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Sinn Féin leaders met today in Dublin for the party's monthly Ard Chomhairle meeting. High on the agenda was the Irish government’s continued failure to address the political realities of the Irish peoples rejection of the Lisbon Treaty for the state and the EU. The party leadership will discuss Sinn Féin’s political roadmap for Lisbon over the coming weeks. Leaders will also discuss the declining economy and will receive an update from the party’s recently established Economic Strategy Group. Discussions will also focus on the outstanding issues surrounding policing and justice in the north and the party’s annual set of accounts will be signed off on before being published next week.

Speaking from the party’s head office Mary Lou McDonald said:

“This weeks alleged comments by President Sarkozy’s on member states sharing Commissioners and the Irish governments response example a government and EU leadership out of step with the people of Ireland and EU wide political consensus. The fact remains that the EU Commission can retain its current make-up of a Commissioner per member state.

“Throughout the Lisbon campaign we argued that every EU member state must retain its own Commissioner.  Clearly the social and economic dynamics and needs of each country within the EU are different. The Irish people supported our view and voted down the Lisbon Treaty. The people like Sinn Féin did not accept that it made political sense to remove an Irish voice from the powerful EU Commission table for 5 out of every fifteen years.

“This floundering around for a way to resuscitate the Treaty is a farce and needs to end. Contrary to what the government would have us believe the Lisbon Treaty is not the end game for Europe. Just this week the Centre for European Reform, who supported the Lisbon Treaty, noted in an assessment of Ireland’s referendum result that the demise of the document would not be catastrophic for the Union as so many leaders would have us believe. The think tank also states that the EU continues to work without the Lisbon Treaty.

“Political leaders both at home and within the EU need to acknowledge once and for all that the Lisbon Treaty is finished. The Irish government has a strong mandate from the people; it simply needs to have the political backbone to use it.” ENDS

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MLA condemns attack on girl in Dunclug estate last night

Sinn Féin's North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay has condemned an assault which took place during a bonfire last night in the Dunclug estate.

Mr McKay said,

"In the early hours of this morning a young girl was hospitalised as a result of being viciously assaulted at a bonfire in the Dunclug estate by a man in his twenties.

Another woman was threatened by the same man.

This is another example of the fear and intimidation that some individuals are trying to instil in this community and they will not succeed.

The person who carried out this attack is nothing more than a thug and I would call on anyone with information to bring it forward.

CRÍOCH

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Responding to alleged proposals by French President Sarkozy that counties of a “similar culture and language circle” should share an EU Commissioner Sinn Fein Dublin MEP described the comments as “out of step with the people of Ireland and EU wide political consensus.”

The Dublin MEP said:

“Throughout the Lisbon campaign we argued that every EU member state must retain its own Commissioner.  Clearly the social and economic dynamics and needs of each country within the EU are different.

“Each Commissioner brings his unique understanding of his own country to the EU table. EU political leaders have already conceded the possibility of retaining a Commissioner for each state, and the Irish people have rejected the proposition of reducing the number of Commissioners.

“President Sarkozy's comments are out of step with EU political consensus and indeed the people of Ireland.

“The fact remains that the EU Commission can retain its current make-up of a Commissioner per member state. Under the Nice Treaty the EU agreed to reduce the number of Commissioners when the number of member states reached 27. However the detail of this was left to the Council to decide. Nice did not specify how many Commissioners there would be or how they would be rotated. These decisions were left to the Council acting unanimously. Therefore under the present rules, the Council can decide to leave the Commission at its current size.

“This floundering around for a way to resuscitate the Treaty is a farce and needs to end. Contrary to what EU heads of state would have us believe the Lisbon Treaty is not the end game for Europe. Just today the Centre for European Reform, who supported the Lisbon Treaty, noted in an assessment of Ireland’s referendum result that the demise of the document would not be catastrophic for the union as so many leaders would have us believe. The think tank also states that the EU continues to work without the Lisbon Treaty.

