Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has advised the remaining primary schools still to complete their Computer-Based Assessments that an interim solution to overcome the technical difficulties has been implemented.
The issues, faced by some schools, had arisen as pupils in Key Stage 2 (Years 4-7) had been completing the assessments, particularly with literacy. In a letter to schools, the Minister explained that an interim solution has been implemented to overcome these difficulties and that any schools which encounter any remaining issues would be fully supported by the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) and network provider C2k who would provide on-site support if necessary.
Minister O’Dowd said:
“The Computer-Based Assessment programmes for literacy and numeracy are in their first year of operation and some schools had encountered technical difficulties when using the tests. Once I became aware of this issue, I met the heads of both CCEA and the Western Education and Library Board (which runs the C2k system). I also talked directly with those who are contracted to provide the assessments and those who are contracted to run the C2k system.
"Following extensive work by all involved, I am now satisfied that the main technical difficulties encountered have been addressed and that any remaining issues are manageable. As a result, I have written today to principals of all primary schools to advise those that have not yet commenced the assessments that they should do so.
“I am pleased to note that despite these difficulties, and thanks to the hard work and commitment of teachers in our primary schools, over 78% of pupils have already completed the assessments. Indeed, this is broadly comparable to the numbers that had completed the existing InCAS tests at the same stage last year.”
The Minister continued:
“CCEA has begun to contact those schools yet to start their assessments to ensure that they are able to make progress and report outcomes to parents as planned. For schools which started the assessments but felt unable to continue, they should put in place arrangements to allow their pupils’ assessments to proceed. CCEA is in the process of contacting the schools who registered technical difficulties this term to facilitate this. I have also made clear that if any school encounters any difficulty with any aspect of the tests, CCEA and C2K will be available to assist, including providing on-site support should that be necessary.
“Looking to the future, I have requested a full report from CCEA on the operation of the new assessments. This will include an analysis of why the difficulties experienced by schools were not apparent to the same extent during the extensive trial period. In addition, the Education and Training Inspectorate is already planning a survey to determine how effectively schools make use of this assessment information and I will review its findings later in this school year.”
Sinn Féin Spokesperson, Maeve McLaughlin MLA (Foyle) is to meet with University of Ulster vice-Chancellor, Richard Barnett next week to press for the additional STEM places announced in last weeks Executive initiative to be located at Magee Campus.
Maeve McLaughlin said:
"I have secured a meeting next week with vice-Chancellor Richard Barnett with the intention of reminding him of commitments in regard to expansion of the Magee Campus. I will impress on him the opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of these promises presented by the announcement of an additional 500 STEM places included in the Executive announcement. I have also written to DEL Minister, Stephen Farry seeking a meeting to press for delivery on previous commitments to increase student numbers at Magee Campus by 1000.
"The jobs initiative announced by the First and deputy First Ministers, last week included a pledge to ' further build our skills base in priority areas by funding 500 additional undergraduate STEM places per annum'.
"I will be reminding the Minister of his Party's manifesto commitment to the substantial expansion of the Magee Campus prior to the last election. He now has the opportunity to go some way to fulfil that pledge.
"I also invite all of the other Foyle MLA's to join me in a cross party delegation to meet the Minister once the meeting is secured. There can be no room for complacency or party politicking on this issue. We must demonstrate a strong case for Derry as a 'priority' area and Magee as a catalyst project for Derry City's 'One Plan' regeneration strategy and do so with one clear voice."
Subcontractors affected by Pattons in Ballymena going into administration will be at the Assembly on Monday to meet with senior officials in DETI and Invest NI. They will also be meeting with MLAs to outline the difficult situation that many companies now find themselves in.
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay who has arranged the meetings has said that there is an onus on the Enterprise Minister and Invest NI to take urgent measures to try and secure the future of the jobs that have been put at risk by Pattons going into administration last week.Mr McKay said:
"The impact of Pattons going into administration has been huge and has hit both suppliers and sub-contractors in particular. Some sub-contractors will be able to subsume this debt whilst others are in need of support and advice as to how they can deal with this debt being passed down the chain, especially when the doors of many banks remain closed to them.
