Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said today that the Irish government must seek a meeting with its EU counterparts to discuss a write down of Irish debt.
Doherty said the looming spectacle of an Irish finance minister signing off on a Greek debt default at an ECOFIN meeting, then returning to Ireland to implement austerity budgets in order to service a massive debt bill, is unacceptable.
Deputy Doherty said:
“We have a debt crisis in Europe which can only be solved by writing down the debt. This is becoming apparent in Greece, but because of the Irish government's eagerness to please other EU leaders, Fine Gael and Labour are not willing to negotiate a write-down of Irish debt. Demanding a debt write-down would be the patriotic thing for this government to do. Fianna Fáil may have given away our economic sovereignty but this should not prevent any Irish government from acting in a patriotic fashion.
“We now face the looming spectacle of an Irish Finance Minister signing off on a Greek debt write-down at an ECOFIN meeting then returning to Ireland to implement an austerity budget in order to service a mounting debt bill. This is unacceptable. The Greek debt is as unsustainable as the Irish debt and seeing as most of our debt was accumulated as a result of the state taking on private banking debt, I would argue we have an even more convincing case for debt reduction.
“The Irish government must immediately place on the negotiating table a write-down of the Anglo Irish promissory note and burden sharing with the ECB. It should look further at how much debt is sustainable for Ireland. The Irish people recognised the need for such a solution when they manifestly rejected Fianna Fail policies in the last election. The Irish people believed that there would be a policy change, only to have Fine Gael and Labour implement the same sell-out of the Irish taxpayer.
“We need a government that will argue for a new direction in Europe - one of debt write-down, an ECB-led recapitalisation of the banking system and investment in growth and recovery.”
Health Minister James Reilly has contradicted himself in the Dáil when questioned this afternoon (Wednesday) by Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD.
Deputy Ó Caoláin asked Minister Reilly:
“Does the Minister agree that more beds closed means more patients suffering needlessly on trolleys and more patients waiting at home in pain due to cancelled operations?”
Minister Reilly answered “No.”
But these were James Reilly’s own words as Fine Gael Health spokesperson when he said in May 2010:
“It also flies in the face of avowed Government policy that 33 of the beds to be closed are in a five-day ward. These are the kind of beds for day case and short stay procedures that the Health Minister claims we’re moving towards but Beaumont is closing them down.
“More beds closed means more patients suffering needlessly on trolleys and more patients waiting at home in pain due to cancelled operations.”
Speaking in the Seanad today Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane called for the full establishment of an All-Ireland Bill of Rights as envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement.
Senator Cullinane said that the state has a responsibility to ensure that the right of citizens to health care, housing, employment and access to services are vindicated.
He said hollow words and false promises were not enough and what was required was a Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution.
The Seanad was addressed by Dr. Maurice Manning, President of the Irish Human Rights Commission.
Senator Cullinane said:
“I welcome Dr Manning and commend him for his work with the IHRC over many years. There is no question that the IHRC play a very important role in ensuring that the government lives up to its obligations under human rights instruments. The impression has been created by successive governments as well as by a largely compliant media that Irish people do not have to worry about human rights issues that we are guaranteed not to face breaches of our rights.
“Clearly this is not the case. It is very much the case that we have a long way to travel to be where we want to be as regards human rights. Human and Civil rights include the right to healthcare, education, access to services and unemployment. In this state we have a two-tier health service which is denying citizens their right to proper health care. We have an education system failing many children. Parents in the past have been forced to take the state to court to get their children the education they deserve as of right. People with disabilities are denied access to services. Carers are not valued and workers are denied the right to collective bargaining.
“We have international obligations under documents such as the European Social Charter which guarantee the right to healthcare, the right to shelter, the right to education. Can we say that we measure well against such rights, is the right to shelter, the right to healthcare and the right to education truly satisfied?
“I must point out concerns I have in relation to the proposed merger of the IHRC and the Equality Authority. The Government proposal can only lead to a loss of focus and expertise in two distinct fields. It will confuse and diminish the potential to promote equality and defend human rights. It is nothing more then a cost saving exercise and must be opposed.
“A failure to promote, protect and vindicate human rights is a failure of politics. I commend the countless civic society organisations that advocate on behalf of peoples rights. Legislators must do more then empathise and listen. We must act and deliver. Human and Civil rights are not something to be bartered for or at the whim of a Government to confer. They are universal and the birthright of all citizens. As we seek to build a new Republic, it must be one underpinned by a genuine commitment to uphold and vindicate the rights of our citizens.”
