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Following recent media reports concerning a security breach at Castlereagh involving a member of the British Army, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly has spoken to the British Security Minister Ian Pearson seeking answers about the incident.

Mr Kelly said:

"It has been reported that a document with the details of up to 400 people is missing from Castlereagh PSNI base. There is speculation that this document is in the hands of loyalists.

"Mr Pearson has confirmed that a document is missing and that an investigation is under way.

"It has been speculated that that regiment involved is the RIR, a regiment with a long history of collusion with unionist paramilitaries.

"If people's details are missing from Castlereagh the very least that the British government need to do is to inform those people without any further delay. It is a disgrace that the British government have been sitting on this information for some weeks therefore putting people's lives in danger." ENDS

Editors Note: Mr Kelly will meet with Ian Pearson on Wednesday morning (21st July) and will discuss this matter further then.

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Speaking in advance of the publication of the latest report by the IMC, Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey said:

"The IMC is not part of the Good Friday Agreement. It operates outside the terms of the Agreement and has played a negative role in this process.

"The IMC has proven itself to be a willing tool of the British securocrats and nationalists in the six counties do not require the IMC to tell them that the British government have not delivered on their commitments to demilitarise." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MAL Fra McCann has expressed concern at the impact of proposed changes to the Housing Executive Sales Scheme and the extension of the right to buy to Housing Association tenants on the housing market.

Mr McCann said:

"The proposed changes to the right to buy scheme will hit many of those on the lowest rung of the property ladder hardest. The result will be to deny people the right to housing security and to invest in their own futures.

"The proposed changes will lengthen the qualifying period for eligibility, reduce the discount cap and extend the buyback option to ten years. These measures will mean that Housing Executive and Housing Association tenants will find it harder to buy their own homes. Yet, the move will do nothing to tackle the deficit in affordable social housing.

"Housing Executive tenants should be supported in buying their own homes. But at the same time we need to change the rules to allow the Housing Executive to use the money generated by sales to build new homes in order to meet the social housing need that exists out there.

"It is contradictory to try and limit the right to but while trying to expand the right. The reality is that the right to buy has had a very beneficial impact in terms of helping to create stable communities, in reducing anti-social behaviour as well as playing an important role in the provision of affordable housing in the first time buyer market." ENDS

Note to Editors

The proposed changes may be subject to amendment following consultation but will apply to all application received after May 18th 2004.

Key changes include:

  • Qualifying period for eligibility and discount extended from 2 to 5 years.
  • Discount will now begin at 20% after 5 years, rising by 1% a year up to a maximum of 60%.
  • The discount cap will be reduced from £34,000 to £24,000

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Sinn Fein Spokesperson on the Review of Public Administration, South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey responding to comments from British direct rule Minister Ian Pearson has expressed serious concern at the direction of the Review of Public Administration, has said that Equality must the central foundation upon which the review is built.

Mr Maskey said:

"It vital that changes to local government and public administration that comes as a result of this review are built upon the central foundation of equality. However, I am concerned at the current direction of the review that appears to be downgrading equality issues in favour of a singular focus functionality.

"People are being sidetracked by the issue of the number of councils when the focus should be on the ability of whatever we put in place of the current system of local government and public administration to address some of the very serious areas of inequality and discrimination that are still very much alive and well within the current pattern of local government. Rhetoric about efficiency cannot mask the need for equality. Quality services must be based on equal access and equal delivery.

"The review needs ensure that, in building new relationships, equality is the first issue on the agenda in addressing efficiency and effectiveness. Sinn Fein is also concerned that there should be no changes that reinforce or indeed exasperate the democratic deficit that already exists." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Pearse Doherty speaking at the MacGill summer school in Donegal this morning said "It is of huge concern that growing numbers of people are not voting, are not registered to vote and are not interested in politics." He called for pro-active policies to ensure that voters are registered, that people are empowered and that politics are made relevant.

