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Sinn Féin Communications Spokesperson Martin Ferris TD has, speaking this evening as the Communications Regulation Postal Services Bill 2010 was passed in the Dáil, accused the Labour Party of facilitating a Fianna Fáil led piece of legislation which was designed to liberalise the postal services and could lead to the privatisation of significant sections of An Post.

Deputy Ferris said:

“The Communications Regulation Postal Services Bill 2010 was a Fianna Fáil led Bill designed to liberalise the postal services and could lead to the privatisation of significant sections of An Post.

“This evening we witnessed the shameful sight of the Labour Party lining up alongside both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to secure the passage of this Bill through the Dáil.

“This Bill could lead to the closure of many rural post offices, the loss of hundreds of jobs and the loss of vital postal services for thousands of rural citizens while private companies cherry pick the profitable sections of the postal services for themselves.

“The Labour Party should be ashamed of themselves for siding with the right wing conservative parties on this issue.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for Kerry North/Limerick West Martin Ferris has called on the Government to introduce some form of debt resolution to address the growing problem of mortgage arrears.

Deputy Ferris succeeded in having a special debate on the issue in the Dáil this evening.

Deputy Ferris said:

“According to the most recent statistics there were 44,508 mortgage accounts in arrears for more than 90 days at the end of 2010. That amounts to 5.7 per cent of residential mortgages and amounted to an increase of 25,000 from 2009.

“Given the recent European Central Bank increase in interest rates, along with the current levels of unemployment, wage cuts and so on, that figure is certain to increase again and perhaps even more dramatically.

“My own party and others have proposed that measures be taken to address this problem. A group of respected economists last year urged that the banks introduce some form of debt resolution and that they accept part of the loss as their own.

“We believe that it is now time to look at possibly writing off some portions of negative equity on properties which are principal family homes, where people are in arrears and their mortgages are clearly unsustainable - and look at mortgages in terms of current house values rather than what they were at the time of purchase when unscrupulous lenders gave massive mortgages to people that they could not repay.

“When such suggestions were first made they were not taken seriously. Today, however, it has emerged that AIB is considering some form of debt resolution. That is both realistic and a recognition by them that they are to a large extent responsible for the mortgage crisis not only because of their housing loans policy but the overall part played by the banks in fuelling the speculative boom for which we are now paying the cost.

“Given that the state is now effectively running the banking sector I would urge that the Government take proactive measures to force all of the banks and other financial institutions including the sub prime lenders who appear to be the most aggressive pursuers of repossessions to provide real relief for mortgage holders.

“While the AIB indications are positive I would be a bit worried about their reference to ‘inter generational’ mortgages. While that does sound somewhat plausible in that it would lengthen the period over which a family would have to pay back what they owe, it also raises the spectre of indenturing future generations with a debt that was created before they were maybe even born.

“That is a situation akin to that which was foreseen by critics of the financial and credit system up to a century ago when they spoke about people becoming virtual serfs on the basis of unpayable debts.

“We need to address all of these issues immediately before the mortgage crisis becomes the next time bomb to threaten this society and force more people into unsustainable situations.”

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh today secured an assurance from An Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the Construction Contracts Bill will be fast-tracked through the Dáil.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised the issue with Enda Kenny in the Dáil today during the Order of Business.

Welcoming the Taoiseach’s commitment today he said:

“The Construction Contracts Bill will ease the distress of many subcontractors around the country. In particular, it will end the sharp practice of some builders in undermining subcontractors, many of whom are in dire straits and are being put out of business.

“In the last Dáil there was all party agreement on the need for this Bill so there should be no need for any delay in bringing it forward.

“I welcome the commitment from Enda Kenny today to fast-track the passage of this Bill through the Dáil.” ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon on Statements on the European Council Sinn Féin Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Padraig MacLochlainn said the EU is leading the Government by the nose into an exploding economic depression.

Deputy MacLochlainn said Ireland’s debt burden should have been shared as responsibility for the crisis lies with Europe as much as with Ireland.

He said:

“The EU is leading this Fine Gael/Labour government by the nose into an exploding economic depression. The policies they are following amount to little more than further de-regulation of labour markets, wage cuts, tax increases, and reductions in government spending.

“Elite policy makers across the EU are responsible for the Eurozone debt crisis and it is about time we stood up to them and told them that.

“The IMF and ECB are demanding that Irish citizens bear the burden of the mistakes made by International financial wizards.

“We are being told that we must socialize the losses, while the gains can continue to be privatized.

“The countries on the periphery of Europe – Ireland, Greece, Portugal and perhaps more to follow are being caught up in a European financial storm.

“Where is the solidarity from our large core European partners such as Germany and France?

“They have placed a savage and unbearable burden on our people, a burden that should have been shared because the responsibility for the crisis lies with Europe as much as Ireland.

“They have kicked us while we are down and they have torn the stated objectives of the European project into tatters.

“I appeal to our Government to stand up against this injustice and to seek realistic and genuinely sustainable terms for our people.

