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Sinn Féin President elect Mary Lou McDonald TD gives her first major speech to party activists


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Responding to last night’s BBC Spotlight programme, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said:

“Last night’s BBC Spotlight programme raises a number of very serious issues.

“Given the nature of the allegations raised by the Spotlight programme a number of things now need to happen.

“Firstly there needs to be a fresh and thorough PSNI investigation into the allegations made by those individuals on the programme.

“Within the political structure the statutory inquiry by the DSD Committee under Alex Maskey needs to be given full support in its work.

“Also, Douglas Bain, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner needs to investigate relevant matters raised in the programme, as a matter of urgency.

“These allegations have the potential to undermine public confidence in the political institutions.”

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Speaking in the Seanad today on the future of the post office network, Sinn Fein Senator Trevor O’Clochartaigh highlighted the central role of post offices in rural communities, which have been jeopardised by An Post’s policy of rationalisation.

Senator O’Clochartaigh said:

“The post office network is a key national resource and it is important that it is seen as more than a commercial entity.

“The network serves an important social role in communities across the country and is the life blood of many rural communities.

“A number of reports have shown that based on an analysis of staff and systems the network has the capability to facilitate additional services.

“As it stands turnover is derived from three main sources of revenue of this, banking accounts for 3%, social welfare for 29%, National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) saving contracts for 27%, and traditional post for 16%.

“This means that taken together social welfare and NTMA contracts account for 56% of total revenue, which suggests a high dependence on state related contracts for survival.

“In terms of strength, the network has one of Ireland’s largest customer bases. The post office also occupies a central place in the life of communities across Ireland.  

“In my own county of Galway, local post offices in the rural hinterland are now under severe strain as a direct result of An Post’s policy of rationalisation, some of which makes no economic or social sense.

“For example where is the logic in expecting the local postmistress in a small village to drive thirty or forty kilometres from the city to Galway on a daily basis to collect and sort the mail and then bring it back to the village? Yet this is precisely what An Post is currently doing.

“If managed properly and in a sustainable manner the post office network has huge potential. To make this a reality would require diversifying into new areas and a dramatic change of policy from the one currently being pursued by An Post.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan has welcomed today’s High Court decision to grant the family of IRA Volunteer Pearse Jordan a judicial review of the inquest verdict into his killing by the RUC in 1992.

The West Belfast MLA said:

“I welcome this decision by the High Court. The campaign by Pearse’s parents Hugh and Teresa for truth and justice on behalf of their son has been a source of great admiration.

 “One of the main concerns of the family was the rehiring of retired RUC members into the Legacy Support Unit of the PSNI, which was tasked with supplying the original inquest with evidence of the shooting.

“Sinn Féin will continue to oppose and expose this policy which undermines the rights of families like the Jordans and wider public confidence.

“If the judicial review of the coroner’s verdict is successful the family will get the new inquest they have asked for and hopefully uncover more truth about the circumstances surrounding the killing of their unarmed son.”

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Speaking in response to the latest live register figures published by the CSO Sinn Féin spokesperson on Youth Affairs Senator Kathryn Reilly has called for “urgent action from Government to stem the growing tide of youth unemployment in the Border, Midland and Western counties.”

The CSO figures released today show that in June 2013 there were 23,176 young people signing on in the Border, Midlands and Western region, an increase of 1,463 on the last month.

Senator Reilly said:

“Youth unemployment currently stands at 30%. This figure does not include young people who have disengaged from employment services or who have emigrated in search of work.

“These figures from the CSO show that the number of young people signing on in the Border, Midlands and Western Region has increased since this last month. This also mirrors the trend in growth in the overall live register figures in the BMW region of 4,736 people since last month.

“Clearly the Government is not doing enough to stem the tide of youth unemployment. Urgent action is needed.

“Today the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee published my report on solutions to the youth unemployment crisis, in terms of the need for a youth guarantee. The report received unanimous cross party support from the committee.

“This report makes a number of practical recommendations for policy makers both on a pan-European level and within Ireland on how an effective, meaningful and robust Youth Guarantee can be realised. On its own a Youth Guarantee will not address the growing percentage of under 25s unable to find work, not in education or training or disengaged from employment services. However, a high quality scheme that receives adequate investment, is accessible to all, targets those in greatest need and works in the interests of young people can help address youth unemployment and in turn boost social and economic recovery. The report outlines the practical steps required for an intervention that could improve the opportunities and quality of life for a very large number of young people.