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Michelle Gildernew said women need to be supported when it comes to child birth and made aware of the choices they have.
The Sinn Féin MLA was responding to Health Minister Edwin Poots launch of a review of maternity services when he said that women who opt for a caesarean for non-medical reasons may have to pay for the surgery.
“We need to be very careful that we don’t demonise women who for medical reasons have a caesarean. They certainly don’t take the decision lightly.
“We do have women who out of convenience opt for a caesarean and that is something that needs to be looked at. What we are talking about here is major abdominal surgery.
“After undergoing a caesarean the first time, women should receive proper support so that they are able to have normal deliveries in the future. That is why it is crucial that greater support is offered to midwives and obstetricians.“The bottom line is that pregnant women need to have all the information available and be aware of their choices. However, before any decisions are made there needs to be a mature and sensible discussion around all these matters.”
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD this morning accused the government of failing to act to tackle the crisis in the health services.
The Sinn Féin leader also criticised the ‘heckling’ of Fine Gael and Labour TDs who constantly interrupted as he questioned the Taoiseach on the numbers of patients on trolleys and hospital floors in emergency departments.
Speaking after Leaders Questions in the Dáil today Mr Adams said:
“In its five point plan for the election Fine Gael pledged to reform the health service and cut waiting lists.
“But yesterday the Taoiseach admitted that the Cabinet Health Committee hasn’t met once since it was established in June.
“Yesterday also saw almost 400 people on hospital trolleys, with the worst hospital being Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda.
“And today there is more evidence of the crisis in the health system with nurses in Limerick on strike since 8.30am this morning because of gross over-crowding and the affect it is having on patient safety.
“These are deadly serious issues and it beggars belief that the trauma of almost 400 citizens and their families is being ignored and reduced by some TDs to mere heckling.
“The fact is that government economic policy is to strip resources away from health and other essential services and to use it to pay off the debts of a dead bank like Anglo-Irish.
“One consequence of this is that on November 2nd the government is going to pay 700 million euros to bondholders in Anglo-Irish. That money would build hundreds of new schools, new hospitals and create thousands of jobs.
“These are short sighted policies and uneconomic policies which will make it more difficult to repair the damage done by the economic crisis.” ENDS
Sinn Féin’s Education spokesperson Seán Crowe, TD, has highlighted figures that show eight in ten primary school children are attending classes that are bigger than the EU average. The Department of Education figures relate to the 2010-11 school year and show that 86pc of primary pupils are in classes of 20 or more, with one in five in classes of more than 30.
Deputy Crowe said: “Most of the overcrowded classes can be found in urban areas and in commuter counties adjoining the main cities. These figures are expected to rise further after the next Budget with many schools facing chronic overcrowding.
“And despite the fact that the overall proportion of pupils in super-size classes of 30 or more fell from almost 22pc from the previous year, to 19.8pc, there were still 97,000 children in these classes.
“The Irish National Teachers Organisation rightly describes these figures as ‘shocking’ and ‘a wake-up call for parents’ in advance of the next Budget.
“Ireland’s class sizes are averaging over 24 pupils with schools that are amongst the most overcrowded in Europe.
“This has serious implications for modern teaching methods as teachers have much less time to spend on individual children. These statistics, combined with the cuts to SNAs and special language teachers show that the Irish education system is in deep trouble.
“When class numbers are lower, modern teaching methods are possible and there is more teacher time for children.
“Clearly, if we are serious about improving the standard of our children’s education then the last thing that should be done is to increase class sizes.
“Ten years ago, the government made a commitment to reduce class sizes for the under nines to less than 20 in line with international best practice. Today, only 15pc of primary pupils are in classes of less than 20 pupils and when in opposition Ruairí Quinn described the previous government’s attempt to increase class sizes as ‘an attack upon our children, the most vulnerable in our society’. He went on to say that having classes with 30 plus children makes it impossible for under-resourced primary school teachers to cherish all the children equally.
