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Speaking today, Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew, has reacted angrily to revelations by the Irish Financial Regulator that he was only able to reopen Quinn's motor insurance lines in Britain and the north once administrators put the price of cover up.

Ms Gildernew said:

"This revelation is a slap in the face for all those who work so hard throughout Quinn Insurance to make it a highly profitable and competitive business. The workforce in Quinn Insurance is highly skilled, well paid and highly motivated; the employees are amongst the key factors in the success of the company over the last number of years.

"When the initial trading restrictions were placed on Quinn Insurance, the Financial Regulator clearly stated that it was due to breaches of solvency rules, but this latest announcement will further call into question the actions of the regulator. I fully understand that the regulator needs to be completely independent, but that does not mean that he cannot be held to account and that his actions can not be questioned.

"The fact that insurance companies in Britain have long complained that the prices being set by Quinn Insurance are too low is a disgrace. Instead of trying to compete by offering similarly attractive prices, they are content to charge extortionate premiums and lobby the FSA for restrictions to be placed on Quinn Insurance.

"Having spoken with numerous Quinn workers over the last week or so, it is clear that the new pricing structure is no longer as competitive in Britain and the north as it once was. Due to the hefty price increases, the company is finding it more difficult to attract new business or even to get customers to renew their existing policies, with some being quoted twice what they paid last year. This is detrimental not only for Quinn Insurance but also for consumers as a whole."

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Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast Paul Maskey has spoken of his concerns and the concerns of the wider community that the PSNI intend to disband the unit which was established to deal with high levels of car crime in West Belfast.

Speaking today Mr Maskey said:

“The decision to axe the policing unit in West Belfast, established to tackle high levels of car crime in the area, is wrong and must be reversed

“Car crime has not been eradicated in the area and without dedicated resources to tackle it many in the community would fear that there will be a resurgence.

“Car crime is not just about theft of vehicles or so called joy riding, it really is a matter of life and death. Many families have been bereaved through car crime not just in West Belfast bust also throughout the Six counties.

“The simple question must be asked is that, if something is working with a high degree of success in tackling crime why disband it?

“The model used in west Belfast should not be done away with, in fact it should be duplicated and rolled out to other car crime hotspots.”

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Speaking today following the shock announcement of the down grading of Whiteabbey A&E and relocation of cardiac services North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said.

“This announcement will come as a shock to the dedicated staff, and the wider community who depend on this health facility. The lack of consultation leading up to the decision is alarming and shows the degree of contempt that the board have for staff, Unions and patients. This decision will only serve to place further pressure on the already over burdened Antrim Area Hospital at a time when there are increasing reports of long trolley waits at A&E facilities at all of our hospitals. This announcement is not in the best interest of this community and does not in my opinion meet the duty of care to the community that is expected of the Health authorities.”

“Holding back this announcement until after the election was a cynical and cowardly act. This matter has been extremely poorly managed and flies in the face of the departments robust claims that any such move was alarmist when we previously raised this in the media.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan has lashed out at Fine Gael for their response to the recent announcements at the curtailment of sovereign fiscal powers by the EU. Morgan said Fine Gael had pushed the electorate into Lisbon along with the government and had to accept responsibility now for what the EU intends to do to member states.

He said:
"Fine Gael, captained by Enda Kenny and Richard Bruton, were proponents of the Lisbon Treaty and claimed it would not undermine the economic sovereignty of this State- that there were no provisions under which the European Union could commandeer further fiscal powers from member states. However, the European commission proposals, announced only yesterday, to peer-review national budgets, exploiting provisions of the Lisbon Treaty itself to adopt measures specific to those Member States in the euro.

"Several months on, the hypocrisy of Fine Gael and other pro- Lisbon parties in saying that the sovereignty of member state’s fiscal powers would be retained post-Lisbon has been exposed.

"Sinn Féin deputies were vocal in highlighting that Article 115A would strengthen the powers of the Commission to police what they call ‘excessive budget deficits’ by member states and would give it increased powers to limit government deficits to 3% of GDP. But we were ridiculed by Fine Gael and other pro-Lisbon campaigners. We warned that the Lisbon Treaty would not allow Ireland to deal with the economic problems facing us as increased European interference would cripple the real economy rather than help it.

