Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has said urgent action is needed to ensure the health of residents and staff at a care centre in Derry.
The Foyle MLA said:
"I am deeply concerned that a number of patients in a care centre in Derry have been confirmed to be suffering from COVID-19.
“My first thoughts are with the families and the loved ones of those directly affected by this deeply distressing news.
"Families of residents at the care centre are now concerned that there could be other cases in the home and are worried about their loved ones.
"The Department of Health, the RQIA and management at the care centre need to act fast to ensure the health and safety of all residents and staff, including testing for front line staff at the home.
"In particular, staff and residents should urgently be provided with adequate Personal Protective Equipment and, if necessary, moved to a safe location for further care.
"There is a need to act quickly in order to prevent any further tragedy."
Sinn Féin Councillor Danny Baker has condemned those responsible for leaving a pipe bomb in the Lagmore area of West Belfast in the early hours of the morning.
Cllr Baker said:
"Earlier this morning a suspect device was left at a house in the Lagmore area.
"The area was sealed off while the device was dealt with.
"This was a senseless act and shows little regard for the community, our key workers, emergency services and health workers.
“I appeal for anyone on any information to bring it forward to the PSNI.
“These reckless actions are in stark contrast to the efforts of workers carrying out essential work.
“Those responsible offer nothing only disrupting the efforts of our emergency services to help those in most need at this time of crisis.
"Our key workers are already under immense pressure as they work whilst the rest of us remain home in our battle against COVID-19.”
Ireland’s only charitably funded Air Ambulance will be forced to cease lifesaving operations due to lack of funding on April 3rd. Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh and party health spokesperson Louise O’ Reilly have jointly slammed this decision.
Teachta Ó Snodaigh said;
“With the inability of the Air Corps to guarantee air ambulance services to certain country areas due to lack of experienced personnel, this service has become even more vital and in light of the current national emergency, the failure to fund the service is absolutely outrageous and is not acceptable.
"This service has been vital in saving lives since its introduction 8 months ago flying 351 missions.
“Funded solely through voluntary contributions to date, it is time for the Government to step up to the mark and ensure this service can continue.
“We have already seen another charity organisation, the blood bikes also pleading for emergency funding to continue their voluntary and absolutely essential service to help us fight this pandemic”.
Teachta O’ Reilly said;
“The very health of our nation is currently under severe threat due to the Coronavirus.
“Confirmed cases of the virus are rising as is the death rate.
“We must therefore use every resource available, voluntary or otherwise to assist us in preserving lives and preserving people’s health over the next period as we face into the surge.
“These resources must be provided to the Irish Community Rapid Response Helicopter, the Blood Bikes and all other volunteer groups providing life saving supports.
“The Government must immediately provide emergency funding to keep both operations running and allow them to keep saving lives during this crisis and beyond."
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Communications David Cullinane has welcomed a release of €2.5million under the Sound and Vision scheme to support local radio stations.
Deputy Cullinane has engaged extensively with Minister Richard Bruton on this and called for €5million to be released under the fund.
Speaking today Deputy Cullinane said:“Local, regional and independent radio stations are crucial to our democracy and are trusted platforms in disseminating information. We have seen them once again step up to the plate and provide an important public service during this COVID-19 crisis.
“However, many are in a precarious situation and have seen advertising revenue fall dramatically. It is an industry that needs urgent support and interventions to stay afloat.
“Over the course of the last few weeks, I have engaged directly with the Minister on this issue. I welcomed his announcement to suspend the broadcasting levy for six months. I urged him to go further and release €5million under the Sound and Vision Scheme to aid local radio stations.
“This requires a repurposing of the existing scheme to include a new round of funding with greater flexibility regarding eligibility.
“I welcome the announcement by the Minister that he has acceded to this request and has put aside €2.5million under a repurposed round of funding.
"This will be a huge help for local radio stations. I have asked the Minister to review this in a number of weeks and to increase to €5million if necessary.
“I also welcome the €750,000 fund for community radio. I have asked Minister Bruton to take up my suggestion of creating an advertising fund for Government Departments to advertise on local print media to support local newspapers.
“Today is a step in the right direction in supporting local print and broadcast media.
