Sinn Fein's EU Candidate for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald today accused the Irish Government of having "no backbone over the 'Big Three Summit' meeting in Berlin". Germany, France and Britain are holding the summit meeting today (18.02.04), to discuss a range of European issues. This meeting will take place just in advance of a major meeting of the European Council in March.
Responding to the Berlin Summit, Ms McDonald said:
"Sinn Fein is concerned that the three most powerful nations in Europe - Germany, France and Britain, are holding a meeting regarding key European issues such as economic growth, immigration and the European constitution. This meeting will be held behind closed doors, and without consultation with the other member states".
"The very fact that the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern does not seem unduly concerned by this meeting, serves to highlight the attitude of the Irish government towards the increasingly elitist and exclusive private club that the EU is being transformed into. Indeed, his lack of concern is not shared by many of his EU counterparts, as both the Spanish and Italian Premiers have protested about their exclusion from the talks. During the Irish Presidency, Mr Ahern should be ensuring a more inclusive dialogue between member states, rather than supporting exclusive meetings by powerful nations. It has become quite clear that Mr Ahern has shown no backbone over the 'Big Three Summit‚ in Berlin, nor indeed any compulsion to try to halt the emerging two-speed‚ Europe.
"This is not the first time that such meetings with selective agendas and selective invitees have occurred. The changing structures of the EU, through the Draft Constitution, facilitate and indeed, encourage such elitist activities by the larger nations. Sinn Fein is concerned that the two tier Europe which we have consistently argued against, is increasingly becoming a reality." ENDS
Reacting to proposals from Policing Board Chairperson Des Rea and the Vice Chair Denis Bradley regarding the issue of truth recovery, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly said:
"In a sense there are two issues raised by Des Rea's comments. There is the issue of human rights abusers within the current policing structures and then there is the separate issue of developing a truth recovery process.
"Des Rea is the Chairperson of the Policing Board. The fact is that the RUC moved en masse into the PSNI. This means that at the heart of the current policing arrangements are those human rights abusers who organised and participated in a campaign of terror against the nationalist community. These people should not be involved in the current policing arrangements. If Des Rea's announcement today is about protecting these people and maintaining their role within existing policing structures then that is totally unacceptable.
"The proposal for a commission to report on this issue will in effect become another stalling mechanism. In the case of Pat Finucane all of the key people involved were British agents and we have already had 15 years of stalling aimed at preventing the truth emerging. The British State is desperately trying to hide the truth. Are the senior figures in the Policing Board including Denis Bradley now telling the Finucane family and others that they support continued stalling.
"Last September Sinn Féin attempted to begin a debate around the issue of truth when we published a consultation document on the issue. That work is continuing under my colleague Philip McGuigan.
"Different families of those killed throughout the past three decades have different models in mind to find the truth or closure. Some families want inquires and others want prosecutions. Many of the families I have spoken to want to know who was politically responsible for orchestrating and developing a campaign of State sponsored murder in the North.
"Sinn Féin has consistently supported families and we will continue to do this.
"Sinn Féin's position is that we want to see the truth and the development of a victim based process to achieve this." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy has said that a report by the Police Ombudsman finding no evidence of wrongdoing regarding the PSNI political raid on the Sinn Féin Offices in Stormont was flawed.
Mr Murphy said:
"In my opinion this determination from the Police Ombudsman is deeply flawed. It simply repeats information given to it by the PSNI and passes no judgement on its reliability.
"The Ombudsman seems content to believe a cock and bull story from the PSNI that hundreds of PSNI personnel happened to be wearing riot gear at 9am in the morning when they were supposedly drafted in at the last minute to take part in the raid.
"They quote the apology from Hugh Orde but fail to identify the wrongdoing for which Mr Orde was publicly apologising.
"The fact is that the raid on Stormont was part of a politically motivated operation carried out by Special Branch to undermine the political process. The street theatre at Stormont with armoured jeeps and riot police was an essential part of the overall operation.
