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Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Martina Anderson has said that politicians must do more than just comment on rising energy prices.

Ms Anderson also called for all party support after tabling a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Executive to examine the full range of options to off-set the impact of energy and fuel price increases and to meet with the British Chancellor Alistair Darling to look at using increased VAT revenues to tackle fuel poverty.

Ms Anderson said:

"Increasing energy prices are having an impact right across our society. People on low incomes and fixed incomes, the working poor and people of middle range income are all feeling the pressure of increasing electricity, gas, coal and petrol prices.

"We now need to see political leadership and action from local politicians to address what is probably the biggest issue facing people today - the rising cost of living.

"This means we need a clear signal from the Executive that they willing and able to respond to these issues and a determination to challenge the British Treasury." ENDS

Note to Editors

Motion - Energy Price Increases

That this Assembly calls on the Executive to examine the full range of options to off-set energy and fuel price increases and tackle fuel poverty, including engagement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the potential for the allocation of increased revenues through VAT on fuel and energy.

Jennifer McCann
Paul Maskey
Mitchel McLaughlin
Martina Anderson

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Sinn Féin Louth TD Arthur Morgan said that the Lisbon Treaty will involve a serious loss of power for Ireland. He said "No matter how the government tries to spin it the loss of a permanent Commissioner and a 50% reduction in our voting strength will put Ireland at a serious disadvantage within Europe."

Deputy Morgan said:

"The Lisbon Treaty significantly undermines the role of smaller states within the EU's decision-making process. The Government is being totally disingenuous in relation to the implications of the loss of a permanent Irish Commissioner for five out of ever fifteen years from 2014. No matter how they try to spin it the loss of a permanent Commission will put Ireland at a serious disadvantage within Europe.
"For a small country like Ireland it is vital to have a permanent voice at the European Commission table especially when you consider that this country only has a small number of MEPS and our voting strength on the Council of Ministers will be halved if Lisbon is passed.
"While the larger states will not have a permanent seat on the Commission, Britain, Germany and Italy almost double their voting strength on the Council of Ministers and have far more MEPs than Ireland. The Commission is the one place where each country regardless of size has an equal say.
"And no matter how good a relationship the Irish government builds with EU Commissioners from other states it is no substitute for an Irish voice at the table.

"We are told that despite these changes, proposals with respect to citizens and parliaments in member states, as well as increased powers to the European parliament, will make the EU more democratic.

"This is not the case. The proposed measures are minimalist. Member states will be given an extra two weeks to scrutinise proposals coming from the Commission and if a third of member states believe the proposal breaches the principle of subsidiarity they can object. Of course the Commission is not obliged to do anything other than "consider" the objection.
The orange card is an even less effective tool, as its application requires the support of half the member state parliaments and either the European Parliament or Council.

"The citizens initiative is similarly weak. While as a lobbying tool it has merit, and is already being used, once again there would be no obligation on the Commission to do anything other than "consider" any proposal.

"On balance, when you weigh up the increased centralisation of powers, the self amending articles, the loss of influence of smaller member states and the weak measures offered to member state parliaments and citizens, there is no doubt that the Lisbon Treaty is a bad deal both for Irish and EU democracy, and if ratified will deepen the existing democratic deficit."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has said that the housing crisis is getting worse despite a welcome drop in the number of people presenting as homeless. There are now over 21,000 people on the waiting list for social housing classified as in 'housing stress'.

Mr McCann said:

"The crisis in housing, especially in the lack of social housing is getting worse with every passing day.

"Despite the welcome drop (of 2,000 in the 12 months to March) in the numbers of people presenting as homeless the fact is that in the past 12 months to March 2008 the number of people waiting for social housing has increased by over 3,500.

"At the same time people living in housing stress has increased by 1,661 to it highest ever level. There are now 21,364 people on the waiting list for social housing classified as in 'housing stress'.

"Sinn Féin share the concerns of housing organisations such as Shelter that the response of the Housing Minister, Margaret Ritchie has fallen way short of what is required.

"The Housing Minister claims that she has set out a vision to tackle the housing crisis yet we are still waiting on the detail of what she will do. We need to see how these words will be translated into action and we need a proper and full response from the Department of Social Development to the recommendations in the Semple report." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Barry McElduff has said that there needs to be a shake-up in the balance of symbols in the Stormont estate after the Assembly Commission revealed the inventory of symbols and emblems in the Stormont Assembly estate.

