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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh today welcomed the Taoiseach’s announcement that their will be a state organised commemoration to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the setting up of a 1916 Centenary Committee to prepare for the centenary. Ó Snodaigh called for the proposed parade to be an inclusive parade and said “It should have associated cultural events which would bring home the ideals and history of 1916 to the whole population of this island, whether young or old.”

Speaking today Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “Any state organised commemoration to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1916 rising should be inclusive and should involve more than just a military parade. It should have associated cultural events in all 32 Counties of Ireland which would bring home the ideals and history of 1916 to the whole population of this island, whether young or old.

“It must be remembered that the rising was the result of a coming together of many groups in Irish society, including the nationalist, the socialist, the women’s movement, the trade unions and the Irish language activists, to proclaim the Irish nation for the Irish people and all these groups must be represented in any future commemorations.

“Irish people are proud of the men and women of 1916 who proclaimed a 32-County Irish Republic based on the republican principles of Equalité, Liberté and Fraternité. They had a vision of a nation where the children were cherished equally and where the wealth of the country was for the people of Ireland.

“Obviously their vision has never been brought fully to fruition. Irish unity is still to be achieved and most of what was contained in the 1916 Proclamation has never been fully delivered and in many ways cannot without the reunification of our country. Sinn Féin is committed to bringing about exactly the kind of Ireland envisaged in the Proclamation. That is our primary focus and that is the difference between us and other parties.

“Sinn Féin has ensured that the men and women of 1916 have been commemorated annually and that their ideals have been kept alive and I welcome the fact that Fianna Fáil has now decided to take part in this process. Our party, nor any other group have a monopoly on republicanism but if everybody pulls together we can make Irish Unity a reality in our lifetime.” ENDS

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As part of the Sinn Féin Cead Blain celebrations, Gerry Adams this morning published a new book setting out his vision for the future direction of Irish Republicanism in the years ahead. The book entitled 'The New Ireland - A vision for the future' was launched in Conway Mill.

Speaking at the event Mr Adams said:

" This short book is written in an attempt to sketch out a sense of modern Irish republicanism now and for the future.

Recently Sinn Féin published a book 'Sinn Féin - A Century of Struggle' which looked at the establishment of the party in 1905 and its history and development since then.

'The New Ireland - A Vision for the Future' also marks our 100th birthday. It is not a party political manifesto more a personal statement about the nature of modern Irish republicanism and its vision for the future.

This book restates our primary political republican objectives - a united, independent Ireland; an end to partition; an end to the union with Britain; the construction of a new national democracy on the island of Ireland, and reconciliation between orange and green.

The most important principle of Sinn Féin was and is self-reliance. Only the people of this island can secure our liberation and mould our society to suit our unique heritage, our character, our economic needs and our place in the wider world. That was the core value of the fledgling Sinn Féin. That is still true today. And from the beginning, while always asserting that the end of the union was in the interests of all the people of this island, Sinn Féin extended a hand of friendship to unionists.

The core values of Sinn Fein are reflected in the Proclamation of the Irish republic in 1916, the founding document of modern Irish republicanism and a charter of liberty with international as well as national importance. In it, the republic guarantees religious and civil liberty; equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens; the Proclamation contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Its anti-sectarianism is evident in the words "oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past". And at a time when women in most countries did not have the vote, the government of this new republic was to be elected by the suffrages of all her men and women.

These are not just clever words or empty rhetoric. These are great words, great ideas, which it is our task - our responsibility - to see implemented. These words are a promise to every Irish citizen that she and he can share in the dignity of human kind, as equals with equal opportunity. That we can enjoy freedom, educate our children, provide for our families and not exploit our neighbours.

Those who established Sinn Féin 100 years ago, those who fought in 1916 and later against the might of the British Empire, and those who raised the flag of resistance in each subsequent generation did so in circumstances that differed and changed as the years rolled past. This is not 1905. It is 2005. It is the twenty-first century.

If Irish republicanism is to be relevant in modern Ireland, it needs to be defined and redefined. Republicanism today, and our dream, our vision of the future, draws on our historic roots and the rights of the Irish people. It also reflects our contemporary experience and the inspiration provided by the heroes of this phase of struggle - people like Maire Drumm and Bobby Sands, Eddie Fullerton and Sheena Campbell, John Davey and many others.

Sinn Féin is an Irish republican party. Our strategy to achieve a united, independent Ireland marks us out from other Irish political parties.

Our primary political objectives are an end to partition, an end to the union, the construction of a new national democracy, a new republic on the island of Ireland and reconciliation between Orange and Green. But we are not prepared to wait until we have achieved these goals for people to have their rights to a decent home, to a job and a decent wage, to decent public services like health and education, and a safer, cleaner environment. The big task facing us while we struggle for these other objectives is to play a full part in bringing the peace process to completion. That has to be the priority of all responsible political parties. That is a difficult and challenging task. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was the biggest step forward in this process.

