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Sinn Féin Councillor and Mayor of Belfast Danny Baker has called on councils across the North to work collectively to minimise the length of journeys being taking by citizens to visit recycling centres.

Danny Baker said:

“The reopening of recycling centres was part of stage one of the roadmap to recovery from COVID19.

“Many councils across the North are currently operating a policy that only permits those with a postcode in that council area to utilise recycling facilities.

“In doing so, those that live on the edge of some council boundaries are having to travel further to visit their respective council recycling centres.

“I am calling on councils across the North to work collectively to take steps to allow all members of the public to access recycling centres.

“Opening recycling centres to all members of the public will minimise the length of journeys being taken by citizens as we continue to work to contain this virus.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed confirmation that progress on the A5 and A6 will not be slowed down in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The Foyle MLA was commenting after quizzing the Minister of Infrastructure on the status of the flagship A5 and A6 road projects.

Martina Anderson said:

”I welcome assurances from the Minister that progress on projects such as the A5 and A6 will not be slowed down. 

“The Sinn Féin Minister for Finance has already delivered the highest allocation of capital funds in the history of the Department of Infrastructure.

“These resources need to be utilised to deliver  infrastructural projects and redress regional disparities. 

“Proper investment in adequate road infrastructure is absolutely vital in areas such as the north west which have borne the brunt of past neglect. 

“The A5 and A6 projects will help transform Derry and the North West’s economic fortunes, and will provide essential connectivity to the rest of the island. 

“I am utterly committed to ensuring these projects are delivered. 

“As MLA for Foyle and a member of the Infrastructure Committee, I will continue to follow the development of these flagship projects and hold the Minister to account.”

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If the Economy and Infrastructure Ministers are serious about finding solutions to problems facing taxi drivers, they will bring foreword costed solutions, Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has said. 

The Newry and Armagh MLA said:

“The Finance minister has made it clear to the assembly today that no costed proposition has been put forward in relation to taxi drivers‘ support during COVID-19.

“If the Economy or Infrastructure ministers are serious about finding solutions, they need to bring forward costed propositions for the executive to consider.

“This is how other departments have been able to secure funding for charities, agriculture and sub-teachers throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

“At the Infrastructure committee tomorrow, I will propose that the Infrastructure minister use her department’s  knowledge of the taxi sector to work with the economy minister to produce a costed proposition to support taxi drivers.

“These departments have worked together in the past with other cross-departmental issues such as support for hauliers, for example.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has urged landlords to work with tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The party’s housing spokesperson said:

“While the vast majority of landlords are acting responsibly at this time, I have heard reports and I am aware of reports on social media of some landlords issuing threatening letters to tenants.

“My party colleague Caoimhe Archibald and I meet with students yesterday regarding threatening letters landlords and letting agents have sent to students. This type of behaviour is totally unacceptable.

“The Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA has put in place legislation to ensure private tenants are protected from eviction during this COVID-19 emergency. 

“This legislation requires landlords to give 12 weeks’ Notice To Quit to their tenants, thus removing the threat of eviction at a time when people are being urged to stay at home as much as possible.

“I would encourage landlords and tenants to work together throughout the COVID-19 emergency and beyond to plan for the next stages.

“Anyone with any questions should contact Housing Rights for help and advice, they can be contacted online at www.housingadviceni.org/coronavirus or by calling 028 90245640.” 

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Darren O RourkeSinn Féin TD Darren O’Rourke has slammed the lack of any answers on a wide range of transport issues and has called on Minister Shane Ross to start addressing the mounting problems that fall under his remit.

Speaking today, Teachta O’Rourke said: “As each day passes, more and more problems are mounting outside the door of the Department of Transport.

“The Minister needs to get his head out of the sand and get a grip on these major issues. Decisions need to be made urgently to give citizens clarity.

“We have been in contact with the Minister on a wide range of issues. We have sought clarity for constituents as well as businesses and have put forward our own solutions, but to no avail.

“Thousands of people are now stuck with no driving licence, no way of getting one, no idea when they will be able to get one and, as a result, do not know how they will be able to return to work.

