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Sinn Féin Leader and former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness dies after short illness

It is with deep regret and sadness that we have learnt of the death of our friend and comrade Martin McGuinness who passed away in Derry during the night. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Speaking this morning Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD said:

“Throughout his life Martin showed great determination, dignity and humility and it was no different during his short illness.

“He was a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation and for the re-unification of his country.  But above all he loved his family and the people of Derry and he was immensely proud of both.

“On behalf of republicans everywhere we extend our condolences to Bernie, Fiachra, Emmet, Fionnuala and Grainne, grandchildren and the extended McGuinness family.

 “I measc laochra na nGael go raibh a anam dílis.”

by Gerry Adams TD


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Speaking today following exchanges with the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty called on the government to establish a distressed mortgage resolution body with statutory powers.

The Donegal South West TD said that only such a body, equipped with appropriate powers and policies would be able to tackle the growing mortgage distress crisis.

Deputy Doherty said:

“The latest figures from the Financial Regulator on the mortgage crisis are truly shocking. At the end of June there were almost 100,000 households in serious mortgage distress. This means that nearly 700 families a week are falling into arrears now.

“This figure does not include those struggling to pay their mortgage at a time of rising prices and increasing government charges and at risk of falling into distress.

“Statements from the Minister for Finance this week demonstrate that the government does not appreciate the urgency of the situation and the need for firm government action.

“It is Sinn Féin’s view that the government must move to create a new, time-limited, distressed mortgage resolution body. Such a body would be an independent arbitrator tasked with reaching resolution agreements for those in mortgage distress. While such agreements between lenders and borrowers should be on the basis of joint agreement, the resolution body should have the power to impose agreements.

“The remit of the body would be to assess each case of mortgage distress on its individual merits and recommend sustainable resolutions. Three principles would underpin a range of options available to the resolution body.

“In the first instance, to assist the mortgage holder maintain their primary family residence. Options to achieve this would include reductions in the size of the mortgage, which may be accompanied by mortgage lenders taking an equity share of the home.

“However for those families who do not wish to remain in the family home or where such an option would not be financially sustainable a range of other options would be available, including short selling, trade ups, trade downs and social and voluntary housing.

“Finally, underlying these two principles will be a commitment to burden-sharing by mortgage holders, mortgage lenders and inter-bank commercial lenders. Sinn Féin’s proposals will not only require mortgage lenders to absorb a significant portion of the losses on the value of mortgage. We also propose inter-bank lenders should absorb their share of the losses.

“Our proposals will deal with issues such as the impact of overall household debt on mortgage distress and the need for ‘fresh start’ reform of our bankruptcy laws.

“The full detail of Sinn Féin’s proposals will be launched next week. However we believe that the government must act urgently if they are to address the needs of the 100,000 families currently in mortgage distress and prevent thousands more falling into a similar situation.”

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Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has slammed the ESRI's accelerated austerity policy.

Deputy Tóibín said that ESRI was recommending a more rightwing approach to the economy than even the government, paving the way for Minister Noonan to hurt working people even more with the next budget.

Deputy Tóibín said:

“Let's be clear - the ESRI has got economic forecasting hopelessly and dangerously wrong in the years preceding this deep recession.

“The Irish economy has already gone through some of the harshest austerity cuts ever seen in a western economy, leading to the crash.

“Nearly half a million are unemployed, up to 50,000 a year are emigrating and hundreds of thousands of people are being forced into poverty. The economy is cut to the bone. Any further cuts will have severe and long lasting effects.

“The health, the education and the living standards of a whole generation are being severely attacked. All this is happening on the basis of an ideological bias within this government and organisations such as the ERSI. The people making these recommendations are insulated from the disastrous effects of their policy pronouncements by their high salaries.

“Our government’s refusal to make the rich pay is out of step internationally and is the real problem. Progressive taxes must be marginally increased on those earning over €100,000 instead of the proliferation of flat taxes that attack the poor in society.