Mr McElduff said:

"We need to create a more inclusive environment at Stormont for staff, elected members and the public.

"The institutions are about power sharing and the equal recognition of all traditions. Yet, this inventory of the symbols and emblems on display (or in storage) in the Stormont Assembly estate highlight the need for an equality shake up.

"Clearly there is not enough - particularly of the 'grand' nature - symbolism to reflect either the range of traditions that exists side by side on this island or indeed the new relationships and political dispensation.

"I believe that we should take advice from the Equality Commission, who have experience of dealing with these issues at local government. I also believe there is scope for a sub-committee or Ad hoc committee to look at how we make progress.

"There is also the issue of flags.

"But Sinn Féin are not interested in ripping down unionists symbols or tearing down the statue of Carson, we want to create an environment which reflects the nature of the Assembly and our society in the 21st century. This means that we need to bring in more symbols that reflect the nationalist and republican traditions; as well as other items from different cultural backgrounds.

"The Assembly building should not reflect an image of domination of one culture by another." ENDS

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Sinn Féin councillor Billy Leonard has said that sectarian graffiti that appeared at a housing development site in Boveedy outside Coleraine has brought dishonour on the area.

Leonard received complaints that the words 'no taig buyers' appeared on the hoarding at the site and also opposite the site. They were painted over by early afternoon yesterday.

Leonard said:

"To experience this type of graffiti in 2008 is truly disgraceful. People will appreciate that members of the Boveedy community will be embarrassed by the actions of the few who carried out this act.

At a time when society is trying to move away from ethnic separation some people have shown the level of their thinking by painting the words 'no taig buyers'. What happens now if a Catholic was interested in moving into the area? The line of ethnic hatred has been drawn.

I would like to think that people will work quietly in the background to lessen these tensions and like the rest of us try to work against negative and sectarian graffiti of this type." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Jennifer McCann today criticised the decision of the Eames/Bradley Group to exclude the groups representing the families of British State violence from today's event. Ms McCann said that given the snub to the families Sinn Féin would not be attending today's event.

Ms McCann said:

"When the Eames/ Bradley Group were first established we expressed serious reservations about the fact that it was being formed and funded by the British government. Any report it makes will go to the NIO and they will make decisions on what would happen next. Despite these reservations we did meet the group and encouraged others to do likewise.

"Nationalists and Republicans will not accept the British government attempting to portray themselves as innocent bystanders in this conflict. The British government directly and indirectly through their surrogate murder gangs were active participants in the conflict and any process of truth recovery must reflect that reality.

"The fact that the Eames/Bradley group have decided to exclude the families of those killed through British State violence from today's event adds further to the sense of unease within the broad nationalist community at the direction of this group. Given this snub Sinn Féin will not be attending today's event." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, today welcomed the launch of an Irish language resource to teach children about the proposed Bill of Rights.

Bille na gCeart i Scoileanna: Acmhainn d'Iarbhunscoileanna is the Irish Language version of the Bill of Rights in Schools: A Resource for Post-Primary Schools.

The materials for Bille na gCeart i Scoileanna: Acmhainn d'Iarbhunscoileanna have been developed through a unique partnership of the Human Rights Commission, the Department of Education and all five Education and Library Boards in association with Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta and An tÁisaonad.

Commenting at the launch held in Coláiste Feirste, Belfast, Ms Ruane said: "In 1991 there were fewer than 400 pupils learning through the medium of Irish in the north. Today that number has risen to over 3000 and that is against a backdrop of falling rolls in other schools.

"The launch of Bille na gCeart i Scoileanna: Acmhainn d'Iarbhunscoileanna has given me the pleasure of revisiting this educational resource and I was once again impressed by its scope and content. The rights of Irish speakers needs to be respected and I am fully supportive of Acht na Gaeilge.

"I would like to thank the Human Rights Commission for putting together this launch and to Garaí Mac Roibeaird for facilitating the event.

"Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt don Choimisiún um Chearta an Duine as an seoladh seo a eagrú agus do Garaí Mac Roibeaird as an imeacht a éascú."

Notes to Editors

The English Language version of the resource was published in 2004. When originally distributed, schools in the Irish medium sector received Irish language versions of the resource sheets.

The publication is available from http://www.nihrc.org

Coláiste Feirste situated in West Belfast is the only post-primary school in the North of Ireland to provide education through the medium of the Irish Language.

