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Sinn Féin's Dublin Spokesperson on the Environment & Dublin South East Representative, Councillor Daithí Doolan, today called on "Dublin City Council officials to match promises with action and carry out all necessary work to ensure Ross Road, Nicholas Street & Bride Street residents no longer live in fear for their lives."

Speaking in Dublin today, Cllr. Doolan said:

"I welcome yesterday's commitment from Council officials to carry out a fire safety audit of the flat complex. But this promise must not be used as a further excuse to stall or walk from their responsibility to carry out all necessary work. This audit must be carried out as a matter of urgency and a meeting with residents must take place as soon as possible and a programme of works agreed on.

"These flats must be brought up to meet international standards in fire safety. I was shocked to hear that following the tragic fire on the Ross Road in 2001, when 2 children were killed, promises were made by City Council to upgrade the fire standards in these flats. Yet, to date it appears that none of these life saving promises have been kept. These serious allegations extend to smoke alarms fitted incorrectly, no fire training has been provided to residents and most shocking of all even the fire doors are counterfeit.

"I have contacted senior City officials and the Minister for Environment Dick Roche raising these serious concerns and calling for immediate action. Residents are committed to taking all action necessary to have their case heard and actions taken to prevent any more deaths in this community."

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan, called on City Council, "to extend the audit to all flats complexes as I fear that many hundreds of flats fail to meet with fire regulations. It is only with a thorough city wide audit can we be confident that tenants lives are fully protected." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has this afternoon said she had raised the Irish Ferries issue at European level in order to 'halt the exploitation of workers and their employment conditions as well as dealing with the wider flags of convenience issue.'

Ms McDonald made her comments after the European Commission officially responded to a question from the Dublin MEP regarding the ongoing dispute over workers' rights at Irish Ferries. In a series of engagements around the issue. Ms McDonald has met with the Irish EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy and the trade union organisations SIPTU and the Seaman's Association of Ireland in recent days.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"At the beginning of this month I tabled a question to the European Commission asking what measures the Commission proposes to take in relation to intra-EU passenger and ferry services operating under flags of convenience and how they plan to counter the exploitation of many workers on such services, particularly as pay and conditions are well below the minimum standards applicable in the EU.

"The European Commisson responded unsatisfactorily to my question, by stating that negotiations had previously broken down on the rights and conditions of third country nationals on ships within the EU. The Commission also responded by saying that it had no plans to ressurect such a proposal. Immediate action needs to be taken to save sea faring jobs within the EU.

"I have raised the Irish Ferries issue at European level in order to halt the exploitation of workers and their employment conditions as well as dealing with the wider flags of convenience issue. What is required now is immediate action to deal with this situation. Seafarers in Irish Ferries and elsewhere deserve to be treated justly and that means they should have the same level of protection as every other worker in this country. There is no justification for any company paying wages of €3.50 an hour.

"I will continue to raise this level at both national and EU level. Immediate action needs to be taken to save sea faring jobs within the EU, and to ensure thte protection of workers' rights." ENDS

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Sinn Fein spokesperson on Education and Science as well as Community and Social Affairs, Sean Crowe T.D, condemned the uncaring attitude of the state to a victim of abuse, Marie Therese O’ Loughlin who has been protesting outside the Dáil for a week over the issue of the Institutional abuse redress board.

Deputy Crowe said, “The failure of the state to include The Morning Star Mother and Baby Unit as an institution for consideration by the redress board has forced this poor woman to go on hunger strike outside Leinster House.  This woman suffered very bad burning in The Morning Star as an infant under circumstances, which have never been made clear to her.  It is a sad indictment of Irish society that she should feel driven to this action as the only way to have her suffering recognised.

"When I questioned Minister Hanafin on why this institution could not be listed for redress she told me she had consulted with The Department of Health and Children and they had replied that they had no records indicating that a public body had a regulatory or inspection function in relation to this unit.  Well it certainly should have such records.  Children with and without their mothers were sent there by somebody. They were kept there up until the age of three or four at which point they were transferred to institutions such as Goldenbridge at someone else’s direction or request.  It would be an extremely reckless and callous way of treating vulnerable young children if no records were kept at all.

