A Sinn Féin delegation this morning met US Secretary of State John Kerry and senior state department officials in Washington DC.
The Sinn Féin delegation included Party leader Gerry Adams TD; Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD; Rita O Hare, Sinn Fein representative to the USA and party press officer Richard McAuley.
Speaking after the meeting Gerry Adams said:
“The meeting with Secretary Kerry was very positive and constructive.
“The US Secretary of State has had a long involvement with the Irish peace process.
“Next month marks the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. This morning I raised with Secretary Kerry our concerns around outstanding issues arising from the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements, including a Bill of Rights for the north; Acht na Gaeilge and a Border Poll.
“We also discussed a range of other matters including the need for an economic dividend and the continued imprisonment of Marian Price and Martin Corey.
“Our conversation also included the recent violence around the flags issue and the serious problems posed by sectarianism and segregation.
“At the end of the meeting we took the opportunity to discuss the Middle East. Secretary Kerry travels there this evening and President Obama goes tomorrow evening.”
The Sinn Féin candidate in the Meath East by-election, Darren O’Rourke, has called on the government to implement a job creation strategy for Meath East.
O’Rourke said that Sinn Féin is the only party with the policies to get the constituency back working.
“Fianna Fáil created the jobs crisis. Fine Gael and Labour are not solving it.
“There are over 10,000 people unemployed in Meath with over 2,200 out of work in Kells alone. Emigration is at famine era levels. My own brother was recently forced to emigrate because he just couldn’t find any work. He is one of thousands of young, highly qualified, bright young people forced turn their backs on their country because the government has turned its back on them.
“With its proximity to Dublin airport and other transport links, Meath is an ideal place for businesses to locate, yet the country continues to be overlooked for jobs and investment.
“It is time for new ideas and a new plan to get Meath East back to work. I believe that Sinn Féin is the only party with the policies to get the constituency back to work. We are calling for:
· A €13 billion statewide job stimulus plan to create 156,000 jobs and retain up to 15,000 existing jobs
· Open up state procurement to small companies
· Set job creation targets for regional areas like Meath
· Develop the tourism potential of Meath East including developing the Boyne Valley as a major tourism, walking and cycling green route
· Build on Meath’s natural strengths in agriculture and support development of agri-food business
· Ensure every young person in Meath has access to a job, training or education and is not forced to emigrate
“These are just a few of Sinn Féin’s innovative job creation proposals. I believe that with the right policies we can get Meath East working and I believe that Sinn Féin has those policies.”
Sinn Féin councillor Gerry O'Reilly said there is clearly a sectarian campaign ongoing within the Newtownabbey area to try and intimidate the local Catholic population.
The Newtownabbey councillor was speaking following yesterday's hoax bomb close to St Enda's GAC and this mornings alert at St Mary's Star of the Sea Catholic Church on the Shore Road.
The Sinn Féin councillor said."Clearly over the last number of weeks there has been a concerted campaign to disrupt and try to intimidate the Catholic population in the Newtownabbey area.
"This is the lowest point of sectarianism when people's place of worship is targeted. I would call on all political parties and community representatives to come out and clearly condemn this behaviour and support people's right to attend their worship free from disruption and intimidation.
"Sectarianism is a scourge in our society and it needs to be challenged and condemned whenever or wherever it arises."
to released details of the Cypriot loan deal, Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson
Pearse Doherty TD said the imposing of an up to 10% levy on ordinary depositors
in the country would instil fear on bank depositors across Europe. He said the
move made a mockery of the deal agreed last year to separate sovereign debt
from banking debt.
He added that the Irish Government needed to report what progress they have made on securing a deal on Ireland's banking debt.
Deputy Doherty said:
"The decision last night to impose a levy of 6.75% on ordinary Cypriot deposit holders under €100,000 and a 9.9% levy on those over €100,000 is madness. From what we are hearing no bank bondholders are to suffer losses in this 'deal', but savers are going to be burnt, at a time when Europe needs depositors and needs to offer depositors real security to get them. Already there are reports of people queuing outside Cypriot banks to try to withdraw their money. Europe has caused a bank run in a eurozone country.
"This move makes a mockery of the deal agreed last year on separating banking debt from sovereign debt. One year on, here we have a sovereign and its people again being told to pick up the tab for a banking mess. Where is the ESM and direct capitalisation of the banks in all of this? In addition, we have Europe instructing a sovereign to increase its corporation tax, something which will send a shiver throughout this state.
