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South Down Assembly Member Cllr Willie Clarke has said that the SDLP's position on policing is at odds with the nationalist community after SDLP councillors on Down District Council refused support a Sinn Fein motion condemning the actions of the PSNI for overturning Parades Commission determinations in Ardoyne and Lurgan. The motion also called on the Orange Order, Royal Black Preceptory and Apprentice Boys to properly engage in discussions with nationalist communities in South Down.

Cllr Clarke said:

"The decision by the SDLP to oppose this motion is further evidence of a party that lacks a coherent policy on policing. The SDLP are afraid to address the issue of partisan political policing that was clearly evident in Ardoyne and Lurgan last month.

"The SDLP have endorsed and are continuing to endorse a police force that is unaccountable and inherently sectarian. Over the 12th of July the PSNI hemmed in nationalist communities on the Springfield Road, Ardoyne and Lurgan in order to facilitate anti-Catholic parades through those areas. The PSNI in South Down chose to ignore the flying of Unionist paramilitary flags on lampposts and by bands that have marched in towns and villages throughout the area. Excusing the actions of the PSNI during the marching season is doing a major disservice to the nationalist community.

"The SDLP endorses a police force that is still unionist in its ethos and when it comes to a decision between Orange demands and nationalist rights will continue to uphold the unionist position. The motion Sinn Fein tabled last week would have officially recorded Down District Council's opposition to the PSNI forcing Unionist parades through Nationalist areas and the overturning of Parades Commission determinations. Yet the SDLP took the decision to provide political cover for the PSNI by rejecting this motion.

"In making the choice to act as cheerleaders for the PSNI the SDLP are endorsing the suppression of nationalist rights in the face of unionist demands. The SDLP position on policing is at odds with the majority of the nationalist community in Down District and throughout the Six Counties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Mid-Ulster Geraldine Dougan will lead a delegation of Maghera residents to meet with the Parades Commission tomorrow afternoon at 12.30pm in Windsor House, Belfast.

The meeting is being held to discuss plans by the RBP to march through the nationalist town on the last Saturday in August.

The delegation is available to speak to the media.ENDS

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Sinn Féin Deputy Mayor of Belfast Cllr. Joe O'Donnell will host an event for invited community and representative organisations in the Mayors Parlour at Belfast City Hall tomorrow (Thursday 18th) at 11am.

Cllr. O'Donnell will set out his priorities for his year in office in a Mission Statement.

The event will get underway at 11am and the media are invited to attend. ENDS

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Speaking on the day when the 2004 Leaving Cert results are published, Sinn Fein spokesperson Séan Crowe said he wanted to congratulate all students who sat this very challenging exam, but cautioned parents and students against basing success rates on 'points' alone.

Deputy Crowe said:

"While access to third level education does hinge largely on the level of points scored, education in essence is not so straight forward. Personal development is a much bigger picture, incorporating a wide range of personal experience, including the experience of having sat the exam in the first place. It takes considerable determination, hard work and courage to go through the examination challenge and young people are to be commended for their efforts at the very outset. Tremendous pressure is put on young people to score well and a high degree of anxiety is involved in the whole experience, both before the exam and after the results have been released. This kind of stress is very unhelpful when it comes to the student's efforts to cope with the whole ordeal.

"To those who achieved their desired results-well done and for those who may be a little disappointed it is important to realise that this is only one stage in your journey through education. For those who will be celebrating tonight, enjoy yourselves but do so with care and in moderation." ENDS

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Seeking this morning at the Press Conference on Childcare provision across North and West Belfast, Cllr Fra McCann MLA said:

"We are facing a real crisis in Childcare across North and West Belfast with projects closing, families losing support and the needs of children being set aside in favour of financial considerations.

"These projects provide vital services in some of the most deprived communities in Ireland that have extreme levels of unemployment. Over 10% of children in our communities leave school without qualifications, over 14% of all births are to teenage mothers and 9% of all households are headed up by single parents. And yet these are the groups which are targeted by these cuts.

North Belfast MLA Cathy Stanton added:

"We all recognise the need to invest in services for young children and families and the need to secure a better future for our communities. Many of the projects targeted for these cuts enhance child development, support families, provide skilled employment, and deliver training.

