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Sinn Féin Higher and Further Education Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has said that any plans to introduce top-up fees here will create a university marketplace and discourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds from taking up university opportunities.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Sinn Fein are opposed to introduction of top-up fees. We believe that education is a basic right. Tuition fees should be abolished and the student loan should be replaced with a proper maintenance grant.

"Plans to introduce top-fees are yet another stealth tax. Sinn Féin believe that education should be paid for through a progressive general taxation system.

"The way that the British government have approached the problem of increasing resources for universities and increasing access is deeply f lawed. It will lead to the introduction of the marketplace into our universities and a two-tier third level education system. It will also act as a further barrier to expanding access to universities particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"This fiasco highlights a deep flaw at the heart of British government education policy and the failure of the previous Employment and Learning Minister to deal with it's impact here. We need to look at how be develop our workforce here so that it is able to drive forward a modern economy. This means that we need to widen access and it means that we need to support people financially across all the third level education options." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald will meet with EU Ministers of State in Wicklow this morning as part of a delegation from the National Forum on Europe Steering Committee. The event, entitled 'Bringing the EU closer to the citizen' will take place at the Marriott Hotel, Druids Glen in Co. Wicklow at 10.00am.

Speaking prior to today's meeting, Ms McDonald said:

"This event has been organised to promote a greater engagement of citizens in EU affairs. Thus far, the Irish Presidency has failed to engage with Irish citizens on crucial EU matters, which affect them. The citizens of this state need to be aware that this government is negotiating and taking decisions on their behalf, on serious matters like the draft EU Constitution and sovereignty. Irish citizens are being kept in the dark.

"On a broader level there has been an ongoing failure to deal with the democratic deficit within the European Union - how decisions are reached, the ongoing diminishing of sovereignty - including the decision of the Government to re-run the Nice Treaty when they didn't get the result they wanted the first time. And in the Six Counties, people are not consulted at all on any decisions that affect them in relation to the European Union.

"I look forward to the National Forum Meeting today, to put forward the Sinn Féin view on EU engagement with local communities." ENDS

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Speaking on the last day for people to register for the forthcoming EU election Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has called on the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley to 'give public and categoric assurances that all of the forms entered before the deadline will be processed and those applying will receive their vote'.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Today marks the final date for those wishing to vote in the June elections to register. The debacle which the registration process has become since the introduction of the new legislation has been well documented. Up to 211,000 people have been disenfranchised.

"In the short term I am calling on the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley to give a very clear public assurance that those individuals who have submitted their forms before today will have the application processed in time for the June election.

"I say this because in the Assembly election in November, many people entitled to vote who had submitted registration and ID forms did not receive their vote due to a bureaucratic bottleneck within the electoral office.

"In the period after June the whole issue of the legislation needs to be looked at again. Annual registration and other demands have proven to be a disaster for the electorate and for overall confidence in the political and democratic process.

"Sinn Féin will be continuing our campaign in conjunction with wider civic society to see the legislation amended and public confidence in the electoral process restored." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin accused Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Greens of joining the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. However, he said, "Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy."

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say that "Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups, the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country.

"This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin, " he said.

Full text of speech by Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin to Fine Gael Private Members Motion

I move the amendment in the name of the Sinn Féin Deputies.

I welcome the fact that Fine Gael has at last used its Private Members time to address an aspect of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. This is a very rare occurrence and Fine Gael has been joined on this occasion by the Labour and Green Party deputies. It is a pity then, that the motion to which they have put their names is so fundamentally flawed. The motion is ostensibly based on the Good Friday Agreement. Its real political context, however, is the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and President of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Michael McDowell. Minister McDowell has decided that such a crusade is a good electoral ploy for his party, especially in its battle for Fine Gael votes, just as he did when he launched his own personal election campaign in 2002. But the Minister and his colleagues in Government have no regard for the impact of his utterances on the wider peace process, as distinct from the electoral contest in this State.

Many of the Fianna Fáil Front Bench are happy to see the Minister unleashed, happy to benefit from any damage they think he may inflict on Sinn Féin electorally. I hope the weather keeps fine for them. No doubt Minister McDowell has sneaking regarders also in the Fianna Fáil back benches, but I believe that many in that party, and many more among their current supporters, are very concerned at the leading role Minister McDowell has now been given in driving Government policy on the peace process and the Six Counties. The Minister's increasingly hysterical statements have been manna from heaven to those unionists who do not wish to share power with nationalists and to those in the British state system who are determined to deny Sinn Féin's democratic mandate. Ian Paisley himself, in an RTE Prime Time interview on 10 February defended the DUP's refusal to deal with Sinn Féin by citing Minister McDowell's accusations. "What better witness could I call?" asked Mr. Paisley. Is that the kind of endorsement the Deputies who support this Cabinet want to receive for their policy on the peace process?

Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We are committed to the Good Friday Agreement and to its full implementation. We recognise what has been achieved so far and what has yet to be achieved. We take our responsibility very seriously and we stand on our record of achievement. We have delivered and we continue to deliver. So we will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy. We are democrats and we are committed to totally peaceful and democratic means of achieving our political objectives. Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups ? the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country. This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin.