“There is a particular onus on Invest NI and the Enterprise Minister to assist these businesses in whatever way they can as last week’s news will lead to further job losses through these sub-contractors. This is hundreds of jobs we are talking about so mitigating against these job losses needs to be an immediate priority.
“It is important that Assembly members and Ministers avail of the opportunity to listen to sub-contractors concerns and worries about this situation. These companies are located right across the north and are a vital part of our local economy.”
Sinn Féin MLA Sue Ramsey has welcomed the announcement by the Health Minister Edwin Poots that his department will be helping to fund an MRI scanner for the Children’s Hospital at the RVH.
The West Belfast MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee said:
“This is welcome news and will provide the Children’s Hospital with the capability of early diagnosis of cancer and a wide range of medical conditions.
“Early diagnosis will obviously increase the chance of patients making a full recovery. Those who have been raising funds through the Scanner Appeal, which will in part pay for the scanner, are to be applauded for their work.
“This scanner is a priority for the Children’s Hospital and once it is installed it will save families the added trauma of having to travel to Dublin or London to get a diagnosis.”
The outcome of the Children’s Referendum has been welcomed by Sinn Féin Children’s spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD. He said the Government must now put in place the legislation and the resources needed to vindicate children’s rights.
“Sinn Féin welcomes the result of the Children’s Referendum. It is a clear endorsement of the amendment to the constitution to strengthen the rights of children.
“The government must now put in place the legislation necessary to give the amendment legal effect. It must also put in place the resources needed to vindicate children’s rights, especially for vulnerable children who require the protection of social services. It needs to match words with actions. We will be holding the government to account on this in the Oireachtas and outside it.
“The low turnout was disappointing and it is doubtful that it would have been any better had it been held on a weekday. For that reason the experiment of Saturday voting should not be dispensed with on the basis of this turnout alone.
“The relatively high ‘No’ vote in working-class communities is significant. I believe it reflects deep mistrust of government and the State as a result of the harsh and futile austerity regime of the Fine Gael/Labour government that is hitting these communities worst. Opposition to austerity is totally justified and Sinn Féin will continue to lead the battle against it and for an alternative approach based on fairness.
“I take this opportunity to reject utterly the juvenile remarks of Fine Gael junior Minister Shane McEntee, accusing Sinn Féin of speaking out of both sides of our mouths in the referendum. Sinn Féin campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote and for years we have been calling for children’s rights to be strengthened in the Constitution. I was proud to lead our campaign and we have worked with others across the political spectrum including Deputy McEntee’s senior colleague, the Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.
“I commend all who campaigned for a ‘Yes’ vote and all who turned out to vote. It is time now to implement the people’s decision.” ENDS
Sinn Féin Derry MLA Raymond McCartney has condemned those involved in what he called a witch-hunt on social media sites against footballer James McClean for his decision not to wear a poppy when playing for his club Sunderland today.
Raymond McCartney said:
“No person, in any walk of life, should be forced to wear any symbol. That includes the red poppy, symbol of the Royal British Legion. Neither should any disrespect be read into a person’s decision to wear such a symbol.
“It appears that James McClean is now the subject of a witch-hunt on social media for his choice not to wear a poppy on his shirt when playing for Sunderland today.
“This 'poppy bullying' culture raises its head at this time every year. We have seen attempts to make workplaces compulsory poppy wearing zones.
“The BBC has been guilty of corporate ‘poppy bullying’ by refusing to allow presenters who choose not to wear a poppy to at this time of year to appear on screen. This is shameful.
“The right of people not to feel intimidated into wearing a poppy must be recognised. That includes professional footballers. James McClean’s personal choice in this regard should be respected.”
Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy has said that Alasdair McDonnell’s address to the SDLP party conference highlights a party as much at odds with itself as it is with the Northern Executive. He said the SDLP was deluded about its own position and increasingly politically irrelevant.
Conor Murphy said:
“While Alasdair McDonnell’s speech was long on rhetoric it highlighted a growing rift within his own party.
“Mr. McDonnell has expressed his desire to get more representatives onto the Executive while only yesterday his colleague Dolores Kelly called for the SDLP to go into opposition.
