Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane has expressed frustration at the Minister for Health’s lack of detail and clarity on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. He said that the non-answers provided by Minister Donnelly this morning were inadequate, especially for family carers and pharmacists.
Speaking this morning, Teachta Cullinane said:
"The Minister's statement this morning was inadequate and lacked the detail, clarity, and certainty needed.
“This is not a time for spoofing.
"We are not asking the Minister to magic up doses of the vaccine, but we need him to be honest.
"When the Minister makes promises or commitments and those need to be revised, he needs to be upfront about this.
“The absence of any commitments, targets, timelines, or any figures at all shows that leadership is lacking.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Minister could not offer clarity on the target for the end of March - the initial target of 700,000 will likely not be met.
“He failed to give a straight answer to this question.
“There is also no clarity for family carers.
“They are a group identified for the flu vaccine, but not for the Covid vaccine, and are very worried about this.
“We also have no clarity for pharmacists and their staff despite the fact that community vaccinations are to start this week for over 85s, and over 70s in the coming weeks.
“Community pharmacies are essential to the rollout of the vaccine.
“They still do not know when they will be vaccinated, or when they will start vaccinating the general public.
“The Minister does not know either. That is unacceptable."
Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan has challenged the European Union Commissioner for Justice to ensure that the right to collective bargaining is applied throughout all member states.
Speaking during a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe exchange of views with Commissioner Didier Reynders, Senator Gavan noted that the European Commission had recently presented a new strategy to strengthen the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union.
Citing Article 28 of this Charter, Senator Gavan said:
“I come from a State where workers still do not have access in law to the fundamental human right of collective bargaining. Can you outline what plans the Commission has to ensure that all workers within the EU can apply this right in practice?
"Ireland remains one of the few countries within the EU where workers do not yet have this right.
“In response Commissioner Reynders confirmed that it is the intention of the Commission that Rights set out in the Charter are applied equally across all member states. He cited an annual report that will be produced each year and acknowledged that it may be necessary to engage with the Irish Government on the issue of collective bargaining.”
Senator Gavan gave the Commissioners comments a cautious welcome but expressed deep dis-satisfaction at the lack of movement on this issue.
“Successive Irish Governments have failed to legislate for the right to collective bargaining, the Commission’s promise to strengthen the Charter of Fundamental Rights is welcome but must be judged on concrete results rather than rhetoric.
“This right to collective bargaining is fundamental to building a decent society, and to ensure that workers have an effective voice in the workplace. It’s no co-incidence that the fall in trade union membership has been matched by an ever-growing divide between rich and poor both in Ireland and throughout Europe.”
Sinn Féin TD for Limerick City, Maurice Quinlivan, has again called on the Taoiseach to intervene directly so that the Coonagh-Knockalisheen Road project can be completed.
Addressing the Taoiseach in the Dáil, Teachta Quinlivan stated that the Minister of Transport’s meeting with residents last Friday was ‘disastrous’.
Teachta Quinlivan said:
“Minster Ryan waltzed into the meeting with the Moyross community and told them what was best for them and didn’t listen to the residents’ concerns. If this government don’t deliver this road, they are going to torpedo the whole project. The Community feel abandoned and betrayed.
“Residents are quickly reaching the end of the road when it comes to their tolerance of the excuses of the Green Party and its leader Eammon Ryan.
"They should trust that Minister Ryan and the Green Party have a better plan? Spare me that nonsense.
"This road needs to be built as priority. A completed Coonagh-Knockalisheen Road could be a route to increased economic and social inclusion for the residents of the Moyross community.
"We have already invested large sums of money in the preparatory work for this road. Construction is ready to commence all that is missing is the signature of the Minister.
“I have said many times before this is more than just a road, it is a crucial piece of the regeneration of the Northside of the city.
"What we need is a step-change in the attitude of the Minister, and his party, to this project. We cannot allow this to remain the road to nowhere.
"The Minister must end his intransigence on this. He remains the sole impediment to the progression of this important work.”
Sinn Féin MLA Órlaithí Flynn has welcomed confirmation of a £2,000 payment for student nurses on clinical placement involved working on the frontline on the fight against COVID-19.
Órlaithí Flynn said:
"Student nurses have been key to the fightback against COVID-19, working alongside other heath workers to keep people safe and save lives.
"I welcome confirmation of a £2,000 payment from the Executive for all non-salaried students on clinical placement in the health service as a recognition of their hard work.
"We will continue to stand with student nurses to make sure they get the support they deserve."
Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady has welcomed the release of heating grants this week to vulnerable citizens.
The Newry and Armagh MP said:
“This week has seen the beginning of £200 heating grants being paid directly into accounts of vulnerable citizens.
“I want to commend Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey for her work in delivering this scheme and a multitude of other schemes that continue to provide much needed support for the most vulnerable right across our society.
“Those who are eligible for the heating grant include recipients of: State pension credit, the higher rate of attendance allowance, the highest rate care component or higher rate mobility component (or both) of Disability Living Allowance, and the enhanced rate of the daily living component or enhanced rate mobility component of Personal Independence Payment.
“This payment will be made automatically to those who are eligible over the course of the coming days.
“This is Sinn Féin in Government standing up for the most vulnerable in our society.”
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has welcomed news that health workers will receive a £500 thank you payment for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The party’s Health Spokesperson said:
“It’s welcome news that health workers will receive a £500 thank you payment for their hard work on the frontline during the pandemic.
“They have been at the heart of looking after people and saving lives, often in very difficult circumstances.
“We have been calling for this payment as a way of thanking our health care staff to ensure they feel valued and so that we can give something back to them.
“It’s vital that health workers receive all of this payment.
“The Minister must also move to support student nurses by increasing the nursing bursary and giving final year placement students the opportunity to get paid.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has called on the Minister for Education to provide much needed clarity to Junior Cert students on how they will receive their qualifications this year.
Having expressed his concerns that Junior Cert students are being left out of the Minister’s discussions, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The past 12 months have been enormously difficult for all school students. The focus in recent weeks has been on the Leaving Certificate classes, but we must not forget that Junior Cert students are also worried, and deserve certainty and clarity on what their assessment will look like this year.
“Junior Cert students have lost significant time last year and this year again, and it is at this point unclear when they will be back in the classroom.
“I have spoken to many Junior Cert students and their families, who have told me that not knowing what is happening is putting huge pressure on them and their classmates, and impacting their mental health.
“While I recognise that the Leaving Certificate is an extremely important qualification and those students must be prioritised, this should not come at the expense of certainty for Junior Cert students, who have equally been left in the lurch by the Minister and the Department of Education.
“The reality is, that there are serious questions over the feasibility of traditional Junior Cert examinations at the end of this year. It is clear that it is unlikely that these exams will go ahead. The Minister must accept this reality, and urgently put in place a contingency plan for these students.
“Sinn Féin are calling for in-class solutions such as continuous assessment, to allow students to receive their qualification, whilst also taking into account the learning time lost.
"I recognise some were concerned about the fairness of last year’s process; the Minister must examine introducing external checks to counter that this year.
This has been an extraordinary 12 months for these students. The Junior Certificate is an important milestone in a student’s life, indeed for some early school leavers it is the qualification they will leave education with.
“The Minister must make a decision quickly on this, to give clarity to students and let them know clearly what the plan is. Leaving Junior Cert students out of the conversation is simply not fair."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Kathleen Funchion TD, has welcomed the announcement of an independent investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in the north.
Speaking today, Teachta Funchion said:
“I welcome the announcement that an independent investigation will be held into Mother and Baby Homes in the north.
“I know that this week has been extremely difficult and upsetting for survivors due to the publication of the research report yesterday.
"The report contains harrowing and heartbreaking details about the way in which thousands of women and children were failed by state, church and society.
“I want to commend all the survivors who have participated in the research and are advocating for the truth to be told.
“The announcement of this investigation is just the start of a difficult process, which I hope will bring some healing to survivors in finally addressing their experiences and ensuring they are no longer ignored.
“The issue of Mother and Baby Homes is an all-island one. We know from the research report in the north and the commission report in the south that the homes operated across Ireland, with women, girls and their babies being taken between the two jurisdictions.
“It is vital that this issue is approached on an all-island basis. I know Minister Roderic O’Gorman held a meeting with Ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill last week in recognition of this and I welcome it.
"We must continue to work closely together on an all-Ireland basis on this issue to ensure survivors get the answers they need.
“Survivors deserve the truth and they deserve action. I hope that the independent investigation in the north will be a vital mechanism for achieving this.
"It must be done in close consultation with survivors, so that survivors' needs and concerns are at the very heart of the process.
“We must learn from the mistakes of the commission report, which caused unnecessary distress to survivors due to its insensitive and inappropriate handling of a variety of issues. This cannot happen again and survivors must be treated with respect.