“We are not alone. It is not too late.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún today called on both the Executive and local councils to take advantage of the new "European Energy Efficiency Facility" (EEE-F) which is due to be launched tomorrow (13 April) by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

 

Ms de Brún said: "I strongly urge our public authorities to maximise the benefit from the upcoming EEE-F which will see an increased investment in smaller scale energy saving, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects throughout Europe.

 

'It is good news that the initial fund total has now been raised from €146 million to over €200 million and that that this may rise again if other investors become involved.

 

“Measures funded could include include: energy saving measures in public and private buildings; investment in decentralised renewable energy sources, including micro-generation; clean urban transport; the modernisation of infrastructure, such as street lighting and smart grids, as well as investment in sustainable energies with a potential for innovation and growth.

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Speaking at the New York Stock Exchange, at Adelaide House this Morning deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP said:


Thank you for the invitation to address you today.

The last four years have seen a step change in politics in the north. We have just completed the first, full term of an inclusive power-sharing executive, a first in the history of this state.

We have faced challenges within and outside of the political process. We have met those challenges and have maintained working institutions.

There remains a strong unity of purpose at the heart of government to build on the achievements of the Executive and Assembly, to strengthen our relationships and to build on our agreements.

In the next term we face the need to deliver for all our people in the face of significant economic challenges.

These challenges are global, national and regional. They are interlinked and impact on all in our community.

Globally, while there has been some growth it is patchy. We are at continual risk of rising inflation due to increased food and energy costs and potential interest rate rises.

Nationally we have the ongoing fallout from the banking crisis in the South. Two of our four big banks are owned by the Irish Government. We could see in excess of £6 billion worth of assets in the North being part of NAMA.

Border regions, in particular, are subject to economic instability as a result of having two economies on such a small island. At different times businesses on either the north or south of the border have benefited or gone bust due to fluctuating and changing economic circumstances. As you all know, business does not like instability and this is not a sustainable long term economic policy for border areas or the island as a whole.

In the north we have the imposition of the Tory led fiscal policy on our economy.

The policies being pursued reflect economic considerations in Britain. Our economy does not register in their economic thinking. There is no support for their harsh economic agenda here and yet they seek to impose it on us.

They have set aside commitments given at St. Andrews. These commitments recognised that the north required specific support as a result of decades of conflict and the legacy of under-investment by successive British governments. The position of the current British government is completely unacceptable.

The application of Tory policies based on harsh spending cuts will present huge difficulties for our economy. We are not in growth and are heavily dependent on public money.


However, I am a believer in fixing problems. The size of the economic challenge we face is huge but we must not lie down under. The political process demonstrates that progress is always possible. At the beginning of this term many commentators said that an Executive led by Sinn Féin and the DUP would not last. I knew then that they would be proven wrong.
The scale of political change achieved over the past number of years provides lessons for how we approach our economic difficulties.

The first is to believe that change is possible, to believe that we can achieve economic prosperity for the benefit of all our people.

Central to delivering change is the process of challenging long established beliefs and working practices. To place the greater good above the accepted status quo. We need to be fully cognisant of the current economic threats and opportunities.

We need the innovative thinking, the hard decision making, the dialogue that marked the process of political change. This is not just an issue for policy makers but all levels of our community and business sector.

We need to look at the current economic reality and identify our competitive advantage. One of the economic successes of the past term has been the high level of quality Foreign Direct Investment that we have attracted.

The NY Stock Exchange is a prime example. They recognised the potential and the expertise of a local company and invested. We have a highly skilled and motivated workforce. We have access to wider European markets and we are a bridge between the US and Europe. Due to Project Kelvin we now have quicker communication and technology links to the east and west coasts of America than they have with each other. And the New York Stock Exchange liked the environment. This same process has been repeated by other US companies such as Citi and Allstate.

We have world leaders in innovative fields such as First Derivatives in Newry. We have a growing creative industries sector including film and music making, software and gaming. This sector alone employs 36,000 people.

Our agri-foods sector is the largest exporter and is a recognised brand throughout the world. We are gaining the reputation as a good place in which to invest and grow your business.

So we have competitive advantage. We now need a strategy to exploit that and build an economy that delivers for all.

We need a new export strategy to deliver jobs and growth. We have the skills, we have the people, we now need to realise our potential.

We need an all Ireland economic recovery plan that prioritises job creation.

Economic Powers
Sinn Féin believes that our economic destiny should be in the hands of locally accountable Minsters. The key is to have the powers to impact on our economy and the flexibility to shape our economic conditions.

We need responsibility for economic matters devolved to ministers who understand the local economy and are accountable to the people in this room and the wider community.

This will allow us to develop a regional response to global and national economic changes.

Our economic needs do not register with policy makers in London. The biggest impact on our economy is the situation in the South. Our economies are interconnected and interdependent. This is not a political aspiration but a statement of economic fact.

We believe that greater cooperation across Ireland will deliver more for all our people than the existing competition between our regions.

