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Sinn Féin Policing Board Member, Martina Anderson MLA (Foyle) has renewed her call for the regulation of 'Cash for Gold Shops' amid fears these shops and web sites are taking advantage of the dire economic circumstances that people find themselves in at this time and particularly in the run-in to Christmas Her call comes following a response from the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott to a number of questions tabled at the Policing Board.

Martina Anderson said

"At the start of December I submitted questions through the Policing Board requesting information on what measures are in place to monitor these 'Cash for Gold' shops and web sites that have begun to spring up everywhere. I believe that some of the companies operating these shops are taking advantage of the dire economic circumstances that many people find themselves in at the present time. In many cases family heirlooms are being handed over for cash as people struggle to cope with the pressures of Christmas.

"The easy access to these 'Cash for 'Gold' shops and the fact that they are unregulated, I suspect is creating in some circumstances a ready means of off-loading illegally obtained jewellery and other valuables. Now I am sure that most of these establishments try to operate within the law but questions must be asked as to how they verify ownership of items presented for cash? There is hardly a day passes without reports of another burglary and in many cases jewellery is taken. The burglars are specifically targeting the elderly and those living alone as they are considered easy prey.

"The Chief Constable Matt Baggott has now responded to questions I submitted to say that there are no regulations in place to govern these websites or stores/jewellers and that it would require legislative intervention by Government. The PSNI have also said that some websites show a selection of payment methods some of which are untraceable. That is totally unacceptable. There needs to be more checks and balances put in place to ensure that the public cannot be exploited and also to prevent criminal gangs using the current craze of 'Cash for Gold' as a means off making easy cash ”

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Sinn Féin Economy spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA (South Antrim) has said he is concerned at figures contained in The Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) Annual Update on Fuel Poverty and Health 2009 which has warned that levels of fuel poverty are expected to increase in the North as improvements in energy efficiency are negated by increasing fuel costs.


Mitchel McLaughlin said


“The annual update from the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) Fuel Poverty and Health 2009 is very worrying indeed. It has warned that levels of fuel poverty are expected to increase as improvements in energy efficiency are negated by increasing fuel costs.


"People living in the North of Ireland know only too well the effects of the high price of fuel costs and many households are struggling to meet energy bills. It must also be remembered that wages here fall well short of the average used in many of these studies and the shortfall in pay scale is not matched nor is there a rise in benefits to offset those costs.


"I was alarmed to read that winter deaths as a result of cold has increased steadily. There was a 23% increase in the number of people dying in the winter of 2008, compared to the winter of 2007. Excess winter deaths are now approaching 1,000 per year in the North.


"It has been clearly established over recent years that households headed by older people are much more likely to be living in fuel poverty. Older people are more likely to live in older houses which are less likely to be energy efficient.


"It's scandalous that people are missing out on millions of pounds in benefits that they are entitled to to tackle issues such as fuel poverty. I would appeal for as many people as possible to check with the many excellent community advice centres and elected representatives Constituency services to ensure that they are receiving all of the benefits to which they are entitled.They could find that they are missing out on that much needed extra ten, twenty pounds a week or should be getting help with such things as their rates or are entitled to a home insulation grant."

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After several months of highly publicised discussions between political parties no firm proposals have been offered by those involved. They entered these discussions on the promise that they would sort out selection, however all they have managed to offer the public is a list of maybes and what if’s.

Speaking today Mr O’Dowd said:

“Sinn Féin stated clearly at the start of these discussions that the agenda was to re-establish state sponsored 11 plus examinations. This is the only definitive proposal that this group has managed to agree on and bring forward. The rest is a list of contradictions and fudges.

“These include the erroneous claim to act on behalf of the needs of the primary sector, the vast majority of whom are delighted to have testing removed from their curriculum.

“Proposals also include adhering to international best practice, a major contradiction, as this has actually seen the abandoning of academic selection.

“There is no ‘necessity’ for the reintroduction of a test which the SDLP have described as being socially unjust and educationally unsound and yet they now wish to bring back this very test.