"I would appeal to the Minister to revisit this issue and look again for records pertaining to this particular unit.  It just doesn’t add up that children could be kept under such circumstances with no responsibility on the part of the state."  ENDS

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Sinn Féin Environment Spokesperson Philip McGuigan commenting on the consultation document on planning announced today, has said that reforming the planning service must not equate to removing all local input into planning issues.

His comments come after Jeff Rooker's announcement today on proposed new planning laws.

Mr McGuigan said:

"I think we are all agreed that the planning service needs overhauled. The purpose of this should be to make its decisions more transparent, understandable and more accountable.

"What we don't want to see is a planning bureaucracy, were the opinion of local people and their elected representatives are discarded. Recent experiences of the imposition of Area Plans and changes that forbid site meetings have left a bad taste in people's mouths.

"This is particularly true in the case of rural planning. I understand completely the need to protect our rural environment but this can and should be compatible with protecting our rural way of life." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Waterford City Councillor David Cullinane today described multinational oil company Shell's $7.37 billion profits for the third quarter of this year announced today as obscene.

"In the context of Shell's behaviour in Mayo, where they have ensured that five men bravely attempting to protect their families and community spent 93 days in jail, this level of profit is obscene. Shell is currently making $1.5 million profit every hour, yet an Irish Government has seen fit to give away our natural resources to them. This is surely one of the worst cases of profit before people we have seen on this island.

"The argument that Shell couldn‚t afford to pay royalties and taxes on the Mayo gas development has now been shown up for what it is - plainly ridiculous. Sinn Féin is committed to ensuring that future developments of our natural resources are for the benefit of the Irish people, not to add to the outrageous profits of a multinational like Shell." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson MLA will hold separate meetings with the Construction Industry Training Board and the Federation of Small Businesses to discuss the disarray that epitomises Apprenticeship Programmes at the present moment.

Michael Ferguson has discussed the matter with a number of Training Organisations and the Further Education Sector and has called on the Government to give leadership by establishing a Government Insurance Plan to support small businesses and a strategy that has at its core a Government driven Partnership with Employers that addresses Insurance and also identifies the projected needs for the Trades and Vocational Sector ensuring adequate placements for Apprenticeships.

Commenting upon his round of meetings Michael Ferguson said,

"The Construction Industry Training Board and the Federations of Small Businesses are key players in the delivery of any Skills Strategy.

"It is clear from Government Consultation Papers that the Government has no idea of what skills and trades are required.

"Small Businesses can not afford to meet rising insurance costs. Apprentices on a Job Skills rate of £40 are not enticed onto hostile building sites in all weathers. Trainers cannot find placements for Modern Apprenticeship schemes and this year the Lisburn Institute for Further and Higher Education cancelled an entire course for Electrical Installation because while the young people were willing no placements could be found.

"This is a sad state of affairs for all concerned. We want to support Small Businesses, Training Organisations and Apprentices and doing so will support our local economy. This round of meetings are to discuss further the difficulties faced by these key stakeholders.

"But the Government also needs to get real with a real budget that supports economic development for young people leaving schools and colleges and small businesses wanting to develop by employing trainees and all of this needs partnership and an appropriate investment strategy." ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley has hit out at those responsible for an attack on the Whiterock Orange Hall last night.

Cllr. Hartley said:

" Despite the behaviour of the Orange Lodge who operate out of the Whiterock Hall over recent months in trying to force an unwanted sectarian parade through the local nationalist community and the subsequent violence and intimidation which resulted there can be no justification for an attack of this kind.

" Sectarian attacks on churches, schools, businesses and homes from whatever quarter are wrong and should be condemned." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said the rejection by Fine Gael and Labour of the Taoiseach's proposal to provide for participation of Six-County MPs in a Committee of the whole Dáil "exposes these deeply partitionist parties for what they are. They want to keep the Oireachtas as a cold house for Northern nationalists." Deputy Ó Caoláin is to seek clarification from the Taoiseach about the status of the proposal, including the attitude of his Coalition partners the PDs, and has urged Bertie Ahern to proceed with the plan.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "Before the ink was dry on the Taoiseach's letter to them Fine Gael and the Labour Party have rejected the proposal to provide for participation of Six-County MPs in a Committee of the whole Dáil. These deeply partitionist parties have been exposed for what they are. It also exposes the hollowness of their oft-repeated praise of the SDLP. They want to slam the door in the face of that party's MPs so that Sinn Féin can also be kept out. And of course this proposal would provide for all MPs to participate, including unionists, but Fine Gael and Labour want to rule out any possibility of such participation as well.