Mr. Doherty said:

"The Local Government and European elections saw Sinn Féin's electoral and political strength substantially increased. We doubled our Local Government representation making crucial breakthroughs in Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway Waterford and Wexford. Across the island the party made gains with two EU seats and in my own case a near miss in the North West constituency. On the island we solidified our position as the third largest party and it is clear to all that Sinn Fein can substantially strengthen its Leinster House and Westminster representation in coming elections.

We do not fight elections for the sake of it, or hold elected office for something to do. The seats won by Sinn Féin in the recent elections do not belong to us as individuals or to the party. We hold them in trust for the people. Our responsibility is to represent the communities who elect us individually and collectively. And we have an over-riding national responsibility to work for Irish re-unification and for social and economic justice.

And while the elections were good for Sinn Féin there are broader issues of national concern which have to be addressed, particularly voter registration, the non-voting public and the deliberate absence of debate from campaign strategies and the media.

Elections are becoming increasing irrelevant for growing numbers of voters who are deciding not to vote and not to register to vote. They are not interested in politics and see the work of Councils, the Assembly, Leinster House and the European Parliament as being irrelevant to their day-to-day life. And in many ways this is not a surprising phenomenon.

These elections like many others in the 1990s was one untouched by any real discussion about policy. There wasn‚t any debate about the powers of local government, about CAP reform, infrastructural deficits or the EU Constitution.

We can‚t blame all of this on a fickle media. The political parties themselves have to shoulder some of the blame. For Fianna Fail the reasons were obvious. They didn‚t want a debate about their record in government. They didn‚t want the election to be a referendum on the coalition record so far.

Instead they sought in the months before the election to neutralise the issues. The two core examples of this are the issues of planning and the Hanly Report. In both cases a government fudge ended the debate and a smug government knew that serious damage had been averted as most floating voters make up their minds on voting intentions in the dying moments of the campaign when Hanly and planning were safely kicked to touch.

The larger opposition parties failed to drive these issues home.

The other notable aspect of campaign strategies was the infighting between other parties, such as Neachtain and McDaid in North West, Brady and Ryan in Dublin, McGuinness and Doyle in Leinster.

Is this the message we want to send to voters that elections are not about policy but just about carving up the spoils of office?

Opinion Polls

The last twenty plus years have seen a sea change in how political parties contest elections and how the media report them. Central to this is the use of opinion polls. They have become the framework on which campaigns are fought and how the media report them. For the media they mark a significant shift from reporting on news to creating it. Elections have in many cases become horse races in terms of media presentation as news headlines hinge not on policy positions or debates but on what individual or party is behind or ahead of another one. And their accuracy is often questionable. The 2002 surveys carried out by Irish Marketing Surveys was often wrong not just in its 50% vote share rating for Fianna Fail just days before polling day but in its selective use of opinion polls in constituencies that Sinn Fein were strong in.

I am not arguing for a ban on polls in the media, but there is a need for a healthy debate on the way we use polls, a debate that has not even begun. Maybe we should have a poll first on who is in favour of such a discussion

Voter Registration and non Voters

A lot of media comment in the aftermath of the election was devoted to the question of where did the Sinn Fein vote come from. The reality is that it came from many places ˆ new voters, voters who traditionally voted for other parties, those who had not voted in recent elections and critically they joined the growing number of people over the last decade who support Sinn Féin agenda for change. Since the 1990s we have been involved in what we term the active implementation of Connolly's re-conquest of Ireland. Throughout Ireland when Sinn Fein canvassers and activists knock doors their first question is to ask not for a vote for Sinn Fein, but to ask are they registered to vote at all. The second task is provide the back up of the how to register. Many councils have adopted progressive polices on this but voters need to know they have something worthwhile to register their vote for.

For many of the establishment parties it seems that they were quietly content to win elections where an ever decreasing number of voters actively participated. This is a hollow victory and now is beginning to backfire. In the Six Counties the active disenfranchisement of voters through new registration procedures is a travesty of democracy. Hundreds of thousands of voters have disappeared from the registers and this must be an issue for all parties across the island.