"I would also like to know what progress the Irish Government has made on separating our banking debt from sovereign debt in the last 24 hours. Are we to get a banking deal, or is this Government just stringing us along and trying to distract us with other, weaker measures?"
The West Belfast MLA said:
"The groups behind these failed attacks need to come out and explain why they are contuing to attack the Peace Process and attempting to prevent change.
"The North has changed and is contuing to change and these micro groups will not prevent the Irish people from moving forward.
"They are causing disruption for people within the community and grabbing the headlines for a few hours and that is the net result of their actions. They are not going to deflect us and are deluding themselves if they think they will.
"They appear visionless with their only strategy being to try and drag the North back into conflict. They will not succeed."
The Sinn Féin candidate for the Meath East by-election, Darren O’Rourke, has said that “the people of Meath East have been failed by the current health Minister James Reilly”, and called for his resignation.
O’Rourke spent this afternoon campaigning in rural Meath with the Sinn Féin health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
“Frontline health services in Meath East have been devastated by multi-billion euro cuts devised by Fianna Fáil and delivered by Fine Gael and Labour.
“This has had a direct impact on acute hospitals at Navan, Drogheda and Blanchardstown.
“In 2013 alone almost 60,000 home help hours will be cut in Meath East, 750 health service staff will lose their jobs, 55 public nursing home beds will be closed and mobility and transport allowances for people with disabilities will be cancelled. And all this at a time when huge salaries and bonuses are paid to the top brass of the HSE.
“The Fine Gael Minister for Health James Reilly has shown he is incapable of managing the health system. It is time for him to go.”
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said the Fine Gael/Labour Government’s health policy is in “total disarray”. He was commenting on the publication today of a bill by Health Minister James Reilly which will lower the income threshold for the medical card for people over 70.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“Both Fine Gael and the Labour Party went to the electorate with the promise of free primary healthcare for all and in government they have repeated this promise. But Health Minister James Reilly now publishes a bill which will lower the income threshold for people aged over 70 for qualification for the medical card. This is nothing but a further health cutback from a government whose health policy is in total disarray.
“We still do not know what shape the government’s proposed universal health insurance scheme will take and how it will be funded. We know it will be based on competing private for-profit insurance companies. Far from bringing us fundamental reform this government is continuing the regime of health cuts and health privatisation of its predecessors.”
Sinn Féin Social Protection spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has welcomed clarification Minister Joan Burton that retained fire-fighters are entitled to social welfare payments when they are not working in other employment.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised the issue in the Dáil today. Speaking afterwards he said;
“I welcome the clarification from the minister today of the entitlement of retained fire-fighters to social welfare payments where they are not working in another employment.
“I submitted this topical issue because it has been brought to my attention that there are a number of retained fire-fighters in the state who, although seeking other employment, are being refused social welfare payments.
“These men and women want to play their role in protecting and helping their communities but are struggling financially as a result of this refusal.
“We look forward to payment being granted to those who are struggling against the system and who are rightly entitled to it.”
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has criticised the government for its approach to the Banks and for the failure to deal with the mortgage crisis.
Speaking during the Order of Business in the Seanad today, the Sinn Féin Galway West Senator stated that there was a need for the government to take a more ‘hands on’ approach to ensure there are legal protections for families from repossessions.
“The Government is now two years in office but we have seen little to no action to assist those in mortgage arrears. In fact to a large extent, it is my view that they have effectively been thrown to the banking lions. Fianna Fáil when in government before them sat on two expert reports without implementing the recommendations either.
“The government’s approach to the banks, in giving them considerable leeway, has clearly failed. Since the 2011 general election the number of families in mortgage arrears has nearly doubled. At the end of December 2012, 94,488 or 11.9 per cent of private residential mortgage accounts were in arrears of more than 90 days, and a quarter of those, or 23,500, are in arrears of two years or more, which is a shocking statistic.
“The majority of these are honest ordinary people, doing their best to get by in the most difficult of circumstances, many grappling with negative equity and with unemployment, as they struggle to pay their most basic bills, much less their mortgage.
“They should not be the ones who should have to pay for the sins of the bankers and the speculators. They need assistance, not further pressure, and certainly not more threats of repossessions, such as we saw from the Secretary General of the Department of Finance last week.