“Political leaders both at home and within the EU need to acknowledge once and for all that the Lisbon Treaty is finished. The Irish government has a strong mandate from the people; it simply needs to have the political backbone to use it. In turn EU leaders need to accept the political reality that the Treaty has fallen and work on a new proposal to address the union’s needs must begin” ENDS

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Young Republicans urged to Mobilise for Annual Hunger Strike March

Ógra Shinn Féin National Organiser Barry McColgan has urged young republicans to mobilise for the annual Hunger Strike march, on Sunday 17th August and which is due to be held in Derry for the first time in 27 years.

Republican youth from throughout Ireland, will form up at Bishop's Field Green, Creggan Shops, from 2pm on the day of the march.

Urging young republicans to mobilise for this major event, which will be attended by thousands of people from all over Ireland, McColgan said,

"The Hunger Strike was a catalyst in the struggle for freedom and it is fitting that 'The Struggle Continues' has been adopted as the theme of this year's National Hunger Strike Commemoration."

"The 1981 Hunger Strike is this young generation's 1916, and it should be commemorated in the same manner. The Hunger Strike for many marked a changing point in the struggle for freedom."

"From 1981 the Irish republican struggle emerged stronger and showed to the world that republicans would face down any attempts by the British to label the struggle for national liberation as criminal."

"In addition to our participation in the march there will also be a national republican youth weekend of events in Derry. The weekend will include public talks, historical tours, a mural launch, and craic agus ceol."

"I am asking young republicans to march alongside Ógra Shinn Féin at the national rally in Derry on the 17th August, to mobilise and honour the memory of our 10 brave martyrs, demonstrating in number's that the struggle continues!" CRÍOCH

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Belfast Mayor to unveil mural in support of Ballymurphy Massacre Victims

Belfast Mayor Cllr Tom Hartley will unveil a mural at 12pm, Saturday 9 August, to highlight the campaign by the Ballymurphy massacre families.

Cllr Hartley said,

"The campaign by the families goes on and this mural will play some part in publicising their long campaign. I commend them on their efforts and am proud to be asked to unveil the mural tomorrow."

The unveiling will take place at the old bus terminus at the junction of the Whiterock and Springfield Roads.

The families of the Ballymurphy massacre victims will be in attendance along with the Sinn Fein President and west Belfast MP Gerry Adams.

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Local Sinn Féin Councillor, Turlough Murphy has condemned recent cuts in the ambulance services in the Newry and Mourne area.

Mr. Murphy has said,

"Recent documents indicate that Newry & Mourne ambulance service will lose 3 shifts a week; this is a detriment step for the service in the area. I and other Sinn Féin representatives have met with the chief executive of the NIAS on several occasions and he has recognised and agreed that the ambulance service here was already stretched and required greater financial assistance. This is a further blow to this already stretched amenity."

He added

"I have been involved, with Sinn Féin in South Armagh, in a campaign to acquire a Rapid Response Vehicle (RRV) for the area. During this campaign we gathered over 7000 signatures from people demanding that the area be given greater medical emergency services. Although we welcomed the news that an RRV has been introduced to Newry, it is disappointing that the loss of three ambulance shifts a week has been announced."

"Furthermore, the exact location of the RRV remains a mystery and has been seen in areas far from South Armagh such as Kilkeel. I maintain that this service must provide essential service to South Armagh as it is the least covered area in the district."

Cllr. Murphy concluded,

"It is unacceptable that the original good news could be tainted by this announcement."

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Sinn Fein condemns loyalist intimidation of Nationalists in Heights area of Coleraine

Coleraine Sinn Fein have condemned the loyalist intimidation of nationalists living in the Heights areas of Coleraine after it was reported that a large gang of Loyalists made their way to a bonfire being erected at the top of Somerset Drive at 6am on Friday 8th August. They set fire to the bonfire and danced around it singing loyalist songs. The PSNI had been notified at 5.45am that the gang were on their way.

Local Sinn Fein councillor Billy Leonard said that calls were also made to the PSNI as soon as locals realised what was happening but that when the PSNI arrived at the bonfire they watched the loyalists but took no action.

The Fire Brigade was also called but when they arrived the bonfire was already burning so they took no action either.