“Now that he is Education Minister, he is refusing to rule out a further increase in the pupil-teacher ratio, as a way of saving money in order to meet the terms of the EU/IMF bailout. This will worsen an already grave situation and will prevent teachers from delivering the school curriculum.” ENDS
The Men and Womens’ Chinese National Artistic Gymnastics teams will locate their Pre-games Training Camp at Salto National Gymnastics Centre, Lisburn.
The team will train in Lisburn before the Olympic Games in London next year. Making the announcement today, Minister Ní Chuilín said: “The world number one country in gymnastics has chosen the north of Ireland to achieve their Olympic goals. This news is to be greatly welcomed.
“China is renowned for excellence in gymnastics, topping the medals table at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing with 18 medals. Having the best in the world to train locally will raise the profile of the sport and the local facilities. This is something everyone can be proud of and I hope that this inspires our young people to get involved in sport.”
The Minister continued by congratulating the commitment of Sport Northern Ireland and Tony Byrne, CEO and high performance coach at Salto. She said: “There has been a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes for some time to promote venues in the north of Ireland, to national teams across the world.
“Following the visit in July by the Chinese coaches Xiong Jingbin and Jin Weiguo, hopes have been high that the national committee would agree for the teams to train here. The terrific facilities in Salto; the great relationships developed by Salto’s own coach Sun Jie; and the partnership adopted by my Department, Lisburn City Council and SportNI have resulted in the Chinese Teams’ decision to locate here.”
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has voted against the six legislative acts on 'economic governance' as they "completely fail to address the actual cause of the crisis, or even to recognise where we are now".
Speaking in Strasbourg Ms de Brún said:
"The six legislative acts on 'economic governance' completely fail to address the actual cause of the crisis, or even to recognise where we are now.
"The proposals will not prevent a build-up of risks to the financial system. They will give the European Commission the power to impose substantial fines on member states and to prevent progressive governments from pursuing pro-growth policies.
"The austerity policies contained in these proposals make citizens pay for the excesses of banks and other financial institutions. They force member states to implement further cuts to social expenditure, undermine employment and social rights, and risk leading to a prolonged recession.
"The proposals will enable EU-institutions to make decisions on member states' budgets, and social and economic policy priorities, with little democratic debate and even less accountability.
"For all of us interested in a more just society, this is a missed opportunity to bring forward a regime of responsible lending for banks. We need the banks to avoid the reckless behaviour of the past, but also to provide capital for investment purposes when it is needed."
Speaking during Leaders’ Questions today the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams challenged the government on its attitude to the capping of senior bankers’ pay.
The Louth TD asked the Taoiseach to give a straight answer and rule out any possibility that the government will breach the half a million euro cap in response to a request from AIB.
Mr. Adams said:
“In response to the economic crisis and in particular the disastrous role played by the banks, a half a million cap was placed on senior bankers’ pay. Sinn Féin and others argued for a lower rate given the plight of citizens.
“In May I asked the Taoiseach about the possibility of AIB breaking this cap. At that time he acknowledged that he had rarely seen people so frustrated at the carry-on of bankers. But the Taoiseach refused to rule out the government conceding to the AIB request.
“The Minister of Finance confirmed at the weekend that AIB has now applied to the government to negotiate a salary above half a million.
“The AIB has a cheek to ask for this obscene amount of money.
“This is unacceptable and the government must tell AIB that under no circumstances will the government allow this.
“The fact is that at this time there are almost half a million citizens unemployed. Successive budgets have hit those on low and middle incomes hardest. The December budget will impose more savage cuts.
“Contrary to the government spin that it will not increase income tax or introduce cuts to social welfare, the fact is that the policies of the government is taking more and more money from wage packets in stealth taxes.
“People are still deeply frustrated and angry at the economic mess created by the bad policies of the previous government, and of this government and the golden circle of bankers and developers.
“The government must reject any effort by AIB to allow it to employ a CEO above the half a million cap.”
Sinn Féin public expenditure and reform spokesperson Mary Lou McDonald TD has welcomed the publication of the Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Construction Contracts Bill.
Deputy McDonald however, has said that there are questions to be answered by Minister of State Brian Hayes on the reports failure to deal with the Suspension Limit as set out in the legislation.
Deputy McDonald said:
“During a meeting with the Minister in June of this year, myself and various stakeholders from the industry outlined a number of amendments we believed needed to be made to the Construction Contracts Bill.
