservations, others are hiding on the issue. But let us be realistic the current status quo is not working for victims and is not working for the wider process. No amount of HET inquiries or even prosecutions will deal with this issue and indeed as some have argued it is making the task of genuine reconciliation all the harder.

The British government shunted the issue onto Eames/Bradley and then quietly placed their report on the shelf. It seems to me that the biggest obstacle to properly dealing with the past is a continuing refusal at the very top of the British system to acknowledge their combatant role in the conflict. This needs to change. And republicans need to realise that dealing with the past will not be an easy process for us – Republicans inflicted much hurt during the conflict - but if we are to build a new Republic and a new future it is necessary and it is a road none of us should be afraid to go down.

And in my experience of recent years many within the unionist community are up for a journey of reconciliation and dialogue. Tonight one of those the Rev. David Latimer from First Derry Presbyterian church has demonstrated that by his courageous decision to accept our invitation to address this Ard Fheis.

No doubt David will say things tonight which will challenge many of us in this hall. And likewise David will hear things tonight that will challenge his view of the future. And that is key – that is what the national conversation I have spoken is all about – we don’t have all the answers and have never claimed to have.

A new Republic can be built. But it will only be built if we take the lead in building it. I trust in the Irish people. I trust in our ability to fulfil the legacy of 1916, I trust in our ability and I trust in our vision for the future.

Five years isn’t a long time in the history of any nation – but in five years as we have already shown political conditions can be transformed. My message from here is that Ireland can be transformed in the next five – join with us in making that happen.

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Our country is in crisis;

It is a crisis that has been created by the unbridled greed of speculators, gamblers and their politician friends.

We find ourselves in hock to the IMF and European Bank; our economic sovereignty lost and the future investment for our children’s education the subject to the whims of the Troika.

Just this week a survey showed Trinity College falling 22 places behind Cambridge, the highest ranking university.

The Head of Trinity said: “That the quality of Irish higher education faced a speedy decline unless the funding crisis is addressed by introducing fees for those who can afford to pay.”

Apart from my obvious indignation that such an elitist institution as Cambridge University is used as a benchmark for Irish third level education, he is right about fees for those who can afford to pay.

Quite simply, those who can afford to pay fees at private “elite” schools should also pay fees at third level.

For too long in education, as in our health system, workers of this country have subsidized the rich.

Many schools are in an appalling state with class sizes increasing to unmanageable levels.

Yet thousands of unemployed construction workers are currently without work while many children spend their entire school life in rundown prefabs.

So-called ‘voluntary’ fees are forced on parents. The cost of arbitrary uniforms combined with having to pay for essential text books, are increasing the burden on parents, many with reduced incomes or without jobs.

So does Minister Quinn have a plan to address this hardship?

Possibly, but don't hold your breath as you might have to wait a year or two for any progress.

Hundreds of children with special needs or behavioural difficulties are losing their Special Needs Assistants.

They are being callously cast aside and viewed as an unnecessary burden on the State. This is clearly wrong.

Development, Integration, Inclusivity and Mainstream in education are the usual buzzwords peddled at election time. Yet six months into its term, the FG/Labour Government continues to implement the same slash and burn policies of its predecessors with our most vulnerable citizens considered fair game.

Access to our education system , at all levels, is becoming a privilege not a right.

And will only lead to even greater inequality.

And now in the midst of this latest crisis, we are ever more dependent on our paymasters in Europe. If the current situation continues then the outlook for people, and society as a whole, is looking bleak.

Sinn Fein believes that funding for Education needs to be mainstreamed and linked to directly to our GDP and not reliant on mood swings of Finance Ministers

Another casualty is the Irish language. An Teanga Gaelige

The heritage of our nation is increasingly seen as dispensable.

Continuing attacks on Gaelscoileana remain government policy when a more progressive and sensible strategy would be to concentrate on immersion in Irish language education in the context of a sea of English.

More recently, increasing numbers of teachers are being unfairly redeployed in Gaelscoileana without having the adequate standard of linguistic competence to discharge their responsibilities in the classroom.

Let us be clear about this, it is not a question of forcing the Irish language on anybody.

But parents who wish to have their children educated through the medium of Irish should be supported and encouraged.

Instead, we have a Government that is hell bent in trying to prevent them from doing just that.

And this is happening against a background where we have been striving to gain full acknowledgement of the rights of Irish language speakers in the six counties.

Speaking here in Belfast, at this historic Ard Fheis, I am conscious of the all-Ireland dimension in education.

This is an area of huge potential and opens up real opportunities, especially at third level, for co-operation throughout the island.

