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Speaking from Leinster House today, Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Pádraig MacLochlainn called for the release of Basque Nationalist leader Arnaldo Otegi saying his continued imprisonment is a detrimental obstacle to peace-building in the Basque country.

Deputy MacLochlainn said:

“Arnaldo Otegi’s continued imprisonment is doing nothing to move the Basque political process forward. It is, rather, a detrimental obstacle to the building of a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the region.

“Mr Otegi, who was arrested and imprisoned in October 2009, is a widely respected political figure with a clear and significant political mandate as leader of the Basque political party Sortu; a party which is committed exclusively to political and democratic means. Sortu stood in the recent elections in the Basque Country and received 20% of the vote, less than a percentage point behind PNV. It also had 123 Mayors elected.

“Arnaldo Otegi is currently in prison in the Basque Country and is due to go on trial in late June or early July. His continued imprisonment only makes the process of building a peace process in the Basque Country more difficult.

“I am calling on the Spanish Government to immediately release Mr. Otegi and to lift the ban on the Sortu political party. Mr Otegi’s release must be part of a permanent resolution to the Basque conflict.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Padraig MacLochlainn TD today met with Ernesto Sentí Darias, the Cuban Director of European Affairs at the Department of Foreign Relations.

The meeting was part of an effort by the Cuban administration to develop relations with EU member states and to set up an Oireachtas Friends of Cuba group.

Speaking at the meeting in Leinster House today Deputy MacLochlainn said:

“The key objectives for the group should be to lobby for a move away from the common EU position on Cuba, to develop full trade relations between the EU and Cuba and to lobby for an end to the US Embargo.”

Speaking after the meeting he said:

“I look forward to working with the new group in the Oireachtas and hope that we can play a constructive role in bringing about normalised relations between the people of Cuba and the rest of the world.

“This is the key issue in bringing about an end to the extreme hardships facing the Cuban people.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Transport spokesperson Sean Lynch has welcomed the announcement by Translink to freeze it fares at last year’s prices.

Mr Lynch stated,

“It is important in an effort to encourage more people on to public transport that we have an affordable pricing structure so I welcome this news today from Translink to freeze it fare structure.

“Public transport needs to be more affordable and accessible if we are to encourage people to give up on private transport which would help alleviate road congestion and help the environment.

“With the rising cost of fuel affordable public transport is essential but we also need the buses and trains running on routes and times that suit the general public.

“So while holding the pricing structure is a helpful move I would also ask Translink to look at routes and timetables that would also get more people to use the bus and train system across the North.

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The Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton today admitted that fuel allowance will be eliminated for most 65 to 67 year olds as a result of the increase in the pension age after being questioned on the matter by Sinn Féin Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh today.

During priority questions in the Dáil today Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister if she was aware that by pushing the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill through the house this week she will be excluding 65 year olds from the fuel allowance in 2014 and subsequently 66 an 67 year olds also. He asked whether any account had been taken of the situation these older people will find themselves in from 2014.

Speaking afterwards he said: “The Minister’s response suggests that consideration is only being given to insulation and retrofitting of houses to make them more energy efficient which obviously has to happen regardless of the changes in pension age.

“However she failed to identify any measure to financially compensate older people for the absence of the fuel allowance which they will badly need in order to pay for home heating fuel.

“If we have a repeat of the weather of last winter in 2014 I have no doubt that we will see avoidable deaths occurring as a result of this government decision.” ENDS

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Commenting on the confirmation that the HSE intends to proceed with the threatened closure of 24-hour A&E services at St. Colmcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

“The closure of 24-hour A&E at St. Colmcille’s Hospital, Loughlinstown will continue the Fianna Fáil legacy of cuts to hospital services.

“The loss of this service will leave another large swathe of the country without proper access to 24-hour A&E cover. People in Co. Wicklow, especially, will be badly hit by this further cutback to our already over-stretched public hospital services.

“Health Minister James Reilly has claimed to represent change in our health system and has ordered a review of all hospital services. Yet he is presiding over continuing cuts such as this. He should intervene to prevent this closure and similar cuts threatened at other hospitals across the State.”