Beyond the Agreement, which is essentially an accommodation, Irish republicanism has a vision of a new society, a new Ireland, that is democratic. That is economic as well as political: a society which is inclusive of all citizens, in which there is a redistribution of wealth for the well-being of the aged, for the advancement of youth, for the liberation of women and the protection of our children. It foresees a new relationship between these islands, resting upon our mutual independence and mutual respect. From the beginning, saving the Irish language from extinction and reviving our national language has been a key aim of Sinn Féin. Pádraig Pearse recognised that without Conradh na Gaeilge there would have not have been a revolution in Ireland.

Our republicanism has to be about change - fundamental, deep-rooted change. It has to be about creating the conditions whereby people are empowered to make that change. Equality is our watchword. We live in a prosperous country. There is sufficient wealth in our society to ensure that no one should want for any of the basics of life. We have a two-tier health system and a housing crisis. Our children are being educated in dilapidated and run-down school buildings. There is no sign of decent childcare services. At every turn, punitive measures are taken against the disadvantaged. We are prepared to work with others who share our vision of a fair and equitable society that provides real solutions, not broken promises.

Key to achieving this is the hard, tedious, difficult work of building political strength. By building that strength, we will build the capacity to move both the British and the Irish governments and the unionists and to influence the political agenda.

Sinn Féin is now politically and organisationally stronger than at any time since the 1920s. We have developed new approaches. We have taken difficult and risky decisions. We have demonstrated time and time again a preparedness to go on the political offensive, to take initiatives and go toe to toe with our political opponents in the battle of ideas, as well as in the hard job of building workable political partnerships. All of these facts give some explanation of why we are almost perpetually at the centre of a political storm. Our political opponents, and even those who should be our allies in the struggle for Irish freedom and peace, fear our growing electoral strength. It is amazing to watch the feverish efforts of other parties rushing to claim their republican and Sinn Féin roots while attacking and condemning us.

At Fianna Fáil's weekend Ard Fheis the Taouieach announced that commemorations would take place again this Easter in O'Connell Street - they should never have been stopped. And that a special committee is to be set up to ensure that 1916 is properly commemorated. We welcome all of this.

We welcome the fact that Labour and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the rest want to be republican. The more the merrier. We have no monopoly on republicanism. What is a republican if not someone who strives for Irish freedom and justice and an end to partition?

The success of our party - and the test for all other parties - has to be about how much change they secure and how much progress they make in improving the life of citizens and in achieving national freedom. We also have a lot of work to do. We don't pretend to have all the answers.

This book seeks to map out the way ahead for Irish republicans in achieving all of this.

It argues that republicans must use our growing political strength and mandate to build an island-wide, a nationwide, mass Sinn Féin movement. Our goal is to have a Sinn Féin cumann in every electoral ward across this island. Our objective is to bring change right across society on this island and to entrench equality.

What Sinn Féin is trying to do at this time is unprecedented. While dealing with the ongoing challenges of the peace process, we are continuing to build for Irish unity and independence, at the same time preparing to be in government in the future. But we want social and economic change in the here and now. We want equality now. So, we are also building a political party right across all thirty-two counties. We are building a campaigning party and building political strength and alliances with others to bring about the changes now, by trying to set the political agenda so that those in government have to respond, even if they are not happy to do so.

The book examines all of this and looks at the role of Irish republicanism and the nation; our relationship with unionism, the European Union and International matters; women; the Irish language; rural Ireland; and more.

With the developing peace process, growing concern over globalisation and crisis in Europe, we are at a strategic crossroads in Ireland. We need to decide on the type of country we want and what we want its place in the world to be." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brun has today called on the Ulster Farmers Union to clarify their position after a Fermanagh delegation of UFU members withdrew from a scheduled meeting due to take place next month in Brussels.

The 50 strong Fermanagh UFU delegation are due to travel to Brussels on November 9th to meet with MEPs. The group, facilitated by Eurolinks and part funded through DUP MEP Jim Allister's parliamentary visitors allowance, had set up a meeting with Bairbre de Brun. However, following threats from the DUP MEP to withdraw the financial assistance if the group met Sinn Féin, the UFU delegation cancelled the meeting.

Bairbre de Brun said:

'Sinn Féin has worked closely with the UFU in recent years to ensure that the needs of our farmers and rural communities are heard within the community and voluntary sector and at every level of government. During all of this time the UFU have stressed their desire to work positively and constructively with all political parties in a non partisan manner. Our relationship has been constructive and positive.

'In light of this I am amazed that they have taken the decision to cancel the planned meeting.

'The fact that they took this decision under what can only be described as sectarian financial blackmail by Jim Allister MEP is all the worse. This comes in a week where Mary Lou McDonald MEP and I met a delegation of the UFU, that included one of its Deputy Presidents, Kenneth Sharkey, to discuss a range of issues including the bid to remove the beef export ban.