“These discussions were never about education otherwise they would have taken place in the Education Committee. They were about meeting the needs of those Grammar schools who wish to hold onto their elitist position. The AQE agenda of exclusion rather than inclusion is the real agenda at play.

“Transfer 2010 is in place and it is being successfully implemented by the vast majority of post primary schools. The variety of grades being accepted by the majority of Grammar schools clearly shows all ability education is not only possible but operating in the Grammar sector already.

“Those involved in the discussions, who claim to be opposed to academic selection, failed to recognise the reality that even within the Grammar sector there are those forward thinking, socially conscious educationalists, who are planning to move away from the process of academic selection.

“Education has moved on, it’s time for these parties to catch up.

Concluding:

“Sinn Féin will continue to build an education system which is socially just, educationally sound placing academic and vocational excellence together at its heart. We will work to build a system which meets the needs of primary schools as educators in their own right, not as exam centres for grammar schools. We will also support our post-primary school sector as they too deserve the attention and gratitude of politicians, the media and society.” CRÍOCH

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Michelle Gildernew, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development said she was disappointed with the outcome of the December Fisheries Council in Brussels.

Speaking in Brussels she said: "As I had expected this was a very difficult negotiation. My main priority was nephrops (prawns) which is the most important species for our catchers and processers. The Irish Sea stock on which our industry depends is being fished sustainably and our scientists, together with their counterparts in the south of Ireland had provided evidence to the Commission to support that view.

“Despite this, the Commission initially proposed a 30% cut on prawn quota across all sea areas from the North Channel to the West of Ireland. I argued that this was not justified and told the Commission of the serious consequences this would have for our local industry. After lengthy negotiations the Commission agreed to 9%. However, given the strength of our scientific evidence I believe that there should have been no cut, but the Commission wouldn't move any further.

"I also pressed for an increase in the Irish Sea herring quota and again we provided scientific evidence to support the case. However the Commission was unsympathetic and the final package did not provide any increase.

"I am disappointed as I know the fishing industry will be at the outcome. But this annual round of haggling over fish quotas makes a difficult business more difficult because of uncertainties over future fishing opportunities. I am convinced that we must move to a different system which gives local fisheries managers and the industry greater say in the fishing and conservation of the fish stocks off our coast.

"I am committed to seeing the development of long-term fisheries management plans for Irish Sea prawns and for herring which we will develop in partnership with local marine stakeholders and the Commission. Those plans can build in the appropriate harvest levels that are best suited to the characteristics of Irish Sea stocks and will incorporate environmental objectives for these fisheries."

On other stocks there was the expected 25% cut in cod in line with the Cod Recovery Plan; no change for haddock; an increase of 14% for Irish Sea Plaice which demonstrates that this stock is maintaining a healthy condition; sole and whiting stocks remain depleted and experienced a cut of 25% each, but both are of little importance to the local fleet.

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Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, has said St Mary’s Primary School on Rathlin Island has a unique place in education.

The Minister was speaking during her first visit to the school when she met the Principal, Helen O’Halloran, and the six pupils. The Minister said: “Small rural schools are usually at the heart of their community. St Mary’s Primary School provides a vital service to help sustain the Rathlin community and provide a well rounded education for the children. It is the only inhabited island off the north coast of Ireland and it is important that government encourages and supports key services such as education.

“I wanted to visit St Mary’s to see the work of the Principal and Board of Governors and introduce the four children to the Primary Languages and Sports Programmes. I am grateful to the GAA and Pobal an Chaistil in Ballycastle for their support in these initiatives.”

The Minister was accompanied on the visit by Chairperson of Moyle District Council, Councillor Cara McShane, Provincial Director of Ulster GAA Danny Murphy, GAA coach Roisin Keenan and the Gaelic Language Development Officer for North Antrim Andrew Mac Uait. The pupils at St Mary’s Primary School will be able to benefit from the Primary Sports Programme and Primary Languages Programme introduced by the Minister through visits to the island by tutors and coaches.