“Clearly banks left to their own devices will not give those in arrears a just and fair resolution, and particularly so when the Personal Insolvency Mechanisms give the Banks a veto on any deal.
“There is a need now for the government to adopt a ‘hands on’ approach and to intervene to assist these families and homeowners. For one thing, the banks’ veto needs to be removed. There is clearly a need for a statutory independent body to impose settlements that are legally binding agreements between mortgage holders and banks, and where appropriate write-downs.
“Sinn Féin also believes that there is a need to reverse the Dunne Judgment by putting the protection of the family home put on a legislative footing.
“These are basic steps that the government could take that can alleviate the burden on these ordinary families, and I call on the Government to take action now, before we see Families losing their homes through repossessions.
Caithfear cosaint dlíthiúil a thabhairt do theaghlaigh ó athghabháil tithe cónaithe – Ó Clochartaigh
Tá an Rialtas cáinte go géar mar gheall ar an gcur chuige atá acu leis na bainc agus an belach ata siad ag déileáil le géarchéim na morgáistí.
Ag labhairt do ar an Riar Gnó sa Seanad inniu, duirt Seanadóir Shinn Fein as Gaillimh Thiar go gcaithfidh an Rialtas a bheith níos gníomhaí le déanamh cinnte go dtugtar cosaint dlíthiúil do theaghlaigh ó athghabháil a dtithe cónaithe.
“Ta an Rialtas seo in oifig le dhá bhliain, ach is beag gníomh atá feicthe againn uathu chun cuidiú le daoine a bhfuil riaráistí morgáiste acu. Roimhe sin, shuigh Fianna Fáil ar dhá thuairisc ó ghrúpaí saineolacha, gan a gcuid moltaí siúd chun tacú le lucht riaráistí morgáiste a chuir i bhfeidhm ach an oiread.
“Tá teipthe ar fad ar cur chuige an Rialtais i leith na bainc, sin ag tabhairt cead a chinn dóibh rudaí a réiteach ar an slí is mian leo féin. Ó olltoghchán 2011 tá lion na dteaghlaigh le riaráistí morgáiste beagnach dúblaithe. Ag deireadh mí na Nollaig 2012 bhí 94,488, nó 11.9% de chuntais phríobháideacha morgáistí tí i riaraisti le naocha lá nó níos mó, agus an ceathrú cuid díobh, suas le 23,500, i riaráistí le breis is dhá bhliain. Is fíric dochreidte é sin.
“Is gnáthdhaoine ionraice den chuid is mó atá i gceist anseo, atá ag iarraidh maireachtáil ar éigean, in aimsir géarchéime. Iad ag fulaingt de bharr cothromas diúltach agus an difhostaíocht, fad is atá siad ag iarraidh billí bunúsacha maireachtála a íoc, gan tracht ar choinneáil suas lena gcuid morgáistí.
“Ní cóir gurb iad seo a bheadh ag ioc as peacaí na mbaincéirí agus na hamhantraíthe. Teastaíonn cúnamh uathu, seachas brú breise ná bagairtí athghábhála, mar a tháinig ó Ard Rúnaí na Roinne Airgeadais an tseachtain seo caite.
“Tá sé soiléir, má fhágtar seo faoi chúram na bainc le socrú, nach dtiocfar ar réiteach cothrom agus cóir leo siúd a bhfuil riaráistí le n-íoc acu, go háirithe nuair a thugann na Meicníochtaí Dócmhainneachta Pearsanta cumhacht iomlán diúltaithe do na bainc faoi aon socrú a dhéantar.
“Ta gá anois don Rialtas ról níos gníomhaí a ghlacadh agus chun feidhmiú ar mhaithe leis na teaghlaigh agus úinéirí tí seo. Caithfear deireadh a chuir le cumhacht na mbainc le socraithe a dhiúltú scun scan. Tá ga le háisíneacht neamhspleách reachtúil a bhfuil sé de chumhacht acu socraithe a chuir i bhfeidhm idir lucht morgáistí agus na bainc agus díscríbh fiacha a mholadh má fheileann sin.
“Síleann Sinn Féin chomh maith gur chóir an rialú i gcas Dunne a chuir i leataobh tré reachtaíocht a thabhairt isteach a thabharfadh cosaint do thithe teaghlaigh.
