Sinn Fein Councillor Joe Reilly has queried why there is waiting list of over 800 applicants in the Navan area waiting to have their cases dealt with by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
"I contacted the department on behalf of a constituent who has been waiting four weeks for her payment and was informed that she would have to wait another six weeks due to the backlog of cases. As she is seasonal worker she will be back in employment having had to manage without an income over the summer months".
"The department informed me that there was a waiting list of over 800 applicants and while they were doing their best there would be a waiting time of up to ten weeks.The delay was due to a shortage of staff and a number of staff on holidays"
"I find it absolutely disgraceful that people have to wait such a length of time for their financial entitlements. Is there anybody in the upper echelons of the department who cares? Do he/she not understand that people need an income to survive? Why can more staff not be seconded to help clear the waiting list? Is the Navan experience being replicated all over the country?
"I call on the Minister of the Department of Social and Family Affairs to immediately put in place measures to reduce the waiting list. Applicants should not have to wait anymore that ten working days to have a decision made and implemented."
Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris said today that the ESB cannot be allowed to hike the prices on its bills anymore. Deputy Ferris was speaking following an indication today from the Commission for Energy Regulation that it will allow the company to raise its bills by 8% in October.
Deputy Ferris said:
"This is out and out madness. In January of this year the ESB got a price increase of 5% and over the last year has reaped the benefit of a total of 30% in price hikes. The company recently announced massive after-tax profits of €249 million. We're talking here about another 8% on top of what is fast becoming the bill that householders dread the most every second month.
"No political party is as committed to supporting state companies as Sinn Féin, but this is in part because of a belief that privatised companies put pursuit of profit before anything else and take no account of the damage massive price increases can cause.
"ESB has just increased profits by over 50% in one year while cutting operational costs and increasing productivity. That is a massive success and the workers of ESB are to be congratulated. And I am aware of the impact rising fuel prices will have on the bottom line, but there seems to be no case for inflicting a heavy price increase on consumers when the company is so financially healthy and rising costs are causing such hardship across the state.
"I am calling on the Commission for Energy Regulation to refuse the ESB permission for a price increase this year." ENDS
Sinn Féin Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has said that the conviction of a Lurgan based former RIR man for possession of ammunition provides further compelling evidence to support the demand for the immediate scrapping of the RIR.
Mr O'Dowd also described as astonishing the sentence - a £250 fine - given to the RIR soldier for the his second conviction for the possession of ammunition.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"This is the second time that this RIR man has been convicted in relation to possession of ammunition. Can anyone imagine a nationalist walking out of court a free man after telling the story this RIR man relayed to the court, never mind getting a £250 fine for a second arms offence. Any nationalist convicted in similar circumstances would have undoubtedly received a prison sentence.
"This case shows the blatant discriminatory nature of the judicial system. It also again shows why nationalist are correct to be deeply concerned about the RIR and the activities of its members both in and out of uniform.
"This comes in the middle of the Castlereagh collusion scandal where RIR personnel were suspended from duties including manning observation posts in nationalist areas following an investigation into the disappearance of a document containing the names of hundreds of people.
"The RIR and UDR have a track record of collusion with unionist paramilitaries. Few nationalists will doubt that this illegal cache of ammunition was destined for use by unionist paramilitaries. Similarly few will doubt that the document missing from Castlereagh is not now also in the hands of unionist paramilitaries.
"This is further compelling evidence, is any was needed, that the RIR is heavily involved in collusion with unionist paramilitaries. It is nothing more than an 'official' unionist paramilitary force. The RIR should go. While collusion continues to exists and the RIR remain nationalists will have little confidence in the ability of the British government or the NIO to deliver of Good Friday Agreement commitments." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP for the Six Counties Bairbre de Brún, has today said that 'DUP belligerence towards the Irish language will not deter the campaign to have Irish recognised as a full official working language of the EU'.
Ms de Brún was responding to comments made by the DUP's Jim Allister MEP, who said that to make Irish an official language within the EU would be a 'waste of taxpayers money'.