Different institutions have different specialities and these can aid student exchanges and student mobility.

We must avoid unnecessary duplication and ensure greater coordination in various public services across this small island.

Finally, with November’s budget fast approaching people are fearful that education will again bear the brunt of unsustainable cuts. We don’t want to see an already dire situation made even worse.

Those on low and middle incomes have been hammered enough. There is a better and fairer way forward to improve our education system.

Budgets need to target the rich; in property and cash tax evaders and tax exiles should be held to account.

Sinn Fein views Education as a right not a privilege.
We will be using our increased strength to make that aspiration a reality.

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Mol an óige tiocfaidh an sí – Praise the young and they shall flourish.

Now in our third term in the department of Education in the Northern Assembly, Sinn Féin, have once again set out quite clearly our intention to do just that, Mol an oige Tiocfaidh an si.

As a party we have clearly set out our intention to continue to praise the young, to promote equality, to promote learning and to empower our people, young and old to build a new Ireland,

It is our mission to build a new nation, where citizens, through learning, value themselves as individuals who have a beneficial contribution to make to society and the economy.

At this Ard Fhéis I want to put on record our party’s appreciation of, Caitríona Ruane’s, work and undaunted commitment to education, and on behalf of our party I want to acknowledge her commitment to the promotion of equality and the ending of educational underachievement. Go raibh mile maith agat, Caitríona.

Through our first Minister of Education, Martin McGuiness, and then through Caitríona, we as a party have celebrated all that is good within our education system and we have quite rightly challenged all that is wrong within our education system. As the current Education Minister I will continue that course of action on behalf of Sinn Féin.

I am able and pleased to report to our Ard Fheis that as a result of our commitment to change, we are beginning to witness a turnaround in educational under achievement. The latest figures show an improvement in the number of young people leaving school with good qualifications but we cannot and we will not be complacent.

The polices this party introduced, such as, the Every School a Good School policy, the Sustainable Schools policy , the Irish Medium review and our continued drive towards the implementation of the Entitlement Framework, are all delivering a change in education. And they are delivering positive change to young people lives
We continue to challenge the use of Academic selection.

Our position is clear. The use of Academic selection to grade young people is wrong. We met the challenge and others now need to step forward and accept their responsibilities. , 3 of the 5 parties which sit around the Executive table are opposed to Academic Selection. , there is a challenge to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the Trade Union movement and leaders in the Business sector.

I ask, not for you to come out to support and implement Sinn Féin policy, I ask that you support and implement your own policy and make the final push and bring to an end the out dated, educationally unsound, marketing device, based on the rejection of 11 year old children.

As the Assembly resumes I will be outlining the, Next Steps in Education, I will set out the detail of how we will face the challenges and opportunities ahead. I will set out our plan for making the school estate it meet the requirements of a 21st century education system.

We have to recognise the reality of 50,000 empty school desks; we have to deal with the challenges presented by the British government imposed cuts to the budget.

No school, and no sector, regardless of their history will be able to, stand alone in the delivery of education, nor should they be allowed to,. Politicians in the North were rightly told to break down barriers and share power, it is now time to start sharing education, not only across religious lines, but also across the socio economic divide
Education as with so many other services on the Island of Ireland can only benefit from greater integration at local and national level, the border should not and it will not be allowed to stand in the way of educational attainment.

I will work with my counterpart in Dublin, Minister Ruairi Quinn, to break down barriers real and perceived. Together we can improve the conditions and learning experiences of both pupils and teachers across this Island and I believe there is a will in both administrations to work together.

Through education we can help eradicate poverty, we can tackle discrimination, instil the ethos of equality and bring quality to the life of each citizen, each neighbourhood and each community, across society.

Education is the engine of the economy and through education we will empower our citizens to fashion an economy that delivers for them as valued citizens in an Ireland of Equals.

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A chairde, it is an absolute honour for me to formally open this year’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis here in Belfast. Indeed I want to welcome all of you to my own constituency of South Belfast.
Throughout this weekend we have delegates and visitors from all parts of Ireland and honoured guests in solidarity from the Basque Country, Palestine United States and South Africa and this evening we are delighted to hear directly from Reverend David Latimer.
On behalf of every Republican in this city - Cead Mile Failte.

Once again Republicans are making history. Who would have thought, not that long ago, it would have been possible to hold a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis here in the North never mind in the heart of the city of Belfast, but here we are.
This indeed is another sign of the growing strength and confidence of modern day Republicanism led by this proud party.

