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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




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A New Exciting Future - Uniting Ireland

I want to welcome all of you here this evening. 

Ba mhaith liom aitheantas speisialta a thabhairt d’ár gcomhordaitheoir ar Éire Aontaithe, Lucilita Bhreathnach agus an foireann a bhí ag obair leí le roinnt míonna chun na comhdhálacha seo a chuir le chéile;- ceann i mBaile Átha Cliath agus i gCorcaigh i Meitheamh, ceann i nGaillimh agus an ceann seo anocht i Newry agus beidh ceann eile sa tuaisceart i Doire in January.

This is the fifth of a series of conferences Sinn Féin has held in the last 12 months on the theme of ‘Towards a New Republic – I dtreo Poblacht Nua’.

It is our first conference in the North. Our goal is to raise awareness about the mutual benefits that Irish unity can bring to the citizens of this island. It is about encouraging a truly national and international conversation around the objective of a United Ireland, and to create open and inclusive platforms in which those with differing opinions can discuss and debate the issues.

At its core this debate is about the future. Of course, as John McCallister has reminded us, to plan for the future we have to deal with the past. Sinn Féin has never shied away from this whether on the issue of victims or on other matters.

Dealing with the past is not easy and there is little agreement at a political level about how we do this. But that should not be an obstacle to the future. Republicans, including the IRA, have acknowledged the hurt they have inflicted.

And Sinn Féin have put forward proposals to both governments, victims support groups and the other political parties, for an independent, international process for dealing with all of the issues arising from the conflict and with deference to all the victims, including victims of the British state and unionist paramilitaries, as well as the IRA.

I very much welcome John McCallister’s contribution here this evening and the presence of other unionists at this event.

Unionists are 20% of the population of this island - a real political force able to shape economic and political policy, and exercise real political power to the benefit of those they represent. They should use this power wisely.

I will resist the temptation to remind John of how this power was used unwisely and ruthlessly, though I do note that there has not been a fulsome acknowledgement, much less an apology for this abuse which benefitted neither unionist working class nor the rest of us.

The net beneficiaries were the unionist ruling class and the British establishment. Thankfully those days are gone. But they are only gone because good people made a stand and refused to accept anything less than equality. So, this journey continues. There is still a lot to be done.

Reunification is possible through reconciliation and all of us have a responsibility to deal with all the issues involved. Tonight’s discussion is part of a process for doing this. It should not stop tonight. Let’s find ways to talk about all these matters. To discuss the different possible governance arrangements - including perhaps federal arrangements - which could serve as transitional measures or as governmental systems in their own right.

Let’s talk about issues of tradition and identity; about Britishness and orange marches.
Let us also consider how we can celebrate and commemorate the many centenaries that will take place over the next decade. In their time the signing of the Ulster Covenant, or the 1913 Lockout or the Rising in 1916 were all viewed differently.
For some they were moments of heroic struggle. For others they represented a threat.
We have a collective opportunity to use these events imaginatively and in a way that encourages greater understanding and appreciation of the differing attitudes that exist.

It’s about creating a new society on this island that looks beyond partition and is inclusive and democratic and is built on equality and citizens rights. Like most political decisions the shape of partition was dictated as much by economics as by unionist objections. Before partition the north-east part of the island of Ireland was the most economically advanced. It was a net contributor to the British exchequer.
At that time Ireland exported £20.9 million in manufactured goods and £19.1 million of this came from the industries centred around Belfast.

It had the shipyards, the linen mills, the rope works, the tobacco factories and the engineering companies.

Partition also allowed for continuing British control and influence in Ireland. It defended British economic and strategic interests.

Both states created by partition have been characterised by economic failure, by emigration, by backwardness on social issues, by inequality and by the failure to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.

On an island this small partition never made sense. It created a duplication of public and private services, two sets of currencies, and two tax systems, laws and regulations. Partition also ensured that the border region became one of the most disadvantaged parts of this island with higher than average unemployment levels, poverty, poor infrastructure and little investment.

Towns like Newry on this side of the border, and Dundalk on the other, were cut off from their natural economic hinterland. Economic development was stunted.
Greater co-operation and harmonisation and unity would transform the economic and political landscape. Imagine the financial and efficiency benefits if we had one education system, health service, energy network and investment practices?
Imagine a border region not plagued by differing rates in VAT, in corporation tax, in excise duties as well as currency.

Imagine how much better off citizens would be if we put in place a comprehensive all-Ireland Economic Recovery Plan which was able to deliver prosperity and sustainable economic growth. Imagine ‘Brand Ireland’ being employed creatively to grow our exports and create jobs. All of these things are possible.

For example, without anyone giving up their position on the union it is imperative for citizens in this border region that policy makers find ways of regenerating and maximising our potential from the Boyne to the Burren, from Newgrange to the Mournes.

There is an onus on politicians at Stormont and Leinster House to co-operate and work together. Within this area we have a beautiful coastal mountainy landscape replete with history, poetry and myth from neolithic times to the present.