"I will continue to engage with local media as to how this scheme will be rolled out and to work constructively with the Minister to help safeguard local and regional print and broadcast media.”
Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd has urged management at Thompson's Aero Seating in Portadown to review its lay-off of 350 workers so staff involved can avail of emergency salary protection schemes.
The Upper Bann MLA said:
"350 workers will now be laid off at Thompson's Aero Seating in Portadown with the company acknowledging that the lay-offs are a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis.
"These workers have been let go when the company could and should have accessed the government's Furlough scheme for salary protection during this emergency.
"They now face huge uncertainty when the company could have secured 80% of their wages.
"I call on management at Thompson’s, even at this eleventh hour, to release these workers under the Furlough scheme rather than laying them off."
Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley has called on the Irish government to clarify wage protections of for cross-border construction workers who are being effectively coerced into working in unsafe conditions.
The West Tyrone MP said:
“Cross-border workers, particularly those in the construction sector, are being told by unscrupulous employers that they won’t get paid if they don’t turn up for work.
“They are also being told they won’t be able to avail of income protections now being afforded to other workers.
“This means they are being forced to travel in often crowded work vans to Dublin with all the inherent health risks involved.
“This should not be happening and is in clear contravention of the medical advice to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“They are then in digs with other construction workers, often in cramped conditions with no opportunity for physical distancing.
“This is a recipe for disaster.
“These construction workers should not have to choose between working to put food on the family table and the risk of bringing Coronavirus into their family homes.
“Sinn Féin has repeatedly called on the Irish government to close all non-essential construction sites.
“The plight of our cross-border construction workers further re-enforces the need for the Irish government to act now.”
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has called for workers health and well-being to be prioritised over profit as some businesses flaunt Public Health Agency guidelines.
The South Down MP said:
“I have been contacted by workers across numerous industries that are being effectively forced to work in unsafe conditions that do not meet social distancing guidelines.
“This is totally irresponsible by the employers and amounts to a shameful exploitation of workers. It cannot continue.
"Those businesses that are essential and remain open must implement the Public Health Agency guidance on social distancing.
“All non-essential businesses – meaning those that are not contributing to the effort against COVID19 or providing an irreplaceable community service such as food and essentials – should close immediately.
“There is financial support for PAYE and self-employed workers, this will see workers receiving 80% of their wage if they are not in work. I would encourage businesses and self-employed workers to avail of this.
“In the coming days, there will be enforcement action taking against employers that are placing profit over the health and well-being of workers and their families.
"Remaining open and not following the PHA guidelines will ultimately facilitate the spread of COVID19 and place an increased burden on our already strained healthcare workers.
“This is a time for solidarity amongst all sections of society - it is not a time for selfish and shallow practices.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has today described the banks plans to profit from the Covid-19 pandemic as 'outrageous'.
He has called on the Central Bank and the Minister for Finance to step in and force banks to step up to the plate at a time of national emergency.
"Despite repeated promises from banks of a payment holiday for customers at a time of national emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, they have refused to ensure that mortgage interest will not accrue for those that can't make mortgage payments because of financial difficulties.
"This means, for example, that people with a €200,000 mortgage will pay close to €2,000 more over the lifetime of their mortgage.
"This is how banks are intending to profit out of this crisis and this is, quite frankly, outrageous.
"Sinn Féin want the Central Bank and the banks called in by the government and this to be stopped. I have been in contact with the Minister for Finance and the Central Bank in relation to this matter.
"The fact that banks are already charging twice the average EU interest rates for mortgages is indicative of their attitude to customers and illustrates that banking culture has not changed.
"The banks need to step up now and waive all interest during the period of emergency for those who have trouble paying their mortgage and not try to profit from this crisis."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has called for a uniform approach to be adopted by public and private student accommodation providers with regards refunds for students who have left student accommodation early due to Covid-19.
Deputy Ó Broin said:
“I am hearing widespread reports of students and their parents being denied refunds once when they leave their student accommodation early due to the Covid-19 outbreak. In some cases, this can be as much as three months rent.
“Sinn Féin believes that all student accommodation providers - both public and private - should provide these students and their families with refunds.
