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Sinn Féin east Belfast candidate Niall Ó Donnghaile has blasted PSNI actions in the Short Strand this afternoon.

Mr Ó Donnghaile was commenting after two young residents car was stopped and the occupants removed and handcuffed on the ground with weapons pointed at them.

He said;

“The community in the Short Strand are rightly angered by the over reaction of the PSNI this afternoon; they claim they were acting on ‘intelligence’, yet this so-called intelligence proved to be false and two young residents are suffering as a result.

Understandably the community in the area are looking at this type of action yet wondering why the PSNI is failing to take similar action in dealing with the real problems of antisocial behaviour affecting our area.

I have contacted the PSNI this afternoon and will be raising this issue with colleagues on the Policing Board immediately.

This unacceptable type of policing will not be tolerated by our community.” CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Social and Family Affairs Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has revealed that the Government has no idea where it will source the money required to pay the once off bonus payment in relation to auto enrolment pensions which was included in the recently launched National Pensions Framework.

In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Ó Snodaigh the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin was unable to provide a direct answer to the simple question of where the money would come from.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“It is clear that the Government has thrown in this once off bonus payment as a sweetener for their cynical attempt to make people work till they are 68.

“However, as it turns out, it is a sweetener that dissolves under scrutiny. The Fianna Fáil Green Party Government clearly has no idea how it is going to fund this bonus payment but has announced it in a cynical attempt to buy support for their move to make people work until they are older.

“If it helps them stay in Government it will more than likely become yet another false promise and if they fail to get re-elected then it will conveniently become a problem for the new incoming Government.” ENDS

Editor’s note: Below is the relevant parliamentary question from Deputy Ó Snodaigh and the answer from former Minister Mary Hanafin.

Question No: 580 Ref No: 12624/10

To the Minister for Social and Family Affairs

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Affairs where the money necessary for the proposed once off bonus payment in relation to auto enrolment pensions as described by the recently launched National Pensions Framework will come from
- Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 23rd March, 2010.

R E P L Y

The recently published National Pensions Framework is the Government's plan for future pension reform. It encompasses all aspects of pensions, from social welfare to private occupational pensions and public sector pension reform. Development of the framework was informed by the range of views raised during the comprehensive consultation process which followed publication of the Green Paper on Pensions.
The aim of the framework is to deliver security, equity, choice and clarity for the individual, the employer and the State. It also aims to increase pension coverage, particularly among low to middle income groups and to ensure that state support for pensions is equitable and sustainable.
At present only 50% of workers have a private pension, with low levels of coverage among moderate to middle incomes a particular concern. While the State Pension is expected to provide sufficient retirement income for the lowest paid workers, most people will have a significant income gap if they do not have some extra private pension provision. Inertia and procrastination are among the main reasons for not taking out a pension. A key element of the framework is the introduction of a new auto-enrolment system which provides a way of overcoming this problem.
Employees earning above a certain income threshold will be automatically enrolled into this new scheme, with the employee, their employer and the State all making contributions. Those employees already in a more favourable occupational pension scheme will not be enrolled.
For those who are included in the scheme, contributions will only be paid on earnings above a certain minimum level and below a certain maximum. The level of these thresholds will be decided closer to the implementation date and they will be set in such a way as to ensure that the scheme focuses on those on low and middle incomes.
Within these thresholds, the employee will pay 4% of their salary, with this being topped up by 2% from their employer and a further 2% by the State. The State’s contribution will therefore be equivalent to 33% tax relief. The same 33% State contribution will apply to existing occupational and personal pension schemes and will replace the current system of tax relief at the standard and higher rates. This will represent a major increase in State support for the pensions of lower paid workers.
Employees will be able to opt out of the scheme after a period of 3 months. While they will be automatically re-enrolled every 2 years, they can opt out again if they wish. As an additional incentive to encourage people to remain in the scheme, the Government has decided that a once-off bonus payment will be paid, to people who stay in the scheme for 5 years without a break in contributions.
An implementation group is being established to develop the legislation, regulatory and administrative infrastructure required to introduce the auto-enrolment scheme, including in relation to the once off payment, and the other elements of the framework. We expect the implementation phase to take three to five years to complete.
It is intended that the auto-enrolment scheme will be introduced in 2014 but the Government will review the introduction date depending on the prevailing economic conditions closer to the time.

ENDS

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Responding to the ban on the sale of mephedrone which takes effect in Britain and the north of Ireland today Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has called on the Gardaí and Customs to be on the lookout for shipments of the drugs being brought to Ireland for sale in shops here. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said it is important to note where the drug is destined for in order to confiscate it when Ireland’s ban comes into place in the summer.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also called on the Gardaí to increase surveillance of head shops and to enforce the existing law under the Childcare Act 1991 which already bans the sale of inhalable products, including mephedrone, as it can be reasonably assumed that these products are being purchased for the purposes of intoxication.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“There is a big concern that the ban on the sale of mephedrone by Britain will lead to the sale of large quantities of the drug at depressed prices in this state where it remains a legal product.

“Gardaí and Customs need to be aware of this possibility and keep on the lookout for shipments coming into the country. It is very important that the authorities are aware of the location of the major stocks of this drug so that they can be immediately confiscated when Ireland’s ban comes into place in the summer.

