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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney has welcomed the opening of the Irish Government’s Reconciliation Fund, and has encouraged organisations across the island to apply.

Speaking following the opening of the fund, Declan Kearney said:

“Since the inception of The Reconciliation Fund, a wide variety of organisations North and South have benefited. 

““The fund has helped to finance various educational, sporting and cultural projects that promote respect, tolerance and cross-border links.

“In the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ document the Irish Government committed to an increased level of funding for The Reconciliation Fund. 

“This increased funding is welcome and I would encourage non-governmental organisations, community groups and voluntary organisations across the island to apply.

“Various projects funded by The Reconciliation Fund have done good work in breaking down stereotypes, promoting mutual understanding, and promoting reconciliation.

“Applications to the fund will remain open until the 10th March”.

https://www.dfa.ie/reconciliation

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has called on the Audit Office to look into loans made by InvestNI to Wrightbus. 

Caoimhe Archibald said: 

“The ongoing revelations about Wrightbus, its donations to Green Pastures Church and the use of public money from InvestNI raises serious questions. 

“I raised this matter today at a meeting of the Assembly’s Economy Committee and the committee agreed to write to the Audit Office to ask that it look into the £2.5m loan made to Wrightbus. 

“Sinn Féin has also tabled questions to the Department for the Economy, the Department for Communities and the Charities’ Commission in relation to this case. 

“The public must have confidence in the use of public money; there must be full transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds.

"There are serious questions that need answered on this matter.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and spokesperson on Education, Karen Mullan, has reiterated the party’s calls for the ending of transfer tests and academic selection.

The party’s Education spokesperson said:

“There has been a long list of studies from a variety of organisations that have shown that school transfer tests have a hugely negative impact on our children.

“One of the most recent isa report produced by the Right to Education (R2E) group in June 2019. This report found that 92% of teachers felt that transfer testing had a ‘significant negative impact’ on the health of children.

“The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Equality Commission, Human Rights Commission, Children’s Commissioner, OECD, the trade union movement and the Catholic Church hierarchy have all called for an end to academic selection and these calls should be heeded.

“There is no other area of public policy that has so much academic evidence stacked against where it would be acceptable for a Minister to defend its continued use and not to be vigorously challenged.

“There is an onus on school board of governors to acknowledge the extent of this evidence and to now prioritise the mental wellbeing and academic development of pupils.

“I reiterate the consistent calls of Sinn Féin for the creation of a fully inclusive and non-selective education system."  

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Sinn Féin’s Brexit Spokesperson Chris Hazzard MP has slammed British Government Immigration proposals as “unpopular, unworkable and a direct threat to the north’s economic viability”.

The South Down MP was responding to Home Office proposals announced this morning that would overhaul immigration policy in the north of Ireland from 2021. 

Mr Hazzard said:

“Far from strengthening the economic wellbeing of our society, these proposals are a direct threat to local industry - including our local hospitality, tourism, retail, and agri-food sectors. 

“It is hard not to view these proposals as an elitist, xenophobic attack on overseas and low-paid workers – the vast majority of whom we simply can not live without. 

“Indeed most worryingly, these proposals are a cruel attack on our care sector – the wonderful, selfless heroes who we all rely on to take care of us and our families in our hour of need. 

“It is abundantly clear that the Home Office have completely ignored our unique and special circumstances and have again shown nothing but contempt for local business and industry leaders who have engaged constructively with British Government officials in recent years.

“Sinn Féin will be raising these concerns directly with the British Government in the weeks to come.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Sinéad Ennis has called for the modernisation of current gambling laws to protect young people and the most vulnerable in society from problem gambling.

The South Down MLA was commenting after submitting the party’s response to the Department for Communities consultation on gambling law. 

Sinéad Ennis said:

“The current gambling laws in the north are out of date.

“I have submitted our party proposals to modernise the law to bring it in to line with changes in technology and new forms of gambling, such as online, fixed term betting odds and casinos.

“The reality is, online betting has no closing time. Smartphones are a casino open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We need legislation which is properly equipped to regulate these websites and help protect the most vulnerable.   

“Our recommendations include; the establishment of an Independent Gambling Regulator and an immediate age verification process for online gambling.

“Problem gambling does not only affect the gambler; it has wider implications for society and lasting impacts on relationships with family and friends. 

“Sinn Féin is committed to tackling problem gambling north and south. The most effective way to do that is through modernised and fit for purpose legislation.”

