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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has this morning welcomed indications from the EU that a dialogue has begun between member states governments on the unions current policy of no engagement with Hamas. Ms McDonald has called on the EU to also include in this review the suspension of existing preferential trade arrangements with Israel and support for a UN investigation into human rights abuses by Israel during its brutal and devastating military attack against the people of Gaza.

Ms McDonald said:

“If true, media reports indicating a possible shift in European policy on Hamas following yesterdays meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Ministers are to be welcomed. A peace settlement can only be reached through inclusive dialogue. Exclusion does not assist peacebuilding, which is one of the lessons we have learned in Ireland.

 “No time can be wasted in seeking to build a lasting peace process. This should be based on direct dialogue, political negotiation and respect for human rights. EU leaders have a responsibility to the people of Palestine and particularly Gaza to do all that they can to ensure such a dialogue takes place. They must back up such actions with a suspension of all preferential trade agreements with Israel until a full investigation into the country’s abuse of human rights abuses has been completed.

“Frustration expressed at EU level on aid to Palestine is justified - funding the building of homes in Palestine only to have Israel bomb and bulldoze whole communities is wholly unacceptable. It must be clear to all EU leaders that withholding aid from the region is not the solution. Penalising the people of Gaza is not the solution. It is Israel that must bear the consequences for the destruction it brought to Gaza.

“The time to act is now. The world’s revulsion against Israel’s inhumane attack on Gaza must be investigated. The EU and US must lead the way by supporting the Egyptian peace plan and encouraging the inclusion of Hamas in any peace negotiations.” ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD has said that there needs to be more national control over domestic fisheries. He was commenting on a new EU proposal on enforcing compliance with Common Fishery Policy regulations which was discussed at Committee in the Dáil this morning.

Deputy Ferris said: "While the Commission presents its proposal as a means of strengthening the protection of fish stocks, Irish fishermen have long and grim experience of the reality of what the Common Fishery Policy has meant for them and their livelihood. The unfair distribution of quota and the abuse of our waters has left the Irish fishing sector struggling for survival.

"In that scenario what this country needs to be doing is asserting its right for more control over this valuable resource, and not to surrender even more power to Brussels. That has been a disaster since 1973 and will lead to the effective destruction of the Irish fishery if allowed to continue. Rather than acquiesce in any further restrictions on Irish fishermen, therefore, we must demand that the CFP be radically reformed to include an overhaul of the unfair distribution of the quota that underlines it." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has this morning called for the Garda Reserve to be scrapped. Speaking ahead of an Oireachtas Committee meeting with the Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy Deputy Ó Snodaigh said the reserve is a failed and costly exercise and should be scrapped.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also gave his party's reaction to the publication of the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern's priorities for the Gardaí in 2009.

He said, "We would have liked to see a commitment to scrap the Garda Reserve and the €1.3 million it costs annually redirected into quality community policing. It is a failed and costly PR exercise of a previous Justice Minister and has been deemed as such by both the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants. It should be scrapped immediately before more money is wasted.

"The reserve has had little or no impact in terms of improving policing. Even aside from its budget allocation a range of other costs are tied up with its existence. A chief superintendent, a superintendent, several sergeants and a large number of Gardaí are tied up with training and supervising the tiny reserve force. .

"The Garda Reserve cannot be a substitute for quality community policing by full-time fully trained Gardaí.

"Minister Ahern's Garda priorities for 2009 are a real step backwards from the priorities determined by Brian Lenihan for the 2008 plan.

"Like the Gardaí themselves, Ahern's top priority is state security followed secondly by crime. Lenihan had reversed these last year - rightly in our view.

"Ahern has also dumped some of the more positive priorities determined by Lenihan last year which we had welcomed at the time and which were in fact clearly influenced by our own submission to that year's policing plan. Ahern has abandoned: the emphasis on JPCs; the priority of increasing the numbers of Gardaí on operational duties, the frequency of high visibility patrols and the numbers deployed in RAPID areas; and Crime Prevention and Reduction as a named priorities in the 2009 Garda Policing Plan." ENDS

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GILDERNEW NEARING END OF REVIEW OF ANIMAL WELFARE LEGISLATION
Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA, has made a statement to the Assembly on animal welfare legislation.

The Minister stated that she endorsed the Assembly Motion, which called for a review of animal welfare legislation. The Minister outlined to the Assembly the actions that her department has already taken with regard to animal welfare legislation, which included undertaking a review of existing legislation and considering lessons learned from Britain, following the introduction of legislation there.

The Minister also said that she was anxious to see the outcome of legislative proposals on animal welfare currently being discussed in the South.

Speaking after her statement the Minister said: "The welfare of animals is something that I have always been passionately concerned about. During 2008 I engaged with a number of local key stakeholders to hear at first hand their concerns on current animal welfare legislation and how their concerns might be addressed."