“To get the domestic economy growing there must be a focus on stimulating and investing in the economy. The national debt of the last generation was paid for through economic growth.

“The ESRI suggests that the money saved by a reduced interest rate, allowed by the EU after Greece forced renegotiation, should be used to write down the deficit faster.

“This ignores the fact that no matter how quickly we write down the domestic deficit, we are still carrying a debt burden level that is crippling the state's finances because we have taken on all of the private banking debts.

“Private debt must also be restructured. It cannot be paid for by strangling the economy, closing hospital services or reducing educational services.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has called on the Justice Minister David Ford to support the Consumers Council’s call for lower insurance by moving insurance disputes from County Courts into Petty Sessions.


Mr Boylan stated,


“The cost of dealing with these insurance cases through County Courts compared to Petty Sessions courts is astronomical due to the use of barristers and other legal representation needed in a County Court and these legal costs are helping to maintain high insurance premiums in the North


“In Britain all insurances claims are dealt through the Petty Sessions Court and this is reflected in cheaper insurance premiums in Britain.


“Overall drivers in the North of Ireland are paying an average of £300 more than their counterparts in the Britain and I will be supporting the Consumer Council in addressing the inequalities offered to drivers in the North.

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Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson Deputy Seán Crowe has welcomed the announcement that the Department of Education will examine how €15 million in grants allocated annually to schools to run book-rental schemes is being spent.

The grant is worth €11 for each primary school pupil and €24 for second-level students. An additional €10 and €15 per child is offered at primary and second-level, respectively, for schools that cater for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Deputy Crowe continued: “I understand that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has asked his officials to find out which schools operate book rental schemes.

“If implemented properly rental schemes can significantly reduce school costs. Recent surveys have shown that the costs of text books are becoming too expensive for many low and middle income families.

“The Department of Education should use well-run book-rental schemes as a template that can be applied throughout the primary and secondary school sectors." ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Peadar Tóibín TD has claimed that, “the government's Jobs Initiative lies in tatters after today’s unemployment figures highlighted the deepening crisis facing our communities.”

Speaking after the Central Statistics Office released figures showing that unemployment increased by 1,600 in August, Deputy Tóibín said:

“Unemployment now lies at 469,713. Since this government launched their much hyped Jobs Initiative in May unemployment has actually increased by nearly 30,000 people. It is now clear that the government’s jobs initiative lies in tatters. The government, no longer part of the solution, is now part of the problem."

“The policies of austerity being pursued by this government are actually contributing to growing unemployment queues. They are forcing companies to the wall and people on to the dole.

“These increased unemployment figures come on the back of further revelations yesterday that banks are refusing to provide loans to businesses that are attempting to expand and create jobs. It is unacceptable that the government is pumping billions into the very banks who are refusing to invest in Irish jobs.

“Sinn Féin will continue to propose economic policies that would invest in the economy, provide jobs, increases our tax revenue and strengthen our public services.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s education spokesperson, Deputy Seán Crowe, has supported the Irish National Teachers’ Union (INTO) call that the law on absence from school should cover five-year-olds.

Deputy Crowe said figures released this week showed that 98% of the 67,000 children starting primary school will not be covered by the law covering absenteeism during their first term at school. They cannot be monitored by the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) until the new year, when most of them will have their fifth birthdays.

He said, “The current legislation only covers children and young people between the age of six and 16. Therefore, schools have no power to take action against parents of children under six who miss 20 days or more. This is unacceptable.

“NEWB statistics show that one-in-ten primary pupils miss at least 20 days of school each year. This is particularly damaging for a child who has just started school as the first couple of years in a classroom are vitally important in developing literacy and numeracy skills.

“Education Minister Rúairí Quinn must address this matter. Often absence from school is the first indication that a child is not being properly cared for at home. If there is no legal mechanism to deal with absence from school in very young children, the authorities have no means to intervene on their behalf.