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Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty has said the nightmare of child abuse is not a thing of the past and that the state today will be just as culpable as it was in the past if services for the protection of children are not put in place.

Speaking as a Seanad debate on child abuse took place today Senator Doherty said, "We may never know exactly how many children died of neglect and ill treatment in institutions. Our first concern should be the survivors of abuse and the memory of those who did not survive. Many survivors became so marginalized and damaged from their abuse that they were never able to avail of the commission or the redress board. We know that many of them ended up homeless on the streets of London and other foreign cities.

"The report from the Commission on Child Abuse must be published as soon as it is finished. There must be no more cover ups or confusion.

"The recent Prime Time Investigates programme has exposed the woefully inadequate state of our child protection services with insufficient numbers of social workers and other front-line workers in place. The HSE is aware of cases where children are in grave danger but the services are not in place to make the interventions required.

"The nightmare of child abuse is not a thing of the past. It is happening every day. Most of this abuse takes place in the family home. If adequate services for the protection of children are not put in place then the State today will be just as culpable as it was in the past when it conspired with the Church to cover up the abuse of children." ENDS

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Speaking in the Seanad today on the Broadcasting Bill 2008 Sinn Féin Irish Language Spokesperson Senator Pearse Doherty called on Communications Minister Eamon Ryan to address the serious under funding of Irish Language television station TG4.

Dúirt Seanadóir Ó Dochartaigh, "Maidir le TG4, tá gá le cupla rudaí a shoileirú. Molann gach éinne TG4 na laethanta seo - agus is ceart sin. Ach tá dualgas ar an Aire maoiniú ceart a sholáthar don chainéal - agus ní leor an cheist sin a fhágáil ag eagras nua nach mbeidh bunaithe i gceart go ceann bliana ar a laghad. Mar tá leagtha síos sa Bille seo.

"Caithfear bonn ceart maoinithe a chur faoi TG4 láithreach - más rud é go bhfuil an Taoiseach chun gníomhú faoin teanga seachas bheith ag caint fúithi agus más mian leis an Rialtas a chruthú go bhfuil se dáiríre faoi chur i bhfeidhm a bhufil sa Ráiteas faoin nGaeilge a foilsíodh bliain go leith ó shin."

Senator Doherty said, "The Minister, like all his predecessors, agrees that TG4 is a huge success, not just for the Irish language but for the innovation and energy it has brought for public service broadcasting.

"He must also agree that the channel is seriously under-funded. He has an obligation to address this now and put it right before he establishes any new regulatory structure that might take years to reach this issue.

"We've heard a lot from the new Taoiseach about his commitment to Irish. The Minister must be grateful that he will have so many allies when he goes to seek the increased funding that TG4 so badly needs and deserves." ENDS

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Responding to a statement issued today by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan on the loss of Ireland's veto on international trade agreements Sinn Féin Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has accused the Minister of hiding behind the EU Commission who themselves are being economical with the truth on this critical element of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Dublin MEP said:

"Despite today's foot stomping by the Minister the fact remains that the EU Commission's statement regarding Ireland's loss of its veto on international trade agreements is economical with the truth. I challenge the Minister to deal with the factual concerns Sinn Féin have raised during the campaign. Surely the Irish government can argue and evidence this element of the Lisbon Treaty themselves. Why hide behind the Commission?

"We in Sinn Féin stand over our argument that the Lisbon Treaty removes Ireland's ability to veto the kind of international trade agreement currently being negotiated by Pater Mandelson at the WTO. Article 188 removes the general veto on services such as health, education and social services.

"The Commission's claim that aspects of intellectual property, investment and transport could be used to veto the WTO deal are highly dubious. Article 97a of the Lisbon Treaty removes the existing veto with respect to Intellectual Property. Transport and investment are overwhelmingly governed by qualified majority voting under the existing treaties (Articles 57 & 70 TEEC).

"The most telling aspect of the Commission statement is the highly conditional nature of their assertions. Phrases such as 'not necessarily', 'are often', 'will often' and 'at least in part' demonstrate that the Commission cannot or will not provide a definitive answer to the question of the veto. This is all the more surprising when one considers that the Commission knows exactly what is being negotiated in Geneva and on what basis a veto could be used.

"It is telling that yet again a government Minister is now issuing statements devoid of reference to the Treaty text and factual argument. Hiding behind EU institutions is no substitute for political debate.

