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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams today gave a briefing to a meeting of the party's Ard Comhairle on the ongoing negotiations around the transfer of Policing and Justice powers from Britain to the North of Ireland.

The party's Officer Board will meet during the coming week to further discuss this issue.

Ends

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described this evening’s decision of the Green Party to endorse a new programme for Government as a missed opportunity to do the right thing by the Irish people and turf Fianna Fáil out of Government.

Speaking this evening after the results of an internal Green Party vote were published Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“The Green Party is obviously terrified of the prospect of a general election. They had the opportunity today to do the right thing by the Irish people and turf Fianna Fáil out of Government. Instead they missed that opportunity and acted in their own selfish interests.

“They are now set to join with Fianna Fáil in imposing savage cutbacks that will hit the less well off the hardest while the parasites who caused the economic crisis are bailed out by NAMA.” ENDS

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Speaking ahead of this Sunday's celebration of the Irish Language at St George's Market in Belfast, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP encouraged as many people as possible to attend.

Speaking today Mr. Adams said;

"It is now three years since the British Government made a commitment at St Andrews to introduce an Irish Language Act. Both they and successive DUP Ministers have failed the Gaeilgeoir community miserably.

Despite this the Irish language is alive and growing. Irish speakers make a huge contribution to society and I thank and commend them for that.

I commend Pobal, the organiser of the event, for giving the Irish speaking community the opportunity to celebrate everything Irish speakers have achieved even in the absence of an Act. “CRÍOCH

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Ag labhairt dó roimh cheiliúradh na Gaeilge in Aonach Seoirse i mBéal Feirste Dé Domhnaigh. Dúirt Gerry Adams FP Uachtarán Sinn Féin gur chóir do gach duine atá ábalta freastal air.

Ag caint inniu dúirt an tUasal Adams:

“Tá sé 3 bliana ó thug Rialtas na Breataine coimitmint ag Cill Rímhinn le hAcht Gaeilge a thabhairt chun tosaigh. Loic siadsan agus loic na hAirí Cultúir ón DUP ar phobal na Gaeilge..

Cé gurbh é seo a chás tá an Ghaeilge beo bríomhar. Cuireann phobal na Gaeilge mór le sochaí anseo agus molaim iad as sin.

Molaim Pobal as an ócáid a chur le chéile agus as an deis a thabhairt don Ghaelphobal, go háirithe anseo i mBéal Feirste, teacht le chéile agus an Gaeilge a chéilúradh. Agus ná déanaimis dearmad gur tharla seo uilig gan Acht Gaeilge againngo dtí seo.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Fra McCann MLA has called on Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie to explain the delay in the much lauded mortgage scheme for people in danger of loosing their homes, particularly given the current economic climate.

Mr McCann said;

“For over 18 months now we have heard how the Minister was going to bring in a series of measures which would help those who have found it difficult to keep up with their mortgage payments and face the possibility of losing their homes.

"Whilst mortgage assistance has been enacted in other jurisdictions, sadly that hasn’t been the case here in north as the minister has failed to live up to peoples expectations by not delivering on her promises.

"Margaret Ritchie should tell us what action has been taken thus far in implementing this scheme, as up until now it has been very limited. The harsh reality is that people out there are loosing their homes and they are looking to the housing Minister for assistance; it must be forthcoming.

"An effective way of dealing with this growing crisis is to implement an effective process of giving advice on these matters to people as early as is possible; that must be rolled out right across the Six Counties as the economic realities of this situation know no bounds.

"The Minister and her Department should also consider facilitating practical help for those people who are about to those their homes that will see them be able to remain there as opposed to have to relocate to a hostel which can be an expensive and deeply upsetting situation, particularly for young families. It will also help prevent people from languishing on the housing waiting list for who knows how long.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin MLA for south Belfast Alex Maskey has called for a full investigation into today’s flooding on the lower Ormeau Road.

Speaking after visiting residents in the area today Mr Maskey said;

“Put quite simply, I do not accept the reasons given to me by the Water Service as to why this flooding took place.

To suggest that there was no advance warning of today’s heavy rainfall simply isn’t good enough; it’s not good enough for me and it’s not good enough for the people who are repeatedly affected by this flooding.

I am calling for a full investigation into today’s events to determine just why the pump system wasn’t properly utilised to save residents from this trauma.” CRÍOCH

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The leadership of Sinn Féin is meeting in Dublin tomorrow to discuss the current political climate, the possibility of a snap general election and the ongoing negotiations on the transfer of powers on policing and justice from Britain to the North.

There will be a media opportunity during a break in the meeting at 12noon at which the party’s Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin will make an appeal to Green Party members to pull out of Government and initiate a general election.

Deputy Ó Caoláin will be joined by Dublin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Donegal Senator Pearse Doherty at a media doorstep at the Sinn Féin Bookshop at 58 Parnell Square at 12noon tomorrow.

For more details contact Seán MacBradaigh on 0877412007.

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CONOR MURPHY MP, MLA, MINISTER FOR REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT
GATEWAYS TO TOMORROW CONFERENCE
BOSTON – NORTHWEST, IRELAND
UNLOCKING THE POTENTIAL
WEDNESDAY 7 OCTOBER 2009
A Chairde, Cuirim fáilte roimh…seanadóirí, Teachtaí Chomhdhála agus achan duine eile i Iáthair inniu.


Táim go han sásta a bheith anseo libh, chun labhairt libh; príomhphearsaí sa phobail gnó i Meiriceá Éireannach.

 
Distinguished guests, Chief Honouree, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray , ladies and gentlemen.


I am delighted to be here tonight in Boston to help launch this important ‘Gateways to Tomorrow’ Conference.


My sincere thanks to the Irish Echo for inviting me to this prestigious event.