“The SDLP needs to realise that it cannot have its cake and eat it. It cannot expect to claim credit for all the good work coming out of the Executive while refusing to do any of the heavy lifting.
“The SDLP voted against the last two budgets, in fact Mr. McDonnell hadn’t even the decency to come into the chamber to hear the debate.
“The party also, to its eternal discredit, voiced opposition to the devolution of policing and justice.
“What is clear this weekend is that the SDLP is increasingly deluded about its own position as it becomes increasingly irrelevant to the task of bringing about meaningful change in society.”
Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane has congratulated the more than 10,000 people who turned out today to march against the downgrading of Waterford Regional Hospital.
Speaking after the rally today Senator Cullinane said;
“I want to congratulate the organisers of today’s march which sent a clear message to the government that we will not stand idly by while they cut such a vital service from this region.
“The downgrading of Waterford Regional Hospital will decimate services such as cancer care, trauma and cardiology. It will force patients from across the Southeast to travel to Cork and Dublin to hospitals already stretched from cutbacks. It will cost lives and cost jobs.
“The turnout for today’s march, more than 10,000 people shows the level of opposition to this downgrading and the government needs to take note.”
Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has condemned the breaching of the Parades Commission determination by a band at the Apprentice Boys’ march past St Patrick’s Church and Carrickhill this morning.
The North Belfast MLA said:
“The Apprentice Boys’, Parades Commission, PSNI and unionist politicians need to come out clearly and condemn this blatantly sectarian and provocative action by the Dunmurry Protestant Boys’ band who played the sectarian ‘Famine song’ during the march. They also need to take action against against the band.
“Residents entered into discussions with the Apprentice Boys’ prior to the march in good faith. But the Apprentice Boys’ can not think that they will enter into these discussions just to get a favourable determination by the Parades Commission.
“This is the fourth time that the Parades Commission determinations have been broken on this route and the residents feel that their good faith in trying to reach a resolution to the situation is being treated with contempt.
“Sinn Féin will continue to support the residents in their attempts to reach a genuine resolution but that needs to be reciproctated by the Loyal Orders. Meaningful dialogue is the way but the residents patience is wearing thin with these repeated breaches and a lack of consistency by the Parades Commission determinations.”
Sinn Féin Waterford based Senator David Cullinane has called on the people of the Southeast to come out in their thousands and support the march in Waterford City about the future of the regional hospital.
Senator Cullinane will walk with his wife Councillor
Kathleen Funchion who is from Kilkenny and their two young children Emmet and
Speaking this morning he said;
“I am appealing to people in the Southeast to come out today in huge numbers and march in solidarity and in support of our regional hospital. The downgrading of Waterford Regional Hospital effects young and old, Waterford and Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny.
“The downgrading of WRH will decimate services such as cancer care, trauma and cardiology. It will force patients from across the Southeast to have to travel to Cork and Dublin to hospitals already stretched from cutbacks. It will cost lives and cost jobs.
“The message needs to go out loud and clear today that the people of the Southeast will not stand idly by while such a vital service is stripped away.” Ends
Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast and housing spokesperson Fra McCann has expressed his concern that the Social Development minister insistence that there will be no six month delay in implementing the so called “Bedroom Tax” will leave 1,000’s homeless or destitute.
Speaking today Mr McCann said:
“The announcement by Nelson McCausland raises serious concerns given that he has spoken previously of getting flexibilities in the delivery of Welfare Reform.
“It is clear from this announcement that the Minister will not being implementing any flexibility when it comes to this punitive measure.
“The so called “Bedroom Tax” will have a hugely negative impact locally given the lack of suitable housing stock and I have been on record on asking the minister how he would square that circle. To date he has not been able to answer this satisfactorily.
“Sinn Féin have pressed to establish an ad hoc committee to examine the human rights aspects of the Tory driven welfare reform bill . What is abundantly clear is that this measure will fundamentally affect peoples right to housing and has the potential to make 1,000’s homeless or destitute.”
Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay said both the DEL and DETI ministers need to act immediately regarding the redundancies at the Patton construction firm in Ballymena.