Cllr Leonard added:

"Residents living in the surrounding estates were understandably terrified and claim that the incident escalated the already heightened tension in the area.

"They also claim that the incident came about as a direct result of recent media reports from unionist representatives." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "appalling" the decision of the HSE to abandon plans for a comprehensive out-of-hours social care service for troubled children.

Describing it as "one of the cruellest cuts so far", Deputy Ó Caoláin said that if the Minister for Children Barry Andrews TD does not secure the reinstatement of the plan then he is not fit to be Minister and should resign.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "There is a crisis in child protection in this State. This has been highlighted repeatedly with insufficient numbers of social workers unable to cope with the task of protecting vulnerable children. The Children's Ombudsman, Gardaí and the office of the Minister for Children himself have pointed out this huge deficiency in our social services.

"It beggars belief that in the face of this crying need the HSE is now to abandon plans for long-promised and absolutely essential improvements in care for vulnerable children.

"Minister for Children Barry Andrews must secure the reversal of this disgraceful decision. If he does not do then he is not fit for office and should resign." ENDS

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Cuts to ambulance services causing deep distress - O'Neill

Sinn Féin MLA Michelle O'Neill, commenting on planned cuts to the ambulance service across the North has expressed deep concern for people in need of these essential services, particularly those living in rural communities.

Ms O'Neill said,

"Planned cuts to the ambulance service will devastate people right across the Six Counties; how this is viewed as beneficial or as a cost saving exercise to the health system is beyond me.

The idea that cutting fifteen thousand hours will in some way reassure people is a nonsense. The planned replacement of Ambulances with Rapid Response Vehicles (RRV's) is genuinely worrying for many people who may find themselves in need of a fully equipped ambulance, able to transfer them to a hospital. The RRV's will be unable to do that.

These proposals will have an effect right across the North and no one area is left unaffected. Rural communities in particular feel they need a greater degree of investment from the health service and increased ambulance provision; they will be particularly worried at today's news. It will also affect our many front line health workers who are growing increasingly disheartened by news of the planned cuts.

I call on the Minister to clarify the reported cuts in today's media and explain why, after he said that there would be no cuts to ambulance cover under the comprehensive spending review (CSR), there is now a leaked document claiming that there will.

These proposals will be out for public consultation within weeks and I would call on people to make submissions to that consultation and make their feelings known.

CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caolán TD has called for implementation of the Report of the Commission on Patient Safety to begin immediately. He called on Health Minister Harney to prepare a legislative programme to make the necessary changes in the running of our health services as recommended by the Report.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "Events such as the Neary scandal exposed how, for decades, sections of the health service prioritised their own sectional interests over the safety and rights of patients. Thanks to tireless campaigning by victims of such cover-ups, much has changed and patients' rights are more to the fore but much remains to be done. The Report of the Commission on Patient Safety sets out just how much now needs to be put in place.

"Implementation of this Report should begin without delay. Especially important are the recommendations which call for a national network of patient advocates and the nomination of a named lead person by each healthcare organisation who will liaise with patients, families and advocates.

"The recommendation that patients should be offered full access to information relating to their care, including correspondence between healthcare professionals is of critical importance. This information should be provided as of right and Government action to vindicate this right is long overdue.

"The drafting of all the legislative changes required should begin now, as recommended by the Report. On the resumption of the Dáil, the Minister for Health & Children Mary Harney should present a list of promised legislation to put the recommendations into effect and we will be holding her to account on that." ENDS

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Social Development Minister called on to act - now!

Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh, Cathal Boylan, has called on Social Development Minister, Margaret Ritchie, to bring forward her proposals for building new affordable social housing as a matter of urgency to help the embattled quarry businesses.

'Here we see a lack of new builds which is already affecting the construction industry in general, have a knock on effect to the quarry industry. By recent reports, the industry is facing its biggest crisis for over 25 years. Business has dropped by 30% with production costs rising by 86% and transport costs by 46%,' said Mr Boylan, 'there is no easy, fast solutions to the current crisis, but one avenue which can be opened, is for the DSD Minister to build the houses she promised she would when she demanded the money from the Executive.'