“For such a scheme to work it must be adequately funded and targeted at those in greatest need. The issue now is whether the contents, and in particular the recommendations, are taken up by the Minister for Social Protection and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

“For too long the Border, midland and western counties have been blighted by emigration, employment and youth unemployment and we need to see action taken by Government urgently to address this.”

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After today's Policing Board meeting to question the PSNI Chief Constable about the inspection report on the HET, Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan said:

 "Sinn Féin has always insisted that the HET is not independent. It does not command widespread public confidence and is not compliant with the international human rights obligations, which bind the British government.

“The HMIC report confirms there must be an alternative to the HET, it has acted unlawfully.

“Following the report many people will feel that the HET is irretrievably damaged. Some of those representing families bereaved by state violence have already made that position clear.

“The police cannot investigate the police and to suggest that as a remedy to this scandal is a step backwards and nonsensical. We need to find an effective and credible alternative, which is inclusive of all citizens in our society.

“Sinn Féin is advocating that all cases with the HET are suspended. What has been suffered by bereaved families must be openly and urgently investigated, including the questioning of police officers or civilian staff in the HET or PSNI who may have perverted the course of justice. Sinn Féin is now requesting a meeting with the Police Ombudsman to discuss how this investigation can begin.

“The Policing Board has agreed to convene a working group to oversee the outworking of the HMIC report. Sinn Féin will be asking that group to include Professor Patricia Lundy, PPS, the Police Ombudsman, the Victims Commissioner, the CJI, and above all, the Human Rights community and bereaved families to formulate all the available ways forward.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard said the initiative announced by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today will greatly benefit the entire fishing industry.


The South Down MLA said:

“There is no doubt that fishing is an industry that has struggled recently due to high fuel costs, EU regulations and lower catches.  Many fishermen are finding it difficult to make ends meet so the announcement today by the Minister will be welcomed by everyone involved in the fishing industry.

“On top of measures already announced worth £740,000 to assist the industry the Minister is now also bringing further assistance with operating costs for vessels under 27m in length.  It is estimated that this scheme is worth £500,00 and she will also look at ways of assisting the issue of access to finance for the fishing and wider fish-processing sector.

“The Minister has proven that she is willing to listen to the problems facing the industry and has indicated she is preparing further measures for the autumn in order to protect the industry.

“I will continue to work with the industry and the Minister to maximise the potential of this industry and secure its future for the long term.”

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Sinn Féin senator, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, has called for a pre-budget Seanad debate on social protection.
The senator was speaking after receiving a pre-budget submission from the Carers’ Association.
“The carers are calling for protection of income support for carers, protection if the household benefits package, the removal of the habitual residence condition for those in a caring role, training and increased respite support.
“There is also a backlog of social protection appeals which must be tackled.
“Sinn Féin supports the call of the Carers Association for these basic provisions for people who contribute so much to our society and to their loved ones.
“The leader of the Seanad, has said he will facilitate a debate as soon as we resume after the break and I hope he will follow through on that.”
ends

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Sinn Féin Councillor Niall Ó Donnghaile has expressed deep disappointment at the determination placed upon the annual Twelfth of July Parade past St Matthews Church in East Belfast.

Speaking today Cllr Ó Donnghaile said;

"I am deeply disappointed by the determination placed upon this stretch of the route by the Parades Commission. It is becoming increasingly clear that they have one approach when it comes to St Patrick's Church yet an entirely different one when it comes to St Matthew's.

"The Orange Order has consistently shown utter contempt for St Matthew's Church and indeed the community in the Short Strand and it is clear that they cannot be trusted to show respect to that community of their own volition.

"I am conscious that this parade is organised by the same organisation responsible for Mondays "Mini-Twelfth" parade, where we saw breach after breach of the PC determination placed upon it.

"It is evident that the Short Stand community and the parishioners of St Matthews can in no way rely on the Parade Commission who year after year allow clear disrespect to go unchecked.

"Short Strand Residents continue to make genuine efforts to engage with the Orange Order which thus far have been ignored.

"I would call on the Orange Order to show leadership, to show respect and to take a voluntary initiative that ensures courtesy and dignity, which up until this point has been severely lacking, are shown to St Matthews Church."

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Sinn Féin’s Sandra McLellan has criticised Labour Junior Minister Seán Sherlock for voting against the Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013.

Speaking today from Leinster House, the Cork East TD said that Deputy Sherlock was hypocritical, because the bill was in line with Labour Party policy.

