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Sinn Féin Education Minister Caitriona Ruane has congratulated all those schools who entered The Young Scientist of the Year Awards and wished all those who reached the final the best of luck.

Ms Ruane stated,

“The Young Scientist of the Year Awards is an excellent opportunity for schools right across the island of Ireland to exhibit the talents of their pupils in this field.

“As Education Minister I have been at the fore of promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and it is good to see more and more schools participating.  This is an indication that our strategy of promoting STEM is having an affect on pupils and teachers alike.

“This year is the highest number of schools that have entered the competition ad I would encourage all schools to continue to support this competition by entering next year

“I wish all the schools reaching the final all the best but I firmly believe that each and every school that enters this competition is a winner

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Sinn Féin Assembly member John O’Dowd has called on the UUP to remove their failing Minister Michael McGimpsey from the Executive. Mr O’Dowd’s comments came after the Health Minister announced plans to target public sector workers in his budget plan.

Mr O’Dowd said:

“Michael McGimpsey has never been anything other than a semi detached member of the Executive. He has never sought to play a full role in Executive business beyond demanding more money for a department which already receives almost 50% of the budget without ever bringing forward a suggestion about where the additional revenue should come from. This from a man who last May campaigned on the very Tory manifesto that has delivered a £4bn cut in the block grant and who has continued to protect six figure salaries for heath trust bosses and consultants.

“Yesterday Mr McGimpsey once again failed to attend the Executive meeting. He went missing on the job the same way he did over Christmas as the swine flu situation developed.  Instead he spent his time doing media interviews on a departmental plan that he developed which deliberately targets public sector workers as part of a political agenda. His behaviour is disgraceful.

“The Executive collectively decided that each department needed to prioritise job retention as part of their departmental plans. Mr McGimpsey as part of a Tory agenda has instead embraced cuts and set out to reduce the size of the public sector. These moves are not about money they are ideological. It is up to each Minister to decide how to spend their allocation. Others have decided to protect public sector jobs, Mr McGimpsey has decided to target them. Look at Education for example, which is dealing with a much more difficult budget allocation than Health. There the Minister has moved resources from the capital budget in order to protect the jobs of frontline workers.

“The time has now come for the sake of public sector workers in the Health care sector that the UUP remove Mr McGimpsey from the Executive and replace him with someone who will stand up for the health service not seek to blindly follow the lead set by his Tory masters in London.”

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has condemned the implicit threat by the Minister of Health to the funding for suicide prevention groups.

Speaking today Mr Adams said:

“These groups save lives. Any cut to their funding will lead to an increase in suicides.
Any threat to their funding must be deplored.

“At a meeting late last year I and my colleague Jennifer McCann stressed the need for resources to be extended to these groups in areas like north and west Belfast.

“In 2010 over 21 people had died as a result of suicide in West Belfast alone. This issue needs to be given priority by Micheal McGimpsey.

“Suicide prevention groups, who are primarily made up of bereaved families, play a central role in working with those who are at risk while also filling a gap that is left by Health Agencies. They also working closely with other families of those who have died through suicide.

“To remove the funding for these groups is a grave error and it must not happen. The Minister must remove this threat that is now hanging over these groups by providing clarity and committing his department to continue the funding of these very important organisations.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and deputy chair of the health committee Michelle O’Neill has stated there are serious concerns to the Ministers approach given that the swine flu mortality figures are only two below the total figure of last years pandemic and dismissed the argument that figures are proportionate to deaths in Britain.

 

Speaking today following the Health Committee meeting Ms O’Neill said:

 

“There are serious concerns with regards to the Ministers approach to the swine flu crisis that is currently hitting the north.

 

“At this stage we are only two deaths away from reaching the total figure of last year with a further 4 children and 30 adults in a critical condition. Last year the crisis was called a pandemic. This year, with similar figures, the response from the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, and the department is well below satisfactory.

 

“While the Health Minister has been absent from commenting on swine flu, those in the Public Health Agency are telling us that policies have changed as they are taking their lead from the British Joint Committee and that the crisis here is proportionate to Britain.

 

“Clearly with a population of 1.5m and seventeen deaths, if that were to be rolled out across Britain's population of 60m the figure would reach close to 680 deaths. That is not proportionate.

 

“Given this and the fact that health is a devolved matter those responsible, with the Minister to the fore, need to stop taking the lead of the Joint Committee and devise an effective programme to get to grips with swine flu within the North. The absence of such an approach shows how much the Minister has failed to tackle this crisis.”

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Sinn Féin Representative for Pottinger Niall Ó Donnghaile has welcomed today’s seizure of more than £200,000 worth of cannabis in the London Street area of Ravenhill.

