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Sinn Féin hold first meeting of Aontú and set out priorities for cross border integration

28 January, 2005

The official launch of Aoutu, the Sinn Féin strategy group for cross border integration took place in the Clinton Centre, Enniskillen today. It is one of the party's major initiatives to advance the all-Ireland agenda and advance preparations for Irish reunification.

Aontu was set up by the party leadership to bring forward and implement plans for the integration of services, developments and infrastructure throughout the border region.

Today's meeting, hosted by Sinn Féin spokesperson on All-Ireland Integration, Barry McElduff, pulled together almost 40 representatives from the three cross-border corridor groups,the North West Region Border group, the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) and the Eastern Region Border group along with Sinn Féin councillors from Sligo and Donegal where the party has been denied access to the corridor groups. Local Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew along with party chairperson, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA also addressed the meeting.

Mr. McLaughlin described the launch as a ''very valuable exercise" saying the party's work on the various border groups and bodies was a perfect "strategic fit into our overall objectives" as republicans. He dismissed the work of the "so-called constitutional nationalists" on the various bodies of being "fine on rhetoric but miserable on action". "Sinn Féin is and will be the potent driving force in all of this," he said. "It is part of our project to achieve unity and sovereignty as well as to make the lives of those who live along the border better."

During the plenary session of the meeting many of the representatives present told of the practical difficulties people sffered as a result of the border. Michelle Gildernew spoke of the problems faced by working parents in accessing childcare services when taxation issues arose, with Revenue on one side of the border not recognising payments for services on the other. Gerry McHugh spoke of the problems faced by the farming community on the northern side of the border who receive grants in euro but are forced to transfer them to sterling accounts at a significant loss. Currency harmonisation was a key feature of many of the contibutions.

The poor provision of health services and the "appalling" lack of public transport were also highlighted.

Telecommunications and the issue of mobile phones and roaming charges in particular were also raised. One representative complained that is was "ridiculous" that using mobiles along the border often meant you were being charged to be told you were leaving or entering Ireland.

Cllr. Padraig MacLochlainn from Donegal for him "this was the most important work he could be involved in" and urged his fellow councillors to make it their priority." ENDS

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