“No clarity has been given on when NCT centres will reopen, what form they will take when they do, how long people could have to wait for an appointment or what implications this could have on people’s motor insurance in the longer term.

“Bus operators, who provide essential routes for commuters and schoolchildren, have been left behind, while taxi drivers have been ignored entirely.

“Thousands of redundancies in airlines and airports here are now being discussed and the Minister is nowhere to be seen.

“Apart from a piece of paper being handed out in our ports and airports, nothing has been put in place by the Minister or this government to monitor Covid-19 in our ports of entry.

“The Department of Transport is like a ship without a captain. There is no map, no plan and no one steering it seems.

“The lack of action from this Minister is going to have significant consequences down the line on a huge range of issues.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew MLA has welcomed news that there have been no deaths relating to COVID-19 recorded within the past 24 hours.

The chair of the Assembly’s health committee said:

"This is a sign of progress and recovery from COVID-19 which will provide hope to many people.

"This is the first day in months that no deaths relating to COVID-19 have been reported in a 24-hour period here in the north. 

"This follows on from news in the south that no COVID-19 deaths had been recorded there yesterday.

"The efforts of the community in following the public health messages and the dedication of health and social care staff is clearly making a difference. 

"This is welcome progress for the entire island in battling COVID-19. However we are by no means out of the woods yet and we must continue to listen to and implement the public health advice. 

"NISRA weekly death statistics to come out at the end of next week will provide further clarity as to where we are in terms of the fight against COVID-19.” 

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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has said the news that the online portal for the Leaving Cert is available only through English is “extremely disappointing”, shows a lack of respect to those in Irish-medium education and from  Gaeltacht backgrounds undertaking the leaving cert, and must be rectified by the Department of Education immediately. 

Teachta Ó Laoghaire said;

“It is extremely disappointing and shows a lack of respect towards students in Gaelscoileanna across the State that the new portal for Leaving Cert students is unavailable through Irish.

“It is a basic right to live your life and access State services through Irish.

“Regardless of your background, Irish is an open, modern language and Sinn Féin will ensure it is protected and supported accordingly.

“We have a duty to stand with the Irish language and Gaeltacht communities, and see that the Irish language is protected in our education system.

“Sinn Féin will be raising this urgent matter with Minister McHugh and the Department of Education to see it rectified at the earliest possibility.”

ENDS//

“An-díomá” an tairseach do daltaí Ardteiste a bheith i mBéarla amháin.

Dúirt Urlabhraí Oideachais Shinn Féin Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire go bhfuil “an díomá” air go bhfuil an tairseach nua do daltaí Ardteiste ar fáil trí mheán an Bhéarla amháin. Caithfidh daltaí i nGaelscoileanna agus daltaí sna ceantair Gaeltachta an fhoirm a líonadh i mBéarla.

Dúirt an Teachta Ó Laoghaire;

“Is ceart bunúsach dochloíte é do shaol a chaitheamh trí Ghaeilge in Éirinn chomh maith lena bheith ag plé le seirbhísí poiblí i nGaeilge.

"Is linn uilig í an Ghaeilge ar an oileán seo. Is cuma cén an cúlra, is teanga nua-aoiseach í an Ghaeilge agus déanfaidh muid beart dá réir briathar í a chaomhnú agus a fhorbairt.

"Fágtar againn í a chaomhnú, agus í a chur chun cinn mar teanga bheo.

"Tá dualgas orainn tacú le phobal na Gaeilge, pobal na Gaeltacht, agus an Ghaeilge taobh istigh den chóras oideachais freisin.

“Déanfaidh Sinn Féin an cheist seo a thógáil leis an Aire McHugh agus an roinn go dtiocfaidh réiteach sásúil air luath nó mall.”

CRÍOCH//

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has criticised the government for failing to deliver on its vacant home’s strategy.

According to information received in response to a parliamentary question, only 1,462 homes have been delivered to date via three government schemes; Repair and Lease, Buy and Renew, and the Housing Agency Fund. The government’s target across all three schemes was 5,600.