“Seo iad na céimeanna bunúsacha gur cheart don Rialtas a ghlacadh chun an ualach a bhaint de ghuaillí na gnáth teaghlaigh seo agus impím ar an Rialtas gníomhú láithreach air seo sula bhfeicfidh muid teaghlaigh breise ag cailleadh a gcuid tithe tríd an phroiséas athghábhála.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Martin Ferris TD this morning moved a Bill to tighten up on regulations governing food traceability and labelling in response to the crisis caused by the discovery of horsemeat in food meant for human consumption.
Deputy Ferris outlined the reasons for the Bill during a statement he made in the Dáil this afternoon on the horsemeat crisis.
Deputy Ferris said;
“Earlier this morning I moved a bill to amend the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act in order to tighten up the whole area of food traceability and labelling, according to country of origin as well as ingredients.
“I would hope that when we put this forward as a Private Members Bill that it is allowed a second reading. I do not claim that the bill I moved covers all the issues and would welcome it being taken as a template by the Government and indeed all parties and Deputies here to address all of these issues as a matter of urgency as they clearly require.
“It is clear that unscrupulous processors and traders are taking advantage of lax regulations to pass off as Irish meat, including contaminated meat, sourced overseas. That represents an enormous threat to the integrity of the Irish food industry upon which depends so many jobs and farm livelihoods. So I would urge as a matter of urgency that the government adopt this bill as the basis for that legislation.
“One of the other issues that could be included is to place a statutory obligation on food producers and traders to report any contamination which they discover themselves. It is clear that in the case of QK Meats that they failed to initially report finding horse DNA as far back as last July. Had they done the current crisis might have been dealt with far sooner. We hope to bring this bill forward to the house soon.”
Sinn Féin Agricultural Spokesperson Oliver McMullan has said that the rejection of the European Council’s Budget proposals was a relief to the farming community.
Mr. McMullan said,
“The EU Budget proposals would have resulted in a 20% decrease to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget resulting in hardship for farmers on the ground.
“As well as cuts to CAP funding we would also have seen a huge cut in the Structural Funds and Peace IV funding which would have seen other funding streams for farmers curtailed.
“Farmers unions across the entire island of Ireland are in agreement in opposing these cuts, so there will be relief that the budget was voted down.
“I was however disappointed that two MEP’s Diane Dodds of DUP and Jim Nicholson of the UUP voted for the austerity measures to reduce the CAP funding in the coming years.
“We now need to gather together political support to ensure that the current negotiations on the Single Farm Payment have the needs of farmers at the heart of any agreement.
“The future of CAP needs to meet the needs of farmers right across this island to include small, medium and large farm holdings and I would appeal to those parties who supported austerity cuts today in Europe to join with us in delivering a fair and equitable settlement for farmers.”
Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness who is in Brazil on a Trade Mission has sent his warmest congratulations to Pope Francis 1.
Martin McGuinness said:
“I know that I join the millions of Catholics and those from other religions throughout the world in offering my heartfelt congratulations and prayers to Pope Francis the First.
“I am delighted that the new Pope is from the Americas and it was a special moment, the fact that I was travelling in South America when the news broke.
“As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio his identification with the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised was the hallmark of his vocation. I believe that he will do his utmost to bring a similar devotion for Social Justice to his Papacy.
“My thoughts, prayers and congratulations are with Pope Francis as he enters the most challenging stage of his journey as Pontiff and leader of Catholics worldwide."
Speaking from Brussels following the vote which rejected the European Council’s Budget proposals Sinn Féin MEP, Martina Anderson said:
“I welcome the fact that the proposals put forward by the European Council on the Multi- Annual Financial Framework (MFF) - have been overwhelmingly rejected by the Parliament.
“Despite the harsh impact that these cuts contained in the proposals would have had on projects across the board – not least in the agriculture sector – DUP, MEP Diane Dodds in line with her Party MP’s in Westminster voted in favour of the proposals. Her fellow Unionist MEP, Jim Nicholson true to his Party’s support for the Tory austerity policies also voted in favour of cutting the EU Budget.
“If these budget proposals had passed there would have been severe cuts to the tune of 20% in CAP Funding, representing over €100 million. Structural funds would have suffered at a rate of 43% - representing over €200 million. And Peace 4 funding would have been greatly reduced from previous levels. These are just some of the major cuts that Dianne Dodds and Jim Nicholson support.