'Sinn Féin is the second largest political party in the North of Ireland. We represent hundreds of thousands of people across the island. The decision by the UFU delegation from Fermanagh to cancel this meeting is not only a slight against our party, it is a slight against our electorate. They are effectively telling the 200,000 people who vote for Sinn Féin, including many farmers, that their voices and their opinions are not worth listening too.

'Sinn Féin is calling on the President of the UFU, Campbell Tweed to clarify their position and explain whether or not he is personally happy with his members boycotting an elected representative under pressure from the DUP.

'If it is indeed the case that the UFU are going to allow this situation to continue, Sinn Féin will have to seriously review our approach to the UFU at all levels.

'I will also be raising the matter with Eurolinks to see if such behaviour is compatible with their project's aims and objectives and that of their funders.

'Jim Allister's threat to withdraw his financial support from this delegation is outrageous. It is completely at variance with the practice we pursue, where we are happy to facilitate meetings visitors wish to have. Indeed I have actively sought a common approach to issues with my fellow MEPs, including Jim Allister. ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking in South Africa today said:

I want to deal with the Irish peace process but before doing so I want to offer up some observations on the international situation.

Irish republicans have always been firmly internationalists - our roots lie in the French Revolution and the American Revolution. Our core political value is based on the right of human beings to be free citizens - liberated, empowered and equal.

The founders of Irish republicans saw themselves as citizens of the world and the Irish fight for freedom as part of a worldwide struggle of humanity. That remains Sinn Fein's view today.

For us the big central international struggle of our time is to assert democratic control by people over the decisions, which affect their lives. This means free nations working together on the basis of equality, to pursue this objective.

It means tackling the great social, economic and environmental problems, which face us, by means of co-operation between nations. It requires international cooperation amongst states for real human development. It means the developed world working in strategic partnership with the developing world - not as an act of charity- but as part of our duty and responsibility towards other human beings.

The problems on this continent are a result of colonialism. Irish people understand this. We were England's first colony. So we have a natural affinity with other colonised countries across the globe. We are delighted to see the decline of the old empires but we are conscious that the old imperial powers continue to seek ways to exploit their former colonies.

We are conscious that as the rich countries of the west get richer over one billion people live on les than a dollar a day. Eleven million children under the age of five die each year from preventable diseases. We know it is the poor who suffer most from the natural disasters - many caused by the environmental policies of richer countries. We know that the big powers do not conduct themselves in a globally responsible way.

We know that more money is expended on armaments and military projects than on aid or fair trade policies.

But we believe that another world - a world of equals is possible.

This requires a united nations which can assert an agenda which reflects the true needs and interests of the peoples of the world. In other words efforts to reform and democratise the un must continue.

We believe there should be an end to war, a settlement in the Middle East and an end to the occupation ofIraq.

We believe that foreign debts of developing countries must be cancelled.

We believe poverty can be eradicated.

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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has accused the Government of “once again letting down the most vulnerable in Irish society” after learning that a Government Minister has been aware for the last two years that some solicitors were overcharging victims of institutional abuse. Deputy Ó Snodaigh was speaking after it was revealed today that a spokesperson for victims of abuse met with Minister Dempsey in 2003 and told him that some firms were charging victims of abuse.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “Today’s revelation confirms that the Government is guilty of once again letting down the most vulnerable in Irish society. After the scandal of the nursing home fees I thought we had seen the end of this sort of thing. But today we have learned that a Government Minister has been aware of the disgraceful overcharging of victims of abuse by solicitors for the last two years.

“Minister Dempsey’s excuse, that he could do nothing as Minister for Education at the time, is an insult to all those who have been affected by this scandal.

“Of course he could have done something. He could have informed the relevant authorities and the Minister for Justice who may have been able to put a stop to this outrage.

“Minister Dempsey needs to make a full and clear statement about this meeting and the actions he took immediately afterwards and I call on him to do so.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Communications, Seán Crowe TD has called on Communications Minister, Noel Dempsey, to use the two weeks notification of industrial action, given by the Construction Workers Union today, to intervene with the management of An Post so that a just resolution to this dispute can be secured before the workers are forced to strike.

Speaking today Deputy Crowe said, “The workers at An Post have been trying for the last three years to secure the 12.5% cost of living increase, which is due to them under the National Partnership agreement.  A year and a half ago the labour court awarded them 5%.  This was a non-binding agreement on the insistence of management, who brought the case and openly stated they would ignore the ruling if it didn’t suit them.  In parallel with this the Management have instituted a recruitment embargo during which time 600 people have left.  This has put the staff under enormous pressure and is causing major delays to the post service.  This is causing immense hardship in communities and I am aware of cases where people in receipt of social welfare cheques have not received them in time leaving them penniless for days on end.

“An Post pleads poverty for its refusal to pay the workers what they are owed and also for its refusal to recruit new staff.  This is questionable as the company has major assets and has refused to show its books to the labour court.  However even if we are to give some credence to this it is worth looking at why this is so.  The recent introduction of new sorting technology in Dublin, Cork and Portlaoise, at a cost of millions, which is still not working properly reveals a staggeringly incompetent management.