"Above all, the stance taken by the leaderships of Fine Gael and the Labour Party is an insult to the nationalist community in the Six Counties. They want to keep the Oireachtas as a 'cold house' for Northern nationalists.

"I have written to the Taoiseach seeking clarification on the status of his proposal now, in particular if it is the case that the Progressive Democrats have vetoed it. In his letter to the party leaders the Taoiseach stated his intention to invite Six-County MPs to participate in a Committee of the whole Dáil. The agreement of other parties was sought on the format and agenda of such meetings. Therefore the Taoiseach should proceed with his proposal.

"Serious questions have been raised for the rank and file membership of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. Are Fianna Fáil members content to see Michael McDowell and Mary Harney vetoing this modest and reasonable proposal? Are the rank and file members of Fine Gael - the 'United Ireland party' and Labour, the party that claims the mantle of James Connolly, content to allow their leaders to turn them into fully fledged unionist parties?" ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Collusion, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that the decision of senior Special Branch officers to refuse to participate in to a Police Ombudsman investigation into a string of UVF murders involving a Special Branch agent will only make nationalist more determined to expose the true nature and extent of collusion between the RUC and British Army and Loyalists.

Mr Doherty said:

"The reality is that Ronnie Flanagan transferred much of the RUC Special Branch structures responsible for directing the policy of collusion into the PSNI. These people need to be weeded out of the PSNI if we are to have any chance to realising a new beginning to policing that is free from partisan political control.

"However, the evidence to date is that political policing is alive and well within the PSNI and other agencies that are contaminated by former RUC Special Branch officers.

"The refusal of senior Special Branch officers to co-operate with a Police Ombudsman investigation into UVF murders and the revelations surrounding Eric Anderson and the theft of files only further exposes the fact that many of these people know that they have something to hide because they know that what they were involved in was wrong." ENDS

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Following a decision by the European Union to ban imports of captive live birds from outside the bloc to strengthen its fight against bird flu, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún said, 'I welcome this week's move as a positive step and one of a series of sensible measures that can be taken, focussing on prevention and the supply of accurate information'.

Ms de Brún said:

'We need to ensure that the general public has access to credible and accurate information. This is the best way to avoid unwarranted anxiety and panic. This is a disease that affects mainly poultry at present and there are some sensible measures that can be taken to hamper its spread.

'The announcement about a ban on the import of exotic birds is a sensible precautionary measure.

'Sinn Féin agrees with the RSPB that measures to control the spread of the virus should focus on improved bio security, particularly in the international poultry industry, and an immediate ban on imports of wild birds into the EU.

'We also agree with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that culls of wild birds would be ineffective in tackling avian influenza, and could in fact make the situation worse.

'There is a value at a global level of those countries currently free of the disease considering a ban on imports of domestic poultry and wild birds for the pet trade from affected regions. Culling infected poultry flocks in the event of an outbreak would also seem sensible, and preventing public access to infected sites is also clearly a wise precaution.

'Finally, while we are not dealing with a disease that can transmit easily from human to human at this time, the EU and EU member states need to have co-ordinated plans to deal with such a situation should it arise.' ENDS

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Government must accept recommendations of Human Rights Commission on Execution of Sentences Bill – Ó Snodaigh

Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has said that the Execution of Sentences Bill is not ready to be signed into law as key amendments regarding human rights have yet to be incorporated into the Bill.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “This government have failed yet again to human rights proof their legislation and to take on board the proposals of the Human Rights Commission.  Over a year ago the Human Rights Commission made a total of 8 specific recommendations, for amendments to the Transfer of Execution of Sentences Bill, aimed at ensuring that the fundamental rights of sentenced persons are protected.   Minister McDowell has not taken a single one of these recommendations on board. This is not good enough, what is the purpose of this Commission if not to advise the government in this regard.

