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Sinn Féin MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has stated that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster’s actions with regards to the Co-Operative's sponsorship of the film 'Gaslands' was inappropriate and an effort to stifle debate on fracking.

Speaking today Mr Flanagan said:

"This is a disgraceful effort by Arlene Foster to stifle debate on fracking.

"For any government Minister to criticise an organisation for opening up the debate on fracking from an ethical perspective is regrettable and should not be tolerated.

"Whilst the Minister claims that the film “Gasland” is biased against fracking, she refused to engage in the debate that followed this screening. 

“To dismiss so flippantly alternative opinions is foolish and smacks of arrogance. It seems to me she is intent on forcing the pro-fracking cause through without taking the opinion of concerned bodies and the local residents on board.

"I know that Arlene has been invited to attend a number of public events to debate the pros and cons of fracking. The Co-operative offered her such an opportunity. To date she has declined all of these.

"If she were genuinely concerned about having both sides of the argument represented, then she should take part in a sensible and public debate on the merits of fracking. I would be happy to represent the anti-fracking side and set out Sinn Féin’s opposition to this environmentally hazardous procedure."

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The Sinn Féin TD for Sligo/North Leitrim Michael Colreavy has expressed disappointment over the breakdown in talks between the management of Cregg House and the HSE. Speaking from Leinster House Deputy Colreavy said:

“The Daughters of Wisdom have run the services at Cregg House for almost sixty years, providing services for people with intellectual disabilities. The Daughters of Wisdom have decided to withdraw from providing the service at Cregg House because they cannot stand by the funding cuts that have been implemented by the HSE.

“Sinn Féin has consistently warned that the constant cutting of healthcare resources would inevitably lead to a situation where services would have to be cut below an acceptable level. There is much distress among the patients of Cregg House and their families over the current situation.

“The HSE must now step up to the mark and take full responsibility for Cregg House. Minister of State Kathleen Lynch is due to make a statement on the matter and I hope that there will be a positive outcome to the situation. However, the handling of the Cregg House issue by the HSE has, so far, been a failure. The patients of Cregg House should be a priority and the high standard of service that has been provided by the Daughters of Wisdom must be continued by the HSE.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan has welcomed the fact that over the next few months a Bill will be introduced into the Assembly to allow café and bars to serve food and drinks outside its premises.

Mr. McMullan said,

“Pavement cafes and bars are very popular across Europe yet the industry here is hampered by legislation on capitalising on any period of good weather from having a similar outdoor service.

“At the moment many bars and cafes are experiencing a difficult time due to the downturn in the economy so anything that encourages increased trade in the sector need to be welcomed.

“The new legislation will enable a café or bar to apply for a pavement licence through the Council to serve food and drink in a designated area.  I believe that this will help create a good atmosphere within our city and town centres.

“This new law is something that the catering and hospitality industry have been lobbying for as it will bring it into line with the rest of Europe and allow people to relax in the sunshine during periods of good weather.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard has said that the British Government must close Sellafield permanently rather than the proposed closure of part of the plant by 2018.

Mr Hazzard said, 

“The announcement that the Thorpe Reprocessing Plant at Sellafield is to close in 2018 is little comfort for the people of County Down who are living beside one of the most radio active seas in the world.

“For years the Sellafield plant has been poisoning the waters around the coastline of Ireland and Britain with radio active discharges.  This radioactivity is also a source of the rising number of cases of cancer in this region.

“The British government while closing the reprocessing plant have also plans to build a nuclear power plant on the site which will mean continued radio activity for the foreseeable future.

“I am calling on the British Government to close this plant in its entirety and put measures in place which will clean the area up.  I will be talking to my colleagues on he British Irish Ministerial Council to raise this matter at the highest level.

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Sinn Féin MLA Caitriona Ruane attended the An Bord Pleanála meeting today in the Four Seasons in Carlingford to lobby for planning permission for the Narrow Water Bridge.