The Minister added that valuable lessons had also been learned from the recent welfare cases that have been highlighted in the media, she said: "A detailed review of animal welfare legislation is drawing to a close. I will examine all the evidence presented to me and will then consider the scope for new animal welfare legislation in the North, in line with the resources that are available

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Sinn Féin MLA for West Belfast and member of the Health Committee, Sue Ramsey, has today stated that more must be done to help protect the victims of Domestic Violence but in particular children and youths who are directly affected.

Speaking today Ms Ramsey said:

"Domestic violence is an issue that many people think affects adults but few consider the effects on children and young people. An NSPCC report this week highlights that more than 300,000 children have been injured trying to stop arguments between adults at home.

"There are numerous factors that can hinder families, children and young people getting adequate support or redress to instances of domestic violence.

"I know of certain refuges where older male teenagers aren't allowed in. What then happens families with a 15,16 or 17-year-old boys whose families seek refuge? These refuges have good reasons to why this happens but we need to see parallel refuges set up to address this gap in provision.

"There also must be an investment in existing refuge services and an expansion of these services into areas where facilities aren't existent so that if victims wish, they can be close to relatives or friends, for a feeling of security.

"On top of this actually take an injunction or a non-molestation order can cost between £500 and £1,000 pound yet vulnerable families on Family Tax Credit may not be able to access legal aid which means they must find this money. This essentially boils down to an issue of victims paying for their own and their children's safety.

"These issues are only the tip of the iceberg that families with children or young people face when trying to escape a trap of domestic violence and highlights the magnitude of despair that many have to face.

"It further highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive, cross departmental approach to tackle the issues of domestic violence. We need an approach that deals with all victims, but especially children and young people, provides for them absolute support and helps eliminate this injustice." CRIOCH

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Sinn Fein MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has stated that the BBC must reverse its decision not to broadcast a Disasters Emergency Appeal calling for aid to help redress the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Speaking today Ms Ní Chuilín said:

"After 18 months of a blockade and closure, followed by a three week intense military campaign by Israeli which resulted in over 1300 dead and thousands injured and made homeless, humanitarian aid is urgently needed

"The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organisation for 13 aid charities including the Red Cross, Save the Children, Concern and Oxfam, has launched an appeal for such aid.

"The decision by the BBC to refuse to broadcast this appeal is completely unacceptable and cannot be justified. DEC appeals have recently been broadcast on the BBC raising £10m for the Congo and £18m for Burma. What then is different about the humanitarian crisis affecting Palestinians in Gaza?

"Essentially the BBC's excuse, claiming that to show such an appeal would impinge on its impartiality, is calling into question the impartiality and neutrality of the DEC charities. Nobody could ever say that these agencies would be partisan or unbiased in their appeal for, or delivery of, aid so why is the BBC doing so?

"I welcome the fact that other stations including ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 will air this appeal. The BBC must reverse its decision, stop hiding behind weak excuses, and follow suit." CRIOCH

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP MLA Pat Doherty expressed disappointment at DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie's continued non-committal position in relation to growing calls for her to suspend proposals contained in the Social Security Agency's Strategic Business Review to centralize the functions of Social Security Offices and move away from face to face contact for members of the public at local DHSS offices.

The West Tyrone MP, along with Omagh Sinn Féin Cllr Declan Mc Aleer and Strabane Sinn Féin Cllr Michaela Boyle, met with Minister Ritchie and two senior Departmental officials as part of the continuing lobby against the implementation of these proposals at the Assembly this morning.

Following the meeting Pat Doherty said:

"The Sinn Féin delegation left the Minister and her officials in no doubt about our outright opposition to these centralisation proposals and our view that they should be suspended particularly in the context of the economic downturn where the workload and pressure on staff at local DHSS office is spiralling by the day.

"We put forward our view that these proposals would not only lead to a severe diminution in services for people within the benefits system but would also lead to a major deterioration in the work conditions of many low paid civil servants who would be forced to travel to central processing centres.

"Given that the Assembly DSD Committee has also called for these proposals to be suspended in light of current economic realities, I would have hoped that the Minister would have taken the opportunity of this morning's meeting to signal her intent to do so.

However, I was disappointed at Minister Ritchie's non-committal position. She stated that she has yet not yet made a decision on the matter and would not do so until the consultation and EQIA into the proposals is complete.

"I believe that if the Minister has the political will, she could suspend these proposals immediately as there is no merit whatsoever in taking them forward in this current economic climate."

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Sinn Féin Economic Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has this afternoon criticised the government for its 'tunnel vision' approach to the current recession which is costing jobs and hampering Ireland's chances of economic recovery.

Deputy Morgan said:

"Whilst the government is locked in negotiations with the unions, another 750 workers have been told that they will lose their jobs at Ulster Bank.

"The sole focus on reducing our deficit is costing jobs. In the past 4 weeks while the Government's attention has been cutting back on our public services, thousands of workers have been let go.

"The government and IBEC's approach of cut backs and slashing workers' salaries, as well as basic terms and conditions, is a short term measure that will cause avoidable hardship to working families and curtail consumption spending even further.

