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For immediate release 19th October 2009:

Oireachtas reform must also look at Cabinet and Committees – Ó Caoláin

Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that Dáil and Seanad reform needs real action and not rhetoric. He said that the verbal commitments to reform from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil ring hollow given their long years of dominating Irish politics and setting in place the current system.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also said any serious proposals to reform the Oireachtas must also look at the Cabinet and the Oireachtas Committees for savings.

He said:

“Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s proposal to abolish the Seanad can be taken with a pinch of salt. This proposal follows the launch by the same Enda Kenny last March of a Fine Gael policy on Oireachtas reform calling for the retention of a 60-member Seanad.

“It appears that Fine Gael policy at any one time is determined by the advice of Enda Kenny’s PR handlers on what would go down well on the next news bulletin. Meanwhile Fianna Fáil-led governments have shelved a whole series of reports on Oireachtas reform over the past 12 years.

“Fine Gael’s call for Oireachtas reform rings hollow and so does the alleged Fianna Fáil commitment to reform. Both of these parties have dominated Irish politics for decades, during which time they set in place the current system. They have produced numerous reports on Oireachtas reform but have done little, despite – or rather because of – their holding the vast majority of Dáil and Seanad seats between them.

“Sinn Féin would welcome a real debate on Oireachtas reform and we have our own proposals. For example Sinn Féin believes that any serious proposals to reform the Oireachtas must not only look at the role of the Dáil and the Seanad but also at the Cabinet and Oireachtas Committees and at wages across the board.

“There should be a review of the number of Junior Ministers and their wage levels, the number of Oireachtas Committees and the salary levels of Committee Chairpersons, high levels of expenses and the role and necessity of the Seanad.

“The current sparring between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael serves only to conceal the consensus that exists between these two conservative parties on vital economic issues and to obscure their actual record of failure in delivering reform.” ENDS

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Sin an méid a bhí le rá ag an Aire agus í ag lainseáil Tonnta, togra úr raidió gréasán-bhunaithe do Ghaelscoileanna, ag Scoil an Droichid, Béal Feirste.

Dúirt an tAire; “Le blianta beaga anuas, tá fás as cuimse tagtha ar ean na ndaoine de gach aois atá ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a fhoghlaim agus a labhairt. Tá an-ráchairt ar fad ar áiteanna sna Gaelscoileanna ag gach leibhéal ar fud thuaisceart na hÉireann.

“Má tá rath le bheith ar theanga ar bith agus má tá sí le forbairt, caithfear glacadh leis na teicneolaíochtaí úra agus leas iomlán a bhaint astu. Tugann an togra raidió gréasán-bhunaithe seo, Tonnta, tugann sé deis do pháistí Gaelscoile scileanna nua a fhoghlaim trí úsáid na teicneolaíochta agus trína scileanna scríbhneoireachta a fhorbairt.

“Tá cur amach ag cuid mhór páistí ar shuíomhanna líonraithe shóisialta cheana féin . Soláthraíonn Tonnta an deis le pobal ar ean a chruthú tríd an Ghaeilge, i dtimpeallacht shlán shábháilte.”

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Sinn Féin Policing Board member and chair of the board’s Community Engagement Committee Alex Maskey has encouraged the Irish speaking community in Belfast to attend a special meeting of the Policing Board, through Irish, in the Hilton Hotel on Wednesday 21st October.

Mr Maskey joined fellow board member and well known Irish language activist Gearóid Ó hEara in encouraging Belfast Gaeilgeoirí to attend this momentous event.

Speaking ahead of the event Mr Maskey said;

“This is an unprecedented event for the city of Belfast and the Gaelic speaking community here. A similar event was held in Derry and was a resounding success.

This is an opportunity for the Gaeilgeoirí of Belfast to engage with and hold to account the Policing Board and some of the PSNI’s most senior officers, not just on issues surrounding the language but issues effecting them in everyday life.

Supporting Maskey’s comments Gearóid Ó hEara, one of the organisers of the event said;

“The Irish language event in Derry was very well attended and allowed citizens whose first language is Irish to engage with the both the Board and senior members of the PSNI.