Equally absurd was the statement from Deputy Kenny that the IRA won't go away without what he called the full rigours of the law. For Deputy Kenny's information that was tried for decades North and South of the Border. A so-called law and order solution failed and failed miserably. The lesson was learned and that is why we have a peace process.

Deputy Kenny and others praised the DUP. Fair enough. Sinn Féin has also recognised movement on the part of the DUP where appropriate and we will continue to encourage them. But what Deputy Kenny and others prefer to forget is that the DUP is an anti-Agreement party. They are in no position to accuse Sinn Féin of being in breach of the Agreement since they themselves reject and denounce that Agreement.

To ignore that reality, to feed DUP intransigence, to play to the agenda of the British securocrats who are trying to defeat republicans in peace as they failed

to do in war is to subvert the entire peace process. It is to act as recruiting sergeants for so-called dissidents who will try to say that peaceful methods

have failed. I urge Deputies to think very carefully about that and to measure their approach accordingly.

Sinn Féin does not seek a slap on the back for our role in bringing about a new direction for republicanism, including the IRA cessations since 1994. That was not our role alone. What we do seek is a continued commitment from the Irish Government and from all sides in this House to the process of change which made that new direction possible.

Deputy Rabitte said he wanted to see a post-IRA Ireland. So do I. I want to see a post-IRA Ireland, a post-British Army Ireland, a post-collusion Ireland and a post-British colonial Ireland. He referred to the dark secrets of the past. I will avoid the temptation to delve into the dark past of the so-called Official Republican Movement of which Deputy Rabbitte was once a member. I will just say that I am glad that no obstacles or preconditions were placed in his path to the Cabinet table and that his democratic mandate has been recognised at all times.

I don't think it is too much to ask Deputies on all sides of the House to acknowledge that the use of force, necessitated by the intransigence of successive British governments, played a crucial role in the achievement of independence for 26 of the 32 Counties and that recognition of the right to use force to achieve independence has been a central tenet of Irish nationalism for generations, including among the founders of most political parties in the Dáil. In that context the transformation achieved in Irish republicanism over the past decade is truly historic.

As the Sinn Féin amendment states, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was provided for in legislation by both Governments to deal with the issue of arms. The IRA has put substantial quantities of arms and ammunition beyond use on three occasions. Anyone who knows anything about Irish politics recognises that such a development would have been inconceivable up to the very recent past. The Taoiseach himself has acknowledged in this House that the latest such action on the part of the IRA, carried out as part of the agreed sequence of statements and actions of 21st October last, was sufficient for the Irish Government.

There were real and protracted negotiations between the UUP and Sinn Féin which were to culminate on 21st October. This was the second such attempt to break the deadlock in 2003. The first had been scuppered by the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Despite this massive setback and the outrageous decision of the British government to cancel Assembly elections last May, Sinn Féin again entered negotiations with the UUP. At Hillsborough Castle on October 19th Sinn Féin and the UUP reached agreement on a sequence of events.

When the two governments were informed that agreement had been reached they also signed on for it.

This agreed sequence was the product of many weeks of intense discussions involving Sinn Féin, the UUP and the British and Irish governments and would allow for the restoration of the political institutions and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and allow elections to be held in a positive context. It involved many hours of direct engagement between Sinn Féin and the leadership of the UUP.

All elements of the sequence were agreed in advance, including the public statements containing the commitments, which we would all make as part of this agreement. The sequence involved:

· An announcement by the British Government confirming the date for an Assembly election.

· A statement by Gerry Adams

· A statement by the IRA

· A further act of putting arms beyond use by the IRA, verified by the IICD.

· A report by the IICD

· A statement by David Trimble

· A joint statement by the two governments.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinnes have in their possession copies of the statement that David Trimble was to make. They have copies of the Joint Statement that the two governments were to issue.

Sinn Féin delivered our part of this sequence. The IRA delivered their part of the sequence as agreed. The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. The UUP however, at the point of delivery on their side, effectively walked away.

The two governments failed to publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of this agreement.

The Irish Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot be party to such an agreement, acknowledge that republicans played their part and then demand more after unionists walk away. When the electioneering is over the Irish Government will have to come back to the correct position and deal with the realities of the situation.

Sinn Féin wants to see force and violence in all its forms removed forever from the political equation in Ireland. To respond positively to Deputy Jim O'Keeence of one point or another or the phrasing of this or that element, let us at least pledge to each other and to all who have placed their trust in this process our commitment to continue to engage, to search and ultimately to succeed in delivering on the hope and promise of the Good Friday Agreement and the potential that flows from it. For my part, as Dáil leader of Sinn Féin, I do so pledge on my own behalf, on behalf of my colleague Dáil deputies and on behalf of Sinn Féin.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Social, Community and Family Affairs, Seán Crowe TD, tonight welcomed Minister Mary Coughlan's "dramatic u-turn" regarding cuts in payments to widows and widowers.

Deputy Crowe said:

"While I would like to welcome the Minister for Social Welfare's dramatic u-turn on payments to widows and widowers it must be acknowledged that it has come about as a result of the massive public backlash against her crass and mean-spirited cuts and not because of some altruistic motivation.