“I tabled a series of amendments which would explicitly ensure that no person sentenced by an Irish court will be forced to serve that sentence in conditions incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.  I also proposed safeguards to prevent this state recognising the judgements of countries where judicial systems are not up to international standards or where due process is not fairly applied.”    

“Regarding the question of the Colombia 3 Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “This is a complete red herring as the cases of Niall Connolly, Jim Monaghan and Martin McCauley would clearly not be affected by this legislation because from the very moment of their arrest the three men were not subject to due process.  There was massive interference from senior Colombian military and politicians including the then President Andres Pastrana.

”Despite this following a lengthy trial the men were acquitted, with the trial Judge Jairo Acosta suggesting that the two main prosecution witnesses should be investigated for perjury.

“However through the use of a procedure which would not be tolerated in this country, a secret tribunal, sitting in private, where the men were not allowed to be represented, - this verdict was overturned.

“These three men have no case to answer.  They should be allowed to get on with their lives.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Employment and Workers Rights Arthur Morgan has said, “A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create.” Speaking on the Parental Leave Bill in the Dáil today he said, “This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis.”

Deputy Morgan said, “This Government lacks an overall vision as to how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.   Rather this issue is considered purely from a business and economic perspective – what to do with the children while their parents are performing their duties as cogs in the economic machine.  A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create.   

“Parental care for children must be a key element in childcare strategy.  We must work to enable parents, where it is their preference, to care for their children in the early years of their lives.   This is in the interest of both children and parents.   Parental Leave is an important tool in the attempt to help workers achieve a balance between work and family life.  It is also plays an important role in an overall childcare strategy.  This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis.  

“The failure to introduce payment in respect of parental leave in this state contrasts with the situation in many other EU member states. This is the case in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and Sweden.   Why is this state so backward.  Is it because of the excessive influence of business on government?

“The inability of workers to achieve work life balance and the failure of the state to enable them to achieve this is a growing cause of workplace stress.  This is ultimately bad for business, bad for employers and of course bad for workers.”

On the issue of Paternity leave Deputy Morgan said, “It is quite incredible that in this day and age there is no legal entitlement to Paternity Leave, paid or unpaid, in this state.   A new father cannot take as much as one day off when his child is born.  This is truly scandalous and I find it hard to understand how the government can stand over this situation.  Then again when Frank Fahy is responsible for the equality portfolio what should we expect? A man was never more unsuited to his portfolio of equality.” ENDS

Full speech follows: 

Delay in bring forward legislation

Why has it taken so long for this legislation to come before the Dáil?  This legislation seeks to implement a commitment made under the Sustaining Progress Agreement 2003-2005.  The term of that agreement is now over.  Negotiations on a new agreement were due to start shortly.  What is the point of commitments in partnership agreements if these commitments are not going to be met within the timeframe of the agreement?  It is no wonder that the unions are more reticent than ever to enter partnership when they have to wait this long for the implementation of such a meager commitment.

Vision for how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.

This Government lacks an overall vision as to how the children of Ireland are going to be cared for.   Rather this issue is considered purely from a business and economic perspective – what to do with the children while their parents are performing their duties as cogs in the economic machine.  Progress on work life balance takes place at a pace dictated by shadowy figures from within IBEC.   The ultimate problem is that leave entitlements and childcare policies are driven not by a social vision of the kind of society we want to create.

A strategy regarding how children are to be cared for must flow from a vision of the kind of society we want to create. 

Parental care for children must be a key element in childcare strategy.  We must work to enable parents, where it is their preference, to care for their children in the early years of their lives.   This is in the interest of both children and parents.   Parental Leave is an important tool in attempt to help workers achieve a balance between work and family life.  It is also plays an important role in an overall childcare strategy.  This government has not, evidently, grasped the extent to which paid parental leave can be used to alleviate the childcare crisis. 