From the United Irishmen in 1798 to the present day Belfast has made an enormous contribution to the Republican struggle for justice, equality and freedom and of course that struggle continues unabated and with much work yet to be done.
We have made monumental sacrifices and I want to pay tribute to all
patriots who gave their all in this noble cause for Freedom.
This year of course we have commemorated the 30th anniversary of the deaths on hunger strike of comrades Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty, Fiann John Dempsey who died hours after Joe McDonnell.

From this wonderful Waterfront Hall we can literally see Belfast City
Hall, that once renowned bastion of unionist bigotry where in 1983 we had just one councillor elected, where Nationalists and Republicans were excluded from even the most token of civic positions.

Today we enjoy the largest political mandate from the good people of this city – a hard won mandate at that. We see the surrounding neighbourhoods of the Market and Short Strand which have all too often been the victims of state repression and sectarianism, yet the people stood strong and defiant. Today I think of all those from within these hard-pressed communities who have recently passed away but who would rejoice at the holding of this Ard Fheis in the heart of our city.

40 years ago in 1971 this city was engulfed in the throws of
Internment which saw the attempted suppression of all things
progressive and Republican but what a failure and at such a cost.
Today Republicans are proud of our history and proud of our record of seeking to end this long conflict and begin the journey of national
reconciliation with our unionist neighbours.

Our support for unionist working class communities is genuine and strong while others have abandoned them.

The work of this party never ceases and this Ard Fheis will debate,
strategise and re-commit to tackle the many issues as diverse as
victims, suicide prevention, the economy, education and health, Irish language, the scourge of sectarianism and racism, International solidarity and support for the people of Palestine and of course Irish reunification.

Leading All-Ireland politics by example our TDs, MPs, MLAs Senators,
MEP, councillors, Ministers and thousands of activists will discuss
all these matters on an All-Ireland basis in discharge of our substantial National mandate.
In strength, confidence and solidarity comrades savor this historic occasion but take forward the serious business at hand and have a truly successful Ard Fheis.

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Sinn Féin Public Expenditure and Reform Spokesperson Mary Lou McDonald TD has today called on Minister Brendan Howlin to step in and end his Government’s practice of granting special severance gratuities to senior civil servants. The Dublin Central TD also described the possible appointment of former Secretary General Dermot McCarthy as the state’s Ambassador to the Vatican as completely inappropriate.

Deputy McDonald said:

“Recently retired Secretary General to the Department of An Taoiseach Dermot McCarthy received a bumper €713,000 pension payoff in July. Following public anger at the scale of the payment the Taoiseach and his Ministers have hid behind claims of contractual arrangements that could not be undone.

“As part of his pension pay off Dermot McCarthy received a special severance gratuity payment of €142,670. However the Superannuation and Pensions Act of 1963 states that ‘the Minister, if in his discretion he so thinks proper’ can grant such a payment to a civil servant. This payment could only have been paid to Dermot McCarthy on the instruction of the Minister for Finance or Public Expenditure and Reform.

“In addition Dermot McCarthy has received his full pension at age 57 without any actuarial reduction despite not reaching the standard pension entitlement age. Again this is a decision the Government signed off on under the Superannuation and Pensions Act of 1963.

“Secretary Generals, if the Government agrees, can be allowed the option of early retirement with enhanced pension benefits. The enhanced benefits consist of an award of up to ten added years and a special severance gratuity of six months’ salary on the terms specified in Sections 6 and 7 of the Superannuation and Pensions Act, 1963.

“The Government has promised legislation to deal with excessive senior public sector pensions and to end the practice of added years however these changes will only apply to new entrants. Methods must be looked at to tackle the excessively high pension arrangements for existing public and civil service top dogs.

“Increasing the tax rate applied to the balance of lump sum payoffs is just one option. However the Government can refuse to grant the special severance gratuity payment of six months’ salary as the legislation clearly states that such payments are to be applied at the Government’s discretion. In addition, the Government can refuse to sign off on any notional service and the non-application of actuarial reduction to benefits.

“There have been reports in today’s media that Dermot McCarthy is being considered as the next Ambassador to the Vatican. If this appointment comes to pass it will be an even greater slap in the face to struggling families and the unemployed. The mere suggestion that any Government Minister would deem it appropriate to give such a high paid job to a retired civil servant in receipt of a €713,000 lump sum pension payoff is completely inappropriate and reeks of cronyism.” ENDS

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Consultants’ contract unsustainable – Ó Caoláin

Commenting on the clause in the hospital consultants’ contract that allows some consultants take a full year off on full pay before retirement, Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

“This is the reality of the consultants’ contract which pays excessive salaries to a privileged group within the health system. It beggars belief even further that they can act as their own locums in their pre-retirement year and be paid again for that year – working on double pay.

