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Sinn Féin launch a 'PEOPLE'S PACT'

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has said Sinn Féin's progressive politics is the only alternative to austerity.

Some of the sights and sounds of today's massive Right2Water rally on Dublin's O'Connell Street this afternoon (March 21).  Reports that up to...


Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy has said documents released today by Sinn Féin clearly show the DUP acted in bad faith over the Welfare Reform Bill.



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Speaking during a debate on the Personal Insolvency Bill, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin North West Dessie Ellis welcomed the legislation which he said was long overdue, but said that it was a disappointment to the thousands of families in mortgage distress who were eagerly awaiting it.

Deputy Ellis said:

“There is little doubt that the state, in its cavalier promotion of the bubble and its drive to make homeownership the national obsession, is greatly to blame. This bill, despite its many flaws is at least welcome in the fact that it is a piece of work which seeks to address the serious problem for so many people.

“It leaves the banks still in a power position and does not properly position the debtor, the citizen, to make arrangements to bring a rational solution to the problem of insurmountable debt. We in Sinn Féin made clear when this bill was proposed that an independent agency must be formed in order to manage the process of debt resolution. This would have to be done in a humane and tailored way.

“As this bill stands there will be no legal obligation for the banks to accept even the most reasonable of arrangements. This veto will without doubt make this bill in some circumstances completely irrelevant. Indeed with rumblings of a memo stating certain banks won’t accept write downs this seems to be a certainty in many cases.


“All the well-drafted legislation in the world cannot be of use if there is a very clear get out clause. The reality is that if the banks were going to voluntarily engage in significant debt resolution arrangements then they would have done it. It makes sense for the banks to rationalise and address the inability of many of these mortgages to be paid but they have not done so in sufficient cases to indicate that anything other than an independent binding process is the solution.”

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Speaking on the Personal Insolvency Bill in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said that the mortgage debt crisis is having a damaging effect on people’s mental health and is contributing to the rise in suicide rates.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“As a Dáil deputy working in my constituency and as my party’s health spokesperson I am very conscious of the serious impact of mortgage debt and consequent poverty on people’s health, especially mental health.

“CSO figures published this week show that the number of recorded suicides in this State rose to 525 in 2011, an increase of 7 per cent on the previous year. The record shows that 439 men and 86 women took their own lives in 2011.

“I have no doubt that the recession and the burden of debt on individuals was a significant factor in the increase. And these are only the recorded figures; the number of unrecorded suicides is much higher.

“People are struggling desperately to pay off the mortgage debts incurred because of outrageous house prices that were inflated by rapacious developers, property speculators, banks and irresponsible so-called regulators. This was the Fianna Fáil property bubble and its legacy is poverty.”

FULL DÁIL SPEECH FOLLOWS

Legislation is overdue to address the huge rate of mortgage indebtedness and the great distress it is causing to people throughout Ireland. This Bill has been long promised and long awaited and its publication saw much favourable comment in the media that gave renewed hope to people in serious distress with mortgages.

My fear now is that false hopes have been created because, while this Bill is a measure of progress, it does not go far enough to address the social and economic crisis that is mortgage indebtedness in this country today.

The stark reality is that families are even going without adequate food in order to service mortgages and keep a roof over their heads. They are in the iron grip of mortgage lenders.

The Irish League of Credit Unions ‘What’s Left’ survey, published on 9 July, shows that 1,820,000 people are left with €100 or less each month after bills are paid. I have no doubt that mortgage debt is a dominant factor in this situation for families and individuals across this State.

As a Dáil deputy working in my constituency and as my party’s Health spokesperson I am very conscious of the serious impact of mortgage debt and consequent poverty on people’s health, especially mental health.

CSO figures published this week show that the number of recorded suicides in this State rose to 525 in 2011, an increase of 7 per cent on the previous year. The record shows that 439 men and 86 women took their own lives in 2011.

I have no doubt that the recession and the burden of debt on individuals was a significant factor in the increase. And these are only the recorded figures; the number of unrecorded suicides is much higher.

People are struggling desperately to pay off the mortgage debts incurred because of outrageous house prices that were inflated by rapacious developers, property speculators, banks and irresponsible so-called regulators. This was the Fianna Fáil property bubble and its legacy is poverty.

The property boom induced a kind of madness. People who could barely manage one inflated mortgage were actively encouraged by banks to take out a second mortgage on investment properties. The delusion was created that by not doing so they were losing out. Unfortunately many people fell for this delusion and are paying the price today.

But the vast majority of people did not participate in the property craze.  They were simply trying to buy a home to live in and they were forced to pay grossly inflated prices because of the greed and the neglect of others. Now tens of thousands of them face penury, possible bankruptcy and the loss of their homes. Thousands have already suffered this fate. To the extent that this Bill may remove or postpone that threat - for some - it is welcome.

Our concern is that it does not go far enough.

At the end of March there were over 116,000 mortgage holders in serious distress. In the first three months of 2012 nearly 100 mortgage holders fell into distress each day.

Also in the first three months of 2012 there was a 28% increase over the last quarter of 2011 in the number of repossessions.