“It is also very important that the Gardaí increase surveillance on Irish head shops and enforce existing laws which ban the sale of inhalable products, including mephedrone, to under eighteens as it can be reasonably assumed that these products are being purchased for the purpose of intoxication. This law was introduced in the nineties to deal with the problem of solvent abuse or glue sniffing by young people but I believe it can be applied to prohibit the sale of many products currently on sale in head shops around the country to under eighteens.

"Earlier this week I drew the Garda Commissioners attention to the powers contained in this Act and urged him to direct members to enforce it.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA and Chair of the Finance and Personnel committee in the Assembly Jennifer McCann has welcomed that the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee at Stormont agreed to bring in front of the committee the major fuel supplier for the North of Ireland following Ms McCann requesting this.  They will be brought in front committee of the in order to ascertain what they are doing to help reduce the high price of fuel at the moment.

Speaking today Ms McCann said:

“The current, and record peak of oil prices is placing a huge burden on both domestic and business users alike.

“Not only are people facing the high costs when fuelling their cars or heating their homes but the high prices are having a direct and negative impact on many aspects of life.

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

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

“While the cost of fuel has been increasing steadily over the past year due to a weakened pound sterling, we also need to explore what options are available to protect consumers.

“As such I have requested at the Finance and Personnel Committee that we call in front of us the major oil suppliers to the north to examine what they are doing or can do in relation to reducing costs and this has been accepted. I will also be taking similar measures at the Committee for Finance and Personnel.  

“Ultimately I think what we need to examine is what mechanisms can be put in place to regulate this industry in a similar way that the Utility Regulator would operate for electricity users, ensuring that consumers get a fair deal.

Ms McCann added:

“Further to this we will also be examining what the British government can do to alleviate the immediate pressures that people are facing. Currently the vast majority of the price of a litre of petrol is tax.

“In the current economic climate this is no way sustainable and certainly is detrimental to attempts to come out of recession.  What clearly needs to happen is that the British government must mitigate against rises in world fuel costs by reducing the tax burden to offset such increases.”

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Cllr Dessie Ellis has called for immediate action from Pickerings Lifts following the Labour Court recommendations on Monday. Cllr Ellis has also criticised the “deafening silence” on the issue from local TD’s representing the area especially Cabinet Minister Pat Carey who has done nothing on the issue.

Cllr Ellis used this months Dublin City Council meeting to again raise the plight of the more than 200 residents in Ballymun who are affected by the ongoing dispute. The City Manager confirmed to Cllr Ellis at Monday’s City Council meeting that the army will be brought in this coming Friday.

“The dispute cannot be allowed to continue from a humanitarian and a health and safety viewpoint. This dispute is now nearly three months old and there and has been a source of hardship to the local community with many of the lifts now out of service. This now includes one of the lifts in Joseph Plunkett tower which is 14 storeys high.”

Cllr Ellis also expressed his “profound disappointment that Pickerings had not availed of the mechanism provided by the Labour Court to resolve this dispute and welcomed the ruling of the court which clearly forms the basis of resolution of this dispute.” ENDs

(Note to editor)
The recommendation from the Labour Court were

That the Company offers:
• An ex-gratia lump sum of 4 weeks' average pay per year of service, average pay to be determined by reference to the method of calculating pay for the purposes of the Redundancy Payments Acts, without the application of a weekly cap on earnings.
• Statutory redundancy entitlements in accordance with the terms of the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2007.
• In the first instance the company should seek volunteers for redundancy from amongst the workforce.
• In the event that additional compulsory redundancies are necessary these should be selected on a last in / first out basis.

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“Scrap plan for prescription charges” urges Ó Caoláin

Speaking today (Wednesday) at a conference in Dublin on ‘Financing Universal Healthcare in Ireland’ Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health & Children has called on Health Minister Mary Harney to scrap her plan to impose prescription charges on medical card patients.

Deputy Ó Caoláin reaffirmed Sinn Féin’s demand for a single-tier universal helthcare system funded from fair and progressive general taxation.

He said:

“A perfect example of the valueless direction of the Government in health policy and delivery is the decision to undermine the General Medical Services Scheme by introducing prescription charges for medical card holders. I take this opportunity to call on the Minister for Health & Children not to proceed with the legislation to introduce such charges, which will hit the most vulnerable in our society.

“Such a measure, along with the other cutbacks we have seen, serve only to deepen health inequalities and health inequalities kill. The late Susie Long, a cancer patient, was brave enough to highlight her own case nationally, not for personal redress but to expose the injustice of the system. As a public patient she had to wait seven months for vital cancer tests. As a private patient she would have got those tests in time – possibly in time to save her life. Before she died she summed up the position simply and clearly when she said:

“I believe that people should be seen on the basis of how ill they are, of their symptoms, not on how much money they have.”

“We need a universal healthcare system based on that fundamental principle of justice and equality as outlined by Susie Long.

“Achieving such a system in Ireland is one of the key objectives of Sinn Féin and our vision is set out in our policy document Healthcare in an Ireland of Equals. Our core policy proposals on Healthcare are:

• A new universal public health system for Ireland that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from general, fair and progressive taxation.

• Fundamental re-orientation of the health system to adopt a central focus on prevention, health promotion and primary care (including mental health care), and on ultimately eliminating the underlying social and structural causes of ill-health and premature death, such as poverty and inequality.