It is fitting that we are gathered here in Boston, Massachusetts, as we approach the twenty-fifth anniversary of the promulgation of the MacBride Principles this November. Massachusetts was of course the first state to endorse the Principles in 1985. Few could have guessed then the influence which the Principles would exert on future British government policy.


The MacBride Principles were a set of nine basic principles for building social and economic justice in the north of Ireland: nine principles that were doggedly opposed by the British Government and its Departments with all of their might and resources – from the Embassy in Washington, to the NIO in Whitehall; from the Stormont Estate in Belfast, to the IDB in Boston.


Yet in spite of the British Government’s opposition - slowly and steadily it was the American people who lifted the veil on the scourge of structural discrimination in the six counties. It was the American people who pointed a new way forward which promised inward investment upon the foundation stone of economic justice.


It is a tribute to all of those pro-MacBride campaigners that their campaign for peaceful, political and moral change in Ireland found support in city and state legislatures across this land, up to and including the highest office in the nation – not least, President Bill Clinton.


This city, Boston – with its rich Irish-American heritage – also boasted some of those who were the most committed campaigners in support of MacBride.


At the time, British Information Services and those representing their interests were criss-crossing the United States claiming that MacBride demanded disinvestment and that economic justice would be bad for business.


Over and over, it was pro-MacBride campaigners – including many here in Boston - who nailed that lie.


It was pro-MacBride campaigners who correctly pointed out that a climate of equality for all people in the north of Ireland would do most to attract greater American investment – and not the other way about. After all no American committed to the founding charter that ‘all are created equal’ could ever fully have invested in any situation destined to prolong structural inequality based on prejudice.


And thus, it is that approach of developing solid investment opportunities within a framework of delivering equality that can – and must - underpin the potential of this conference.


Economic growth that does not systematically promote equality is not sustainable in the long-term – particularly in a transitional society emerging from conflict such as our own in Ireland.


The lessons of the global economic downturn over the past eighteen months have further proved that point. It was when greed outweighed need that we all suffered the consequences.


In the north of Ireland the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has widened as never before. 19 of the top 20 most deprived areas in the north of Ireland are located either in North and West Belfast, or in Derry City. Of the 50 wealthiest areas, none of them is located in North and West Belfast or in Derry. So all of us genuinely committed to public service have a responsibility to tackle these realities and not merely bookmark them.


More and more, the sensible and smart approach to sustainable social development is one which builds the outcomes of equality into the objectives of economy. Such an approach is good for both private business and public benefit.


Its worth reminding ourselves that the north of Ireland is a small place – a population of around 1.7 million people living in an area the size of the English county of Yorkshire.


Yet the structural and systemic patterns of inequalities which persisted in the six counties have still not been eradicated – almost 90 years after the foundation of the state. That appalling vista – which was central to the causes of conflict – was carefully constructed.


Had there previously been the will to build a sustainable economy which would create social equality, then the architects of the conflict – particularly those within the permanent British government of senior civil servants and security establishment - could have found a way to do it. They did not.

Instead the fact is that, throughout the conflict, a deliberate and all-pervasive system of structured socio-economic discrimination – both on religious, political and regional grounds - was central to the State’s attack on the modest demands of the civil rights movement for democratic change.


Up until the Adams/Hume talks initiative and the Irish peace process led to the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, the State was still determined to smother our demands for socio-economic change beneath the gun-smoke of a conflict which it had principally caused.
But the Good Friday Agreement changed all of that. With our friends in North America and South Africa, and a strong united-Ireland approach, progressive forces, including my own party Sinn Féin, were able to map out a template for tomorrow based on ground-breaking and binding legal and policy requirements to promote equality – proactive requirements, including Section 75 of the NI Act 1998, that had their genesis in the MacBride Principles campaign.


Implementing those new requirements over the past decade has been a huge battle, with conservative forces opposed to democratic change still seeking to diminish and dilute the Good Friday Agreement on a constant basis.


But - as an Irish Republican – let me say this: I am someone who is well used to battle.


And the crucial difference here in 2009 is that those of us fighting politically for social and economic change now have the laws and government on our side: equality laws drawn directly from the Good Friday Agreement; and a governing Executive elected directly by Irish people in the six counties, in which I am proud to serve as the Minister for Regional Development.


And that is the transformed context in which this tremendous conference is now taking place.


It is now about building bridges to the future having learned the lessons of the past.


It is now about creating new economic opportunities to generate prosperity within a central framework of growing equality.
And it is now about making certain that no-one is ever again left behind as we open ‘Gateways to Tomorrow’ – least of all those communities and localities that suffered most during the conflict.
Since the restoration of our political institutions in May 2007, much has been done to develop and sustain the Irish peace process. The US has continued to play a central role in this effort. The recent appointment of the US economic envoy to Ireland, Declan Kelly, reaffirms those strong linkages, and continued US support for building peace and economic growth based on equality and tackling objective need is warmly welcomed. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will also be in Ireland next Monday for political discussions with Gerry Adams and other party leaders.


This unflagging friendship, and practical help and support, is deeply valued. I sincerely hope that the political, economic and community leaders from Massachusetts will remain part of this ongoing effort now and in the future as a result of this conference.


At home our Executive is almost two years into an agreed, cross-party Programme for Government which reflects local needs and aspirations. These are premised on the fundamental principles of equality and tackling objective need, an end to decades of political discrimination, a requirement for partnership and power-sharing, and a strong commitment to grow economic prosperity in a way which tackles ongoing poverty.


The All-Ireland architecture of the political institutions is also critical. Our All-Ireland bodies and structures have played a pivotal role in ensuring that we act in the best interests and to the mutual benefit of all the people of Ireland, in terms of economic growth, tourism, agriculture, transportation, and social development.