“The recruitment embargo appears to be designed to force the unions to agree to no contract labour so that An Post can recruit lowly paid foreign workers. This is reminiscent of the Irish Ferries scandal.  What does the Taoiseach think of this incidence of ‘sharp practice’? He should be even more concerned as his Government is the sole stakeholder in An Post.  This makes Minister Dempsey’s reply to me when questioned on these matters that ‘he had no responsibility to Dáil Éireann’ on this matter ridiculous.

“I am calling on the Minister to stop shirking his responsibilities and move to prevent the workers from being forced into strike action.  Ultimately the responsibility will rest with this Government.  The workers demands are just and it is worth noting that support for industrial action was over 90%. I think the public will see that the workers had no other course of action.” ENDS

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"The Irish Ferries offer of redundancies to 543 workers represents another disgraceful attempt by the company to deviate from accepted standards in terms of pay and conditions."

Councillor Dwyer was speaking following a very successful meeting today (Fri.) with SIPTU President, Jack O'Connor at Liberty Hall, Dublin. He was accompanied by Sinn Fein Member of the European Parliament, Mary Lou McDonald and T.D. Arthur Morgan.

Cllr. Dwyer said: "The working conditions and pay on board Irish Ferries ships have been in the media on several occasions in recent months. Conditions on board the Normandy, which now flies under a flag of convenience, deteriorated sharply when it underwent the process now proposed on the Wexford-Wales route.

.The International Transport Federation has claimed crew members on the ship were paid an average of •3.50 an hour, less than half the Irish minimum wage, and worked an 84-hour week. This is evidently the kind of treatment that workers could expect on the route between Wexford and Wales. It should not be acceptable for a company to cut costs by attacking the working conditions of its employees.

Our T.D.s in Leinster House have tabled a motion calling for a European Ferries Directive and it will again be raised in the European Parliament by Mary Lou McDonald MEP this coming week. I am challenging the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mícheál Martin T.D. to make clear to Irish Ferries that no exploitation of workers will be tolerated.

"I am asking the Minister if he accepts that what is being proposed here is the creation of exploitative working condition for workers on board ferries operating out of Irish ports such as Rosslare? I have to ask the Minister what is Social Partnership worth if we are going to allow ferry companies operating under flags of convenience to treat their workers in his way?

It is not good enough for the Government to continually repeat their rhetoric about supporting workers rights while at the same time standing idly by and allowing Irish Ferries to exploit workers in this way."

"This dispute is a reflection of the wider corporate greed agenda which is rife within the European Union at present. It is only a few months since a Filipino woman Salvacion Orge, won substantial damages from Irish Ferries after it became known that she was earning 1 euro per hour on the Rosslare route."

"In the course of the meeting with SIPTU President, Jack O'Connor we also raised the issue of exploitative conditions being operated by Arklow Shipping whose seventy ships are staffed by non-nationals who are paid just eight hundred and fifty dollars per month with up to one hundred hours overtime per month."

"I intend raising this issue at Wexford County Council and I particularly believe that raising this issue at European level would help halt such practices in the future. Our focus in the time ahead must be on the protection of the rights of the employee." ENDS.

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Sinn Féin's Education spokesperson Michael Ferguson has said that the decision by the DUP to defer the Motion to reinstate the School Transport for thousand of children in rural areas for two weeks is unacceptable.

The DUP are seeking the deferment to allow the Board Accountant to bring forward proposals to cut other services, which is equally unacceptable.

Commenting on the Proposal Michael Ferguson,

"The DUP have deferred the Motion to reinstate the School Bus Service rather that support a Cross Community lobby which is not only opposed to cuts to the Bus Service but to all cuts.

"The DUP decision is immoral and could result in cuts to other school services. Sinn Fein has made its position clear and like those campaigning for a return of the School Bus Service will not police a bad budget.

"All political parties should join with us not only in opposing any further cuts but demand the British Government provide a real budget to support Education and Learning.

"If we are to manage change then there must be flexibility in spending. Quite often, as with other boards, this has resulted in additional spend.

"I am calling upon the DUP to join us in a new Assembly and take responsibility for the budget with us so that locally accountable Ministers can deliver the educational entitlement our children deserve." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness has questioned the contradictory position of the Health Service regarding the reasons why the potentially life saving Cancer drug 'Herceptin' is not available to patients in the early stages of Breast Cancer.

In his ongoing campaign to have the drug made available Mr. McGuinness commented

"I accept the Department is committed to improving access to medicines that offer the potential for significant improvement in patient care. But what I can't understand is the contradictions in its comments. On the one hand it claims that it cannot prescribe Herceptin because it has not been approved by NICE then it goes on to state that NICE guidance does not automatically apply here. Could this be the explanation for the confusing situation whereby all women diagnosed with breast cancer here are automatically tested for suitability for Herceptin thereby raising expectations but then told that it is only available in the later stages of cancer or on the payment of £25,000.