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Responding to the publication of the first progress report of the Croke Park Agreement Sinn Féin Public Expenditure and Reform Spokesperson Mary Lou McDonald TD criticised Minister Howlin for pursuing the same cut and run policy as Fianna Fáil and the Green’s.

Deputy McDonald said:

“The real measure of successful reform within the public sector will be the experience of citizens seeking and accessing services.

“The moratorium on recruitment in the public sector is having a devastating effect on the delivery front line services.

“Approximately 1,600 public hospital beds are still closed; the HSE intends to privatise Home Help services and to reduce home help hours. Children continue to wait up to 18 months for simple but critically important hospital procedures such as an endoscopy.

“Teaching supports for children in the travelling community are to be stopped and children who have been independently accessed as having a disability will suffer a 10% cut to their teaching supports. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Sinn Féin is committed to efficient, effective and economic delivery of public services but this is not what Fine Gael and the Labour party are delivering.

“Minister Howlin continues to simply give a passing reference to the modernisation agenda contained within the Croke Park Agreement and his own departmental brief.

“Real reform and significant long term cost savings will come from full integration of services, new and improved technologies, standardisation of systems and services and significant cuts to senior management pay across the public service and semi-states – much more significant than the Government is currently proposing.

“If Minister Howlin continues to focus on job losses instead of embracing the real reform agenda all he will deliver during his tenure is a third world public service and this legacy will have a devastating effect on the State’s economic and social future.” ENDS

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill today praised the resilience of the dairy sector during the tough economic climate.


The Minister was speaking as she visited Dale Farm’s Dunmanbridge creamery near Cookstown to see at first hand the advanced cheese and milk powder processing facilities at the site. The creamery produces a comprehensive range of high quality cheeses and spray dried milk powders for major retail, food service and ingredient customers.

Minister O’Neill said: “The dairy sector has recovered well during the tough economic climate and I am confident it has potential to be a key driver in taking our economy out of recession. As the largest dairy processing company in the north, Dale Farm is a major player in our agri-food sector and provides local farmers with a market for over 400 million litres of milk annually.

“The success of Dale Farm demonstrates how the agri-food sector is unique in that the supply chain - farmers, processors, retailers – are often located close to one another, providing jobs and retaining wealth in our rural communities.”

The Minister continued: "The investment in milk powder and cheese making facilities here at the Dunmanbridge site and the foresight demonstrated by United Dairy Farmers and Dale Farm bodes well for the future sustainability of their members. Taken together with strategic investments at their other processing plants, Dale Farm has the capacity to produce an extensive portfolio of high value and innovative dairy products. These products are well positioned to compete in both existing and emerging markets throughout the world and maximise returns to their milk suppliers.”

The Minister was met by Group Chief Executive Dr David Dobbin and United Dairy Farmers’ Chairman, John Dunlop.

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Sinn Féin’s Transport Spokesperson Dessie Ellis TD has called on the Minister for Transport to clarify the government’s position on the Rural Transport Network due to fears by many service providers that’s there is to be a cut to funding on a dramatic scale.

The Deputy said:

“I have been contacted by a number of people working in the Rural Transport Network who have very grave concerns for the funding of the service and feel completely in the dark in terms of their positions in the next twelve months and onwards.

“This service is a vital link to older people and those with disabilities who require assistance in getting to urban centres to do errands and socialise. It is essential to the maintenance of rural communities and local businesses which see marked improvements in returns when the service is operating.

“It cannot be the case that these people who rely on this service to combat isolation and mobility issues should lose it having already borne the brunt of cuts in frontline services they depend on most.

“I ask that the Minister clarify the position and meet with Rural Transport providers to hear their concerns and make them aware of the plans arising from the review of the network initiated by the last government.”

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Sinn Féin TDs Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Brian Stanley have called on all parties to support the Sinn Féin motion on water charges which will be debated in the Dáil tomorrow.

Speaking from Leinster House Deputy Stanley said:

“Sinn Féin is totally committed to campaigning against the imposition of a charge for water. We believe that this charge will place even more of a burden on families who are already struggling to cope with the rising cost of living, unemployment and Government austerity measures.”