170 families lost their homes in January, February and March this year. That may seem a relatively low number but the increase is ominous and, of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg of distress. Beneath the surface is a mountain of misery for people struggling day in day out to meet crippling repayments.

The range of concerns that we in Sinn Féin have about this Bill have been outlined already and will be addressed as Committee and Report Stage. I urge the Minister to take on board our concerns and those of others who want an improved Bill with a real impact.

FLAC has pointed out that the legislation as it stands still does not impose a legally binding obligation on lenders to accept reasonable applications from customers in arrears; neither does the new bill provide a right for debtors to appeal a creditor's decision in any of its options. These are serious faults in the Bill and they must be rectified.

We recognise that that the Bill provides some additional protection for the family home. A Personal Insolvency Practitioner proposing either a Debt Settlement Arrangement or a Personal Insolvency Arrangement must try to ensure that a debtor can maintain the family home, unless the mortgage is unsustainable or unsuitable.

To what extent will this protect people from losing their homes?

How many people will the Bill’s provisions apply to?

How will they work in practice?

What guidance will people have through the new mechanisms established by the Bill?

These are all important questions. Mortgage holders and their elected representatives will need clear and adequate information on the workings of the legislation.

This Bill, as I have stated earlier, has created a hope and an expectation among many people. Many will look to us, their elected representatives for guidance. I urge the Minister and the relevant agencies to ensure that the process is transparent and accessible and that it is responsive to the needs of citizens.

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Seán Crowe has welcomed the launch of the Summer Reading Programme at Stillorgan Library in Dublin.

Crowe said:

“The Summer Reading Programme runs in public libraries every July and August. It is a reading event that is open to children of all ages and abilities.

“It is important that children are given every encouragement to read books and the Summer Reading Programme allows them to keep a record of their progress. The children will receive a certificate at the end of the summer.

“One of the most important challenges facing our current education sector is the need to address the alarming fall in literacy and numeracy rates and any initiative that helps encourage reading is to be welcomed.

“It is vitally important that children learn the basics of literacy and numeracy at a young age as these are key skills for doing well at school and later in life.

“Last year the Summer Reading Programme encouraged thousands of children to read books. Hundreds of libraries from across the state are involved in this year’s programme.

“In my own constituency of Dublin South West there are a number of fantastic libraries that are modern, child friendly and equipped with great facilities. The scheme also provides families with an opportunity to see what other events and facilities are available in their local library.

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Sinn Féin’s EU spokesperson has welcomed the removal by MEPs of the austerity-rules link to the upcoming round of structural funds, the so-called macro-economic conditionality.

“I am happy that, at this early stage of negotiations, MEPs have stood up for the solidarity aspects of the structural funds monies. What was proposed was to empower the EU to suspend structural funds to countries that were in economic stress and not hitting targets similar to those in the Austerity Treaty. Regions struggling to meet economic targets are the ones most in need of solidarity - this idea has potentially disastrous consequences.

“This would have been an extraordinarily backward step. Projects up and down this island including peace-building projects depend on the certainty that comes with EU part-funding. The idea that these projects could have their funds suspended because of economic matters behind their control is a very dangerous one.

“I now call upon the Irish government to resist any attempt to re-insert this idea during the forthcoming legislative regulations.”
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Sinn Fein’s EU spokesperson Senator Kathryn Reilly had said that the upcoming Irish presidency should be used to inject a social angle into the EU’s thinking.
Senator Reilly was speaking after Minister of State, Lucinda Creighton TD outlined, to the Oireachtas’ EU Affairs Committee, her priorities for Ireland’s presidency which begins in January 2013.
“I am disappointed by the lack of government focus on social issues in our upcoming presidency. We hear a lot about reaching the research and competition targets in the Europe 2020 strategy, but what of the social target of 20 million fewer people living in poverty or at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2020?
“I asked the minister today to name a single socially progressive piece of legislation that the government would champion during its presidency but she failed to name one.
“It is understandable that the economic crisis is at the forefront of the EU’s collective mind but the social challenges such as fighting poverty and promoting social inclusion, cannot be jettisoned and deserve to be more than footnotes.
“For too many people now the EU is simply about banks, markets and bailouts. There should be more emphasis on the untapped EU potential to complement national policies for the creation of a more equal society.
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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams is in Offaly today with Brian Stanley TD as part of the party’s Rural Ireland campaign programme.

The Sinn Féin leader is accompanied by Martin Ferris and Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.

The objective is to produce a report which examines the crisis in rural communities and proposes solutions.

In recent months Sinn Féin has met scores of rural organisations and has held public meetings in Cork, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Clare.

Speaking in Edenderry this morning Deputy Adams said:

“This government came to power promising accountability, a new politics and constitutional change.

“What we have seen instead is more of the same.

“Labour and Fine Gael are implementing the failed economic policies of Fianna Fáil. Unemployment is increasing, our young people are being forced to emigrate, the health service is in a mess, and the recent credit union report reveals that over half a million citizens have no money to live on after paying bills.

“At the same time the cap on pay for political advisors has been repeatedly breached.

“And the government is also refusing to listen to the widespread concerns of Irish language groups and communities or to even consider opposition amendments to its flawed gaeltacht bill.