• Immediate establishment of a Health Funding Commission to report within a reasonable timeframe on the projected costs of the transition to an all-Ireland system of universal provision, taking into account all
spending on health services under the current systems, including state funding and spending on private insurance, and to make recommendations on how the state can best harness these resources in the interests of more equitable and efficient delivery.” ENDS

FULL TEXT FOLLOWS

I commend the Adelaide Hospital Society and the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, TCD for their initiative in organising this conference.
The key phrase in the title of this Conference and in its Objectives is ‘Universal Healthcare’. The achievement of Universal Healthcare in Ireland should be our common purpose. Of course the current Government and some others would argue that a Universal Healthcare system already exists here. In doing so they are, in our view, defending an indefensible system.

We know too well that the essential features of the healthcare system in this State remain as they were before the advent of the so-called Celtic Tiger. This is not to in any way belittle the major advances in medical science, the improvements in the delivery of care on many fronts or, above all, the dedication of people working in the health services. Nor is it to under-estimate the huge sums of public money spent on the health system.
But the reality remains that the system in this State continues to fail people because it is a grossly inequitable two-tier, public-private system. The standard of care is generally high but access to care is not based on need alone. Ability to pay is still a key determining factor in access to care both in terms of timely access and, in many cases, quality of care.

In June 2007 one of our hosts - the Adelaide Hospital Society – together with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice - joined forces to warn against the trend in healthcare policy that private hospital co-location represented. They said it “sends out a powerful message about Government backing and support for the existing two-tier hospital system” and that it “represents a significant threat to the fundamental values of care and justice, which require that health provision is seen first and foremost as an essential service, which should be available on the basis of need”.

Much of the co-location scheme now seems to have run into the sand - at what cost in terms of waste of money and effort we do not yet know. But this we do know. A Government which sponsors such a scheme can never be relied upon to deal with the underlying inequalities which contribute significantly to ill-health in our society. In this country the smaller your income and the greater the social and economic disadvantages you suffer the more likely you are to die from cancer. The Public Health Alliance of Ireland points out that death rates for cancers are 100% higher among the lowest paid and most disadvantaged of our people.

I will come to our different perspectives on the issue of healthcare funding in a moment, but I think it is important firstly to acknowledge that Sinn Féin and the Adelaide Hospital Society share the same objective in terms of universal access based on need alone. And we recognise that there has to be root and branch reform and that reform must be based on values. As the Society states: “Clarity about the values which determine health policy and which influence the implementation of health policy is crucial.” Values identified by the Society are justice, caring and patient and public participation in healthcare. We certainly endorse those values.

Such values definitely influence the work of people throughout our health services but they do not determine and influence policy as decided at Government and HSE level. That policy is influenced by political expediency, short-termism, playing to privileged vested interests, a privatisation mentality, bureaucracy, careerism, a drive to centralisation and book-keeping. The result is an unholy mess both in terms of policy and delivery. The 2001 Government Health Strategy Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You was deeply flawed, but at least it had some coherence; it is now in tatters.

A perfect example of the valueless direction of the Government in health policy and delivery is the decision to undermine the General Medical Services Scheme by introducing prescription charges for medical card holders. I take this opportunity to call on the Minister for Health & Children not to proceed with the legislation to introduce such charges, which will hit the most vulnerable in our society.

Such a measure, along with the other cutbacks we have seen, serve only to deepen health inequalities and health inequalities kill. The late Susie Long, a cancer patient, was brave enough to highlight her own case nationally, not for personal redress but to expose the injustice of the system. As a public patient she had to wait seven months for vital cancer tests. As a private patient she would have got those tests in time – possibly in time to save her life. Before she died she summed up the position simply and clearly when she said:

“I believe that people should be seen on the basis of how ill they are, of their symptoms, not on how much money they have.”

We need a universal healthcare system based on that fundamental principle of justice and equality as outlined by Susie Long.

Achieving such a system in Ireland is one of the key objectives of Sinn Féin and our vision is set out in our policy document Healthcare in an Ireland of Equals. Our core policy proposals on Healthcare are:

• A new universal public health system for Ireland that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from general, fair and progressive taxation.

• Fundamental re-orientation of the health system to adopt a central focus on prevention, health promotion and primary care (including mental health care), and on ultimately eliminating the underlying social and structural causes of ill-health and premature death, such as poverty and inequality.

• Immediate establishment of a Health Funding Commission to report within a reasonable timeframe on the projected costs of the transition to an all-Ireland system of universal provision, taking into account all
spending on health services under the current systems, including state funding and spending on private insurance, and to make recommendations on how the state can best harness these resources in the interests of more equitable and efficient delivery.

We seek to reverse the privatisation of the health services and phase out the role of the private for-profit sector in the provision of essential care. We see a new system on the island as a whole being under the aegis of an All-Ireland Strategic Health Executive with overall responsibility for ensuring national level co-ordination of the delivery of public health services.

You can see right away that Sinn Féin favours a public healthcare system funded from general taxation. This would clearly be a very different means of funding and management from the current two-tier public-private system and from the health insurance model favoured in the Adelaide Hospital Society Policy Paper Universal Health Insurance: The
Way Forward for Irish Healthcare.

The key questions are: ‘Which system would have the fairest and most effective outcome?’ and ‘Which system would be most sustainable?’

The challenge has been made infinitely more difficult by the economic recession. The tragedy is that fundamental reform and the transition to a truly equitable system were not undertaken when Government revenue was reaching record levels year after year. By the same token equity and efficiency are more vital now than ever.