“I will be raising this matter with Minister Quinn in the hope that he will address this anomaly in legislation. It is important that every child is given the best start at school and parents must be compelled to ensure their children attend school regularly.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the proposed closure of 59 hospital beds in Co. Mayo, including six in Swinford District Hospital where the Taoiseach, a Mayo TD, only opened new facilities in July.

The bed closures are signalled in internal HSE documents seen by Sinn Féin. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“The HSE is proposing to close 59 in-patient beds in Co. Mayo. The internal HSE documents seen by Sinn Féin confirm that these closures are being brought about because of the ongoing recruitment embargo, with the HSE saying that the current number of beds cannot be sustained with current staffing levels.

“In July Taoiseach Enda Kenny officially opened new facilities at Swinford District Hospital. It is now proposed to close six beds at this hospital, a situation the HSE document describes as embarrassing.

“These closures will hit patient care in Co. Mayo, especially the care of older people. I challenge Enda Kenny to intervene to prevent the bed closures and to lift the recruitment embargo which is crippling the health services throughout the State.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Michelle O’Neill has accused the PSNI of being vindictive while dealing with a visa application for a man earlier arrested in a blaze of publicity and released straight away.

Ms O’Neill stated,

“A young man who was arrested earlier this year but released unconditionally within 24 hours applied for and was granted a visa to travel to Australia but this visa was revoked after the PSNI wrote to the Australian Embassy.

“I contacted the PSNI and they assured me that they would write again to the Embassy stating that he was released unconditionally and had not been charged with any offence.

“However their subsequent letter stated he was still under investigation and based on this the Australian Embassy disallowed him on appeal and did not reinstate the Visa to travel.

“I am outraged that the PSNI are not only being obstructive but actually seem vindictive in dealing with this application.

“Whist I accept that this is a live investigation this cannot be allowed to prevent this young man getting on with his life. To date not one single scrap of evidence has been produced to suggest this young man is guilty of anything and I am outraged at the way in which he is being treated.

“I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the local PSNI Commander to ensure that any letter in reference to the visa application state that this young man is innocent. I also intend to find out why this young man is experiencing these difficulties and seek an apology from the PSNI.

“I am also looking at bringing in the Police Ombudsman to investigate any discrimination or vindictiveness on behalf of individual officers involved in the case

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty has said the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster must intervene to save over 200 Jobs at Omagh Meats. Mr. Doherty made the call following claims that 200 jobs were under threat at the Omagh Meats plant. The revelations came as a third of the workforce; numbering 70 people were involved in a strike over restructuring.


Speaking on the issue the local MP said:


“I would call on the DETI minister Arlene Foster to intervene to save the jobs at Omagh Meats. Such a jobs blow would be devastating to the local area and the local economy. The company employs a substantial workforce and this threat is followed through on it will have a hugely adverse impact on the 230 families concerned.


“I would like to see a positive approach being brought to the situation which would involve management at the plant, workers and their unions sitting down and coming to an agreement which would secure the jobs and fair terms and conditions. Such face to face talks may also require the facilitation of the Labour Relations Agency. With so many jobs under threat such an approach must be forthcoming.


“In the absence of any such process I would call for direct intervention from the DETI Minister Arlene Foster who should intervene in the interest of saving over 200 jobs in the local area.

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Dublin South West Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has welcomed the news that Eircom is to provide enhanced high speed broadband services to homes and businesses in the greater Dublin area.

Speaking today Deputy Crowe said, “Eircom’s announcement of the locations of Phase one of their fibre roll-out plan, which will provide high-speed broadband services to thousands of home in the greater Dublin area, is very welcome.

“It follows last month’s commitment by Eircom to spend €100 million on this phase of the plan which aims to reach one million premises over the next four years. If everything goes well, by summer 2012 the fibre roll-out will be available for over 100,000 homes in Dublin and selected towns and villages throughout the country.

“Tallaght’s inclusion in Phase one is a major boost for the area. It will be beneficial in sustaining existing businesses and attract new companies to south west Dublin. We must have cutting edge technology and infrastructure if we are serious about attracting high tech businesses.