Paid parental leave

According to the MORI MRC survey, which was carried out as part of the review carried out by the Maternity Leave working group established in 2001, almost 7% of the labour force were eligible for parental leave in 2001.  Only 20% of eligible employees were estimated to have taken up the parental leave

This very low take up rate should be of concern to government.  If the government was genuinely committed to parental leave and believed in its beneficiallity  for both children and parents it would promote it and seek to encourage maximum take up. 

According to the MORI MRC survey employees rated spending more quality time with their children as the biggest advantage in taking parental leave, while the biggest disadvantage was the lack of payment.

Clearly then the absence of a payment in respect of parental leave is the primary factor in the lack of take-up. 

So why then is the government not amending the legislation to introduce payment in respect of parental leave.  This is the biggest barrier to take up of the leave.  It is also the case that the current situation favours the better off who can afford to take the leave. It is of no value to low income families for whom it would be unimaginable to forgo income for the duration of the leave.

The failure to introduce payment in respect of parental leave in this state contrasts with the situation in many other EU member states,.  This is the case in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and Sweden.   Why is this state so backward.  Is it because of the excessive influence of business on government?

The research referred to above also found that employers considered that the biggest advantage  of parental leave to them came from happier, more contented employees.  The inability of workers to achieve work life balance and the failure of the state to enable them to achieve this is a growing cause of workplace stress.  This is ultimately bad for business, bad for employers and of course bad for workers. 

Paternity Leave

The Review group report stated that paternity leave should be dealt with as part of the Parental Leave (Amendment) Act.  Yet this Bill does not deal with it.

It is quite incredible that in this day and age there is no legal entitlement to Paternity Leave, paid or unpaid, in this state.   A new father cannot take as much as one day off when his child is born.  This is truly scandalous and I find it hard to understand how the government can stand over this situation.  Then again when Franck Fahy is responsible for the equality portfolio what should we expect?

A man was never more unsuited to his portfolio of equality - his ties to business are a little too close to think he would ever wish to put up any challenge to IBEC.  It is not hard to guess whose interest he serves.  And let me make it clear now that I am not interested in hearing waffle from Minister of State Fahy regarding why we cant do this because of social partnership. 

Ireland ranks bottom of the list in terms of Paternity leave. Most countries in the EU offer paid paternity leave, from two days in Spain to two weeks in France, while in Norway new fathers are entitled to a full four weeks. Fathers north of the border are entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave yet in this state there is no entitlement at all. 

This situation simply cannot be allowed to go on.   Sinn Fein is demanding the immediate introduction of 2 weeks paternity leave.  This is the minimum of what father should be entitled to. The reality is that we are talking of very little time.  Given that most families nowadays only have 2 children, we are talking of 10 days twice in a lifetime.  Yet these days are vital to allow fathers to offer necessary support to mothers in the first days of their children lives and in giving fathers the time to bond with their children.  We should be facilitating fathers playing an active role in their children’s lives.  Are we to persist in being backward in regard to this because IBEC doesn’t like the idea of paternity leave? 

Increased flexibility in the manner which parental leave can be taken

The element of greater flexibility in how parental leave can be taken is to be welcomed though it does not really go far enough

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions are proposing that the legislation be amended to provide employees with a right to request more flexible parental leave arrangement  and to oblige employers to seriously consider the request and further provide that refusal of the employees request should only be permitted where the employer can provide evidence of a compelling business case for refusals.  This is an eminently reasonable proposal which I would expect the Government to accede to.

Other issues

There are a number of other brief points which I would like to make in relation to the Bill

With regard to force majeure leave workers who are in same sex relationships should be entitled to the force majeure leave from their employers  in the vent of serious illness to their partners in the same way as other couples.  Sustaining Progress has committed that “steps necessary to give effect to the issue of force majeure leave for same sex partners will be addressed”.  It is utterly unacceptable that this Bill fails to fulfil that commitment. 

Also force majeure needs to be extended to deal with other situations where parents must leave work where issues arise in relation to children and childcare. Given the time constraint I will deal with this issue in greater detail at Committee stage.  