"Ireland needs a job creation plan for the short and medium term. We need workers who have lost their job to have ready access to up-skilling and retraining. This is ABC stuff and it is remarkable that the government and indeed IBEC have failed to grasp the reality of what needs to be done.

"Every other country in the western world has launched major capital spending projects, yet the Irish government has chosen instead to single out the public sector and working people heaping on them the burden of the failing economy whilst at the same time protecting senior bank management and property speculators who hand in hand with Fianna Fáil are the primary culprits behind Ireland's recession.

"Reviving the economy is not going to happen by draining money out of it. Economic recovery can only be achieved through a co-ordinated plan of action and major public investment." ENDS

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Sammy Wilson's bigotry exposed again.

Sinn Féin MLA and Chairperson of the Employment and Learning Committee, Sue Ramsey has stated that the comments by DUP Environment Minister, Sammy Wilson, regarding job preferences being held for people from the north of Ireland were racist and need to be withdrawn.

Speaking today Ms Ramsey said:

"Sammy Wilson comments were racist and dangerous and should be withdrawn immediately. As a Minister who has taken a pledge of office he must serve everyone living here equally.

"In times of economic downturn it is all too easy to point the finger and build these kind of arguments.

"What Sammy Wilson fails to recognise is the rights and entitlements of foreign national workers and the fact that laws, especially European laws make working across countries a basic right. Sammy Wilson knows this and the question must be asked why is he making these comments?

"Many people who Sammy may consider foreign workers have been in employed locally for many years and have established themselves and their families within our society. I welcome this fact and their contribution to the economy.

"If anything, migration from the north of Ireland for workers going to other labour markets around the world should very much predicate that Sammy Wilson thinks twice about issuing such statements. If somebody said local people living aboard should not be employed there would be outcry.

"He may have thought that he could get away with making such comments by conditioning his remarks with that people may call him racist or xenophobic. The simple fact is the statement was just that - a racist scapegoating exercise and one that if actually implemented by employers would be considered illegal." CRIOCH

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has said that the BBC decision not to screen a fundraising appeal of behalf of people suffering in Gaza is wrong.

Ms de Brún said:

"The decision not to screen an appeal on behalf of charities working to address the humanitarian crisis facing people living in Gaza is wrong.

"Whatever justification the BBC have tried to present there can be no justification whatsoever for standing by while thousands of families face humanitarian disaster.

"Given the public outcry the BBC should not be afraid to reverse its decision. It is not to late for the BBC to do the right thing." ENDS

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During todays cross party meeting between the Oireachtas Enterprise, Trade and Employment Committee and Assembly Ministers in Belfast Sinn Féin's Enterprise Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD called on the DUP and the SDLP to support his party's proposals for the north to mirror the south's retail store planning guidelines by introducing a cap on superstore development.

The Louth TD said:

"The cap of 3,000 square meters for towns and the condition that retail development be located in town centres has ensured the sustainable development of local economies in rural Ireland. We now need a similar cap introduced in the north to ensure that small and medium sized towns are protected from developments of superstores outside of towns.

"Last September the Competition Authority stated that these existing guidelines impeded competition, a proposition that Sinn Féin has roundly rejected. The government needs to shift its culture of an over emphasis on supporting big businesses in the export and retail sector and begin to fully support small to medium sized indigenous businesses.

"Arguably removing the cap from retail development is an anti competitive move as to do so would give large retail outlets an advantage that smaller Irish owned outlets cannot sustain. This 'competitive' policy squeezes out smaller outlets and leaves rural Ireland vulnerable to mass job losses.

"The government needs to start planning for the next generation of jobs that will underpin the economy. This means a shift in attitude and a new emphasis on supports and promotion of SMEs. Government also needs to start warming to an all-island approach to the economy. We simply cannot afford to continue with two competing economies located on a small island." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has expressed his sadness at the death of Bob Doyle, the last known Irish survivor of the Spanish Civil War.

Mr Boylan said:

"Bob Doyle will be remembered with great fondness and pride by socialists around the world. He set an example to everyone, by the courage that he had shown in the face of fascism in Europe.

"Bob left his native Dublin for Spain in 1937 to fight in the Connolly Column for the republicans against Franco's fascists; he was captured in March 1938 by Italian fascists and was sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to 10 years imprisonment.

"After 10 months of systematic beatings and close to starvation Bob was released in a prisoner exchange for Italian prisoners being held by the republican side in the war. Bob then returned to Ireland to continue campaigning against fascism and carried on his unrelenting resistance to this vile doctrine in World War 2.

"Throughout the remainder of his life he continued to speak out for his friends and comrades who had given their lives in the Spanish Civil War and against Franco's Government.

"One of Bob's last major public appearances was the unveiling of the memorial opposite Saint Anne's Cathedral in Belfast to those from all over the world who fought for the Republican side in Spain.