The meeting itself will allow both the Board and the PSNI to outline their strategies for improving engagement with the Irish speaking population. It will also allow people the opportunity to question the PSNI and the Board on issues effecting them entirely through Irish. It is important to note that simultaneous translation will be available at the meeting and will allow non-Irish speakers to attend and follow proceedings.

Both the Policing Board and the PSNI have obligations to engage with as broad a shade of the community as possible, with 10% of the population in the north speaking Irish it is vitally important that they undertake this important endeavour.

I would encourage and invite people to come along to the event and look forward to continued improvement in both the Board’s and the PSNI’s engagement with the Irish speaking population.” CRÍOCH

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Tá ball Sinn Féin ar an Bhord Póilíneachta agus Cathaoirleach ar an Choiste um Fhruiliú Chomhphobail, Alex Maskey i ndiaidh pobal na Gaeilge a spreagadh freastal ar chruinniú speisialta Ghaeilge den Bhord Póilíneachta. Beidh sé lonnaithe san Óstann Hilton Dé Chéadaoin 21 Deireadh Fómhair ar 7.00 a’ chloig.

Thacaigh comhalta boird eile le Alex Maskey – an gníomhaí teanga aitheanta, Gearóid Ó hEara – ag gríosú Ghaeilgeoirí Bhéal Feirste teacht chuig an ócáid stairiúil.

Ag labhairt dó roimh an ócáid dúirt an tUasal Maskey:
Is deis iontach é seo i saol cathrach Bhéal Feirste agus i saol pobal na Gaeilge anseo.

Socraíodh ócáid mar seo i nDoire le déanaí agus d’éirigh thar barr leis. Tá seans ag Gaeilgeoirí Bhéal Feirste dul i ngleic leis an Bhord Póilíneachta agus iad a cheistiú, in éineacht le cuid de na baill is sinsearaí den PSNI. Ní bheidh siad ag díriú ar chúrsaí Ghaeilge ach ar na ceisteanna atá ag cur isteach ar phobal na cathrach, lucht na Gaeilge san áireamh, iompar frithshóisialta, coiriúlacht is a leithid.

Ag tacú le barúlacha Alex Maskey, dúirt Gearóid Ó hEara, duine de na heagarthóirí ar an ócáid:
Bhí freastal iontach ar an chruinniú a bhí againn i nDoire (Dáta?). Tugadh deis do na daoine, a bhfuil Gaeilge mar theanga a’ bhaile acu, teacht isteach agus labhairt is dul i dteagmháil leis an Bhord agus le dream de na baill shinsearacha den PSNI.

Tabharfaidh an cruinniú seo seans don Bhord agus don PSNI féin cuntas a thabhairt ar a gcuid straitéisí ar cad é mar atá siad chun biseach a chur leis an chaidreamh le pobal Bhéal Feirste agus pobal na Gaeilge. Beidh siad ábalta na pointí seo a dhéanamh ‘is na ceisteanna a chur go hiomlán trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Tá dualgas ar, idir an Bord Póilíneachta agus an PSNI, le labhairt le sciar leathan den phobal. Deir 10% den daonra go bhfuil labhairt na Gaeilge acu, mar sin tá sé ríthábhachtach go nglacann siad go dáiríre leis an phíosa oibre seo.

Mholfainn do dhaoine agus chuirfinn fáilte rompu teacht isteach chuig an chruinniú agus plé a dhéanamh le lucht labhartha na Gaeilge.

Beidh córas comhuaineach aistriúcháin ar fáil d’iad siúd nach bhfuil go leor Gaeilge acu.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty has accused Fine Gael of making up their policy on Seanad reform as they go along. Senator Doherty described the Seanad as elitist and undemocratic and said it should be abolished in its current form. However Senator Doherty said Fine Gael has had three different positions on Seanad reform this year with Enda Kenny only just launching an Oireachtas reform policy in March this year in which the party called for the retention of sixty member Seanad.