However it is the north-west region of Ireland – and Derry City in particular as the regional capital – which forms the focus of this conference over the next two days.


And in order for us to identify the future opportunities both in - and for – the region around Derry, we firstly need to understand what the citizens of that great city are currently doing to build its potential, in conjunction with Executive Departments, Councils, the business sector, academia, cultural and community development organisations, the equality constituency, and others.


Much of this work is being anchored by ILEX – Derry City’s urban regeneration company. A key element of ILEX’s work is the transformation of two former British Army bases in Derry that have been vacated after the withdrawal of troops as a direct consequence of the peace process.


The centre-piece of ILEX’s work is a major strategic development process that is ongoing as we speak. It involves the most comprehensive assessment of needs and inequalities – involving the greatest grassroots participation across all sectors and all communities – that has ever been conducted into the socio-economic fabric of Derry City.


Groups and communities which were previously isolated and excluded are now an integral part of a bottom-up process to set the terms and targets for future regeneration. Not only are they canvassing on the ground, they are analysing and interpreting that information as equal participants in shaping the regeneration strategy. They are no longer pawns for power-brokers.


Every participant, from the overall Strategy Board to the local street corner, is absolutely determined that this process – thorough, detailed and intensive - will lead to the most transformative and positive set of inter-related strategic objectives ever developed for the city.


The mission statement for the ILEX strategic Mark 2 regeneration plan, within which all of this work is taking place, is worth quoting:


“Our Mission is to deliver Renewal – Economic, Physical and Social, building a stronger and more vibrant economy with increased prosperity for our city and region, in ways which ensure that opportunities and benefits from regeneration are targeted towards the most deprived groups in our communities.
…. the proposals must demonstrate how they will bring about measurable improvements for those groups who have been identified as experiencing inequality, for example in housing, education, employment, and health.”


This mission statement embodies arguably the most progressive public policy focus currently existing in Ireland and Britain for marrying future economic prosperity with the promotion of equality. It is the shared public policy framework for Derry City’s long-term future development. As such, it carries profound opportunities for the entire north-west region.


Not only has the ILEX mission statement set the agenda for the regeneration process in Derry city. But it has set the pace of progress - spelling out that ‘how we do things’ is as important as ‘what we do’.


It has redefined the concept of progress to be about delivering on meaningful targets rather than meeting false timescales, and changing the outcomes of the future by changing the patterns of the past.
The ILEX process is now tantalisingly close to ensuring that – for the very first time – all the people of Derry are part of determining their future socio-economic direction. Having waited so long for such an opportunity, we must all now have the patience and foresight to see it through over the next period. Impatience at this stage could become the true enemy of progress down the line.
The bottom line is this: the full participation of all sectors - at all stages - is a prerequisite for the success of ILEX. And the order of business is there for all to follow – in the agreed terms of reference and mission statement of the current ILEX process. Public authorities must fully respect and fully service this new progressive way of doing business. They must provide the necessary information on inequalities and genuine support for all sectors which is required to help the ILEX process deliver. It is more important than ever that we take time to get this process right. On behalf of my Department, and my party, I am determined that no-one can be left behind and that no corners can be cut.


I have no doubt that this approach will ensure Derry’s incredible opportunities are fully developed - for investors and citizens alike – in ways that create profit whilst sharing wealth by targeting, in particular, the most deprived sectors and communities.


This is a ground-breaking agenda for redressing the failed patterns of the past because it has now achieved common endorsement across all sectors of society.


It is THE public policy – under the umbrella of the Office of the joint First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness - within which the entire public sector and private sector have agreed to move forward.


In the Irish language we have a saying: “Ní neart go cur le cheile” – meaning, ‘in unity, there is strength’.


And in the unity of Derry around the cutting edge mission statement of ILEX shines a blinding strength that few other cities, anywhere in the western world, can boast.


It is a strength of vision, purpose and belief that the city – which spawned our civil rights movement of the 1960s – can now stand tall and proud together in a delivering sustainable economic agenda which meets the needs of ALL its citizens – and the wider north-west - in the 21st century.


But the north-west of Ireland not only now has the united-will to deliver for its investors and its citizens. It has also rapidly developed the wares which bring added-value for the entire region – particularly its local leadership, some of whom are here with us.
Many of you will know County Donegal and Derry City well. In the past two years, some will have walked Derry’s historic full-length city battlements, or gazed across the glorious waterfront from the steps of the Guildhall, or stood in front of the world-famous wall of freedom that bears the legend ‘You are now entering Free Derry’.


People like Mary-Louise Mallick – New York State’s First Deputy Comptroller, and Senator Therese Murray – this great state’s Senate President, have personally seen the pride and the potential of Derry at first-hand over the past two years.


Some might well claim negatively that the north-west region of Ireland is on the periphery, of the periphery, of the periphery…. of western Europe.


But like many things in life, the truth cuts both ways.


Being on the edge of Europe means the north-west of Ireland is the best-placed landing point for ventures from North America.
It is truly America’s gateway into Europe. This was recently exemplified by Hibernia Atlantic’s decision to run the Project Kelvin transatlantic fibre-optic telecommunications cable into a brand new centralised ‘telehouse’ which will be based not only in Derry, but in the heart of one of ILEX’s key regeneration sites – the British Army’s former Fort George camp.


Project Kelvin is literally a direct link between North America and north-west Ireland – providing the fastest ever direct IT connections between Europe and America, with the ‘telehouse’ in Derry as the central hub.


It is a testimony to the unity of purpose and strong practical determination displayed by the political, business and civic leadership of the entire north-west – Derry and Donegal - that their combined lobby succeeded in securing the ‘telehouse’ to Fort George.