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Michelle Gildernew, Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development said she was disappointed with the outcome of the December Fisheries Council in Brussels.

Speaking in Brussels she said: "As I had expected this was a very difficult negotiation. My main priority was nephrops (prawns) which is the most important species for our catchers and processers. The Irish Sea stock on which our industry depends is being fished sustainably and our scientists, together with their counterparts in the south of Ireland had provided evidence to the Commission to support that view.

“Despite this, the Commission initially proposed a 30% cut on prawn quota across all sea areas from the North Channel to the West of Ireland. I argued that this was not justified and told the Commission of the serious consequences this would have for our local industry. After lengthy negotiations the Commission agreed to 9%. However, given the strength of our scientific evidence I believe that there should have been no cut, but the Commission wouldn't move any further.

"I also pressed for an increase in the Irish Sea herring quota and again we provided scientific evidence to support the case. However the Commission was unsympathetic and the final package did not provide any increase.

"I am disappointed as I know the fishing industry will be at the outcome. But this annual round of haggling over fish quotas makes a difficult business more difficult because of uncertainties over future fishing opportunities. I am convinced that we must move to a different system which gives local fisheries managers and the industry greater say in the fishing and conservation of the fish stocks off our coast.

"I am committed to seeing the development of long-term fisheries management plans for Irish Sea prawns and for herring which we will develop in partnership with local marine stakeholders and the Commission. Those plans can build in the appropriate harvest levels that are best suited to the characteristics of Irish Sea stocks and will incorporate environmental objectives for these fisheries."

On other stocks there was the expected 25% cut in cod in line with the Cod Recovery Plan; no change for haddock; an increase of 14% for Irish Sea Plaice which demonstrates that this stock is maintaining a healthy condition; sole and whiting stocks remain depleted and experienced a cut of 25% each, but both are of little importance to the local fleet.

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Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, has said St Mary’s Primary School on Rathlin Island has a unique place in education.

The Minister was speaking during her first visit to the school when she met the Principal, Helen O’Halloran, and the six pupils. The Minister said: “Small rural schools are usually at the heart of their community. St Mary’s Primary School provides a vital service to help sustain the Rathlin community and provide a well rounded education for the children. It is important that government encourages and supports key services such as education.

“I wanted to visit St Mary’s to see the work of the Principal and Board of Governors and introduce the four children to the Primary Languages and Sports Programmes. I am grateful to the GAA and Pobal an Chaistil in Ballycastle for their support in these initiatives.”

The Minister was accompanied on the visit by Chairperson of Moyle District Council, Councillor Cara McShane, Provincial Director of Ulster GAA Danny Murphy, GAA coach Roisin Keenan and the Gaelic Language Development Officer for North Antrim Andrew Mac Uait. The pupils at St Mary’s Primary School will be able to benefit from the Primary Sports Programme and Primary Languages Programme introduced by the Minister through visits to the island by tutors and coaches.

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Cavan-Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that today’s (Wednesday) planning application by Eirgrid to erect its proposed pylons and power lines across Counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan is an attempt to wrong-foot communities over the Christmas and New Year period using legislation that effectively excludes real community participation in planning.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“I raised the Eirgrid application today in the Dáil with the Taoiseach Brian Cowen when I strongly urged that the underground option for the inter-connector network should be taken.

“To construct its network of pylons and power lines across Cos. Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, Eirgrid has today applied to An Bórd Pleanála under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006. This legislation by-passes local authorities, overturning normal planning procedure and effectively excluding local communities.

“This is attempt by Eirgrid to wrong-foot communities, carefully timed over the Christmas and New Year period to limit their opportunity to mount opposition at An Bord Pleanála level. However, such is the community opposition to this scheme that I believe the case will be put very effectively.

“For my part and on behalf of Sinn Féin I reaffirm our support for the local communities who will be effected by these power lines and pylons in calling for these power lines to be undergrounded and for new best practice standards to be applied. The full and real cost in human and environmental terms must be taken into account.