Speaking this afternoon Niall said;

“Obviously any move to take illegal drugs off our streets is to be welcomed.

For some time now Sinn Féin have been raising the concerns of residents across the Pottinger area directly with the PSNI about apparent increases in drug dealing in the constituency.

As a community we must all ensure we stand against those who would peddle drugs within our areas.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA and vice chair of the Health Committee has slammed the Health Minister for producing a draft budget that will see front line services attacked.

 

Speaking following comments from health department officials Ms O’Neill said:

 

“Recently we are seeing anybody but the Minister coming forward to comment on health department related issues. The Minister has been invisible on dealing with swine flu and now we have officials from his department at the Health Committee, and not the Minister, telling us of job losses that will affect the most vulnerable in society the most.

 

“It clearly seems as if very little work has gone on to identify true effeciency savings in order to address budgetary shortfalls. Instead what we are seeing are Tory inspired cuts under a Tory aligned Minister.

 

“Micheal McGimpsey previously said he would protect frontline services however as his department officials are stating that there will be 4,000 job losses over four years the Minister must come clean. Which jobs is he targeting and in what areas?

 

“He has the lions share of the budget allocated between departments in the Executive. How he manages this will ultimately reflect on the Ministers ability to deliver an effective and efficient health service.”

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Sinn Féin Transport Spokesperson Pearse Doherty has described the Government’s decision to cut the Public Service Obligation for regional airports as an attack on the West of Ireland.

Speaking today Deputy Doherty said:

“These funds were a financial incentive to encourage airlines to fly to regional airports even when it was not profitable to do so.

“The removal of these funds will mean a loss of services for thousands of people in the West of Ireland leading to a significant loss of jobs.

“At a time when we have record levels of unemployment this is a retrograde step and an attack on the West of Ireland.” ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Workers Rights, Martin Ferris TD strongly criticised legislation designed to liberalise the postal services. He was speaking during a debate today on a bill which will open up the sector to competition. Ferris claimed that the bill would open the door to privatisation and that the obligation on companies to provide a six day service would fall victim to profits.


Deputy Ferris said:

“The object of this Bill is to liberalise the postal services. That means in effect that its claim to protect the universal service obligation is not worth the paper that it is written on. Nor is the claim that the EU Directive will protect it forever.

“We need only look at what is happening in Britain at the moment when similar legislation to give effect to the EU directive was published, assurances were given that six day delivery and collection would be copper fastened.

“Now, as the Government there is preparing to privatise the Royal Mail it has emerged that the provision of services will all be dependent on profit margins. In effect that will mean that if a postal company can prove that it is losing money then it will be able to downgrade its services and only operate profitable ones.

“There are currently no plans to privatise An Post as a whole but this bill and the whole tenor of the EU liberalisation of postal and other public services will inevitably lead to not only the breaking up of the postal services but the cherry picking and selling off of its most profitable parts.

“It is clear that the privatisation of state assets is going to be part of the IMF/EU bailout for the banks. The review group on state assets, chaired by Colm McCarthy who has already made clear his support for privatisation, is due to be presented soon. It will be interesting to see what he recommends and in what way this Government and its successor acts on it.

“That report was supposed to be published before the end of last year but in a reply to a question from me yesterday Minister Lenihan said that the group is to engage in further consultations before it presents.

“In another reply Minister Lenihan told me that privatisation of state assets has been discussed as part of the bailout and that – to quote the Minister:

‘the Government will consult with the Commission on the results of this assessment with a view to setting appropriate targets for the possible privatisation of state-owned assets.’

“We need much harder guarantees that An Post will not be asset stripped and that the people of this state are not left with a poorer and more expensive service; that rural communities are not left in a situation where postal collection and deliveries do not take place six days a week.

“If such guarantees are not built into this bill by way of amendment then Sinn Féin will be voting against it. We will be doing so in order to protect the jobs of postal workers and the excellent service which An Post currently provides throughout this state.

“We will also be opposing it because we do not believe public companies that have been built over generations ought to be stripped down, torn apart and sold off to privateers. We certainly do not support the selling off of any state company in order to comply with the terms of the IMF/EU bailout for the failed bankers and speculators, some of whom no doubt will be joining the former Taoiseach in companies ready to move in for the kill if and when they are sold off.” ENDS

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Commenting on the release of figures showing over £500m was spent funding the Patton redundancy package for former RUC members, Sinn Féin Councillor Elisha McLaughlin said:

“There is a widely held perception within the nationalist community that many former members of the RUC are on little more than a gravy train when it comes to claiming money from the public purse.