"Bob Doyle was an Irish hero who will be sadly missed by all those who knew him." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP,MLA is inviting the public to have their say in addressing poverty and social exclusion in rural areas.

A public consultation has been announced by the Minister on a new draft Rural Anti Poverty and Social Inclusion Framework to allocate £10million secured from the Programme for Government.

The framework will tackle rural fuel poverty, childcare and rural transport as well as community development, and proposes a challenge fund for projects that address poverty and social exclusion in rural areas.

The Minister said:

"I am well aware the impacts of the current economic downturn have been acutely felt by all rural dwellers. Indeed the impacts are magnified by many living in the countryside due to reliance on cars, the increased distances to services, jobs and education, and they compound the feelings of exclusion.

"In order to help shape a framework for this funding I sought advice from a range of stakeholders to identify the priority areas. Many groups provided evidence and ideas for tackling these issues and that work has been enormously valuable.

"I believe I have developed a package that is clearly informed by the needs of rural communities and, once measures are launched, will vigorously tackle poverty and exclusion in rural areas.

"I have opened this draft framework for consultation for eight weeks. This is shorter than the normal timescale for consultations but I believe at this moment in time, and given the range of ideas that stakeholders have already given me for targeting this funding, that rural people want to see this money on the ground. I would therefore, encourage everyone to look at my proposals and respond as quickly as possible so that we can tackle poverty and exclusion in our countryside." ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:


  1. The Programme for Government has made a commitment to address rural poverty and disadvantage and has allocated DARD a £10million package to address these issues over the next three years.
  2. The framework can be viewed at www.dardni.gov.uk/consultations To obtain a copy, or to request an alternative format e.g. in large print, Braille, disc, audiocassette and other languages, please contact:

DARD Rural Policy Branch
Dundonald House
Upper Newtownards Road
Belfast
BT4 3SB
Telephone (028) 9052 4598
Textphone (028) 9052 4420

Or by emailing: [email protected]

The consultation will run for eight weeks until 23 March, at the end of the consultation period copies of all comments received will be made available on the Department's website.

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the announcement of a package of measures to improve standards in rented accommodation which are due to come into effect from February 1st. However Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised concerns that some of the measures included will not come into effect until 2013 for existing lettings.

Speaking today he said, "I welcome this much needed package of measures which, if implemented, will significantly improve standards in rented accommodation and effectively see an end to bed sits in Irish society. Enforcement is crucial if these measures are to be successful.

"However, I am concerned that some of these measures will not come into effect for a further four years for existing lettings. This does not reflect the sense of urgency which is required to bring accommodations up to standard for the thousands of renters who are suffering in substandard conditions.

"The Minister, in his statement announcing these measures, has encouraged local authorities to continue with rigorous and targeted inspections of rented accommodation. However, between 2002 and 2006, 33,644 dwellings were inspected under the existing regulations with 10,162 not meeting the legal requirements. Of those 10,162 only 79 legal actions were taken by local authorities. While continued inspections are important they are useless unless legal actions are taken against those landlords whose properties do not meet legal requirements.

"Extra resources could and should be provided to local authorities through the financial penalties of offending landlords." ENDS

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Senator Pearse Doherty has this morning called on the Minister for Education Batt O’Keeffe to withdraw his department’s circular 0044/2007 which seeks to end the total immersion method of teaching in Gaelscoileanna so that the unnecessary and costly legal challenge being brought against the Department by Irish Language campaigners can be withdrawn.

The Donegal Senator said:

“In 2007 the Department of Education issued a circular to all Gaelscoileanna instructing them to end the total immersion method of education which they practice. Two years on and despite numerous reports and relentless efforts by teachers, students and parents to have this circular withdrawn Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe continues to ignore the strong and blatant opposition to his departments measure.

“All international research points irrevocably to the fact that early total immersion produces significant benefits, not only for the minority language but also for the overall educational rounding of children.

“Recent research conducted by Donal O hAinifein, Principal of Gaelscoil Mhichil Chiosoig, Ennis, Co Clare, who is also the parents' representative on the Irish language education advisory body COGG, evidences these benefits and it refutes the notion often trotted out by the department that immersion education damages English learning. This is simply not the case.

“Donal O hAinifein’s research surveyed the English reading attainment tests of 3,298 children in Gaelscoileanna at the end of the 2nd and 5th classes in the last academic year.  At the end of 2nd class it showed that the equivalent score achieved by the top 33% of children nationally was attained by no less than 43% of children who had enjoyed at least one full year’s early total immersion in Irish.

“The Department of Education, under the watchful eye of Batt O’Keeffe, seems intent on putting the final nail in the coffin of Tumoideachas. It is deeply sad for both the language and its historical importance that Irish language campaigners have been left with no option but to legally challenge the government on its decision to undermine the language. Their case is due before the court over the coming weeks. It is particularly sad in the context of last week’s ‘An Chéad Dáil’ 90th anniversary celebrations. The promotion and protection of the Irish language was one of the political cornerstones that brought together the brave men and women of 1919.