“My Sinn Féin colleague Cathal Boylan, Newry/Armagh MLA, has expressed his disappointment at the parallel application by NIE, covering parts of Cos. Armagh and Tyrone.

“We in Sinn Féin are fully committed to the development of an all-Ireland energy system. The proposed inter-connector can and should be rolled out underground.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan has called on government backbenchers to vote against the Finance Emergency Measures Bill and reverse the decision to implement cuts on public sector workers across all grades.

Deputy Morgan said the cuts would hit low and middle income earners in the public sector disproportionately and that the government should reduce the pay of the highest earners and introduce a new third rate of tax for those earning over €100,000.

Deputy Morgan said:

“These cuts across the board are not progressive. A 5% cut to someone on €25,000 is a far greater hit than an 8% cut for someone on €125,000. I am calling on all government backbenchers to vote against this Bill and reverse this decision.

“The government should reduce the salaries of those earning over €100,000 and introduce a new third rate of tax of 48% for income earned in excess of that amount.

“The government continues to take the easy option in its approach to this Budget and to the public finances in general. It is too easy to hit the lowest paid, and this government believes it is the path of the least electoral pain.

“But as well as pushing people into poverty, it will not be beneficial for the economy. Low and middle income earners spend more, so by cutting their pay you are just taking money out of the real economy. They will see the effects of this in next years VAT receipts.

“It is not too late for the government to take the tough but brave decisions and ask those who can afford to pay more to do so.

“I am therefore calling on government backbenchers to vote against the Finance Emergency Measures Bill and reverse the decision to implement cuts on public sector workers across all grades.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Policing and Justice Spokesperson Alex Maskey MLA has slammed the findings of yet another report highlighting delays in the implementation of numerous recommendations within Maghaberry Prison since the death of prisoner Colin Bell.

Speaking today Mr Maskey said;

“There has obviously been a huge deal of concern throughout the community as a result of Colin Bell’s death and the findings of the subsequent investigation by the Prisoner Ombudsman as well as this latest result.

Unfortunately, it seems as though all the warnings have been ignored, recommendations have gone unimplemented and we have seen vulnerable prisoners die as a result.

It is clear that a fundamental sea-change is needed within the Prison system.

The latest findings indicate yet again that the Prison Service has to do substantially more to ensure the safety and wellbeing of prisoners being held in the system here; the findings also fly in the face of commitments made by British Minister Paul Goggins following the death of Colin Bell: "I intend that this tragic death will be a watershed for the North’s Prison Service. "I am determined that the Prison Service will instill a consistent culture of care for all prisoners, but especially those who pose a danger to themselves." CRÍOCH

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Speaking in the Dáil this evening on a private members motion on Social Welfare cuts Sinn Féin spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh accused Fine Gael of playing political football with the issue of social welfare. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said Fine Gael also proposed social welfare cuts in its pre-budget proposals.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Fine Gael wanted cuts to social welfare – they did exclude carers, the disabled and the blind, but they didn’t exclude widows, young people coming out of college, parents who have lost their jobs and are struggling to cope with Christmas. They are just playing political football with this issue, they have no real concern about social welfare recipients or the most vulnerable. In government they would do the same, if not worse than FF and the Greens. Remember the last time they were in power during a recession – they put a tax on children’s shoes.

“Social welfare did not need to be touched. There were many measures the government could have taken to raise money to reduce the deficit – a third tax rate, abolishing the PRSI ceiling, abolishing the tax breaks abused by high earners, establish a wealth tax, stop putting public money into private healthcare. The government took the option that offered the least electoral pain.

“Labour and Fine Gael both buy into the same economic analysis as Fianna Fáil and the Greens. They are not offering an alternative, just the same measures wrapped up in different terms. None of these parties will fix Ireland’s economy.” ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil this evening Sinn Féin Workers Rights Spokesperson Martin Ferris TD said a well orchestrated campaign by business interests influenced the Government’s decision to cut public sector pay at the lower levels. Deputy Ferris said Fianna Fáil’s history with big business in this state means that the likes of IBEC and ISME have a huge advantage when it comes to influencing the decisions of the current Government.