Given that economic reality Sinn Féin is calling for a frank, open and objective discussion to develop an all Ireland plan to promote jobs, economic growth, innovation and exports. This should threaten no one’s identity and benefit us all.

Sinn Féin is the only party that has consistently advocated transferring tax varying and borrowing powers to stimulate growth and deliver social justice. We have continually called for and will support the harmonisation of Corporation Tax across the island to promote such growth.


We need to grow the economy in such a way that it promotes social justice and delivers for all. The economy should serve the needs of all the people, not the other way around.

Investment in Innovation, Research and Development
The key area for growth will be the development of innovation and research and development. This will require investment and capital. This is an issue for banks, third level educations and business alike. Investment by business is critical in this respect. In 2008 businesses in the north invested £160 million in R&D; in the same year businesses in the south invested £1.6 billion. Ten times the amount here. Business here needs to grow beyond the local and reach into the all Ireland, British and global market place. This is a challenge to business leaders. As political leaders we are determined to facilitate that .

There is scope to access European support for R&D and sharing the cost through greater access to existing European programmes and shaping the incoming programmes. Key to this are the Framework programmes. The previous target for local access to this programme was to draw down £60 million, the target for the South in the same period was £600 million. I raised that matter directly with Maire Geoghan Quinn and she and the European Commission pledged to promote greater access to the programme.

We also need to maximise access to other European Programmes such as JEREMIE, JESSICA and the new €500 million PROGRESS microfinance fund.

Sinn Féin is committed to working in the Executive, the Commission, with our MEPs and partners in Dublin to increase the take up of European support.

We have been impressing on the banks the need for them to play a positive role and support finance to business. Sinn Féin has proposed the establishment of a £400 million Sustainable Economic Development Bond with a contribution of £25 million annually from each local bank annually.

Sinn Féin will also work with the Irish government to ensure that the changes in banking in the south recognise and reflect the situation in the North.

The credit Union movement have indicated that they are interested in working to establish a £100 million Social Fund to target indigenous business and deliver social change. Sinn Féin supports this initiative.

Alongside this we are proposing to establish an Investment Fund at the Executive to focus on SMEs, social enterprise, new technologies and tourism and export led manufacturing.

These are just some of the interventions we are proposing to increase investment in innovation and research and development.

We need to fully realise the potential of FDI, not only in terms of increasing direct employment but in building supply chains and encouraging local companies to identify and respond to the needs of inward investors. We need FDI to put down deep roots in the local economy. There is no conflict between seeking to develop local business and encouraging FDI. It is not an either or situation.

There is enormous interest and good will towards Ireland North and South. This won’t last forever and we need to seize the initiative and tap into it. We need to replace competition on the island with cooperation to market and promote business. A small island economy of just over 6 million people does not need a multiplicity of enterprise organisations such as Invest NI, IDA and Enterprise Ireland which ultimately compete within the same investment pool. The best use of resources and networking of business can be achieved through co-operation and joined up working across Ireland

A Functioning and Efficient Labour Market
While we seek to grow business and promote our industries on an international market we must also ensure that we have a functioning and efficient labour market.

As we target new industries and high quality jobs we need to ensure that we have the skilled labour. In the north, we have two world class universities which are part of networks here and across Europe.

Sinn Féin supports greater co-operation between universities and business to ensure that the skills required are available. We are opposed to student fees and the proposed increase, as it will reduce the diversity of students and impact hardest on those less well off. We will oppose the increase in student fees when it comes before the executive.

Sinn Féin also believes that developing innovation and R&D requires specialised centres of excellence on an all Ireland basis. This will deliver savings as we realise economies of scale and deliver the diversity of skills required.

Economic growth requires a functioning local labour market. I recently met with representatives of the chamber who highlighted a number of businesses that were struggling to find suitably qualified staff. Yet we have large pockets of unemployed.

We need to dismantle the barriers to employment that exclude sections of our community. We need to enable all of our people to compete in a equal way for employment. We established the Social Investment Fund with the aim of increasing employment in areas of deprivation.

Sinn Féin supports intervention in the labour market to bridge the gap between the needs of employers and the unemployed as a means of growing our economic and promoting equality.

We face considerable economic challenges and opportunities in the time ahead. Everyone in our society is entitled to prosper economically. We need an economy that delivers that shared prosperity for all.

The political agreements that we have reached define a dynamic approach to relations within the north and across the island that deliver for all without changing our identities or core beliefs. The political agreements have made us stronger.

We now need to build economic agreements that allow for the same dynamic and flexible approach. We need to approach this issue in an imaginative and pragmatic way and look fully and objectively at the benefits of greater co-operation on the island. We need to look beyond the immediate and into the future.

Over the past four years I have been centrally involved in the process of working with investors. We have delivered significant investment including where we are today. I fully understand the needs of business, the needs of the community and the opportunities that exist. We now need to fully realise these opportunities and to be open to new ways of working

For our part Sinn Féin has led on political progress. We will bring the same approach, the same energy and the same innovative thinking to developing an economy that delivers for all our people

Thank you.