“I want to commend survivors across Ireland for their tireless advocacy on this vital issue. We all have a duty to ensure their voices are heard and that Government act to resolve issues accessing birth certificates, medical cards, housing, counselling services and other services."
Sinn Féin TD, Violet-Anne Wynne, has called on Clare County Council to procure vacant units and to follow up on commitments to provide Emergency Accommodation for Kilrush and surrounding areas.
Teachta Wynne said:
“It has been highlighted time and time again, that West Clare suffers from a lack of homeless services, lack of social housing and having few rental properties available.
"The nearest emergency accommodation is over 40km away and the situation is unsustainable.
“At the same time, we have a consistently high number of vacant units in the area - the highest in the country at the moment. It would seem obvious that these units could be obtained to provide emergency accommodation for families and individuals who are extremely vulnerable.
“It is deeply concerning that during a pandemic there has been no sign of any increased efforts to address the lack of homeless accommodation in West Clare, particularly when the need for isolation units might arise for families and individuals in homelessness, to help keep people safe from the virus.
“The trauma associated with homelessness is bad enough but made even worse by the lack of services in the area. People deserve to have adequate support services in place and there is no excuse for these serious gaps in services on offer.
“The provision of homeless accommodation for Kilrush and surrounding areas is much needed and long awaited, and Clare County Council must seriously follow through on previous commitments which have never been progressed.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, Mairéad Farrell TD, has said that there are now significant doubts that the National Children’s Hospital will be open in 2023.
Teachta Farrell said:
“The National Children’s Hospital, which is arguably the greatest failure of public procurement in the history of the state, is unlikely to open by its scheduled date of 2023.
“Not only has this project run massively over budget, but it won’t even reach the agreed timeline for completion.
“It only seems like yesterday when then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was telling us that short of an asteroid hitting the planet, this hospital would be completed by 2020.
“However, yesterday the Department of Health informed me that despite ongoing engagement with the Main Contractor (BAM), a valid works program is still not in place.
“The department was not able to give me a new date for completion but said that BAM were currently conducting as assessment in order to provide a revised timeframe for completion.
“Nor could they provide me with a new estimated final cost, although it is clear that it will be significantly north of the €1.7 billion figure that was quoted to the Oireachtas Health Committee in 2019, due to the legal costs that have been incurred since then. The final figure will be well beyond the €2 billion mark.
“The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is currently seeking submissions for the review of the National Development Plan (NDP).
“Massive cost overruns in large capital projects such as this have significant knock on effects for the funding available for other projects outlined in the NDP.
“This makes it essential that we get public procurement process right and avoid another Children’s hospital fiasco.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has today tabled an amendment that calls on the Government to change the qualifying criteria of the Covid Restriction Support Scheme to ensure that affected businesses such as suppliers are no longer excluded from the Scheme.
Thousands of businesses have been denied access to the Scheme despite having seen their turnover reduced by more than 75 percent, on the grounds that they are not public facing or do not have fixed premises.
These criteria deny support to suppliers and businesses in the tourism and events sector, risking their future viability.
Speaking today, Teachta Doherty said:
“Today Sinn Féin have tabled an amendment to a Government motion concerning the Covid Restriction Support Scheme, or CRSS.
“This amendment calls on the Government to change the qualifying criteria for CRSS, which exclude thousands of business that have been directly impacted by Level 5 restrictions.
“To qualify for the Scheme, a business must have a fixed premises and be able to demonstrate that customers are no longer able to access the premises as a result of COVID restrictions.
“As a result, these rigid and narrow criteria lock out tens of thousands of hard-pressed businesses, suppliers, event management companies, taxi drivers, the outdoor activity industry, businesses without a fixed premises, and many others.
“These businesses continue to struggle with non-payroll expenses and fixed costs. Their future viability is in doubt.
“Our amendment recognises that support to these vulnerable businesses is essential so they are in a position to survive this crisis period and to support their post-crisis recovery.
“It calls on the Government to change the eligibility criteria and ensure these businesses, who have been severely impacted by restrictions, qualify for the CRSS Scheme.
“The Minister for Finance and the Tánaiste have dithered on this issue for far too long.
“Since it began, the Scheme has cost less than a quarter of what was expected, with an average weekly cost of €15 million compared to the expected weekly cost of €80 million.
“Expanding this Scheme is crucial to avoid insolvencies and stave off the threat of high employment.
“Sinn Féin calls on all parties in the Dáil to support this amendment.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD has described as unacceptable the government’s ongoing failure to address Covid-19 risks at meat plants.