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

“Our motion calls for the €500 million which the Government intends spending on the installation of water meters, rising to €1 billion due to the funding options being considered, to be spent upgrading the antiquated distribution network. Such an investment would more than pay for itself in a relatively short time and both retain and create jobs in the local economy.

“The motion also affirms that the central taxation system is the only appropriate funding mechanism for domestic water.

“This is an important motion and I am calling on all parties to reject these unfair and regressive stealth taxes.” ENDS

Note to editors: Full text of motion below

Sinn Féin Private Members Business Motion for Thursday 16th June, 2011

That the Dáil –

Affirms that access to water and sewerage services for domestic use is a universally recognised and basic human right

- Acknowledges that the right to water includes the right to clean and safe water, the right to equitable access to water without discrimination (including on grounds of income), and the right to freedom from contamination or arbitrary disconnection of the water supply.

- Recognises that water is a valuable resource that is expensive to treat and distribute and that everyone has a duty to conserve it;

- Believes that responsibility, including operational responsibility, for water production, treatment and distribution must remain with local authorities and within full public ownership;

- Affirms that public authorities must take effective management decisions to protect and improve water quality, and to promote and ensure water conservation and sustainability in an equitable manner consistent with the principle of progressivity.

- Rejects the creeping privatization of our most vital resource evidenced by the preferred option status of Design, Build and Operate contracts with private companies in the area of water production and treatment services;

- Alerts the government to the danger that the current policy trajectory will shortly bring us to a situation where water services are entirely in private hands leaving the Irish public vulnerable to the profiteering price hikes and water poverty that have been witnessed elsewhere in the world, and particularly in countries under strong IMF influence such as Argentina and Bolivia;

- Notes the record of privatisation of water services in other jurisdictions is abysmal demonstrating that the pursuit of such policies are not in the best interest of the people of this State;

- Notes that the introduction of metering with any form of charge for domestic users signals the end of the Irish derogation from the EU’s Water Directive which exempts only our current practice from the full cost recovery principle, the consequence of which would be much higher household water bills than those currently signalled by government

- Condemns the chronic and on-going lack of investment in our water infrastructure, especially during the time of budget surpluses, with the result that up to 58% of treated water is lost by the distribution network before it even reaches households

- Considers that the €500 million which the government intend spending on the installation of household water meters, rising to €1 billion due to the funding options being considered, would be better spent upgrading the antiquated distribution network and such investment would more than pay for itself in a relatively short time and both retain and create jobs in the local economy

- Notes that local authorities have substantial funding in the Water Services Capital Accounts which they are prevented from using due to the conditions imposed by the European Growth and Stability Pact

- Promotes the establishment of an All-Ireland Water and Sewerage Authority the purpose of which would be only to ensure that water quality and environmental standards are met and to facilitate co-operation between local authorities on the island, reduce costs and maximize efficiency, leaving the operational responsibility with local authorities

- Rejects the use of stealth taxes and other forms of regressive double-taxation.as a funding mechanism for domestic water whether said stealth taxes consist of a flat charge under any name or a flat rate charge with a meter, and
Affirms that the central taxation system is the only appropriate funding mechanism for domestic water.

Brian Stanley, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Gerry Adams, Michael Colreavy, Seán Crowe, Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Martin Ferris, Mary Lou McDonald, Sandra McLellan, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Jonathan O'Brien, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Peadar Tóibín.

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Ahead of today's (Wednesday) inaugural meeting of the new Development Committee of Belfast City Council which will discuss its £20m plan of action for the coming year, Balmoral Sinn Féin Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said it was urgent that City Hall adopt strategies and actions which will impact on "this crippling recession".He said: "The scale, intensity and duration of this recession call for focused, radical and bold steps by Council to create jobs and build the new Belfast. We have many troubled thoroughfares in Belfast — including parts of the Lisburn Road — where merchants suffering a downturn in business are struggling with onerous rates bills. We need to identify ways to occupy closed units, replace dilapidated buildings, provide rates relief and boost business throughput. Backing traders' associations and supporting our arts and culture organisations are just some of the economic actions which council needs to adopt.
"We also need new, dynamic models of economic regeneration which embrace all the quarters of the city — primarily Titanic, Cathedral and Gaeltacht — in unison and leverage our wonderful natural assets such as the Lagan river and towpath.
"Over recent weeks, with my Council colleagues, I have been listening to the small business owners who are the backbone of this city and the providers of the bulk of our rate base, call for actions which will help them build a prosperous city with opportunities for all. Now it's time for the Council to start to deliver."