“The Irish Farmers Association in the south has joined its counterparts in the north in expressing alarm at the effect on agriculture that the proposed measures if introduced in CAP Reform would have on the sector. Dianne Dodds and Jim Nicholson need to explain to the electorate and in particular the Agri sector their rationale for supporting these cuts.
“As negotiations on the reform of the single farm payment enter a crucial phase, there is an intense and widespread debate in the farming community.
“What is needed is a fair and equitable proposal for the future of CAP. It is also vital that a viable scheme is introduced to aid future development of the sector.
“I am however heartened to see that most of the other Irish MEPs voted in favour of the resolution to reject the Budget proposals or abstained (Pat ‘the Cope’Gallagher (Fianna Fáil) and Marian Harkin (Ind) abstained while Fine Gael, Labour, Socialist Party and Sinn Féin all voted to reject.
“I hope that the Coalition Partners in Dublin – Fine Gael and Labour – take heed of their MEP’s action in rejecting further austerity measures in Europe and step back from their continued attacks on the living standards of the Irish people at home.”
Sinn Féin MLAs Jennifer McCann and Sean Lynch met the British Secretary of State Theresa Villiers this week regarding the continued imprisonment of Marian Price.
At the meeting the Sinn Féin MLAs pressed for the immediate release of Marian Price.
West Belfast MLA Jennifer McCann said:
“The meeting followed on from a visit that Martin McGuinness and myself had recently with Marian Price and the presentation made by Martin at her parole hearing last week.
“At the meeting with Theresa Villiers, Martin Guinness made it clear that Ms Price was not a threat to the public and that she should be released without further delay.
“I gave a detailed account of the deteriorating condition of Marian Price's health, which has been added to by the recent death of her sister Dolours.
“I also challenged the decision to re-imposing her life term licence especially given that she was granted bail and urged Theresa Villiers to accept that Ms Price is entitled to due legal process. She should be tried in a court of law or released.”
Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson, Martin Ferris TD has voiced his support for a fairer distribution of farm payments under the reformed Common Agricultural Policy.
Deputy Ferris made a statement following an update on the CAP reform negotiations by Minister Simon Coveney.
Deputy Ferris said: “The proposals for reform of the farm payments scheme have excited huge debate within the farming community. It is apparent from meetings which I have attended and meetings with farmers and members of the different farm organisations, that there is by no means the sort of hostility to the proposals to redistribute funds as might be the perception given in some quarters.
“There also appears to be the insinuation in certain quarters that some smaller operators are not really entitled to payments at all. That has been conducted in a sort of code in relation to active or productive farmers and so-called unproductive and inactive farmers.
“One person who addressed the picket on the minister’s office in Cork last weekend said that the Minister ought to remember that he is the Minister for Agriculture and not the Minister for Social Welfare.
“I doubt we will see that headline in the Farmers’ Journal, but it clearly sums up the attitude of a minority of major beneficiaries of the Single Farm Payment to thousands of other farmers.
“There is also a huge contradiction in the fact that some of the same people who are objecting to allegedly unproductive farmers receiving a more equitable share of farm payments, that would allow them to improve their productivity, have no problem in defending the large Single Farm Payment cheques that go to certain businesses.
“At present we have 243 recipients who receive more than €32 million and another 1,800 who receive over €118 million between them. Those 2,250 individuals and companies receive more in total than over 50,000 actual farmers who are on a Single Farm Payment of less than €5,000.
“The average payment for the top recipients is over €73,000 per year. For those under €5,000 the average payment is just over €2,400. In other words less than 2% of those in receipt of Single Farm Payment receive more than over 42%. How anyone can defend that or claim that it promotes the best interests of Irish farming is beyond me.
“It is a curious worldview that holds that if you were to impose a cap of €50,000 on farm payments to any one individual that it would act as a major market disincentive, whereas if you were to increase the average payment of over 50,000 farmers from €2,400 to €8,000 that it would encourage them to do less!”
Speaking in the Dáil this morning, Sinn Féin finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD accused the finance minister of having no empathy with frontline workers who are suffering pay cuts while bankers earn salaries over €600,000.
Deputy Doherty said:
“Minister the government has promised to bring forward legislation to cut the pay of public sector workers including our nurses, guards and firefighters.
“Minister, it is clear this government has no empathy with frontline workers in the public sector but has an abundance of empathy for senior bankers and their financial institutions.