Teachta Carthy accused the government of adopting a hands-off approach to meat factories despite the evidence that they have been the source of a considerable number of outbreaks.
Teachta Carthy said:
“Since the outset of this pandemic, meat processing plants have been identified as a particularly high risk and they have been the source of numerous outbreaks in all parts of the country. We know that these outbreaks have had a considerable impact in accelerating wider community transmission.
“This government has consistently shown itself to be unwilling to tackle the risk posed by the sector. The Oireachtas Special Covid Committee heard repeatedly from workers' representatives as to their fears.
“Since then, the government has failed to implement a number of key recommendations of the committee, including making Covid a notifiable disease under health and safety regulations, or introducing a statutory sick pay scheme to help protect those workers.
“In the past number of months through answers to parliamentary questions, we have learned that the response of government to public health advice regarding meat plants has been perilously slow. The recent outbreaks suggest that rolling testing in these plants is not occurring at a sufficient level.
“In July, an NPHET-commissioned report Investigation into a Series of Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants in Ireland 2020 made a number of recommendations that government were painfully slow to act upon.
“For example, it was advised that ‘environmental sampling’ be carried out at plants at which there were future outbreaks, yet up until mid-December this had only occurred at a single plant.
"Since then, the government have refused to release the report’s findings due to it being ‘commercially sensitive’ - despite indicating that it was shared with other meat processing plants!
“Successive governments have allowed meat processors a free hand in their operations, at great cost to workers and farmers.
"That this government have applied the same hands-off approach in the midst of an unprecedented public health emergency is unacceptable. That approach must now change."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has today challenged Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton to a public debate on housing.
The challenge comes after a series of social media exchanges between the two TDs on housing.
Teachta Ó Broin said:
"Richard Bruton has recently taken an interest in housing policy. This is very welcome, though it is a pity he didn’t take such an interest when he had a place at Cabinet.
"Unfortunately much of his public commentary on housing issues is inaccurate and ill-informed. He seems to have forgotten that while leading government for almost a decade Fine Gael presided over the one of the worst housing crisis in recent history.
"At the end of their two terms of Government homelessness is higher, social housing need is higher, rents are higher and house prices are higher.
"Despite his own party’s track record he seems to think that Sinn Féin are somehow to blame for the policies he himself supported while in Cabinet.
"However, rather than trade Tweets with Richard, I would prefer to have a substantive policy debate with Deputy Bruton. So today I have challenged him to participate in a public debate with me, facilitated by an independent chair.
"The growing number of people in real housing need do not want to hear politicians shouting at one another.
"They want to know how each party is going to solve the housing crisis. Given Richard's interest in public policy I’m sure he would be up for a reasoned, evidenced based debate about how we end three decades of failed housing policy, and deliver the secure and affordable homes that working people deserve."
Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan has said the Education Minister must provide clarity over any plans to extend the closure of schools as a result of COVID-19.
Pat Sheehan said:
"Teachers, school staff and parents need clarity over any plans to extend the schools closures which have been brought about as a result of COVID-19.
"The Education Minister must urgently provide clarity on the issue to parents and young people and give clear guidance to principals, school staff and teaching unions.
"We also need to see what plans the minister is putting in place for the safe reopening of schools when the time time is right.
"I will be raising this with Peter Weir to ensure that he liaises with all those involved in education in advance to give them time to effectively plan."
MacManus calls for full transparency on EU vaccine contracts
Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has said the latest drama regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine means that all EU vaccine contracts should be made public.
MacManus said public trust was at stake, “Today’s news that AstraZeneca have pulled out of a meeting with the Commission leaves the EU no option but to make public the contracts entered into. This is now a fundamental issue of public trust.”
“Up to now, we as MEPs could only see one of the contracts in a very redacted format in a special reading room. We are talking about vaccines that are critical to public health in the EU. They must be made public.”
“In order to radically curb the pandemic, the timely mass production and availability of safe, effective and affordable vaccines is of outmost importance. Scientists have been working intensively to develop effective COVID-19 vaccines and the EU has dedicated significant amounts of public funds to this end.”
The Midlands Northwest MEP concluded, “Full transparency of the vaccine negotiations and all purchase agreements, not only the version of the contract with AstraZeneca, including all clauses, articles and provisions, should complement a campaign of public information on vaccinations in each country.” ENDS
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has extended solidarity to Indian farmers and workers who continue to mobilise against repressive anti-worker laws.