Speaking today Senator Doherty said:

"In 2004 Fine Gael supported a larger Seanad of sixty-five members with more nominees from the Taoiseach. Fine Gael Senator Paudie Coffee, in March this year, described as 'media mandarins' those commentators who were calling for the abolition of the Seanad at that time. That was the same month in which Enda Kenny launched a Fine Gael policy on Oireachtas reform in which his party called for the retention of a sixty member Seanad. And now just seven months later he has announced that his party will abolish the Seanad if elected to Government in the next general election. Clearly Fine Gael are making up their policy as they go along in a populist and electorally minded manner.

"Sinn Féin has been clear on this issue. The Seanad, in its current form, is elitist and undemocratic and should be abolished. We welcome Fine Gael's commitment to abolish the Seanad as it is currently constituted even though we recognise that the move by Enda Kenny is a populist one and probably not genuine.

"There is, we believe, a place for a truly democratic second chamber in Irish politics but it must be directly elected by the people of Ireland and of its citizens abroad representing a wide range of diverse views and increasing the role of community consultation as legislation is being drafted. The Seanad, as it is currently constituted, does not perform this role and should be abolished at the earliest opportunity." ENDS

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Commenting on Enda Kenny’s proposal to reduce the numbers of TDs in the Dáil and to abolish the Seanad, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the reduction of TD numbers would limit the democratic choice of voters and ensure “the continued domination of Tweedle-dum/Tweedle-dee Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael politics”. Deputy Ó Caoláin said the Seanad, in its current form, should be abolished.

Speaking at a meeting of County Donegal Sinn Féin in Letterkenny today (Sunday) Deputy Ó Caoláin said that while the proposals should be debated they also served to distract from the fact that Fine Gael was essentially at one with Fianna Fáil in supporting cutbacks that would hit the most vulnerable.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“Deputy Kenny’s proposal for the reduction of the number of TDs by at least 20 has come out of the blue and must have taken many of his colleagues by surprise. While some Fine Gael TDs might lose out by such a reduction, the most likely result would be the continued domination of Tweedle-dum/Tweedle-dee Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael politics, with the smaller parties being squeezed out and voters having a more limited democratic choice.

“The Seanad in its present form should be abolished but there would be scope for a truly demoractic second chamber, representative of civic society. These proposals should be debated but coming from Deputy Kenny at this time they serve to distract from the fact that Fine Gael is essentially at one with the Fianna Fáil/Green Government in supporting cutbacks in public services and social welfare that would hit the most vulnerable worst.

“The only difference with a Fine Gael-led government would be that they could blame ‘the other crowd’ for the cuts they themselves were inflicting.” ENDS

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Commenting on the latest scandal at FÁS Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan said the state training agency has now lost its last remaining shred of dignity. Deputy Morgan said the fabrication of results by a FÁS contracted company could have ramifications for the reputation of FÁS trained Irish workers both at home and abroad.

Speaking today Deputy Morgan said:

“Up until now the last remaining shred of dignity of FÁS hinged on its capacity and ability to provide training to the unemployed, to provide upskilling to workers and therein to improve the prospects of the Irish Labour Market.

“But now, these further revelations about FÁS and the bad practises that seem to be endemic in the organisation have really brought the State’s training and employment authority to its knees. At this stage, I feel the greatest sorrow for all those who have undertaken courses through FÁS over the past few years and more specifically in 2006 and 2007, as their qualifications are now in disrepute. As people got themselves, often for the first time, onto the ladder of education it has now come out that FÁS were careless and incompetent in even the process of certification.

“At a time when jobs are scarce and competition is rife, these further revelations damage the reputation not just of FÁS, but of FÁS trained Irish workers both at home and abroad. Despite the actions of FÁS to remedy the blundering incompetence of the company there will always be a niggling doubt in the back of employers’ minds.

“We need to remember that thousands of Irish emigrants are relying on these qualifications abroad and any disrepute at FÁS has ramifications elsewhere. We must also remember that while we are all aware of the facts of the case and the disease that has rot away at FÁS, our counterparts in other countries may not understand.