Responding to the figures, Deputy Ó Broin said:

“The information I received in response to a parliamentary question indicates that, since the three vacant homes schemes were introduced, only 1,462 homes have been brought into use out of a target of 5,600.

“Only 165 homes had been brought back into use under the Repair and Lease scheme by the end of 2019, which is dismal considering Minister Coveney set a target to deliver 3,500 homes by 2021.

“550 new social homes have been delivered via Buy and Renew up to the end of 2019. Only 747 homes have been purchased out of the €70m rolling Housing Agency fund, despite 1,600 homes targeted for delivery by 2020 in Rebuilding Ireland and 1,800 homes being offered.

“This is a pathetic rate of return given the census identified 189,000 vacant homes across the country in 2016 and the Geo Directories confirmed 90,000 of this figure.

“The Repair and Leasing scheme has been a failure. Despite the 3,500-target set by Minister Coveney, three and a half years in and despite tweaks to the scheme in 2018, the government has only reached 4.7% of its target.

“The Housing Agency €70m rolling fund has only acquired 747 homes as of the end of 2019. It is disappointing that despite 1,800 homes being offered and a target of 1,600 properties to be delivered by 2020, purchases have only been completed on 445 of these homes by Approved Housing Bodies.

“It is clear that the government never put its full weight in terms of funding or support towards these schemes. Greater flexibility should have been demonstrated and more support should have been given to smaller, more rural local authorities.

“If Sinn Féin forms part of the next government we would insist on an immediate, time-limited review of these schemes with a view to setting ambitious targets for the return of vacant homes back into use.”

ENDS//

Note to editor: PQs below

______________________________________________

For Written Answer on : 20/05/2020

Question Number(s)1330 Question Reference(s): 5847/20

Department: Housing, Planning and Local Government

Asked by: Eoin Ó Broin T.D.

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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the number of social houses acquired under the Housing Agency vacant housing fund in each year since the fund was introduced; and the average cost of these acquisitions in each year since the scheme has been in operation.

REPLY

Under Rebuilding Ireland, direct capital funding is provided to the Housing Agency to facilitate the acquisition of suitable portfolios of properties for social housing from financial institutions and investors.

An acquisitions fund of €70 million, which is a revolving fund, was established with effect from 1 January 2017 with the objective of acquiring some 1,600 units over the period to 2021 for social housing use.  This has enabled the Housing Agency to actively engage with banks and investment companies in relation to the acquisition of properties.  The fund is replenished by the Agency through the sale of units primarily to the Approved Housing Body (AHB) sector and the funds received are recycled back into the fund for future acquisitions. AHBs utilise private finance as well as Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF) and Payment and Availability (P&A) funding available from my Department to fund these units.

Property acquisition and subsequent sale to AHBs is a process that can take some time, therefore, in order to maximise the potential for use of properties acquired by the Agency in the intervening period, an innovative Caretaker Lease arrangement has been developed. This allows the Agency to assign a property to an AHB who can carry out any necessary repairs and liaise with the Local Authority to tenant the unit, in parallel with the onward acquisition of the unit.

Up to end Q4 2019, a total of 747 properties had been purchased by the Agency using the Fund and placed on caretaker leases with AHBs or sold to local authorities. The onward sale of 445 of these homes to AHBs has been completed in full. In addition, in excess of 120 properties are in the process of proceeding to purchase close, being placed on caretaker leases, or transferred to Local Authorities. Overall, this activity represents close to 50% of the original target of the Fund which is intended to be achieved over the six year period of Rebuilding Ireland.

New homes acquired through the Fund and made available to AHBs under Caretaker Lease are included in my Department's overall quarterly reporting which is available at the following link: 

https://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/social-housing/social-and-affordble/overall-social-housing-provision

The year by year breakdown specifically relating to the Fund and included in the overall reporting for Rebuilding Ireland is set out in the Table below.  