She said;

“This bill had a number of purposes, but the most crucial purpose was to establish a system of equality budgeting in this state. We think it is essential that government departments and state agencies be forced to take account of the impact their decisions will have on the unemployed, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, those with special needs, and many more.

“It is Labour Party policy to support equality budgeting, however, last night Deputy Sherlock spoke and voted against our bill which aimed to introduce just that.

“He stated during the debate that the budgetary process should not be subject to approval in terms of the process or content of any State agency's board.

“I believe that this is a hypocritical position for Deputy Sherlock to take, given the Labour Party’s stated position.

“Recent budgets have been shown to have hit those on lower incomes harder than those more able to contribute. I believe there is a need to force state bodies and departments to consider the impact of their budgetary decisions, and our bill would have helped in that regard.”

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Speaking during leaders’ questions this morning, Sinn Féin deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald TD, asked the Tánaiste what the government now intended to do about the Anglo tapes.
“We know the Gardaí seized significant quantities of electronic and hard copy documents and recordings in respect of 18 employees of the Bank whose lines were recorded,” she said.
She added that the Central Bank, the government and the public were unaware of the tapes until their existence was leaked to media.
“Are we to remain in the dark until further tapes are leaked to the media?
It seems inconceivable that senior management in Anglo didn’t know that the gardaí had sought court orders for these tapes,” she said.
She outlined that:
“Alan Dukes was appointed as a public interest director to the bank in December 2008 and paid €127,000 in 2010. He became chairperson in 2010. But he wasn’t the only political appointment to the Bank. Former Fianna Fáil senator, Aidan Eames was appointed to the Board in June 2010.
“The Public Interest Directors didn’t inform the Central Bank at the time. It seems they didn’t even inform the government,” she said, asking too “Why did Alan Dukes sing dumb?”
“Tánaiste what are you going to do about these tapes?
“What will you do to ensure these matters are clarified and we’re not left to wait for a drip drip of further leaks in the weeks and months ahead?
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Sinn Féin Chairperson of the DSD Committee Alex Maskey MLA has said that he will be summoning the Minister Nelson McCausland to appear before the Committee tomorrow to answer the very serious allegations made in tonight’s BBC Spotlight programme.

Mr Maskey said:

“The revelations made in tonight’s BBC Spotlight programme regarding the conduct of the DSD Minister Nelson McCausland potentially represent the most serious political scandal since the Assembly came into operation in 1998.

“Allegations of serious bad practice, the misleading of the Assembly and of the Committee have amongst others been levelled at Mr McCausland. Those very serious charges will not simply go away.

“People both in the Assembly and indeed the wider community will be demanding answers from the Minister and his party about their conduct. Tonight I have already been in contact with Assembly officials to summon Mr McCausland to appear in front of the DSD Committee tomorrow in Stormont.

“Nobody should underestimate the seriousness of this situation. As DSD Committee Chair I have already begun the process of seeking answers to the questions posed by tonight’s programme. I look forward to Mr McCausland appearing before our Committee tomorrow to give an explanation having declined to appear on the Spotlight programme.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD tonight criticised the Labour Party for voting against a bill which reflects Labour Party policy and joining with Fine Gael in opposing legislation that Labour passed at their party conference last year.

The Sinn Féin leader accused Labour Minister Kathleen Lynch of arguing against her own party’s policy.

Teachta Adams said: “I listened closely to Minister Lynch’s arguments last night against equality. I was not impressed. Essentially the Minister says that we cannot afford equality!

“From a Fine Gael minister this would have been understandable – Fine Gael doesn’t believe in equality. But Labour’s stated policy is for the equality proofing.

“By opposing this equality proofing bill Labour TDs are voting against their party’s own policy position!

“What is the value of Labour in government if its only role is to bolster the conservative economic and social politics of Fine Gael?”
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The text of the speech by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD.

Equality proofing is Labour Party policy – yet they vote against it!

The government has set its face against Sinn Féin’s Equality Proofing Bill – Equal Status (Amendment) Bill 2013.

I listened closely to Minister Lynch’s arguments last night against equality.

I was not impressed.

Essentially the Minister says that we cannot afford equality!

From a Fine Gael Minister this would have been understandable – Fine Gael doesn’t believe in equality.

But Labour’s stated policy is for the equality proofing.

By opposing this equality proofing Bill Labour TDs are voting against their party’s own policy position!

What is the value of Labour in government if its only role is to bolster the conservative economic and social politics of Fine Gael?