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Upper Bann Sinn Féin representative Johnny McGibbon has challenged those who once again caused a security alert outside St. Francis Primary School and St. Pauls Junior High School in Lurgan to explain directly to the community in the town and especially the parents of the young children affected what exactly is being gained from their actions.
Mr McGibbon said:
“For the second time in a week a security alert has been caused outside St. Francis Primary School and St. Pauls Junior High School in Lurgan. Significant disruption is being caused to children, parents and local residents. Over 1000 children have been forced out of their schools. This area is the site of two schools, a GAA club and the local church not to mention hundreds of homes. The decision to leave these suspect packages is very deliberate and calculated.
“I am publicly challenging those people behind these actions or the political fronts that claim to speak for them to come into the community in Lurgan and stand over their actions. Let them spell out what exactly is being achieved by attacking the local nationalist community. Let them spell out why primary school children are now in their sights.
“Unlike these factions Sinn Féin are not afraid to face the people. That is why we are on doorsteps across this constituency with a positive message of Equality and Unity in Upper Bann. Let these groups now take up my challenge and come out and debate with me and the community in Lurgan and stand over the disruption they are causing to ordinary people’s lives.” ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Sean Crowe has called on the new Government to right the wrongs of Fianna Fáil and prioritise investment in education as a tool for recovery.

Deputy Crowe said:

“Our education system is limping from crisis to crisis. Our classes are overcrowded. Schools are still waiting unacceptably long periods of time for new buildings. Children with special needs are being denied the appropriate supports. A Third level education is fast becoming unattainable for many.

“This situation cannot be allowed to continue. It is not acceptable that schools have to rely on fundraising in order to meet basic running costs. It is not acceptable that struggling parents have to scrimp and save to put their children through school.

“Fine Gael and Labour must take the opportunity to right the wrongs of Fianna Fáil and prioritise investment in education as a tool for recovery.”

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Sinn Féin Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has today welcomed the commitment by the Minister for Justice and Equality Alan Shatter to bring the civil partners of Irish citizens within the naturalisation scheme available to Irish citizens’ spouses.

This information was revealed in a reply by Minister Shatter to a Parliamentary Question tabled by the Cavan-Monaghan TD.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“At present, the spouses of Irish citizens seeking naturalisation can avail of more favourable eligibility conditions than apply to other citizenship applicants. Irish citizen spouses must be resident in the 32 Counties for a minimum of three years, whereas applicants not married to Irish citizens must be resident in the 26 Counties for a minimum of five. Regrettably, the Civil Partnership Act 2010 did not extend these relaxed conditions to Irish citizens’ civil partners.

“Minister Shatter has now confirmed to me that he intends to amend the law to rectify this omission from the Civil Partnership Act and bring civil partners within the naturalisation scheme that applies to spouses. He has further indicated that until such time as the legislation can be amended, he will use his discretion in ‘appropriate cases’ to grant naturalisation to the civil partners of Irish citizens on the same basis as spouses.

“I welcome this small, but much needed, reform of the naturalisation laws and in particular this further move toward equality for same-sex couples in Ireland.” ENDS

Note to editors: Parliamentary Question follows.


QUESTION NO: 286

DÁIL QUESTION addressed to the Minister for Justice and Equality (Mr. Shatter)
by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin
for WRITTEN on Tuesday, 12th April, 2011.


* To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will amend Section 15A of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended) to make its provisions applicable to civil partners of Irish citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

- Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


REPLY.
It is my intention that in immigration related matters, civil partnerships registered in Ireland or recognised by Irish law will, so far as is possible, be treated the same as marriages. It would be consistent with this approach to apply the provisions of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended) to the civil partners of Irish citizens. It would be my intention to bring forward an amendment to this effect at a future date.

In the case of a non-Irish national applicant who is the spouse of an Irish citizen those conditions are that the applicant must -
• be of full age
• be of good character
• be married to the Irish citizen for at least 3 years
• be in a marriage recognised under the laws of the State as subsisting
• be living together as husband and wife with the Irish spouse
• have had a period of one year's continuous residency in the island of Ireland immediately before the date of the application and, during the four years immediately preceding that period, have had a total residence in the island of Ireland amounting to two years
• intend in good faith to continue to reside in the island of Ireland after naturalisation
• have made, either before a Judge of the District Court in open court or in such a manner as the Minister, for special reasons allows, a declaration in the prescribed manner, of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State.

The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended) currently provides that the Minister for Justice and Equality may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled.

Until I secure the relevant amendment to the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended) I intend, in appropriate cases, where there is a registered civil partnership recognised under the relevant legislation here, to use my discretion to grant certificates of naturalisation to persons involved in such relationships in situations in which naturalisation would be granted to an applicant who is a non Irish national spouse of an Irish spouse.

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Speaking in the Dáil this evening Sinn Féin TD for Sligo and North Leitrim Michael Colreavy criticised the Value for Money Review of smaller primary schools.

Deputy Colreavy said:

“In the Sligo-Leitrim area there many smaller schools with two teachers.