“This example in the north-east may only be scratching the surface of the misdemeanours in the ability of FÁS to provide training services and we need to do a thorough investigation so that these bad practises can be brought to an abrupt end.

“It was revealed that the extent of these tampered qualifications cost the taxpayer €600,000. However this does not include the costs to the taxpayer of monitoring the company, undertaking an audit, re-training, re-assessing and re-certifying the learners.

“The company involved should be required to reimburse the state the monies paid to them for their ‘service’ and indeed should cover the expense of the training and re-assessment that arose from their actions.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has condemned those responsible for this morning’s bomb attack in east Belfast.

Speaking from Stormont, where he was joined by Sinn Féin representative for east Belfast Niall Ó Donnghaile, Mr McGuinness:

“I condemn this attack, which was obviously intended to kill. This attack has no support within the community and serves no cause. The vast majority of people want a future together in peace. The people of Ireland overwhelming support the peace process. They want the political institutions and progress to continue. It is for us as political leaders to ensure that their wishes are fulfilled. Attempts such as this to derail the peace process must not be allowed to succeed.

This attack comes at the end of the week when other armed groups now recognise that there is no support for such actions.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my best wishes to the injured woman and am thankful that the potentially tragic outcome did not come to pass.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Arthur Morgan has described Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s preview of the forthcoming Budget at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce as a promise to protect the wealthiest from paying their fair share while making low-paid workers and their families pay most for the recession by cutting the supports and services on which they rely.

Deputy Morgan said:

“Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has ruled out any income tax increases for the highest earners in the forthcoming Budget. To address the budget deficit he is going to rely totally on savage cutbacks across vital public services.

“It is absurd for Minister Lenihan to suggest that the wealthiest can pay no more and should not be required to do so. Income distribution is grossly distorted in this State so it is natural that higher earners pay collectively more tax – but they are still not paying their fair share. Far from it. There are still a host of reliefs and avoidance schemes that the super-rich employ very successfully to avoid paying tax.

“There is only one top percentage rate for income tax which means that someone on €37,000 per annum pays at the same percentage rate as someone on €1 million per annum. Top earners also own most of the State's wealth in assets and pay no tax on those assets.

“The introduction of a third income tax rate of 48% for earnings in excess of €100,000 would raise €355 million. Standardising all discretionary tax reliefs would raise €1.1 billion.

“These are but two examples of what could be done but instead Minister Lenihan promises protection for the super-rich from paying their fair share while making low-paid workers and their families pay most for the recession by cutting the supports and services on which they rely. Health, education and social welfare for the majority will be slashed while the highest earners will still benefit from private hospitals, private schools and untaxed private wealth.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Health Committee has stated the that the Investing for Health strategy that was brought forward by Bairbre de Brún when she was Health minster could potentially save millions of pounds in the long run for the health budget if implemented.

Speaking following the Committee meeting Ms Ramsey said:  

“Through the CSR the health department has instructed its health trusts to make efficiency savings of 3%. These cuts are inevitably impacting on frontline services despite commitments by the Health Minster that this would not be the case.

“Despite this we are informed that beds could be under threat as are nursing jobs, ambulance hours have been cut, and a black hole has been created by the Northern trust cuts in Mid Ulster. 

“There are other ways to save moneys such as addressing the high levels of bureaucracy, top heavy management teams, and also delivering on efficiency of service, not efficiency savings.

“A further way is to implement the Investing in Health strategy brought forward by Bairbre de Brún when she was health minister. This has the potential to save millions of pounds in the health budget by taking a holistic approach to preventative health care.

“Put simply, all government departments, agencies, social partners and community organisation must realise that to invest in health will transform our society and cut down on expenditure on treating preventable illnesses. “

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Sinn Féin MLA and member of the Culture, Art’s and Leisure Committee Raymond McCartney has stated that monies received through the proceeds of crime by the NIO should be distributed to communities who are affected by crime in the form of aid and assistance to sporting, arts and community groups.

Speaking following today’s committee meeting Mr McCartney said:

“Proceeds of crime are currently held by the NIO and distributed through agencies such as the PPS or the Courts Service. There is however a new approach being taken by the Culture, Arts and Leisure committee who will be calling for such proceeds to be distributed to arts and sporting groups in the communities who are worst affected by crime.