"What the people of this State need to remember as we hold our breaths to see if these Commission proposals will get passed by Member States is that Fine Gael stood behind the Treaty to allow this to happen, that Fine Gael vigorously campaigned for the implementation of the Treaty that is facilitating this usurpation of national economic sovereignty and that no matter how much Enda Kenny or Richard Bruton condemn the Government for letting this happen, they are equally guilty for the loss of Irish sovereignty." ENDS

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The Education Minister, Caitriona Ruane, has congratulated the Full Service Community Network (FSCN) for the success of their first year.

Speaking at an event in Belfast to showcase the various initiatives and successes, the Minister said: "The FSCN has achieved a phenomenonal amount since it first began in April 2009. Since then, many people in the Ballymurphy and Upper Springfield communities have benefitted from the wide range of services on offer.

"The services have a direct impact on the lives and well-being of those in the community and beyond. Pupils and parents can avail of counselling services and child bereavement services as well as children's song, dance and music programmes, yoga for nursery school children and story telling.

"Initiatives like this are so vitally important in the community. We have a moral obligation to ensure that we give them our full support and help them to address the needs of those who require it most. There is a direct link between social deprivation and levels of educational achievement and I am committed to narrowing the gap in attainment levels. This programme goes some way to addressing the needs of the community and allowing children to achieve their full potential.

“To achieve the aims of the Action Plan it will cost £850,000, £150,000 of which has already been provided for start-up costs to 31 March 2009. In 2009/2010, £350,000 was provided and the same amount has recently been allocated for the 2010/2011 programme.

"The FSCN requires more than educational provision if it is to continue being successful, it requires the support from sectors beyond education, such as the business and volunteering community, to develop the concept for the whole community.

“I would like to congratulate all those who have made this initiative a success and encourage you to go from strength to strength in the coming years."

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Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Martina Anderson commenting on the news from the Department of Trade and Investment that figures for April 2010 show the first decrease for 27 months in the number of people claiming unemployment related benefits said:

 

“Whilst I welcome the  news that there has been a decrease of 200 in the number of people receiving unemployment related benefits, this is just a mere drop in the ocean in the numbers needed to get the jobs market moving. It would be interesting to know what the emigration figures are to determine if there has actually been a reduction at all or do these figures just camoflage the real employment situation. What I want to see is tangible evidence of job creation and retention, not unemployment figures that can be easily massaged in order to make a good soundbite for a Minister. There are several proactive measures I feel need to be acted upon to make this a reality in places like Derry

 

"Firstly there needs to be decentralisation of public sector jobs to the North West and protection of existing public sector jobs in the region. I have lobbied persistently for some time now for social objectives to be incorporated in all public spending programmes to ensure that they deliver jobs for the people of Derry.

 

"We have already seen this happen on a number of projects currently underway in Derry. The numbers employed may be small but at least it’s a start and something people told us couldn’t be done.

 

Ms. Anderson concluded

 

"The fact is that the North West is a region which already suffers from significant social deprivation. While the present economic crisis presents its own challenges many of our difficulties are a legacy of the historical neglect and regional disparity created by government underinvestment for decades. Therefore, with the recession, we are now facing a double whammy and I will be urging all Ministers to take tangible measures which will assist in the economic recovery of the North West."

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Minister Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA has said the Agri-Food industry remains the backbone of our economy and continues to grow against very difficult odds.

The Minister was speaking at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) traditional breakfast at the Balmoral Show where President of Ireland Mary McAleese was special guest.

In her annual address to more than 250 industry stakeholders, the Minister said: “During this difficult economic climate the Agri-Food industry has continued to be the backbone of our economy and to make a vital contribution by not only showing staying power but also by continuing to grow against very difficult odds.”

In her speech, the Minister reviewed progress on key issues and outlined her forward work programme covering renewable energy, greenhouse gases, the Farm Modernisation Scheme, Manure Efficiency Technology Scheme (METS) and the Nitrates Action Programme.

The Minister said: “This year our industry has opportunities to improve animal health and produce renewable energy; we must address key environmental concerns but we must also importantly continue to produce the good food that the consumer demands.

“By strengthening our all-Ireland, east-west and European relationships we can ensure strong policies are developed locally which meet the particular circumstances of our farming and rural communities.”

Turning to the economy, the Minister said: “We are all too aware of the difficult economic times in which we are living and working. The Executive is facing major and growing challenges in attempting to deliver its services. I intend to do all in my power along with my Executive colleagues, to try to prevent or minimize any proposed cuts.

“However, I believe by working in partnership we can tackle all of these problems in a way that best meets the interest of our farming and rural communities. Let us address these challenges fearlessly and positively and move forward together in partnership.”