“In a welcome development the Regulatory Impact Analysis of the Construction Contracts Bill, published today, proposes to remove the minimum monetary thresholds for both the private and public sector. It also recommends making adjudications binding regardless of whether the dispute goes to arbitration or not. Extending the scope of the Bill to include goods and services, particularly those manufactured for a project is another positive development.
“However the Regulatory Impact Analysis does not deal with concerns raised on the Suspension Limit as currently set out in the legislation. The right to suspend work for non-payment cannot be time restricted and a limit of two weeks will not act as a sufficient deterrent for rogue employers. I have today written to Minister of State Brian Hayes asking him to clarify the Government’s position on this matter.”
Speaking during a Dáil debate on the Insurance (Amendment) Bill Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has described the €720 million fund as “yet another bailout by the public to a toxic bank, its bondholders and a major US insurance company”.
The Insurance Bill, which is due to pass all stages in the Dáil this week proposes the imposition of a 2% levy on all non-life insurance policies in the state to pay off bond holders and other liabilities at Quinn Insurance as part of the sale of the company to Liberty Mutual and Anglo Irish Bank.
Deputy Doherty said:
“We are being told that the proposed changes to the Insurance Compensation Fund are required in order to provide €720 million to cover payments on policies to customers of Quinn Insurance in the North of Ireland and Britain.
“However, like so many aspects of this story things are not that clear. It appears that assets from Quinn Insurance of more than €400 million were used as security against loans for the same value from Anglo Irish Bank for other commercial activities pursued by the company. As a result, bondholders with Anglo Irish Bank effectively have a hold on this portion of Quinn Insurance’s insurance book. Liberty Mutual, seeing this as a liability is insisting that the Government and the Insurance Compensation Funds fill the gap.
“In order for the Anglo Irish bond holders to relinquish their claim on the €400 million of assets at Quinn Insurance they have been offered a payoff of €200 million.
“Put another way €200 million of the €720 million requested by the administrator will effectively be used to pay off senior bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank, after the Compensation Fund monies are lodged and become part of the general assets of the company.
“No matter what sophisticated financial semantics that are used to describe this sorry affair it is hard to see it as anything other that yet another bailout by the public to a toxic bank, its bondholders and a major US insurance company.”
Speaking during a Seanad debate on the Road Traffic Bill, Sinn Féin Senator Kathryn Reilly welcomed the legislation but said that the good work to date with regards to road safety must not be undone by government cuts.
Senator Reilly said:
“I welcome this legislation as it will promote road safety however, I am concerned that there is a possible disjoint between this legislation to enhance road safety and government policies and actions due to budget cuts.
“We in Sinn Féin are concerned that the recent and planned cuts in public services will impact directly on front line services. In particular the proposed cuts to the Gardaí are of some concern as regards road safety.
“It would be wrong for budget cuts to impact on the ability of the Gardaí to enforce the very legislation we are debating.
“It would be wrong for budget cuts to impact on the ability of the Gardaí to reduce the number of intoxicated and dangerous drivers on our roads or to remove unsafe vehicles.
“It would be wrong for budget cuts to impact on the ability of the emergency services to respond to accidents.
“It would be wrong for the proposed budget cuts to impact on the ability of casualty units to deal with major road traffic trauma.
“The government must not allow the good work of this bill to be undone by implanting further draconian spending cuts.”
Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff is accusing the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment of not doing enough to make sure that rural communities have broadband access.
In an adjournment debate in the Assembly on Tuesday dealing specifically with the deficit of broadband access for the Greencastle community and other parts of West Tyrone, the Sinn Féin MLA said it affected a wide swathe of people within rural communities.
Barry McElduff said:
“Quite simply broadband is not reaching all the land. Everyone from students, businesses and farmers suffer from poor or no access to broadband in this part of Omagh District and that immediately puts them at a disadvantage when carrying out their daily activities. Increasing aspects of school curriculum need to be done on line, farmers are expected to process grant applications on line and businesses conduct banking, marketing and outreach all on line.
“There needs to be continued engagement with rural communities to identify black spot areas specifically affected and investment should follow to remedy the problem. I acknowledge that DETI has done some work in this area but even should one rural community be denied broadband access then that is not good enough especially when DETI often cite 100% coverage throughout the North.“Bringing everyone up to the same quality of service will not only benefit people on the ground in their daily lives but also send out a clear message to rural communities that the Executive is prepared to stand up for them.”
Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney has called on those responsible for the bomb intercepted on the Buncrana Road, Derry yesterday to reflect on their actions and disband immediately.
Mr McCartney stated,
“I know it has been articulated many times before that there is no justification in the new political climate that has been created for any form of armed action. But if those behind this and other incidents have a logical analysis of what they hope to achieve then they have a responsibility to explain it to the people of Ireland. The vast majority of people not only in this city but across Ireland accept that the present institutions allow for all political philosophies to be pursued on an equal basis.
“If these groups indeed have a political strategy then they should enter the political process, articulate their goals and aspirations and accept the verdict of the Irish people. Whatever political opinions these groups espouse they can be accommodated through the peaceful and democratic process that has been established. No campaign, political or otherwise can succeed by alienating the very people you claim to represent. CRÍOCH/ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has supported greater EU co-ordination in responding to disasters around the world, and has insisted the EU ensure that "disaster relief is never subordinate to trading or political and strategic concerns"
Speaking in the European Parliament today Ms de Brún said:
"Last year 90,000 people died and 29 million people were affected as a result of disasters. This number could have been drastically reduced through a greater focus on prevention and preparedness. We can also improve our response to the increasing number of disaster events if we work together and pool our resources.
"If we plan our development in a way that makes us less vulnerable to disaster, it can save countless human lives. It can also reduce social, economic and environmental devastation due to natural hazards and, increasingly, the devastation related to technological and environmental disasters.
"Disaster response begins with prevention and preparedness. I urge the European Commission and the Member States to invest more in disaster reduction and to improve the effectiveness of disaster response in a spirit of solidarity. Clarity, consistence and coherence are the main pillars on which to build a strong and operative European disaster response system.
"We must ensure that disaster relief is never subordinate to trading or political and strategic concerns. EU humanitarian aid should be provided irrespective of all political considerations, while adhering to internationally agreed humanitarian principles"
"I am delighted that Commissioner Georgieva agreed wholeheartedly with me in the European Parliament today that we must respect the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence when we provide humanitarian assistance." ENDS
Below is the full text of the speech given by Ms de Brún during the European Parliament debate on the report on "European disaster response: role of civil protection and humanitarian assistance" by Elisabetta Gardini MEP.
"Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh thuarascáil Elisabetta Gardini agus gabhaim buíochas le Bean Gardini as ucht an dea-oibre. Gabhaim buíochas léi ach go háirithe as an chomhoibriú a rinne sí linn agus í ag glacadh moltaí agus leasuithe s'againne san áireamh.
"Is páirt thábhachtach de fhorbairt inbhuanaithe é laghdú tubaiste. Má phleanálaimid ár bhforbairt ar bhealach a gcuidíonn le riosca tubaiste a laghdú is féidir líon mór beathaí a shábháil. Is féidir léirscrios sóisialta, eacnamaíochta agus comhshaoil, de dheasca guaiseanna nádúrtha, a laghdú agus de réir a chéile, an léirscrios a bhaineann le tubaiste teicneolaíoch agus comhshaoil a laghdú lena chois.
"Tosaíonn freagairt tubaiste le cosc agus le hullmhacht. Gríosaím an Coimisiún Eorpach agus na Ballstáit chun níos mó infheistíochta a dhéanamh i laghdú tubaiste agus chun éifeachtúlacht freagairt tubaiste a fheabhsú de mheon dlúthpháirtíochta.
"Is iad soiléireacht, comhsheasmhacht agus comhleanúnachas na príomhcholúin ar a dtógtar córas freagartha tubaiste Eorpach atá oibritheach láidir.
"Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh comhordú cuí ann le go dtig linn cúnamh éifeachtúil daonnúil a sholáthar. Ach caithfear cloí le prionsabail daonnúla tábhachtacha chomh maith - neamhchlaontacht, neodracht agus neamhspleáchas san áireamh. Caithfimid a chinntiú go gcuirtear i bhfeidhm an dlí daonnúil
idirnáisiúnta."Is gá dúinn a chinntiú nach dtéann cúrsaí polaitiúla agus straitéiseacha i bhfeidhm ar chinntí maidir le dáileadh cúnaimh. Ba chóir cúnamh daonnúil AE a sholáthar beag beann ar gach machnamh polaitiúil agus ag an am céanna, ag cloí le prionsabail dhaonnúla aontaithe idirnáisiúnta."