“Minister where is your threat to cut the pay of senior bankers? Do you think it’s acceptable that the CEO of Bank of Ireland would still earn €612,000 even if he was to succumb to your request that his salary is cut by ten per cent?
“Minister, why does this government threaten to introduce legislation to cut the wages of frontline workers on modest incomes and treat bankers with kid gloves; where is the threat to the 6,400 top bankers at banks we bailed out earning over €100,000?
Sinn Féin finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD, tackled finance minister, Michael Noonan TD during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil today on the mortgage crisis and the need to protect the homes of people in mortgage arrears from the banks.
Deputy Doherty said:
“Minister, yesterday Government announced its latest response to the mortgage crisis.
“After two years of doing nothing and seeing the number of those in arrears nearly double under this government, yesterday’s announcement has repeated the mistakes of the past.
“Has the government not learned the lesson that the banks will do, at best, the bare minimum and at worst exacerbate the problem of those in mortgage distress because the last two years has clearly shown this to be the case?
“Yet the plan unveiled yesterday does exactly the same thing and it does not protect the family home.
“Minister, why once again despite all of the evidence have you allowed the banks to have the final say?”
Speaking today at a seminar hosted by Amnesty International Ireland entitled ‘Pursuing Constitutional Protection of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD outlined the enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights is entirely possible, and the idea that they are inherently non-justiciable is outdated and wrong.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
“Sinn Féin has a longstanding position of support for recognition of economic and social rights, and for bringing these to the centre of a rights-based approach to public policy, as part of our commitment to an Ireland of Equals.
“We have raised these arguments in our negotiations as part of the peace process, in our Programmes for Government and election manifestos, and in our legislative and other initiatives. Examples include our Constitutional Amendment Bill to recognise the right to housing, and our Dáil motions to recognise the universal right to health and to healthcare, and to childcare.
“Economic and social rights are at the core of our various published policies. And they have a special place in the Rights for All Charter that we circulated nearly 10 years ago, as our contribution to the debate on the content of a future All-Ireland Charter of Rights, as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement.
“Féin is seeking long-term a completely fresh constitution for a United Ireland, including a robust and enforceable Bill of Rights, following a positive referendum vote. In this present transitional period, we are seeking a Northern Bill of Rights, together with a reformed constitution for this State including its own comprehensive Bill of Rights, both of which complemented by an All-Ireland Charter, harmonising the protections and guarantees between the jurisdictions.
“We know that constitutionalisation and enforcement of economic, social and cultural rights is entirely possible, and the idea that they are inherently non-justiciable is outdated and wrong. This is demonstrated by the evidence. A majority of world constitutions now include economic and social rights in some form, and we know from a study by the International Commission of Jurists that more than twenty countries, five of which are in Europe, provide for justiciability of these rights in their courts.
“Such constitutional protections and guarantees are more necessary than ever before. This is demonstrated by the appalling decisions taken by both the past and current coalition Governments leading up to and during the course of the economic crisis, decisions that arguably represent clear violations of these rights. Were the Oireachtas and Executive, and indeed all other public bodies, to have binding constitutional obligations with respect to these rights, we could expect that they would have chosen instead the better alternative policy decisions and options that were very much available to them.” ENDS
Note to Editor:
Please find below the full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech.
Sinn Féin has a longstanding position of support for recognition of economic and social rights, and for bringing these to the centre of a rights-based approach to public policy, as part of our commitment to an Ireland of Equals. For many years we have also specifically argued in favour of the constitutionalisation of these rights in a fully justiciable and fully enforceable form. This is well known.
We have raised these arguments in our negotiations as part of the peace process, in our Programmes for Government and election manifestos, and in our legislative and other initiatives. Examples include our Constitutional Amendment Bill to recognise the right to housing, and our Dáil motions to recognise the universal right to health and to healthcare, and to childcare.
Economic and social rights are at the core of our various published policies. And they have a special place in the Rights for All Charter that we circulated nearly 10 years ago, as our contribution to the debate on the content of a future All-Ireland Charter of Rights, as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement.
We have vigorously advocated the inclusion of enforceable economic and social rights in the Northern Bill of Rights that is long overdue. We did so before, during and after the Bill of Rights Forum process, and we continue to do so at every opportunity. We first formally recommended such amendments to the 1937 Constitution in our several submissions to the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution, during its lifetime. And last year, when the current coalition Government consulted us on the terms of establishment of the new Constitutional Convention, we argued forcefully that consideration of these rights should be a central task of that body.