Ms. Ruane said,

“I attended the planning meeting in Carlingford Co. Louth today to lobby support for planning permission for the Narrow Water Bridge as Louth County Council is the lead partner in gaining planning permission.

“This hearing will determine if we get planning permission, or not, in the South. Therefore we need to ensure that our strongest efforts are put in to getting across to the Inspector from An Bord Pleanála that there is good local support for the project, and that it is a worthwhile project. 

“I will be accompanied by representatives from Warrenpoint Chamber of Commerce and other interested agencies who also see the potential of this bridge to create economic regeneration in the area. I welcome the fact that all the partners in support of the project are in the one room and it is important that all the agencies work together to deliver one message – the region needs this bridge.

“I will also be bringing letters from local people in the region who have signaled their support for the project and reminding the planners that this bridge has the support of the Irish Minister of Transport as well as the positive comments made by the American ambassador who recently visited the site.

“There is widespread support both in County Down and County Louth for this project and this was shown in the recent petition held recently in both Warrenpoint and Carlingford when people signed it in their droves. 

“"We hope that this unique project is successful in gaining funding from Inter-reg. It fulfills all the criteria"

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Sinn Féin MLA Caitriona Ruane has said that the series of events organised to commemorate the 18th Anniversary of the Loughinisland massacre are an opportunity for the community to show its support for the families in their quest for truth and justice.

Ms. Ruane stated,

“This weekend marks the 18th anniversary of the Loughinisland massacre when six men were murdered while watching Ireland play Italy in the World Cup.

“Since then the families have campaigned for the truth and justice against a background of cover-up and hindrance from the British Government, RUC and the PSNI.

“In order to remember the six men and highlight their campaign the families have organised a commemorative weekend of events including a Poc Fada, Gaelic football competition, big breakfast, a debate and the play ‘A Night in November’

“I will be taking part in the panel discussion with John Kelly of the Bloody Sunday Campaign, Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice and Niall Murphy from Winters and Co. solicitors.

“On Monday night Ireland will again play Italy in the Euros and in respect both teams will wear black armbands in memory of the dead.

“This is an opportunity for people to come out and support the families in their campaign to break through the silence of the British Government on collusion and help bring truth and justice to the families.  I would ask everyone to attend as many events as possible and remember the six men murdered that evening.” 

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The Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture, food and the marine Michael Colreavy has welcomed proposals to end the practice of discarding fish from fishing vessels.

The move came during talks on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy last night.

Deputy Colreavy said:

“Due to EU rules more than one million tonnes of fish are discarded into the sea every year. These fish account for up to 90% of catches in some fisheries. This action is utter madness and a ban on the practice was overdue. The practice of discarding healthy fish into the sea illustrates how out of touch the Brussels bureaucracy was with the Irish fishing industry and the fishing industry throughout Europe. It was utterly ridiculous for healthy fish to be discarded due to EU rules and then for Irish fishermen to come under severe pressure from Europe due to low fish stocks.”

Deputy Colreavy also welcomed the increased moves towards regionalisation stating:

“I welcome the agreement made by the member states involved to allow for greater regionalisation. It is imperative that local knowledge of the fishing industry be used to create a more progressive policy. This can only be done if the red tape and bureaucracy that surrounds Brussels approach to the Common Fishery Policy is replaced by greater regionalisation. The Irish fishing industry has been done a great disservice since Ireland’s accession to the EEC and this move will hopefully be a step on the road to rectifying the current problem. For too long the Irish fishing industry has been micro-managed and this is an opportunity to allow fishermen have some form of democratic control over their future.”

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Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane has described attempts by Deputy John Deasy to scapegoat trade unions and workers for the failures of his Government as “despicable.”

Senator Cullinane was reacting to comments Deputy Deasy made in the Dáil where he said that one of the reasons Waterford was underperforming was because of the attitude and actions of trade unions.

Responding in the Seanad Senator Cullinane said:

“It is despicable that Deputy Deasy would attempt to scapegoat trade unions for the government’s failures. The reality is that the southeast and Waterford are being poorly served by Deputy Deasy and the government. The current unemployment rate for the region stands at 19.5%, 5% above the national average.