"Sinn Féin remains convinced that the veto which could be used today to block a bad WTO deal will be gone if we ratify the Lisbon Treaty. On that basis the best course of action is to vote no if you want to keep the veto." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD today asked the new Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern to support a request from the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to review the Garda approach to policing protests including the operation at the site of the proposed Shell Gas pipeline in Bellanaboy County Mayo in light of a high number of complaints about Garda abuse. Minister Ahern refused the request.

Speaking in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Sinn Féin recognises the need for a review to be conducted by an external body with human rights expertise into the current approach to the policing of demonstrations and the need for a new human rights compliant approach to be developed.

"The approach to policing at Bellanaboy was summed up by the Superintendent in charge there Joe Gannon. In an interview published by Garda Review magazine he said 'There were no arrests. That was part of our Strategy; we did not want to facilitate anyone down there with a route to martyrdom. That has been our policy ever since'. That policy has resulted in 70 complaints to the Garda Ombudsman because the Garda approach substituted lawful arrests with their own form of brute enforcement. This included brutal and cowardly assaults on protesters by Gardaí.

"The Garda Ombudsman Commission is in agreement with Sinn Féin that a review of the Garda approach would help to reduce future abuses and complaints. But under the deeply flawed legislation they need the Minister's permission to undertake that review. This permission was refused by the previous Justice Minister Brian Lenihan. Will the new Minister allow the Ombudsman Commission to do its job more efficiently by undertaking a general investigation into the Garda approach to the policing of protests and crowd control etc?" ENDS

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From Brussels, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has welcomed proposed new EU regulations to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars.

Speaking at the European Parliament's Environment Committee, Ms de Brún said:

"The debate on the EU regulations to reduce CO2 emissions from new cars is an essential part of meeting carbon reduction targets. The road transport sector is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions. All sectors of the car industry and wider society must play their part in bring this level down.

"The European Commission proposes to set the average CO2 emissions for new passenger cars at 130 g CO2/km by means of improvement in vehicle motor technology plus additional measures corresponding to 10 g/km. This could and should be further tightened as the savings resulting would be enormous.

"Between 1990 and 2005, EU CO2 emissions from transport increased by 32%. I am happy to see that my European Parliament colleague has proposed a long term target of 95 g CO2/km by 2020 but I believe that this should be further strengthened.

"Compliance should be administered through penalties, and those penalties must be set a level that is high enough. If the penalty is not higher than the cost of making technical improvements to new cars then there will be no incentive to do this. Income from fines from firms that fail to meet targets should go to support research programmes aimed at producing greener vehicles and lower emissions." Críoch

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Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed the appointment of Mr Paul Mageean to the post of Director of its new Graduate School of professional Legal Education at Magee Campus in Derry.

Ms Anderson said,

"The announcement of the appointment of Mr Paul Mageean and that the Graduate School of Legal Education will be situated at the Magee Campus in Derry is not only good news for the University but the entire North West region.

"This is the first time that this vocational training course for solicitor students represents the first time professional solicitor training has been made available outside Belfast.

"Not only will this enhance the reputation of Magee campus as a first class seat of learning but it will also add the value of city in terms of attracting new investment.

"The first students will be admitted in August and I hope that the uptake will increase in the years ahead. Also in August The Department of Public Prosecution are to set up a office in the city and I have no doubt that this course will attract similar investment to the city." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty speaking during a debate with Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv today said, "The Lisbon treaty represents a significant loss of power for Ireland. In addition to losing a Commissioner for five out of every fifteen years, our voting strength at the Council of Ministers is significantly reduced. As the Council takes many of the key decisions, any reduction of voting strength is bad for Ireland."

Senator Doherty said, "The Lisbon Treaty represents a significant loss of power for Ireland. In addition to losing a Commissioner for five out of every fifteen years, our voting strength at the Council of Ministers is significantly reduced. As the Council takes many of the key decisions, any reduction of voting strength is bad for Ireland.

"No matter what spin Eamon Ó Cuiv puts on the new voting procedure and how it is calculated the simple fact is that it involves a reduction of Ireland's voting strength. And nobody can argue with any credibility that this would be a good thing.

"Most votes at the Council of Ministers are taken by qualified majority. Each country is given a weighted vote partly based on population size. At present Ireland has seven votes, while Germany, France and Britain have 29 votes each. A majority requires 255 votes, or 74% of the total. Ireland seven votes constitute 2.74% of this total.