"I will be taking this matter back to the party's legal advisers and I intend to proceed further with this case." ENDS
Sinn Féin MLAs Bairbre de Brún and Alex Maskey this afternoon met with US Congressman Jim Walsh at the US Consulate in Belfast. Speaking after the meeting Ms de Brún said that the meeting provided 'a valuable opportunity to update Congressman Walsh on the current state of the Peace Process and present him with a briefing document on the shredding of the electoral Register here in the North'.
Ms de Brún said:
"As the Chairperson of the US Congress Friends of Ireland Group Congressman Walsh has been a strong supporter of the development of the Irish Peace Process over many years. Today's meeting provided us with an opportunity to update Congressman Walsh on the current state of the peace process.
"We impressed upon him our belief that there is an effort being made to present the current difficulties as a problem of IRA violence and of the parties refusing to share power. This is false. Sinn Féin has set our face against violence, and the parties which refuse to share power are the unionists.
"An added difficulty is the refusal by the governments, especially the British, to deliver on their commitments and we again raised the issue of collusion and the failure to act on the Cory Report at today's meeting.
"We presented Congressman Walsh with a briefing document detailing the decimation of the Electoral Register and the damaging effect this has had in undermining confidence in the electoral process at a time when all of our efforts have been on establishing the primacy of politics in the North." ENDS
Speaking during the Report stage of the Aer Lingus Bill 2003 Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe TD accused the Minister for Transport of blindly pursuing a privatisation agenda in relation to the sell off of Aer Lingus and of deliberately initiating confrontations with public sector unions. Deputy Crowe said:
"Sinn Féin is completely opposed to plans to sell off Aer Lingus. This Government, and the Minister himself in particular, present a clear danger to semi-State companies with their blind faith in market forces and in privatisation and sell-off as the solution to our economic problems. In less than two years the Minister has managed to initiate confrontations with a variety of public sector unions and exacerbate the situation by refusing to negotiate except through media soundbites.
"The legislation gives the Minister for Finance the power to sell off the company any time he sees fit. When the decision is made, the general principles of the Bill, which could be as vague as the Minister desires, and judging by his proposals to break up Aer Rianta and CIE we can expect a high level of vagueness, will be voted through by the voting fodder on the Government backbenches after the Opposition is allowed some time to talk about what a bad deal it is.
"It is because the amendment made no real difference to the ability of the Government to sell off the company that Minister Brennan had no difficulty accepting it. Whether the Minister for Finance can sell shares at the drop of a hat or has to come to the Dáil for a rubber stamp does not make a great deal of difference in the end of the day. This Bill is still primarily about the desire of the Government to sell off Aer Lingus, using the employee share ownership plan as a cover.
"Aer Lingus is an extremely successful, and profitable, company and a valuable state asset. This Government is not capable of exercising the powers that would be granted it under this legislation and so my amendments are designed to restrict its abilities to do so." ENDS
Speaking during the report and final stages of the Industrial Relations (miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2003, Sinn Féin TD and spokesperson on Enterprise Arthur Morgan criticised the Social Partnership Process for failing to deliver any real improvements to the lives of the workers of the State.
Deputy Morgan said:
"As I have said in this house on previous occasions, this government is anti-union and it is no surprise that it is anti-union in that it is presided over by the man responsible for the introduction of the most vicious piece of anti-union legislation on the statute books - the Industrial Relations Act 1990 which was designed to crack down on Union activity. This Bill merely represents the scraps from the IBEC table thrown to workers during the most recent round of Social Partnership talks.
"The Government and employers' organisations are making workers bargain or more accurately beg for rights, which are justly theirs, as part of the wider social partnership deal. These are not concessions. Employer recognition of unions, compliance with labour legislation and the fulfilling of statutory redundancy rights are all basic workplace rights. These should not even be on the negotiating table. Legislation to enshrine Union recognition in law is long overdue and many will draw their own conclusions from the fact that Social Partnership has failed to deliver this most fundamental workers' right. This Government must do more to tackle low pay and ensure that workers in this State receive a living wage.