This purpose and determination is also central to the entire ILEX project, anchored around its ground-breaking mission statement. No-one should be under any illusion: this perfect storm of progress that is driving ILEX’s strategic development can now – with continued patience and careful commitment – open up a new horizon to an equal place in the sun for investors and communities alike, throughout the north-west of Ireland.


But the job of all of us in public service must be to ensure that the development of employment and skills – including those arising from magnificent opportunities like Project Kelvin – are targeted on the basis of the cross-sectoral agreed public policy framework embodied within ILEX’s mission statement.


Of course, from a personal Ministerial point of view, the north-west region of Ireland is absolutely central to my own Departmental plans.


Together with the Irish government, my Department – with the cross-party support of the Executive – is pumping hundreds of millions of pounds into rapidly transforming the transport infrastructure of the entire north-west.


All-Ireland planning between me and my ministerial counterpart in Dublin is delivering the new A5 dual carriageway directly linking the capital city of Dublin to the north-west of Ireland, and reducing journey times to just over two hours. Derry City is also getting major new dual carriageway infrastructure to maximise direct links from Belfast.


City of Derry airport is undertaking a runway extension project, with £14 million jointly being contributed from the Executive and the Irish government.


One of my Department’s other key priorities is investment in the north-west’s rail infrastructure, to make public transport the first choice for all rather than a last resort for many. When I became Minister, I lifted previous restrictions which actually prevented investment on the Belfast to Derry railway line. The renewal of a large part of the track is now due to commence in 2011/12, with estimated costs in the region of £75 million.


Derry’s Port has seen its trade double in the past five years, with a particular emphasis on distribution of fuel and material for the agriculture sector. My Department is continuing to work with the Port to ensure that even greater commercial flexibility is given to the Trustees – opening up further opportunities for strategic growth within a continuing framework of public regulation.


I am actively promoting all-Ireland spatial, strategic and regional planning to an extent never before seen between Derry and Donegal. This is including the fundamental review of the North’s Regional Development Strategy which I am currently undertaking.
This new Regional Development Strategy will set out the fine detail of the broad-brush agenda I have outlined here this evening: driving economic prosperity within a framework of delivering equality.


By utilising public procurement guidance for embedding structured retraining, apprenticeships and targeted employment opportunities for the unemployed, Departments – like my own - can also add value to public sector investments by targeting gains towards the most deprived sectors of society.


So it is clear for anyone to see that the components of massive progress and plans for unprecedented development have now collided to make Derry and the north-west of Ireland an undeniable opportunity for future investment and formidable growth.


It is now four decades since ordinary citizens marched through Derry city to demand basic rights of equality and participation in their own society. Forty years later, in the context of the peace process, this conference shows just how far we have all travelled. But there is still a journey ahead. And - as we proceed - no-one can be left behind this time.


The ‘Gateways to Tomorrow’ must maximise the opportunities of today to end the patterns of the past. That is our task. That is our responsibility. And that is my commitment to you here tonight.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh

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Commenting today on the Irish Nurses Organisation survey showing that over 700 hospital beds have been closed due to the cutbacks, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

"The closure of over 700 beds as a result of Fianna Fáil/Green Government cutbacks is a measure of the huge impact such cuts are having across the health services. Worse will follow if the Government implements the even more savage cuts proposed in the McCarthy Report.

"On Wednesday at the Oireachtas Health & Children Committee when I challenged Health Minister Mary Harney she refused to rule out the implementation of one of the harshest of McCarthy's health proposals – the means testing of homecare packages for older people. Yet such packages have been repeatedly presented by Minister Harney as an alternative to public hospital care which is supposed to be the entitlement of all citizens.

"It's back to the 1980s when our hospital infrastructure was devastated by cuts and took years to recover." ENDS

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Fra McCann MLA for West Belfast has called on social development minister Margaret Ritchie to develop a strategy to deal with the growing problems within the housing sector.
Speaking during a debate at the assembly this Monday on the of social housing and jobs in the construction industry through the development of more houses, Mr. McCann said;
“Sinn Fein fully supports additional resources for social new build housing, but we don’t offer this support at the cost of other elements of the social housing sector.
The SDLP continue to cry poverty where the housing budget is concerned but ignore the fact that the minister tasked with administering their own department must manage their budgets accordingly, particularly within an economic climate like the one that exists today.”
Mr. McCann continued;
“The Minister has instructed the Housing Executive to cut back on all other elements of housing, including grants to those people living in their own homes who require major or minor works carried out. This also impacts upon people who need immediate repairs or upgrades to heating and fuel systems, this is particularly vital as we once again head into the winter months.
All of this acts as a catalyst as to why the Minister must get her budget right, she must prioritise and she must play her part to help stimulate our economy in the current climate, not just with the building of more social homes but with the necessity to carry out the vast amounts of works that are required on existing properties.” CRÍOCH

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Speaking at the launch of the Disability Federation of Ireland’s Pre-Budget Submission today Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD fully endorsed the submission and said the gains made in previous years for people with disabilities are now under attack as the Government seeks to make them pay the price for the disastrous policies and practices of Government, banks and big business that led to the economic collapse.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“On behalf of Sinn Féin I welcome the Disability Federation of Ireland’s Pre-Budget Submission. I want to welcome also the National Disability Strategy Recession Implementation Charter which you have launched today with seven other umbrella organisations.

“Because of the unprecedented recession in which we now find ourselves your Pre-Budget Submission and the Charter are essentially defensive in nature. They are about defending the gains already made, gains that are under attack as we speak. They are also about ensuring continuing progress, especially in implementing the National Disability Strategy.

“We fully endorse the headline issues you have identified – protecting funding for disability-specific services and facilities, improved access to mainstream services for people with disabilities, recognition of the role of voluntary disability organisations and adequate income for disabled people.