“This is the model that is currently being applied in Scotland to great effect and community support. In Scotland a substantial amount of money from criminal assets and proceeds is channelled back into sporting projects for example the Scottish FA have received over £2 million to upgrade football facilities.

“In England and Wales the Community Cashback scheme has seen millions distributed also.

“Within the North there could be as much as £7million that could be utilised in order to assist communities and improve facilities for the arts and leisure.

“The emerging view on the committee is that these are better models improving the capacity of communities while also incentivising people in tackling crime.  

“However as we are currently pressing the NIO to enact such a scheme it could be substantially streamlined following the devolution of Policing and Justice powers as it would then be the gift of locally elected representatives to determine where this money would go.”

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Sinn Féin Policing Board Member, Martina Anderson MLA (Foyle) has said that the cost of contentious parades are clearly unsustainable and the organisers of such events should be required to take out public liability insurance.

Martina Anderson was speaking after it emerged that similar steps had been taken in Scotland due to the spiralling costs of policing Orange parades there.

Ms Anderson said:

“The Board’s human rights committee met with the Parades Commission yesterday (Wednesday) and were briefed on the cost implications of parades here.

“The cost of nearly 2400 parades in the North between June and August of this year is estimated to be almost £3 million.

“However, only 79 of these parades were considered contentious and the PSNI informed us that if these marches were taken out of the equation the cost of policing parades could be reduced by 75%.

“Clearly, in a time of economic restraint and limited resources, such costs cannot be sustained or justified and I be believe we should be following the Scottish example where the organisers of contentious parades are required to take out public liability insurance if they wish to march.

“This came about after it emerged that Orange parades and associated disorder cost the Strathclyde Police £1.7m last year.

“I believe the organisers of the small number of contentious parades remaining in the North should be required to pick up the tab for the policing costs they incur. Requiring them to take out insurance is one way of doing so although I suspect that many of these parades would be uninsurable given their history of disorder.”

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Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh called for legislation to bring an end to self assessed performance related bonuses such as the €70,000 awarded to HSE Chief Executive Brendan Drumm.

Speaking this afternoon after his Dáil engagement with the Tánaiste Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Tánaiste Mary Coughlan has given a commitment that no bonuses will be paid out for the period covering 2008 and 2009. This, quite simply, is not good enough. These types of grossly excessive and unwarranted payments must be consigned to the past with the rest of Fianna Fáil’s economic concepts.

“People in my constituency and throughout Ireland are disgusted to hear of the €70,000 payment to Brendan Drumm for his role in overseeing the destruction of our public hospital network.

“At Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin many children are waiting for urgent operations as the resources are not forthcoming to deal with demand. Yet this Government feels justified in paying Brendan Drumm, a public servant on a higher salary than the Taoiseach, €70,000 in a bonus payment.

“Brendan Drumm should be ashamed to look for a bonus when sick children are having urgent operations cancelled. It symbolizes everything that is rotten with this state.

“This money and the monies from other excessive bonus payments to health service managers should be put into frontline services. Suspending these payments is not good enough. Legislation must be amended to ensure that these grossly excessive payments are never again permitted.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has described the NAMA Business plan, published by the Government last night, as grossly over ambitious. Speaking today Deputy Morgan accused the Government of massaging and manipulating figures and said, like the forecasts of the Department of Finance in recent years, the figures contained in the NAMA business plan are way out off the mark.

Deputy Morgan said:

“The NAMA business plan published by the Government last night is grossly over ambitious. Its figures, like the forecasts of the Department of Finance in recent years, are way off the mark.

“The business plan assumes that only 20% of the loans will default and it describes that figure as conservative. This is based on a comparison to Barclay's bank book defaults of 10% in the 90s, but that was based on their whole book. NAMA is a select number of loans that are inherently risky. The government is massaging and manipulating figures once again in a vain attempt to sell this financial black hole to the Irish people.