Sinn Féin is calling for a massive voter registration campaign across the island and for greater democracy, empowerment and accountability in politics."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has called on British Secretary of State and direct rule NUIO Minister Ian Pearson to show leadership in attempts to find a settlement to the long running civil service industrial dispute. Ms Gildernew's call comes after the dispute was extended to planning offices.

Ms Gildernew said:

"Despite talks between civil service management and trade unions there remain a number of barriers to the resolution of this long running dispute.

"British direct rule Ministers appear to have abdicated all responsibility for sorting out this mess. It is time that either Paul Murphy or Ian Pearson intervened because the talks appear to be going nowhere fast. Vulnerable people and communities are suffering as a result.

"I would urge greater flexibility in addressing the legitimate concerns of civil service members, particularly in respect of their outstanding pay demands otherwise I fear that the dispute will escalate further in the coming weeks." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has branded Green Party proposals to change the voting arrangements in a future Assembly as 'naive and displaying a complete lack of understanding of the rational for the checks and balances being inserted into the Good Friday Agreement in the first place'.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Green Party leader Trevor Sargent today launched a series of proposals which if adopted would greatly undermine the checks and balances system under which any Assembly here would operate.

"Northern nationalists and republicans lived for decades under a system of institutionalised discrimination and sectarianism. We were treated as second class citizens. There are many within the unionist political establishment who hark back to the days of domination. You only have to look at the unionist political participation in Orange parades to see evidence of that.

" The Green party proposals are aimed directly at the very checks and balances which are designed to ensure that this is never allowed to happen again. They are at best naïve and display a complete lack of understanding of the northern nationalist and republican perspective and experience." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA will be in London on Tuesday 20th July to brief MP's and Foreign Embassy's on recent events in Belfast and Lurgan surrounding Orange marches. Mr Mc Laughlin will also update them on the present state of the Irish Peace Process

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Newly elected Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún (6 Counties) and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) will travel to Strasbourg today, Sunday 18th July for this week's inaugural session of the European Parliament. Both MEPs will address the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, during the debate on the Irish Presidency. Speaking from Dublin this morning they said "we are looking forward to engaging with MEPs from right across the political spectrum and bringing Sinn Féin's agenda for change to the heart of Europe."

Speaking in a joint statement in advance of their trip, Ms de Brún and Ms McDonald said:

"We are very much looking forward to the first session of the EU Parliament. The Parliament presents Sinn Féin with yet another forum in which to advocate our agenda for change. We will also be pressing the Parliament on the need for the EU to intensify its focus on the peace process and advance the all Ireland agenda.

"Sinn Féin's priority is to represent our constituencies, to advance the peace process, build for Irish unity and work for equality in Ireland and across Europe. We are ideally positioned with members elected to five political institutions - an all Ireland team of MEPs, MPs, TDs, Assembly members and Local Government Councillors - to help deliver real change to our constituencies and bring the EU debate into all spheres of Irish life.

"We will be playing a leading role in the debate on the new EU Constitution, which will be put to referendum in the time ahead. We will also be continuing with our extensive outreach programme into the voluntary sector, farming organisations, trade unions, justice groups and local communities.

"This coming week will be a very busy one. We will be actively meeting and engaging with various MEPs, groupings and NGOs. On Tuesday 20th July the vote for EU Parliament President will take place and on Thursday 22nd the EU Commission President will be decided.

"The time ahead presents a considerable challenge for us. Sinn Féin MEPs stand ready to advance our positive social agenda for real change in both the EU and in Ireland. "ENDS

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Responding to a press conference today by the North and West Belfast Parades Forum announcing an intention to engage in some form of dialogue with nationalists in September, North Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Eoin O'Broin said:

"Sinn Féin along with nationalist residents have for many years been calling for a process of meaningful dialogue between parade organisers and host communities to discuss the parading issue. Indeed the Parades Commission has made dialogue between communities as requirement before a march can take place. There may be some people who will view this announcement as a mechanism to circumvent that requirement rather than a bid to engage in genuine dialogue to find a resolution to this issue.