“All of this is evidence of a right wing conservative driven government agenda which is not working, and is not responding to the real needs of citizens, especially in rural Ireland.

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has today introduced a Bill in the Dáil that would introduce a cap on the excessive interest rates charged by licensed money lenders.

Currently there is no cap in operation with some lenders charging up to 210% APR. The Bill will be debated in the Dáil next Tuesday and Wednesday during Sinn Féin’s private members time with a vote taking place on Wednesday evening.

Deputy Doherty said:

“Under existing legislation there is no cap on the interest charged by licensed moneylenders. Some lenders charge an APR of up to 210%. What politician or Government Minister could support such high charges?

“Families struggling with the rising cost of living, increasing taxes and charges, and loss of income are faced with no other option than to take out high cost loans just to pay week to week bills. According to an Irish League of Credit Union study 10% of households are turning to moneylenders to pay household bills.

“Some lenders are getting rich on the back of hard pressed families. They can only do this because government condones excessive interest rates.

“Of the 46 moneylenders currently operating with licences in the state, 29 of them have APR’s of more than 100%. Fourteen of these charge over 150%.

“A 210% APR means that a €500 loan taken out by a struggling family to pay a gas or electricity bill would cost them €186 if the loan was for six months and €375 if the loan was for twelve months.

“Given that a €500 loan from a credit union would cost the same family €13 and €25 respectively. There is simply no justification for this massive mark-up.

“Such excessive interest rates push hard pressed families further into financial stress and poverty.

“There is no moral or economic justification for the absence of a cap on interest rates charged by licensed moneylenders. The Bill I am publishing today proposes a cap of 40%. This would mean that while some lenders would be required to charge less than this, no lender could breach the 40% cap.

“This would mean the €500 loan would cost the struggling family a maximum of €50 over six months or a maximum of €97 over twelve months.

“This level is fairer to customers while allowing licenced lenders to operate on a sound commercial basis.

“There is an urgent need for the government to introduce a cap on interest rates. There is also a need for a more wide-ranging reform of the regulation of licenced moneylenders and the policing of illegal loan sharks.”

ENDS

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Commenting on Health Minister James Reilly's Dáil explanation, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said: 
  

"Minister Reilly has not dispelled the concerns of those who believe there is a conflict of interest in a Minister for Health presiding over bed reductions in public nursing homes while being an acknowledged stake-holder in a private residential care home. 
  

"The Minister has left questions unanswered. He chose to make a 'personal explanation' under Dáil standing orders rather than to make his statement and then give Deputies the opportunity to question him. 
  

"The fact is the Minister, by his own admission, still retains his interest in a private for-profit concern in the health sector. The Minister offered a complex explanation of why he says he has not been able to divest himself of that interest. Yet the Minister clearly gave the impression after the General Election that he had divested himself of that interest. I acknowledge that he sought the guidance of the Standards in Public Office Commission but apparently only in October 2011, a full six months after taking on his Ministerial duties. However, details of his difficulties have only come to light in the wake of his appearance in Stubbs Gazette. 
  

"The Minister claimed that it is not the case that there is a conflict of interest because he is not the operator of the nursing home. Of course having a stake that may give rise to a conflict of interest does not require the Minister to be the operator, merely to benefit or potentially benefit from the concern in question. 
  

"The Minister also claimed that there is no conflict of interest because his single interest is the well-being of older people. I would contend that the policy he is pursuing, including the closure of public nursing home beds, is detrimental to the well-being of older people and, at best, is a very misguided policy." 

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The Government is putting its head in the sand regarding the deeply flawed Gaeltacht Bill, according to Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.

The Galway West Senator has said that the Government is completely refusing to take on board any of the concerns of the public and of Irish language organisations.  

“The opposition and the Irish Language Sector has played an extremely constructive role in debating this bill, and some 160 amendments at committee stage identified flaws in the bill, but also offered realistic solutions", according to Ó Clochartaigh.

“However the stubbornness of the Government and particularly of Minister of State McGinley's attitude is unacceptable. They seem content to stick their heads firmly in the sand and disregard all the flaws which are manifested in the bill.

“It is extremely regrettable that the Government has rejected any role for the Language Commissioner in the policing of the various language plans envisaged, despite the fact that the office of the Coimisinéir Teanga is widely acknowledged as being the most effective and appropriate office for such functions.

“The totally misguided approach in the bill to language planning, which places the bulk of the responsibility for the plans on small voluntary groups remains in place in the current draft. There is also ambiguity regarding the definition of Gaeltacht and of language planning areas.

“In addition, despite being challenged on the matter several times by different Senators, the Government has refused to admit that extra resources will need to be made available for the implementation of this legislation, given the significantly increased responsibilities of both Údarás na Gaeltachta and other local organisations.

“The Government has yet to accept a single opposition amendment and has rushed the legislation through the Seanad with 105 amendments not being debated due to a lack of time. This is totally unacceptable, but I fear that we will see much of the same attitude during its passage through the Dáil.”

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Sinn Féin launch a 'PEOPLE'S PACT'


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Sinn Féin Dublin South West