Labour’s founding father James Connolly is accepted as the principal author of that part of the Proclamation which guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens.

It contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally.

Sadly, equality does not exist in this society.

It is a republic in name only and the policies of this government and of successive governments are contributing directly to a growing inequality – particularly between the rich and the poor.

I’m an Irish republican.

I believe in a republican system of governance.

A real republic in which the people are sovereign and equal, and have all–encompassing rights, including economic rights, the right to a home; to a job; to access to education; to a health service from the cradle to the grave; the right to a safe and clean environment; and to civil and religious liberties.

This is what republicanism is about.

It is what genuine democracy is about.

It’s about embedding equality into the daily life and experience of citizens.

The imposition of equality duties, and the equality proofing of government policies and budgets, and of public bodies through impact assessments, are a means of achieving this and of dictating outcomes.

Without this equality will remain little more than a pipe dream.

It is a fact that inequality is all around us in this part of the island.

It exists also in the north but there it has the added dimension of generational sectarian and political discrimination.

Interestingly the other parties here reference the continued existence of inequalities in the north as a pretext for attacking Sinn Féin.

There is no logic to this position. Or truth. Or rational.

They quote poverty levels in west Belfast for example to justify their own position.

They refuse to acknowledge that the citizens of west Belfast in common with other communities in the north are tackling these issues on a daily basis and succeeding against the odds.

And because they took a stand – and they would be waiting a long time for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael or Labour to help them – because these citizens took a stand generational sectarianism and political discrimination is being tackled.

There are now equality duties and the equality proofing of government policies and budgets, and of public bodies.

If this is good enough for the north why can’t citizens here have these rights?

Equality is cited 21 times in the Good Friday Agreement, including in the Pledge of Office for Ministers.

It has a complete section given over to it and is included in legislation designed to ensure equality in employment.

We are living in post Good Friday Agreement Ireland.

That is obvious in the north.

So it is catch-up time in this state and legislating for equality here must be a key part of this.

This should include the Charter of Rights which the Irish government signed up to 15 years ago.

Apart from being ethically wrong – no person or community should be treated as second class or as non-citizens.

The refusal to recognise the Traveller community as an ethnic group is unacceptable.

Inequality is also expensive and uneconomic for society.

A healthy, more equal, prosperous society is in everyone’s interest.

Sinn Féin’s Equality Bill is about achieving this.

And the need for this approach is all the more obvious if we consider the record of the current Government.

Budget 2012 was found by the ESRI to have had a disproportionate impact on the least well off in society.

Budget 2013 repeated this.

Everyday sees the removal of citizen’s rights and the reinforcement of privilege for the elites in society.

Sinn Féin’s Equality Bill would require an equality impact assessment to prevent the implementation of such blatantly unfair policies.

That is why the government is against this Bill.

Sinn Féin is for a new Republic – an all island Republic – a real republic which will deliver the highest standards of services and protections to all citizens equally, guaranteeing parity of esteem and equality of treatment, opportunity and outcome.

This also means equality for the Irish language and for rural Ireland.

I commend this Bill.

It would bring us into line with the north.

I repeat it is also official Labour Party policy adopted at last year’s conference.

I appeal to Labour Teachta Dála to stand by their own policy. Vote for this Bill.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on transport and housing, Dessie Ellis TD, today responded to the announcement by Labour Minister of State for housing and planning, Jan O'Sullivan TD, that 10 million will be provided in capital funding, which, although providing people with homes in their communities, is not enough in light of austerity cuts to date.


Deputy Ellis said:
“This funding, which will result in up to 90 extra units for those with disabilities, is welcome, but comes in the context of a year when 19 million, or 40%, has been cut from the Adaptation Grant budget for making housing suitable for people with disabilities or special needs.

“I am constantly dealing with people seeking housing suitable to their special needs. Housing need is at an all-time high, but it has also never been so severe. People with disabilities have been hurt badly by austerity, with cuts to care, health services and transport mobility grants. They are the most vulnerable, and those most vulnerable amongst them still have no suitable housing.

"Deputy Sean Crowe and I raised these cuts just yesterday in the Dáil with Minister O’Sullivan. Last week I contacted the Minister on behalf of a paralysed mother of two who had been living in Beaumont Hospital for 21 months, because no home could be found for her. She has since been housed, but not everyone has the same strength to fight their corner."