'Making announcements; talking about future plans; and having visions for the future is grand, well and good, but people need housing - now, the construction industry need work - now, and the quarry businesses need work - now - the Minister has got the money she demanded, so let us see some action instead of words - now.' CRÍOCH

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DUP inaction putting at risk thousands of construction jobs

Sinn Féin Assembly …………..has accused the DUP of jeopardising thousands of jobs in the local construction industry because of their failure to agree to develop the former Long Kesh site.

Mr …. said:

"Each week we hear new reports of job losses in the local construction industry. Yesterday the quarrying companies announced massive cuts. Yet despite this backdrop, for what can only be described as narrow internal party political issues, the DUP are refusing to move on developing the Long Kesh site.

"This refusal to provide much needed employment and a much needed filet for the local economy also has other knock on effects. The British government will not move on releasing other vacated military sites while Peter Robinson and the DUP dither on the Long Kesh stadium.

"This time last year the then Minister Edwin Poots told us he would be bringing forward proposals on the stadium to the Executive in the autumn of 2007. It didn't happen. Earlier this week his replacement Gregory Campbell made the same statement. People are sick of DUP inaction on this project. Through a combination of their DCAL and DFP Ministers they are putting at risk thousands of potential jobs at a time when our construction industry is crying out for assistance." ENDS

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Minister idle as home repossession spiral out of control Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has said that the Housing Minister Margaret Ritchie must do more to tackle the housing crisis after the latest figures from the Court Service revealed a 59% increase in the number of actions for mortgage default over the last year. Mr McCann said: "These latest figures require an urgent response. The housing market is in free-fall with prices falling and hundreds of people are being left with mortgages greater than the value of their homes. "An increase of almost 60% in the numbers of people defaulting on the mortgages and the numbers of people having their homes repossessed because they cannot keep up with repayments is at crisis levels. "There is no point claiming that there are initiatives in the pipeline if the Minister is then not actually going to do anything. We were promised a mortgage rescue scheme but in the 3 months April to June this year over 500 people had possessions orders made against them. "Margaret Ritchie needs to get on with producing a scheme for mortgage relief to give hope to those who find themselves in severe difficulties. "I have written once again to the minister asking her to produce the findings of her department following an announcement that a scheme was being put together to help people losing their homes due to the serious increases in mortgages repayments. "In the first quarter of this year there was a 33% increase but now the latest figures show the increase of 60% in actions for mortgage repossessions and that is an upward trend. The minister needs to spell out if a scheme exists. "It has been months since this relief scheme was announced but still nothing has been produced. Sinn Fein is ready to support the minister on this issue it but we need to actually hear what she is proposing." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation from South Derry has met with Paul Goggins, Secretary of State to discuss the issue of low British Army flying helicopters in the area.

In a joint statement, Francie Molloy MLA, Cllr Ian Milne and Cllr Peter Bateson said:

"In response to a large number of complaints from local residents we have met with Paul Goggins in an attempt to end the practice of low flying British Army helicopters.

"It is not enough to be told that the helicopter activity is not as has been our previous experience, to spy, to terrorise and invade our lives but rather to train new British Army personnel to conduct this same activity in other parts of the world.

"While we have no doubt that the Loughs and mountains within the South Derry area provide an excellent training ground, its simply unacceptable that people who have suffered so much at the hands of the British Army should be confronted on a regular basis with an activity we thought was consigned to the past.

"Much of this activity is carried out at night and close to the ground, which not only frightens people, particularly those living alone but spooks livestock and horses and has already led to serious injury.

"The British Army is an occupying force, therefore any kind of manoeuvres being carried out will always be viewed with suspicion. If we are to believe the British Government are serious about their role in creating a stable society then they must play their part in removing this very visible image of war." ENDS

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Sinn Féin has said that the North West Gateway Initiative (NWGI) - the intergovernmental initiative first announced in May 2005 as the primary vehicle which would take forward the socio-economic regeneration of this part of Ireland - must now concentrate on delivery on the ground for areas like Strabane District and its Donegal hinterlands.