"This Bill should have been used as an opportunity to enshrine Union recognition in law. That it has not done so is profoundly unsatisfactory. This Bill makes no meaningful change to existing legislation." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD for Louth and spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan responded today to the increase in motor taxation saying it "represents yet another attempt by this government to raise revenue through inequitable taxes."
Deputy Morgan said:
"Sinn Féin has time and again addressed the Government's habit of addressing revenue shortfalls through stealth taxes rather than through the general taxation system. There is no concern at Government level of the impact that measures such as this unwarranted increase in motor tax will have on the less well off. All policies and in particular tax policies should be poverty-proofed to asses their impact.
"We strongly support public transport and believe that proper funding for public transport must be a government priority. This government needs to begin the process of enabling people to move away from the excessive use of private vehicles which is both damaging to the environment and causes huge traffic problems. However because this State has a severe deficiency of public transport - particularly in rural areas - people are unable to make the change to public transport. Rural citizens suffer disproportionately as a result of measures such as this motor tax increase as they have absolutely no choice but to use private transport. Young motorists in particular are currently crippled by insurance, tax and increasingly by tolls on the State's motorways.
"Rather than introducing this increased taxation on all motorists, the Minister should be introducing measures linked to usage, such as a carbon tax, which would encourage people to move towards public transport. Such a move is urgently needed to reduce CO2 emissions in this State, which have grown well beyond the limits permitted by the Kyoto protocol. The State is facing enormous fines or alternatively spending huge amounts of revenue on emissions trading.
This State should take its responsibilities seriously and should not resort solely to emission trading. The national exchequer will benefit from any actions which result in a reduction in emissions."ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly Member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly along with party colleague Paul Butler this morning attended the launch of the Coiste na n-iarchimí (Republican ex prisoners groups) proposals for the future of the Long Kesh site.
Mr Kelly said:
"I welcome the launch of this document by Coiste na n-iarchimí a group which represents 20 separate ex prisoner projects across the island. It is right and proper that former prisoners, many of whom spent many years in Long Kesh, have their say on the future of the site.
"It is Sinn Féín's belief that at a minimum one of the cages, the hospital block, a H-Block and the administration area should be retained as well as any documentation or records relating to the Hunger Strike period for use in a future museum.
"It would be our intention to meet with the committee tasked to bring forward proposals for the site in the coming weeks and publish our own ideas for the future of Long Kesh at that time." ENDS
Commenting after a Belfast court dismissed an application by UPRG representative Frank McCoubrey for a Judicial review aimed at unseating West Belfast MP Gerry Adams, party Councillor Paul Maskey said:
"It was evident from the start of this case that it had no basis in law or indeed fact. Gerry Adams has consistently represented people from all areas of West Belfast. He was elected at the last Westminster election with one of the largest majorities in the six counties.
"The application for a Judicial Review taken by loyalist Councillor Frank McCoubrey was this morning dismissed in court. This decision was inevitable given the shallow nature of the case which included a petition signed by people listing various public houses and drinking clubs in North and West Belfast as their addresses and by leading members of the notorious UDA C Company including Johnny Adair.
"Gerry Adams will continue to represent all of the people of West Belfast. The constituency service which his office provides in second to none a fact which can be confirmed by the people in unionist areas of West Belfast who have had occasion to use it over the years." ENDS
Sinn Féin MLA's including Housing Spokesperson Fra McCann (West Belfast), Kathy Stanton (North Belfast), John O‚Dowd (Upper Bann), Francie Brolly (East Derry), Willie Clarke (South Down), Michelle Gildernew (Fermanagh South Tyrone) and Geraldine Dougan (Mid Ulster) will be briefed by the Chief Executive of the Housing Executive Paddy McIntyre and Head of Client Services Colm Mcaughley on housing issues tomorrow, Thursday 19th February, at 10am in Stormont Buildings.