Deputy Ferris said:

“The truth of this matter, as the Minister well knows, is that what we witnessed was not a popular uprising by old age pensioners and the unemployed and ordinary workers demanding that teachers and nurses and Guards and those who work in Government departments should have their wages cut again, but a well orchestrated campaign by business interests and right wing pundits in the media.

“The ink was not dry on the Budget before the same forces started to demand a reduction of the minimum wage. This proves the point that private sector workers are the next targets after the attack on low-paid and modest income earners in the public services.

“I received a number of emails for example claiming to be from small business people here which in fact were sent by the Irish subsidiary of a major overseas brokerage firm. IBEC and ISME organised their members in what was an effective lobby and fair play to them. That is the way that politics work.
However, as we know all too well from Fianna Fáil’s history with big business in this country; they have a huge advantage when it comes to influencing the action those in power take or don’t take.

“The old saying of ‘who pays the piper calls the tune’ springs to mind.

“Truly the days when a Fianna Fáil leader could claim to be the leader of a party that represented the people of no property are long gone.” ENDS


Full text of Deputy Ferris’ speech follows:

Like all of us in this House, I am certain that the Minister and each of his party colleagues and the Green Party TDs have received dozens of emails and phone calls from members of the public services who are the subject of the legislation we are debating which is required to facilitate the second pay cut inflicted on those workers this year.

That the proposed cuts would lead to so much anger and disappointment and indeed despair should surely have come as no surprise given the one day strike which took place a number of weeks ago and the ongoing representations made by public sector workers and their unions in the run up to the widely predicted cuts that were announced here by the Minister on Budget Day.

And yet the Minister chose to ignore all of this and we had the charade of an alleged Fianna Fáil backbench revolt over the proposals from the public sector trade unions which in themselves would have entailed another steep cut in the earnings of public sector employees.

The truth of the matter however, as the Minister well knows, is that what we witnessed was not a popular uprising by old age pensioners and the unemployed and ordinary workers demanding that teachers and nurses and Guards and those who work in Government departments should have their wages cut again, but a well orchestrated campaign by business interests and right wing pundits in the media.

The ink was not dry on the Budget before the same forces started to demand a reduction of the minimum wage. This proves the point that private sector workers are the next targets after the attack on low-paid and modest income earners in the public services.

I received a number of emails for example claiming to be from small business people here which in fact were sent by the Irish subsidiary of a major overseas brokerage firm. IBEC and ISME organised their members in what was an effective lobby and fair play to them. That is the way that politics work.
However, as we know all too well from Fianna Fáil’s history with big business in this country; they have a huge advantage when it comes to influencing the action those in power take or don’t take.

The old saying of “who pays the piper calls the tune” springs to mind.

One of the main themes in the emails which I have received from teachers and others in my own constituency and from every other county is the perception that those who are on low to medium wages are being saddled with the main blame and the main burden for the current financial crisis, and its solution.

There are people in this building for whom the cuts this year mean that they are little better off than if they were claiming social welfare. Indeed there are people working in this building and in other branches of the public service who are earning a weekly wage that entitles them to Family Income Supplement which makes a complete mockery of any pretence on the part of the Minister that he is taking on some protected well healed section of the community.

What a pleasure it must have been last week for them to see the hangers-on of the Minister’s party swanning around the Dáil Bar and Restaurant celebrating the fact that the people guiding them around, and serving them pints and food and working for their TDs were having their incomes slashed while some of those doing the swanning around are among those who have done very well indeed from the so-called Celtic Tiger and by all appearances are not suffering too greatly from its demise, brought about of course not by the staff in the Dáil Bar or the people working in the restaurants or the ushers or secretarial staff but by the friends of the Ministers own party who, through their greed and incompetence, have saddled this state with a massive debt that will be visited on the sons and daughters and maybe even the grandsons and grand daughters of those being presented with the bill for the end of the great party, to which incidentally none of them were ever invited.