"Up until now this forum has only engaged in a sort of smoke and mirror approach to dialogue over the Springfield Road parade and engaged in no dialogue over the Ardoyne march. So we have to adopt a wait and see approach to this announcement.

"It is also important to note that there are a series of contentious parades due to take place in the coming weeks so I would urge dialogue to take place now in advance of those marches rather than put off until September.

"This forum which includes unionist politicians and paramilitaries need to acknowledge that a process of dialogue can have no predetermined outcome and that it is legitimate to expect that in a small number of cases a resolution to the issue will involve no parade.

"The actions of the PSNI over the past week in Ardoyne and Lurgan also leave many within the nationalist community without the confidence that even if a resolution between communities was reached that the PSNI on the ground will respect that resolution and stick by it, unlike the approach they have adopted to Parades Commission determinations." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor, Daithi Doolan, has questioned the appointment of a former project manager with Indaver Ireland as a director with the Environmental Protection Agency. Cllr. Doolan said that it would seem incompatible that somebody with a professional background in promoting and developing incineration should now have pivotal role in the Agency mandated with protecting our environment.

Cllr. Doolan said, "While I don't know Ms Burke and while I don't doubt her capabilities as an individual, the appointment of such a strong advocate for the incineration industry to the agency tasked with enforcing pollution controls and protecting the environment would seem incompatible and highly questionable.

"This appointment raises serious questions in relation to the impartiality and balance of the agency when dealing with issues of incineration around the country that are a cause of serious concern for a great many people.

"How does this appointment fit in with the Agency's code of conduct that states under the title of Integrity, Independence and Professionalism, "we make decisions based on objective and independent evaluations?

"Furthermore, the Department has instructed local councils to review and update their waste management legislation. This will be conducted with the participation of the public, which, on the whole, opposes incineration. However the public won't have much confidence in their views being listened to, while the state continues to make appointments that seem to favour people from the pro-incineration lobby." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald, has criticised the response of Government departments to the damning UN Human Development Report published this week.

Ms McDonald said the Irish people cannot be asked to "put any faith in a Government which insists on telling it black is white, instead of actually dealing with the problems presented to it."

Ms McDonald said:

"People throughout the country must be troubled that in a time of unprecedented prosperity in Ireland, 15.3% of the population live in poverty. It‚s an incredibly distressing revelation and one that is completely unacceptable in a first world country such as ours.

"More shocking still is the Government‚s response to the figures, which are compiled by an independent, international body, with recognised authority. Minister of State Tom Kitt has said that the statistics are wrong. What he hasn‚t said is that the figures used to compile the report would have been supplied by Government departments. The Government claims only 5 per cent of the population live in poverty. The Government is in denial.

"The current strategies to tackle poverty across the 32 counties - the National Anti Poverty Strategy and New Targeting Social Need - are completely inadequate. In the short-term the Government needs to:

-redraft its recommendations to eliminate poverty, including relative income poverty, child poverty and absolute poverty. Their strategies must have implementation plans with mechanisms for review and;

-create equitable and proportional taxation to generate revenue for spending on social inclusion and development, which should be clearly factored into the Budget.

"This report needs to be addressed in a serious manner. The public cannot be asked to put any faith in a Government which insists on telling it black is white, instead of actually dealing with the problems presented to it."ENDS

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Sinn Féin's National Elected Representatives Forum will meet on Saturday 17th July in the Simonstown GAA Club, Proudstown Road, Navan, County Meath. This is the first meeting of the party's elected representatives since the elections last month, when two MEPs and 125 Councillors were returned. The opening session of the conference, at 10.30am will be addressed by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD and Head of the Forum Cllr Joe Reilly. The conference is open to the media and a 12.30pm photocall has been arranged.

Speaking in advance of the conference Councillor Reilly said:

"Sinn Féin's success in the local and European Union elections in June will be seen in actual terms when the party holds its largest ever meeting of elected representatives tomorrow in Navan.

"This is an exciting time for Sinn Féin. We are now in the unique position of being aligned to four parliaments ˆ Leinster House, the Assembly, Westminster and the European Parliament. Our all-Ireland team consists of 2 MEPs, 231 councillors, 5 TDs, 24 MLAs and 4 MPs.