“The upgrade of Tallaght’s broadband services can act as an incentive that will encourage economic investment and help create employment in what is one of the country’s worst unemployment blackspots.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson Deputy Séan Crowe has supported Minister Ruairi Quinn’s call for lower school book prices. Deputy Crowe has been lobbying the minister to force the publishers of school textbooks to reduce their prices and stop printing unnecessary revised editions.

He said: “Most of the cost of sending a child to school, which according to Barnardo's is between €350 and €805, is spent on text books.

“I welcome Minister Quinn’s efforts but publishers are saying they will only agree to a voluntary code of practice regarding prices and new editions of school books.

“Publishers should give discounts to schools making bulk purchases of textbooks and the practice of reprinting revised editions of books must cease. The Department of Education should look at best practices of schools with book rental schemes and use this as a template that can be applied in all schools.

“Low income families are suffering in the economic crisis and the cost of sending children to school must be reduced. It is unfortunate that Minister Quinn’s efforts get results have come too late to help parents with children who are about to start the new school term.” ENDS

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Commenting on the mounting concerns that many families who have applied for the Back to School Allowance may have to wait until late October before receiving the grant, Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson Deputy Seán Crowe said:

“Children, regardless of their social or economic background, have the right to attend school in comfortable fitting clothing and in this time of economic hardship it is essential that hard pressed families are assisted in preparing their child for school.

“The current debacle around the processing of the Back to School Allowance reflects a lack of planning and foresight on behalf of the government who should have had the personnel in place to deal with the increased number of applications.

“They could also have learnt from my party colleague, Caitríona Ruane, MLA, who when Minister for Education in the North’s Assembly increased the uniform allowance for parents in receipt of income support. By the end of August 2009, there were 24,135 successful applications for the grant with many more to follow and all of which were processed without undue delay.

“If Minister Quinn is serious about easing the financial burden faced by parents attempting to send their child to primary school then he must do all within his power to ensure the Back to School Allowance is paid on time. This is vital in order to help parents met the spiralling cost of sending their child to school at this time of year.” ENDS

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Speaking at today's Save Number 19 Bus protest on O'Connell Street, Sinn Féin's Daithí Doolan called on Dublin Bus to “stop ripping the heart out of Dublin communities.”

Doolan was speaking at a protest at the Dublin Bus Head Office. The protest, organised by the Save Number 19 Bus Campaign, was demanding that Dublin Bus reverse their decision to shut down the number 19 bus route.

Speaking regarding Dublin Bus management’s commitment to meet the campaign group Doolan said:

"I welcome today's development that the management has finally agreed to meet with the campaign group. The number 19 bus route serves communities and commuters right across Dublin, from Inchicore, through the south inner city and across to Finglas.

“Dublin Bus has no mandate to simply decide to shut down this service with the stroke of a pen. They have peddled myths and misinformation about this bus service. We have 11,500 signatures disproving their claim that the bus service is not viable.

“Dublin Bus must reverse the decision to shut down the number 19 bus route before any meaningful talks can begin. Communities and commuters deserve nothing short of a fully functioning service.”

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Speaking on the comments by the Minister for Justice following the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2010, Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien said:

“The Minister has said the increasing number of prisoners being committed to custody is the greatest challenge facing the Irish Prison Service. The 2010 report shows that there were 17,179 committals to prison, which was an increase of 11.4% on the 2009 total. This is a fact and cannot be disputed.

“Minister Shatter’s citing of this as the cause for the increase of prisoners on temporary release is frightening. More people have been put to jail so therefore more must be given temporary release. This is truly the operation of a dysfunctional system.

“A huge amount of these prison committals relate to those sentenced for non-payment of a court ordered fines. 2010 saw an increase of 39% on the number of such committals from 2009; a jump from 4,806 to 6,688.

“In many cases such as these, alternatives to custody are more appropriate and a lot cheaper. The average annual cost of a prison space was €70,513 in 2010.