“It is nothing short of a scandal that tax-payers money is now to be squandered on defending this blatant attack on the Irish language by the state itself. Minister O’Keeffe’s time and indeed his department’s money would be far better sent replacing the rotten prefabs that litter our education system or aiding special needs children.

“I am calling on the Minister for Education to do the right thing by the Irish language and to withdraw circular 0044/2007 so as to avoid this needless and indeed costly court case. Sinn Féin believes that education is a fundamental right and the Irish people have a right to educated in their native tongue.” ENDS

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D’iarr an Seanadóir Pearse Doherty ar maidin ar an Aire Oideachais Batt O’Keeffe chun ciorclán a roinne 0044/2007 a aistarraingt, arb aidhm dó deireadh a chur le modh teagaisc tumoideachais iomláin i nGaelscoileanna, le gur féidir an dúshlán costasach dlí a aistarraingt a thabharfar in éadan na Roinne ag feachtasóirí Gaeilge.

Dúirt Seanadóir Dhún na nGall:

“Sa bhliain 2007 d’eisigh an Roinn Oideachais ciorclán chuig gach Gaelscoil ag ordú dóibh deireadh a chur le modh teagaisc tumoideachais iomláin a chleachtann siad.  Dhá bhliain anonn agus d’ainneoin an iliomad tuairiscí agus iarrachtaí leanúnacha ó mhúinteoirí, scoláirí agus ó thuismitheoirí chun an ciorclán seo a aistarraingt tá Aire Oideachais Batt O’Keeffe go fóill ag déanamh neamhairde den fhreasúra láidir agus soiléir in aghaidh bheart a roinne.

“Is é a thugann gach taighde idirnáisiúnta chun solais gan séanadh ná go bhfuil buntáistí suntasacha le tumoideachas iomlán, ní amháin don teanga mionlaigh ach d’oideachas iomlánaíoch páistí.

“Rinne Dónal Ó hAiniféin, Príomhoide ar Ghaelscoil Mhíchíl Cíosóg, Inis, Contae an Chláir, atá ina ionadaí tuismitheoirí ar an chomhlacht comhairleach Gaeilge COGG, taighde le gairid ina mbreacann sé síos na sochair seo agus bréagnaíonn sé an tuairim a scaipeann an roinn go minic go dtéann an tumoideachas salach ar fhoghlaim an Bhéarla.  Ní mar sin atá sé.

“Is é a bhí i dtaighde Dhónail Uí Ainiféin ná suirbhé ar theisteanna gnóthachtála i léitheoireacht an Bhéarla déanta ag 3,298 páiste i nGaelscoileanna ag deireadh an Dara agus Cúigiú Rang sa bhliain acadúil anuraidh.  Is é a léirigh sé ag deireadh an Dara Rang go raibh an scór coibhéiseach a bhí bainte amach ag 33% de pháiste ar bhonn náisiúnta bainte amach ag 43% de pháiste a bhain tairbhe as bliain iomlán amháin tumoideachais sa Ghaeilge.

“Is cosúil gurb é rún na Roinne Oideachais, faoi ghéarshúil Batt O’Keeffe, creill an bháis a chur i gcónra an Tumoideachais.  Is mór an t-údar bróin é don teanga agus don tábhacht stairiúil nach bhfuil an dara rogha ag feachtasóirí ach dúshlán dlí a thabhairt don rialtas mar gheall ar a chinneadh chun an bonn a bhaint den teanga.  Tá a gcás le bheith os comhair na cúirte sna seachtainí romhainn.  Is ábhar bróin é fosta toisc comhthéacs cheiliúradh 90ú bliain na Chéad Dála.  Ba é cur chun cinn agus cosaint na Gaeilge ceann de na clocha coirnéil polaitiúla a thug le chéile na fir agus na mná chróga de chuid 1919. 

“Is ábhar scannalach é  go bhfuil airgead cáiníocóirí le bheith curtha amú ar chosaint an ionsaí shoiléir seo ar an Ghaeilge ag an Stát féin.  B’fhearr i bhfad dá gcaithfí am an Aire O’Keeffe agus leoga airgead a roinne ar sheomraí ranga réamhdhéanta atá lofa fud fad ár gcóras oideachais nó ar chúnamh le páistí le riachtanais speisialta. 

“Tá mé ag iarraidh ar an Aire Oideachais an rud ceart a dhéanamh maidir leis an Ghaeilge agus ciorclán 0044/2007 a aistarraingt le gur féidir an cás cúirte costasach agus gan chall a sheachaint.  Creideann Sinn Féin gur buncheart é an t-oideachas agus go bhfuil an ceart ag muintir na hÉireann oideachas a fháil ina dteanga dhúchasach.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff has said that no-one should feel intimidated or be left confused by the latest initiative from the Electoral Office.

He was speaking after the Electoral Office began a campaign targeting households with high numbers of adults on the electoral register with letters that 'invite' people to ask for their registration to be 'reviewed'.