Speaking today, Ms de Brún said:
"I am not surprised by Jim Allister's latest outburst on the status of the Irish language within the EU. The DUP have been consistently opposed to the principle of equality in all sectors of Irish society. DUP belligerence toward the Irish language will not deter those campaigning to have Irish recognised as a full official working language of the EU.
"This is about equality. Irish language activists and speakers have tirelessly lobbied to ensure that the Irish language will no longer be treated as a second-class language, either within the EU institutions or in Ireland. Mr Allister should understand that equality threatens no one.
"I welcome the current efforts by the Irish Government to seek the full official recognition of the Irish language within the EU. Sinn Féin MEPs are ready to assist those working toward this goal." ENDS
Commenting on the Flynn report on decentralisation implementation today, Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said: "This report vindicates Sinn Féin's criticism of the ill-planned and opportunistic manner in which the Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy and his colleagues have approached decentralisation. There was clearly no real consultation and no research to inform the decision-making process in terms of the numbers to be relocated and the chosen locations. This undermines the claim that this scheme is entirely voluntary and has led to justified concerns on the part of public servants and their families about their future career paths and quality of life.
"This Government had ample time to implement decentralisation in a coherent manner, maximising the undoubted benefits for public servants, for host communities and for our overcrowded capital city. Minister McCreevy signalled in his Budget speech in 1999 that he intended the biggest decentralisation scheme yet attempted. Yet nothing was done between '99 and 2003. Real research and real consultation would have come up with a realistic figure and a realistic time-scale for delivery.
"Instead, what did we get? We got a rabbit out of the hat in Budget 2004 with the figure of 10,300 posts seemingly plucked from thin air.
"The government chose to launch their plan as a pre-election initiative - first for the local and EU elections and then for the next General Election. The roll-out of the plan is timed for completion by the end of 2006, just months before the assumed date of the next General Election. This is not just an Opposition accusation. The Minister himself stated last March:
"The prospect of a hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully and I have made no secret of the reason why I set out a December 2006 deadline for decentralization."
"Sinn Féin supports much greater consultation with stakeholders, including staff and their unions and the prospective host communities. We believe the central aim should be to ensure that the maximum possible decentralisation is achieved consistent with the efficiency of State services, the rights of public and civil servants and the needs of the regions."ENDS
Sinn Fein Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has criticised the NIO for failure to genuinely engage in finding a resolution to the ongoing civil service dispute.
Ms Gildernew said:
"Some of the most marginalised people are suffering as a result of the refusal of British NIO Ministers to genuinely engage in finding a resolution to the ongoing civil service dispute. The elderly people in receipt of pensions, people on benefits, learner drivers, the farming community and many others are suffering because of the arrogance and inflexibility of NIO Ministers.
"Paul Murphy and Ian Pearson along with other senior managers within the NIO need to wake up to the urgency of this situation. It cannot be allowed to drift on forever. We need to see genuine dialogue without pre-conditions. In failing to sort out this dispute the NIO and British direct rule Ministers are failing everyone living in the Six Counties.
"It is a disgrace that the NIO and civil service management are refusing to recognise the legitimate concerns of the Trade Unions. Instead they have used threats and intimidation to make a difficult situation worse." ENDS
Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has called for an end to so-called roaming charges for mobile phone users throughout Ireland.
Ms Gildernew said:
"The European Commission carried out an investigation two years ago that concluded that Mobile Phone service providers are guilty of charging inflated 'roaming' tariffs.
"The investigation focused on the high cost of calls charged to travellers≠ abroad - mostly on holidays. But anyone here in Ireland that uses a mobile phone will be aware that this practice affects - on a daily basis - inhabitants that live in close proximity to or have to travel regularly cross border.