The North Antrim MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Finance & Personnel Committee said:
“This is a black day for Ballymena, especially in the lead up to Christmas.
“Both the DEL and DETI ministers need to act immediately to ensure that the Patton workers have immediate access to support and advice in regard to finding re-employment and re-training
“DETI needs to ensure that support is given by invest NI to construction businesses and those in the supply chain affected.
“While there is a need for a focus on foreign direct investment it should not be to the detriment of our construction firms who also need support.”
Sinn Féin MP for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy said the progress that we have on policing and justice in the North to date would not have happened without Sinn Féin efforts.
Speaking after comments by Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, Conor Murphy MP said:
“Over the past number of weeks Micheal Martin has attacked Sinn Féin in a number of engagements with little knowledge and even less facts.
“To dismiss calls by Sinn Féin for the killers of David Black to be brought to justice is disingenuous and is a crass attempt at political point scoring on the back of a very emotive issue.
"To try and link this and the calls for the release of Padraic Wilson following his politically motivated arrest is wrong.
“Let me remind Micheál Martin that there would not have been the advancement in the peace process or the progress on delivering an accountable and civic police service in the north without Sinn Féin.
“This includes dealing with a small element that have a mindset bent on blocking progress, who have blocked inquests, obstructed the work of the Police Ombudsman and have been involved in cover ups.
"We will not be deterred from these objectives. Where there is bad policing it will be challenged. No matter how Micheál Martin would have the northern nationalist behaving, we will not be accepting what is dictated to us by Britain or by negative elements within the PSNI.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, who is today attending the Irish Foster Care Association launch of the annual ‘Focus on Fostering Week’ in Dublin’s Mansion House, has paid tribute to the thousands of people who foster children and rejected what he described as the “disgraceful remarks” of columnist John Waters who accused foster parents of being motivated by money.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said;
“Thousands of people in Ireland foster children and provide loving family care to them. Nearly one third of these are relatives of the children concerned. Foster parents deserve every possible support and are to be highly commended for their efforts. Focus on Fostering Week aims to promote fostering and increase public awareness of this cornerstone of our care system.
“I take this opportunity to deplore the disgraceful remarks of columnist John Waters who has accused foster parents of being motivated by money. This was in the context of the Children’s Referendum and is another of the false accusations and scare stories being spread by some in the ‘No’ campaign. John Waters should withdraw his remarks and apologise to foster parents.
“While today’s event is not connected to the Children’s Referendum it is worth noting that one of the beneficial outcomes of a ‘Yes’ vote would be to allow many children currently in foster care to be adopted by their foster parents, removing the current anomalous legal barriers to the adoption of children whose parents are married.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams speaking in New York last night urged Irish America to use its considerable influence to “persuade political opinion in America that a United Ireland is in the best strategic interests of the USA.
“We need Irish America to get your new President and Secretary of State and the USA to use your enormous influence with the British government to move them in that direction also.
“And we need Irish America to support the holding of a border poll.”
The Sinn Féin leader also expressed his solidarity with those affected by last weeks super storm.
The Sinn Féin leader thanked the Irish Diaspora “across the USA and internationally, who have remained steadfast, and kept faith with the cause of peace and justice and unity in Ireland” and he appealed for a renewed focus as we “enter a new phase in the struggle for freedom and independence”.
Gerry Adams said:
“Twenty years ago, in 1992, Sinn Féin’s efforts to build a peace process entered a new and critical phase. We did so with the direct help of our friends here in the USA.
“Irish America needs to continue to challenge human rights abuses and campaign on social justice issues, like the wrongful imprisonment of Marian Price and Martin Corey.
“Irish America has also rejected the violent actions of a small, unrepresentative number of groups in Ireland who are intent on blindly using violence.”
The Sinn Féin President added:
“The Good Friday Agreement has created the means by which Irish unity can be achieved democratically and peacefully.
“Irish America needs to persuade political opinion in America that a United Ireland is in the best strategic interests of the USA.
“Irish America needs to get your new President and Secretary of State and the USA to use your enormous influence with the British to move them in that direction also.