Mr McElduff said:

"In its last annual report the Electoral Office identified almost 200,000 people who are entitled to vote but are not on the electoral register. Given this major democratic deficit Sinn Fein believe that the Electoral Office needs to focus much more on how to get those people who are not registered to vote onto the electoral register.

"However, there is a very real concern that the latest campaign targeting households where there are, in the view of the Electoral Office, high numbers of adults registered will mean that many people who have a right to vote will end up being forced off the register.

"Given the history of this state and the denial of the democratic rights of Catholics for generations the attempt to target larger households in this way raises many fundamental questions about the Electoral Office. The demographics of the north show that for significant periods Catholic families were larger and there is a concern that this Electoral Office initiative will disproportionately target Catholic households.

"The truth is that particularly in the current economic situation that many young adults, especially from working class communities, do not have the resources to leave the parental home.

"The letters being sent to households are also confusing and repeatedly raise the issue of hearings despite electoral courts being abolished.

"In effect, the Electoral Office is asking citizens who are already registered to vote, to write back to the Electoral Office to ask them to review their registration. This is disgraceful.

"I believe that many people getting these letters will simply be turned off, or worse be intimidated by the language and as a result lose their right to vote. Anyone with any concerns about any attempt to deny them the right to vote should contact Sinn Féin.

"Despite repeated claims from the head of the Electoral Office, Douglas Bain, that they are doing all they can it is now harder than ever for people who are entitled to vote to get on the electoral register.

"An independent survey carried by the Electoral Commission showed that the electoral registers here were 94.3% accurate - this is widely accepted as the most accurate anywhere in Ireland or Britain. Yet still the Electoral Office appears to put a greater emphasis on initiatives that may result in people who are entitled to vote being forced off the register instead of getting the almost 200,000 people who are not able to vote onto the register." ENDS

Note to Editors

The independent survey carried by the Electoral Commission showed that the electoral registers published on January 1 2007 were 94.3% accurate.

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún speaking at a major conference in London, 'Progressive London' organised by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, has said that the economic downturn should embolden us to make the jump to the new, green economy more quickly.

Ms de Brun was addressing the 'Green Cities' session, alongside leading environmentalists Charles Secrett and Tony Juniper, Green Party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson and former London deputy Mayor and Labour Assembly Member Nicky Gavron. Other speakers at the conference included Ken Livingstone, a number of MPs, trade union leaders and leading figures in the arts, campaigns, legal and human rights fields and international guests.

As a member of the European Parliament Environment Committee and the Temporary Committee on Climate Change, the Sinn Fein MEP has played a leading role in pressing for urgent action on the threat of Climate change, including developing policy at a European level and more widely, such as at the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland.

Speaking at the conference, Ms de Brún said:

"Some have tried to use the economic downturn as an excuse to row back on the necessary climate commitments. This is as short-sighted in the extreme. Now more than ever we need to fully commit to progressing to a green economy and to investing in innovation and clean technologies.

"The economic crisis does not undermine the need for fighting climate change and should not be used as an excuse to row back on the progress made to date on setting targets for emissions reductions.

"If anything, the economic downturn should embolden us to make the jump to the new, green economy more quickly so that many of the old problems of oil demand and energy consumption can be dealt with. Investing in new technologies, and moving much more decisively to renewable energies as well as energy efficiency can create more jobs, lower energy bills and indeed saves lives as well as livelihoods."

The conference will also host an emergency discussion on Palestine. Ms de Brún added:

"Progressive people around the world mobilised in solidarity with the people of Palestine and to demand peace and an end the Israeli onslaught over recent weeks. The growing demands for a just settlement, based on self-determination, peace and inclusive dialogue show that there is strong support internationally for a better way forward, and one which constitutes the majority." ENDS

Note to Editors

The Progressive London conference takes place on Saturday 24 February at 10am (registration 9am), TUC Congress House, Great Russell St, London WC2. Full details: http://www.progressivelondon.org.uk

Full text of speech

One of the challenges we face in the debate around green cities is the way we frame the debate. There is, of course, the ongoing battle about whether to describe nuclear energy or incineration as clean or green - and let me state very clearly my view that nuclear energy is not clean or green energy and incineration is not a clean or green method of waste management.

Beyond this battle, however, is the equally thorny question of whether to talk about new technologies or alternative fuels, both terms I use frequently, when in fact many of these technologies are not new or alternative but have been standard and mainstream in many parts of Europe for a number of years.

One more recent waterfront housing project in Sweden, has mostly green development. It has no additional CO2 emissions from energy production, minimises car dependence, has green spaces and a diversity of housing mix, has rainwater catchment, and on site re-cycling with waste separation. And this is not just individual housing for the well-off.

A small company in a remote rural area of County Mayo in Ireland developed "Adaptive Intelligent Street Lighting" that allows for remote monitoring of electrical power consumption, individual control and monitoring of each street light and remote dimming capabilities depending on the amount of traffic. These have been installed worldwide, including Oslo, Paris and parts of Asia. Oslo has 10,000 intelligent street lights.