YearNo. of unitsAverage Cost 2017 36€198,792 2018 481€188,656 2019 230€178,669

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For Written Answer on : 20/05/2020

Question Number(s)1331 Question Reference(s): 5848/20

Department: Housing, Planning and Local Government

Asked by: Eoin Ó Broin T.D.

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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the number of social houses acquired under the repair and leasing scheme in each year since it was introduced; and the average cost of the leases in each year since the scheme has been in operation.

REPLY

The Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) was developed to assist private property owners and local authorities or approved housing bodies (AHBs) to harness the accommodation potential that exists in certain vacant dwellings across Ireland. RLS has both capital and current funding streams. The capital element funds the repairs to the property; the current element funds the lease payment to the property owner with the cost of the repairs being recovered from the property owner by offsetting it against the lease payment.

At the end of 2019, a total of 165 dwellings had been delivered through RLS. Total output under the scheme by year, together with the average annual lease cost, is set out in the table below.

Table: RLS Delivery and Average Annual Cost 2017 to 2019

Year  Dwellings Delivered Average Annual Cost2017 9€7,919 2018 80€6,0232019 76€5,666Total 165€5,970

For Written Answer on : 20/05/2020

Question Number(s)1332 Question Reference(s): 5849/20

Department: Housing, Planning and Local Government

Asked by: Eoin Ó Broin T.D.

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QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Housing; Planning and Local Government the number of social houses acquired under the buy and renew scheme in each year since the fund was introduced; and the average cost of these acquisitions in each year since the scheme has been in operation.

REPLY

Under my Department's Social Housing Investment Programme, funding is available to all local authorities to deliver additional social housing stock through the acquisition of new and previously owned houses/apartments for social housing use, including delivery through the Buy and Renew Scheme.

Activity in this regard is largely delegated to local authorities so they can respond flexibly to all opportunities to provide new social housing. Since the Buy & Renew Scheme was introduced in late 2016, local authorities have delivered over 550 new social homes under the scheme to the end of 2019, as follows - 

YearUnitsAverage Delivery Cost per Unit2016/7176€174,0002018223€210,0002019160€191,000

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Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has called on the Health and Safety Executive to carry out unannounced inspections at meat plants to ensure the safety of workers.

Declan McAleer said: 

“Workers at meat plants across the island have raised concerns about working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We know the potential for infection to spread in congregated working spaces and there have been outbreaks at several meat plants across the island. 

“Sinn Féin has been contacted by meat plant workers who are very concerned for their safety and that of their families. 

“The Health and Safety Executive should be making unannounced inspections of all meat plants to make sure that workers are working in safe conditions. 

“Management at plants should not be notified in advance of inspections so that inspectors can get a true sense of working practices. 

“This is an essential industry in terms of food supply and it is vitally important that workers and their families are kept safe.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has welcomed the £360,000 emergency support package for the north’s aquaculture sector.

The party’s agriculture spokesperson said:

“I welcome the announcement of a £360,000 emergency support package for the aquaculture sector in the north.

 

“This package will aim to assist businesses and producers most at risk of financial ruin to survive and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

“The support fund of up to £360,000 will be in the form of a grant payment, covering the three month period 1 March to 31 May 2020.

“This payment will be based on the income lost from sales of aquaculture products due to COVID-19.

“The average monthly sales over the past three years for each business will be used as the baseline.”

McAleer welcomes £360,000 emergency support package for aquaculture sector

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has welcomed the £360,000 emergency support package for the north’s aquaculture sector.

The party’s agriculture spokesperson said:

“I welcome the announcement of a £360,000 emergency support package for the aquaculture sector in the north.

 

“This package will aim to assist businesses and producers most at risk of financial ruin to survive and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

“The support fund of up to £360,000 will be in the form of a grant payment, covering the three month period 1 March to 31 May 2020.

“This payment will be based on the income lost from sales of aquaculture products due to COVID-19.

“The average monthly sales over the past three years for each business will be used as the baseline.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew welcomes the recent announcement that another provider may be coming forward for Clifton Nursing Home.