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Sinn Féin Lisburn Council group leader, Cllr Paul Butler commenting on the decision of Lisburn council to ban civil partnership ceremonies from the Cherry Room on the back of an Alliance party motion has said that Sinn Féin fully support the rights of the gay and lesbian community to have civil marriages on council premises and offered the party's full support for Robert Toner, who is challenging the decision.

Cllr Butler said:

"We want to keep the spotlight firmly on Lisburn Council and the way they are treating same sex marriages, and are calling on the gay and lesbian community to challenge the ban.

"Lisburn have now added the gay and lesbian community to the list of people they discriminate against.

"Whether in the social, political or cultural spheres it is wrong that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people should suffer discrimination." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Victims and Truth, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has welcomed the additional £1.5 million for the Memorial Fund but also urged the British government to address problems faced by groups trying to access the fund.

Mr McGuigan said:

"Sinn Féin welcome extra money allocated to the Memorial Fund. However, we have been made aware of difficulties that groups have been facing in accessing the fund and in the distribution of existing funds.

"The British government need to act to address these difficulties. It is essential that this money gets to where it is needed and is evenly distributed across the board." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Collusion, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that the revelations a report from the Police Ombudsman will implicate at least 6 RUC Special Branch Officer in a number of UVF murders through Special Branch agent Mark Haddock will come as no surprise to the hundreds of victims of British government policy collusion.

Mr Doherty said:

"It is now undeniable that there was a widespread and systematic policy of collision between the RUC and British Army and Loyalist paramilitaries, particularly involving RUC Special Branch.

"It will come as no surprise to the hundreds of victims of the British government's policy of state sanctioned murder and collusion that this report will implicate a number of RUC Special Branch officers in UVF murders.

"Indeed reports that RUC Special Branch stepped in to protect one of its' agents, Mark Haddock, from investigation is part of a well established pattern. The fact that it is claimed that this RUC agent then went on to commit a number of further murders makes the Special Branch directly complicit.

"Sinn Féin is determined to achieve a new beginning to policing. This means that the British government must come clean on its' policy of collusion and that the RUC human rights abusers who transfer ed en masse into the PSNI should be weeded out." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin Spokesperson on the Environment, Councillor Daithí Doolan has called on Dublin City Council, "to take action to avoid another fire tragedy which is waitng to happen in one of their flat complexes."

Speaking ahead of tonight's public meeting with residents, Cllr. Doolan said:

"Since 2002 three people have died as a result of fires in Council flats in the Ross Road, Bride St & Nicholas St area. Following the tragic death of two children in 2002, Dublin City Council said that they would immediately take action to ensure that all possible fire prevention procedures were put in place, including installation of fire doors, fire alarms, training and support for local residents.

"But local residents are not happy with the lack of work to date. They brought in their own independent fire prevention consultant who has voiced serious concern and said that the flats in this area do not even meet Dublin City Council's own fire regulation standards. The consultant disputes that any real work has been done to prevent further tragedy.

A public meeting organised by the lcoal Residents Association will take place in Whitefriar Street Community Centre, Aungier Street this evening (Thursday 27th October) at 7.30pm.

In conclusion Cllr. Daithi Doolan demanded that "Council officials meet with the residents, listen to their concerns and carry out all work necessary to ensure these people's homes meet fire prevention standards and further tragedy is avoided." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald has today called for an EU budget which prioritises combating poverty, social exclusion and regional disparities. Speaking after the first reading of the EU budget for 2006, Ms McDonald has said that that "unfortunately, the proposed Budget does not reflect these important objectives".

Ms McDonald made her comments as an informal EU summit in Hampton Court, England got underway to discuss the economic future of the EU.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"Today there are 98 million people living at risk from poverty across the EU. There are more than 20 million people unemployed. Huge disparities continue to exist across the Union and within each member state in terms of infrastructure, economic development and standards of living. Inequality and discrimination continue to scar the lives of millions.

"Despite all of this the political and economic priorities, as laid out in the proposed EU budget for 2006, are not geared towards tackling these problems. Indeed, the main thrust of the budget is to follow those economic and social policies which are partly to blame for this situation.