The Minister also applauded the success of the 142nd Balmoral Show - her fourth as Agriculture Minister – adding: “This prestigious event grows steadily in significance each year and is a truly fitting showcase for all that is best in our local industry. This show is also broadening its appeal to non rural dwellers and more and more people are gaining an insight into the high standards of livestock and food production maintained here on their doorstep.”

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Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brun has stressed that the new British government needs to move away from the present stance of seeking cuts in the EU agriculture budget in order to boost other sectors of the economy.

Speaking from the Balmoral Show, Bairbre de Brun MEP said:

"Farming and the food industry are hugely important for our local economy and plans for economic recovery have to take account of the fact that over 70,000 people are employed in the agri-food sector here.

"While there are some hopeful signs for the farming and agri food sector here many challenges remain and decisions taken at EU level will have a big impact on this.

"Our local Minister Michelle Gildernew has been fighting hard for farmers in Brussels but until now the British government has been seeking cuts in the EU agriculture budget in order to boost other sectors of the economy.

"The new British government must not attack Agriculture in the upcoming EU budget talks and must ensure that the new DEFRA Minister plays a much more positive role in the talks on CAP reform" ENDS

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Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brun has stressed that the new British government needs to move away from the present stance of seeking cuts in the EU agriculture budget in order to boost other sectors of the economy.

Speaking from the Balmoral Show, Bairbre de Brun MEP said:

"Farming and the food industry are hugely important for our local economy and plans for economic recovery have to take account of the fact that over 70,000 people are employed in the agri-food sector here.

"While there are some hopeful signs for the farming and agri food sector here many challenges remain and decisions taken at EU level will have a big impact on this.

"Our local Minister Michelle Gildernew has been fighting hard for farmers in Brussels but until now the British government has been seeking cuts in the EU agriculture budget in order to boost other sectors of the economy.

"The new British government must not attack Agriculture in the upcoming EU budget talks and must ensure that the new DEFRA Minister plays a much more positive role in the talks on CAP reform" ENDS

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Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD and Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs is calling on the Minister for Transport to intercede immediately with a situation where the Port Authority and Customs and Excise in Dundalk port are preventing a ship laden with humanitarian aid destined for Gaza from leaving because it has a tricolour painted on its side.

He said:

“This is a ridiculous situation where the hampering of a relief effort is being caused; the reason being given that the Irish flag on the MV Rachel Corrie must be painted over even though this is an Irish vessel. I am calling on the Minister to immediately intervene and release the ship so that no more precious time is wasted.” ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, has called for changes to be made to the existing legislation which imposes criminal penalties on fishermen found to be in breach of regulations. The Kerry North TD was speaking during a debate on a private members bill proposing to replace the current penalties with administrative measures and fines.

Deputy Ferris said:

“The current system and the manner in which the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority operates are causing a great deal of resentment among fishing and coastal communities. Many fishermen feel that they are being criminalised under the current system and also contrast what they regard as the heavy handed approach to Irish fishermen with the lack of attention paid to foreign vessels fishing in Irish waters.

“We also need to take control of the Irish fishing sector away from Brussels. We need to tackle the bigger issues such as the manner in which the fishery is administered by the EU and the totally unfair distribution of quota which gives Irish fishermen a tiny proportion relative to that handed to the rest of the European fleet. That and other issues need to be tackled as part of the current review and proposed reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.” ENDS

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 Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness this evening spoke with the new British Prime Minister David Cameron, after the appointment of Owen Patterson as the British Secretary of State.

Speaking after the telephone conversation Mr McGuinness said:

“Throughout the election campaign we made it clear that the main issue facing the Assembly and the Executive would be the cuts being proposed by both the Tories and Labour and the threat this posed to frontline services.

“It is my firm view that the best way to challenge the next British government is through a united approach by the Executive parties. The folly of the position adopted by others who tried to over exaggerate their influence at Westminster and pretend that they were players in the hung parliament scenario has now been exposed. It is time to end that sort of fantasy politics and get down to the real work directly with the new British government.

“I spoke with the new British Prime Minister David Cameron by phone this afternoon. I have obviously met Owen Patterson on many occasions over the past three years. On the issues of the Peace Process it is important that the Good Friday, St. Andrews and Hillsborough Agreements are honoured.