“It is important for students in purpose built accommodation to know that their licences are covered under the Residential Tenancies Act. Where landlords are denying refunds of pre-paid rent or deposits beyond the required notice period, they should make formal complaints to the Residential Tenancies Board.
“I have been in touch with both the USI and the Irish Universities Association on the issue.
“It would be helpful if the Ministers for Housing and Education made a clear statement calling for full refunds from all student accommodation providers.”
‘Ireland will be disappointed with EU Crisis Fund Commitments’ - MacManus
Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus (Midlands North-West) has said the EU’s Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative will deliver only the marginal sum of €3m from a potential package of €65bn to Ireland because of the way the EU has distributed the funds. MacManus repeated calls for solidarity and need to be the criteria used to distribute what funding the EU can make available.
MacManus was speaking following today’s extraordinary EU Parliament session that allowed MEPs to vote remotely and which approved the funding package.
MEP MacManus said:
“EU emergency funds are of course welcome which is why I voted in favour in today’s vote. Nevertheless, it is disappointing that Ireland is set to receive only a miniscule portion of the Crisis Fund. The method of distributing the funds i.e. on the basis of unspent cohesion funds rather than on the basis of need means Ireland is missing out on its fair share.
“The emergency method of holding today’s Parliament session means there was little scope to discuss this issue. The urgent need to get the resources onto the ground where they can make a difference outweighs any issue that may cause delay but Ireland must be prepared to stand up and fight for its share based on need.
“Sinn Féin has outlined its proposals for an EU response including the joint issuance of these ‘pandemic’ Eurobonds which should be allocated on a pro-rata basis or another appropriate mechanism. Critically, at a time of such an unprecedented global crisis we need to see the suspension of fiscal rules and State Aid rules.” ENDS
Sinn Féin Defence Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has called for all Defence Members to receive allowances that they are entitled to and for them to receive due renumeration to reward their vital efforts.
Teachta Ó Snodaigh said;
“For far too long now, it has been acknowledged that members of the Defence Forces and especially new recruits do not receive a salary that allows them and their families to have a comfortable standard of living.
“Some members have had to take up second jobs, sleep on families couches and seek food parcels from voluntary organisations.
“This is an opportunity for the Government and State to send a message to our Defence Forces that they are valued, they are vital to the State and during this crisis they will undoubtedly play their part in saving lives.
"Defence Forces members will be essential in the fight to stop the spread of Coronavirus (Covid 19) during the period ahead.
“The Government must immediately ensure that all Defence Forces Officers including cadets and new recruits receive at least the military service allowance of approximately €100 weekly depending on grade.
“Unlike trainee guards who have been have been made full members of An Garda Síochána as a result of this crisis, army cadets and recruits must return to training. In both cases, their training has just been paused.
“It is time to give Defence Forces Members a fair deal and I am calling on the Government to do so.”
MEP writes to airline bosses seeking help for ‘stranded Irish’
The newly-selected MEP for the Midlands Northwest constituency, Chris MacManus, has written to Irish airline bosses seeking their assistance in bringing thousands of ‘stranded Irish’ people home.
Mr MacManus wrote to IAG, parent company of Aer Lingus, and Ryanair following a ‘remote’ vote in the EU Parliament to amend the EU Regulation 95/931 which allows airlines to maintain their previous flight slots for a specified period of time so they don’t have to run ‘ghost flights’ to keep the coveted ‘use it or lose it’ slots.
The Sligo-based MEP urged airline chiefs to use their resources and capacity to assist in repatriating Irish citizens abroad who desperately want to come home but are left stranded because of the near-worldwide shutdown due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Mr MacManus said: ‘I wrote to the airline bosses following the vote in the EU Parliament which allows airlines to keep their flight slots, without having to use them, for a specified time.
‘I believe that everyone has a part to play to ensure that people are looked after in the best possible way during this unprecedented and difficult time and I highlighted the cases of Irish citizens who are currently stranded in many parts of the world, particularly in Australia.
‘My colleagues in Leinster House have been in touch with hundreds of people, particularly young people in Australia, over the past week, who are aged between 20 and 30 and are mostly are on working holiday visas.