“Next month will also see a new situation where the courts will have to consider imposing a community service order for offences where a sentence of up to twelve months would be appropriate. Sinn Féin is in support of such alternatives particularly when they are served in offenders’ own communities to the benefit of the wider population at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

“What we need is also the complete operation of the Fines Act 2010, which allows for the payment of fines by instalment. We are currently awaiting the necessary updating of the Courts Service ICT system. Legislation with no possibility of implementation is just the sort of solution offered in this state.

“The Minister must ensure alternatives to prison are put into practice for minor offences and that prisons remain a sanction for serious criminal activities.”

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Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson, Deputy Seán Crowe, has described a possible six-week backlog in the processing of Back-to-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance forms as ‘unacceptable’ and a serious set back to low income families with children who are attending school. Crowe said the Minister was dithering while families awaited their badly needed entitlements.

Deputy Crowe said:

“Today’s announcement from the Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, that there could be a six-week delay in processing back-to-school allowance forms is simply unacceptable. With just days before the new school term commences, thousands of families who are already struggling to make ends meet could be forced to wait until well into October, or even later, before receiving their entitlements for school clothing and footwear.

“It is not good enough for the Department of Social Welfare to use the excuse of increased applications for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) to justify the delay in processing this payment. The Department only started dealing with the 66,000 applications received in the second week of July, and they are only able to process 1,000 forms daily, so clearly the present system was going to be overwhelmed.

“Internal memos circulated by Minister Burton’s department state that it could be months before the backlog is cleared.

“The €200 available to parents qualifying for the allowance for children aged 11 and under and €305 for children between 12 and 22 are to assist with clothing their children for school. Many of the 66,000 applications for the allowance are from people who are already in receipt of vital allowances like the Disability Allowance, Occupational Injury Benefit and Carer’s Payments and on those incomes, cannot afford to wait until October or November for this payment.

“The Minister needs to intervene and ensure additional resources are in place so that families can have quick access to this essential grant. She needs to stop dithering and address this matter urgently.

“There are enough unemployed people available and willing to work to process these applications.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson Deputy Seán Crowe believes the growth in demand for Irish language courses at Universities across the country illustrates the importance of retaining the language within the school curriculum.

Deputy Crowe said:

“Despite the economic downturn, the demand for Irish language courses at Irish universities remains consistent. There has been little or no change in the number of points required for the numerous courses listed in the first round of CAO offers which have Irish as a joint subject or the primary language of instructions.

“There has also been a significant increase from last year in Irish language broadcasting and journalism courses and these figures reinforce the importance of retaining Irish as a core subject within the school curriculum.

“Having the opportunity to be educated through Irish should be a constitutional and legally enshrined right of every Irish citizen and we need to protect its existence for generations to come.

“These latest statistics show that rather than considering measures which will contribute to the dissolution of Irish, the state should be taking constructive steps to strengthen, support and encourage its growth.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson, Deputy Seán Crowe, has said that with the new school term fast approaching the Government is failing parents who are facing excessive bills for uniforms, books and other equipment.

Deputy Crowe said:

“At a meeting of the Oireachtas Education Committee in July, Minister Quinn said that he would exam the viability of introducing book-lending schemes and cheaper uniforms in a bid to drive school costs down for parents.

“Minister Quinn met with the St Vincent de Paul charity and the National Parents Council, two organisations that deal with parents who are struggling to equip and cloth their children for school. Current estimates put the costs at almost €600 when a child is to attend Secondary school, a significant amount of money in these cash strapped times.

“Added to this burden are the voluntary fees parents are asked to pay, annual photocopying costs ranging between €40 and €80, and €100 to €300 for extra-curricular activities.

“There is no doubt that with the implementation of practical measures the financial burden being placed on parents can be eased. For example, the frequent changing of books on the curriculum, particularly the publication of revised editions, is a way of allowing publishers to continue to exploit the system.

“The purchasing of school uniforms is also an issue that Minister Quinn promised to address, particularly when schools advise parents they can only buy from specific outlets.