The South Down MP said:
“Indian Prime Minister Modi is using the pandemic as cover to introduce draconian anti-worker laws which not only extend the working day from 8hrs to 10hrs - but also dismantle agricultural price controls, cuts farmers’ subsidies and shatters traditional public distribution systems which have been fundamental to the way of life in rural India for centuries.
“In response more than 250million people took to the streets in November in what became the world’s biggest ever general strike.
“That coalition of trade unions, progressive political parties, farmers, doctors, students and tens of millions of healthcare workers continue to mobilise against Modi’s regressive regime in an effort to stop the slide into increasingly exploitative working conditions.
“Today, on the 26th January - India’s Republic Day - farmers and agricultural workers have descended on Delhi in tractors as pressure continues to mount against Modi and the ruling BJP to reverse the attack on workers.
“Sinn Féin will continue to stand in solidarity with Indian farmers and workers against the repressive right-wing regime of Modi, and we call on the international trade union movement to continue to rally behind those in India who are actively resisting a slide into increased marketization, deregulation and precarious work.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has criticised the Government for failing to provide any relief for hard-pressed mortgage-holders as it announces an extension of Level 5 restrictions to 5th March.
On 8th January, Teachta Doherty wrote to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Finance and the CEOs of the five retail banks requesting an extension to payment breaks under the EBA guidelines, which protect borrowers from credit rating impairment and the charging of additional interest.
Speaking today, Teachta Doherty said:
“As the Government announce an extension of Level 5 restrictions to the 5th March, they continue to fail hard-pressed borrowers, with no relief provided for mortgage-holders or SMEs.
“There are now 475,000 people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, with thousands of workers on the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme seeing reductions in their take-home pay.
“Thousands of them are mortgage-holders struggling to make their monthly repayments.
“Today, as the Government extend Level 5 restrictions until 5th March, no relief was offered to hard-pressed borrowers who are suffering from income or job loss.
“As far as this Government is concerned, borrowers are on their own. That isn’t good enough.
“On December 2nd the European Banking Authority its COVID-19 payment break guidelines. They were reactivated to provide support and relief to borrowers.
“They would have allowed the Government and banks to put in place payment break extensions for the duration of these latest public health restrictions.
“Borrowers who availed of these breaks would not have been charged additional interest or have their credit ratings impaired.
“Since December the Government have refused to secure or even seek this extension for mortgage-holders and SMEs.
“I wrote to the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance on the 8th January requesting a payment break extension without any increase in subsequent repayments. I am yet to receive a reply.
“Government inaction is denying relief for borrowers, mortgage-holders and SMEs who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
“The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance must explain their refusal to even seek a payment break extension for these borrowers.”
Sinn Féin’s leader in the Seanad, Niall Ó Donnghaile has expressed support and solidarity with survivors of Mother and Baby Homes, as the report into institutions in the north is published.
Speaking in the Seanad this afternoon, Senator Ó Donnghaile said:
“I want to put on record my admiration for survivors’ bravery, dignity and determination in coming forward to tell their stories and ensuring that their truth is told and their voices are no longer ignored.
“I want them to know that they are not alone- we are listening to them and standing in solidarity with them.
“The sad reality is that these homes operated across Ireland. The Commission report states time and time again how babies were born in one jurisdiction and then taken to another.
“Women and girls from the north were taken to homes in the south and vice versa to be ‘out of sight’ of their communities. Pages after pages of unimaginable heartbreak.
“This is an all-Ireland issue. We have a duty to survivors to acknowledge this and factor this into our approach.
“I note that Minister Roderic O’Gorman held a meeting with Ministers Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster last week about the report in recognition of that fact. I welcome that.
“The report in the north is currently being discussed in the Assembly. It must be looked at and studied carefully.
“Survivors’ voices, their needs and their concerns, must be at the very heart of our approach and the steps which are taken next.
“We can never undo the hurt and the pain of these institutions, but we can act now to ensure further harm isn’t caused. It’s the very least we owe survivors.
“My colleague Kathleen Funchion published legislation last week to ensure survivors have a legal right to this fundamental point many of us take for granted- the right to know who you are and where you come from.
“We also have to find a compassionate and sensitive way to address institutions where human remains are believed to be buried on site. This must be done in consultation with survivors.
“Survivors also need access to specialist support for accessing housing, counselling services and other therapies, as well as proper access to medical cards.
“We have an obligation to do the right thing now for survivors across Ireland. For too long, our government, the church and society has let them down and this must change.”