“The net profit NAMA assumes to make is based on fundamental numerically flawed arguments. One – that the full value of €88 billion assigned to these loans is correct, i.e. that developers put up 22% of all loans. Two – that property values have only fallen by 47% (when land values have in some cases fallen by 85% and land makes up 36% of NAMA's loan book. And three – that no more loans will default and that the minister won't take on more loans.

“Fees and expenses add up to €2.64 billion over ten years – this is outrageous. €2.64 billion would act as a real jobs stimulus for the economy, but this money been blown on advisors and expenses.

“By the end of the year, NAMA will have taken on only 10 loans amounting to 16 billion. If the loans are this large per developer, it only takes a couple of developers defaulting to go way over the 20% default assumption.

“A business plan for NAMA from the same government that year after year failed to predict the economic crisis that was coming, and in fact stoked it, is useless. They are heading towards further economic melt-down, again because of construction and the banks, only this time the instrument they are using is NAMA.” ENDS

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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness MP, MLA today launched a major programme designed to tackle disadvantage among young people and children in the West Belfast and Greater Shankill area.

The Integrated Services for Children and Young People Programme has been established by the Belfast Education and Library Board and aims to increase the life chances and aspirations of children and young people and their parents, to increase educational attainment, to promote a commitment to lifelong learning, and to promote an increase in employability.

Speaking to an assembled group of participants and partnership organisations in Farset International on the Springfield Road, Mr McGuinness said: "This Programme provides a unique opportunity to break a long-running cycle of social and educational disadvantage in West Belfast and Greater Shankill and to ensure that young people from these areas are supported to achieve their full potential, now and in the future.

"It has also resulted in the creation of around 90 jobs in West Belfast and Greater Shankill to deliver these services. This is particularly welcome given the current economic climate.

"For too long , the economic destiny of our children has been an accident of birth. If you were born on the Falls or the Shankill you faced hardship, and career opportunities were limited. That was the past. We are about our young people getting an equal chance," he added.

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We need to put children’s needs at the centre – it is our duty, our responsibility and we must rise to the challenge.

That was the message from the Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane as she made a keynote speech to the education community in the Titanic Pump House today.

Speaking at the event, the Minister said: "My mission, my responsibility as Minister is to enable every young person to fulfil her or his full potential, to ensure that every child receives the highest quality of teaching and learning at every stage in their education and that equality is at the core of everything we do.

"Despite the best efforts of many, our education system is letting too many children down – 4,500 are leaving primary school without basic literacy and numeracy skills and by the end of post-primary, almost 11,000 leave school without five good GSCE's including literacy and maths. This cannot continue.

"There is much discussion around the education sector about post-primary transfer. For decades our education system has been flawed and disadvantages many of our young people, but thankfully the 11 plus is now gone and will not be coming back. While this is a very important issue, there are many, many other reforms on-going in the Department, there is much exciting work happening across the education sector and we will continue with this work to create a better education system.”

The Minister continued: "Today, I have outlined the interconnected and complementary reforms which are intended to revitalise and invigorate our system, ranging from ESA; Every School A Good School; the Revised Literacy and Numeracy Strategy; the Early Years Strategy; the Review of Irish-Medium Education; the Revised Curriculum and Sustainable Schools. We need to step up a gear, push forward with the reforms and make our education system one to be proud of.

"One of the major reforms taking place is the Entitlement Framework, which will be a statutory requirement from 2013. From today, I am spelling out to all post-primary schools that I want to see a change in pace, a stepping up of efforts. All schools will be required to demonstrate how they will effectively deliver the Entitlement Framework and seek to maximise choice for children in the future - I want to ensure their plans are not only robust but will deliver a high quality learning experience."

The Minister outlined five pillars around which the education system will be developed:

· raising standards for all;
· closing the gap in achievement by improving access and equity;
· enhancing the quality of teaching by developing our workforce;
· improving the learning environment through targeted investment; and
· transforming management cutting out bureaucracy and delivering the support that schools need.

During her speech, the Minister referred to the 'Together towards Entitlement', report which is soon to be published by the Area Based Planning Group chaired by Adeline Dinsmore.