We believe that there is no more important area of State spending than healthcare. We believe we should aim for the best and most accessible and equitable healthcare and that that requires ring-fenced funding from general taxation and provision by a fully public system. Policy in such a system would be democratically accountable at national level and based on a network of community health partnerships at local level.

We would establish a Health Funding Commission to help plan the transition to such a system. Its first task would be to provide a full account of all spending on healthcare in this State, both public and private.

In our party’s 2010 Pre-Budget Submission The Road to Recovery we identified just some of the savings that could be made in our public health system by reversing privatisation. Ending the co-location scheme would save €400 million over seven years; phasing out all subsidies of private practice in public hospitals would save €100 million; introducing measures to reduce the cost of medicines, including the establishment of of state wholesale distribution of drugs and use of generics would save €200 million; a cap of €150,000 on salaries of hospital consultants would save €210 million. These are just some of the hugely wasteful costs associated with a two-tier system.

Of course a fully public system would have to be delivered in the context of fundamental tax reform that would ensure that the wealthy pay their fair share. And the development of a renewed public health system would also go hand in hand with a programme of economic recovery, involving a real strategy to retain and create jobs.

We would have a number of concerns about a funding system based on health insurance. The example of The Netherlands is often cited and on the surface it is attractive. However serious issues have been raised about the role of the insurance companies. In such a system the danger is that the interests of insurance companies and their share-holders may become a more important consideration than public health policy. An insurance-based system here, while genuinely proposed as a solution based on sound values, could be seized on for the purposes of profit with the public interest taking second place yet again. I would not trust any conservative political party in Government with such a system.

As I said at the outset, the initiative of this Conference is most welcome.

The aim of Universal Healthcare is shared.

But the debate needs to be widened to include other models of healthcare funding and delivery, including that which I have outlined.

The Irish people need and deserve a better health system, based on our shared values of justice and fairness. I believe such a system can be delivered if we harness the talents of our people, both inside and outside the health system, and if we use the resources of the nation for the public good.

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Speaking today in the Moy, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said that there was ‘anger, dismay and disappointment’ at the decision of the SDLP to reject Sinn Féin attempts to maximise nationalist representation. She called on the SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie to come to Fermanagh and explain to the nationalist community why she has rejected this initiative.

Ms Gildernew said:

“Sinn Féin made a genuine initiative to try and ensure that nationalists in both Fermanagh South Tyrone and South Belfast retain their representation. We offered to stand aside in South Belfast in return for the SDLP doing the same in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

“This initiative came in direct response from demands of the voters on the doorsteps. Last night while on the canvass I have to say that I was met with a mixture of anger, dismay and disappointment at the decision of the SDLP to reject this initiative without even the courtesy of a meeting.

“Margaret Ritchie now needs to come to Fermanagh and South Tyrone and explain to the nationalist community why she has rejected this initiative and why she wants to give a leg up to a unionist Tory. Sinn Féin have a meeting organised tomorrow night in Enniskillen, she is more than welcome to attend and explain her failure to lead directly to the people.

“We will continue to fight for every vote. We will continue to put forward our vision for Irish unity and stand on our record of effective representation here and elsewhere. This will be a close election. Every nationalist vote will count. A vote for the SDLP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone is a wasted vote.” ENDS

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A chairde, Tá mé lán sásta seasamh anseo anocht.

I want to welcome you all here this evening.

Sinn Féin held the first of these Town Hall meetings just before the Special Ard Fheis on Policing in 2007.

We have held them each year since.

Sinn Féin is the only party which consciously holds a democratic public dialogue with citizens.

These meetings are an important opportunity for Sinn Féin to report back to you on the work that has taken place in the previous year; to listen to your views; and to set out some of the work that lies ahead.

I am pleased to be here in Derry this evening for the first of the series of the Town Hall meetings for 2010.

Derry holds a special place in the hearts of Belfast republicans.

The stand taken in the late 1960’s by citizens in this city against discrimination and injustice, and for civil rights, was an inspiration.

Duke Street and the Battle of the Bogside are just two of the events in that period which remain strong in our memories.

Those were exceptional times – unprecedented times – and then, and in the years since many ordinary people made extraordinary sacrifices and displayed great courage in pursuit of equality and justice and freedom and Irish unity.

Yesterday we had another significant step forward with the appointment by the Assembly of a Minister of Justice.

Taken with agreement at Hillsborough several months ago and the transfer of powers on policing and justice, all of this marks further important progress as a result of the peace process.

Earlier this week I wrote to SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie inviting her to meet with me to discuss co-operation between our parties in the upcoming British General Election.

I proposed that the agenda should include the need to co-operate in specific constituencies to ensure as far as possible that unionism does not increase its share of Westminster seats.
It was my intention to propose that Sinn Féin would stand aside in South Belfast in return for the SDLP standing aside in Fermanagh South Tyrone.

In a letter today Margaret Ritchie rejected the approach by Sinn Féin to maximise nationalist representation.

This confused, narrow minded, ill-judged position has marked the SDLP stance in recent times.

Their approach has been dictated not by what is good for nationalists or for the peace process, but by their antipathy toward Sinn Féin.

If the Shinners are for it – the SDLP have to be against it.

And they make the most outrageous claims in order to bolster a shallow and largely ineffectual political record of achievement.