Issues that will be addressed in the meeting include: -
· Anti-social Behaviour
· Disability Adaptations
· Rural Housing
· Housing Sales Scheme
· Grants Scheme
· Housing Need/New Build
· Affordable Housing
Speaking ahead of the meeting Fra McCann said:
"There is a housing crisis facing us. Across the board it is clear that many aspects of housing policy are failing to meet need, particularly on the issue of dealing with problem tenants and the anti-social behaviour legislation, the homelessness strategy and the demand for more social housing." ENDS
Commenting on reports that the PSNI are seeking to build their new training facility in Cookstown, local MP Martin McGuinness said that many local people would be uneasy at the proposal given the many outstanding questions which need to be resolved over policing.
Mr McGuinness said:
"The overwhelming majority of people in this area support the Sinn Féin position on policing. They would be uneasy at the construction of a PSNI training facility while the business of achieving an acceptable policing service is still ongoing.
"In recent times we have read the report into the murder of Sean Brown in Mid Ulster, we have seen the PSNI refusing to co-operate with the inquests into the killings of Roasanne Mallon and nine others in Tyrone. There is the continuing issue of the British government failure to publish the Cory report and their failure to demilitarise policing in the north.
"It can also be assumed that any PSNI college will be used to train recruits in the use of plastic bullets and other repressive measures and it will not have at its core the Human Rights ethos demanded by the Patten Report.
"Sinn Féin's focus will continue to be on getting policing right and we will not be distracted from that task by speculation surrounding the siting of the new PSNI training facility." ENDS
Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has demanded that Ian Pearson 'stop acting like a bully boy' and begin proper negotiations with the Civil Service union. Ms Gildernew's comments come after reports that a member of staff involved in the industrial action has been suspended.
Ms Gildernew said:
"Ian Pearson claims to belong to a Labour party. Yet he is prepared to stand by and watch Trade Union members involved in industrial action be suspended from their jobs.
"It would be more appropriate for Mr Pearson to stop acting like a bully boy and sit down with the Union representatives and negotiate an end to the current dispute." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD has welcomed the decision by the EU Committee on Petitions to examine the issues raised by retired Irish farmers who feel that they are being hard done by under the Single Farm Payment. A number of groups who represent farmers who took part in the Early Retirement Scheme have raised concerns about the manner in which their entitlements are being established under the new decoupled payment.
Deputy Ferris said: "While I have welcomed full decoupling as part of the reform of the CAP, I have been aware for some time of the difficulties that are facing those farmers who took part in the ERS. They now feel that they are going to lose out due to the manner in which their entitlements will be established over the reference years chosen by the Department.
"This has come up before the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture where Minister Walsh and his officials, and members like myself, have been made aware of the problems that exist. The Committee will be making recommendations regarding the operation of the scheme to which I will contribute. However, I also hope that the immediate issues regarding the Single Farm Payment will be addressed in a substantial way by the Department. Hopefully, the examination of the petition will help to clarify some of these." ENDS
West Belfast Sinn Féín Assembly member Michael Ferguson has accused the PSNI of engaging in a stunt after they distributed questionnaires throughout the Andersonstown area seeking the views of the community on the closure of their military spy base in the area and he also raised concerns about where information gathered will end up.
Mr Ferguson said:
"The decision of the PSNI to post out questionnaires in the Andersonstown area to seek the views of the community on the future of their military base in the area shows just how out of touch they are with the community they are supposed to serve.
" The people of West Belfast have made it abundantly clear what they think of having a spy post in the heart of the local community. It should be closed down and the land passed to the local community for the benefit of all.
" Given the track record of the PSNI and the RUC in gathering information and passing it on to the unionist death squads many people believe that this trawl for information may have sinister motives. For these reasons it is my belief that the vast majority of people will simply ignore this sort of PSNI stunt." ENDS
Responding to the publication of the Garda Siochána Bill 2004 today, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said he "recognised that improvements had been made" to the Minister's original proposals but that the Bill was still deficient. He went on to say, "We need to get this critical area of public policy exactly right, not partly right".