Dublin South West Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe met this morning with distraught parents who have loved ones buried in Bohernabreena Cemetery near Tallaght. The parents are angry and upset at South Dublin County Council (SDCC) for what they say is “the complete lack of sensitivity they have shown” after works carried out recently by contractors in the cemetery.
Deputy Crowe said:
“The people whom I met with today are upset and angry at the way the Council has pushed ahead with work on a section of the ‘Angels Plot’ in the cemetery. The installation of a footpath which encroaches on sections off the graves was carried out without any consultation with grieving parents, some of whom have had loved ones interred in that section of the cemetery just months ago. The burial plots are for babies and infants.
“One parent I spoke to showed me the damage that had been done to the surround of her child’s grave. She was understandably distraught and extremely upset at what has occurred. She claimed they got no notification and learned of contract works on facebook.
“One worrying part of this incident is that the Council would seem to have learned nothing from a previous upset where bereaved families were told by letter to remove personal items from graves in a section of the graveyard or they would be removed by Council Staff. This caused a good deal of hurt and upset and families are still ringing to seek assurances that personal items like grave marble dedication books will not be removed and dumped somewhere.
“Bohernabreena graveyard should be somewhere that parents should be able to come, free from pressure and worries about the graves of their loved ones being partly dug or interfered with.
“The installation of a footpath that cuts into or alongside graves merits at least a call or letter to parents that have loved ones interred.
“The approach taken by the council and the lack of feeling and insensitivity shown in dealing with grieving families in this incident has really shocked me.
“I am hoping arrange a meeting today with senior management and will be registering my formal protest to the County manager on this issue.
“The families affected by these decisions are understandably aggrieved and there is major opposition to the council’s attitude.” ENDS
Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has set out his vision for the next steps in education locally.
Mr O’Dowd spoke of the requirement to prioritise the needs of children by creating a strong, sustainable network of inter-dependent schools designed to deliver a modern education service. Among the actions he has decided to take are to commission an immediate audit to identify schools which are not educationally viable, to commission an exercise to shape the future pattern of education delivery across each Board area, to set out new criteria for future capital investment, and to make the requirements of the Entitlement Framework statutory by 2013.
The Minister also emphasised that his main priority was to raise standards and tackle underachievement and inequality in our system. He described as unacceptable the gaps in achievement, especially between those pupils from disadvantaged areas and those from more affluent backgrounds
Addressing the Assembly this afternoon, the Minister spoke of the scale of the educational challenges ahead and said: “At the core of this challenge is how we plan our provision. The Bain report spelt out unambiguously that we have inherited a pattern of provision that is now unsustainable.
“We have too many schools that do not have the capacity to give children the broad and rich educational experience they deserve. Schools which, in some cases, have lost the confidence of the parents, pupils and communities they were built to serve.
“Our latest enrolment figures show that our schools have almost 85,000 spare places, that is the equivalent of more than 150 schools. A third of our 863 primary schools have fewer than 100 children enrolled and a fifth of our 217 post-primary schools have fewer than 400 pupils.
“However sustainable schools are not simply a numbers game. Schools will be measured against the six principles of the Sustainable Schools policy”
The Minister went on to highlight the work he wants taken forward, and said: “I am asking the managing authorities to conduct an immediate viability audit to identify clearly those schools which are evidencing stress now in remaining educationally viable. Key criteria will be enrolments, standards and financial viability. I have asked for this to be submitted before the end of the year along with short and long term proposals to safeguard the education of the children currently attending those schools.”
The Minister went on to outline a second piece of work the five Education and Library Boards would undertake with CCMS to plan a sustainable and affordable pattern of schools.
The Minister continued: “I am therefore commissioning them to co-ordinate a strategic exercise based on each Board area to shape the future pattern of education delivery. As part of this process there will be close consultation with the other sectors.
“It is important however that a comprehensive strategic approach covering all children’s needs is adopted within the parameters flowing from what I have set out today. I want to see the first phase of this work completed, within six months of the formal commission from my Department. This work will have an early focus on post-primary provision.”
The Minister moved on to signal how he was going to deal with the capital build programme, given the drop in available capital funding and said: “Action is needed to restructure our schools estate to ensure it is capable of meeting the needs of our children in the future, is affordable and represents the best and most effective use of tax payers’ money.