“And we need Irish America to support the holding of a border poll.
“This is a live issue at this time and has been given added impetus by the recent decision to hold a referendum in 2014 on Scottish independence.
“The Good Friday Agreement provides for a border poll on Irish unity. Sinn Fein in the new year will commence a campaign to achieve this. That means we need to build momentum and support so that the Irish and British governments are persuaded to hold a border poll.
“We will then have to campaign for a YES vote and to persuade the people of the island of Ireland to support unity and the creation of a new Republic.
“It especially means persuading those, north and south, who don’t want Irish unity that it will be better for them and for their children.
“Irish America has a role to play and a contribution to make in all of this.
The Diaspora must also have a role in the Irish government’s Constitutional Convention.
“Regrettably the Taoiseach is only committed to minimalist reform.
“When I raised this with him, and in particular the right of citizens with Irish passports living abroad to have the vote in presidential elections, he shied away from giving a meaningful role to the diaspora in the Constitutional Convention.
This is not acceptable.
“But Sinn Féin has succeeded in getting votes for Irish passport holders on to the agenda of the convention. So you need to make your voice heard on this.
“This generation of republicans is laying the foundations for a New Republic — a new Ireland with social justice and equality at its core.
“I believe we can achieve that new Ireland, that we can unite all of the people of the island of Ireland, and end past divisions and resolve outstanding differences.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, has called on the Minister for Health to give assurances to the people of Waterford that health services at Waterford Regional Hospital will be retained in full following the signalled implementation of new hospital ‘groups’.
Speaking after a Dáil debate today on the anticipated re-configuration of hospital services in the South East Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“It has been widely suggested over the past number of days that the report by Professor Higgins into the number and composition of new hospital groups and their relationship to the university sector, will result in an effective downgrading of Waterford Regional Hospital and the relocation of vital services to already under pressure hospitals in Cork or Dublin.
“This news has been met with outrage and consternation by the whole community in Waterford – by the medical profession – consultants, GPs, nurses and other staff, by the business and trade union sectors and by civic society in general. The minister needs to understand the potential implications, medical and economical, of this move for the people of the greater Waterford region.
“Today the minister failed to quell fears regarding the future of some services at Waterford Regional Hospital. He should immediately outline how he intends to proceed with Professor Higgins’ report and in the interest of consultation, cooperation and transparency, but most of all in the best interest of service users across the South East, he must publish the Higgins Report as soon as it is presented to him.” ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on environment, community & local government Brian Stanley TD today led a delegation to Brussels to seek a resolution to the designated bogs dispute in Ireland. He was joined by party colleagues, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, MEP Martina Anderson and Cllr Martin Kenny.
Speaking from Brussels following a meeting with the European Commission on the Environment, Deputy Stanley said:
“Our meeting today was positive and productive and highlighted the need for a comprehensive and credible plan to deal with the 53 bogs designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and which have been used for turf cutting. These were included in the European Habitats Register in 2002 without proper consultation with turf cutters and local communities.
“We stressed to the Commission the urgency of the situation and we are confident that the European Commission will use its influence to encourage the Irish government to re-engage and become more proactive in seeking a solution. Consecutive governments failed to deal with this issue.
“We want all sides to engage with the process. The Commission is committed to helping the turf cutters and the Irish government to reach a comprehensive and credible solution and produce a win-win solution for turfcutters and the protected habitats.
We are proposing that an independent arbitrator be appointed to draw up a plan that is acceptable to the Irish government, the turf cutters and the EU. The input of the Turfcutters’& Contractors’ Association is critical to this solution.
Sinn Féin will be seeking meetings with Minster Jimmy Deenihan and the TCCA as a matter of urgency to update them on progress made at today’s meeting.”
The delegation met with Deputy General, European Commission on Environment, Alan Seatter & Míchael O’Briain, Head of Nature, European Commission on Environment.
LtoR Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Martina Anderson MEP, Brian Stanley TD and Cllr Martin Kenny
Speaking during the second stage debate on the Credit Union Bill 2012 in the Dáil today Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty said “Credit Unions deserve strong, effective and appropriate regulation.”