We have heard a wealth of other examples already in today's conference.

And, of course, in terms of the contribution Ken Livingstone has made, the C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group is exactly the type of global, progressive network cities need. In partnership with the Clinton Foundation this group of major cities can lead the way in setting the highest standards in the creation of climate-responsible cities. From the common-sense use of eco-friendly light bulbs to the development of sustainable transport systems cities can learn from each other about how the 80% of our global emissions which come from cities can be reduced as quickly and as economically as possible.

Yet if politicians who oppose sensible, practical change can successfully portray such developments as somehow quaint or faintly quixotic, as an add-on to be developed only at the margins and only in times of prosperity, then they can delay or derail what is the only rational response to the situation we face today.

It would be ironic if at a time when the US which has stalled progress on climate targets for so long is re-entering the debate with vigour, and those who developed and then killed off the electric car have now revived the electric hybrid, London were to abandon the Climate Action Plan that has made it a beacon across Europe and beyond.

I am a member of the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on Climate Change, which was set up in April 2007. Among the powers of the committee are:

  • to formulate proposals on the EU's future integrated policy on climate change and to coordinate the Parliament's position in the negotiations regarding the international framework for climate policy after 2012;
  • to analyse and evaluate the state of climate change and propose appropriate measures, at all levels, accompanied by an assessment of both their financial impact and the cost of inaction;
  • to draw up as comprehensive an inventory as possible of recent progress made and future prospects in combating climate change, in order to provide Parliament with the detailed analysis of those developments, which it needs in order to assume its political responsibilities.

As part of this work the committee held a number of thematic sessions, and was very anxious to have Ken Livingstone as a keynote speaker because of his work in this field as Mayor of London. In my role as the committee's theme leader on "Achieving significant CO2 emissions reductions in a short time: learning from best practices regarding successful policies and technologies" I had the pleasure of welcoming Ken Livingstone to address the thematic session as keynote speaker. Ken mapped out in detail the progress London had made under his mayoralty and about how much further progress could be made if the political will exists.

The committee were suitably impressed with Ken's input recognising as he stated that "cities are responsible for over three quarters of global carbon emissions".

That event took place last June. Since then the EU institutions have put the finishing touches to the "climate and energy" package of legislation.

The legislative package was adopted as the economic situation continued to get gloomier. Some have tried to use the economic downturn as an excuse to row back on the necessary climate commitments. This is as short-sighted in the extreme. Now more than ever we need to fully commit to progressing to a green economy and to investing in innovation and clean technologies.

The EU legislation as adopted represents a balance in some ways between those who see the measures as a challenge and those who see them as an opportunity and much of it is thus far from perfect. Nevertheless it is a first in setting binding targets for an area the size of the EU through specific measures and specific targets in certain fields. There are a number of elements in the package, some which affect cities more than others. Overall it is clear that reaching the targets set by the EU in 2007 to have a 20% share of renewable energy, 20% energy efficiency and a 20%-30% reduction in emissions relative to the 1990 level by 2020 (known as the 20/20/20 targets) will require more "Green Cities" than now.

We are in a period of great economic uncertainty. But the economic crisis does not undermine the need for fighting climate change and should not be used as an excuse to row back on the progress made to date on setting targets for emissions reductions. If anything, the economic downturn should embolden us to make the jump to the new, green economy more quickly so that many of the old problems of oil demand and energy consumption can be dealt with. Investing in new technologies, and moving much more decisively to renewable energies as well as energy efficiency can create more jobs, lower energy bills and indeed saves lives as well as livelihoods.

Cities are an obvious place where energy efficiency needs to be secured, and housing is a major area where this efficiency can be maximised. There should be a specific target for low carbon, good quality, well-insulated, energy efficient, affordable housing. High building standards should be set in regard to building new homes, with energy efficiency at the core. The same high standards should apply to new public buildings and other structures. This is important for meeting our emissions targets as well as for tackling fuel poverty. There should be minimum standards for homes and a major programme of insulation and energy efficiency as a first step.

Indeed recently the Commissioner for Regional Development Danuta Huebner announced plans to relax the Structural Funds regulations to allow greater EU help in financing the adaptation of buildings to make them more energy efficient. This move came as part of the EU's economic recovery plan showing how the future Green economy can be part of the economic fightback.

London's "Green Homes Programme" plan of course has already brought London to the fore on this issue. Quite rightly the programme, like the European Commission's initiative, focussed on low-income housing, in which the owners/tenants may have been unable to pay otherwise. The savings accruing to these owners and tenants can keep many out of fuel poverty. Cities across the EU can copy London's initiative using if necessary the increased flexibility the structural funds now provide.

How can we fail to invest in initiatives such as this, when the technology to have zero energy or passive housing exists, when there are job losses in the construction sector, when fuel poverty leads many of our elderly to die prematurely and when the planet moves ever closer to a tipping point of no return?