"Those travelling abroad are aware that using a mobile phone in a foreign country will incur additional costs. But living in close proximity to the border often results in involuntary 'roaming' charges being imposed on unsuspecting mobile users because of a competing stronger signal from the opposite side of the border. Mobile phone signals do not recognise borders and therefore short of turning the phone off when travelling there is no option but to pay. That is unless the mobile phone service providers cease to exploit their customers on either side of the border.
"The imposition of these 'roaming' charges is even more unacceptable given that the major providers operate throughout the island of Ireland. There is no rational explanation why the regulators North and South should not be able to co-operate in devising a formula for a single tariff for the 32 counties. The Minister responsible for Communications in the 26-counties has pledged to look into the practice and although O2 Ireland introduced an all-Ireland tariff for southern customers its sister company O2 UK that operates in the North has made no such provision.
"Sinn Féin have been in contact with the providers North and South to highlight this anomaly and while they acknowledged the problem and promised to investigate ways in which to address it, it is not being treated with the urgency it deserves.
"Despite the fact that roaming calls≠ account for only 5% of total calls made it is estimated that a disproportionate 15% of profits are derived from these calls.
"I have written to the regulators North and South requesting meetings to discuss this unfair practice and I will also be contacting both Ministers to request that they actively pursue measures to address the problem. I intend to continue in my efforts to have this practice eradicated and replaced by a system of fair and equitable charges for service provided which is not impacted by where on this island a person lives." ENDS
A Sinn Fein delegation including South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton and Lisburn councillor Paul Butler have meet with the Eastern Health Board to discuss concerns about the arrangements to provide out-of-hours GP services.
Speaking after meeting EHSSB representatives in Belfast City Hall Mr Maskey said:
"Sinn Fein have particular concerns about the arrangements to provide out-of-hours cover in West Belfast and in the area between Inner East and Inner South Belfast. It is also clear that there are important financial limitations on the level of out-of-hours cover that can be provided. It is vital that the direct rule Health Minster Angela Smith ensure that sufficient resources are committed so that communities such throughout Belfast are not left exposed and vulnerable.
"These are vital services that are particularly used by families and the elderly. Under these plans EHSSB estimate that 95% of patients would be able to access an out-of-hours centre by car in less than 15 minutes and 99% in less than ∏ hour. Given the higher levels of need associated with working class areas coupled with the low levels of car ownership it is wrong to judge access times on car travel times. The rule of thumb should be that they are no more than one bus journey away. This cannot be argued about any of these centres.
"Sinn Féin greatest concern is that none of the out-of-hours centres are in areas that could be considered to be neutral, but in areas that the nationalist community will feel unsafe to travel to.
"It is not about being prescriptive about where services are located but the bottom line is these proposals will have an adverse impact on working class communities and the nationalist community in particular." ENDS
Note to Editors
From the 1st January 2005 the EHSSB will have responsibility for providing out-of-hours services in the greater Belfast area. They will be responsible for out-of-hours GP services that run from 630pm- 8am Monday - Friday and all weekend, including Bank Holidays. These account for 40,000 attendances at out-of-hours centres and 20,000 home visits per annum by GPs.
The current EHSSB proposals are for new out-of-hours centres at:
· Close to the Mater Hospital initially and then probably at the new Primary Care Centre at Lincoln Ave
· Forster Green Site, Saintfield Rd
· Lagan Valley Hospital
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has challenged senior unionist politicians to give an opinion on the ongoing Castlereagh security scandal.
Mr Maskey said:
"The ongoing silence of the British government in the face of this developing security scandal centred on Castlereagh and spy posts in nationalist areas has been matched by the silence of unionist politicians.
"This approach is in stark contrast to previous events in Castlereagh when the British alleged republicans were involved in gathering intelligence. Then the unionist politicians demanded full disclosure. They demanded compensation for those allegedly put at risk. They of course collapsed the political institutions on the basis of briefings from discredited British sources.
"However since the details of this scandal began to emerge no senior unionist politician has spoken. Their hypocrisy is clear. It is becoming fairly obvious that they have little interest in the lives of nationalists and republicans being put at risk. They have little interest in the RIR being investigated for colluding with unionist paramilitaries.