 The Sinn Féin spokesperson for Health said:

"For many residents, and their families, including their carers this has been a dreadful experience. With the lack of information compounding the concerns around the safety and care within Clifton Nursing Home.

“The news that another care provider may be stepping forward to offer a solution will come as a source of hope, but considerable questions remain unanswered. 

“The role and response of the Trusts, of RQIA, the regulator and broadly of the department needs to be considered urgently. At least 68 care homes are currently struggling with an active COVID-19 outbreak, plans need to be in place now if care homes do not meet standards. 

“This must include trusts looking at options to take over the running of the care home if necessary and having COVID-19 patients supported in Trusts wards."

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Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has described the government’s failure to put in place appropriate childcare provisions for parents returning to work as 'inexcusable' and warned that lessons must be learnt from previous failures.

Her comments follow the release of data which reveals that almost nine out of ten childcare providers say they either won’t reopen on 29th June or have reservations about opening on that date, according to a survey conducted by the Federation of Early Childhood Providers.

Teachta McDonald said: 

“As public health restrictions continue to ease and more people return to work, the ongoing uncertainty around childcare is a source of huge anxiety among many parents who will struggle to return to work without appropriate provisions in place.

“It is inexcusable that the issue of childcare wasn’t hardwired into the reopening strategy. Such a fundamental issue cannot merely be an afterthought and should be considered a central component as parents return to work.

“We have already seen how the government’s botched handling of the scheme to provide childcare for healthcare workers led to that scheme collapsing abruptly. Lessons must be learnt from what happened and this should serve as a stark warning about the dangers of rushing through plans without proper diligence, consultation with the sector and serious consideration of parents and children's needs.

“Urgent work is needed to ensure plans to provide childcare by 29th June do not suffer the same fate, leaving more parents cut off and uncertain about their ability to return to work while keeping their children safe. We urgently need a plan for childcare provision which meets the real needs of parents as they return to work.”

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Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Colm Gildernew has welcomed the availability of anti-viral drug remdesivir to help treat COVID19, but has reiterated the best defence against the virus is to follow public health guidelines and practice good hygiene.

Speaking the Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA said:

“I welcome the announcement today by the Health Minister that remdesivir will be made available for those that are hospitalised with COVID19 and who meet certain clinical criteria.

“International studies have shown that this drug can be effective in combating COVID19 symptoms and reducing the recovery time needed.

“We must continue to proactively research COVID19 and also investigate what are the most effective drugs to combat the virus.

“However, I want to reiterate the need for the public to continue to follow the public health advice of social distancing and good hygiene.

“We are not yet out of the woods and yesterday is testament to that with 8 people sadly losing their battle to COVID19.

“Remdesivir is not a vaccine, but an anti-viral drug that could assist some people with their recovery.

“The best defence remains adhering to social distancing and practicing good hygiene.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture and Food Brian Stanley TD has called for inspections of meat plants to be carried out unannounced.

The Laois-Offaly TD was speaking following an exchange in the Dáil where neither the Business or Agriculture Minister could confirm how many meat plant inspections the HSA had carried out.

The Deputy said:

"In the Dáil last week, I asked how many inspections of meat plants had been carried out by the HSA during Covid-19 and neither the Minister for Business nor the Minister for Agriculture could tell me.

"What was worse was the fact that the Minister for Business said several times that she didn't need to know how many inspections had taken place.

"I was then told that this was a confidential matter for the HSA and that it was none of my business.

"This is despite the fact that we're seeing clusters of Covid-19 infections breaking out across the State in meat plants including Laois and Offaly.

"Sinn Féin wants to protect workers, communities and the industry itself and the best way to do that is to ensure that meat plants adhere to the infection control guidelines set out by the HSE.

"There have been over 200 complaints made to the HSA regarding meat plants not sticking to the guidelines and it is bizarre that two Ministers in the Dáil would tell me that they didn't need to know how many inspections had been carried out.

"I would like to welcome the fact that the HSE led outbreak control teams have been established which will be involved in the inspection of meat plants. However, it is important that these inspections are unannounced. 