“I made it clear to Mr Cameron that as a society moving out of conflict and one which has suffered from decades of under investment we can simply not afford the sort of cuts he hinted at during the election campaign. I also made the case for the best block grant possible and impressed upon him the unity of parties here around these positions.

“I also pressed him to ensure that the Saville Report, held up by the election, is quickly given to the Bloody Sunday families and made public.” ENDS

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Speaking earlier today after the official re-naming of the Irish cargo ship bound for the under siege city of Gaza from Dundalk harbour, Sinn Féin Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called for all Irish citizens’ support for the venture, which will aim to bring cement and other much needed supplies to the people of Gaza. The ship will set sail this evening for the Mediterranean, where it will join other boats on May 24th. Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD will hopefully join the MV Rachel Corrie here and sail to the Palestinian city of Gaza which has been under siege by Israel for over three years. On board the boats which will make up the Break the Siege flotilla, will be other human rights workers, parliamentarians, trade unionists and journalists.

Commenting in advance of the ship’s departure this evening Ó Snodaigh said:

"When I left Gaza city in November 2008 on board another siege breaking ship the Dignity, I had hoped that I would be returning some day to a city with the siege lifted. I am now travelling with humanitarian aid which will help the Palestinian people of Gaza begin to reconstruct their homes and lives, cement, medical aid, wheelchairs, school books, kettles... The courage of those behind the MV Rachel Corrie is to be commended, and while one ship of aid is a dot in the ocean to what is needed in Gaza, it is symbolic and it is a call on the international community to act to get the siege lifted and allow the Palestinian the right to live." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster Martin McGuinness MLA has stated that the Mid Ulster Hospital should not lose its A&E services

Speaking earlier Mr McGuinness said:

“The decision to move A&E services away from the Mid Ulster Hospital is the wrong decision. It will place a further strain on local health services and has created a black hole of emergency cover for some areas of the Mid Ulster region.

“Local people will be very concerned about this move and I will be contacting Michael McGimspey on this matter. While I understand there are pressures on the overall health budget, prioritising short term gains to save money, over long term, needs based, planning is not the way forward.”

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Sinn Féin MLA for Mid Ulster Michelle O’Neill and the party spokesperson on Health has slammed the decision by the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to close the A&E in Mid Ulster and Whiteabbey hospitals.

Speaking today Ms O’Neill said:

“The decision by the Health Minister to close the A&E unit in the Mid Ulster, replacing it with a minor injuries unit is wholly unacceptable.

“This decision will further compound the dereliction of health service provision in the wider mid Ulster area. Many of the rural areas of mid Ulster will now be well outside the so-called golden hour of travel to a hospital. This timeframe is key to survival rates in emergencies.

“Furthermore there are concerns as to what will happen to the staff. Will the be redeployed, who will cover their travel or will they be laid of furthering the unacceptable cutbacks in front line service by Micheal McGimpsey.

“Previously we were told that there would be no change to the status of the Mid Ulster or Whiteabbey hospitals until Antrim and Causeway hospitals capacity was increased.

“However since then there has been no new build in Antrim or Causeway hospitals and there is no viable increase in capacity. How either hospital will cope is beyond me.

“I am not convinced that there has been adequate consultation on these closures. Whilst the safety of patients is paramount we need to see proper service provision at for those who require it.” 

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Reacting to news emanating from Dun Laoghaire town hall in the last hour that the Council is to privatise the bin service, a local Sinn Féin spokesperson described the news as “scandalous” and accused the management of Dún Laoghaire County Council of being complicit in the downgrading of services in recent years.
Michael Nolan said:
“This executive decision by the County Manager is scandalous. Owen Keegan’s crocodile tears that the council are losing too much money on the service rings very hollow. It was deliberate decisions taken by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, in recent years, which downgraded the services and allowed lucrative parts of the business to be snapped up by private companies like Panda that have caused the current crisis.
“The council’s bullying tactics in the early years after charges were introduced was aimed not a getting payment for services but rather at getting people to switch from the Council to private contractors. The fact that they have been unsuccessful in chasing up outstanding debts from people who it would appear are quiet willing to pay Panda for services speaks volumes.
“Waste collection is an essential public service. It should be the responsibility of local authorities not private profit driven companies. The crucial questions that needs answering is what will happen to people who can’t afford private waste charges – how will this affect the wavier scheme? And what is to happen to those
currently employed by the council in waste collection?” ENDS 

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Speaking today after the European Commission proposed a peer review for national budgets, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Finance Arthur Morgan has hit out at the prospect of an unelected “eurocracy” policing national Budgets.