“When disability legislation was introduced during the boom years we fully supported the demand of disability organisations that such legislation should be rights-based. You argued correctly that the absence of rights-based legislation could see gains made in times of economic prosperity being clawed back in times of economic downturn.

“This is exactly what is happening now. And it is happening across society. Disabled people are not confined to one sector labelled ‘disability’. They are workers. They are unemployed. They are students. They are older people. They are parents. They are carers. They are cared for. They are patients. They are service providers.

“Across all these categories ordinary people are being compelled by this Government to pay the price for the disastrous policies and practices of Government, banks and big business that led to the economic collapse. But the wealthy are not being asked to suffer the consequences of their greed and recklessness.

“Cuts are already under way and far, far worse is promised with savage cuts proposed in health, education and social welfare. With this Pre-Budget submission and with the Charter launched today you have drawn a line in the sand which Government must not cross. But we all have a major fight ahead of us.

“It is clear that this Government has no intention of making the wealthy pay their fair share. Instead we are facing cuts that will devastate public services and, if they get away with them, these cuts will hit the most vulnerable hardest, including people with disabilities.

“What we need is unity across progressive political parties, the trade union movement, representative organisations such as yourselves and, above all, the general public in opposition to savage cuts, against NAMA and for a better way forward.

“So in supporting the issues set out here today I would urge you to organise, educate and agitate, to mobilise people on the streets in support of these demands and in unity with all those seeking a fairer society.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin councillor Terry Hearty has expressed his disappointed after council officials confirmed that Newry & Mourne District Council will not fund Christmas lights for small villages in the area this year.

Cllr Hearty said;

“At last night’s Council meeting senior officials confirmed that small villages in the district will no longer receive the annual funding for Christmas lights.

“I am extremely disappointed by this revelation as the officials did not state this clearly when the rates were being struck.

“The switching on of the Christmas lights provides an annual community get-together in villages across Newry and Mourne and will be sorely missed.

Cllr Hearty also added that he believed council officials had been caught out themselves on the issue.

“When I asked a senior council official if there was money available for the lights he was unable to answer me.”

His party colleague Cllr Pat McGinn agreed and said that the council was purporting a ‘No room at the Inn’ policy.

“Residents of this district have previously been denied access to public toilets on bank holidays, now we are told that there will be no Christmas lights this year. The people of Newry and Mourne are growing sick of this ‘No room at the inn’ policy that the Council has introduced” CRÍOCH

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Commenting on the newly revealed resignation letter of Tom O’Higgins as Chairperson of the Audit Committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, Sinn Féin Whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said:

“This latest revelation again highlights the urgent need to reform the expenses system for all Oireachtas members. It is an indictment of the members of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission that the concerns raised by the chairperson of the Audit Committee were treated in such a way that he felt compelled to resign his position.

“Sinn Féin is in favour of a fully vouched system of claims for expenses, open and transparent, reported and published regularly so that the public can see where their money is being spent.

“When the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission was established we called for full representation of all parties but both Sinn Féin and the Green Party were excluded. We also called for worker representation for the many non-elected officials who work in the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is a clear need to amend the legislation that established the Commission and to make it more accountable.

“The refusal of Government to bring forward reform has led to a major loss of public confidence in the Oireachtas which is distracting from the very urgent work of addressing the economic crisis, above all, the massive level of unemployment.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Senator Pearse Doherty has expressed outrage and disbelief at today’s revelations that the Department of Education has yet to spend almost half of its budget for 2009, despite there being less than three months left in the year.

He said:

“After news this week of a school telling pupils to bring in their own toilet rolls to save money, we hear today, with less than three months left in the year that almost half of the budget for new school buildings and other capital works has yet to be spent.

“Every single day we hear of schools desperate for new school buildings; with rotting prefabs and overcrowded classrooms. With winter setting in hard and fast what will be next? Will pupils be told to bring in a lump of coal each to heat the school?

“Batt O’Keeffe, himself a former teacher needs to take a long hard look at himself. He has spent the last year gearing up to sack teachers, axe classes for children with special educational needs and cutting grants to needy pupils. He now tells us that over half of his budget has not been spent.

“In my own county Donegal there are 51 schools waiting for a new school to be built or for an extension to their existing school.

“In the Sinn Féin job creation document we called for a comprehensive school buildings project, creating new schools and classrooms as well as creating much-needed employment in the construction sector. This was not done and we now have the ludicrous situation of almost half of an €841 million budget left sitting in O’Keeffe’s piggy bank.

“Batt O’Keeffe should be ashamed of himself. He has to go.” ENDS

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Speaking during a debate on rural transport in the Seanad today, Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty has warned that the McCarthy proposals on axing the Rural Transport Scheme will result in massive hardships for the people of rural Ireland.

He said:

“The Dublin four economists that compiled the McCarthy report have sentenced rural Ireland to a death by a thousand cuts.

“The proposal to axe the Rural Transport Programme is short-sighted and callous and takes no regard of the needs of the people of rural Ireland.

“Of course worrying about getting from A to B is not something that this government will ever have to concern themselves with. Far from getting on a bus, our government ministers need only whistle and a shiny limo will race up and collect them. While John O’Donoghue travels in style rural Ireland is left stranded.

“Adequate rural transport is required to ensure that those at risk of social exclusion in rural areas have access to essential facilities and public services. The Rural Transport Programme has an important community focus and allows rural dwellers access to important services.

“These measures, when coupled with recent cuts to Bus Éireann routes and the discontinuation of the night-time rural transport scheme as operated by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; will increase car dependence and reduce the accessibility and connectivity of rural areas, reducing their attractiveness to investment and increasing isolation.

“Donegal has the highest remoteness and deprivation scores in the country. Lack of transport was and still is a major barrier to sustainable living from a social, community and personal aspect. The loss of the three rural transport schemes in the county will have serious and far-reaching effects on already isolated communities.