It is sickening indeed to listen to some business spokespeople and right wing pundits who are seeking to give the impression that all of those public sector workers currently having their incomes slashed in an unprecedented way were living the high life over the past ten or so years, and indeed that in doing so they created the current mess that we are in.

Was it teachers or nurses or Dáil ushers or secretarial assistants who speculated in land banks and pushed up the prices of houses, was it council workers who created the mortgage inflation, was it the hospital cleaners who charged or rather demanded to be charged exorbitant rents for houses and apartments, was it firemen who increased the prices for hotels, and food and drink even while workers in those sectors were receiving only modest increases or no increases at all?

No it was not. The only share they had in all of that, in common with the vast majority of people in this state, was to have to pay a much bigger share of their income for housing and accommodation and just about everything else. It is ironic then to listen to spokespeople for those sectors claiming that the attacks on the public service will somehow lead to economic recovery. I wonder have they pondered that there will be less people to overcharge now?

But what was most telling was one business spokesperson last week who said that the Budget will lead to a revival in overseas investment and that this will allow Irish business to piggy back on all of that.

I use the word “telling” because it describes accurately enough a lot of what went on in the Celtic Tiger years. The real economy was to a huge extent dominated by multi nationals and this led to most of the real growth. Benefiting from that, and from the nominal increases in workers wages above all were the type of people I have referred to who saw it as an opportunity to dip their beaks and extract a disproportionate share of that in rents and mortgages by putting them up whenever they felt like it.

In saying that I am not criticising the many genuine domestic enterprises who have sought to contribute to employment creation and the economy and it is no accident that they have been treated extremely badly by the banks in comparison to the incompetent speculators who have gifted us NAMA, and a potentially worse disaster down the road.

Another aspect of the assault on ordinary public sector workers has been the apparent popularity of this strategy among other sections of workers although I suspect – if for no other reason than that many private sector workers are married or otherwise related to low and middle income public servants – that this does not reflect reality.

However, any private sector worker inclined to celebrate the attack on teachers and nurses and firemen and guards and people working in Government departments ought to beware because as sure as night follows day they will be next. The private sector has already seen cuts in wages and the undermining of jobs and conditions but the defeat, as it is regarded in business circles, of the unions on public sector pay, will be followed by further attacks on workers living standards.

Apart from the issues of fairness in all of this and the fact that many people’s lives will be made a lot worse, my colleague Arthur Morgan last week made other points regarding why these cuts are a bad move. They are not going to encourage economic growth as they will take a huge amount of money out of circulation. In saying that however, the Government is at least consistent as its entire strategy is negative and militates against any economic stimulus. Other countries have rejected their strategy and are showing signs of recovery. This Government however has chosen to attack those on low income and to further depress the economy while at the same time creating the monstrosity of NAMA to pay for the sins of their friends in finance and property.

Truly the days when a Fianna Fáil leader could claim to be the leader of a party that represented the people of no property are long gone.

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Speaking as the Seanad debate the cuts to Social Welfare payments today Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty has called on fellow Donegal Senators Brian Ó Domhnaill and Cecilia Keaveney to oppose the bill.

Senator Doherty insisted that social welfare rates did not need to be cut in the budget and castigated the Government for not targeting top earners for more tax.

Senator Doherty said:

“A decision by both Senator Ó Domhnaill and Keavney would mean that these cuts to social welfare could not come into affect. However supporting this legislation will cut social welfare payments to over 20,000 Donegal people who are currently unemployed and depend on their weekly €200 to get by. It also reduces child benefit by €16 per month which is paid to over 41,000 children in Donegal.

“I am calling on Senators Ó Domhnaill and Keavney to put their county before their party and protect Donegal social welfare recipients by rejecting this Bill this evening.

“This is a disgusting piece of legislation which will see the most vulnerable people in our society plunged further and further into poverty while those at the top; those who along with their friends the bankers, the speculators, the Roddy Molloys, the Seanie Fitzpatricks and the developers own Fianna Fáil; those who have brought this economy to the brink of collapse remain happy and comfortable in the knowledge that this despicable government has their best interest at heart.