“It must be remembered that when these individuals were involved in the RUC they were paid excessive salaries and bonuses and then the severance package granted to them by the British government was far too generous.

Since then many who have taken this package have subsequently sought to extract further public money through hearing loss and other legal claims. This is completely unacceptable, particularly when contrasted with the treatment received by many victims of the RUC.

“Patton was about more than police numbers. It was about creating an accountable and representative policing service. Human Rights abusers had to be weeded out. But in our view the amount of money handed to these individuals has been exorbitant and unnecessary.”


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Commenting on the publication of the Departmental Spending Plans, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Mitchel McLaughlin said it was now vital that the Executive Budget Review Group meet in the coming days, to discuss the allocation of additional revenue outlined in the Budget paper.

Mr McLaughlin said:

“The Tory administration in London imposed savage cuts on the north in the spending review. If these cuts had been allowed to proceed unchecked, as some had proposed, then the effect on public services and on the most vulnerable would have been significant.

“All of the Executive departments have now published their spending plans. It is clear from them that there are still significant difficulties and pressures across all departments. The draft budget agreed before Christmas demonstrated that an additional £1.6bn of additional revenue, above the spending review settlement was raised by the executive. In that draft plan around £800m of this additional money was allocated.

“It is now important that the Executive Budget Review Group meets in the coming days to start allocating the additional revenue available. A number of proposals included in the Budget paper need realized and work must begin immediately on these. It is important that when the budget passes through the consultation process and is improved that the final package going to the Assembly is complete and all revenue is allocated.” CRÍOCH

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The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP, MLA announced today her Department’s proposed allocations under the Executive’s Budget 2011-2015.


She said: “I welcome the Executive’s agreement on a draft Budget, which allows us to make substantial commitments to the rural community, and to plot a path for the further development of the rural economy.

“We will not have the resources to do everything we would want to do, and we are therefore taking action in a number of areas to balance our books going forward. We will optimise the contribution from the European Commission to our European Programmes. That will allow us to sustain the current level of farm land covered by agri-environment agreements – at 42%, this is the highest level ever achieved – and I aim to make a separate statement later this month about re-opening the Countryside Management Scheme. It will also allow us to sustain a high level of investment through capital grants which will total £28million of public expenditure across the Budget period.

“On top of that, we will implement a plan that will save £43million over four years, incorporating savings from corporate services, from procurement, from administration, from transactions and lower priority programmes. This will include scaling back lower priority areas of the Food Strategy. AFBI will also reconfigure a number of lower priority work areas and will make procurement savings. We will aim to make significant savings from expenditure on animal health. Some savings will come from the eradication of brucellosis and the reduction of tuberculosis. But we will also want to consider how best to ensure more streamlined, objective, and transparent compensation arrangements and achieve the best value for money in procuring disease testing. Towards the end of this Budget period there will be additional revenue from the exploitation of our natural forestry assets, by wind farm developments.”

The Minister went on to outline seven key areas for which she had reserved funding.

The Minister said: “First, we have secured the necessary funding to help mitigate the risk of disallowance by revising all farm maps so that farmers have a sound basis to manage their claims under area based payment schemes.

“Secondly, we will be able to deliver a third Tranche of the Farm Modernisation Programme this year. Further details on timing and funds available will be announced in due course.

“Thirdly, we will enhance our commitment to anti-poverty measures in rural areas, raising expenditure to around £16million over the Budget period.

“Fourthly, we will continue progress towards the eradication of Brucellosis and TB, including re-procuring and enhancing our animal traceability information technology, commissioning wildlife studies, and we will provide funding for the enforcement of the new Welfare of Animals legislation.

“Fifthly, we will continue to deliver a comprehensive range of front line services, including education, training, knowledge transfer, scientific and technical programmes.

“Sixthly, we will continue to implement the Floods Directive, taking on new responsibilities for reservoir safety.

“Finally, I have secured funding to allow us to progress the development of a new Headquarters for DARD in a rural area, and to complete the DARD Direct network of offices, enhancing our customer service.”

The Minister went on to say that the new Headquarters would be developed in compliance with the recommendation in the Bain Report, to test the viability of placing a departmental headquarters at a location outside the Greater Belfast area. Minister Gildernew said: “This is an exciting prospect. It will bring decision taking on agriculture and rural development into the heart of the community we serve, bringing government closer to the people. I see this relocation, as George Bain recommended, as an important first step to relocate a significant share of public sector jobs to rural areas, bringing economic and social benefits from increased local spending and access to high quality, local employment.”