“The enterprise agencies are clearly not delivering for the southeast as a region and Waterford City as the gateway. The Government has not delivered the university the region so desperately needs. Many enterprises are struggling and closing because they are being starved of credit and are strangled by the cost of doing business. Many retailers are closing because of government austerity policies. Deputy Deasy needs to do his job and deliver for the region and not engage in spurious and diversionary tactics aimed at deflecting from his government’s failings.”

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Speaking in the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD called on the Taoiseach to introduce reformed, consolidated domestic violence legislation as committed to in the Programme for Government.

Deputy McDonald said:

“Women's Aid today published its annual domestic violence figures. Over 13,000 people called the organisation's helpline last year. Some 2,000 of those calls disclosed emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children in their homes and this represented a 25% increase on the previous year. Some 3,000 callers said that children were witnessing first-hand the abuse and violence perpetrated against their mothers.

“Labour and Fine Gael committed to introduce reformed, consolidated domestic violence legislation on entering government over 15 months ago. However today we were told by the Taoiseach that domestic violence legislation has been put on the back burner because the government is prioritising troika-related legislation.

“We know that domestic violence increases during times of economic recession, so the urgency of government action also increases. It is deeply disappointing that the government has not yet taken the kind of concrete preventative action that is necessary to protect vulnerable women and their children from domestic violence.

“Government needs to deliver on its legislative commitments. Equally domestic violence related services must be adequately funded by government to enable them deliver the necessary supports to victims.”

ENDS

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The Sinn Féin spokesperson on the environment, community and local government Brian Stanley TD has said that: “government whitewash will not cover up the need for reform of the planning process.”

Stanley was responding to the Department of the Environment’s report on allegations of planning irregularities.

Deputy Stanley said,

“The public would be excused for forgetting that there was ever a change of government last year. Fine Gael and Labour promised a new type of government. They promised that things would be different.

“Unfortunately little has changed. When it comes to policing, planning and politics, internal reviews are synonymous with cover up. The local authorities concerned, bar Donegal, are all controlled by the coalition partners of Fine Gael and Labour.

“To restore confidence in politics, reform of the planning process must take place. No amount of whitewash will distract from this.

“Sinn Féin proposes to reform the planning process. This reform is radical and solution-based.

“Responsible, ethical and sustainable planning, underpinned by equality, is the right of all who live in Ireland.

“Developers must not be allowed to build new housing developments without taking into account the need for provision of basic facilities and amenities. Developments must be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

“To thrive as sustainable, all communities require essential physical and social infrastructure. Sinn Féin has developed a ‘Sustainable Communities Criteria’ based on the delivery of economic and social rights. All planning decisions must be meet these criteria before earning the support of local authorities.

“These criteria include a sufficient supply of social and affordable housing, safe water supply, and adequate sewage, access to public transportation, employment, healthcare centres and schools.

“If this government wants to break with the legacy of the past it must reform the planning process whereby power is devolved, decisions are transparent and councils are accountable. So far Labour and Fine Gael have failed on all three.”

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Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD called on the Taoiseach during this morning leaders questions in the Dáil to reassure struggling families that his government would not cynically use the withdrawn ESRI working paper to attack social welfare supports in Budget 2013.

Deputy McDonald said:

“This morning we have a tale of two reports. Parliamentarians in the Bundestag and the media have had sight of the troika's sixth review of Ireland's bailout programme before Dáil members. The ESRI report, which was not in fact an ESRI report but a working document, has been withdrawn from the State-sponsored organisation's website.

“By any standards, the ESRI’s working document was a very shoddy piece of work. It was based on data from 2004 and 2005. It was not peer-reviewed internally or externally. It has been spun and used by some people to create the impression that the hundreds of thousands of people who are out of work at the moment are somehow living a gilt-edged lifestyle.

“The Taoiseach needs to make clear that he understands that is not the case. There is no doubt that people at work are struggling to pay their bills. We know that. People are struggling as a direct consequence of the policies this government is pursuing.