“The pupils, parents, management boards, teachers and wider communities in these school areas are very tearful that the Value for Money Review of smaller schools is misleading. It is a study into how to provide the cheapest form of primary education.

“In order to judge value for money one must be able to measure and compare outcomes. What outcomes are being measured and compared? The INTO claims that the outcomes of smaller primary schools are at least as good as outcomes of larger schools.

“Based on Department of Education figures of the number of smaller schools the projected savings if amalgamated it would be approx €80,000 per school amalgamated. €80,000 for what?

“There will be higher transport charges; children will spend longer on the school bus morning and evening; children from closed smaller schools will be sent to, in many cases, already overcrowded classes and schools which will require greater investment in facilities.

“People in rural areas have witnessed severe downgrading of their potential in the last decade including closure of Garda stations, post offices, shops, pubs; difficulty getting planning permission for one-off houses in rural areas; football clubs weakened through emigration.

“And now we have this threat of closure of smaller primary schools.

“I must compliment Junior Minister John Perry – at a public meeting in Sligo last night Minister Perry gave an unequivocal undertaking that no smaller school in Sligo or Leitrim would be closed on his watch.

“I want to place on the record of this house my appreciation of his clarity on this and I ask the Minister for Education to provide similar clarity for smaller primary schools state-wide.” ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil today on the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010, Sinn Féin TD for Laois/Offaly Deputy Brian Stanley called on the Government to guarantee the protection of rural post offices.

Deputy Stanley also called for the protection of the 370 jobs in the sorting centre in Portlaoise.

He said:

“This legislation will lead to the privatisation of sections of the postal services. We have witnessed the withdrawal of post offices which were once the heart-beat of local communities. They act as a ‘lifeline’ for older people living in rural areas and in many towns the post offices remain the only public institution.

“This Bill, if passed, will have a profound impact on the lives of rural dwellers as well as those postal workers, and particularly on the lives of older people. The government obviously does not realise the importance of the local post office as a social hub for older people.

“It will allow private operators to cherry pick businesses where there is most profit. The private companies will go to the highly populated urban areas leaving the state operator as the sole service-provider in rural areas.

“This kind of arrangement will lead to high costs of doing business in rural areas, and the state provider An Post which is obliged to continue the service, will be compelled to fund this by either receiving massive subsidies from the tax payer or massively increasing their prices – or initiating a combination of both.

“Either way, the people of rural communities will lose out. They will face higher costs for basic postal services. Anyone in government who thinks that this will not be the case is living in a dream world.

“Sinn Fein has consistently stated rural post offices must be protected and that services in rural post offices could be expanded to enhance their economic potential. The privatisation of public services must end. Rural communities deserve better than this Bill.

Communities are dependent on this public service for employment – in total there are 370 people employed in the sorting centre in Portlaoise. These are decent jobs with good working conditions and union representation. They must be some of the last jobs of that kind left in this state so why is the Government actively trying to jeopardise them?” ENDS

Speech on Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010 Second Stage

[Check against delivery]

As a representative of a mostly rural constituency, I am familiar with the challenges facing my community and the counties of Laois and Offaly. These counties have been left behind by government when it comes to regional development.

We have witnessed the withdrawal of vital services, such as post offices that were once the heart-beat of our communities. I have heard stories of how people after 40 or 50 years of families running local post offices, have seen their door locked for the last time. The Irish Postmasters Union has said that the income of postmasters in some rural areas can be as little as €10,000 a year. Postmasters are not being replaced on retirement even though post offices are seen as a ‘lifeline’ for many people living in rural areas.

In many small towns and villages post offices remain the only public institution. Communities are dependent on this public institution for employment – in total there are 370 people employed in the sorting centre in Portlaoise. These are decent jobs with good working conditions and union representation. They must be some of the last jobs of that kind left in this state, so why is the Government actively trying to jeopardise them?

Make no mistake - this Bill will close post offices. More jobs lost, another service gone. Sadly, such closures are not unique in rural areas. Garda stations, corner shops and local pubs, all are suffering the same fate.

The Communications Regulations Bill, if passed, will have a profound impact on the lives of rural dwellers as well as those postal workers, and particularly on the lives of older people. The government obviously do not realise the importance of the local post office as a social hub for older people.

The Bill will allow private operators to cherry pick doing business where there is most profit. The services will go to the highly populated urban areas leaving the state operator as the sole service-provider in rural areas. This kind of arrangement will lead to high costs of doing business in rural areas, and the state provider which is obliged to continue the service, will be compelled to fund this by either receiving massive subsidies from the tax payer or massively increasing their prices – or initiating a combination of both.

Either way, the people of rural communities will lose out. They will face higher costs for basic postal services, and be forced to pay, through the use of their taxes, for private operators to do business. Anyone in government who thinks that this will not be the case is living in a dream world.

Low income older people in rural areas may already have to drive to the next village to use the post office to pay their bills. We’re all aware of the increases in the price of petrol and very often these older people may only be able to afford to take a trip up the road once a week. They pay their bills, they post their letters, perhaps put aside a few bob in a savings account and the Post Office acts as an important social centre for them.