The Donegal South-West Deputy said “Sinn Féin supports the legislation but we intend to table a number of amendments to make it a better Bill.”
Deputy Doherty said:
“Sinn Féin broadly supports the Credit Union Bill. We support strong, effective and appropriate regulation for the Credit Union sector.
“We want Credit Unions, their members and the communities in which they are rooted to have the highest levels of protection, probity, and governance.
“This can be achieved in a manner that is consistent with the distinctive ethos of the sector, its community based, volunteer and not-for profit ethos.
“Credit unions are not banks and therefore what may be appropriate regulation for one type of financial institution may not be for another.
“We strongly support the view expressed by the Irish League of Credit Unions and hundreds of individual credit unions across the country that this bill would be greatly improved by a number of amendments that will ensure the distinctive community and volunteering ethos of the movement is protected. This can be done at the same time as strengthening probity, improving governance and expanding the range of services available to credit union member and the wider community.
“At Committee stage Sinn Féin will be tabling a series of amendments aimed at improving the bill. We hope that the Minister will engage positively with us so that the credit union movement can continue to develop as a strong and integral element of local communities across the country.” ENDS
Note to editor: Full text of Pearse Doherty’s second stage speech on the Credit Union Bill 2012
Credit Union Bill 2012 – Second Stage Debate
Pearse Doherty TD
Ceann Comhairle there are a number of institutions in Irish public life that embody the very best of what our country has to offer. These institutions are based on values that should make every single member of this house proud to be Irish.
At a time when there is some much justified public anger at institutions that have abused the peoples trust, it is important to remind ourselves of the successes that endured even through the most reckless days of the boom.
The Irish Credit Union movement is one such body. It is not simply a financial institution, a lender, or a service provider. It is an integral part of every single community in every single part of our country.
It is based on values of community, of volunteerism, and of solidarity.
It was built and continues to be driven by people who are motivated by a desire to help their neighbours, their communities and their country.
It is grass roots and community led.
It was founded by people such as Nora Herlihy, Sean Forde and Séamus MacEoin who wanted to do something about the high unemployment, sickness, malnutrition, money-lending, hunger, poor clothing, poor housing the emigration that was so rampant in 1950s Ireland.
It was a response by civic minded people, true republicans, who were angry at the failure of the state to meet the needs of those sections of society who most needed support.
The people who gave life to the Irish Credit Union Movement recognised that the root of many of these problems lay in the scare availability and poor management of money.
In response they were determined to create an institution that would give people, particularly those with least power and resources in society, more control over their finances.
What started off as a small initiative by good people has now turned into a national movement, with more than 3 million members in every county and parish in the country?
It is a movement motivated by an innate sense of justice and fair play that used to feature so strongly in Irish public life.
An innate sense of justice that has been so battered and abused, particularly by senior politicians, bankers and developers in recent decades.
This morning our newspapers and radio stations are filled with stories of former bankers, civil servants and government ministers, many of whom were directly responsible for the social and economic crisis that has engulfed the country since 2008, living lavish lifestyles on pensions of up to €500,000 per year.
Meanwhile ordinary people are struggling to make ends meet, to pay bills, mortgages and in a growing number of cases even food. They are frightened that December’s budget will make their lives even harder – increase their tax burden, reduce their household income and withdraw their vital services.
People are falling into even greater levels of debt while the Government is standing idly by and breaking so many of their election and programme for government commitments.
And just like the 1950 it is institutions like the Credit Union Movement who are there ready and willing to pick up the pieces, to fill the gap left by Government refusing to do what is right by ordinary people.
Of course credit unions are not perfect, individuals can and did make mistakes, it would be naive to suggest that the movement was unaffected by the boom.
The Credit Union Movement themselves would be the first to admit that the regulatory context in which they operate is in need of real reform. In fact it is the Credit Union Movement who has been the leading advocates of that reform.
This is the context in which todays Bill must be set. The Bill is the latest in a considerable process of engagement between credit unions, their members, other interested parties and the Department of Finance. The Commission on Credit Unions convened by the last Government made it detailed recommendations in March of this year.