In this immediate area it is ridiculous that the people of the Cooley peninsula and the Mournes do not have the benefit of a bridge at Narrow Water to bring them closer and to enhance the tourism and economic potential of the area.

Sinn Féin supports this project and we are working to achieve it. It’s all about political choices and political will. Of course, what some describe as the ‘constitutional question’ is about more than economics.

There is an imperative on those who want Irish unity to engage with unionist opinion. The context for this has changed in recent years and especially with the Good Friday Agreement. In a speech to the Assembly in June the British Prime Minister David Cameron said, ‘as the Agreement makes very clear’, the constitutional future of the north does not rest in his hands or those of his government but in the hands of the people.

As a unionist Mr. Cameron made his preference clear but he was equally frank that the British government will back the democratic wishes of the people whether ‘to remain part of the United Kingdom, as is my strong wish…or whether it’s to be part of a united Ireland’.

Later when he was privately challenged in my presence on this by the leader of the UUP the British Prime Minister stuck by this position. This is a stark contrast to Margaret Thatcher’s claim that the north is as British as Finchley!

It is also evidence of the potential for fundamental change that the Good Friday Agreement has created. Sinn Féin is for a new type of republic on this island – a republic which embraces all citizens – a republic in which unionists would not be the tiny 1% minority in a British state as they currently are.

I said at the beginning of my remarks that the debate around Irish unity is about the future.

There is an opportunity now, after generations of failure, to build something new and exciting and progressive.

I invite you to continue this journey with us.

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Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey said that the DUP plan to charge people £50 to attend a Health Workshop at their party conference next week raises serious concerns.

“The idea that you have people paying to have their opinions heard by a government minister is absolutely ridiculous. In my opinion it is ethically and politically unacceptable.

“We are striving in the North to having a democratic, accessible and open form of government, not a pay-per-view version of it.  This is introducing the Galway Tent style of activity into politics here, something which led to the downfall of Fianna Fail and symbolised corruption in politics.

 “A Minister should be available to meet anyone when it is possible without putting a price-tag on it. The review of the health service should also be open to all submissions and not at the cost of £50 a head nor at a party political conference.”

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Tallaght-based Sinn Fein T, Seán Crowe, responding to media reports that education minister and Labour TD, Ruairí Quinn proposes to cut grants
for masters degrees, said it sends a clear message to people on lower incomes that post graduate degrees are not for them.

The Sinn Féin education spokesperson said:

"The average fees for masters degrees are now in excess of €6000. Many universities are developing such degrees to cover the shortfall in government funding for higher education.

"There is limited prospect of university scholarships or fee reductions on these programmes. Even with a local authority grant a student will still need to raise up to €10,000 to cover living costs while studying at postgraduate level.

"Meanwhile, employers are highlighting a shortage post-graduate qualifications in many areas.

"This is a disgraceful position for any education minister, but for a Labour minister it is simply appalling."
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Speaking following the publication the annual reports of the Prison Visiting Committees throughout the state, Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, Deputy Jonathan O’Brien, welcomed their publication, but said he was dismayed to see that Fine Gael was carrying on the previous government’s practice of publishing bad news stories on a Friday afternoon when the media were less likely to pick up on them. He called on the government to improve prison conditions as a matter of urgency.

The Cork North Central TD said:
“The reports paint a picture of draconian, Victorian conditions that have a seriously negative impact on the lives of prisoners. Cork prison has particularly degrading conditions with ‘efforts being made to solve “slopping out” by introducing a new “slopping out” vessel,’ according to the report. No person should be slopping out in this day and age. People are being kept in conditions that no right-thinking individual would think was fit for an animal.

“The report of the Visiting Committee to Mountjoy Prison makes for particularly grim reading, with the issue of overcrowding not being addressed adequately. The minister’s plans set out in the capital allocation to the Department of Justice will do nothing to address Mountjoy’s practice of putting eight prisoners in to a cell designed for four with no sanitation facilities and nothing but mattresses on the floor.
“Prisoners are in 23-hour lock-up as a result of petty squabbles, in clear breach of their rights. Prison policy should not be constructed on what is easiest for management of the prison because the Minister will not resource it properly. Prisoners are real people. They are not just numbers.
“Mental health services are particularly lacking in prisons. I am asking the minister to examine this as a matter of urgency. If he is committed to continue to force prisoners to live in these inhumane and degrading conditions that will have a hugely detrimental effect on their mental health, then he must provide them with the correct mental health services and supports that they require.”


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Reiterating his party's stance on third level fees, Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams TD, said today:
"Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday was entirely disingenuous in seeking to cloud the issue of his party’s betrayal of election pledges by referring to student fees in the North. Indeed it is pathetic that the leader of the Irish Labour Party would use a British Tory position on student fees in this way.
"For the record, Sinn Féin opposed, tooth and nail, the introduction of students fees by the British Government and by the previous UUP/SDLP led administration. We have consistently opposed them in the Executive at every opportunity.
"Earlier this year with others we succeeded in imposing a cap on students fees for those studying in the north including for students from the rest of the island.
"Of course the Tánaiste is fully aware of all of this and of the fact that in the North, unlike in this state, the local administration does not have fiscal powers. Indeed it is ironic that at a time when Sinn Féin in the north is attempting to wrest such powers from London, Mr Gilmore’s party is acquiescing in a position where Irish economic and fiscal powers are given away to the EU and IMF.
"Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, TD, and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore should now honour 
Labour’s pre-election pledge that there will be no increase in fees or cuts to the maintenance grant. Sinn Féin also rejects any attempt by the Government to abolish support for postgraduate students or cuts to student supports."