The comments were made in a statement from Strabane Sinn Fein District Councillors Gerard Foley and Kieran McGuire, who formed part of a party delegation which met with Mr Frank Duffy, a newly appointed Joint Chair of the North West Gateway Initiative, at a meeting at Stormont Castle yesterday afternoon.

The statement from the local Sinn Féin Councillors continued:

"Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness chaired yesterday's meeting between newly appointed NWGI Joint Chair Mr Frank Duffy and a North West Sinn Féin delegation.

"We brought a very clear message that the intergovernmental/interdepartmental body which has been charged with driving forward the regeneration of this part of Ireland, through integrated cross border strategies, must now concentrate on delivery on the ground for areas like Strabane District and its Donegal hinterlands which have borne the brunt of marganilization and neglect down through the years.

"Among the issues we specifically raised with the NWGI Joint Chair in relation to the needs of the Strabane/Donegal corridor were the development of the Further Education Sector in Strabane; the re-locatation of public sector jobs to the area; investment to ensure that the untapped tourist potential of the area is fully realised; and assistance towards collaborative projects between the Strabane/Lifford and Derg/Finn areas.

"The new NWGI Chair took on board the need to address specific local needs in Strabane and its Donegal hinterlands as part of an overall integrated regeneration strategy for the North West and Sinn Fein will be keeping these issues firmly on the agenda so that people in this area can see the work of the Gateway Initiative translating into tangible benefits on the ground." ENDS

Note to editors:

The NWGI was first announced at the British/Irish Intergovernmental Conference in May 2005. It was the Direct Rule Administration and Dublin government's response to concerted lobbying from Sinn Fein, among others, for the creation of Jobs/Economic Task Force for the North West to tackle the glaring socio-economic disparities in this part of Ireland.

The stated role of the Gateway Initiative includes integrated spatial planning; examination of the potential for joint investment in key infrastructure projects; joint action in areas such as trade and investment, tourism promotion; skills training; further and higher education; innovation and business development; better co-ordination of public services, notably in health, education and information.

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Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh, Cathal Boylan, has welcomed new EU rules designed to make it easier for people with disabilities and the elderly to access air travel which came into force at the end of July.

"The phasing in of these rules will put an end to discrimination and give disabled and elderly passengers the help they need when travelling," said Cathal.

"Under the new rules, passengers will be entitled to equal treatment, the provision of free assistance in all EU airports and assistance on board the flight. For flights from airports in the EU and for flights from third world countries to an airport in a Member State, if the carrier is European then the regulation prohibits airlines and tour operators from refusing to take bookings from passengers, or refuse to carry them, because of disability or reduced mobility.'

"The only restrictions allowed are on safety grounds, and these will have to be substantiated by national or international regulations, or if it is technically impossible to carry such passengers, for example if the plane is too small. This should put an end to - the generally unintended - discrimination seen up to now. EU member states will be required to set up enforcement bodies responsible for ensuring that the new rules are applied. About a third of the EU's population suffer from reduced mobility, I welcome this move by the EU to address their concerns." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has said that the Housing Minister Margaret Ritchie must do more to tackle the housing crisis after the latest figures from the Court Service revealed a 59% increase in the number of actions for mortgage default over the last year.

Mr McCann said:

"These latest figures require an urgent response. The housing market is in free-fall with prices falling and hundreds of people are being left with mortgages greater than the value of their homes.

"An increase of almost 60% in the numbers of people defaulting on the mortgages and the numbers of people having their homes repossessed because they cannot keep up with repayments is at crisis levels.

"There is no point claiming that there are initiatives in the pipeline if the Minister is then not actually going to do anything. We were promised a mortgage rescue scheme but in the 3 months April to June this year over 500 people had possessions orders made against them.

"Margaret Ritchie needs to get on with producing a scheme for mortgage relief to give hope to those who find themselves in severe difficulties.

"I have written once again to the minister asking her to produce the findings of her department following an announcement that a scheme was being put together to help people losing their homes due to the serious increases in mortgages repayments.

"In the first quarter of this year there was a 33% increase but now the latest figures show the increase of 60% in actions for mortgage repossessions and that is an upward trend. The minister needs to spell out if a scheme exists.