80% of the EU's population live in cities or urban areas. These same areas produce 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in transport. Most city dwellers travel only relatively small distances each day yet many travel in private transport based on petroleum fuels. London's public transport services show how big cities can keep their transport emissions relatively low. In an effort to reduce transport's burden on our environment, the EU as part of the climate package, passed a directive which will limit the CO2 emissions from cars. The new directive is the weakest part of the legislative package and has sorely disappointed environmental NGOs and others. It limits CO2 emissions to 120 g/km for 65% of new cars in 2012, 75% in 2013, 80% in 2014 and 100% in 2015. The European Commission had initially proposed introducing the caps on all new cars sold in Europe in 2012. Greener cars mean Greener Cities but should in no way limit our investment in our cities' public transport services. Networks of pedestrian and cycle routes and adequate public information about them also have a part to play here. The kind of anti-congestion measures introduced in London by Ken Livingstone can also play an important role.

Recent moves at the EU level now mean that aviation is now included in the "emissions trading scheme" (ETS). While globally aviation is estimated to account for 2 or 3% of emissions we must bear in mind that in major cities with numerous airports this figure skyrockets as a percentage of a city's emissions. London's airports, for example, account for a third of its carbon footprint. Including aviation in the ETS will allow for airlines to pay the true cost of aviation. This new policy is due to kick-in in 2012, allowing more then enough time for the aviation industry to clean up its act. If it does so Europe's cities' emissions reduction targets will become all the more realisable. What will London's contribution be, given the present controversy?

Climate change is of course a global challenge. Individual cities can make progress in their own right but that progress can be spread across the world if proper functioning climate change networks are established. Exchange of best practice and learning for others' experiences are essential tools in allowing our cities to reach emission reductions targets.

The future very much lies with our cities, and more specifically with "Green Cities".

The EU climate and energy package is significant, notwithstanding its disappointing element. It sets binding targets which can only be met through sustainable means if cities lead the way. Efficiency, reduction and exchange of best practice are all necessary steps along the way. They each form part of the change that is coming, a change to our economy, a change to our attitudes and a change to our way of life. This is a change that must come, recession or boom. It can come efficiently and quickly, or slowly and at great cost.

London has shown how progress is possible and has shown more interestingly that cities are well placed to lead this change and to benefit from it through innovative approaches and through working together on the basis of practical plans in line with the EU's climate package and the needs of our urban populations.

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West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP MLA Pat Doherty has welcomed mounting pressure on DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie, this time from her own DSD Committee, to shelve proposals that would see the centralization of Social Security Agency Services away from frontline services and away from face to face contact with clients at local DHSS offices.

Pat Doherty who, along with Claire Mc Gill MLA and other local party colleagues are scheduled to meet Minister Ritchie on Monday morning as part of the ongoing lobby to get her to withdraw the proposals, said,

"I welcome this timely intervention from the DSD Committee and I believe that Minister Ritchie can no longer ignore the mounting pressure to withdraw the flawed proposals in the Social Security Agency's Strategic Business Review to centralize the functions of Social Security Offices and to move away from essential frontline services and face to face contact with the public at local DHSS offices.

"I have been continually questioning the Minister as to the 'wisdom' of these proposals through written Assembly questions and in a lengthy submission to the Departmental consultation I have questioned them in detail.

"Given the current circumstances of economic downturn to review and restructure Social Security Agency Services staff levels would have a detrimental double impact.
"It would create further levels of unemployment reducing staff levels, with up to 490 job losses. On top of this such reductions would lead to staff shortages in benefit offices, especially front line services.

"This is at a time when social security staffs are dealing with a greater demand for their services as unemployment levels rise. As a result the levels of benefit processing and payments have increased vastly with the highest recorded levels of unemployment for decades.

"The Minister now needs to take due cognisance of all the evidence that has been presented to her that these proposals are completely flawed, uncosted, and unworkable especially given the ongoing economic climate.
CRIOCH

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Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has expressed her sympathy on the death of Bob Doyle, the last surviving member of the Connolly Column, the Irish section of the International Brigade which fought for the Spanish Republic 1936-1939.

The Dublin MEP said:

"On behalf of Sinn Féin I want to pay tribute to the late Bob Doyle and to express sympathy with his family, friends and comrades. As the last member of the James Connolly Column of the International Brigade, Bob's passing marks the end of an era. The heroic stand of the International Brigade in defence of the Spanish Republic against fascism has inspired generations of people across the globe, including the Irish people. Many of Bob's Irish comrades gave their lives in that struggle.

"Bob Doyle, a native of North King Street, Dublin, began his life of political activism as a member of the IRA's Dublin Brigade. His opposition to British imperialism in Ireland and his commitment to the cause of socialism and internationalism never wavered. He shared his experiences of struggle with young people and also his youthful enthusiasm. He will be greatly missed." ENDS

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