"It is time that the Departments recognised the vital role that childcare plays in community regeneration and valued the vital services which these groups deliver. We are seeking an urgent meeting with a cross departmental ministerial team to secure funding to allow the groups to continue to operate. These groups, are playing a role in maintaining and regenerating communities. It is time for the government to step up to the plate and support childcare." ENDS

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North Antrim Sinn Féin Assembly member Philip McGuigan has accused unionist paramilitaries in Ballymena of issuing death threats to five young nationalists in the town overnight.

Mr McGuigan said:

" This morning five homes in Ballymena were visited by the PSNI and five young nationalists were informed that their lives were under threat. I have no doubt that unionist paramilitaries are behind what is the latest stage in a long campaign against Catholics living in Ballymena.

" Given the repeated denomination of the small nationalist community in the town by all of the unionist political representatives it is not surprising that those paramilitaries within their community react in this fashion.

" The threats and intimidation against the nationalist community in Ballymena are the direct product of the type of political leadership provided by unionist politicians in the area." ENDS

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Speaking in support of An Post workers from Drogheda who are protesting today Sinn Fein T.D. for Louth, Arthur Morgan, demanded that the Minster for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern, urgently investigate serious concerns regarding mismanagement at An Post. Staff in Drogheda are protesting at An Post's ban on recruitment which is being used by An Post in Drogheda to prevent staff who have been an long term sick leave from returning to work,

Deputy Morgan said, "There has been a inexplicably and dramatic decline in the profitability of an Post in recent years. This cannot be allowed to go un-addressed. I am calling on Minister Dermot Ahern to instigate an investigation into the management of An Post with particular emphasis on the role of the board of management.

"The sinister interpretation of the recruitment ban by management locally who have refused to allow workers who have been an long term sick leave to return to work is creating extreme hardship for those workers who do not qualify for benefits. This is another example of bad management at An Post which is demonstrated through their attitude towards their workforce.

"It has to be asked if management at An Post are purposely running the company into the ground with the intention of proposing a management buy-out." ENDS

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Reacting to reports that the PSNI again fired CS gas on three occasions over the weekend Sinn Féin spokesperson on Human Rights Caitriona Ruane said that it was clear that predictions made by Sinn Féin and others that the PSNI would enthusiastically use this gas had unfortunately come true.

Ms Ruane said:

" When the SDLP and others on the Policing Board issued the PSNI with CS gas Sinn Féin predicted that the PSNI would enthusiastically use this new weapon of repression. Unfortunately this prediction has come true. Over the weekend this poisonous gas was once again deployed on three separate occasions. The reintroduction of CS gas is a throwback to the days when the Civil Rights movement was brutally beaten off the streets by the PSNI predecessors in the RUC.

" It is not surprising that a force which remains unaccoutable and which contains at its core those with a long record of human rights abuses would relish the opportunity to have at its disposal another weapon of repression to go alongside plastic bullet guns.

" We hear much from the SDLP about the new beginning to policing and their record on the Policing Board. We hear little from them about their continuing support for the deployment of repressive weapons such as CS gas." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly members and Assembly support staff will be meeting this afternoon in Stormont to continue preparations for the political negotiations scheduled to begin in September. Speaking before the meeting Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

" Sinn Fein's objective going into the negotiations in September is to end the crisis in the process and restore the political institutions.

" However, republicans are not convinced of the commitment to progress by the two governments, especially the British government, and the DUP. Indeed, given the British governments track record of failing to implement the Agreement, its breach of commitments made last October, its creation of the IMC and much more, there are many who believe it is failing the peace process.

" The British government therefore faces a major challenge in the immediate time ahead. Either it stands with the Good Friday Agreement, and builds a bridge toward democracy and equality, or it sides with the forces of reaction as successive British government's did for decades.

" The reality at this time is that elements within the British system, the securocrats and the faceless pro-union bureaucrats of the NIO, are doing their best to subvert progress and to encourage the backward slide.