"We have proved that we are the fastest growing party on the entire island and we are now in the enviable position of looking forward to further electoral growth in future elections. Tomorrow we intend to draw up plans which will ensure our 32-County team works in a cohesive and comprehensive manner to ensure the best representation for the people who elected us and brings us closer to our goal of a united Ireland of equals."ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly, speaking to the media during a meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle in Dublin today, said "There are serious concerns at this time that the NIO is actively undermining the Good Friday Agreement and is having a hugely negative influence on the parades issue. If the British want an agreement in September then they will have to convince republicans that the negative influence of the NIO over this process will end."

Mr. Kelly said:

"This morning the Ard Chomhairle was updated on the situation in Ardoyne and Lurgan and on ongoing efforts to see the impasse in the peace process resolved including a report on Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness meetings in London yesterday.

"There are serious concerns at this time that the NIO is actively undermining the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is not clear if the British Government, at the highest level, is simply appeasing unionism or if Downing Street does not have control over its own system in relation to the peace process.

"Sinn Féin wants to see progress made in September, but for this to happen Mr Blair has to get his system in order ˆ they need to be on board the Good Friday Agreement project and work for its implementation.

"The NIO continue to undermine and minimise Good Friday Agreement commitments on policing, human rights, equality and demilitarisation. And their fingerprints are all over the decisions taken in Ardoyne and Lurgan this week and previously on the Springfield Road.

"Mr. Blair cannot allow the NIO to play an insidious role in this process. If the British want an agreement in September then they will have to convince republicans that the negative influence of the NIO over this process is at an end."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Disability, Mid Ulster MLA Geraldine Dougan has welcomed the announcement that Special Olympics NI is to be reorganised along the same lines as the 9 counties of Ulster from September 1st and congratulated the organisation of its 25 years of good work and forward thinking.

Ms Dougan said:

"Last year the Special Olympics in Dublin brought a huge spectacle to this island. Athletes from across the world made a real impact on communities throughout Ireland. It was the courage and determination of both athletes and organisations such as Special Olympics NI that made the event possible.

"We have also just seen the 25th anniversary celebrations of Special Olympics NI. It is sign of how forward thinking the organisation is that they have now taken the bold step of deciding to reorganise along the same lines as the 9 counties of Ulster.

"By setting up local committees that bring Derry, Donegal and Tyrone together; Antrim and Down; and Armagh, Cavan, Fermanagh and Monaghan, Special Olympics Ulster is laying the groundwork for a vibrant future. It will allow people to work across artificial borders and bring people closer together in what are geographically, socially and culturally very natural communities. I wish the Special Olympic Ulster all the best for the future." ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has accused the SDLP's Alex Attwood of 'dodging the core issue of the conduct of the PSNI over the past week'.

Mr Ferguson said:

"For nationalists and republicans the issue of the PSNI is very clear. The vast majority of the nationalist and republican community have endorsed the Sinn Féin position in successive elections. The SDLP endorsed and are continuing to endorse flawed and unaccountable policing.

"In the past few weeks the PSNI have hemmed in nationalist communities on the Springfield Road, Ardoyne and Lurgan in order to facilitate anti-Catholic parades through those areas. In Ardoyne they attacked and assaulted local people including the Assembly member for the area Gerry Kelly.

"Alex Attwood's senior colleague on the Policing Board Des Rea absolved the PSNI from any blame for the breaches of the Parades Commission determinations or for the attacks on the nationalist community. This from the head of the body Alex Attwood claims will hold the PSNI to account.

"Instead of following the line from other senior SDLP representatives including Martin Morgan that the SDLP should review their position on Policing Alex Attwood continues to defend the PSNI and instead turns to attacking Sinn Féin. The defend the indefensible position being adopted by Alex Attwood will further anger nationalists and republicans who have witnessed the activities of the PSNI over the marching season.