Remember Seamus Mallon’s description of the Good Friday Agreement as Sunningdale for slow learners? He obviously hoped that it was so far in the past that no one would remember the truth.

The fact is that Sinn Féin’s involvement in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations secured significantly more progress in the areas of policing and justice; demilitarisation and arms; discrimination and sectarianism; equality and human rights; the Irish language; and constitutional and political matters.

One revealing fact: equality is reference 21 times in the Good Friday Agreement with processes and policies to advance it.

Equality didn’t rate a single mention in the Sunningdale Agreement!

Then the SDLP abandoned its pretence at being a nationalist party and became a ‘post nationalist party.’

When it realised how deeply unpopular that was it tried to recast itself as a United Ireland party!

In the mid 80’s, while it was involved in campaigning against the MacBride Principles campaign in the USA for Fair Employment in the north, the SDLP was bogusly claiming that discrimination had ended and that equality for all citizens was “now a reality”.

At the same time the SDLP accused the people of West Belfast of being ‘savages’ and also denied for many years the existence of collusion.

In May 2003, the SDLP MPs simply failed to turn up to the keynote parliamentary debate on John Stevens' collusion report.

Almost 10 years ago in 2001 the SDLP gave up on trying to create a new effective policing dispensation.
It accepted the Mandelson Policing legislation; said there would be no more new legislation, and joined the Policing Board.

Sinn Féin said No. It wasn’t good enough.

We kept negotiating, and demanding more and better legislation.

And over the following years, Sinn Féin delivered new policing and criminal justice legislation - including overturning the ban on former political prisoners being on policing boards; gaining increased powers for the Police Ombudsman; gaining increased powers for the Policing Board; cementing community policing as a core function of the PSNI; and securing a new judicial composition more reflective of this society.

The SDLP failed to learn the lessons and continued to fail.

In September 2003, the SDLP published its party policy on British national security in Ireland stating that - quote - "We have no difficulty, however, with a continuing MI5 role" - unquote.

In March 2004, the SDLP voted in favour of continued emergency powers including systems using Public Interest Immunity Certificates - notorious British national security gagging orders.

In November 2005, the SDLP voted in favour of 28-day detention without trial - a re-run of the old Special Powers Act.

In February 2006, the SDLP supported compulsory registration of Irish citizens on a British 'national identity register' - a database for the spooks.

In March 2006, Mark Durkan personally told the House of Commons that - quote - "there would be some issues of national security on which it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State rather than the devolved authorities, to receive reports" - thereby supporting British primacy on MI5.

In June 2006, the SDLP agreed that - quote - "it is essential that adequate provision for non-jury trials for appropriate offences in Northern is maintained" - unquote - in other words, Diplock Courts.

In January 2007 Mark Durkan personally asked how Ronnie Flanagan could be regarded as a credible Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

Yet back when Flanagan was Head of the notorious Special Branch and later when he was RUC Chief Constable the SDLP praised him as one of those within that force who ‘want to edge forward’.

On Monday April 12th during the debate to agree a Minister of Justice the SDLP attacked Sinn Féin for securing the devolution of policing and justice powers because the vote was taken under the cross-community protections of the Good Friday Agreement.
Yet the SDLP voted for the very arrangements which they now rail against!
In fact in May 2006, Mark Durkan told the British House of Commons that he supported - quote - "the possibility of a single [Justice] minister to be elected by cross-community support and by parallel consent" - which is exactly what the SDLP are now complaining about.

And then there is the crucial issue of Leadership!

What sort of leadership does the SDLP offer? It hasn’t been the same since John Hume left.

In 2001 Mark Durkan told the Derry Journal that he had 'little interest' in succeeding John Hume as MP for Foyle.

He claimed that his real interest" was being involved in the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

He said: "As someone who contributed intensely to the negotiations which led to the GFA and the new institutions, it would be decidedly rich of me to commend these bodies to others yet at the same time not be wholly or solely committed to them myself.”

8 years later the same Mark Durkan announced his decision to quit as leader of the SDLP in order to concentrate on Westminster!

One part of his rationale was his belief that you can’t lead the party from Westminster.

He also cited his age. The fact that he is two years younger than Margaret Ritchie and 11 years younger than Alasdair McDonnell doesn’t seem to have penetrated.

But then the truth is that this was a career move by Mark who wanted an easier life style away from the real politics of the north.

And that’s fair enough and I wish him and his family well but then he really should tell the electorate that this is what he is about.

Did you know that the SDLP record of voting attendance at Westminster is so bad that where they attending school their parents would have been taken to court!
They are among the worst attenders of the 646 MPs.

For example: in the first year of the last British Parliament between 2005-6 the average voting/attendance for MPs was 72%.

Mark Durkan was there 28.6% of the time. Alasdair McDonnell was there for 28.9%. and Eddie McGrady was present only 14.6% of the time.

The following year it was even worse. In 2006-7 the average attendance for MPs was 64.4%. Mark Durkan was there for 14% of the time; McDonnell 15.8% and McGrady 12.2%.
Last year Mark had pulled his boot straps up – a wee bit – and with other MPs averaging a voting/attendance record of 64.1% he managed 33% - just over half. Alasdair McDonnell was on 5% - that’s right 5% - and Eddie McGrady was on 18%.
So, the lesson of these records is very clear.

The SDLP MPs know how unimportant their presence at Westminster actually is.
They vote with their feet and stay away for most of the time.