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Infrastructure spokesperson Cathal Boylan MLA has welcomed a review into legislation that has put a disproportionate financial burden on road running events.  

“A law brought in three years ago on road closures has meant that a number of road running events cannot keep up with the costs of traffic management.

“Fewer events are applying for permits as a result of this change.

“Most recently this has affected the Dark Hedges half marathon in Antrim.”

The Newry and Armagh MLA continued:

“At the Infrastructure Committee I raised the need for the legislation to be amended so this burden can be lifted from the organisers, and particularly for smaller events.

“This one sized fits all approach for road racing traffic management is impacting local communities.

“I welcome a review initiated by the Department for Infrastructure to look at the impact of this legislation.

“I look forward to taking part in this review and encourage others affected by it to do so as well.

“We need to amend this legislation so that events like the Dark Hedges half marathon can thrive once again.”

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has stated that the roll out of affordable cost rental homes must form a central plank of the incoming government's housing policy.

 His comments come as two different reports published this morning by Bank for International Settlements and by the EU agency Eurofound, indicate that housing in this State is the second most expensive in advanced economies and that the number of Irish people aged 25-29 living with the parents grew at one of the highest rates in Europe.

 Deputy Ó Broin said;

 "A study by the Bank for International Settlements, Property price dynamics: domestic and international drivers indicate that property prices in this State have risen more than other advanced economy since the end of 2015.

 “The study also acknowledges that there is preliminary evidence which shows that international investors are having an impact on local property prices.

 “This is further evidenced by, as reported in the Irish Times, according to the Construction Industry Federation (CIF), investment funds bought 95% of the 3,644 apartments completed in 2019.

 “This makes the findings of the Eurofound report published in the Irish Times today less surprising.

 “The report shows that the number of Irish people aged 25-29 living at home grew at one of the highest rates in Europe in the decade between 2007 and 2017. Just over 47% of people in this age group were living at home, a rise of just over 11% over ten years compared to an average rise of 2% across the rest of Europe.

“There are solutions. The next government must commit to ambitious targets and the required funding in order to roll out affordable cost rental.

“This has been government policy since 2014, yet not one affordable cost rental home has been delivered. There are 50 under construction in Dublin but at €1,200 per month these are not affordable.

 “We need affordable cost rental homes to rent in Dublin at between €700 and €900 per month and lower in areas outside the Capital.

 “There is public land available for these projects. Clonburris in my own constituency, St. Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, Oscar Traynor Road in Dublin City, Cathal Brugha Barracks in Rathmines and Broadstone Bus Depot in Phibsboro. 

 “Additional sites in Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick could also be readily identified.

 “People can’t wait any longer. The policy is there, the sites are there, we just need a commitment from all parties that the funding and plan will be a priority as part of a government for change.

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There can be no backsliding on EU regulations regarding cross-border haulage following Brexit, Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has said.

The former MEP also warned that hauliers need clarity about the extent of the post-Brexit checks they will face between here and Britain.

Martina Anderson was speaking after meeting with the Freight Transport Association of Ireland. 

She commented: “The association has a number of serious concerns about how their industry could be affected and it is my intention to reflect these concerns at the Stormont Infrastructure committee. 

“The Department here should be ensuring that EU transport regulations continue to be applied so that the 13,000 lorries that cross the border every day are able to do so seamlessly.

“This will also ensure we have the same levels of emission and drivers standards across the island as the industry could not cope with two different sets of regulations operating north and south. 

“Britain is leaving the EU but the North is continuing to align with European standards so there can be no backsliding on EU regulations regarding vehicle safety and drivers’ welfare.

“A further problem for hauliers is the status of EU nationals working in the trade and the lack of clarity about the extent of the checks they will face when travelling between here and Britain. 

“And while the EU has taken steps to improve the sea links, travelling through Britain is still the quickest way to access Europe so such issues need to be addressed urgently.”

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Commenting on the latest revelations on the Electoral Office's handling of the voter registration process, Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy said:

“These latest revelations raise further and very serious questions about the Electoral Office’s handling of the voter registration process.

“The reality is that people have lost their democratic right to vote as a result of being denied the opportunity to register.

“This goes way beyond human error and is totally unacceptable.  

“We have been consistently raising concern about the Electoral Office’s capacity following their decision to close down regional offices.

“It’s clear from the last number of elections that they do not have the capacity to ensure that electoral registration, postal and proxy applications and electoral events are properly carried out.

“There doesn't appear to be any effective scrutiny or accountability mechanism in relation to the Electoral Office. This is very concerning and totally unacceptable."

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