"We are now half-way thought the 10-year ŒLisbon Agenda‚, the EUs principle economic framework. The Lisbon Agenda promised to 'make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty' by 2010. However there has been little meaningful progress. Indeed much of the contents of the proposed budget will actively undermine this goal.

"Sinn Féin wants to see a budget which shifts the priorities of EU economic policy away from the sectional interests of big business or the larger member states, and towards the needs of people across the region. Such a policy would require a rebalancing of priorities in such a way as sustainable development and social cohesion are given equal weight to economic competitiveness." ENDS

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Speaking at the start of Tony Blair's informal EU summit in Hampton Court today, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has called for 'an end to the double speak on the issue of a social Europe and for more action on tackling the core social and economic problems which affect Europe's member states'.

Ms de Brún said

'During this week's sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg MEPs listened to British Prime Minister Tony Blair outlining his vision for the future of European economic policy. His speech on the one hand stressed the importance of the European social model and on the other hand prioritised economic policies which would do little to resolve the problems of unemployment, poverty, social exclusion and unsustainable development.'

'During the debate which followed his speech many MEPs argued the need for a new economic policy based on social and economic justice, environmental protection, respect for human rights and sustainable development.

'We are now half-way thought the 10-year 'Lisbon Agenda', which promised to 'make a decisive impact on the eradication of poverty' by 2010. This has not happened and recent signals from the European Council seem to undermine this goal. If his speech in Strasbourg this week is anything to go by, Tony Blair's informal summit on the social model will do little to redress this imbalance.

'In Sinn Féin's view it is vital that the informal summit commits the EU to the basic principles of the European Social Model, ie solidarity, social rights, a strong social protection system and re-distribution of wealth. With more than 20 million people currently unemployed across the Union and 98 million people living at risk of poverty, the urgency of this task cannot be underestimated.

'Our party is committed to building and Ireland of Equals in a Europe of equals. If we are to eradicate the scourge of poverty in Europe, and allow people the resources and access to services needed to live life in dignity, we need to strengthen the 'social Europe', not undermine it'. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Waterford City Councillors David Cullinane and Joe Kelly have reacted furiously to news that four councillors and a number of officials are traveling to Europe to attend Sail Training Internationals Annual Conference. Both councilors Cullinane and Kelly only found out about the trip through a third party not connected with the council. Four city councillors, the City Manager, a number of officials and the city councils tall ships event manager are all traveling courtesy of the taxpayer.

Cllr David Cullinane said:

"The Tall Ships event was a hugely positive one and was beneficial to the people of Waterford and beyond. On the back of this success it is important that we maintain good relations with Sail Training International. It is also important for Waterford to be represented at its annual conference but I fail to see the need for so many people from the city to attend. Is it really necessary for eight council representatives, including four city councilors to travel? Surely it would be more than suffice for the City Manager, the Tall Ships event manager, the event chairperson and one councillor to attend.

"This is another example of wasting taxpayer‚s money. There isn‚t a week goes by when the council is not citing resources as an impediment to delivering on much needed local projects and services. There seems to be no accountability and transparency when it comes to foreign trips. At the end of the day it is our money which is being spent and wasted. Those responsible for organizing this trip have succeeded in turning what would have otherwise been a worthwhile beneficial trip into a questionable junket. It is my view and the view of Councillor Joe Kelly that the City Council and the City Manager have serious questions to answer in relation to this." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD, and Michelle Gildernew MP have welcomed the fact that Agriculture officials on both sides of the border have met to discuss their response to any possible threat from Avian Flu.

Deputy Ferris: "In a response to a question of mine, Minister Coughlan has said that officials have met and will continue to meet to discuss their positions on any possible threat posed by this disease. I welcome that, but am slightly concerned that such contact has been described as "informal" and that the Minister refers to their "respective positions". Any co-operation is much to be encouraged, but it would be preferable if a formal group was established with a joint contingency plan."

Ms Gildernew also welcomed the response. "As was proven during the Foot and Mouth crisis, the border means nothing. Any threat from this disease will not recognise the border so it is crucial that there is a common approach. I would therefore like to reiterate Martin Ferris' call for such co-operation to be placed on a formal and ongoing basis". ENDS

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