“They tell us this is for the good of the country that the cuts are minimal and with the cost of living down that those on social welfare won’t really feel the affects of these cuts. I say this is complete and utter nonsense.

“Perhaps the Minister should say this to the 23 year old university graduate, out of a job and now living on €150 a week. Tell this to the single mother who has to tell her kids that Christmas is cancelled this year. Tell this to the disabled, the unemployed, the carers. The low paid workers in both public and private sectors, the families, the young couples struggling with massive mortgages to pay.

“Social welfare did not need to be touched. There were many measures the government could have taken to raise money to reduce the deficit – a third tax rate, abolishing the PRSI ceiling, abolishing the tax breaks abused by high earners, establish a wealth tax, stop putting public money into private healthcare. The government took the option that offered the least electoral pain.

“My party came up with alternative strategies Minister and you ignored them.” ENDS

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Donegal Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty has called on Fine Gael’s Olivia Mitchell to withdraw her weekend comments in relation to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

In an interview on NewsTalk Radio’s “The Wide Angle”, on Sunday morning, the Dublin South based TD compared the Department to a quango and stated that it’s only purpose is “giving out grants”. She also called for the Department to be scrapped and its functions to be amalgamated into the remit of Government Departments.

Senator Doherty said:

“Many people are starting to worry about the real agenda of Fine Gael if they form the lead party in the next Government. These comments from a senior Fine Gael spokesperson only add to those concerns.

“The Department of Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs provides a critical focus on the needs of our Gaeltacht communities and our rural communities including partnership boards and Community Development Projects, and our rural communities.

“Deputy Mitchell’s arrogant comments demonstrate an alarming ignorance of the real needs of our rural communities and the work of community development workers and volunteers.

“Deputy Mitchell must withdraw those remarks on behalf of the Fine Gael party. If Deputy Mitchell fails to withdraw her comments then Enda Kenny must intervene and dismiss her from his front bench to demonstrate that there is no doubt in relation to his Party’s commitment to the communities of rural Ireland.

“As a number of senior Fine Gael spokespersons have now championed the McCarthy report, a report seen as an outright attack on rural Ireland, Enda Kenny should also spell out what aspects of the McCarthy report his party would implement if his party were in Government.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for Newry/Armagh Cathal Boylan has said that the people of Armagh and Tyrone will be deeply disappointed to hear that NIE have formally submitted a planning application for the North/South interconnector. Mr Boylan who is also his party’s spokesperson on planning said that the community will continue to campaign against the proposed pylons.

“Sinn Féin supports the proposal for an all-Ireland energy system that will benefit the consumer. That can best be met by putting any proposed interconnector underground. Sinn Féin also supports the public, through groups like NEPP and SEAT, in its call for that.

"The Cavan to Tyrone electricity interconnector has been a worrying and emotive subject for the public who live along the proposed route. The reason for that concern is the fear of health risks connected to overhead power lines that carry up to 400 kV.

"The public not only needs reassurance on health issues, but there are also concerns of the detrimental environmental impact of 40 km of pylons - irrespective of their size - in the North and 40 km in the South, which will cut across the drumlins of Monaghan, Armagh and the other counties.

"Any planning application must take into account that these pylons will be visibly intrusive and impact adversely not only on the environment but on property and land prices in the affected areas and i look forward to the reading the Environmental statement submitted with this application.

"The concerns should not only be about cost, because ultimately the consumer will pay, they are about the health of future generations who will live near the interconnector.

“Sinn Fein will continue to support the community in their fight against proposals for this project to be built above ground.” CRÍOCH

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Approaching the start of the high level segment of the Copenhagen climate talks, Irish GUE/NGL MEP for the Six Counties Bairbre de Brún has stressed the importance of getting ambitious and clear figures both on emissions reductions and financing.

Speaking from Copenhagen, Ms de Brun said: “We need to know what real emissions reductions will be made and to know that the necessary financing will be made available to fund the actions to tackle climate change and its effects” said Ms de Brún.