“This government needs a wake-up call – stop bailing out the bankers who caused this economic mess and start looking after the people who built the celtic tiger economy.

“These cuts should not and will not be tolerated.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for east Belfast Niall Ó Donnghaile has given a ‘cautious welcome’ to plans by the Odyssey Trust to develop a £100 million project close to the Odyssey arena in Belfast.

Speaking after it was revealed that Trust are seeking planning permission for 800 residential units, two hotels and a promenade development Mr Ó Donnghaile said;

“Obviously any potential stimulation to the economy is welcome in the current climate, however any development of this scale must also secure the investment and support of the surrounding, established communities.

This part of the east Belfast is seeing increased levels of economic stimulation with the development of Titanic Quarter, Sirocco Quays and now the Odyssey. however it is essential that surrounding communities are consulted and involved with the process every step of the way.

For example, will the surrounding communities, some of them the most economically deprived in the north, benefit from apprenticeships for young people, or from the development of social homes? Will there be increased and improved connectivity between the Odyssey and these same communities as well as the other planned developments?

Given the fact that the Odyssey development will be financed entirely by private investment I am sure that other political and community representatives will share my concern that the project needs to be in line with the existing plans to develop the surrounding area’s and communities and not in isolation.

Sinn Féin has been to the fore in ensuring the necessary community involvement with both Titanic Quarter and Sirocco Quays and will approach this new development in the same way.

Some positives seem to be contained within the plans for the Odyssey, not least the planned leisure provision, as this is an issue which Sinn Féin has been campaigning on for some time now.

I will be in contact with the Odyssey Trust over the coming days to highlight some of these concerns and look forward to hearing their contribution.” CRÍOCH

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Speaking in the Dáil today on the NAMA legislation Dublin Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the banks should be given a task of reducing the costs of mortgages for people at risk of defaulting on their payments.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also said TDs with bank shares should exclude themselves from the Dáil debate or at least declare those shares when debating the legislation.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “I asked that Members who have shares in the banks declare their interests when speaking in the Dáil. I also asked that they should exclude themselves, because they have a vested interest in NAMA succeeding. To my knowledge, nobody has acknowledged that they have shares in the banks. Their excuse is that they publish their interests in the register of interests every year. That register of interests needs to be reviewed in a case like this where people have a vested interest in bailing out the banks so that their shares can go up and they can benefit.

“These are not small amounts of shares. These are shares that must be declared because they are valued at over €13,000 per annum. It is a simple thing to do. A Member should stand up and state that he or she has an interest, but would like to debate the Bill in the public interest.

“The banks that lent so recklessly and the developers who coined the money at the height of the boom should share the pain these people are facing. If people run into difficulties in repaying their mortgages, then an option could be to reduce the costs of the mortgage more in line with the actual value of the home.

“We should set the banks a task of reducing all of those mortgages by 30% to make them affordable and to prevent families from defaulting on a mortgage. If those banks reduced those mortgages by 30%, we could set the conditions and limitations on this kind of renegotiations, so that it will only be for houses worth €600,000 or less. That is not a great cost when compared with what we are doing to bail out speculators and developers, but it would address huge problems that the State will be facing in the near future.” ENDS


Full text of Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s Dáil speech follows:

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Is Bille rí-thábhachtach é seo. Mar a dúirt mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Morgan, nuair a bhí sé ag labhairt faoi seo, ní chóir go mbeadh sé os ár gcomhair in aon chor, ach tá sé ann. Tá deis agam impí ar an Rialtas, fiú ag an stad seo, é a tharraingt siar. Caithfidh an Rialtas éisteacht ceart a thabhairt do moltaí na ndaoine ar cad ba chóir dúinn a dhéanamh leis an slám mór airgid a chuirfear ar strae má théimid dul síos bóthar NAMA.

Inné, d'eisigh mé preasráiteas mar gheall ar iad siúd le morgáistí. Dúirt an ESRI go mbeidh 35,000 duine i gcruachás maidir leis an morgáiste atá acu, ó thaobh a tithe de, sa bhliain atá amach romhainn. Más fíor sin, tá fadhb mór ag teacht romhainn sa Stát seo muna dhéanamid rud éigin chun déanamh cinnte de nach mbeidh 35,000 teach gafa ag na bancanna nó na comhlachtaí morgáistí a thóg iad sin dóibh. Cuirfear 35,000 clann amach ar an sráid, os rud é nach féidir leo a morgáistí a íoc, muna dhéanfaimid rud éigin. Dúirt mé gur chóir dúinn féachant ar conas is féidir linn déileáil le seo i gceart.

This is not just about figures in the air and NAMA, but about real lives. Yesterday, the ESRI stated that 35,000 people would be unable to pay their mortgages next year. That is a shocking indictment of Government policies during the Celtic tiger years. People bought their homes at the height of the boom and they are not to blame for the situation in which they find themselves, struggling to maintain mortgages on what were once hyper-inflated properties. Yesterday's report is an indictment. In those years, successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments, the Central Bank and the management in those banks which are now before the Government with a begging bowl, encouraged people and forced families in many cases to pay hyper-inflated prices for their properties, or pay hyper-rents. There was no alternative, because the investment required for social housing was not there.

I disagree with the ESRI's suggestion that people who run into difficulties should have their mortgage rescheduled. Many of these people bought their properties in the last five or ten years. Many of them did so because the Central Bank allowed 100% mortgages and even 110% mortgages in some cases. These people now have a noose around their necks. They also have 35 to 40 year mortgages, because that option was encouraged to get everybody into the property market, as if the Celtic tiger would never slow down or never die. It is not an option for those with 35 or 40 year mortgages to re-mortgage. What will happen to them? There is no social housing to pick up the tab that the Government should have picked up. There is no empty social housing around the country which would take this up.