“Irish hospital consultants earn a basic €250,000 per annum for a nominal 33-hour-week. The implementation of the consultants’ contract cost the Government more than €140 million in 2009 alone.

“Consultants who practice privately in public hospitals are being paid twice to treat the same patient, once by the taxpayer and a second time by the patient, or the patient’s health insurer.

“Some consultants have been reported to spend 40% of their working time on private practice, some of which is being reimbursed by the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The cap of 25% on time spent by publicly employed consultants in private practice is not being fully implemented, as medical unions take issue with HSE monitoring mechanisms.

“Sinn Féin is of the view that no monitoring mechanism can adequately deal with this perverse and absurd system, which is one that we cannot afford. It is not sustainable.

“Sinn Féin calls for the introduction of a new public-only consultant contract – capping the salaries of medical consultants at €150,000.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Public Expenditure and Reform Spokesperson Mary Lou McDonald TD this morning described the final lump sum payment and pension pot for departing Department of An Taoiseach Secretary General Dermot McCarthy as completely inappropriate and scandalously high.

Speaking ahead of today’s Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis Clár launch Deputy McDonald said:

“Secretary General Dermot McCarthy’s parting pay off from the Department of the Taoiseach is yet another example of the inappropriate pay levels enjoyed by the highest ranking civil servants. This Government like Fianna Fáil before them continues to support scandalously high salaries for senior civil and public servants.

“Contrast Dermot McCarthy’s sky high 713,000 euro retirement package to the on-going recruitment embargo on desperately needed special needs assistants, gardaí, social and healthcare workers and we can see exactly where this Government’s priorities lie.

“Since the economic crisis began Sinn Féin has called for all public and civil service pay to be capped at 100,000 euro per year. This generous salary of three times the average wage is an appropriate level of pay for any civil servant paid out of the public purse.” ENDS

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THE leader of the Sinn Féin group on Dublin City Council, Councillor Larry O’Toole, has called for the implementation by Council management of the decision of the City Council on Monday night to oppose the privatisation of the capital’s household bin collection service.
 
At its monthly meeting last night (Monday 5th September), Dublin City Council adopted a Sinn Féin motion which said that the Council “in fulfilment of our public service responsibility to the citizens of Dublin and of our duty as an employer to our workforce, will retain as a council function the waste collection service and will oppose its privatisation”

Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole said:

“The democratically-elected representatives of the people of Dublin have now voted against the privatisation of the household refuse collection service.

“Council management should implement this decision.

“This is a key Council service and if it is ended householders will have to pay private providers. There will be no protection for those currently holding waivers and many householders will face increased costs.

“Workers in these private firms have poorer pay and working conditions than Council staff currently employed to deliver this service.

“There is a special responsibility on the Labour Party members of the Council to see that this Council decision is implemented. Indeed, some of their members voted for the Sinn Féin motion. Labour is in Government and so can help ensure both at Council and at Government level that this democratic decision is carried out.”

ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty, responding to the latest report on debt projections from the Economic and Social Research Institute, has criticised the body for consistently failing to acknowledge the need for a stimulus for the Irish economy.

Doherty said the body and the government need to keep their hands off the NPRF and that their ’jobless recovery' was a contradiction in terms.

Doherty said:

“The ESRI believes that pure calculations on paper can bring the Irish economy to recovery. It has proved over the last week of pronouncements that its function is to cheer-lead government and EU/IMF policy, rather than provide objective analysis. In its latest submission, it appears to advocate writing down government debt by using virtually all of the state's liquid assets, and I am concerned that that includes the remaining NPRF reserves, as implied in point 4 of their key assumptions.

“Sinn Féin believes a portion of those assets should be used for a jobs package that would help to stimulate the economy to recovery. The ESRI believes, along with the government and the EU/IMF that we can cut our way to recovery. They do not mention debt reduction via growing the labour force and growing the economy. In failing to do so they are failing the 'social' aspect of their own name.

“There can be no jobless recovery. If we pay off all our debts as the ESRI claims we can, and do not stimulate enterprise, we will be left in 2014 with an unemployment legacy which will continue the cycle of falling tax revenues and a huge social welfare burden. To ignore this fact is poor economics and shows extremely bad social responsibility.

“I challenge the ESRI to examine the prospect of stimulus and suggest funding options for this route, particularly in light of their recent submission which appears to suggest wiping out any remaining state assets. The NPRF remaining reserves will be key to funding this stimulus in my mind. No more of this fund should be wasted on either banks or repaying state debt caused by banks.”

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