The Oireachtas Finance Committee and the Department of Finance have continued to engage with all stakeholders since then in order to ensure that the subsequent legislation meets aspirations set out in the Commission report.
Sinn Féin broadly supports the Bill, and we commend the work of both the Commission and the Department in translating those recommendations into the Bill before us.
Our core position is very clear. We support strong, effective and appropriate regulation for the Credit Union sector.
We want Credit Unions, their members and the communities in which they are rooted to have the highest levels of protection, probity, and governance.
We believe that this can be achieved in a manner that is consistent with the distinctive ethos of the sector, its community based, volunteer and not-for profit ethos.
Of course credit unions are not banks – and therefore what may be appropriate regulation for one type of financial institution may not be for another.
But let us nail the myth being peddled by some in this debate - that calls for regulation that fits the distinctive ethos of the Credit Union movement are somehow calls for lighter regulation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. So I want to repeat we want strong regulation, we want high standards of probity and we want better governance.
So too do the Credit Union movement and we support them in this and commend them for taking the lead in promoting this.
The vast majority of what is in the Credit Union Bill meets these objectives. The substantive detail of the legislation, dealing with probity, restructuring and stabilisation has our support.
They represent sensible compromises between the different views expressed around the table of the Commission on Credit Unions.
They represent the substance of the legislation and in Sinn Féin’s view the officials in the Department of Finance have got these sections right.
However we do have a number of significant concerns with other aspects of the Bill which we believe are not consistent with the spirit or even letter of the Commission report and which will require amendment to be resolved.
There are also other areas of crucial importance to the future development of credit unions which will be determined by the regulations arising from the Bill which also need to be named during the course of this debate.
The first key concern we have is the proposal to apply historic Central Bank legislation from 1942 to 2011 to credit unions.
This was not considered by the Credit Union Commission has could have far reaching consequences for credit unions.
Part 2 of the Bill and in particular the definition of financial services contained in Section 6 give raise to real concerns.
In our briefings with the Department of Finance they stressed that only those portions of this considerable body of legislation and accompanying statutory instruments that already apply to credit unions will come into effect from this new definition.
However this is not explicit in the Bill and in our view should be.
We are also concerned with the application of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 being applied to the credit unions.
Again there was no discussion of this at the Commission any recommendations made.
The implications for Credit Unions arising from this are far reaching and must be considered separately and dealt with separately from the Bill in front of us today.
There is also the important issue of shared services - one of the central recommendations of the Commission’s report and an issue that is of vital importance to the future development of the credit unions.
It is also an issue of importance to the full implementation of the government’s own financial inclusion strategy.
Again in our discussions with Departmental officials on this matter they have stressed that there is no need for additional provision on this matter, as existing legislation does not preclude credit unions from sharing back end services such as administration.
However this misses the point. The key shared services that the Commission and the Credit Unions are seeking are those at the level of the member – and particularly those relating to electronic payment accounts.
If Credit Unions are to continue to grow and service their members and communities they need to be able to offer a wider range of services including the ability to undertake transactions and access services not only from their own Credit Union, from also from other unions as well.
If the Government has an objection to this then it should be put on the record. Otherwise the Bill should be amended to allow for the development of these kinds of member level shared services.
Another omission from the Bill relates to the enormous current and future potential of some Credit Unions to invest in socially valuable schemes and projects.
Given the level of unemployment and emigration and the continued lack of private sector investment in the local economy Credit Union funds appropriately backed by Government guarantees could be invested sensible in schemes and projects that could create employment, develop local infrastructure and services and assist in local social and economic development.
The explicit naming of this in the Bill would be of enormous assistance in the unlocking of what could be a significant source of investment particularly in communities experiencing high levels of social and economic disadvantage.
One of the issues that has most exercised Credit Unions at a local level in both rural and urban communities are some of the proposed governance changes particularly in relation to term limits on directors of credit unions and the prohibitions on membership of boards.
Sinn Féin strongly shares the view of the Credit Union Movement that portions of these sections of the Bill are unnecessary, anti-democratic and in some cases could undermine the volunteerism on which individual credit unions are based.
Small urban and rural credit unions, which operate from a very small pool of potential volunteers, may not be able to meet the very strict exclusions that are set down in the Bill.