"The Lisbon treaty proposes replacing this procedure with what is called a double majority. The new system would require 55% of member states (15) containing 65% of the EU's population to secure a qualified majority.

"This new system is bad for Ireland in two respects. Firstly it reduces the threshold for qualified majority decisions, making it easier for qualified majorities to be achieved. Secondly the weighting of each member state becomes more proportionate to population size, with Ireland having our voting strength halved by 50%, while large member states see their voting strength increase by more than 50%.

"In both cases this is bad for smaller member states such as Ireland, as our ability to block decisions that are not in our interests will be reduced, while the strength of larger states will be significantly increased.

"Fianna Fail are trying to cloud the issue by challenging the precise level of the reduction. What they cannot deny is that the proposed changes under the Lisbon Treaty reduce our voting strength. Taken in conjunction with the loss of a commissioner, this represents a significant loss for Ireland." ENDS

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Speaking from Leinster House Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD outlined to media the consequences of the Lisbon Treaty on Ireland's public services. Deputy Ó Caoláin was joined by South West Representative Seán Crowe.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said

"There is a clear desire within the European Commission and a large number of EU governments to open member state markets in vital public services such as health and education to competition.

"The EU does not argue directly for privatisation and has no objection to member states competing "freely" with private operators in "open" markets. However there are clear consequences when vital public services are opened up to competition

"Treating health care or education as commodities to be traded on the market creates inequalities in access to public services services. The Institute of Public health estimate that 5000 people from low-income families die prematurely each year because of unequal access to health care in this state.

"Opening public services to competition actively undermines universal access to healthcare, and forces reliance on private insurance. It also puts downward pressure on wages, particularly for those involved in front line services such as nurses and ancillary services while putting pressure on budgets forcing health managers to seek cost reductions.

"It also undermines the long term viability of the public sector, as the private sector cherry picks the most "profitable" sectors, thus undermining vital revenue streams through which the public sector subsidies the "unprofitable sectors."

"The European Commission has been attempting to get greater powers to compel member states to open up their markets in vital public services to such competition.

"Article 16 of the Lisbon Treaty gives the EU new powers to apply "economic and financial conditions" to the provision of Services of General Economic Interest. These conditions are the rules of competition and restrictions on state aid.

"The European Commission and the European Court of Justice clearly regard large aspects of public services, such as health and education as economic in nature and therefore subject to Article 16.

"Article 188 allows for the inclusion of health, education and social services in international trade agreements, including at the World Trade Organisation. Again confirmation that the EU sees such activities as economic in nature

"These two articles will provide the European Commission with the tools to progressively open up areas of European public services such as health and education to both internal market competition and international trade.

"Advocates of the Lisbon Treaty argue that the Protocol on Services of General Interest protects public services. However the article clearly only protects non-economic services. However as the European Commission, the European Court of Justice and Article 188 explicitly recognise public services such as health and education are economic in nature, and therefore not provided any protection under the protocol.

"The impact of these changes on Ireland would be twofold. Firstly it would accelerate the already unequal two-tier nature of our vital public services. Secondly it would made reversal of the existing policy direction even more difficult as such changes would have to be secured at an EU as well as a domestic level.

"The Lisbon Treaty is a bad deal for public services. Sinn Féin has called for a specific protocol exempting vital public services such as health and education from any form of liberalisation, and promoting universal access to public services based on need and not ability to pay." ENDS

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A new £1million job investment in Derry is further evidence that the city is driving economic growth in the North West of the island, said Sinn Féin deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

During the official opening of the new Derry office of the Consarc Design Group, the Minister also announced that it would bring 20 permanent jobs to the city over the next three years.

Speaking at the Guildhall launch he said:

"This investment reflects the commitment Consarc has to the city and the North West as well as demonstrating their ability to recognise the business potential here.

"Derry, and the surrounding area, is experiencing an economic re-growth and revitalisation and, like the rest of our cities, has a great deal to offer.

"Today's announcement can only enhance the employment opportunities for the local community and is future evidence that the city is driving economic growth in the North West of the island," added Mr McGuinness.

Note to Editors

Consarc Design Group, the largest architectural company in Northern Ireland has an office at Belfast Gasworks. It was established in 1911 and currently has 85 employees. It provides a range of specialised services include: architecture, quantity surveying, project and facilities management, historic building conservation, planning supervision and interior design.