“Citizens need reassurance that this government has not attempted in any cynical way to use the ESRI as part of a strategy to drive down social welfare supports in the next budget. Some have asked why this document was taken off the ESRI website; a more pertinent question would be how this report was put up there in the first place.

“Struggling families want this government to take responsibility for the economic circumstances they have had a hand in creating. They want to see action that yields results for them and their families.”

ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Deputy Jonathan O’Brien called on the Minister for Justice to repeal the Offences against the State Act and outlined how Sinn Féin is in favour of establishing a system of rights-based governance, and specifically to respect, protect and promote equality and justice with peace and freedom.

Deputy O’Brien said recent findings in the Supreme Court in relation to Section 29 reinforce Sinn Féin’s view.

The Cork North Central TD said;

“Sinn Féin believes that everyone has the right to freedom from fear and to feel safe and secure in their homes and communities. However, we reject ‘law and order’ approaches to justice that do not genuinely or effectively serve human security. The rule of law in a democratic society must be rights-based, accountable, transparent and responsive to the needs of the whole community.

“Our position on this issue is well documented, this time last year I spelt it out again when we were discussing this very same issue. There are a number of members from the technical group and the ULA who also oppose the renewal of these provisions before us today. The UN Human Rights Committee shares our analysis.

“Year on year, the UNHRC has called on this state to address the issue of the Special Criminal Court. Furthermore it is also a necessity due to the government’s own obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. The Good Friday Agreement places the onus on both governments to work towards the normalisation of the policing and security apparatus in both the 26 and the 6 counties and this was endorsed by the overwhelming majority of people on this island and needs to be implemented in full.

“The provisions are draconian in nature, are not human rights compliant and pose serious questions about the type of justice system that we have in place. Recent findings in the Supreme Court in relation to Section 29 has only reinforced this view.

“If this government was really serious about combatting serious organised crime then we should be looking at best practise internationally in terms of addressing this. Organised crime does not just spring up by itself. It emerges from the most deprived communities, crime ravages the poorest communities. Addressing the underlying causes of all crime is a key factor in ending the threat of organised crime specifically.

“Sinn Féin will not support a motion that has no effect other than to breach human rights.”

ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has said that “it is unacceptable that members of the German parliament have access to the European Commission staff report on the Troika review before members of the Oireachtas.”

Deputy Doherty has demanded that the government “ensure that in future, Oireachtas members have exactly the same access to reports as our German counterparts.”

Deputy Doherty said:

“Once again members of the German parliament have had access to a European Commission staff report of the Troika review before members of the Oireachtas.

“This morning members of the Finance Committee learned of the contents of the Commission report from the Irish Times. The newspaper story was based on information leaked from the German parliament.

“This is the third time that German parliamentarians have had sight of important Commission reports concerning Ireland before those of us elected to the Dáil.

“The responsibility for this lies squarely with the Irish government. They receive the European Commission report at the very same time as the German government. While in Germany members of the parliament are allowed access to the report here the Government blocks access.

“I understand that a copy of the report is to be circulated to Finance Committee members today. This is simply too late. Oireachtas members should have sight of this report at the same time as elected members of other European countries, not after its contents appear in the newspapers.

“This is unacceptable and I am calling on the Government to rectify this as a matter of urgency.”

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Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has attended the official opening of a new £500,000 refurbishment at Ballyoran Primary School in Portadown.

During the event Minister O’Dowd unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion and a blessing was carried out by Parish Priest, Fr Michael O’Dwyer. The works which commenced in November 2011 included the refurbishment of the entrance area, the provision of a new library and new toilet facilities as well as additional resource and storage space. The refurbishment also involved the relocation of the nursery unit to allow it to become a more integral part of the main school building.

Following a tour of the school the Minister said: “It is a pleasure to be in Ballyoran Primary School today to celebrate the completion of their £500,000 refurbishment project. I had previously visited the school in October last year just before the refurbishment works kicked off so I can clearly see just how much of an impact these improvements have made.”