Again the Credit Union Movement have presented very coherent arguments in support of the amendment of the relevant sections of the act which we hope Government will respond positively to.
If not Sinn Féin will table amendments to this section of the Bill at committee stage.
Credit Unions are also concerned with the proposed removal of the office of Treasurer as outlined in Bill.
We accept the argument underlying this section of the Bill that the current role of Treasure requires reform but also agreed with the Credit Union Movement in their view that the position could still be retained for the purpose of ensuring the presentation of timely accounts and presentation to members at Annual General Meetings.
Two final issues which I would like to raise Ceann Comhairle do not, in Sinn Féin’s view require amendments to the Bill but do need to discussed so that the if and when the final bill is enacted these specific aspects of its implementation are done in the right way.
There is clearly a need from a regulatory point of view to group credit unions into bands or tiers for the purposes of applying different levels of regulation. Everybody is agreed on this. However Sinn Féin shares the view of the Credit Union movement that the scheme as suggested by the Commission on Credit Unions could be improved upon.
We were heartened to hear from Department officials that there appears to be recognition of this and would hope that when the Minister comes to deal with this issue he will outline a scheme that is not based on size alone but also incorporates the levels of risk and complexity involved within credit unions.
There is also the thorny issue of the relationship between the Credit Unions and the Registrar of Credit Unions.
We have spoken many times before in this Chamber about the negative impact that on-going lending restrictions imposed by the Registrar on individual credit unions is having, on the credit unions, their members and communities more generally.
We have also articulated the strong feeling among many Credit Unions that the Central Bank and Regulator are not on the same page when it comes to the future development of credit unions.
The request by the Credit Union Movement for a formal written Memorandum of Understanding between the Regulatory authorities and the credit unions could, if got right, go some way to repairing what can only be described as a very strained relationship.
The detail of such a Memorandum could be developed at a later stage by the Central Bank in consultation with the implementation group and clearly the legislation should not deal with the detail to this.
But a commitment from the Minister during the passage of this legislation that a Memorandum of Understanding should be developed would be a very welcome development indeed.
Ceann Comhairle, these are the key points I wanted to raise during today’s debate. This is a good Bill. With amendments to a small number of sections it could be a very good Bill. And I hope that the Minister is willing to engage with the opposition in Committee to strengthen a piece of legislation that all parties in this house believe is not only timely but necessary.
I do have to say that I was genuinely disappointed when I read in the newspapers some weeks ago former members of the Oireachtas deliberately misrepresenting the legitimate concerns of the Credit Union movement on specific aspects of this Bill.
The suggestion that those of us who want to improve this Bill are somehow opponents of reform or worse still opponents of strong regulation is simply false.
Sinn Féin, like the Credit Union movement, wants strong, effective and appropriate regulation.
It is necessary for credit unions, for their members and their Communities.
There is much to commend this Bill to the house. But let’s make sure that the final Act is fit for purpose and make the necessary improvements at committee stage to ensure that the final Bill has the approval of every Deputy.
The Credit Union Movement and the people who keep it alive make me proud to be Irish.
They represent the very best of what it means to be Irish today.
I share their values, I share their vision and I believe that given their commitment and contribution to Irish society over the last half a century we owe it to them to pass the best possible piece of legislation that the Oireachtas can deliver to safe guard the future of the Credit Union Movement and all those who benefit from it.
Sinn Féin MLA and Deputy Chair of the Social Development Committee Mickey Brady has said that the committee is bringing forward a motion to the Assembly calling for an ad-hoc committee to be set up in order to ensure that the Welfare Reform Bill is Human Rights and Equality compliant.
Mr. Brady said,
“Following submissions from a wide range of groups who raised the issue of whether the Welfare Reform Bill met with Equality and Human Rights legislation the Committee has voted in favour of bringing a motion before the Assembly.
"Sinn Fein is pleased the committee supported the proposal to establish this Ad-Hoc committee and this underpins our commitment and promise to fully scrutinise this Welfare Reform Bill, especially given the widespread concerns expressed by a wide range voices within the community."