Let me share the context with you. What Sinn Féin is seeking long-term is a completely fresh constitution for a United Ireland, including a robust and enforceable Bill of Rights, following a positive referendum vote. In this present transitional period, we are seeking a Northern Bill of Rights, together with a reformed constitution for this State including its own comprehensive Bill of Rights, both of which complemented by an All-Ireland Charter, harmonising the protections and guarantees between the jurisdictions. We believe that economic and social rights should be guaranteed by all of these mechanisms. Therefore, what we are seeking immediately out of this Constitutional Convention process is an opportunity to debate the best way to improve the recognition, guarantee and enforcement of economic and social rights in these 26 Counties, within the context of the current constitutional arrangement.
There are three reasons we take this position. The first is that we know that constitutionalisation and enforcement of these rights is entirely possible, and the idea that they are inherently non-justiciable is outdated and wrong.
This is demonstrated by the evidence. A majority of world constitutions now include economic and social rights in some form, and we know from a study by the International Commission of Jurists that more than twenty countries, five of which are in Europe, provide for justiciability of these rights in their courts.
The second reason is that we believe that such constitutional protections and guarantees are more necessary than ever before. This is demonstrated by the appalling decisions taken by both the past and current coalition Governments leading up to and during the course of the economic crisis, decisions that arguably represent clear violations of these rights. Were the Oireachtas and Executive, and indeed all other public bodies, to have binding constitutional obligations with respect to these rights, we could expect that they would have chosen instead the better alternative policy decisions and options that were very much available to them.
The third reason – and I want to emphasise this – is that improved constitutional protection of economic and social rights is arguably a binding obligation on the Irish Government under the terms of Part 6, paragraph 9 of the Good Friday Agreement, which states:
The Government will, taking account of the work of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution and the Report of the Constitution Review Group, bring forward measures to strengthen and underpin the constitutional protection of human rights. These proposals will draw on the European Convention on Human Rights and other international legal instruments in the field of human rights...The measures brought forward would ensure at least an equivalent level of protection of human rights as will pertain in Northern Ireland.
As it appears under the heading ‘Comparable Steps’, this wording is strikingly similar to that regarding the Bill of Rights for the north under a preceding paragraph.
Such a Bill of Rights will, according to the terms of the Agreement, ‘establish rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights...drawing as appropriate on international instruments...[which] taken together with the ECHR [will] constitute a Bill of Rights...’ [Part 6, paragraph 4] The wording of both paragraphs would seem to acknowledge that not all fundamental rights are currently adequately protected: neither by the ECHR, nor by the relevant constitutional provisions as they stand, in either jurisdiction.
The demonstrated constitutional viability, arguable necessity and Good Friday Agreement obligation are factors that the Constitutional Review Group either did not or could not take into account in its 1996 recommendations that Article 45 (the non-justiciable Directive Principles of Social Policy) come under review. Yet even so, they managed to agree that Article 45 as it stands does not sufficiently address modern economic and social rights, nor Ireland’s international treaty obligations in this regard.
Likewise, when the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution identified this question in their work in 1997, the Good Friday Agreement obligation in particular was not yet a factor. Had this committee reached this question during its working lifetime, it would have had to take account of the Good Friday Agreement provisions in much the same way that the Oireachtas has stipulated that the Convention must. According to its establishment motion, ‘the Convention will have appropriate regard to the Good Friday Agreement’. This means that the Convention must consider any of its provisions with implications for constitutional change. We would argue that this includes Part 6, paragraph 9.
So in conclusion, we commend Amnesty International for taking the lead in organizing a civil society initiative on this crucially important issue of human rights in Ireland. We likewise commend all of you here who will campaign on this issue. Sinn Féin stands with you. The Sinn Féin delegation to the Convention will strongly support the inclusion of economic and social rights on the Convention’s agenda as a priority under item 9.
This will likely involve at the very least some form of amendment to Article 45 on the Directive Principles of Social Policy, and possibly to other articles under the Fundamental Rights heading at Articles 40–44. However our strong preference is that this amendment be by way of a broader Bill of Rights process that could be recommended to the Convention, and by the Convention, as a supplementary or ‘Mark II’ process, so that reasoned consideration of this crucially important area of rights protection does not get truncated by the artificially tight timeframe imposed on the Convention by the Government. But I want to emphasise that if this initiative does not succeed, despite all our best efforts, Sinn Féin remains committed to a longer-term process of constitutionalisation of these rights in an enforceable form. We will not give up until the equal rights of all to housing, to healthcare, to education and to an adequate standard of living are fully and properly guaranteed.