“This is not a matter of budgeting; it is a matter of supporting peoples’ rights or denying them.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on foreign affairs, trade and diaspora, Seán Crowe TD, has urged Irish-Americans to ask their members of Congress to vote in favour of S.744, the Immigration Reform Bill that was recently passed in the US Senate. The Bill will be coming before the House of Representatives shortly.
Crowe made the comments after attending a briefing on the Immigration Reform Bill, which included a conference call with Ciarán Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.
Deputy Crowe said:
“At today’s meeting we had all party attendance and a commitment by all to double our efforts in the coming weeks.
“Elected representatives in the Oireachtas support the efforts of US Congress members to secure immigration reform that will create a pathway of citizenship for Irish citizens currently undocumented in the US.
“Irish-Americans support immigration reform in the United States. It is important that members of the House of Representatives know this, and consider the positive impact this Immigration Reform Bill will have on the nearly 50,000 undocumented Irish living in the United States today.
“The immigration reform debate taking place in the United States today should be conducted in a cross-party, non-political atmosphere. Immigration reform is an issue that hits close to home for Ireland and her citizens, and its realisation is something we all strive towards.
“I urge all Irish and Irish-Americans alike to reach out to their political, social, and cultural contacts in the United States. Through a unified, concerted effort, there is no doubt that we can play an important role in advancing meaningful immigration reform in the United States—even small contributions can have a major impact.”
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Speaking today after a meeting of the Public Oversight and Petitions Committee, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD has said that the Garda Commissioner must appear before it as serious questions remain regarding the level of cooperation between the gardaí and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) as well as the handling of garda informers.
The Donegal deputy said that the Garda Ombudsman Commissioners’ contribution to the committee meeting today leaves serious questions for the Garda Commissioner, Martin Callinan, to answer.
The Ombudsman Commissioners were called to the committee after making serious criticism in a report following their Public Interest Investigation into alleged collusion between members of the force and a convicted drug dealer.
Deputy MacLochlainn continued:
"The GSOC expressed concern that the lessons of the Morris Tribunal have not been learned in relation to the handling of informers and the retention of contemporaneous notes. They further outlined the poor levels of cooperation from the Gardaí with their investigations.
“The public need answers and immediate reassurance that these concerns will be addressed"
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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien has expressed his alarm at the refusal of Minister Ruairi Quinn to rule out raising the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) to meet the estimated €66 million cuts that will be applied to the education budget in October.

Deputy O’Brien made his comments after seeking assurances from the Minister today in the Dáil that his recent decision to reverse cuts to resource teaching hours would not be paid for by cutting other essential services.

Deputy O’Brien said:

“The Minister’s decision to reverse the unjustifiable cut in resource teachers, whilst welcome, has led to fears that other essential services in the education sector will be targeted in a similar way to what happened when budget cuts to DEIS schools were reversed in 2012.

“Findings contained in the ‘Education at a Glance 2013’ report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that the proportion of public expenditure on education in Ireland fell from 13.7 per cent to 9.7 per cent in the decade between 2000 and 2010.

“An additional increase in the PTR would be unsustainable, as already we have some of the largest classrooms in Western Europe.

“It is clear that this government, like its predecessors, are paying lip service to building the knowledge based economy and, instead of ring-fencing funding for education, resources are being gutted.

“This is happening at a time when the school population is projected to rise significantly over the next decade and the dwindling education budget will have serious implications for our future employment prospects and hinder our capacity to grow our economy.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey said he is disappointed at the planned closure of the First Trust and Danske bank branches in Finaghy but is confident local traders will continue to make a success of the area.

The South Belfast MLA said:

“The announced closure of the Danske Bank and First Trust branches at Finaghy will be a blow to the bustling retail hub at Finaghy Village.

“However, I am confident the local traders, who have recently formed their first business organisation, will continue to push forward with their ambitious plans to make the area an even busier hub of endeavour and community.

“Key to the success of businesses is the support of local people and I would urge locals to continue to shop local and ensure their money stays in the economy. It is now imperative that the banks move quickly to ensure alternative tenants are found for these key sites."