Given the very often sparsely populated nature of rural Ireland, and the isolation experienced by many, communities frequently feel helpless in their ability to halt the decline. Their voices are not being heard in the corridors of power. Their lobbies are too weak to exert the pressure that is needed to bring about change. And in case, the Government certainly are not listening to them.

Between 2001 and 2008 344 post offices closed, with many more downgraded. The majority of closures took place in rural areas. Closures and downgrading place a huge strain on local communities. The Post Office increases footfall to other local businesses, so when one post office closes in a rural area the knock-on effects are felt by nearly all local businesses.

There is a need for a clear Government policy in relation to the minimum number of post offices that are necessary. In order to save a number of post offices at risk of imminent closure, the Government should intervene in the form of a public service obligation order (PSO).

Sinn Fein have consistently stated that there are services that could be expanded in rural post offices to enhance their economic potential, including combining postal services with council services to provide insurance and taxation services, developing post offices as centres of information, making door-to-door deliveries for people with impaired mobility.

Rural transport programmes are ill-equipped to offer access to post offices while travelling to post offices in other towns is both time consuming and ecologically damaging. Even if adequate public transport existed, the damage to the social fabric of rural communities would be immeasurable. A number of initiatives have been taken in other countries to prevent the closure of post offices through developing the types of social services on offer.

While An Post is mandated by legislation to only engage in profit making initiatives, the State could intervene in the form of a public service obligation order (PSO). If the EU were to authorise a PSO order, post offices scheduled for closure could be entitled to a subvention and therefore broaden their services to ensure their viability.

We have always believed that the Government should intervene in the form of a Public Service Intervention order to enable the subvention of post offices in rural areas in rural areas to ensure post masters’ incomes are brought to the minimum wage as a matter of priority

The government are neglecting the importance of the Post Office in the lives of older people. Localised services assist older people in living independently in their own homes. For some older people, they may be relying on a visit from the post man or woman as the only daily contact they have. This is a social support that cannot be allowed to disappear.

The social supports provided by post offices consistently go unacknowledged. People who collect social welfare payments in post offices usually pay their bills at the same time, and vulnerable people who very often face difficulties in opening a bank account, such as Travellers, unemployed people or refugees can open accounts without any difficulty in the local post office.

Other European states have taken the approach that citizens must be entitled to a postal service within a certain distance of their home. Why will the government not do this in Ireland? The answer is quite simple. It is because this Government is not about enhancing public services to maintain employment, and that people can access services. They would much rather pass legislation like this that will give private operators the opportunity to make money while rural people are left high and dry without services, or with services that they can’t afford to use.

I would ask the Government to take heed of what we are saying and stop this legislation, and furthermore stop the privatisation agenda that they have embarked on.

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty has said Taoiseach Enda Kenny got his knuckles wrapped by the IMF at the weekend.

Deputy Doherty said Ireland’s predicted failure to meet its deficit target this year is evidence that austerity is not working and a new approach is needed.

Speaking today Deputy Doherty said:

“This Government has followed the austerity driven approach of the previous Government in its effort to stay within the parameters set down by the EU/IMF.

“Those parameters where that unemployment would average at 405,000 people for 2011 and our growth rate would be 0.9%.

“However, with our unemployment figure already exceeding 440,000 and the IMF slashing our Growth rate forecast to 0.5% it is clear that we have already surpassed those parameters.

“Enda Kenny got his knuckles wrapped by the IMF over this at the weekend.

“It is for this reason that next month’s so called jobs budget is now looking more like a harsh austerity budget.

“But the Government has learned nothing from all of this. It is clear that austerity is not working and the Government needs to think again.

“Sinn Féin has always said that the structural deficit could not be reduced by 2014 or 2015 and that 2016 was a more realistic timeframe.

“However, we also said that we cannot cut our way out of recession and that a serious stimulus package is needed to create jobs and boost consumer confidence.

“Unless the Government gives serious consideration to a new alternative course of action we face the nightmare scenario of a sovereign default and a prolongation of the devastating effects of the recession.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin President and TD for Louth and East Meath Gerry Adams has welcomed the commitment by the Taoiseach to establish a consultative group before Easter to discuss plans to commemorate the centenary of 1916.

Mr. Adams also welcomed the Taoiseach’s acceptance that the future of Moore Street and the revolutionary quarter should be ‘looked at afresh.’

Deputy Adams raised the issue of the 1916 celebration and the future of Moore Street and the Revolutionary Quarter during Taoiseach questions today.

Speaking after the Dáil debate Deputy Adams praised the efforts of those families involved in the Moore Street campaign.

He said:

“The decade before us is one filled with historic and significant commemorative dates, all marking 100 years, from the signing of the Ulster Covenant, through to the 1913 Lockout to the Easter Rising of 1916, the General election of 1918 and more.