The banks that lent so recklessly and the developers who coined the money at the height of the boom should share the pain these people are facing. If people run into difficulties in repaying their mortgages, then an option could be to reduce the costs of the mortgage more in line with the actual value of the home. I did a quick calculation on some of the banks' submissions on NAMA and used a geographical breakdown to lift the number of mortgages in the Twenty-six Counties out of the figures that were presented to us by the Minister a few weeks ago. The total residential lending of the five banks covered by NAMA - I am excluding Anglo Irish Bank as it lent very little for residential mortgages - came to about €100.25 billion. If we accept that roughly one third of those people took their mortgages out in the last five or six years, then that comes to about €33 billion. We should set the banks a task of reducing all of those mortgages by 30% to make them affordable and to prevent families from defaulting on a mortgage. If those banks reduced those mortgages by 30%, we could set the conditions and limitations on this kind of renegotiations, so that it will only be for houses worth €600,000 or less. That is not a great cost when compared with what we are doing to bail out speculators and developers, but it would address huge problems that the State will be facing in the near future.

I remember when many people - myself included - gambled on the stock market through Eircom shares. We were all encouraged to take out Eircom shares, because it was a sure thing. I made that choice. I gambled, I suffered, I lost. These property developers gambled on a property market, yet the taxpayer is expected to bail them out. There was no bail out for shareholders in Eircom, yet we will bail out speculators like Liam Carroll, Sean Dunne and others we are getting to know as their court appearances take place.

I asked that Members who have shares in the banks declare their interests when speaking in the Dáil. I also asked that they should exclude themselves, because they have a vested interest in NAMA succeeding. To my knowledge, nobody has acknowledged that they have shares in the banks. Their excuse is that they publish their interests in the register of interests every year. That register of interests needs to be reviewed in a case like this where people have a vested interest in bailing out the banks so that their shares can go up and they can benefit. These are not small amounts of shares. These are shares that must be declared because they are valued at over €13,000 per annum. It is a simple thing to do. A Member should stand up and state that he or she has an interest, but would like to debate the Bill in the public interest.

There is significant misinformation coming from the Government about the figures on NAMA. The lie that NAMA will only pay €7 billion over the odds for the bad loans being bought back from the banks is truly shameful. The Government claims that NAMA is buying €77 billion worth of loans, but that the true value of these loans would be €88 billion. The developers who borrowed €77 billion actually bought €88 billion worth of property.

They say those are the figures, but last week's "Prime Time" programme demonstrated that argument was nonsense and there was nothing we did not already know. In most cases the developers were getting deposits for the loans secured on properties from other banks. Therefore, the whole argument is incorrect. NAMA used a figure of €88 billion to work down to a figure of €47 billion to be paid by the State plus a further €7 billion. It says this has allowed a 47% drop in property prices and that is the value and we will all benefit from it, perhaps in ten years time. There are two problems with this argument.

The recent Liam Carroll-Zoe Developments case with the ACC Bank made the front pages when the Ceann Comhairle was not on them. The judge took the view that if the company sold all its properties in a fire sale, they would only sell for 25% of their value. This, therefore is their value. The State should take this figure of 25% as the value of bank properties because this is a fire sale. We should not pay more than what the courts are willing to accept. We should pay €22 billion maximum for these types of properties so that we do not end up having to force our property market to recreate a bubble to ensure we get a return benefit from the properties we acquire. Therefore, €22 billion is the figure we should pay.

If we accept that the NAMA legislation will pass and if it pays that €22 billion, that will leave us with €30 billion or so that the State was willing to throw away into speculators pockets that could be used for something else. I will put forward some radical but realistic suggestions for how that money could be used to benefit the State for the foreseeable future and underlie a basis for the new economy required for the country. Most Deputies have seen or received e-mails about a proposal termed Spirit of Ireland, a radical proposal to ensure security of energy. Energy security is a major issue throughout the world and every economy wants to ensure that when oil and fossil fuels run out or prices go out of kilter, they will have their own sources of energy. The Spirit of Ireland proposal would employ tens of thousands of people for up to ten years in the construction phase and also provide security of energy for the future. I urge the Government to consider investing this type of money into that project rather than into NAMA. The advantage of this would be we would not only get energy security, but would also make a profit which could then go to other projects.

Last week I listened to some of those involved in the roll-out of broadband. They said €4 billion - a significant amount - would underpin the knowledge and smart economy we are trying to develop. We could position ourselves well if that was rolled out properly and if investment was put into state-of-the-art broadband, rather than the hotchpotch type of broadband we have currently where one house can get it and the one next door cannot. The cost of approximately €4 billion would supply state-of-the-art broadband to every house, business and school in the country. This money could come from the saving made if the Minister did not take the ridiculous route of spending huge amounts that should not be spent on bailing out the banks. It could come from the €20 billion or €30 billion savings made if the Minister paid 25% rather than 47%.

We could also spend the savings on capital projects such as building proper schools, removing prefabs and finishing road projects and transport infrastructure that will help us become more dependent on public transport rather than on private cars which burn more fossil fuels. That is the type of investment required and a further benefit is that this creates employment. The Government may not be able to remember the benefits that come from creating employment as it is so long since it put a proper job creation project together. People pay tax when they are employed and they have extra money in their pockets to spend. The Government benefits again from their spending, through VAT returns and then suddenly we have an Exchequer benefiting from having people in employment rather than having to spend its money on dole queues.

I also propose the Government should set aside proper funds for seed capital. The current funding of €500 million or €200 million will not go far. If we are to invest and plan for the future, we need to put proper seed capital in place so that small and medium enterprises and indigenous companies can avail of money to help them get on the road to becoming profitable and paying back in corporation or other taxes in the future. Otherwise, they sit on their ideas and somebody somewhere else around the world will develop the idea and make the profits. These are practical proposals the Government should accept.