The SDLP have in reality a semi-detached relationship with Westminster; they are the Semi Detached and Lost Party.

Remember when they were going to morph into Fianna Fáil; well some of them were. Others had a Fine Gael merger in mind.

Currently, they say that in the event of a hung British Parliament they will support the British Labour Party.

That means the SDLP are committed to supporting the party that invaded Iraq; invaded Afghanistan; and passed the 28 day detention legislation.

So for anyone thinking of voting to put the SDLP into Westminster look at the record - not the rhetoric.

What you get with the SDLP is a failure of leadership under a pledge of obedience to an English Queen.

Perhaps the NIO for once had it right way back in 1976.

In a secret paper now held in the British National archive at Kew the NIO records the origins of that party and in a review of the status of parties in that year said:
“The SDLP have failed to deliver. We created it and perhaps we now have to let it die.”

Back in the real world Sinn Féin has got on with the business of making politics work; of making the peace process work; of delivering on our commitments.

Few envisaged the DUP in government with Sinn Féin, or a Derry man, Martin McGuinness holding the post of Joint First Minister with Peter Robinson.

Fewer still thought that the unionists would agree the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

But all of these things and much more has happened.

Sinn Féin did this by making the two governments and the DUP face up to their political responsibilities.

And by the end of this year there will also be the transfer of powers from London to Belfast to deal with the issue of parades.

More powers moving from England to Ireland.

Outstanding issues including Irish language rights will also be delivered on and there is additional funding for the language.

It is another staging post on the road to a United Ireland and it is proof that change is possible.

Sinn Féin achieved all this by being bold and by being focused.

And by mapping out a strategy and sticking at it until we succeed.

Of course, there are still significant difficulties to be overcome.

Ireland is still partitioned.

Economic recession north and south means that nearly half a million citizens are out of work.

So, I believe there is no more urgent time than this to promote our republican politics of equality and respect and dignity.

There is no better time to be demanding that citizens have the right to a home; to a safe environment; to good quality education and health care; and to a job.

There is no better time than this to campaign for a united Ireland.

That is our primary political goal.

The key to building this new Ireland, democratically shaped by the people, is to start now.

The key to achieving this is leadership.

And Sinn Fein has that leadership.

A leadership with the experience of years of struggle, and of successfully charting a way forward for the peace process.

Sinn Féin demonstrated that leadership at Hillsborough in March.

Next month there will be a Westminster election.

This will provide an opportunity to endorse our strategy for positive change; to build a better future for all our people but especially our young people.

And to advance the goal of Irish reunification.

We are determined to bring that about. To end centuries of British involvement in Ireland and to construct a republic in which citizens will be treated fairly and equitably."

ENDS

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Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy MLA has criticised those responsible for a bomb alert in Newtonhamilton and asked their spokespeople to explain to the people how this will in any way advance republican objectives.

Speaking today Mr Murphy said;

“I would call on those who support these groups to come forward and explain to us how this act will in any way advance republican objectives.

The reality is that there now exists a peaceful way to achieve Irish unity, Republicans, along with the vast majority of the people of Ireland are committed to pursuing that objective peacefully.

This latest alert has done nothing to further republicanism, it has simply disrupted the community in Newtonhamilton.” CRÍOCH

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Natural Resources Martin Ferris TD, has said that the announcement of a significant oil find off Dalkey Island once again highlights the need for a radical change in the manner in which off shore exploration is managed and taxed. The Kerry North TD was responding to the announcement by Providence Resources that it believes that there is a deposit of 870 million barrels of oil in the Kish Bank Basin.

Deputy Ferris said: “If this find is confirmed it will represent a significant development for the future of this country. However, as I have said in relation to other oil and gas projects, Ireland will only benefit from this if a proper system of taxation and management is put in place. At current prices the deposit is worth more than €60 billion. If the state was to impose the same system of taxation and royalties that applies in other countries such as Norway, the revenue would go a long way to overcoming the current economic and financial crisis.

“To put it into context, the value of the deposit is almost the same as the cost of bailing out property speculators through NAMA. If the state was to access a proper revenue stream it would do away with the need to impose the sort of cuts that have been forced on people. It would also represent a massive potential boost for the economy and ensure years of strong growth. It is therefore vital that prior to drilling commencing that the necessary changes are introduced.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said provisions contained in the Childcare Act 1991 can be used by Gardaí and the Courts to address the sale of a number of so-called legal highs to persons under the age of eighteen. And, according to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, this legislation could be easily and quickly amended to prohibit the sale of all of these drugs to persons under eighteen.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said he will be in contact with the Garda Commissioner urging him to issue a directive along with guidance to all members of the force to increase the enforcement of this law and to commence a focused operation targeting head shops.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“In the course of preparing our own comprehensive bill to tackle problems associated with head shops and so-called legal highs I reviewed the existing legislation. In doing so, I have identified an immediate step that can be taken by Gardaí pending the passage of comprehensive legislation.

“It is our belief that existing legislation provides Gardaí and the courts with the power to address the sale of dangerous powders to persons under the age of eighteen. The sale of substances to children where there can be a reasonable belief that these may be inhaled to cause intoxication is an offence under the Childcare Act 1991 punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. That Act also gives Gardaí powers of confiscation in public places.

“I am writing to the Garda Commissioner. I will be urging him to issue a directive along with guidance to all members of the force to increase the enforcement of this law and to commence a focused operation targeting head shops.