"I must say that I am confused at the perception that if you can afford to pay that Herceptin is available even at the early stages of cancer if it has not been licensed. Either it is approved or it isn't. And if it is approved it should be available to all. If it is not approved then it begs the question is it correct that it will be administered even in the early stages on payment of £25,000 and if so is this ethical?" ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing issues Gerry Kelly has accused the SDLP of "being part of a new policing establishment opposing necessary progressive changes to the current arrangements". Mr Kelly's remarks come after the SDLP and Policing Board launched another attack on Community Restorative Justice Programmes.

Mr Kelly said:

"Community Restorative Justice does not pretend to be an alternative to an acceptable and accountable policing service. Such projects are additional to a policing service and are now common place across the world. Indeed the Oversight Commissioner has praised the work of the schemes currently operating here.

"The SDLP's opposition to Community Restorative Justice has nothing at all to do with these schemes or the way they operate. It is built upon a need to prevent further necessary policing changes to justify their flawed decision to jump too early onto policing. The SDLP have in effect become part of a new policing establishment determined to prevent the sort of changes necessary to deliver Patten and deliver an accountable policing service.

"When the SDLP joined the Policing Board they claimed that they would work for further changes from within. In effect they are doing exactly the opposite. They are on one hand trying to prevent further change while on the other supporting the sort of political policing which sees the PSNI deem the anti Catholic campaign in North Antrim as neighbourly disputes or fails to act when former Special Branchman Eric Anderson admits on television to the theft of files in order to frustrate the work of the Police Ombudsman's office.

"If the SDLP want to have a genuine debate on Community Restorative Justice then lets have it. But they should stop attacking what is regarded as a progressive and valued community facility in an attempt to justify their own flawed position on policing." ENDS

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Commenting on the revelation that a patient with a life threatening vascular swelling had to be taken by his family from Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan to a Dublin hospital because of the unavailability of vascular cover in the North East, Sinn Fein Health and Childrens spokesperson, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

“This is yet another case which shows that people in the North East region – Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath – are being treated like second class citizens where acute hospital services are concerned.  Coming less than a week after the death of Patrick Walsh this latest case reinforces the demand for a complete revision of acute hospital policy so that life saving services can be accessible to all, regardless or geographic location or ability to pay.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, on the third day of his official visit to South Africa, spoke to a specially convened session of the South African Parliament in Capetown.

Mr Adams thanked Deputy Speaker Geoff Doidge for inviting him to Parliament and for this "exceptional honour".

Mr Adams said:

"Your success is a beacon of light and encouragement for all those struggling throughout the world for freedom and democracy."

"As we in Ireland seek to make political progress following the recent IRA initiatives we understand that one of the greatest single challenges facing us, as we seek to achieve Irish unity, is engaging with our unionist neighbours.

"The reality and legacy of the partition of Ireland meant that a section of our people - the unionists - were given a special status.

"The peace process has created a new dynamic for change which many unionists find threatening. They are afraid that they will lose out economically and politically; that the traditional roles will be reversed and that they will suffer disadvantage and discrimination.

"Irish republicans will not condone or be part of such developments. The underpinning principle, which guides our politics, is equality. This means working in partnership with those unionists who will work with us to ensure a better future for all our people.

"Peace and political stability brings many benefits. That is evident here in South Africa. It can happen in Ireland.

"Sinn Fein is committed in the time ahead to pro-actively engage with unionists, to talk with them, share concerns, ideas, and seek a vision of the future in which all of us can feel comfortable and be prosperous. I believe we can achieve this. I believe the example set by South Africa marks the path which we too must follow.

"The father of Irish republicanism described this in our context as the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. I am confident in the time ahead that with perseverance, patience and persistence this can be achieved." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Michael Ferguson MLA has accused unionist members of the Southern Education Library Board of failing to appreciate the public mood in relation to the loss of the 2pm bus service.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Unionist filibuster tactics meant that a motion brought forward to the Education Library Board by the primary schools' representative was frustrated.

"It is unfortunate that on this occasion that unionists have missed the public mood in relation to the loss of the 2pm bus service. They seem to blow hot and cold on this issue yet it is of huge importance particularly in rural areas and to working families.

"However, I am confident that the Education Library Board will revisit this issue and that the campaign to have the 2pm school bus service reinstated will be successful." ENDS

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Speaking after the close of the Sinn Féin anti-poverty conference - 'End Poverty North and South - Local and Global' in North Belfast today, Sinn Féin spokesperson on poverty, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton thanked the hundreds of participants and said that the message from the conference was clear - participation in anti-poverty campaigns was the key to ensuring that the issues remained a priority.

Participants included students and teaching representatives from schools and universities, political representatives from a range of political parties and members of many of the key NGO's active in the area of anti-poverty.