" If republicans and nationalists are to be convinced that the British government is serious about making this process work we need to see evidence that the Good Friday Agreement is being implemented, positively, constructively, speedily.

" In our discussions over the summer with the two governments we have focused on the key problem issues which we believe all of the participants have a contribution to resolve. These include:

  • The need for all parties to participate fully in the political institutions;
  • The issues of policing and justice, and especially agreement by unionists on the transfer of powers to the Executive and Assembly within a specific timeframe.
  • The issue of armed groups and of arms
  • And, the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.

" The British and Irish governments also have responsibility for other matters.

" However, the fact is that the DUP is refusing to talk directly to Sinn Féin and has set so many pre conditions for progress is a challenge for that party but also for the two governments if the institutions are to be restored.

" We also raised with the governments but particularly the British government the Pat Finucane case and its reneging on its commitment to hold an inquiry, as well as the wider issue of collusion.

" Sinn Fein's goal is to achieve a comprehensive definitive agreement on all the outstanding issues. But to achieve that the two governments and the DUP have to play their part. The British government has the pivotal role in creating the context for this. So far we have seen little evidence to suggest that it is up to this challenge." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Séan Crowe TD today expressed his concerns at statistics published which reveal the increasing social divide in the field of education and which indicate that fee-paying schools in the Dublin region are thriving while Free Education schools are gaining significantly less enrolments.

Deputy Crowe said:

"Enrolments to Christian Brother schools have reduced by sixty percent over the last twenty years. Fee-paying schools are turning down large numbers of applicants while Free Education schools are seriously under-subscribed to.These facts throw up very serious implications socially and economically.

"The tax payer subsidises private schools at a rate of 85 million Euros a year. The really serious concern here is the gaping divide between the haves and have-nots of our society. Minister Dempsey claims to support an egalitarian society - surely the education system is the place to sow the seeds for this? Yet we have overcrowded classrooms at primary level, one in three children attending disadvantaged schools and huge literacy problems. Many children go to school hungry, and their parents struggle to pay for uniforms and books.

"Despite all this the Government persists with advancing its privatisation programme at every turn; in the areas of education, health, and transport. It seems if you do not have the necessary funds, you are left to your own devices. It is time that Minister Dempsey started to really come up with the goods if hen takes this portfolio at all seriously." ENDS

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Newry and Armagh Sinn Féin MLA Councillor Pat O Rawe has expressed concern at the increase in racist incidents in Armagh and said that the latest attack in Blackwatertown is part of a growing trend. She also appealed for all those with influence to work together to put and end to such unprovoked racist attacks.

Ms O'Rawe said:

"This is a disgraceful attack. It appears to be part of a growing trend of unprovoked racist attacks in the Armagh area.

"It is vital that everyone with influence work together to stamp out racism." ENDS

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Dublin City Councillor Daithi Doolan has today slammed a scheme where local councils will lease properties for up to 20 years with private landlords to alleviate the chronic housing shortage in the city.

Responding to the proposals today, Councillor Doolan said:

"The housing crisis within this state has been brought about by government unwillingness to provide funding to local authorities for the construction of social and affordable housing. Moves towards a public-private partnership housing scheme, where the government is leasing property from private landlords represents a dereliction of the states responsibility to provide safe and affordable housing to the people of this state.

"Essentially, taxpayers will be lining the pockets of private landlords, as this government attempts a quick fix solution to a serious and long term problem. A number of landlords within the city are also unregulated, raising concerns as to the suitability of their properties. What criteria have this government used to decide which landlords will profit from this venture?

"Sinn Féin is opposing this public-private partnership approach to the housing crisis and we are calling upon this government to provide the necessary funding to local authorities so they can provide adequate social and affordable housing." ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane has criticised the decision of direct rule NIO Environment Minister Angela Smith to exclude MLA's from the Mourne Park Working Group.

Speaking after receiving confirmation from the DoE that the only elected representatives entitled to sit on the group would be two Councillors from each of the three Council areas affected ˇ Down District, Newry and Mourne and Banbridge, Ms Ruane said:

"In early June I was part of a delegation which included my party colleagues Cllr Willie Clarke MLA and North Louth Cllr Tomas Sharkey who met with Angela Smith MP and her team of advisors in order to try and secure wider representation on the Working Group. We proposed that each of the four main parties should have at least one Assembly Member sitting on the steering committee.