“The developed world must agree ambitious targets that reflect the latest science.. Science tells us that industrialised countries should reduce emissions by 40% by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050”. Developing world engagement with adequate finance from rich countries is also essential.

“On the issue of short term finance for immediate action for the most vulnerable countries – such action needs to begin now, at the end of this week, not in six months or a year” she said, “those vulnerable countries facing drought or those requiring flood and storm protections simply cannot wait”.

Ms de Brún was speaking after the European Parliament delegation to the Copenhagen summit met with Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. At the climate talks, Mr. de Boer emphasised the need for considerable short-term financing in the next three years and a stable and predictable stream of financing after that. CRÍOCH


NOTES TO EDITORS / NEWSDESKS: You can keep up to date with Bairbre's participation in the COP-15 Conferece by following her Twitter page www.twitter.com/BairbreMEP as well as reading up to the minute Blog Posts at www.sinnfein.ie/blog Photographs are also available from www.flickr.com/sinnfeinireland

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Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, has said that an updated plan for future development of the Middletown Autism Centre will go ahead as soon as possible.

The Minister was speaking after the Department for Education and Science in the south confirmed that they had lifted the pause on capital funding for Middletown.

The Minister said: “Middletown is a joint north–south initiative and I welcome the announcement that funding will now be available from the Department for Education and Science to move ahead with a new phased development plan. Funding from my Department continued to be available to Middletown during the year and this important project has already provided training to hundreds of professionals.

“A new phased multi-annual plan for the future development of the Centre will be developed in conjunction with the Board and will take account of international best practice and the development of autism services on the island of Ireland since the Centre was established. Middletown will be dedicated to improving and enriching the educational opportunities of children and young people with autism.”

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has today sent her deepest condolences to the family of baby Millie Martin who died as a result of horrific injuries inflicted upon her.

Speaking today Ms Gildernew said;

“Firstly my thoughts and prayers are with Millie’s family at what is no doubt a horrific time of pain and sorrow for them; as a mother I can only imagine the type of suffering the family will be going through at this tragic time.

“When I heard of nature of Millie’s death I was physically shaking.

“Obviously questions need to asked of many agencies in relation to what happened to allow Millie to endure such a horrific death and I will certainly be asking those questions but I am also conscious at this time of the wishes of family to grieve in peace.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Social Affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said the row over Paul Gogarty's use of the F word in the Dáil has distracted from the real issue - Deputy Gogarty's support and that of the Green Party and Fianna Fáil TDs for savage cuts to social welfare.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The row over Paul Gogarty's language in the Dáil has distracted from what he was actually saying - he was defending his support for savage cuts to social welfare that hit the most vulnerable in our society. He voted along with his Green Party and Fianna Fáil and so-called 'Independent' colleagues to slash payments for people living in poverty, very many of whom are in his own constituency. The F word is the least that he and his fellow Government backbenchers have to apologise for having ensured the passage of a Social Welfare Bill that is a recipe for impoverishment and emigration.

"Deputy Gogarty should hang his head in shame, not for his unparliamentary language but for his betrayal of the people who elected him." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Mary Lou McDonald has welcomed today’s allocation of €200,000 from Dublin City Council to keep three swimming pools open for at least six months. The swimming pools were to be closed before Christmas.

Ms. McDonald has been heavily involved in the campaign to keep Seán McDermott Street Swimming Pool open. Speaking after Dublin City Council made its announcement today she said the campaign must continue to see the long term future of the pool secured.

Ms. McDonald said, “This news is obviously a welcome development and shows how people putting pressure on the council and the elected politicians in the North Inner City can make a difference. However, the council has not made a commitment to retain the pool in the long-term, only for the next six months.

“It is vitally important that people keep up the pressure and not just to keep the pool open, but to see it upgraded and improved. I and Sinn Féin will continue to campaign to keep this pool open in the long term. The community here in the North Inner City cannot afford to lose more of what are already too few facilities.” ENDS

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