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Sinn Féin finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD’s motion before the Oireachtas Finance and Public Expenditure Committee which sought to allow the Sub-Committee on Global Taxation to invite multi-national corporations to give evidence at future meetings was voted down this afternoon.
Deputy Doherty said he was amazed that the committee voted against his motion to invite multi-national corporations to give evidence, at a committee that is discussing corporation tax for multi-national companies.
He said:
“The reason the sub-committee is discussing this issue is because of a motion I put to the committee seven months ago.
“The Sub-Committee on Global Taxation will hear from the OECD, the Department of Finance, the Revenue Commissioner and the Minister of Finance along with 13 other individuals.
“However, despite the fact that the sub-committee is charged with discussing corporation tax for multi-national corporations it is clear that the majority of the committee, are opposed to inviting multi-national corporations give evidence.
“Given the fact that multi-national corporations have appeared at committees in Britain and the United States to give evidence about their tax affairs in Ireland, it is ridiculous that politicians here in Ireland would vote down a proposal for them to do the same here.
“If the committee is to do its job properly it is important that it is free to invite the relevant people and companies to provide all the relevant information.”

Pearse Doherty’s original motion:
I propose that the following motion be discussed in public session at the next meeting:
That the Sub-Committee on Global Taxation may invite, if it sees it as appropriate, and after hearing from the OECD, the Department of Finance, the Revenue Commissioner and the Minister of Finance, and the other named individuals discussed at the Sub-Committee on Global Taxation meeting of 26 June, other witnesses before the committee.

Fine Gael amendment to Pearse Doherty’s proposal:
To delete all words after “That the Sub-Committee on Global Taxation ” and substitute the following:

"shall report to the Joint Committee following its consideration of evidence from the OECD; the Department of Finance; the Revenue Commissioners; the Minister for Finance, and other relevant taxation and academic experts on the global corporate/multinational taxation architecture and Ireland's relationship with that tax architecture. Such report to recommend, if it sees it as appropriate, as to further enquiries and proposed witnesses."

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Sinn Féin education spokesperson, Jonathan O’Brien TD, has challenged education minister, Ruairí Quinn to do more to address the spiralling back-to-school costs that are impacting on parents.

The Cork North Central deputy said that the cost of school books and uniforms had now reached unsustainable levels with voluntary contributions and school transport “making a bad situation a good deal worse”.

“The findings of the most recent Barnardo’s Annual School’s Survey found that on average parents are paying €355 for a child in senior infants, €390 for children in 4th class in primary school and €770 for children going into first year in secondary school.

“I would conservatively estimate that with the cost of uniforms, books, tracksuits, shoes and runners, and other miscellaneous items, then the annual cost of equipping and clothing a child for school is nearly €1,000.

“Clearly, in these very difficult times, thousands of families are struggling to make ends meet, yet Minister Quinn is not doing enough to ease the financial burden on parents who are forced to meet the costs of what individual school boards of management deem acceptable.

“More robust governance is needed to ensure Boards of Management implement policies that will allow parents greater flexibility and freedom to purchase more affordable school uniforms. The minister must implement changes to existing legislation that will allow his department to impose mandatory regulations on boards of management to ensure parents can buy for more affordable uniforms.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and Chairperson of the Assembly Finance Committee, Daithí McKay, has claimed that we could be witnessing the end to rural banking following the latest revelations by Ulster Bank.

Daithi McKay said:

“The announcement yesterday by Ulster Bank could a precursor to the eventual end to traditional rural banking. The Finance Committee today agreed to my recommendation that we reconvene over the summer in order to question Ulster Bank on the recent announcement of further branch closures and job losses. I believe that in these circumstances rural branches are the most vulnerable.

"It is an absolute disgrace that Ulster Bank staff had to learn of these job cuts through the media. RBS should hang its head in shame for its handling of this situation by making a presentation to investors rather than making staff and unions their first priority.

"I have spoken with Ulster Bank representatives today and told them that they must think outside the box. They must not take the easy option by shutting down rural banks across the country. They need to explore rural service provision and not simply assume that everyone can or will convert to Internet banking. Given the IT failures of last year Ulster Bank in particular should be aware of many peoples’ reluctance to move away from face to face banking.

"It has also been revealed that First Trust will be closing its branch in Ballymoney, the second branch closure there in recent months. This is part of a continuing trend where all the major banks are closing rural branches in villages and small towns.

"Rural customers are being taken for granted. Of course the Ulster Bank wants to return to profit but it should have, at the very least, consulted with those affected. This is even more pertinent given the fact that the bank indicated in January of this year that there would be no more jobs losses.

"Ulster Bank will now come before the Finance Committee for the third time in a year to answer questions and to provide some clarity in regard to where jobs will be lost and which branches are earmarked for closure. We will also be seeking an explanation for why Ulster Bank and RBS continue to treat their staff and customers so shabbily."

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