The Minister said: "Area Based Planning is a key piece of work for my Department and a significant amount of work has been completed in this area. Area Based Planning will drive the reshaping of our estate and the consequential investment plans. I have commissioned a review of current projects to ensure that all are consistent with the overall policy framework and will be viable and sustainable in the long term.

"In the current budget period, 2008-2011, I intend to invest some £718million on school and youth services and over the 10-year period to 2018, total planned investment is £3.5billion.

"I will soon be able to publish the area-based planning report which sets out a road map to delivering a better, more equitable post-primary education system that will serve the needs of all our young people. I want to thank all involved in producing this report, both at the central and local levels. Their invaluable work will help to shape the future of education."

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Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast Paul Maskey has stated that the shooting of a 28 year old man in West Belfast will achieve nothing and has called on those responsible to deist from these actions.

Speaking today Mr Maskey said:

“The shooting of a man in Lenadoon is wrong. It was carried out by groups attempting to make themselves relevant however they must learn from the past and see that so called punishment shootings achieved very little.  

“However, the danger is that, differing from other shootings, this man was shoot in the abdomen which could easily have killed him and we would be dealing with a murder in west Belfast.

“There are other ways to deal with the issues affecting us all, both with the community and with the PSNI. Those behind the shooting must desist from these actions and engage with the community in order to actively promote community safety partnerships and accountable policing so that we can bring an end to these incidents. “

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Workers Rights, Martin Ferris TD, today raised the issue of the threat to Coca-Cola workers in the Dáil. The workers have been on strike for almost two months as part of their campaign to stop the company outsourcing their distribution section which will result in the loss of 130 jobs, as well as undermining the wages and working conditions of other employees.

Deputy Ferris said: “Coca Cola Ireland is part of an extremely successful multinational company that continues to make massive profits. There is therefore no excuse for the proposed lay offs or the other conditions which the company is attempting to force on the workers.

“Coca Cola has also refused to abide by a Labour Court proposal regarding the redundancy package being offered to those whose jobs are to be destroyed. This is yet another example of a large company using the current economic situation to weaken the position of their employees and in that light it is incumbent on the Government to intervene and to ensure that the workers are treated fairly.” ENDS

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West Belfast MLA Paul Maskey has expressed concern at reports that a Belfast business which owns licensed premises in west and north Belfast has gone into receivership and says that everything possible must be done to retain the jobs affected by this development:

"Sinn Féin's primary concern is for all of those whose livelihood depends on this local employer. We need to retain employment in all spheres at this time. As far as I am aware at present, those employed will retain their jobs whilst the viability or future ownership of the premises affected is being explored."

"The fact that local business-people in west and north Belfast are affected by the present economic difficulties is no surprise. We have been raising concerns for some time about the responsiveness of banks to the needs of small to medium size enterprises. Small businesses do not have the same financial cushion as larger firms. It would certainly appear that some banks, which have enjoyed financial stimulus packages, are still not sharing that financial support with local businesses."

"In this case, I think the surprise has come by the haste with which the bank involved with this local business has moved to put it into receivership. Sinn Féin has been in contact with the receiver who has been appointed to oversee the running of the premises affected and I expect to meet with him later this week to discuss the situation."

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Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brún has stated that the arrest of Batasuna leader Arnaldo Otegi and nine other members of the party is a step backwards and will ultimately impact on the task of rebuilding the peace process and dialogue.

Speaking earlier Ms de Brún said:

“Sinn Féin has argued the need to revive the Basque Peace Process. The banning of Batasuna, alongside the continued jailing of political representatives will in no way aid this task.

“The arrest of Arnaldo Otegi as the leader of Batasuna and nine other members of the party by the Spanish Government is a step backwards and will make the process of rebuilding and reinvigorating efforts towards a lasting peace process all the more difficult.

“It will further impede any search for forward progress, which requires that every effort be made to improve and encourage dialogue between all of the parties in the Basque Country and the Spanish government. Punitive measures and criminalisation from the Spanish authorities will not advance these goals.”

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