The Minister concluded by indicating that she was publishing the Department’s proposed allocations and its Savings Delivery Plan on the internet to afford a level of detail that would allow rural interests to develop their views and comment within the Executive’s consultations on the Budget. Details can be viewed online at http://www.dardni.gov.uk/dard-draft-budget-2011-2015

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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Raymond McCartney MLA has welcomed proposals brought to the Justice Committee today from the Department which proposes to make a Statutory Rule under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act here in the Six Counties.

The deputy Chair of the Justice Committee, Mr McCartney said;

“Given the history of the prison system here, particularly the number of suicides within jails over recent years, this is a welcome move. In broad terms the rule would apply to people, including juveniles, being held within all branches of custody here.


Many failings within the north’s prison system have been identified and Sinn Féin have already submitted a motion calling for a Statutory Footing for the Prisoner Ombudsman which would also allow for greater transparency and investigative powers; that aim must be achieved


The PSNI must also be free to investigate deaths in custody. The plan would not allow for ‘Crown Immunity’ from prosecution and that is a welcome move.


Our party welcomes this move and also the opportunity to bring it to the floor of the Assembly for members to debate and advance.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin MLAand chair of the Finance committee, Jennifer McCann, has said all must be done to cap, and indeed reduce, the spiraling effects of the taxation on fuel prices at the pumps.

 

Speaking today Ms McCann said:

 

“The level of taxation on petrol and diesel cannot be justified in today's economic climate and is a lazy and unimaginative quick fix by the British government in an attempt to address their budget deficits.

 

“Before we even add VAT of an addition 20% onto the price 58.9p is taken straight to taxation and this is set to rise again on the 1st of April by another penny.

 

“This is a regressive form of taxation that will in no way aid economic recovery. It is hitting people and businesses across the board.The over reliance on this duty will retard economic growth.

 

“If for example we just take the delivery section, the costs of transporting goods will increase and therefore those costs may very well be passed on to the consumer whether it be in supermarkets, local shops or at building trade suppliers.

 

“The high cost of fuel will also have a further impact on those who live in rural areas as they depend more on their cars for travel and access to work.”

 

“The real fear however though is that fuel costs are now at their highest levels despite the price per barrel on the world market having reduced over time. If, as we saw just over a year ago, the world price of a barrel of oil reaches the high that it did in 2009/2010 the cost at the pumps will spiral further putting it well beyond what people and business can afford.

 

“The Tory led government must surely realise this and re-examine their shortsighted policy. If we want to see economic recovery, and not force people out of business or into further hardship, these taxation levels must be reduced.”

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Sinn Féin deputy Chair of the Assembly Justice Committee Raymond McCartney MLA has called on Justice Minister David Ford to urgently look at repealing the discriminatory 1737 Act which prohibits the use of the Irish Language in Courts here.

Speaking after the Committee received a presentation from the Human Rights Commission in relation to the draft Justice Bill, today Mr McCartney said;

“The north’s Human Rights Commission have once again stated the unjust nature of this Act, which discriminates against Irish speakers by prohibiting the use of Irish in the courts.

To quote directly from the presentation we received today, in relation to the 1737 Act;

“Does not comply with Article 7(2) of the Charter. The continued existence of the 1737 Act is therefore clearly at odds with a treaty commitment the UK has entered into, yet is not dealt with by the present Bill.”

It goes on to say;

“The Committee may wish to explore further how the Department of Justice intends to deal with the 1737 Act and provide for the use of Irish in the Courts. Such a remedy could be referenced in, but need not await, the Executive strategy to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.”

Therefore the Sinn Féin members of the Committee will be seeking assurances from the Justice Minister that he will now heed the views of organisations like the HR Commission, POBAL as well as the views recently expressed by the Six Counties Attorney General and work to repeal the 1737 Act and ensure that the new Justice Bill provides equality for Gaeilgeoirí.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin MLA for south Belfast Alex Maskey has contacted the Social Development Minister Alex Attwood, urging him to directly intervene in the case of a young woman in the Market area.

Speaking today Mr Maskey said;

“This woman, like many others across the north, has been unable to return to her home since the 27th December due to burst pipes, broken heating systems and the need for urgent repairs.

Despite repeated contacts with NIHE, including a site visit with the Housing Maintenance Officer and having raised this particular case directly with NIHEs Chief Executive at a meeting last week, to date no work has been carried out on Ms Friels home.

Despite repeated reassurances from both NIHE and the Minister, I’m sure he will agree that this is a totally unacceptable situation.