Speaking after the conference Ms Stanton said:

"The message from conference today was that there is a desire for people to actively campaign against poverty and that the NGO's particularly welcome the engagement of political parties.

"Today we brought together people active on the ground across a range of anti-poverty issues. It was about listening and learning. It is essential that politicians and those in power listen to the people who are working at the coalface.

"The lack of political will, particularly from the British and Irish governments, to deliver on commitments to tackle poverty both here in Ireland and across the world will only be successfully challenged through co-ordinated campaigning and political pressure.

"Coming from today there is a renewed sense of optimism, certainly within Sinn Féin, that we can make tackling poverty a priority. It is about the popular demand for equality and is driven by the commitment to fight for social justice." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD and spokesperson on Justice, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, has described the response, by the Minster for Justice, to a question he asked in the Dáil today, on the growing cocaine and crack cocaine problem in Dublin as, "an incredible and puerile piece of political gymnastics which has done nothing to address the very real and current concerns of many, many people across this state."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "his failure to address the growing cocaine problem, not just in Dublin but across the state, and instead to launch into another round of Sinn Féin bashing, shows that he is a Minister too blinded by his own prejudices to be capable of carrying out his duties properly.

"The Ministers response was an incredible and puerile piece of political gymnastics which has done nothing to address the very real and current concerns of many, many people across this state.

"Rather than try and divert attention by spewing the usual nonsensical anti-republican claptrap the Minister should be honest enough to admit that he has no coherent nor strategic plan to deal with the rising level of cocaine dealing and abuse in this State.

"It would appear that none of the lessons from the heroin epidemics of the eighties and nineties have been learned. It is obvious that Michael McDowell is much happier remaining in his ivory tower, spouting forth his anti-republican bile, than doing his job and addressing this crisis." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today called for an urgent all Ireland and cross departmental strategy to be put in place to combat any possible Bird Flu outbreak in Ireland. Ms McDonald made her comments as Mary Harney is in England today for a meeting of EU health ministers to discuss plans for dealing with avian flu.

Ms McDonald warned that a coordinated response from both Departments of Health, Departments of Agriculture and the all Ireland cross border working groups was required to ensure 'full preparedness'.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is on record as far back as the beginning of this year, calling for a joint all Ireland approach to the issue of the Bird Flu virus. Such a pandemic, were it to emerge, would respect no land borders. Therefore from a public health and animal health perspective, it is imperative that there is an all Ireland and cross departmental working group put in place to implement a working strategy.

"There should be no political impediments to the establishment of such a taskforce. In the six counties, the lack of political progress is frustrating a unified response, particularly the unionist refusal to engage with Sinn Féin. In the south, Minister Harney's department has previously postponed two meetings on this matter. Her department asked for the postponement of a meeting with their northern counterparts until the new health structures had bedded in.

"My colleagues Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and John O'Dowd MLA, spokespersons for Health, Martin Ferris and Michelle Gildernew, spokespersons for Agriculture and Rural Development, have been in contact with the relevant departments to press for such an approach." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty has said that people are becoming increasingly concerned that high level elements within the PSNI and British system are conspiring to ensure that admissions by former Special Branchman Eric Anderson that he stole confidential files is being swept under the carpet.

Mr Doherty said:

" It is now a week on since Eric Anderson admitted on camera to the theft of confidential PSNI files in a bid to undermine and subvert the work of the Police Ombudsman. Yet a week on we have yet to hear from the British Secretary of State Peter Hain or the PSNI Chief Hugh Orde on the issue of the files theft and Anderson's admissions.

" We have also seen no attempts to arrest or charge Eric Anderson or retrieve the confidential paperwork which he has admitted to stealing. I have already met with the Police Ombudsman to discuss this issue and I have sought an urgent meeting with the British Direct Rule Security Minister Shaun Woodward to convey directly to him the real and growing concerns of nationalists and republicans regarding these very serious matters.

" Given the amount of time which has elapsed and the fact that there appears to have been little effort by the PSNI to effectively deal with this case and the issues it raises there is now a growing suspicion that high level elements of the RUC old guard within the PSNI are conspiring with elements of the British security system to try and bury this story and sweep it under the carpet." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin has called for the scrapping of plans by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney to provide land at public hospital sites for the development of private hospitals which will also receive massive tax breaks. In reply to a Dáil Question from Deputy Ó Caoláin, the Tánaiste admits that she has met numerous people over the past year in connection with the plan, including private commercial interests.  

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The Tánaiste’s plan is a fraud. She claims that it would be too costly for the State to provide a further 3,000 public hospital beds as promised in the National Health Strategy. But the Government does not know the cost of its tax breaks for private hospitals – tax breaks that will form the basis of this new plan. The Tánaiste does not know how much her plan will cost.