" The British government who are leading the cover-up and the unionist parties who are assisting them in it need to realise that this issue like Brian Nelson before will not simply go away. Nationalists know only to well the reality of collusion and the effects it can have on an entire community. Sinn Féin will continue to raise this issue with the two governments until the truth about this scandal emerges and those currently in danger are informed." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has criticised the government for its failure once again to provide justice for the victims of the 1974 Dublin & Monaghan bombings. Mr Crowe was speaking after reports yesterday that the government intends to establish a private inquiry into the garda investigation of the bombing and the missing documentation.
Deputy Crowe said:
'At the 30th anniversary of the Dublin & Monaghan bombings, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern turned up at the memorial on Talbot Street and listened to relatives of those killed speaking about the pain they still feel and heard how only a fully independent public inquiry into the deaths of their loved ones could bring an end to that pain. Having supported the families in this way, Mr Ahern should now give these people the inquiry that they deserve and this state owes them. He can no longer allow people to hide behind private inquiries.
"While the garda investigation has to be examined, the collusion surroundings these bombings does not stop there, as the government well knows. By failing to open a full inquiry into the atrocity, is the government saying it finds it acceptable for a foreign government to collude in the bombing of its citizens?
"The government has spent 30 years prevaricating on this issue. The families don‚t need another private inquiry. They don't need an interim inquiry. They need one efficient and effective inquiry with the power to compel outside elements to comply with it. An inquiry lacking these essential elements will not win any support from these families. Mr Ahern's predecessors have let down the victims of 1974 too many times. He has now joined their ranks."ENDS
Responding to the publication of the Report on Investigations into the Affairs of National Irish Bank, Sinn Féin TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the report represented a massive indictment of NIB and of the whole banking culture in the state. He went on to call for a Whistleblowers Charter and for a complete re-examination of the regulatory framework established for financial institutions in recent years.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh, "Heads must roll. There can be no slap on the wrist in this instance. NIB and many of its senior executives and management have been exposed as cheats and robbers. They must be punished accordingly.
"Today's report is a massive indictment of the National Irish Bank and indeed of the whole banking culture which has prevailed for many years in this State. It is also an indictment of successive Governments and the Central Bank who failed to regulate the sector. On the contrary they rewarded the banks hugely as beneficiaries of this State's low Corporation Tax rate.
"What this report clearly shows is the need for a complete re-examination of the regulatory framework established in recent years. Clearly there are lessons to be learned and our regulatory system must be improved.
"This report also highlights the need for a Whistleblowers Charter to protect employees of financial institutions who reveal the rip-off of customers. Indeed Sinn Féin would argue that bank customers and bank staff should have representation on the boards of banks as a means of limiting the opportunities of senior executives from engaging in this type of illegal activity." ENDS
A motion was passed at a meeting of party activists in Donegal last night,calling for the government to set up a full public inquiry into the killing of Sinn Féin Councillor Eddie Fullerton. Sinn Féin Cllr. Pearse Doherty, who attended the activist meeting said the Morris Tribunal had proved beyond any doubt the need for a full public inquiry into the Donegal Councillor's death.
Mr Doherty said:
"The Morris Tribunal raises very serious questions in relation to the 1991 assassination of Eddie Fullerton, who was gunned down in his home by a loyalist death squad. A senior Garda officer, under investigation by the Tribunal, was centrally involved in the totally inadequate Garda investigation into Eddie's death.
"The Tribunal has proved beyond any doubt the urgent need for an full independent and public inquiry, that will uncover the truth not only behind the murder of Eddie Fullerton, but also examine the role the Gardaí played in the cover up that followed. Eddie's family have been waiting 13 years for justice. In light of the Morris Tribunal's revelations, the government cannot put off that justice any longer.