I said earlier there were two problems with regard to the Government using the figure of €88 billion to work down to €47 billion. The second problem is that the Government seems to assume that property prices have bottomed out. It assumes that everything will either stay the same for a while or start to rise. I do not understand the basis for this. If one reads the property pages, one sees prices are still coming down. If one watches auction prices, one sees prices still decreasing. Anybody who goes into areas where houses have been waiting to be sold for the past year and a half knows property prices are still going downwards and will continue to do so. The same is true for commercial and industrial property. The presumption of a rise is wrong.

We have 400,000 people on dole queues and that number is increasing. Where are the people who will buy the houses? The banks are not lending money for them, but apart from that more people are unemployed and therefore cannot afford or will not be allowed to avail of a mortgage. Also, people in insecure jobs or on three-day working weeks cannot take out mortgages. The dole queues do not include the people whose hours have been reduced slightly. Economists such as Morgan Kelly and David McWilliams do not believe prices have bottomed out. I agree and do not think we will see a bottoming out of prices for another year or so. At that stage, we will be very close to the 25% value the banks put on Liam Carroll's property. The figure of 25% is the value we should consider if we are going down the NAMA road to ensure the best value for money is obtained by the State. The additional money the Government was willing to spend or throw away on NAMA should be spent on projects such as those I have mentioned.

In addition, some 36% of NAMA's loans will solely be on land. Land values have fallen even faster and further than property values, particularly where there is nothing on the land. If over one-third of the bad loans are on land, the 30% discount is even further away from the ballpark figure. I will deal with the issue of land value further on Committee Stage.

I wish to raise a number of questions with regard to local authorities, which are owed millions of euro by companies on development lands. The local authorities had planned to spend this money, but where will it come from now? Can they go to NAMA and look for their development levies? There is also an issue with regard to derelict sites. For example, in Dublin the local authority can proceed through derelict sites legislation and compulsorily purchase land that is empty. If land that becomes the property of NAMA remains derelict can local authorities compulsorily purchase it from NAMA, which is not the State?

What happens to major projects such as the Cherry Orchard regeneration project? That is totally stalled because the plan was based on lands which will probably now end up in NAMA. That means that everything in Cherry Orchard will grind to a halt until such time as somebody sells off the land NAMA will take and starts to invest and build on it.

There are enormous problems in relation to NAMA and major questions which I do not believe the Government will be able to address.

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Gerry Adams has welcomed the decision by the Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue to resign from his position.

Mr Adams said:

“John O'Donoghue is not alone in wastefully spending large sums of taxpayers’ money.

“There has been a culture of extravagance and greed within government which predates the 12 years of this Fianna Fáil administration.

“There should be no delay in his resignation. It should take affect immediately. Any other stance is an abuse of the position." ENDS

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Fra McCann MLA for West Belfast has written to the Housing Executive and Housing Associations to ask what measures they are taking to deal with tenants whose children are continuously involved in vandalism of properties which has left many neighbourhoods suffering from levels of disrepair.

Speaking today Mr McCann said:

“As agencies who are centrally involved with housing in or neighbourhoods both the Housing Executive and Housing Associations have a duty of care and responsibility to residents who are tortured and terrorised children as young as 9 years of age who destroy the fabric of areas without any sanction.

“Some of the parents are well aware of the children’s activities but refuse to deal with their behaviour. However the housing authorities are also aware of their behaviour and the identities of those involved but have refused to draw up a comprehensive strategy to tackle this issue.

“There needs to be a zero tolerance regarding these anti-community activities. Those who carry out such activities, or if they are minors, their parents or guardians should be forced to pay the cost of the damage. In the case of a parent or parents who refuse to tackle their children and their behaviour then they should have there tenancy challenged to ensure future good behaviour.

“There are also older youths who wreck estates during the night and sleep all day. Both the housing authorities and the police need to pursue them and make them answerable for the damage they cost. One example of this was the destruction of an electric box in the Falls area which was blown up by a fire work which knocked electric off in hundreds of homes.

“I have raised with the Minister of Social Development the issue of anti social powers the Housing Executive have to deal with these issues and she assured me that they have enough powers at present to deal with all eventualities. If this is the case then we need to see action

“This type of activity is wide spread, it brings the name of young people in areas into disrepute despite this behaviour being down to a small minority. This behaviour impacts on the quality of life of residents of all ages in our communities and should not be accepted.

“While statutory agencies, community groups and local representatives are meeting on a weekly basis to deal with this issue it is now time for the Housing Executive and Housing Associations to step up to the mark and enforce the powers they have. Currently these powers are used more for non payment of rent rather than damage to property or for the benefit of the communities affected.”

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Sinn Féin MLA for west Belfast Paul Maskey has said that the £8000 a week to have PSNI personelle in Stormont should be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

Mr Maskey was speaking after it was revealed, in an answer to a question he put to the Assembly Commission, that the annual cost of a police presence in Stormont is £413,000.

Commenting on the matter today Mr Maskey said;

“Obviously there is a need for security at the Assembly, I don’t think anyone would dispute that.

In saying that, the security level must be proportionate and given the fact that the Assembly already provides security guards on its premises I find it difficult to believe how this spending can be justified, particularly given the current economic climate.

£413,000 per year is a vast amount of money which I believe warrants review.

The events of November 2006 acted a catalyst for the Assembly to review and subsequently increase security at the Assembly. Since that review, the Assembly Commission increased their own internal security arrangements.

The fact that £8000 a week is being spent on an additional police presence at Stormont when the resources could be redirected into effective community policing warrants an urgent review.” CRÍOCH

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