‘They have found themselves without work, without any income and without a way of getting home. They, and their parents, are frightened and worried about what will happen to them and they want to get back to Ireland.
‘The rule book, about what can and cannot be done, has been ripped up and rewritten, worldwide, in the past few weeks and I asked the airline chiefs to consider putting the resources of their companies at the disposal of the Irish State in order to help as many people as we can during this time of unrivalled crisis.
‘I am aware that the Department of Foreign Affairs have been working hard over the last few days to ensure that as many Irish people as possible are helped home. But they can only do it with the airlines’ resources and assistance and I asked them to get in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs to see how their company can help.
‘I really hope there is a positive response to this initiative, at a time when everyone needs to pull together to help their fellow citizens’.
Sinn Féin MLA Jemma Dolan has called on the Irish Government to pay 'COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment' to cross-border workers living in the North.
The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA said:
“There are many people living in the north who work and pay taxes in the South but are receiving no support from the Irish Government.
“The Irish Government has launched a ‘COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment’ for people who have lost their jobs, however as it stands this does not apply to people who live in the north and work in the south.
“It’s vital that these cross-border workers who have lost their jobs can avail of this financial support from the Irish Government during this unprecedented crisis.
“This pandemic, and the necessary measures being taken to contain it, will have a huge impact on workers, families and the economy.
“The Irish government has a duty to ensure these workers are considered in any steps it is taking to mitigate the impact of Coronavirus on livelihoods.
“There needs to be cooperation between ministers at the level of the North South Ministerial Council to make sure these cross-border workers are not left in limbo.
“We have raised this issue with the Irish Government and will continue to seek full clarity to ensure workers are supported during this emergency.”
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has said there is growing frustration with the inadequate level of COVID-19 tests be conducted so far into this pandemic.
The Sinn Féin health spokesperson said:
"A dedicated and wide-reaching testing programme is essential in the battle against COVID-19 according the World Health Organisation.
“Testing should, by now, be available for all essential health and social care workers, doctors, nurses and other key staff who are on the front line of the fight against the spread of coronavirus.
"I have been made aware of GPs grouping together to source and buy tests themselves in order to test themselves and their staff so that they keep working to protect others and save lives.
"Doctors should not have to do this. They should be allowed to devote all their energies to helping others.
"The Department of Health needs to ensure testing is available for all health and social care staff to keep these essential staff working. It is incomprehensible that this is not yet happening."
Sinn Féin Children and Youth Affairs spokesperson Kathleen Funchion TD has raised concerns about the new measures announced by the Minister for Children will impact smaller childcare providers.
She has called for a sustainability fund to be established to help smaller childcare providers who are struggling in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Deputy Funchion said:
"The new measures announced yesterday are welcome for parents; particularly those who have lost jobs in the past two weeks, and are welcome for some childcare providers who will be able to cover a large proportion of their costs based on the government's plans.
"Unfortunately, however, the planned contribution of 15% of staff costs is not going to be enough for many services, particularly smaller and rural based services.
"I have asked the Minister to put in place a sustainability fund to address this issue immediately.
"In order to ensure that this fund benefits smaller providers who are going to be most affected, this could be applied on case-by-case basis or by increasing the 15% on a staged basis depending on costs of the facility.
"This is vital to ensure that all childcare providers continue as going concerns in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic."
Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Imelda Munster TD has called on the government to do more to help small businesses in crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Deputy Munster has said that the government's supports essentially amount to offering loans with interest rates of between 4% and 7.8% and an additional 0.5% premium due to the state guarantee, at a time when many small businesses have lost much, if not all of their business almost overnight due to the restrictions in place as a result of the Corona virus. The interest rates for loans offered for micro-businesses from MicroFinance Ireland is between 6.8% and 7.8%, which represents too large a burden for many small businesses at this time.
The Louth TD said;
"This is not going to help most small businesses to shield themselves from the worst of this crisis.
"What we need from government is an interest free loan scheme with a moratorium on repayments for six months.
"We also need small businesses to have access to interest-free overdrafts immediately. I would like the see the government force the banks to ensure that this measure is introduced immediately.