“I will also be contacting the Minister for Justice requesting that he introduce a simple amendment to the legislation which would extend this ban to include the sale of non-powder psychoactive substances to persons under the age of eighteen. I am confident that such an amendment would receive all party support and could be made next week on the return of the Dáil if the Government was willing to introduce it.

“In addition on the back of the existing law An Gardaí Síochána should launch an operation targeting those involved in the sale of these inhalable substances via the internet where it is impossible to ascertain the age of the purchaser.

“The government have delayed taking action for too long. Comprehensive legislation such as that which I am currently developing is overdue. At a minimum they should act immediately to protect our children.” ENDS

Note to the editor:
While originally intended to address the sale of glue to children the wording of the Childcare Act 1991 can be interpreted to apply to any substance that may be inhaled for the purpose of causing intoxication.

Childcare Act 1991
Sale etc of solvents. 74.—(1) It shall be an offence for a person to sell, offer or make available a substance to a person under the age of eighteen years or to a person acting on behalf of that person if he knows or has reasonable cause to believe that the substance is, or its fumes are, likely to be inhaled by the person under the age of eighteen years for the purpose of causing intoxication.

(2) In proceedings against any person for an offence under subsection (1), it shall be a defence for him to prove that at the time he sold, offered or made available the substance he was under the age of eighteen years and was acting otherwise than in the course of or furtherance of a business.

(3) In proceedings against any person for an offence under subsection (1) it shall be a defence for him to prove that he took reasonable steps to assure himself that the person to whom the substance was sold, offered or made available, or any person on whose behalf that person was acting, was not under the age of eighteen years.

(4) A person who is guilty of an offence under subsection (1) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

(5) Subject to subsection (6), a court by which a person is convicted of an offence under this section may order anything shown to the satisfaction of the court to relate to the offence to be forfeited and either destroyed or dealt with in such other manner as the court thinks fit.

(6) A court shall not order anything to be forfeited under this section unless an opportunity is given to any person appearing to the court to be the owner of or otherwise interested in it to show cause why the order should not be made.

(7) A member of the Garda Síochána may seize any substance which is in the possession of a child in any public place and which the member has reasonable cause to believe is being inhaled by that child in a manner likely to cause him to be intoxicated. Any substance so seized may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of in such a manner as a member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of Superintendent may direct.

(8) This section is without prejudice to the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Acts, 1977 and 1984.

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Speaking today after the release of the ESRI’s Quarterly Economic Commentary, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Economy, Deputy Arthur Morgan, has condemned Government job creation policy as it will fail to create employment during the current Government term and will result in the emigration of 100,000 Irish people.

Deputy Morgan said:

“The ESRI have forecast that jobs will not grow between 2010 and 2011. The rate of unemployment will decrease by less than 1 per cent, not because of Government policy to tackle unemployment coming to fruition, but rather because of predicted net emigration of 100,000 by April 2011.

“The government will not implement a €3.218 billion economic stimulus package to get Ireland back to work and to stop the over-reliance on emigration as a solution to unemployment, but they are willing to pour €80 billion of taxpayer’s money into fixing the banking system.

“This report and the Central Bank Quarterly Bulletin lay bare for all to see the failures of the Government and how there are no prospects of employment in the current Government term. Nevermore has it been more obvious that the Government need to step aside and make way for a party who has costed job creation proposals, proposals that do not rely on emigration.

“In the past year Sinn Féin has published two documents to get Ireland back to work including proposals to tackle youth unemployment. None of these proposals hinged on exporting 100,000 people. When the ESRI said that annual growth will be led by exports, they did not mean our people. ENDS

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Speaking today after a survey by Retail Ireland found more than half of traders were struggling in the current business climate and that 40 per cent of retailers expect employee numbers to fall over the next three months, Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has called on the Government to reduce the costs of doing business, so that vital jobs can be retained.

Ó Snodaigh said:

“Today’s survey by Retail Ireland has shown conclusively that unless there is Government intervention to make running a business easier and more cost effective, vital jobs in the retail sector will be lost; Jobs that cannot afford to be lost.

“Sinn Féin recently proposed, in our policy document to tackle youth unemployment, the establishment of a firm or co-op, either by the State or by a co-operation between enterprises, to provide tax preparation, payroll and legal services, accounting, preparation of business proposals for requests for capital and regulatory compliance services for businesses, thus reducing costs.

“Everyday businesses are closing their doors for the last time and jobs are being lost. The Government are doing nothing, and their inaction is fuelling unemployment and emigration. Today’s figures need to be taken seriously and the Government should intervene to reduce the costs of doing business.

“If the Government are not up to the challenge of helping businesses, saving and creating jobs and bringing about economic recovery, then they need to step aside for a party who are. Sinn Féin has put forward a range of measures including a €3.218 billion economic stimulus package and a policy document to tackle youth unemployment.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey today described the intervention by the Orange Order into the election campaign in South Belfast, as’ the latest example of the cultural mask slipping’.

Mr Maskey said:

“For some years the Orange Order have sought to claim that they are little more than a cultural organisation who offer no threat to anyone. The reality for those nationalist communities through which the Orange Order seeks to march is of course very different.