"The fact is that the PSNI is still unionist in its ethos and make-up and when it comes to a decision between Orange demands and nationalist rights the PSNI will always adopt the unionist position. It would be more productive for Mr Attwood to admit this and join with Sinn Féin in attempting to get policing right." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Seán Crowe TD, has described Minister Dempsey's attempts to introduce a national exam on primary school students as a "retrograde step" which will lead to the labeling of children as successes or failures at an early age.

Deputy Crowe said, "That the Minister didn't even bother to consult with teachers once again highlights the arrogance of this Government and the manner in which they introduce these half-baked ideas through the media.

"During the short period of time Martin McGuinness spent as Education Minister in the Six Counties he set about abolishing the 11+. His efforts to end this atrocious practice of labeling children as successes or failures at such an early age received broad support across both communities there. That Minister Dempsey is now trying to put in place a similar examination for primary school students is a retrograde step that will do nothing to improve standards and could in fact do untold damage to the confidence and abilities of young people at a very sensitive time in their lives.

"Continuous assessment, encouragement and resources are the ingredients needed to help children through these formative years - not the pressure cooker atmosphere of an exam system." ENDS

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D'fháiltigh feisire na hEorpa Sinn Féinach Bairbre de Brún roimh an scéal go lorgóidh Rialtas na hÉireann stádas oifigiúil oibre don Ghaeilge san AE.

Arsa Iníon de Brún:

Bhí mé in ann an Ghaeilge a úsáid i dTionól Stormant agus mar Aire Sláinte de bharr na socruithe a deineadh le Comhaontas Aoine an Chéasta. Tá mé ag iarraidh leanstan le sin agus an Ghaeilge a úsáid sna institiúidí Eorpach.

Tá sé de rún agam labhairt i nGaeilge le linn céad seisiúin na Parliminte i Strasbourg an seachtain seo chugainn. Níl sin éasca faoi láthair de thairbhe nach bhfuil an stádas cuí ag an teanga.

Bhí an-díoma ar lucht labhartha na Gaeilge anseo nar lorg Rialtas na hÉireann stádas oifigiúil oibre don Ghaeilge le linn uachtarántacht na hÉireann ar an AE. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta go bhfuil an Rialtas chun an stádas a lorg anois.

Tréaslaím le gach éinne atá bainte leis an an brú-ghrúpa STÁDAS as ucht an éacht atá déanta acu. Is mar thoradh an an obair sin gan dabht go bhfuil Rialtas na hÉireann chun gniomhú."Críoch

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The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle will meet in Dublin tomorrow (Friday 16th July). The meeting will be briefed on the ongoing discussions aimed at resolving the impasse in the political process.

The meeting will also hear a report from Gerry Kelly on the series of recent PSNI decisions to overturn Parades Commission determinations in Ardoyne and Lurgan and the implications this has on the prospects of achieving a resolution in September.

Mr. Kelly will be available to speak to the media at 12.30pm in the Sinn Féin Head Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1.

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has said that the SDLP are now in disarray over their position on Policing.

Ms Gildernew said:

"The Sinn Féin position on policing has been made crystal clear. We believe that more needs to be done before the Good Friday Agreement vision of policing is delivered. The events of recent days in Ardoyne and Lurgan confirm our assessment to be the right one.

"Within the past week both Danny O'Connor and Martin Morgan have called for the SDLP to rethink their position on Policing, yet the party leader Mark Durkan continues to insist that the Policing Board is the mechanism to hold the PSNI to account.

"If the SDLP believe this to be the case then the question has to be asked why they need to run to British Ministers to discuss policing matters or why do SDLP members feel the need to make representations to the Police Ombudsman. It is obvious from these actions that the Policing Board cannot deliver accountability and the SDLP have now come to that realisation. Indeed the Policing Board have announced that they are not even going to discuss the PSNI operations in Ardoyne until September at the earliest.

"It is clear that recent events show the SDLP to be in some considerable disarray with respect to their position on Policing. The party leader tells us that the Policing Board is the vehicle for accountability while other senior members are calling for the party to leave the current flawed policing structures entirely." ENDS

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