"I am very disappointed at the decision to exclude MLA's. This will mean that the working group on the establishment of the Park for the Mournes is unrepresentative. Sinn Fein's position on this matter is clear ˇthe working group should be as inclusive and representative as possible.

"Sinn Fein have consistently argued there must be proper consultation with local stake holders before a park can be established in South Down, South Armagh or anywhere else in Ireland. The proposal to designate the Mournes National Park Status must have a broad consensus of support and is why it is essential that a proper mechanism be put in place, which will allow effective consultation with local communities. The potential for a Mournes National Park will be diminished unless it is truly a national park within the context of the island of Ireland. Only Sinn Féin will consistently bring this analysis to the table.

"The way that Angela Smith is approaching this issue will sideline the interests of the many local people that will be affected and potentially create a political imbalance within the working group.

"Such a park has the potential to affect everyone living in County Down and the neighbouring counties of Armagh and Louth. This is a huge issue that will have a profound effect on many aspects of local life such as farming, tourism, planning and the environment. It was vital that there was effective representation from across the political spectrum and I hope the decision by Angela Smith will not have long term implications. " ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has once again appealed to unionist political and community leaders in the Donegal Road area to act to stop racist attacks in the area. Mr Maskey's comments come after the latest attack on the home of Eastern Europeans living in the area.

Mr Maskey said:

" Over the last number of years there have been countless attacks on the homes of ethnic minority community members in this area of South Belfast. The vast majority of these racist incidents go unreported. This does not however make them any less unacceptable.

" There has been a complete failure of unionist political and community leadership in this area. It is simply not acceptable for this sort of sustained attack on the ethnic minority community to be tolerated.

" Catholics having witnessed the encouragement of attacks and intimidation in the Whitehall apartment block by the same unionist politicians will not be surprised at the lack of action to stop racist attacks." ENDS

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Responding to an article in this morning's Irish Times by DUP Deputy Leader Peter Robinson Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said "that it is time for the DUP to respect Sinn Féin's mandate and concentrate on the job of agreeing a package which will quickly see the political institutions re-established and all of other outstanding issues dealt with".

Mr McLaughlin said:

"The issues which need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive package have been identified. Nationalists and republicans acknowledge that there are issues of concern for Unionists.

"If the DUP accept that the range of issues which are of concern to nationalists and republicans, must be dealt with, including the core issue of transfer of Policing and Justice powers away from London, then our collective responsibility is to move quickly to resolve these issues. This is a huge challenge but it has to be faced up at some point.

"The DUP need to act on the reality that Sinn Fein represents the majority of nationalist opinion. The DUP need to respect Sinn Féin's mandate and concentrate on the job of agreeing a package which will quickly see the political institutions re-established and all of other outstanding issues resolved without further delay." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast Kathy Stanton has slammed the compensation offer to a victim of a UDA attack. Jason O'Halloran was shot three times by the UDA on the same night that the same organisation murdered Gerard Lawlor. However despite his injuries the Compensation Agency has only offered him compensation of under £500.

Speaking today Ms Stanton said:

"The offer is completely unacceptable and exposes the compensation agency to practice of creating a hierarchy of victims. Jason's case is of no less importance than anyone else's and for his ordeal to be reduced in this manner is offensive from the outset.

"What is at issue here is not the amount of money offered, but the fact that victims are being treated in this manner. In a case that was clearly attempted murder by the UDA, and an attack in which the victim suffered serious injuries the Compensation Agency has failed miserably.

"Tony Blair has referred this case to the NIO but they have since failed to get in contact with Mr O'Halloran. What is clearly needed from both the NIO and the British government is an immediate review as to how victims are treated by statutory agencies, but in particular outstanding and recurring issues surrounding how the Compensation Agency is addressing victims legitimate claims." ENDS

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MLA Barry McElduff has said that Sinn Féin will challenge the British government at the September negotiations over its attempts to impose Water Charges on the people of the six counties and attempts to privatise the Water Service here.