“It is important, as we seek to encourage national reconciliation, respect and understanding that the government should take the lead in planning and co-ordinating efforts to celebrate these important events.

“I welcome the Taoiseach’s commitment to establish a consultative group before Easter to discuss this matter.

“It is also very important that the future of Numbers 14 to 17 Moore St which are under threat from a developer are preserved and protected. This is the place where the leaders of 1916 last met before the surrender and it constitutes a legally designated National Monument.

“I have travelled to many places around the world and sites of historic importance, and everywhere they are preserved, protected and are integrated into the culture and history of the nation.

“Moore Street must be protected and developed properly and it should form part of a Revolutionary Quarter encompassing the streets around the GPO which celebrates the struggle for freedom at the beginning of the 20th century.”

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The Sinn Féin Dáil team have today launched the Easter lily campaign, calling on people across Ireland to wear an Easter lily and remember with pride our patriot dead.

Speaking from Leinster House Sinn Féin President and TD for Louth and East Meath Gerry Adams said that in these harsh economic times, when our country’s sovereignty is steadily being eroded, the vision and ideals of 1916 are more relevant than ever.

Deputy Adams said:

“The Easter Lily is an emblem of unity between the different traditions within the Irish nation as well as the heroism of those who sacrificed their lives in 1916. It symbolises unity, equality and prosperity for all the people of Ireland and it is with this in mind that we launch our campaign here today.

Tá dathanna Lilí na Cásca, glas, bán agus oráiste ag baint le h-Ais éirí na Cásca agus Gluaiseacht na Poblachta.
The Easter Lily in its colours of green, white and orange is a symbol long associated with the Easter Rising of 1916 and those who died for Ireland.

“In these harsh times of economic recession, when our country’s sovereignty is steadily being eroded, the visions and ideals of 1916 are more relevant than ever.

“The leaders of the 1916 rising did not die for the EU or the IMF. They died for a united, free Ireland where all of the children are cherished equally.

"Fuair siad bás ar son fíor Phoblacht.

“I am encouraging everyone, from across Ireland and beyond to wear an Easter lily and remember our patriot dead with pride.”

“Táim ag iarraidh ar gach duine, óg agus sean, Lilí a chaitheamh um Cháisc mar siombail náisiúnta a chuireann chun cinn na h-idéalacha agus prionsabail a bhain leo siúd a fuair bás um Cháisc 1916.”

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Pearse Doherty has said the ‘jobs budget’ announced last month by the Government was cover for the harsh austerity budget which will be implemented in reality.

Deputy Doherty also said that the cut in the IMF’s growth rate prediction for Ireland shows that the debt burden is unsustainable and has left the Government and the EU Commission’s debt sustainability analysis in tatters.

Speaking this evening Deputy Doherty said:

“During a recent exchange with myself in the Dáil Minister Noonan conceded that the upcoming budget would include revenue raising measures to counter act the funds spent in their so called jobs budget. This sparked fears that what we were actually facing was an austerity budget.

“Today’s announcement of a spending review across all departments confirms for me that what we are in fact facing in a harsh austerity budget and that the so called ‘jobs budget’ was really just a cover for this.

“Sinn Féin has argued that the National Pension Reserve Fund should be used to create jobs but the Government has committed that to defunct banks as part of the EU/IMF loan deal.

“However, today’s cut in the IMF’s growth rate prediction for Ireland from 0.9% to 0.5% clearly shows that we cannot afford the EU/IMF loan.

“The EU/IMF rated Ireland’s debt sustainability on the basis of a growth rate of 0.9% and an unemployment figure of 405,000 people. Both of these figures have now gone out the window.

“The unemployment figure is at 441,193 and our growth rate has been reduced proving what Sinn Féin has being saying all along – that our debt burden is unsustainable and we simply cannot afford this loan.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, Mary Lou McDonald TD, has said the spending review across all Government departments announced today must not be used as cover for the sale of state assets.

Speaking today Deputy McDonald said:

“The continuation of the previous Government’s policy of cuts cannot and will not stimulate the economy. It can only further suppress the economy.

“Sinn Féin has said that the National Pension Reserve Fund should be used to stimulate growth in the economy rather than propping up toxic banks.

“We support cutting waste in the public sector but this but this must begin at the top with a cut in the salaries of top level civil servants. The quality of public services must be paramount in any review.

“A report by UCD economist and author of the Bord Snip report Colm McCarthy is understood to recommend selling state companies and assets with a book value of €5 billion over the next few years.

“The report was delivered to finance Minister Michael Noonan last week and is likely to go to cabinet today.

“This report, coupled with the review of spending, must not be used as cover for the sale of state assets such as Bord Gáis and the ESB.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams was this morning joined by party colleagues Mitchel McLaughlin, Daithi McKay and Jennifer McCann at the launch of the party’s Job Creation Strategy.

Speaking at a press conference in Belfast Mr Adams said:
“As we deal with the consequences of the economic crisis on this island, an immediate coordinated approach is required to deliver jobs.