"Management should not be given the heads up before inspections during which time they can direct staff to take lunch breaks etc to ensure social distancing just for that time period.

"It is also important that all meat plants are inspected where clusters have been identified and that no workers returns to work with covid symptoms until they have the all clear.

"Some meat plants are doing very well right now which illustrates that it is possible to continue production and also maintain social distancing. But we need all plants to do this."

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has called on students who want to avail of a calculated grade to register with the portal for calculated grades, but has said that Minister McHugh and the steering group still needed to resolve some of the serious flaws with the proposal.

Speaking today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said;

"Many students are worried about how they fit into the proposal, particularly students who are studying outside the traditional school environment.

“I urge students who want a calculated grade to register, and not to leave it to the last minute. As imperfect as it may be, the reality is that this is the route to third level this year. It is important that people get it done early, and give themselves the best opportunity to access third level.

"I am very worried that there is no 'plan-B' for students who are repeating or studying outside of school, particularly where they aren’t taking a subject or the leaving cert under a registered teacher, and there isn’t felt to be sufficient evidence to give a calculated grade.

"This includes students repeating the leaving cert, native language speakers who are due to sit an exam in that subject, students home schooling and students taking a subject outside of school. I have been contacted by many people who are in this situation and they are concerned. As of yet the the reality is these students have not gotten any substantive reassurance from the Minister.

“My concern is that students will be expected to wait to take the written leaving cert or the subject of their choosing in late autumn or winter, too late for this year’s third level admissions.

“Those students deserve an equal opportunity to get to third-level on time and there needs to be a Plan B to allow that.

"I still have significant concerns regarding the potential for school profiling. The language from the Department has shifted in this document - partially I expect from public pressure - but I am still deeply worried that the past results of a school will limit the potential of a large portion of students in schools where results have been weaker. 

“I also believe the timeframe for registering for calculated grades is very tight. Many students at this time are involved in care giving and looking after vulnerable family members. Registration should be extended until after the bank holiday, allowing for extra days to do so.

"This needs to be dropped. School profiling cannot mean that students miss out on courses that could change their lives or fail when they should not.

“Some students have also raised the issue of the work completed since March 12th.

"I welcome the appointment of Dr Áine Lawlor who is head of the steering group on calculated grades. I will be writing to her as well as the Minister for Education later today asking her to address these issues head on.

"Finally I welcome the announcement of a helpline, which is something Sinn Féin has been calling for for months now. However, it should combine the ability to answer questions with ensuring that students have adequate counselling and mental health supports, given the stressful situation students have faced in recent months".

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Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has paid tribute to DAERA staff and farm agents for submitting and processing the 24,494 Single Application Forms this year.

The chair of the Agriculture committee said:

“The completion and submission of the Single Application Forms (SAF) is a bureaucratic and challenging process in normal times.  However, to process 24,494 applications along with 5994 entitlement transfers in such challenging circumstances with farmers isolating and staff working from home is exceptional and deserves the highest of praise.

“With DAERA Direct offices closed to the public, staff have been working from home providing enhanced SAF support.  

“A service was also in place for DAERA staff to submit the application forms online for farmers who have no access to broadband or a computer.  1186 farm businesses availed of this and service will remain in place to assist farmers and agents to amend applications by the 9th June deadline.   

“Farm agents also deserve the highest of praise for their efforts.   

“I spoke to many who have been working endless hours until late at night for the past number of months to get farmer’s application forms submitted on time. 

“They are a lifeline for farmers, helping them through a bureaucratic and challenging task.” 

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Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has said the British government should heed calls for an extension to the Brexit deadline. 

The Sinn Féin Brexit spokesperson said:

“The latest report from the Institute for Government is the latest in a growing number of voices calling for an extension to the looming Brexit deadline in the interests of the economy on the island.

“The report flags up the failings of the British government to properly engage with the business community and, crucially, its delays in bringing forward proposals to ensure compliance with what has been agreed in the Irish Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement. 

“It highlights that these delays mean it is unlikely the proposals from the British government can be put in place by the Brexit deadline, risking economic disaster for the economy here. 