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Sinn Féin’s Spokesperson on Education, Deputy Seán Crowe, has given a broad welcome to this week’s announcement by Minister Ruairí Quinn to changes in school enrolment policies.

Deputy Crowe said that the progressive changes contained in the Minister’s statement were welcome but Sinn Féin would exam the detail of what was being proposed before making any final decision.

He continued: “At the core of any changes to the current school enrolment policy must be the ending of the discriminatory enrolment practises that have been directed at certain children, particularly those with a learning difficulty or who have special needs.

“The Department’s primary focus must be in ensuring every school meets a minimum high standard so as they are able to deliver the educational needs of our young people regardless of their social or economic background. This means strategic investment and ring fencing funding for essential frontline services.

“It is also important that a balance is found between parental choice and the rights’ of all children to receive a decent education in an increasingly diverse Ireland.

“The TUI is correct in pointing out that some so called ‘elite’ schools have often flouted the Equality Legislation and actively discouraged students with special educational needs from attending their schools. They have been aided in this unethical practise by the Department who have usually turned a blind eye to what was happening.

“This must change and these types of discriminatory practises ended.

“Priority should also be given to children transferring from a primary Gaelscoil to a secondary Gael-choláiste so that they can continue their education through Irish." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD, in a joint statement with Party colleagues Martin McGuinness MP, Alex Maskey MLA and Bairbre de Brún MEP, have called on the Spanish Government to release Basque Nationalist leader Arnaldo Otegi.

The Sinn Féin representatives said that the continued imprisonment of Mr. Otegi only made the process of building a peace process in the Basque Country more difficult.

Mr. Adams and his colleagues said:

‘We have all met Arnaldo Otegi many times and have visited the Basque Country. We are convinced that Arnaldo is committed to bringing about a democratic and peaceful resolution to the conflict in that region.

Otegi is a widely respected political figure and leader of a political constituency which has a clear and significant political mandate. His continued imprisonment makes peace building in the Basque country more difficult.
 
We are convinced of Arnaldo Otegi's personal and political dedication to the development of the peace process, as are other key parties and stakeholders in the Basque Country. His continued imprisonment is an obstacle to this. It is also contrary to basic human rights standards.
 
The release of Arnaldo Otegi and the un-banning of Batasuna and Sortu would demonstrate courage and confidence on the part of the Spanish government and a willingness by it to play a constructive role in bringing one of Europe's oldest conflicts to an end.'

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Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD this morning secured a commitment from the Taoiseach that the Inter-department Committee tasked with a limited investigation into the treatment of women and children held in the Magdalene Laundries would report back to the Dáil within three months.

Deputy McDonald said:

“Whilst this decision by Government to set up the Inter-departmental Committee is, as the Justice for Magdalene’s group have stated, a welcome first step, it cannot be used as a mechanism to avoid the setting up of a full statutory inquiry as demanded by the UN Convention Against Torture. The Government’s failure to issue a formal apology to the women held in the Magdalene Laundries is deeply disappointing.

“As many as 30,000 women passed through the Magdalene Laundries in the period from 1922 to 1996. Women and children were held as prisoners and forced to work without pay. They were abused and many of the women had their children taken from them. Some became so institutionalised that they could never leave or function outside of the institution. The State was complicit in all of this, chose to look the other way and failed these women.