“Most parents have now bought the uniforms and no real change has been evident this year.

“The availability of school crests to parents doesn’t seem to have happened in the majority of schools.

“Many parents struggling with costs are asking what was the point of the Minister’s initiative.

“It is increasingly clear that Minister Quinn must do more than pay lip service to this issue and he must implement practical measures that will help reduce the unacceptably high costs being faced by families whose children will be soon attending school.” ENDS

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Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill said today that potato growers play a key role contributing to the success of the agri-food sector in the north.

The Minister was speaking after visiting Glens of Antrim Potatoes in Cushendall to view the company’s potato packing facilities and see harvesting of maincrop potatoes.

Glens of Antrim are supplied with a wide range of potato varieties by their growers for packing and distribution to major retail outlets across the island of Ireland.

The Minister said: “The total farm gate value for the local potato industry in 2010 was approximately £22.8million with some 187,000t of potatoes produced. These figures illustrate how important the potato sector is to the local economy and it is good to see Glens of Antrim contributing to the sector’s success.”

“In recent years, my Department has provided Glens of Antrim over £600,000 to invest in developing its facilities through the EU Processing and Marketing Grant. The funding support provided under this grant scheme is designed to help companies, such as Glens of Antrim, to continue the growth and development of our agri-food sector and improve the economic performance of a sector that has shown strong resilience during the recent economic downturn.”

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Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill today met with Consumer Focus Post to discuss developments in postal services and the post office network in the north of Ireland.


At the meeting the Minister outlined her desire to support rural post offices and to ensure the needs of rural communities are fully considered as part of the future provision of postal services in the north.

Highlighting the valued contribution of post offices to local community life, Minister O’Neill said: “Within rural communities the local post office is more than just a service provider. It is a place to meet up with neighbours and catch up with local news. This opportunity for social interaction is of enormous benefit to some of the most isolated and vulnerable groups in rural areas and can help address feelings of exclusion and isolation.”

Referring to the challenging commercial market in which post offices operate, the Minister continued: “I am aware that in some areas the sustainability of the local post office is under threat due to an increase in the use of electronic services and online transactions. Doing business in this way brings benefits to those who can avail of it, but there are still many in rural areas who rely on the over the counter service traditionally provided by the post office.

“The Post Office local services initiative which allows postal services to operate from the property of an established village shop is currently being trialled in a number of locations throughout the North. However, I have concerns about the lack of privacy afforded to users under this model and the reduction in the range of services being provided in rural areas.”

She concluded: “This was a useful meeting with Consumer Focus Post and, like them, I am keen to see local communities getting more involved and taking the initiative in coming up with solutions to help secure the future of their local post office services. I am committed to doing what I can to assist this process and will be writing to the Minister for Postal Affairs highlighting my concerns. I have also asked officials to explore what support might be available to maintain a sustainable level of provision in rural areas.”

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  Sinn Féin DETI Committee Member, Phil Flanagan MLA (Fermanagh/South Tyrone)  has criticised funding by the British government of £4.4 million to tackle the lack of broadband provision in rural areas as 'paltry' and insulting.

 
Mr Flanaghan said:

 “The fact that the Executive has only been given a paltry £4.4 million out of a total British government fund of £530 million can only be viewed as another example of the derisory attitude with which the British government views the needs of people here in the North of Ireland.

"While the Executive and Agricultural Minister, Michelle O'Neill MLA in particular, are attempting to address the lack of broadband availability in rural areas as best they can, it is obvious that while the British Exchequer imposes massive budget cuts on the Executive that when it comes to allocating funds for special projects the North is at the bottom of the heap.

“How the British Chancellor can justify this paltry 0.8% of the total allocation to the North, when we reflect almost 3% of the total population affected by this decision is beyond comprehension. 

 “On a recent visit to Enniskillen, British Secretary of State, Owen Patterson said he was unaware that there were any problems with telecommunications coverage in Fermanagh, which just goes to show how out of touch, he and his Tory cronies are with reality here.

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