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"We are still considering this lengthy 86-page Bill. We recognise the changes and welcome the improvements that have been made since the Heads of the Bill were published last summer but having said that, we want to give it the detailed consideration it deserves.
"It is clear that some of these changes have been introduced as a result of the proposals put forward by both Sinn Féin and human rights groups who have taken an active interest in this issue.
"And while we welcome the increased powers the Minister intends to give to his 'Ombudsman Commission', from my reading the Bill still falls far short, particularly in relation to one area of specific concern - that is the lack of power to conduct retrospective investigations. If we are to redress the legacy of the deficiencies that have existed in relation to the Garda Complaints Authority, the power to conduct retrospective investigations is crucial.
"We are also not convinced that the Minister's reforms will provide for sufficient civilian oversight, transparency and local accountability. We acknowledge that he has introduced some changes to his original proposals but both the Minister and the Garda Commissioner still retain too much discretionary power under the Bill as published.
"This is a critical area of public policy. We must get it exactly right not - partly right.
"We believe it is still possible to achieve a Bill that is based on international best practice and which could achieve consensus support across all political parties, and the endorsement of the human rights sector, including the Irish Human Rights Commission. And while we recognise that improvements have been made, we are not there yet. This Bill is still deficient." ENDS
Sinn Féín Prisons spokesperson Gerry Kelly has said that he is concerned that ordinary prisoners in Maghaberry have been held in a lockdown regime for almost four weeks simply because they happen to share the same block as the loyalist inmates who damaged the accommodation in the prison last month.
Mr Kelly said;
"Families of prisoners serving sentences in the Bann House wing in Maghaberry have contacted my office concerned that the men who are not part of any protest have been on a lockdown regime for almost four weeks. That means that they are confined to their cells 23 hours each day. These men are housed on a separate landing from the loyalist prisoners.
" The justification being given for the lockdown regime by the prison authorities is that the loyalist inmates who damaged the jail are also housed in the same block.
" This is communal punishment and it should cease. Prisoners do have rights and these rights must be respected." ENDS
Sinn Fein Housing Spokesperson Fra McCann has called for changes in Housing Legislation to allow the Housing Executive to start building new homes.
Mr McCann said:
"The current situation where the Housing Executive cannot drive forward a major building strategy is a disaster. It means that we are not nearly meeting our targets in terms of providing social housing The result is longer waiting lists, greater housing stress, more overcrowding and a huge demand for social housing.
"We need to radically review the current strategy because the reality is that the current housing strategy is failing to meet need. The Housing Executive is well placed to be the central driver in a major strategy of social housing build.
"The current hotch potch of social housing providers means that there is any strategic overview is lost. There needs to be a level playing field for the Housing Executive in the provision of social housing. It is the only way that we will begin to meet our housing need." ENDS
Dublin South East Sinn Féin is launching a major campaign against incineration and for a proper waste management strategy for Dublin City. This campaign, which is being supported by party spokespersons on the Environment Arthur Morgan TD and Willie Clarke MLA, will involve protests at the proposed site of an incinerator at Ringsend, lobbying of politicians locally and nationally, ongoing consultation with the local community and a waste management charter which we will be asking people to sign. Speaking at the launch of the waste management charter - Towards Zero Waste, Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East Daithí Doolan said:
"There is a real waste management crisis in this country. Landfill sites are overflowing, and illegal dumping is widespread. Instead of a comprehensive and effective waste management system being implemented across the island, we have seen plans for a network of incinerators as the primary response to this crisis. Sinn Féin is campaigning for an all-Ireland strategy to combat waste and pollution, a strategy based on waste reduction, reuse and recycling.
"Unlike the government who feel it necessary to bring in draconian legislation to assist them in their plan to impose hazardous incinerators in our cities and towns. We will consult, engage and respond to peoples needs
"We are calling on elected representatives from all parties, environmental groups, community organisations, rural and agricultural groups and the business sector to sign up to this charter and strengthen the campaign for a long term solution to our waste management crisis.