"With this scheme the Tánaiste has shredded what’s left of the Fianna Fáil 2002 General Election manifesto health commitments. That manifesto claimed it wanted 'the end of the two-tier health system'. The Tánaiste has denied that we have a two-tier system while her private hospital plan will reinforce that very system.

"The Tánaiste’s plan relies on massive tax breaks for developers of private hospitals. Yet such tax reliefs are currently under review by the Minister for Finance and the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service. Former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy has admitted that he brought in the private hospital tax break on the basis of a lobby from a developer in his own constituency. No cost-benefit analysis has been carried out and the cost to the State of these subsidies to the private health business is not known.

"The bottom line is that public money should be spent only on public health facilities which are available equally to all. They should not be used to subsidise the private health business." ENDS

  

Dáil Question and Tánaiste’s Reply

*  To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the persons she has met in the past 12 months in relation to the development of private hospitals on public hospital sites; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

- Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin T.D

In the last year, I have had numerous meetings with many people in my office in Dublin and throughout the country where the development of private facilities on public hospital grounds was raised and discussed, often as part of wide-ranging agendas.   Among them, I have met consultants and management at Waterford Regional Hospital, consultants at Limerick Regional Hospital and members of the Limerick Hospital Trust, members of the board and management of St. James' Hospital, consultants and management at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, the promoters of the Beacon Clinic and Hospital, and representatives of the management of the Mater Private Hospital.

 Since the issue has often been raised in the context of other discussions, it is not feasible to look back through all meetings and occasions where discussions might have taken place or advice or information offered. 

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Sinn Féin MP for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy tonight addressed the annual T rinity College Historical Society Debate entitled - "That the Peace Process Has Let Unionism Down".

The debate was chaired by Garrett Fitzgerald and included contributions from former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, British Secretary of State Peter Hain, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, the PUP leader David Ervine and the SDLP leader Mark Durkan.

Mr Murphy told those assembled that 'instead of embracing concepts of conflict resolution and embracing the equality agenda as a mechanism to undo years of systematic discrimination unionist political leaders have sought to undermine it, they have sought to filter the basic demands of the Good Friday Agreement through a unionist prism as they seek to maintain an unsustainable status quo.'

The full text of Mr Murphy's speech follows.

" It is unrealistic to simply take the enormous political developments of the last 10 or 15 years in isolation from the decades since partition which preceded this time. We have to examine the causes of conflict. The nature of the six county state. The political forces which conspired to institutionalise discrimination and the failure of others including successive governments in this state to defend the rights of Irish citizens in the north.

Nationalists and republicans were undemocratically locked into a statelet to which they had no affiliation and no allegiance. A statelet whose government and institutions were as Craigavon correctly proclaimed a 'Protestant Parliament for a Protestant People'. As the late human rights lawyer PJ McGrory declared - Nationalists were in effect foreigners in our own land.

For decades nationalists and republicans endured a system of institutionalised discrimination. That fact is irrefutable. The six county state was not, as revisionists within unionism seem to believe, some sort of model society. The reality is that a system of one party rule operated for half a century which along with partition itself resulted in sowing the seeds of the violent conflict which we have all lived through for the past three decades and more.

In the 1960s at a time when the rest of the world was embracing an exciting new era, the unionist response was to baton and shoot the civil rights movement off the streets and anti-Catholic pogroms in Belfast and Derry with the B-Specials and RUC leading the way.

Violent repression was met by violent resistance and so began the cycle of conflict and division which we are now finally emerging from.

The British government embarked upon a failed strategy of trying to defeat Irish republicanism, the oldest political ideology on this island, through a mixture of military force and political sanctions. We have lived through Shoot -to -Kill, Collusion, Criminalisation and Ulsterisation. Yet this was always a political conflict. It could only be solved through politics. It could only be solved through dialogue.

When the IRA took the courageous decision in August 1994 to call a cessation of their military operations, unionism would be challenged as never before since partition to face up to deal with the inequality which underpinned the northern state since its inception. We can all recall that the response of the then UUP leader James Molyneaux to the cessation was to describe it as the most destabilising event since partition. Equality is a difficult concept to deal with when the state is so tilted in your favour. But equality was always going to have to underpin the future if the causes of conflict were to be addressed at all.

The equality agenda which has been advanced since 1994, but is no where near completion yet, has been about addressing the imbalance. There would not have been provisions on equality and human rights in the Agreement if we did not live in a society which fostered discrimination and human rights abuses. The process has been about creating a level political playing field.

Equality should threaten nobody. But instead of embracing concepts of conflict resolution and embracing the equality agenda as a mechanism to undo years of systematic discrimination unionist political leaders have sought to undermine it, they have sought to filter the basic demands of the Good Friday Agreement through a unionist prism as they seek to maintain an unsustainable status quo.

By embarking upon such a strategy unionist political leaders have ensured that the process of change which is necessary and demanded now by an international treaty has been viewed with suspicion and hostility from within their community. This was entirely the wrong approach. Unionism cannot stop the process of change. It cannot stop equality or human rights. The Good Friday Agreement offered unionism a template to move forward upon.