“Over the weekend in Sandy Row Orange Hall the cultural masked slipped again. Hot on the heels of their alliance with the British far right in protesting against the papal visit to Britain the Orange Order in a very public fashion have sought to intervene in the Westminster election. The weekend statement seeking a unionist unity candidate in South Belfast is not the work of a cultural body. It is the work of a political organisation with an anti-Catholic ethos at its core.

“It also raises the issue of what involvement the Orange Order had in the grubby little sectarian carve up agreed in Fermanagh and South Tyrone last week and what involvement the unity candidate has with these anti-Catholic organisations.” ENDS

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Speaking in after powers on policing and justice were transferred away from London and into the hands of locally elected politicians, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:


“Today’s the day we were told would never happen. There was great opposition from the unionist parties. And the SDLP threw in the towel on Policing legislation almost 10 years ago in 2001.


“They said at that time that it would be impossible to get any other legislation. Sinn Féin stuck at it. We have delivered an increased policing and justice budget and a whole raft of new legislation. We have secured the transfer of policing and justice powers; and won the support of most of the other parties.


“So this is yet another important step forward in the ongoing process of change. The peace process is being challenged but the peace process is working.


“Sinn Féin is very pleased with today’s progress and we are determined to keep moving forward.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment Deputy Arthur Morgan has today welcomed the announcement by Abtran to create 300 new jobs in its call centre operation in Cork.

Deputy Morgan said:

“In a county where there are currently nearly 45,000 people on the Live Register, the creation of new employment is vitally important. Abtran currently employ 1,000 people in Ireland and the expansion of employment is critical for the people of County Cork and for the local economy.

“The Government in tandem with Enterprise Ireland should be concentrating now on bringing these types of employment opportunities to every county in Ireland. While job creation in the current climate is always welcome, 300 jobs is nowhere near enough. What this country needs is 430,000 jobs and that is what the Government should be focussed on.” ENDS

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South Dublin Sinn Féin representative Shaun Tracey has slammed Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council for sitting on 102 empty apartments while thousands desperately await to be housed.

Mr Tracey called on the council to release the apartments to social housing and said it is ridiculous that the Council would keep these units empty while thousands of people await social housing.

Speaking today Mr. Tracey said:

“A report in today’s Irish Times has revealed that Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is in possession of 50 one bed apartments and 52 two bed apartments which were purchased for use in the affordable housing scheme but which have not sold.

“These units could be costing the Council anything up to and possibly beyond €100,000 a month to keep empty. That is a disgrace. It is ridiculous that the Council would abuse taxpayers money in that manner, especially when there are thousands of families desperately waiting to be housed by the Council.

“The Council should immediately move to release these houses to social housing under the Rental Accommodation Scheme. At least then the rent from the tenants would cover the Council’s costs and over one hundred housing applicants will have been housed.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty has said young unemployed people, and particularly apprentices, must be given opportunities for employment in public sector construction contracts taken out by the Government and by local authorities throughout the state.

Senator Doherty called on the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation Batt O’Keeffe to introduce social clauses in local authority and public sector construction contracts to ensure that a sufficient number of apprentices and young unemployed are employed on each project.

Such a scheme has been introduced by the Minister for Regional Development in the Six Counties Conor Murphy MLA and can be seen working in the major A5 road project.

Speaking today Senator Doherty said:

“Sinn Féin’s recently launched policy to tackle the rising problem of youth unemployment examined the possibility of including a social clause in local authority and public sector construction, service and procurement contracts requiring the hiring of a set number of apprentices and young unemployed. Such criteria were introduced by the Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy in the Six Counties.

“Such a clause would pay dividends in terms of creating local employment opportunities and getting young skilled workers back to work. However the reality is that the political will simply does not exist to implement such an initiative. The Government is more interested in bailing out failed banks than it is in tackling the jobs crisis.

“Sinn Féin has shown, in our recent policy document on youth unemployment and through our campaign, that there is an alternative to dole queues, social welfare cuts and unemployment. This proposal is one of them. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment would do well to look into this proposal and to take a lead out of Minister Conor Murphy’s book.” ENDS

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Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has called on people in the constituency to ‘unite and defeat the sectarian candidate’. Ms Gildernews call comes after the unionist parties cobbled together an agreement on a single candidate in the forthcoming Westminster election.

Ms Gildernew said:

“I have been the MP for all the people in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. Rodney Connor wants to return to the days when nationalists in this area were unrepresented. We need to unite to ensure that this does not happen

“The unionist parties have cobbled together a regressive deal based on a negative agenda. It is about base sectarianism, and the old agenda of division and inequality.

“Sinn Féin represent something completely different. We are about the future, we are about the needs of ordinary people not the narrow requirements of the unionist parties in Fermanagh.

“I remain confident that we can defeat the sectarian candidate and win this seat. Unlike Rodney Connor I have been on the doorsteps, I have been representing people across this constituency and we have been getting a positive feedback. So I am heading into this campaign confident that we can win and can retain this seat.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has called for a huge turnout from Dubliners for next week’s march and rally in support of the Family of Toyosi Shittabey and calling on communities to unite against racism.

The rally is due to take place on Saturday 10th of April, gathering at the Garden of Remembrance at 2pm.

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“The tragic killing of Toyosi Shittabey must serve as a wake up call to the Government that racism in Ireland is on the increase.

“It is right that communities should come out in big numbers and unite against racism and I am calling on all available Dubliners to come out and show support and solidarity with Toyosi’s family and to send a message that racist attacks will not be tolerated in our city.” ENDS

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