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has expressed serious concern at the backlog of 6,000 x-rays and scans in Tallaght Hospital.
He said: "It is of serious concern that a backlog of this scale has come to light, especially in the wake of the scandal in 2009 when it emerged that there were 57,000 unread x-rays and unprocessed GP letters in Tallaght Hospital.
"The hospital has cited 'a deficit in clerical resources' for this new backlog. If this is a result of the Government recruitment ban then it is another indication that it needs to be lifted as a matter of urgency. If this is a result of deficient management in the Hospital then it needs to be sorted out immediately, especially given the fact that there was an investigation by Senator Maurice Hayes in the wake of the 2009 scandal.
“His report in November 2010 showed that there were staffing shortages in the radiology department and delays by the HSE in approving essential posts. Proper systems were not in place to manage GP referrals and patients faced undue delays, on top of the general waiting list faced by all patients.
“This was supposed to have been sorted out after the Hayes Report. We need answers and we need action and I will be raising this matter with health minister, James Reilly." ENDS
Speech by Martin Ferris TD, on the Sinn Féin Dáil motion on jobs creation, Wednesday 13 March 2013
“The rural economy needs to be central to a jobs stimulus programme. Agriculture remains the most important indigenous economic sector and it is one that has the potential to play a central role in future growth.
“It contributes over €20 billion to the national income and accounts for 10% of exports. Crucially it is also far less dependent on imported inputs, at just 20% and that is mainly fuels which comprise one of the major and unpredictable costs for the sector.
“In order to ensure the future viability of farming it is crucial that there is a positive outcome to the current negotiations on reforming the farm payments scheme.
“The current Single Farm Payment is clearly unsustainable and unfairly distributed. There are less than 2% of farmers on payments of €50,000 or more – and some of them are actually businesses rather than active farmers – while over 40% of farmers receive less than €5,000.
“Hopefully the outcome of the negotiations will see a decisive shift in favour of the majority of Irish farmers.
“The crisis caused by the discovery of horsemeat in burgers has also brought to attention the need for a fair trading regime on behalf of suppliers. While this has reflected badly on the overall food sector, farmers are as much the victims as anyone else.
“First of all they have to deal with processors who are applying downward pressure on the prices paid to farmers. Secondly, there is the question of why any processor would need to import beef, or what is supposed to be beef, into this country.
“The food industry if it is to fulfil its potential needs to be properly regulated in terms of traceability and content.
“My party also supports the re-establishment of the sugar sector which could include as well as the production for sugar as food, the establishment of a bio-refinery plant, which would produce ethanol from beet. The estimated cost for this project is €350 million with the potential to create 5,000 jobs.
“In the broader economy there needs to be specific focus on the potential for enterprise and job creation in rural communities. To address the clear imbalance in job creation there should be regional and sub-regional job creation targets set out for Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and other Enterprise Support Agencies.
“One of the reasons farmers are at a disadvantage with the processors is the shift away from co-operatives. That surrender of power to the large agri businesses needs to be looked at again. There should also be a pro-active plan to establishing co-ops to aid job creation in rural communities including the creation of tax incentives for co-operatives that create employment in rural or disadvantaged areas and making vacant IDA, Udaras and other public bodies' premises available for co-op use.
“One of the key barriers to the development of rural enterprise is the lack of high speed broadband coverage. The ESB, Bord Gais and Coillte could work together to roll-out comprehensive high-end broadband coverage. The ESB already owns a 1,300 km national fibre optic network, Aurora Telecom is a Bord Gáis Enterprise company established in 2000 specialising in fibre optic network services and Coillte also has 220 mast sites and 100 new rural broadband sites.
“We are obviously opposed to the sale of Coillte. Its resources should be used as part of the jobs creation programme. As part of that we should further develop Coillte’s role in eco-tourism. With ten forest parks and over 150 recreation sites Coillte is the leading provider of outdoor recreation in Ireland with an estimated 18 million visits to forests under its management each year.
“Another of our rural focussed proposals is for a €1billion investment in wind power industry and wave energy. It is estimated that this industry has the capacity to create 50,000 jobs over 15 years.