“I must be certain that we are investing our resources in the right schools. It is my intention to set out clear criteria for access to capital investment in the near future. These criteria will be founded on the Sustainable Schools policy and the requirement that any proposal is founded in an area plan agreed by the sectors and approved by my Department. Linked to this I will put in place a new explicit process for capital planning.
“In taking forward this new approach I have given careful consideration to how to deal with the remaining projects on the Investment Delivery Plan.
“I need to be assured that these projects are consistent with the overall plans for the area they are situated in.
“To have confidence in future priorities for capital investment these projects must be critically assessed as part of the area planning exercise. They can of course come forward again if, after testing against the new processes being established, they remain the highest priority in the context of the area plan and against the new criteria.
“In addition to those remaining projects on the Investment Delivery Plan, the further 100 or so projects which have been logged with the Department by School Managing Authorities will also be tested as part of the area planning exercise.
“This has not been an easy decision but I am convinced that it is the right decision. Only by doing this can I be assured that limited resources are being invested in the highest priority projects which will ensure we are building the right type of schools, in the right place and of the right size to meet the future needs of children and young people.”
Among other moves, the Minister signalled his intention to trigger the legislation to put the Entitlement Framework on a statutory basis from September 2013. To help schools complete the implementation of the Entitlement Framework requirements, the Minister has decided to phase the introduction so that the full entitlement of 24 courses on offer at Key Stage 4 and 27 courses at post 16 will be a requirement by 2015.
The Minister also commissioned a major review of the Common Funding Scheme, which allocates money to individual schools, to ensure the scheme fully supports the Department’s policy objectives, including targeting social need. The Minister plans to have a new scheme operational by 2013.
The Minister concluded: “Today I have set out a comprehensive and ambitious work programme for the months ahead. I have responded to the challenge to deliver a more sustainable and strategically planned schools estate. I have responded to the need to provide certainty about the Entitlement Framework and I have set out a clear course of action designed to deliver results.
“This next year will be a year of change in education, change designed to bring greater certainty in the longer term – for schools, for parents, and, most of all, for the young people that the education service is here to serve.”
East Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Oliver McMullan said it is crucial the Executive support rural businesses and promote rural areas as prime spots for the setting up of new businesses.
The Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson was speaking in support of a motion due before the Assembly on Tuesday calling on the Executive to increase support for rural businesses.
“The final draft of the Rural White Paper initiated by Michelle Gildernew when she was Agriculture Minister is due to be published shortly and it is hoped it will bring all the government departments together with a central theme of working for the benefit of rural issues.
“This along with current Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill’s longer term strategy for the agri-food sector will be a crucial factor in supporting rural business and creating much-needed jobs.
“We need to be pro-active in promoting not only rural businesses in general but also in attempting to attract big business to rural areas. The Councils Economic Development Plans also have a big part to play along with other statutory agencies in supporting current businesses and promoting rural sites as ideal venues for larger companies to set up.
“There is a large pool of workers available in rural areas and with added support, along with these programmes of work undertaken by the Executive, rural areas can be put on an equal footing with their urban neighbours.
“On the issue of advertising there needs to be a flexible and commonsense approach taken. Conservation is a crucial issue for rural communities but so is making a living.”
Sinn Féin Enterprise Spokesperson, Phil Flanagan MLA (Fermanagh/South Tyrone) has welcomed the proposed abolition of airport tax on long haul flights out of Belfast.
Mr. Flanagan said:
“Sinn Féin has strongly lobbied for an all-Ireland harmonisation of the tax regime including airport and corporation taxes. It is imperative that if we are to increase inward investment and maximise the tourist appeal from North America and elsewhere that we attract additional direct flights into Belfast International by removing travel barriers.
“With the current the tax costing £60 per passenger out of Belfast against €3 from Dublin it has put the only direct flight between Belfast and the US in jeopardy.
“Not only will the abolition of this airport duty protect the existing US route but it will assist the International Airport in its efforts to attract other transatlantic carriers.
“I also welcome the transfer of responsibility regarding any future change in airport taxes to the Assembly. While it is a small move it nonetheless represents further progress on transfer of fiscal decision making to the Assembly. Sinn Féin will continue to work towards transfer of maximum fiscal powers away from London.