“Last year Minister Lynch when in opposition raised the issue of Bethany Home and the Magdalene Laundries exclusion from the Residential Institutional Redress Schemes with the previous Government, and called on Ministers ‘to do the decent thing and end this outrage’. The Minister is now in a position to ensure her Government does the decent thing.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "disgraceful" the confirmation by the Taoiseach, in answer to a question from Deputy Ó Caoláin in the Dáil this morning, that the long promised constitutional referendum on children's rights will not now be held in 2011.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"It is disgraceful that this Fine Gael/Labour Coalition is to further delay the long promised and long overdue constitutional referendum on the rights of children. These parties played a key role in the Oireachtas committee which agreed a wording to strengthen the rights and protections of children in the Constitution.

"In its General Election manifesto the Labour Party stated:

The delay in proceeding with the referendum on children’s rights is unacceptable. Labour will ensure that a children’s rights referendum is urgently progressed.

"In its General Election manifesto Fine Gael stated:

As a priority Fine Gael will ensure children’s rights are strengthened through a Constitutional referendum.

"Yet the Taoiseach has now stated that there will be three referendums held in the autumn but not the referendum to protect children. The Coalition has failed on children's rights before they even reach 100 days in office. This regressive decision must be over-turned."

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Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has met with the Qualifications Regulator, Roger McCune to discuss the recent discovery of errors in examination papers.

The Minister said: “I had a useful meeting with the Qualifications Regulator, Roger McCune.

“The meeting provided an opportunity for him to update me on some of the issues that have arisen in recent weeks that have affected pupils sitting examinations here and on the action that he, in conjunction with his counterparts in England and Wales, is taking to protect the interests of pupils.

“As I said last week, pupils - and their parents and teachers - have a right to expect that the examination papers provided by awarding bodies are error-free and fit for purpose.

“I want to be satisfied that all aspects of the examination process are working smoothly and the interests of candidates are kept to the fore. I have therefore asked to be kept informed of progress as the examination season concludes and during the period where exams are being marked and results being sent to candidates.”

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD this morning challenged the Taoiseach on the appalling state of the health services.

He warned that due to a lack of funding and a shortage of junior hospital doctors “the health service is probably facing its worst ever crisis. Many Accident and Emergency units are struggling to maintain 24 hour cover and are at risk of closing. Some hospitals and hospital wards are also facing closure and the future of some essential services, including the maternity and infant scheme, are under threat.”
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The Sinn Féin leader identified those hospitals at greatest risk as Drogheda, Cavan, Beaumont, Castelbar, Limerick, Letterkenny, the infirmary in Cork, Portiuncula, Tullamore, Roscommon, Portlaoise, Midwestern Regional Hospital in Limerick and Waterford.

Mr. Adams called on the Taoiseach “to take immediate action to assess what the impact on services will be on the 11 July” and he asked the Taoiseach to come back to make a statement to the House on what plans Government are putting in place to rectify this situation.

Speaking after Leaders Questions the Sinn Féin leader said:

“The Taoiseach did not answer my question. I was disappointed by the vagueness of his response and the lack of clarity and leadership that is urgently needed on this issue.

“His effort to dismiss my concerns around the shortage of junior doctors as something that arises each summer is disingenuous. The reality is that this year’s short-fall is significantly greater than ever before and the consequence of that for the Health Service will be profound.

“Our public hospitals are completely dependent on Junior Doctors.

“On July 11, following the changeover in job rotations, the number of vacant junior doctor posts will be 400.

“This will be a substantially worse situation than anything seen before and will have a devastating effect on the provision of services within the healthcare system.

“I have been told that in the Louth and Meath area there are at least 50 junior doctors less than are needed and that curtailment of emergency services and longer waiting lists will result.

“Frontline services including anaesthetics, emergency medicine and trauma paediatrics, are under so much pressure that they may not be able to maintain an emergency service.”

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Justice Committee vice-Chair, Raymond McCartney MLA (Foyle) has called for immediate action on the flaws in prison administration identified in the Ombudsman’s report on the death of a 19 year old man in custody in Hydebank Young Offenders Centre.

 

Commenting on the Ombudsman’s Report Raymond McCartney said;

 

“Firstly our thoughts are with the family of this young man following their tragic loss.

 

“The Ombudsman’s Report states that the Prison Administration needs to address the flaws in the system immediately.