“Today Sinn Féin launch our Job Creation Strategy document. We are realists. We recognise the restraints within which the Executive is operating. We are not in the business of making ridiculous promises to create tens of thousands of jobs which are not deliverable or indeed totalling up jobs already promised and repackaging them as new.

“What we are about is a Job Creation Strategy outlining a number of key areas in which the Executive can have a positive impact on the Economy across the North. We invite other parties to work together with us to deliver jobs for all our people.

"The Executive has a huge role to play in the recovery. Sinn Féin will play its part, and call on others to work with us to help build a more equal and prosperous Ireland.”

Mr Adams set out the main 6 points behind the Sinn Féin plan:

  1. Sinn Féin believes that the development of an all-Ireland economic recovery plan is essential.  Central to this is the establishment of an all-Ireland job creation plan under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council, chaired by both Enterprise Ministers, focused on areas of high unemployment across the island.
  2. Sinn Féin firmly believes that there is also a need to harmonise all-Ireland taxation and regulation policies to help create the conditions for economic recovery in the coming years. A co-ordinated approach is needed across this island. We need to maximise the potential of the all Ireland bodies that exist to help create jobs.
  3. We can create jobs across all sectors, but there are particular growth opportunities in agri-food, tourism, new technologies, the Green New Deal, manufacturing for export, innovation, and R&D sectors. The agri food sector uniquely at a time when global business in is contraction has demonstrated consistently strong growth.
  4. Investment to support job creation policies should come from an Economic Development Bond, contributed to, by the four main banks as their contribution to the recovery. It will amount to £400m over four years.
  5. More support for small business, including tax breaks/incentives and consideration of Enterprise Zones.
  6. Building the Social Economy through targeted investment in Social Enterprises and growing indigenous business.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said today that in the wake of the murder of PSNI constable Ronan Kerr and other violent incidents, it was time for everyone to stand up and be counted in an effort to stop the tiny, unrepresentative factions who continue to engage in armed actions.

Gerry Adams said:

“I want to address myself to three categories of people. Firstly there are these tiny and unrepresentative anti-Peace Process factions carrying out violent actions such as the murder of Ronan Kerr.

“I and others in the Sinn Féin leadership have offered to meet with you to point out the futility of armed actions in the Ireland of 2011 and to discuss the political space that is open for you to move into. I make that offer again today.

“Secondly there may be a small number of people who tolerate the existence of anti-Peace Process groups or their violent actions or who provide shelter, resources or facilities to them. They also need to reflect on their position.

“These groups are not the IRA and nobody should be under any illusion about that.

“And thirdly there has been no attempt to defend or explain the rationale behind their actions.

“There are political groupings which present themselves as republican. These include Republican Sinn Féin, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Republican Network for Unity and Éirigí.

“Others present themselves as Independent Republicans or as localised historical groups.

“These are all entirely legitimate political groupings. They are fully entitled to disagree with Sinn Féin and to criticise us and our strategy.

“But since the murder of Ronan Kerr they have all put their heads down.

“I am appealing to them all to call for an end to these armed actions.

“They need to make it clear that these actions have to stop.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that the Sunday Business Post/Red C Poll published yoday underlines the deep anger among the public at the Government’s approach to the banks and he accused the Government of dropping the ball again by not insisting that the Irish bank bailout be discussed at this weekend’s meeting of European Finance Ministers.

 Speaking today Deputy McDonald said:

 “Today’s Sunday Business Post/Red C Poll underlines the deep anger among the public at the Government’s approach to the banks which continues the failed policies of the previous adminsitration.

 “It is clear that people are angry that the government is not burning the bondholders and are saying that the Government’s approach to the banks was not what they voted for.

“Enda Kenny’s agreement to take Ireland’s bailout off the agenda for last month’s Summit meeting was a monumental mistake and will prove very costly.

 “The Taoiseach’s first priority at that Summit meeting should have been to stand up for Ireland yet before the meeting even started he allowed the issue to be taken off the agenda.  That is simply not good enough.

 “The Government has now dropped the ball again by not insisting that the Irish bailout be discussed at Friday’s meeting of Finance Ministers in Budapest.

 “The fact is that if we do not deal with the issue of Ireland’s debt then we are facing the nightmare scenario of a sovereign default that could plunge the whole of the EU into crisis.”

 ENDS 

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Speaking today on the 30th anniversary of the election of Bobby Sands as the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone current MP for the area Michelle Gildernew said:
“Thirty years ago the people of Fermanagh and South Tyrone made a stand for freedom, for justice and for peace. They defied Thatcher and her cronies and sent a powerful statement across the world that Irish Republicans would not be criminalised.
“Thirty years on the election of Bobby Sands as our MP remains a defining moment in our history. Far from breaking the Republicans struggle in the H-Blocks as Britain predicted the sacrifices and determination of the prisoners propelled our struggle to new heights.
“Sinn Féin are going into this Assembly election as the only all-Ireland and united Ireland political voice. We have a strategy for a united Ireland and more importantly it is a strategy which is clearly working.” ENDS

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