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Some sights and sounds of the Right2Water National Assembly outside the Dáil December 10

Some of the sights and sounds of the Right2Water National Assembly outside the Dáil on December 10.  Includes Gerry Adams address to the crowd and Damien Dempsey's rendition of the ballad James Connolly

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has stated that government policy is making the richer even richer and the poor even poorer.


The passing of this motion, in conjunction with the passing of similar motions in Parliaments across the EU, is an important act of solidarity with the Palestinian people.



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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today called on landowners to help increase woodland cover across the north of Ireland by planting more trees.

The Minister was speaking after a visit to a woodland site at Drumlamph Wood, Maghera, County Derry, which received support from the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2007-2013.

Minister O’Neill said:

“Woodlands are a natural home to wildlife, plants and animals and provide many environmental, social and recreational benefits, as well as producing fuel wood or timber for construction. However, our local countryside is one of the least wooded areas in Europe and we are keen to address this. The Forestry Strategy aims to double woodland cover and these projects highlight the good work being undertaken by communities and farmers in support of this goal.

“At Drumlamph, the local Carntogher Community Association in partnership with the Woodland Trust has developed a woodland which offers opportunity for community engagement, learning and recreation.”

DARD provides support for the establishment of woodland cover through the Woodland Grant Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme. The Woodland Grant Scheme pays £2,400 per hectare for broadleaved woodland and £1,600 per hectare for conifer woodland.

For new farmer applicants and farmer applicants under the current Farm Woodland Premium Scheme open since January 2007, annual payment rates range from £60 up to £290 per hectare (or £117 per acre) per year and compare favourably with current conacre rates for grassland. They depend on the category of land to be planted and whether it is inside or outside the Less Favoured Areas (LFA), so check first before applying.

Funding is also available for the Short Rotation Coppice Scheme, and already farmers have created approximately 750 hectares of Short Rotation Coppice for an energy end use, under this scheme, and its predecessor, the Short Rotation Coppice Challenge Fund.

In conclusion, the Minister added: 

“Schemes such as the Woodland Grant Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme offer support to farmers and landowners interested in woodland creation, and I would encourage any of them with an interest in planting woodland to seriously consider the options available to them. It is only through a united effort that we can succeed in increasing our woodland cover.”

Those claiming Single Farm Payment (SFP) in 2008, can now also plant their land and continue to claim SFP in addition to their annual Farm Woodland Premium Scheme forestry payments.

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Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast has welcomed the seizure of up to £25,000 of cannabis in the Areema area in what appears to be a cannabis factory.

Speaking today Ms McCann said:

“I welcome the seizure ofthese drugs and the closing down of what appears to be a cannabis factory.

"Cannabis is the first drug of choice especially amongst young people and its use is usually the first step by many to harder more harmful drugs and has been proven to cause mental health problems.

“It has serious side affects including dependancy, depression and paranoia for those who use it with serious affects both on personal life on the community.

“To see this amount taken off the streets is good news. As a community we must all ensure we stand against those who would supply drugs, especially to our young people.”

 

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Sinn Féin MLA and policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly has called on Al Hutchinson to stop dragging the office of the Ombudsman into further disrepute and make a clean break, once and for all, from this important office.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"It is Sinn Féin's belief that Al Hutchinson must make a clean break and go immediately. He must stop further entwining the office of the ombudsman in a downward spiral that began with him months ago. There is no faith in him, he continues to undermine the credibility of the office and as a result adds further insult and injury to many families who have suffered due to the actions of the RUC or PSNI.

"Through his most recent action he appears intent on not only further damaging the credibility of the office but also his own credibility. His desire to hang on to whatever shreds of the position he can, either of his own volition or at the behest of others, is casting a shadow around the recruitment procedure for this position and at the very minimum begs a question or about the agenda being served.

"We have already called for a new beginning in rebuilding the confidence of this important office. The more Al Hutchinson delays, the more protracted this unacceptable situation will become. Al Hutchinson cannot be allowed to interfere through to continue to influence the outcome of any new start for the Ombudsmans Office."

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Sinn Féin Enterprise Spokesperson Phil Flanagan MLA (Fermanagh/South Tyrone) responding to the latest unemployment figures commented:
 
"The latest figures showing a slight fall in unemployment figures should be taken with a large dose of salt. These figures do not reflect the reality or the extent of the effects of the austerity agenda being pursued by both the Irish and British governments. While the figures show a small drop in the numbers claiming benefits they do not take account of the large numbers of people who have been forced to emigrate rather than remain here in unemployment. 
 
"It is important that we do not allow these figures to be used to convey the impression that government austerity measures are having a positive impact. What is required rather than massaging figures and statistics is a focus on investment and a real reduction in unemployment figures through job creation.  Youth unemployment in particular needs to be tackled if we are to avoid losing our most talented to emigration.

"The continuing rise in the levels of economic inactivity across all age groups here clearly indicates that the austerity agenda being pursued by both British & Irish governments is not working and is in fact exacerbating the low level of economic activity and inhibiting growth. 

"Both governments need to urgently change course, invest resources in capital projects to kick-start economic recovery, create jobs, eliminate poverty and protect public services.

"Such a programme should be funded through a fair and progressive taxation system, with those who can afford to pay, paying more and a spotlight put on ensuring that those who evade and avoid paying tax are brought to book. The burden should not and cannot be borne by the low paid and those dependent on benefits"

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More than 20,000 children have completed the ‘5 Star Disability Sports Challenge’, Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín announced today.