I am asking the Minister to directly intervene in this case given the failed responsibility of NIHE thus far. I am more than happy to facilitate a visit to this property, and others which are affected which would allow Mr Attwood to hear the plight of people on the ground directly.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that the Taoiseach’s credibility is in tatters after he admitted, following Dáil questioning from Deputy Ó Caoláin, that as well as Seán Fitzpatrick, the Taoiseach was joined at the Druid’s Glen dinner by then Anglo-Irish Director Gary McGann and Alan Gray, a Director of the Central Bank appointed by Mr. Cowen as Finance Minister in 2007.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“The Taoiseach’s credibility is in tatters. How are we expected to believe that the crisis in Anglo-Irish Bank was not discussed at Druid’s Glen when the Taoiseach dined with Anglo chairman Seán Fitzpatrick as well as one of Anglo’s board of directors, Gary McGann and Alan Gray, a Director of the Central Bank appointed by Mr. Cowen as Finance Minister in 2007.

“Following questioning from me in the Dáil the Taoiseach has admitted the presence of these two very significant individuals at the Druid’s Glen dinner. Mr. McGann was among five non-executive directors who resigned from Anglo-Irish Bank on January 19th 2009. Alan Gray was appointed as a Director of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority by Brian Cowen when he was Finance Minister in 2007.

“We are expected to believe that the chair of Anglo-Irish, one of its directors, a director of the Central Bank and the Taoiseach met and did not discuss the affairs of Anglo. What sort of regulatory regime was in place when a director of the Central Bank and IFSRA consorted socially with these senior figures in one of the most corrupt banks in the world?

“This Taoiseach and this Government are totally discredited and should resign now.” ENDS

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Speaking today after the Government published its legislative programme for the current Dáil term Sinn Féin whip in the Dáil Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said the Government will not be in office to implement the legislation and a general election should be called immediately.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“There is nothing in the legislative programme that can’t be brought forward by a new Government with a democratic mandate.

“This Government will not be in office long enough to implement the legislation in the programme.

“A general election should be called immediately so that a new Government with a democratic mandate can be formed to legislate for this state.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South Central Aengus Ó Snodaigh has called for additional resources to be allocated to the Ophthalmology Clinic in Crumlin Children’s Hospital after parent’s received letters this week postponing their children’s appointments due to a lack of sufficient staff numbers.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Parents have received letters this week to inform them that their children’s appointments at the Ophthalmology Clinic in Crumlin Children’s Hospital have been postponed from March back until September.

“Children originally waiting five months for an appointment will now have to wait closer to eleven months.

“The reason for this is that up until now two doctors have been seeing over 50 patients at each clinic session despite guidelines advising that between 25 to 30 patients is appropriate. This situation was not sustainable.

“Additional resources must be immediately allocated by the Government to allow the clinic to resume at the capacity that is required.

“Timely access to this clinic is vital for children whether they have a simple squint or a complex neurological eye condition. These delays are a direct consequence of the Government’s failure to invest in frontline health provision while at the same time paying inflated salaries to those at the top of the HSE.

“I questioned Minister Harney on the length of time children were being forced to wait for these appointments before Christmas but once again she passed the buck to the HSE who I’m still waiting to here from.” ENDS

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Speaking ahead of the return of the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said Fianna Fáil’s cosy relationship with speculators, developers and bankers such as Seán Fitzpatrick underpins the need for root and branch reform of the political and economic systems.

Mr Adams said:

“While the Taoiseach’s golf outing with Seán Fitzpatrick dominates the political news the Government will be drawing down the first of the loans from the EU/IMF dig out.

“This loan and its punitive rate will be paid for by Irish citizens whose interests are not served by this Government.

“Fianna Fáil’s cosy relationship with speculators, developers and bankers such as Seán Fitzpatrick underpins the need for root and branch reform of the political and economic systems.

“The Government should go.” ENDS

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Sinn Fein's Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney has condemned those responsible for threatening Celtic and formerDerry City FC Player Paddy McCourt who had bullets addressed to him sent through the post. His comments follow the discovery of thepackage at a Glasgow sorting office.

 

McCartney said

 

“I condemn outright whoever was behind sending this package which contained bullets to Paddy McCourt. This follows on from similar packages being discovered addressed to Neil Lennon and Niall McGinn at a sorting office earlier in the week.

 

“Paddy McCourt is a great ambassador for Derry city and for soccer alike. His dedication and success in the sport continues to be an inspiration to younger sports people and lifts their expectations of themselves and what they can achieve, given the proper application.

 

Raymond McCartney continued

 

“This sort of nonsense needs to stop .There is no place for this in sport.

 

“The last thing Paddyand his family needs are for incidents such as this taking place.I am sure that everyone in the city will be disgusted by this incident and offer Paddy and his family circle our entire support." ends

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