“It is long past the time the British government stopped playing games with people’s livelihoods and with our economy and asks for an extension to the upcoming Brexit deadline. 

“The clock is ticking and the British government need to hear the growing demand for an extension.” 

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Following the news that no new deaths from Covid-19 have been reported to NPHET in the last twenty-four hours, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has expressed her gratitude to "our courageous and selfless healthcare workers."

She has extended her sympathies to the families of the eight people who died in the north today.

Ms McDonald said;

"We are still in a major fight with this cruel virus and I encourage everybody to keep going. We must do everything to secure the progress the Irish people have won over the last couple of months. I know it is tough at times, but we have to stay the course.

"However, today is a day for hope and for optimism. It is a day to thank our courageous and selfless frontline healthcare workers. They have taken incredible risks and made extraordinary sacrifices in their efforts to save lives and in treating the ill. So many people are still with us today due to their expertise and commitment. That should never be forgotten.

"Today, we can see clearly the importance of strong public health services and valued healthcare workers to our families, to our communities and to our society. We need to defend and advance public healthcare in the present and into the future.

"As we look forward with positivity and resolve, my thoughts are with all those grieving the loss of a loved one and with those currently sick with the virus. I wish you strength for the road ahead. I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of the eight people who died in the north today.

"As we mark this day of hope, let us recommit our efforts to overcoming the challenge posed by Covid-19. There is still a way to go but we will get there together."

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Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilin has welcomed the announcement that a new provider will now be sought to take over the running of Clifton Nursing Home. 

The North Belfast MLA said:

“Following inspections of Clifton Nursing Home by RQIA a number of concerns were raised about the running of the home.

“As a result of these very serious concerns, residents of the care home were due to be relocated to ensure they receive the highest level of care.

“I welcome the announcement today that A new provider is being sought to run the home to avoid the need for residents to be moved. 

“The Belfast Trust has also agreed to keep staff on site to care for residents. 

“Residents of Clifton Nursing Home must receive the best level of care and their families must be kept fully informed during this process.

“Those in our care homes are the most vulnerable in society. They deserve nothing less than to be treated with the utmost care, compassion and dignity.”

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“Government not availing of EU flexibility to help Irish Sports Clubs and Summer Festivals” - Chris MacManus MEP

Ireland accounts for only €400m of €1. 9 trillion of pandemic State Aid

Sinn Féin MEP, Chris MacManus who is a member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, has said it is shocking that of the €1.9trillion of State Aid used by EU Member States since the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic Ireland has accounted for only €400m.

He said the State must fully grasp the additional flexibility offered by the EU Commission:

“These figures based on publicly available decisions and data provided to the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament show that Ireland has accounted for only a drop in the ocean of the State Aid allowed by the EU Commission. There is massive scope to extend Ireland’s use of the emergency flexibility to protect jobs and businesses.

State Aid, normally seen as direct State investment in a sector or company, is normally de facto banned under EU rules. The pandemic has seen the normally strict Commission relax these rules , in the face of countries determined to save their economies from unnecessary damage. Other countries have taken full advantage with €1.9trillion being used to prop up national economies. Ireland however has barely used the opportunity with only €400m of schemes of State Aid having been implemented. It is the responsibility of Fine Gael’s MEPs to inform their colleagues in the Dail of the availability of these funds and If they have already done so then why has no action been taken?”

For comparison, Denmark, a country with of a similar size to Ireland has received the green light for over €7bn of State Aid investment. One of the Danish schemes allowed the government to compensate holders of events of over 1,000 people that had to be cancelled. 

https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_454

We can imagine what a shot in the arm such a scheme could have for Irish sport or entertainment.

“Restaurants, pubs and countless other sectors are reeling and just trying to hold on to viability while the pandemic forces economic lockdown upon us. While other countries are directing the State’s resources into protecting these industries, the Irish government are sitting on their hands. They must now wake up and use the full scope of this temporary exemption to save as many jobs and businesses as possible.” ENDS

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