The Minister also commented on the music and dance performance provided by the pupils: “As I visit schools across the north I am continually amazed by the fantastic talent displayed by our children and young people. That talent has been in evidence yet again here today at Ballyoran and I would like to thank the school choir, the instrumental group, the Irish dancers and all the children for their great welcome and the entertainment they have provided.”

“I also welcome the fact that Ballyoran Primary School is represented by many different cultures and nationalities so it was particularly good to hear the beautiful singing from a group of Polish children at the school.”

In conclusion the Minister said: “I would like to thank the school Principal, Richard Woolsey for inviting me to participate in this special event today. As we approach the end of the school year I also want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all those involved with Ballyoran Primary School and I hope that all the staff, pupils and their families have a relaxing and enjoyable summer break.”


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A tenth team has confirmed they will hold their pre-Games training camp for the 2012 Olympics in the North.       

Sports Minister Carál Ní Chuilín said: “I am pleased to announce the South African badminton team have chosen Lisburn Racquets Club as their training base for the Olympics.

“They are the latest team to choose an Irish venue, and bring to 10 the number of teams who will base themselves in the north for their Pre-Games training camps for the Olympic and Paralympics Games.

“As with the other Pre-Games Training Camps in the North, this is not only an endorsement for local facilities but also a boost for athletes here as world-class competitors prepare in their midst.

“The All-Ireland Olympic Torch Relay has shown the spirit of the Games is strong here. In excess of 250,000 people came out to see the flame on its journey and support our inspirational Torch Bearers.

“I am sure we will all join in welcoming these athletes, coaches and support staff to Ireland. With all 10 teams, I hope their experiences here will provide the best possible preparation and provide a springboard for Olympic success.

“By the time the Games begin, the North will have been part of the Olympic journey for 1,000 athletes. I hope their experience here is a positive one, and they will carry this message to the Games themselves, and far beyond.”

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Sinn Féin's Martina Anderson MEP will formally take her place in the European Parliament today, Wednesday 13th June.  Speaking to Journalists in Strasbourg today about the availability of Structural Funding for Regions Ms Anderson said: 

"The Stability and Growth Pact which was adopted by the EU in 1997 and due to come into effect from January 1st 2014 is a mechanism designed to punish Member States that fail to meet targets imposed on annual budgets by the EU and supported by a number of EU States including Germany. The main target of this Pact will be Cohesion Funding which is intended to support Regional economic development and employment. The Cohesion funding was put in place in an effort to bridge gaps in finances between richer and poorer Regions and assist in the fight against poverty, create employment, support Small and Medium business, transport and energy projects.

"I will join with my colleagues in the GUE/NGL group to oppose any interference with the availability of Cohesion Funding to Regions such as the North even if this so-called Stability and Growth Pact is broken by Member States. Funding must be available on the basis of need and should not be used as an instrument of punishment against vulnerable regions because of a Member State's failure to meet bureaucratic targets.  

"The North of Ireland for instance should not be punished because of decisions taken by the British government or to satisfy German Rules and Regulations."

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Sinn Féin social protection spokesperson, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, has commented on details of waiting times for social welfare payments received from the Minister for Social Protection in answer to parliamentary questions. (Question Nos: 121 & 139 Ref Nos: 28067/12 28051/12)
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
“Since the FG Lab government came into office waiting times have rocketed.
The waiting time for the majority of claims has increased while the waiting time for just four payments has decreased.
“Meanwhile, people are waiting up to 28 weeks for carers’ allowance compared to 13 weeks last year, an increase of four months.
“Waiting times for one parent family payments has risen to 17 weeks while widowers’ non-contributory pension and state non-contributory pension waiting time has risen to 11 weeks.
“The minister confirmed that those who have applied for invalidity pension now have to wait a staggering 31 weeks for their claims to be processed
“One year on, for those suffering the most and relying on social welfare payment, their situation is considerably worse than when this government took office.
“How can the minister justify these delays in this day and age, when technology should have made the processing of claims so much quicker and easier.”
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Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD today criticised the Taoiseach for failing to negotiate a deal on Ireland’s unsustainable banking debt noting that “once again the Government has failed to stand up for Ireland’s interests. Once again it is Frankfurt’s way.”