However the vast majority of political unionism choose to ignore this path. Instead of selling the Agreement and its positive benefits for all citizens they retreated to the sort of outdated sectarian certainties offered by organisations like the Orange Order and presented the Equality agenda as a threat to unionist communities. This compiled with the collapse of the traditional, protestant dominated, industries such as ship building, led to an increased sense of loss. But catholic areas continue to experience disproportionately high levels of poverty and deprivation.If unionist or loyalist communities claim to be voiceless then that it not a reflection on the peace process - it is a damning indictment of the standard of political leadership offered by the DUP and UUP in the years since 1994. If similar sentiments were being expressed by republican or nationalist communities I would not whinge about it - I would get into those communities and begin to deliver for them.

There is undoubtedly deprivation and poverty within working class unionist areas and this needs to be tackled and addressed. Sinn Féin are committed to doing this. However deprivation and poverty can only be tackled on the basis of need - not perception. 150,000 children in the North live in poverty and half a million people live in poor households. However all of the poverty indictors prove that the reality remains that the majority of wards in which people continue to live below the poverty line are in nationalist areas. Almost twice as many Catholics as protestants remain unemployed. More catholic young people leave school without formal qualifications than their protestant counterparts. These statistics sadly are facts and undermine much of the nonsense being offered by unionist politicians in recent weeks to excuse the violence witnessed on the streets of Belfast.

Lets be very clear, the riots in Belfast were nothing to do with deprivation. What they were about was a demand from the Orange Order to open a gate in the peace line which remains closed 365 days of the year to allow them to cross into a nationalist area and coat trail through that community. The Orange Order flagged up to us all well in advance that they were planning violence. They sat on a forum with all the main unionist paramilitaries to discuss their parade tactics in the run up to the parade. So what happened on the streets should come as a surprise to nobody.

Unionist political leaders must bear the responsibility for the position within which unionism finds itself. If unionist political leaders continue to hark after an era which has long since past then political unionism will remain in a cul -de -sac. Their response to the recent historic initiatives by the IRA is evidence of that. The IRA initiatives do not in themselves solve the crisis in the peace process. It can only be solved through dialogue and meaningful engagement. But the DUP continue to refuse to talk to Sinn Fein the largest nationalist party - while simultaneously sitting on forums with the leadership of the UDA and UVF.

All of the evidence shows that the protestant working class is most disadvantaged by current educational arrangements, yet both the DUP and UUP continue to oppose changes to the education system - a system which currently means that only 2% of children from the Shankill area go to third level education.

Sinn Féin do an extensive amount of outreach to the broad unionist community

- civic, business, churches and community. It is our belief that many of these sectors are far in advance of their political leaders when it comes to the job of rebuilding the process and putting the political institutions back in place.

The peace process has the capacity to deliver enormous political and social changes which will benefit people across the island. That is without dispute. Society has been transformed in the years since 1994. The recent IRA statement is evidence of that. But much more work remains to be done in the time ahead. The institutions have to be put back in place. The outstanding aspects of the Agreement need to be delivered upon. A strategy to deal with sectarianism and racism has to be put in place. The issue of loyalist weapons and ceasefires needs to be tackled and deprivation needs to be tackled across the spectrum.

But unionist political leaders need to embrace change. They need to end the pretence that the peace process is a line of concessions to nationalists. Obviously properly tackling inequality will result and has resulted in those previously enjoying a privileged position being challenged. But deprived communities whether protestant or catholic, the Shankill or the Falls can only benefit from equality, economic development and political stability. Change cannot be stopped. It can only be managed. And that is the task of all of us including unionist leaders in the time ahead.ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald this afternoon met with the President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell in Brussels. This was the first meeting between Sinn Féin and the European parliament President and follows on from last week's visit to Brussels by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams.

Speaking after the meeting Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP said:

" Since the recent historic initiatives by the IRA Sinn Féin have sought to galvanise international opinion behind a sustained effort to seize the opportunity presented and see the Good Friday Agreement implemented and the political institutions re-established.

" Martin McGuinness has carried out an extensive series of engagements in the US and Canada and Gerry Adams is currently in South Africa carrying out a similar programme of events. Today's meeting between ourselves and the President of the European Parliament is the first such engagement and it offered us an opportunity to impress upon Mr Borrell the important role which Europe still has to play in consolidating and advancing the Irish peace process.

"One very practical way in which EU support for the process can be demonstrated is through a PEACE III programme covering the period 2007 -2013 being brought forward. Securing the extension of this crucial funding remains a priority for Sinn Féin in the time ahead.

"Today's meeting was positive and constructive and underlines a long standing commitment to the peace process by the European Parliament and institutions. We look forward to this support continuing in the time ahead as we seek to breath much needed momentum back into the political process with the clear objective of seeing a speedy re-establishment of the power sharing and all-Ireland institutions." ENDS

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