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Sinn Fein TD for Donegal South West, Pearse Doherty, has welcomed the decision taken by the North South Ministerial Council not to axe the A5 despite the Irish government decision to defer up to 80% of its funding for the project.

Deputy Doherty said:
“Today’s news that the A5 will proceed is great news for the people and the local economy of the North West. The decision by the North South Ministerial Council will ensure that this project goes ahead.

“The news will come as a great relief to local people who were fearful that the project would not go ahead following the decision by Fine Gael and Labour to defer the funding. The decision by Fine Gael and Labour was reckless, was in break of the St Andrews Agreement and put the future of this road in jeopardy.

“Much of the credit for today’s decision must go to the Northern Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MLA and his departmental colleague Sinn Féin MLA for Derry Martina Anderson who kept in constant contact with myself and my Donegal colleague Padraig MacLoughlinn over recent weeks.

“A new time frame and funding agreement will be in place in time for the next North South Ministerial Council meeting in June 2012.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin members are protesting at Bank of Ireland branches in Dublin and Cork at the bank’s refusal to pass on interest rate decreases to mortgage holders. Over 100 protesters were at the Bank of Ireland in O’Connell Street, Dublin where they staged a sit-in.
“There are people in real trouble with their mortgages because of an economic mess that has nothing to do with them," said Dublin City councillor, Larry O'Toole. "The banks, which we have bailed out, are not even passing on the ECB’s interest rate cut,” he continued, at the O’Connell Street protest in Dublin today.
“There is widespread mortgage distress, but the government has done nothing to help people. Now, it won’t even stand up to the banks which have not passed on the interest rate cut. Today the Central Bank has confirmed that 100,000 households are in trouble with their mortgages and 100 people’s homes were repossessed in the last three months,” he said.
“The banks are defying the government and the people are paying the price. We are calling on the government to stand up for the people and on the banks to pass on the rate cut to their hard-pressed customers,” he concluded.
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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has accused the Minister for Education of “incompetence” following further revelations of mismanagement of a €35million retraining programme for redundant construction workers. The Department of Education has awarded a contract to WRC Consultancy of up to €2.89million to provide ‘technical and administrative’ support to the Department in running the training programme despite the fact that none of the 9,000 eligible workers have been contacted.

Deputy Doherty said:
“Last June the Government applied for €41 million from the European Globalisation Fund to provide retraining support for 9,000 named construction workers made redundant between 2009 and 2010.
“The European Commission in October of this year approved €35 million to provide supports for almost 6,000 of these workers.
“Despite now being redundant for more than two years and having been named in the application submitted to the European Union last June, none of the 9,000 workers have been contacted by the Department.
“Now it appears that the Department of Education has awarded a contract to WRC Consultancy to the tune of up to €2.89m to provide ‘technical and administrative’ support to the Department in running a €35m European Globalisation Fund.
“While the details of what ‘technical and administrative’ support a will entail are not yet clear it is astounding that the Government has awarded this contract before contacting any of the 9,000 individuals in whose names this funding has been secured.
“The European Globalisation Fund is intended to provide tailor made training opportunities for redundant workers to complement existing provision by state agencies. The funding must be spent by June 2012. Any money that is not spent by this date must be returned to Brussels.
“Clearly the Minister for Education has his priorities all wrong. How can a contract be awarded to a private consultancy firm before the individuals who are meant to benefit from the funding have even been contacted? Not only have their training needs not been assessed for the purposes of developing the tailored made training but the Government does not even know if they are still in the country. Yet up to €2.89m is being handed out to private consultants for as yet unspecified support.
“While Ruarí Quinn inherited this mess from his predecessor he has now been in office for eight months and very little appears to have changed. His approach is nothing short of incompetent.

“The big losers in all of this will be the 9,000 named workers who have yet to be told if there is extra support for them to assist them in up-skilling and returning to employment and who may lose valuable opportunities as a result of political and departmental mismanagement.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams TD has repeated the party’s call on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to explain how a German budget committee was in possession of a document confirming an increase in VAT rates to be announced in his government’s forthcoming budget.
“This is another example of how the sovereignty of this state has been handed over. Enda Kenny must come into the Dáil and explain how these documents are being discussed by a German budget committee before their contents have been revealed to the Oireachtas.
“Then, we hear from German sources, that the government intends to increase the VAT rate to 23%, increasing an unbearable burden on families and damaging an already depressed retail sector. There is to be a household charge, another indication that this government has lost its way and is out of touch with the realities of people’s lives.
“There are families barely able to pay their mortgages, keep their children in college and put food on the table and now they are to be expected to pay another flat tax.”

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