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Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin today welcomed the comments of the Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the Dáil urging Peter Robinson to complete the task of implementing the St. Andrews Agreement including the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"At St Andrews the Irish and British governments along with the political parties entered into a binding agreement on all of the outstanding issues. Sinn Féin has delivered on everything that has been asked of us.

"Unfortunately despite the welcome progress of the past year the DUP have yet to deliver on a number of key areas including the transfer of power on policing and justice in the timeframe agreed, Irish Language rights and other equality issues. It is the direct responsibility of the two governments to address these serious matters. They need to ensure that the á la carte approach to the St. Andrews Agreement ends.

"In the Dáil this morning the Taoiseach set out the urgent need for the transfer of powers on policing and justice to proceed and said that the time was right for DUP leader Peter Robinson to take the final steps towards the full implementation of what was agreed at St. Andrews. This is a welcome intervention and needs to be followed up with decisive action in the days ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin today welcomed the comments of the Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the Dáil urging Peter Robinson to complete the task of implementing the St. Andrews Agreement including the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"At St Andrews the Irish and British governments along with the political parties entered into a binding agreement on all of the outstanding issues. Sinn Féin has delivered on everything that has been asked of us.

"Unfortunately despite the welcome progress of the past year the DUP have yet to deliver on a number of key areas including the transfer of power on policing and justice in the timeframe agreed, Irish Language rights and other equality issues. It is the direct responsibility of the two governments to address these serious matters. They need to ensure that the á la carte approach to the St. Andrews Agreement ends.

"In the Dáil this morning the Taoiseach set out the urgent need for the transfer of powers on policing and justice to proceed and said that the time was right for DUP leader Peter Robinson to take the final steps towards the full implementation of what was agreed at St. Andrews. This is a welcome intervention and needs to be followed up with decisive action in the days ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Enterprise, Trade and Employment Spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD said today that plans to cut PRSI must be reversed by the Government in the face of growing unemployment. Morgan said that the latest figures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which revealed a startling rise in redundancies, show how much pressure the Social Insurance Fund is under.

Morgan said:

"The latest figures from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment show that the total number of redundancies for the three months to the end of March 2008 was 7,968 an increase of 21.1% on the same period in 2007.

"Unemployment Benefit is drawn from the Social Insurance Fund and it is apparent that as redundancy figures rise, so will the pressure on this fund. Despite being warned this would happen, the Government decided to make a promise to the electorate in its Programme for Government to cut PRSI.

"The Government must accept now that this was an empty promise and cannot go ahead. The Social Insurance Fund must be strong enough to deal with growing unemployment and other welfare demands.

"I am calling on the Government to admit it was wrong to make this promise, to reverse it and to make sure that there is a large investment in training and education to help those being made redundant to skill themselves for alternative employment." ENDS

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Sinn Féin deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness MP MLA today officially opened a conference entitled "A Celebration of Recovery" which was hosted by Northlands, a local community-based independent addiction treatment centre.

Speaking at the conference, which aimed to provide insight and offer hope to individuals and their families who experience at first hand the consequences of addiction behaviour, Martin McGuiness said:

"There is no doubt that addiction can have a devastating impact. Not only on the individuals directly affected - but also on their families and friends, and on communities and society.

"However, I hope today's event provides a positive message to all those affected, directly or indirectly, by addiction, and that we encourage more people to engage with the holistic treatment and support services offered by organisations, such as Northlands."

Mr McGuiness also said:

"Addressing the harm related to alcohol and drug misuse will continue to be a priority for this Government. Through the Department of Health's New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs, we have a platform and strategy for cross sectoral, cross Government action preventing and addressing substance misuse - and we must continue to use this opportunity to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the North of Ireland." ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:

  1. The New Strategic Direction for Alcohol and Drugs can be found at: www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/show_publications?txtid=17069.
  2. Statistics on Alcohol and Drugs Misuse:
  • 5583 individuals were in treatment for drug and/or alcohol misuse on March 1 2007
  • Excess alcohol consumption costs the North of Ireland approximately £770million per annum
  • 43% of male and 33% of female drinkers currently binge drink (Binge drinkers were defined as men who drank 10 or more units at one sitting, or women who drank seven or more units at one sitting)
  • Levels of regular illicit drug use among adults have plateaued in recent years, with the exception of cocaine which is showing a small increase in prevalence
  • 28% of 15-64 year-olds have taken illicit drugs at least once
  • Main illicit drug is cannabis, with 25% of all adults reporting ever having used it; 7% reported use in the last year before; and 3% in the last month.

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