"Eddie's family want to know:
-Why there has been no real investigation into his death
-Why after all these years the Gardaí have never called to see Eddie‚s wife to provide an update on how the investigation was progressing
-Why key witnesses were never interviewed
-Why crucial leads were never followed up
-Why Garda removed material from the crime scene belonging to the victim, instead of concentrating on obvious forensic evidence left by the killers
-More recently, why suggestions of MI5 and FRU collusion have not been addressed."ENDS
West Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley has challenged the academic responsible for a front page story in this mornings Irish News concerning a game supposedly being played by young children in the area mimicking sectarian clashes to produce evidence for his theory.
Cllr. Hartley said:
" This mornings front page story in the Irish News quotes extensively from a Coleraine based academic concerning a game he says is being played in nationalist areas of West Belfast which he calls 'catholic and protestants'. I have to say as someone who has worked and lived in West Belfast my entire life I have never witnessed or heard of this game.
" Is this academic really suggesting that children in West Belfast are going out and spending £40 or £50 on Rangers jerseys simply to play this game? I think not. This sort of story is fairly typical of what this community has come to expect from so called experts and academics who have little or no understanding of working class communities.
" This Professor should produce the evidence or the pictures of groups of young nationalists running around West Belfast in Rangers jerseys. Surely if this was the case it would not have been difficult for a photograph to have been produced to accompany the article.
" It would be more beneficial if academics like Prof. Cairns turned their attentions to seeking mechanisms to bring our divided communities together rather than indulging in some upper class fantasy view of life within our community." ENDS
Waterford Sinn Féin Cllr. David Cullinane has said he is not surprised at the news yesterday that the highest numbers of people presenting for drug treatment in Ireland are in the South East of the country. Cllr. Cullinane was speaking after the publication of a study from the Health Research Board which revealed that drug-related problems have trebled outside the Eastern Regional Health Authority's area in recent years. Cllr. Cullinane said the government first needed to accept that the drugs problem goes further than Dublin and then come to terms with the fact its drugs policies aren't working.
Cllr. Cullinane said:
"There is nothing new in this study today and truthfully, I am not surprised at its findings. The South-East has always been a gateway for drugs coming into Ireland, making its inhabitants even more vulnerable to their clutches. Today there are very few towns or villages that have escaped the effects of the drug scourge, but the government seems to think that only Dublin has a drugs problem. Unless it starts to tackle the growing drug culture throughout Ireland, by addressing social and economic inequalities, drugs will continue to be a fact of life in our society and the government will have condemned future generations to the consequences of drug abuse.
"Sinn Féin is calling for:
-the establishment of community drug teams involving local GPs, social workers, voluntary and community agencies in areas already affected by the problem;
-the 'Drug Prevention Programme' (Primary schools) and the 'On Your Own Two Feet' Programme (Secondary schools) to be implemented in all schools;
-greater recognition and strengthening of community involvement in tackling this issue;
-local drugs task forces to be truly representative of communities and community groups to be given equal status and funding with the statutory and voluntary groups at decision-making level of these task forces;
-all local authorities to follow the courageous example of those corporations who have faced up to known drug dealers and refused to house them;
-the immediate development and introduction of long-term rehabilitation programmes which equip young people for a purposeful life after drug addiction.
"If the government takes the initiative and implements these measures, we can start to bring an end to this heart-breaking problem."ENDS
Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MLA, Gereldine Dougan has expressed anger at the decision of the Parades Commission's to overturn its' determination on a Loyalist Band parade in Maghera. Ms Dougan said:
"This is a disgraceful decision. In recent days and weeks Loyalist paramilitaries have been actively targeting nationalists in the town. The decision to reverse the ban on this Loyalist Band parade coming through mainly nationalist areas in Maghera is wrong. There will be the perception that the Parades Commission has caved into to threats of Loyalist violence.
"This flawed u-turn will cause major disruption to the town and result in nationalists being hemmed into their own homes by the PSNI to facilitate this coat trailing exercise.