"It has been months since this relief scheme was announced but still nothing has been produced. Sinn Fein is ready to support the minister on this issue it but we need to actually hear what she is proposing." ENDS

Note to Editors

During the second quarter of 2008, 929 writs and originating summonses were issued. The comparable figure for the second quarter in 2007 was 584 showing a 59% increase in the number of mortgage cases received in Chancery against the same period in 2007.

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Sinn Féin Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA addressed local business and community leaders at the launch of Taste Fest 2008 at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast today.

During Féile an Phobail each year, Curley's, now owned by Sainsbury's Supermarkets, host the event described as a celebration of Irish produce and showcasing local food and drink products. Over 50 exhibitors from across the island participated in cookery demonstrations and sampling to the delight of Kennedy Centre visitors during the event.

The Minister congratulated organisers and exhibitors alike for highlighting the wealth of quality local food available on our doorstep. She said: "This is the third year of the Taste Fest and I would congratulate the organisers on this hugely successful event. I know Curleys have a tradition of supporting our local producers and indeed through their very own slogan, 'Buy local - we do!' encourage their customers to do just that and buy local. I know Sainsbury's have also made clear their intentions to purchase local produce wherever possible which again is very encouraging for the future.

"Shoppers should also recognise that by choosing local produce not only are they providing their family with nutritional goodness, but they are also voting for fewer food miles and supporting local producers in rural communities."

The Minister added: "The variety of products on display at the Taste Fest once again goes to prove the underlying strength of our agri-food industry and the quality of its products.

"If producers, processors and retailers continue to work together, with governmental assistance where needed, and deliver what the consumer wants, I believe that we will achieve a further increase in the use of local produce for the benefit of all." ENDS

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Department of Health must come clean with the real figures concerning C-Diff deaths - Ramsey

Sinn Féin MLA and Health Committee member Sue Ramsey has questioned the exact number of deaths caused as a result of the C-Difficile virus across the North of Ireland.

The West Belfast MLA was speaking after yesterday's announcement that C-Diff contributed to eight deaths in the month of July within the Northern Trust area.

Ms Ramsey said,

"What we need to know is the figures for deaths attributed to C-Diff across the North of Ireland. People are dying and we need to know how many, we need to know where and we need to take decisive action to prevent further deaths.

I am calling on the Minister for Health Michael McGimpsey to act urgently in tackling this issue and state very clearly what information his department has regarding deaths caused by C-Diff across the 6 Counties.

It's time the department came clean, for the sake of patients, their families and our hospital workers.

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has stated that the results of a study showing that the cost of educating a child up to and including third level is over €61,000 puts an end to the myth of free education in Ireland. Deputy Ó Caoláin said investment in education is crucial to the future of the Irish economy.

He said, "Revelations today that the cost of educating a child through to third level is over €61,000 puts an end to the myth of free education in Ireland. These costs are hardest felt by those families on low and middle incomes.

"At a time of economic downturn it is essential that those on low and middle incomes are protected. The current 'back to school' allowance is totally inadequate and needs to be increased. Sinn Féin will oppose any cuts in the 'back to school' allowance in Budget '09.

"Similarly, the third level grants system is failing our third level students and needs to be increased.

"Sinn Féin would like to see the €80million that is currently provided annually to private schools redirected to the public education system to ease the burden on low and middle income earners.

"On top of the costs of uniforms and books and other equipment, parents have the added burden of feeling that they should contribute to the costs of running and maintaining their children's schools. This is completely unacceptable and a failure of the state. The capitation grant only covers 50% of school running costs leaving boards of management and parents to fundraise for the remaining 50%. Sinn Féin is calling for the capitation grant to be doubled to take away the added burden on parents.

"The Government is currently spending over €4million on prefab accommodation for school children despite being blissfully unaware how many are being taught in this type of building. This is a complete waste of money and should be re-invested in a proper school build programme.

"If we are truly to build the knowledge based economy that we so often talk about then investment in education must be forthcoming. If the money is not in the coffers to do this then I would suggest that the State borrows to cover this capital expenditure, which will benefit the economy in the longer term." ENDS

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