Mr McElduff said:

"The British government, through the NIO are attempting to exploit the suspension in the institutions to impose this unjustifiable charge.

"We are being told that £3 billion is now needed to bring water infrastructure up to scratch and that local ratepayers will have to fit the bill.

"However, local ratepayers have always paid for our water related services in the regional rate and the question must be asked as to where this money has gone?

"If our water service infrastructure is in such a bad state it is because the British government has re-appropriated the water component of our rates bill for some other purpose.

"Therefore, the onus should be on the British government to return this money by making a capital investment in our Water infrastructure instead of attempting to charge people again for something we have already paid for.

"Sinn Féin is also apposed to any attempts to privatise the water service here. Such a move would lead to major job losses, a deteriorisation in the service with increased bills for householders.

"Moreover, it would be disastrous for people seeking water connections in rural areas. They would have to pay an absolute fortune to get connected and it this would be totally discriminatory.

"Sinn Féin is determined to thwart the designs of the British government and NIO in regards to Water Charges and privatisation and will be making it a central issue at the negotiations in September." ENDS

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Sinn Fein's Equality and Human Right's Spokesperson Caitriona Ruane MLA has condemned the PSNI for continuing to harass people in nationalist areas of South Down.

Ms Ruane said:

"Last week I experienced first hand the 'new beginning' to policing when I was stopped and held at a joint British Army/PSNI check point. When I asked what legislation I was being stopped under the PSNI officer rather glibly explained 'legislation, just emergency legislation'. It was obvious that he was unable to clarify what specific 'emergency legislation' I was being stopped under and his manner became increasingly abrasive when I asked why I was being harassed.

"Perhaps it would be an idea that before being sent out to target nationalist communities members of the PSNI should at least know what piece of draconian legislation that empowers them to intimidate and annoy innocent people.

"While I am aware this incident is well down the scale of harassment nationalists have experienced throughout the past 30 years it does provide further evidence of the daily treatment that nationalists are still experiencing at the hands of the PSNI. Castlewellan recently hosted the very successful Celtic Fusion festival where thousands of people enjoyed a host of events. There was no trouble and certainly no need for joint PSNI/British Army checkpoints stopping people as they entered and left the town.

"It is clear there is still much work to be done before we have the new beginning to policing that was envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. I have taken the details of the officer involved and will now be raising this matter with the Police Ombudsman and the British/Irish Intergovernmental Sectariat and both governments. ENDS

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Upper Bann Sinn Féin Assembly member John O'Dowd in welcoming the fact that a significant number of people from a unionist background come to him with their constituency problems said:

"More and more people from a unionist background are contacting my office with their constituency problems. This is to be welcomed and is further proof that not only do people recognise Sinn Féin as the party that gets things done, but is further proof that when we say we work for all sections of society, we mean just that.

"This is not only the case here in the Upper Bann constituency, but is the case all across the six counties and all across this island and has been so for many years now, however, in the last number of years, calls from people from a unionist background have reached an all time high and I hope that this will continue into the future." ENDS

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North Antrim Sinn Féin Assembly member Philip McGuigan has called on the Council in Ballymena to get behind the local nationalist community in the town and fund community based festivals as an alternative to bonfires.

Mr McGuigan said:

" Over the past two weeks bonfires in Ballymena have resulted in violence between a small minority of young nationalists and the PSNI. Much of this violence has been the result of alcohol consumption by the young people involved on one hand and overzealous policing by the PSNI on the other.

" In recent years residents in Fisherwick have attempted to organise community festivals as an alternative to late night bonfires. This approach mirrors that adopted by nationalist communities across the six counties. The local festival in Fisherwick was a success and did prevent any trouble occurring over the past two years.

" However this year the local council reneged on promises made and commitments given to fund the festival and the vacuum left was filled once again with a bonfire. Local nationalists feel that their community is being is ignored by Ballymena Council and other statutory agencies.

" Sinn Féin will continue to work with the local nationalist community in Ballymena to reverse decades of under funding and under investment. This small vulnerable nationalist community cannot be continually ignored and demonised." ENDS

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