"Some businesses will bounce back after this crisis is over, but for others it will be a long and hard road to recover from this unprecedented economic shock.
"I would have hoped that the government would have learned from its recent mistakes around Brexit loans, which many businesses found unworkable, and frankly useless to them in a time of economic uncertainty.
"The government must offer fair play to small businesses, particularly those most vulnerable in the longer term as a result of this crisis and offer them interest free loans to allow them the breathing space to recover from the hit they have taken. Small business is at the heart of our economy and our communities. The government needs to work harder to protect it."
Sinn Féin workers rights spokesperson Maurice Quinlivan TD today said construction companies must enforce social distancing guidelines or close down sites in order to protect the health and safety of workers and their families.
Deputy Quinlivan said;
“The health and safety of construction workers and their families must come first, and if social distancing cannot be realised on construction sites, they need to be shut down.
“I have been contacted by scores of concerned workers who are extremely worried about the lack of social distancing on sites across the State.
“While most people are now staying at home, most construction workers have no choice but to leave for work each day and risk bringing the virus home with them each evening. They have not been given the same protection as other sectors
“Most construction workers cannot take unilateral action to leave sites, as they are in a particularly vulnerable employment situation.
“Thousands are forced to work in bogus self-employment arrangements, massively limiting their rights, while apprentices have no choice but to follow the direction of their employer or lose their apprenticeship place after years of work.
“It's not just the health and safety of construction workers that is now at risk, but also their families.
"Unite, SIPTU and other employees representative are now calling for this. The government cannot ignore the rights of these workers any longer.
“All non-essential construction sites should close if they cannot strictly enforce social distancing, and for essential sites that need to continue, workers need to be given protective gear in addition to staggered hours and breaks."
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Employment Affairs and Social Protection John Brady has said that no person on a social welfare payment should have to face threats of having their payments stopped and be pressured into sourcing work during the COVID-19 emergency if they don’t comply as a “heartless” decision that should be stopped immediately.
Deputy Brady was speaking after raising the issue in the Dáil today.
The Wicklow TD said;
“Over the last week I have been contacted by a large number of people who have been contacted by Jobpath providers Turas Nua and Seetec and informed them that they must continue to engage with them or face sanctions.
“They also confirmed that people are being pressured to find work and threatened that their payments will stop if they don’t comply while the current health emergency continues to grow.
“To make such demands and threats of people in already vulnerable circumstances during the worst public health emergency in modern history is heartless and needs to be stopped immediately.
“Thousands of workers have already been made unemployed since the COVID-19 outbreak began and many more face this likelihood in the near future also. The last thing we need is to be putting people into situations that could further escalate this emergency.
“Minister Doherty must immediately stop all JobPath referrals, and must also bring a halt the threats to jobseekers to cut their payments.
“During this state of emergency we need to keep people well and save lives."
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has welcomed that payment processing will begin today on the Coronavirus small business grants.
The party's economy spokesperson said,
"I welcome the update that the payment of the £10,000 grant to those eligible small businesses for which Land and Property Services have information will begin today.
"The portal for businesses to upload information if Land and Property Services do not have their bank details will also be launched today via https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/BusinessSupportGrantScheme."
Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey has called on the Irish and British Governments to increase efforts to assist citizens returning to the island from various parts of the globe.
The West Belfast MP said:
“Over the course of the last week I have been dealing with various different cases of Irish and British citizens being stranded abroad and unable to return home, including many in Australia.
“I have been in constant contact with the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and British Foreign Office throughout this period of time.
“With increased flight restrictions and flight cancellations, citizens are finding it increasingly difficult to return home.
“I welcome that the Irish Government has issued some new guidelines to help citizens returning home and today helped 170 people to return home.
“These guidelines include the establishment of a register that will be used to advise Irish citizens returning home and alternative flight arrangements.
“I would encourage citizens to read and follow these guidelines.
“But both the Irish and British Governments must do much more and take a more proactive approach to assisting citizens.
“This is a time of great fear and anxiety for families as COVID19 continues to spread, the additional burden of being stranded abroad should not be placed on them.
“I will continue to lobby both the Irish and British Governments on this issue.”
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