 

“Failings within the prison system, including at Hydebank have been consistently exposed and highlighted by several, knowledgeable agencies including previous Prison Ombudsman’s Reports, the Coroners service, the Human Rights Commission, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, and the Independent Monitoring Board, yet recommendations remain mostly unimplemented, warnings ignored and vulnerable prisoners die as a result.

 

“This latest tragedy must act as an urgent catalyst for the Justice Minister to expedite Prison reform.”

 

“The Owers Preliminary Report points the way to deal with these sensitive issues and once completed its recommendations must be implemented as a matter of urgency. As I have said the failings in our Prison system have been highlighted by a number of reputable agencies and the last thing we need is another Report that is not acted upon.

 

“Sectional interests must not be allowed to prevent the radical change that is clearly needed in the Prison system.”

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 Sinn Féin’s Education Spokesperson, Daithí McKay has welcomed the fact that the Department has succeeded in its goal of achieving substantial reduction in spending on outside consultants.

 

Commenting following the publication of an Audit Office report into the use of consultants Mr McKay said:

 

“When Sinn Féin went into government at the beginning of the last term, one of our pledges was to reverse the culture of contracting Consultancy work to outside sources and reduce the pressure on the public purse.

 

“One of the major difficulties that existed in the past was the unnecessary use of outside consultants by various Departments to carry out tasks which – quite frankly – were the responsibility of the Civil Service.

 

“We believed this was an unjustifiable waste of public funds and set about dismantling this culture within our departments. You can clearly see the effectiveness of our approach within the Education Department where there has been a massive reduction in the use of outside consultants.

 

“For example, in 2007, the Education Department spent over £1m on consultants. That figure was steadily reduced over the intervening period and by last year it stood at less than £63,000.

 

“That is the kind of leadership which Sinn Féin continues to show in government and it is even more important in the current economic climate where all Departments must ensure the very best value for money where public funds are concerned. I call on all departments to follow the Sinn Féin Ministers example and work to eliminate the use of outside consultants unless there is absolutely no alternative”

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Sinn Féin MEP, Bairbre de Brún today welcomed the EU challenge to the Irish government on its handling of the Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) issue.

Speaking as the issue was debated in the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament Ms de Brún said:

"I welcome the fact that the European Parliament has the opportunity to debate the important issue of VRT.People at home have been badly affected by the way this issue has been handled and are keen to present first hand information to the EU about this.

"While all states have the right to their own taxation system, the State should not be able to seize goods worth more than the sum which is owed.

"VRT has been imposed at an unbelievable rate of 36% , and overzealous pursuit saw the seizure of cars at the roadside followed now by disproportionate legal proceedings against some of those who had bought cars across the border. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Senator David Cullinane has expressed his sympathies to the family of former Senator Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly passed away in the United States on the 8th of June. He was a leading member of Saor Uladh and was elected as an abstentionist MP to the Stormont assembly for Mid Tyrone in the 1950s and was subsequently was a member of the Seanad.

Speaking in the Seanad today, Senator Cullinane said

“Liam Kelly was committed in his pursuit of Irish independence. It is fitting that this week we will have a debate on the role of the Seanad, and as part of that we will be discussing the potential it has for north-south engagement. Just under 57 years ago, in November 1954, Senator Kelly spoke in favour of a motion which proposed the rights of people from the north of Ireland to participate in the Oireachtas. Not as a gesture, but as of right. We in Sinn Féin have long argued for such a right, and will make that point again today.

“Liam Kelly said: ‘it is obviously anomalous that my right to address a House of the Oireachtas on behalf of the people in mid-Tyrone or South Armagh should depend on the goodwill or generosity of the public representatives of the Twenty-Six Counties. I appreciate, of course, and am grateful for this gesture of understanding and goodwill on their part. I claim for the people of mid-Tyrone, South Armagh and of any constituency in any part of Ireland that desires to do so the right to representation in Oireachtas Éireann.’

“I extend my condolences to the Kelly family, and in particular his wife Peggy, on Senator Kelly’s death, and I would ask the house to recognise his many decades of service to the Irish people, and to likewise express their sympathies.”

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