Deputy Morgan said:

“Today we are being handed down proposals from the European Commission that draft national budgets should be submitted to Brussels for scrutiny and peer review by other member states. The future sovereignty of national budgetary and fiscal decisions hangs in the balance. The basis of democracy itself will be corrupted if the Government do not wholly and vehemently oppose the trajectory of the European Commission to reinforce budgetary surveillance.

“The interests of capital are smothering wider social concerns and these are the very interests who created the crisis. The Commission’s aspiration to monitor national budgets and veto against them if they do not conform to the view of the Commission flies in the face of democracy and further concentrates power within the European institutions; power that should be sovereign.

“The consequences of this proposal being adopted are such that the rigid adherence to the Stability and Growth Pact will outweigh the importance of rights such as health, education and decent employment. As the EU places more emphasis on unfettered allegiance to this Pact, people and public services will suffer, as we are seeing in Greece.

“We cannot let this proposal be adopted. An unelected “eurocracy” cannot make decisions in lieu of people who have at least been directly elected. We have not voted to let the European Commission police our budgets.”

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Sinn Féin Councillor and member of the local DPP Elisha McLaughlin commenting following a device being left at the Templemore Sports complex

 

Councillor McLaughlin said

 

“This must have been a very frightening experience for everyone caught  up in this alert, the second such incident there in a week. It achieved absolutely nothing other than to force hundreds of users of the sports complex many of whom were young school children from Donegal to have to stand in the cold , some semi clothed and in their bare feet .They had to abandon their belongings at the centre during the alert. It also caused great upset to elderly residents in the nearby Donal O Casey Court.

 

The groupings behind such alerts need to wise up. Those who politically oppose republican strategy and the peace process are entitled to do so. But that doesn't mean they are right; and they are absolutely wrong to use militarism to advance their position

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (South Antrim) has welcomed proposals by Energy Regulators North and South to harmonise energy prices through the introduction of an all-Ireland retail energy market.

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"This is a welcome and progressive move that I believe will help deliver more affordable energy prices to consumers across the island. The introduction of the all-Ireland Single Electricity Market (SEM) in 2007 enabled all energy generators on the island to contribute to a single pool which provided opportunities for more efficient business planning and corporate savings. The benefits delivered to the consumer by SEM resulted in energy price increases being curtailed.

"The benefits to both the Energy Sector and consumers are obvious. All-Ireland harmonisation should deliver efficiencies through elimination of duplication of resources and lower energy prices to consumers.

"I believe that the Energy sector through its collaborative approach is demonstrating that if this same attention was applied to other sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, health and education the tangible benefits to the people would be apparent in a relatively short time." Ends

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Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed news from her party colleague MLA and Chair of the Finance and Personnel committee in the Assembly Jennifer McCann that she intends to call for a meeting with the major fuel suppliers for the North of Ireland in order to ascertain what they are doing to help reduce the high price of fuel at the moment.

Martina Anderson said:

“The current and record peak of oil prices is placing a huge burden on both domestic and business users alike. The Consumer Council this week revealed that in May 2009, it cost £48.78 to fill a car with a 50litre tank with petrol and £50.99 with diesel. At the beginning of May 2010, it is £12.00 more expensive to fill with petrol and£10.57 for diesel

“Not only are people in Derry facing the high costs when fuelling their cars or heating their homes but the high prices are having a direct and negative impact on many aspects of life.

“If for example we just take the delivery section, the costs of transporting goods will increase and therefore those costs may very well be passed on to the consumer whether it be in supermarkets, local shops or at building trade suppliers.

“The high cost of fuel will also have a further impact on those who live in rural areas as they depend more on their cars for travel and access to work.

“While the cost of fuel has been increasing steadily over the past year due to a weakened pound sterling, we also need to explore what options are available to protect consumers. My party colleague Jennifer McCann  has called for the  Finance and Personnel Committee to meet with  the major oil suppliers to the north to examine what they are doing or can do in relation to reducing costs. 

Martina Anderson went on to say

 “There is also a need to examine what the British government can do to alleviate the immediate pressures that people are facing. Currently the vast majority of the price of a litre of petrol is tax.

“In the current economic climate this is no way sustainable and certainly is detrimental to attempts to come out of recession.  What clearly needs to happen is that the British government must mitigate against rises in world fuel costs by reducing the tax burden to offset such increases.”

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