"We also fully understand that the causes and consequences of our waste crisis knows no borders or boundaries. So those in Sinn Féin are in the unique position to implement this charter on an all Ireland basis. All our communities are affected by a waste crisis, all our communities will be affected by incineration and it is up to all of us to implement an environmentally sustainable response. And it is with this charter we hope to play our part and we encourage all others to join with us and do the same."ENDS
Towards Zero Waste
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Human Rights and Equality, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has challenged NIO Minister John Spellar to clarify his position on Asylum Seekers after it emerged that he has shunned Asylum Seekers by withdrawing his constituency services from Asylum Seekers at his West Midlands constituency of Warley last year.
Ms Ruane said:
"It has emerged that John Spellar withdrew his constituency services from Asylum Seekers at his West Midlands constituency of Warley on the grounds that he was only prepared to see anyone who was 'on the electoral register' and that he regarded as 'proper constituents' who 'deserve any help' he could offer them. Such comments send out a very dangerous and worrying signal.
"Given the increase in racially motivated crime in the Six Counties it is vital that John Spellar publicly clarify his position on Asylum Seekers. Any failure to do so would only re-enforce the perception that within the NIO we have a Minister who is responsible for Human Rights who has scant understanding of the issues involved the vindication and promotion of the rights of all or in combating racism.
"Sinn Féin have called for the introduction of race hate legislation to be extended so that it covers incitement to hatred. In such circumstance anyone who promotes the idea that Asylum Seekers are not entitled to the same rights and protections as everyone else or are somehow not proper constituents and thus not deserving would be treading a very fine line.
"John Spellar has already lost the confidence of many nationalists over his role in supporting the killers of Peter McBride remaining in the British Army and now these latest revelations will only undermine any confidence in his ability to tackle major human rights issues such as the disgraceful detention of Asylum Seekers in Maghaberry or the major difficulties in a Human Rights Commission that is severely damaged and in urgent need to repair.
"In the context of over 200,000 people being wiped of the Electoral register his stance on recognising only people on the electoral register as 'proper constituents' also sends out a very very damaging signal. The British government are engaged in a massive act of electoral fraud and in John Spellar we have an NIO Minister who appears to regard people denied their democratic rights as not deserving." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said his party will be supporting the Dáil motion calling for a moratorium on electronic voting. He pointed out that Sinn Féin had highlighted the serious problems with the system shortly after it was announced, including the absence of any verifiable paper trail.
However, Deputy Ó Caoláin said Fine Gael has "spurned the opportunity to have the motion signed by the entire Opposition". He could only assume that this was "in preparation for Fine Gael's and Pat Rabbitte's hoped-for pre-General Election pact between Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party". Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"From the beginning we in Sinn Féin have identified the fundamental problems with the electronic voting system which this Government insists on imposing. While we support the idea of electronic voting using a kiosk type system we are calling for the Mercuri method to be applied where a paper copy of the vote, verified by the voter, is held for the purpose of independent recount. We are also calling for the design of the system to be publicly available for inspection by citizens and especially by Computer Science experts.
"It is anti-democratic for the government to forge ahead with this system in the face of widespread lack of trust among the public at large and among all the Opposition parties. Therefore Sinn Féin TDs will support the Dáil Private Members motion calling for deferral by Government of plans to use this system in the EU and local elections.
"Unfortunately Fine Gael have spurned the opportunity to have all the Opposition parties - and I would presume most of the Independents - sign up to the motion. This is ironic given that the motion itself notes the government's failure to 'consult with or seek agreement of the other parties' in the Dáil. The motion appears in the name of the Fine Gael, Labour and Green TDs. I can only presume that this is in preparation for the Fine Gael-Labour-Green pre-General Election pact which is hoped for by Fine Gael and by Labour leader Pat Rabbitte." ENDS