Deputy McDonald said:

“Last Saturday Spain applied for and was granted what is being referred to as a non- economic Bailout. A Bailout for its toxic banking system for which the citizens will be on the hook. It all seems eerily familiar.

“There seems to have been no crumbs from the table for this state. It appears the Government’s strategy of “wait and see what the Spanish get” is already in tatters.

“It’s fair to conclude that once again the Government has failed to stand up for Ireland’s interests. Once again it is Frankfurt’s way.

“What are the Government’s intentions with regards to the Anglo Promissory Notes? Fine Gael and Labour have already tried to pull the wool over peoples’ eyes but the fact is this banking debt remains. What happened to the Technical paper on the promissory note that was due to be published in February?

“In opposition Fine Gael and Labour promised “Not another red cent for toxic banks” yet in Government the reality has been very different. In 2011 this Government pumped €21.4 billion into the banks and less than €500 million into job creation.

“Has the Government prepared a paper with specific proposals on investment and jobs for the EU Summit at the end of the month? If not, why not? If so then publish it so we can all see what the government wants from Europe?

“The fact remains that this Government has no real strategy to deal with the banking debt or to create jobs. It is staggering from one crisis to the next hoping that another European member state will step in for the Government.” ENDS

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The Sinn Féin education spokesperson Seán Crowe has welcomed the new central online system for grants which will allow the processing of grant applications over the internet.

Deputy Crowe said: “In a fortnight’s time students will be finishing their Leaving Cert Exams and those going to college can now apply online for their student grant.

“The Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) will be accepting all new grant applications and giving out payments to students starting college in the coming academic year or those beginning new courses.

“Up until now, students had to apply to their local authority or VEC for their grants and 66 grant awarding authorities were involved, all using a variety of applications, assessment and payment processes. It was a cumbersome process and I understand that this new on-line system, which is run by the City of Dublin VEC, will make the process of applying for a grant a good deal easier.

“Parents or students who have any queries in relation to the application process or the student grant scheme in general should contact the “SUSI Support Desk” by telephone at 0761 08 7874 or email [email protected]

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Sinn Féin Social Protection Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the ESRI to distance itself from news articles which attribute to it a report claiming that thousands would be better off on the dole than in a job.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said that public debate should be focusing on creating jobs and making work pay rather than being twisted to beat social welfare dependents whose morale and situation are at an all-time low.

He said:

“The claims of ex-ESRI professor Richard Tol have wrongly prompted the usual suspects to attack our social welfare system.

“The central claim of Richard Tol that engaging in work incurs extra costs will not be news to anybody. Taking up work is becoming unaffordable. It does not however follow that social welfare payments are the problem.

“I think the growing queues for food parcels are sufficient evidence that social welfare rates in Ireland do not protect from poverty and severe deprivation. Instead we need to examine the world of low paid and casual work. We need the government to respond to the fact that people in work have had their hours and pay drastically reduced.

“We need government action on childcare because currently it amounts to a second mortgage for many young couples who are struggling with their house mortgage. The debate should be focusing on creating jobs and making work pay through tax reform, in-work benefits and services such as childcare, it should not be twisted to beat a people whose morale and situation are at an all-time low.

“In addition to this I would question many of the figures quoted. Some seem overstated, others understated and the cost of actively seeking work is ignored. The claims made in the media articles are not taken from an ESRI report as was stated. Rather they are from a working paper which has not been subject to peer review either internally or externally.

“As I understand it from contacts between my office and the ESRI they do not in fact stand over the figures, two of the paper’s authors no longer work for the ESRI and should the paper be progressed to a full report further work would be necessary and the figures would change.

“I would now call on the ESRI to publicly distance themselves from these incendiary claims which are being used to bash social welfare recipients and which have wrongly been attributed to the institute as official findings.”

ENDS

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