"It will heighten tensions at a time when nationalists are already angry about the way that the Parades Commission caved in to threats of Loyalist violence on the Springfield Road and how the PSNI overturned a Parades Commission determination to facilitate loyalists in Ardoyne and Lurgan." ENDS
Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has said that the latest figures for mortgage repossession showing yet another increase in the number repossessions - up 32% on the same quarter last year indicate that the underlying problems with the housing market are not being addressed.
Mr McCann said:
"The increase in the number of mortgage repossession, up 32%, should send out a warning signal that there are still very serious problems with the housing market. In the last quarter there were 597 writs and originating summonses relating to mortgages issued. This is more than in any other quarter since 1999.
"There are clearly not enough properties available within the public housing market to meet demand. Housing Executive waiting lists remain stubbornly high. Increasing house prices also put young families in particular at a disadvantage and the increasing numbers of evictions indicate that many people are being forced to take on mortgages that are unsustainable.
"Until we take steps to put in place a housing strategy that meets the need that exists these problems will remain.
"We also need to address the very serious ongoing problem of homelessness - during the period January to March 2004 nearly 5,000 families presented as homeless. There is no capacity within the Housing Executive stock to deal with this or the ongoing demand to tackle the waiting lists that are particularly acute within nationalists areas where even people with priority A1 status are not being housed." ENDS
Commenting on the outcome of the High Court case taken by four County Monaghan women seeking the restoration of the Maternity Unit at Monaghan General Hospital, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson and Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said it "in no way diminishes" the case for the restoration of the unit and he called on the Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin to act.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"The four women from Co. Monaghan who took this case deserve praise for their tenacity in pursuing it to the High Court. The negative judgement in no way
diminishes the case for the restoration of the Maternity Unit at Monaghan. On the contrary, the Minister for Health and Children should listen once more to
the voices of the people of Co. Monaghan who were fully behind this case. It was another avenue they were forced to pursue after this Government ignored the long-running campaign for the restoration and development of services at the hospital, including petitions, public meetings, marches, vigils and the united
views of virtually all elected representatives and public bodies in County Monaghan. The campaign in defence of the hospital will and must go on."ENDS
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has given a cautious welcome to the shelving of plans to build a lignite mine near Ballymoney.
Mr McGuigan said:
" Whilst the removal of Ballymoney Power's mining application must be warmly welcomed, we must not assume that this is the end of the matter. There is always the threat of a fresh application to develop a mine and the community needs to be kept informed of any such move.
"Sinn Féin will continue to monitor any future moves by this company and will continue to support the good work of our local anti-lignite mining group, who have done sterling work in protecting local people's health, environment and livelihoods."
Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Social Development, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has called on British direct rule Minister John Spellar to explain how socially deprived areas will be better off with the introduction of the Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme if there is no new money available.
Mr McCann said:
"After months of consultation, discussions and meetings, one thing that was evident is that there will be no new money available to deal with socially deprived areas that have suffered decades of neglect. Without a significant injection of new additional money all that is being proposed is a reallocation of existing resources or something akin to the rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.
"The reality may be that without new money that groups from the community and voluntary sector that have done so much to meet the needs of an area are forced to close under the new scheme. John Spellar, who I will be seeking urgent assurances from, needs to explain how the loss of such groups can possibly benefit these areas.
"John Spellar needs to recognise that socially deprived communities are entitled to more resources. The failure to commit to extra resources for these communities highlights the failure of direct rule Ministers and others within the NIO to get to grips with the Equality Agenda and the absolute requirement for change within our society." ENDS
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has welcomed the announcement that stand-alone Midwife units have been given the green light.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"Sinn Fein have argued for the establishment of stand alone Midwife led maternity units for a considerable time.
"The development of these units has the potential to transform the birthing experience of mothers. It offers them greater control and say and should enable women to get even greater support throughout pregnancy.
"I would urge Trusts and Boards to rise to the challenge of developing these units within their area. It will allow the development maternity services closer to the home of expectant mothers." ENDS