The Minister joined Olympic gold medallist Jonathan Edwards, local paralympic athletes and the pupils of St Colman’s Primary School in Belfast to unveil the milestone figure.

The 5 Star Disability Sports Challenge showcases disability sport in the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It inspires both disabled and non-disabled children to participate in sport, while positively challenging attitudes about people with disabilities. St Colman’s is the latest school to take part in the scheme, which has been running since 2009, and its pupils take the number of participants to 20,000.

The Minister said: 

“This inspirational programme has excited and enthused children of all abilities and backgrounds in dozens of schools across the North.

“As well as giving children a flavour of Paralympic sports, these young people get to meet elite athletes, hear their stories, ask questions and further their understanding.”

During the event, the children heard from Michael McKillop, who won a gold medal in the 800m event at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. Also present were Aubrey Bingham and Johnny McCarthy from the Northern Ireland Knights Wheelchair Basketball Club. Following the presentations, Disability Sports NI coaches gave participating children the opportunity to try out a circuit of five Paralympic sports.

The Minister added:

“It is encouraging to see how much this scheme has accomplished at a grassroots level. The 5 Star Disability Sports Challenge has broken down barriers, raised awareness and had a positive impact in the countdown to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“What the pupils of St Colman’s have experienced today will resonate with them in the build up to the Olympics and long into the future.”

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams will tomorrow set out the party's position on the emerging Eurozone Treaty which is expected to be agreed by EU leaders at a summit on 30th January.

Deputy Adams will launch a document which outlines Sinn Féin’s approach to the Eurozone crisis.

He will be joined by the party’s Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD and European Affairs Spokespeople Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD and Senator Kathryn Reilly at a press conference in the Oak Room, Buswells Hotel tomorrow morning at 11.30am.

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Sinn Féin Social Protection Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has been tasked by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Social Protection and Education to compile a report on the consequences of amalgamating all social welfare payments into a single working age payment.

Speaking after a meeting of the committee with department officials this morning Deputy Ó Snodaigh welcomed confirmation that the Troika is not demanding the introduction of a single payment.

He said, “I welcome the confirmation from the Deputy Secretary General of the Department at this morning’s meeting that the Troika is not demanding the introduction of a particular single working age payment but rather are open to whatever options are proposed.

“This morning’s engagement with the department officials was very useful and it is clear that there is a real opportunity for the Oireachtas Committee members and for groups representing those most affected such as people with disabilities, carers and lone parents, to influence the reform of our social welfare system.

“As part of my work as Rapporteur I will be engaging with as many of these groups as possible in the next month. The timeframe for this is very tight with the government having committed to submit an implementation plan to the Troika by the end of March. This morning I committed to submit my draft report to the Oireachtas Committee by the end of February for approval in advance of the March deadline.

“We are talking about potentially the most significant reform of our social welfare system since the foundation of the state. It's vital that we get it right and that we get the timing right. It became clear during the Committee discussion that unless the activation and support services are enhanced, including childcare in particular, such reforms at a time of high unemployment could be hugely detrimental.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s education spokesperson Seán Crowe TD has urged the government to reverse the cuts to career guidance counselling posts that were brought about as a result of December’s budget.

Deputy Crowe said:

“This government continues to target the most vulnerable young people in our school system in a bid to save money. The possible loss of hundreds of school guidance counsellors will have serious and far reaching implications for children because of the essential role they play in supporting young people’s educational, emotional and mental well-being.

“This will cause significant damage to our education system that is already reeling from cuts to DEIS Schools, the reduction in capitation grants, the suspension of summer work’s schemes, increases to the pupil/teacher ratios, hikes in the contribution fees for students, cuts to CE schemes, as well as increases in the cost of school transport and the reduction in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance

“School Guidance Counsellors play a vitally important role and they are often the first point of contact for young people when they experience difficulties at home and at school.

“They are one of the few free supports available and they help young people on a range of issues during times of crisis.

“We know from the department’s own figures that there are simply too many children with educational, emotional and behavioural difficulties for schools to manage without support teachers. I believe that now, more than ever, we need guidance counselling services in our schools. We face an unprecedented economic crisis that has serious implications for thousands of families who face the nightmare of unemployment. This has a huge impact on the well-being of young people and school counsellors are very often able to help.

“These cuts will undermine their basic right to receive an education in a calm and safe environment and will result in more suspensions and expulsions. It will cause significant disruption in classrooms and will end up costing the taxpayer more in the long run

“Hundreds of career guidance teachers will also lose their positions if the government presses ahead with what was announced in December’s budget. They will be moved out of their role and will start teaching again in the classroom. As a result of this change in policy, many of the young teachers they will be replacing will lose their jobs.

“Most importantly, the mental health and general well-being of our students will suffer. On the back of last week’s Sinn Féin motion the Minister agreed to review the cuts to DEIS schools. He now needs to do the same and ensure that school counsellors are retained at their present levels.”

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Energy Martin Ferris TD has welcomed the acceptance by Minister Pat Rabbitte of the spirit of opposition amendments to the Energy Provisions Bill on fuel poverty.

Deputy Ferris was speaking during the Report Stage of the Bill in the Dáil this morning.

Deputy Ferris said:

“I am happy to withdraw my amendment in the light of the Minister’s own amendment to include provision for funding of a programme to address fuel poverty.

“I would also hope that the programme itself will address the fundamental issues of costs and incomes as well as energy efficiency.”

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Sinn Féin MEPs final report back to the Irish people of 2014.


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Senator David Cullinane speaks to media