"That she even contemplated, never mind implemented, such a move that victimised one of the most vulnerable groups in society while her fellow Ministers continued to pour money hand over fist into the coffers of their pet projects clearly shows how out of touch this Government has become.

"I would like to congratulate all those who campaigned against these cuts and who forced this right-wing Government into a spectacular climb down." ENDS

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Speaking following the Publication of the ninth progress report of the Oirchtas All-Party Committee of the Constitution on Property Rights, Committee member and Sinn Fein spokesperson on Housing, Arthur Morgan T.D. has called on the Taoiseach to act on the report in order to demonstrate that his attachment to developers/speculators responsible for his appearance at the Mahon Tribunal today is a thing of the past. Deputy Morgan went on to outline what Sinn Féin saw as the key recommendations while making it clear that the party had difficulty with a number of elements contained in the Report.

Deputy Morgan said, "That a small number of developers and speculators were making huge profits on the backs of the inability of ordinary citizens to access housing is a shameful indictment of successive governments in this State. Sinn Fein is calling on Bertie Ahern to demonstrate that Fianna Fáil policy on these issues is no longer dictated by their close association with developers and speculators whose interest they have protected throughout recent decades.

"Sinn Féin made a substantive submission to the Committee and welcomes the fact that the Committee as a whole has taken on board the overriding principal put forward in our submission that social justice and the common good must be given precedence over the rights of private property if we are to address the housing needs of our citizens.

"While looking at many of the proposals as positive we need to accept that the Government parties have a majority on this committee and the likelihood of any radical proposals making it past the bulwark of government backbenchers which fill out such a committee is extremely unlikely. While looking at this report we should not forget that the one positive piece of legislation which enabled the government to recoup some of the windfall gains made by property developers and utilize it for the common good, the Planning and Development Act 2000 which required all developments to have 20% social and affordable housing was watered down as to make it unrecognisable by Minister Cullen in 2002. That move in itself indicates the Government is far from serious about tackling this issue.

"Sinn Fein welcomes:

  • The recommendation that the Community should recoup the increase in value of land arising from decisions being taken by local authorities
  • The recommendation that local authorities be given the power to compulsorily purchase land at current use value, similar to what was proposed in the Kenny report, to provide for social and affordable housing.
  • The recommendation that the Government should prepare legislation for the abolition of ground rents and the fact that the Report clearly states that there is no constitutional impediment to their abolition while putting forward a practical proposal on compensation scheme to be provided for in the legislation abolishing ground rents. As the most fervourent voice in the Committee calling for the abolition of ground rents both myself and my part colleagues will pursue the government until this recommendations is acted upon."

Deputy Morgan went on to emphasise that Sinn Féin could not accept a number elements contained in the Report and made it clear that there was no opportunity to record minority views in the Committee's report.

"Sinn Féin has difficulties with large parts of Chapter 2 which addresses the "dynamics of the property market" and which is inconsistent with the other chapters of the report. It does not accurately reflect the conclusions of the committee expressed in other parts of the report regarding the role that the hoarding of land and land prices play in driving up the price of houses. At the Committee I raised my deep concerns at the fact that this section of the report was being authored by a person who had made a submission to the Committee and therefore was an interested party and was biased in his views. I continue to believe this was a fundamental mistake.

"We also had difficulty with the fact that the Committee failed to make a decision on the right to housing despite the fact that a large number of written and oral submission were made and accepted on this issue." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has welcomed the publication of the Causeway Coast and Glens plan and its objectives of increasing tourism and employment for the area nut added that Government must now drive it forward to maximise its potential

Mr McGuigan said:

"Tourism is extremely important for the economic regeneration and prosperity of this region. In the Giant's Causeway we have the only World Heritage site on this island, and yet, to date the full potential for tourism has failed to be realised.

"There is a lot in this plan that is positive and must be welcomed. But it should not be allowed to become a paper exercise.

"There must be long-term commitments to put in place the financial resources required to take this project forward and to develop the infrastructure required to unleash the tourist potential of this area. If this is forthcoming and those within tourism sector work positively together then this can be a beginning to a brighter future for this region. It will benefit the whole of the North Antrim community.

"Recent figures show a rise in visitors to the North. The figures, however still fall short of what is achievable. Despite the formation of Tourism Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, All Ireland tourism remains underdeveloped. There needs to be greater integration between Bord Fáilte and the NITB.

"No sector has the potential to develop and enhance the economy on an All Ireland basis more than tourism." ENDS

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An attempt by the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, to amend the Bill amalgamating Bord Bia and Bord Glas to exclude Genetically Modified produce from the marketing of Irish food, was defeated this morning in the Dáil. Deputy Ferris' amendment would have amended the Bill to define all Irish marketed food produce as "...produced according to traditional or organic methods and excluding genetically modified inputs". The amendment had the support of the Sinn Féin TDs as well as those from the Green Party, Socialist Party, and a number of independents. The Government voted against while Labour and Fine Gael abstained.

Deputy Ferris said: "I am disappointed at the failure to accept this amendment as I believe that it is crucial to the future of Irish agriculture that our food produce retains its traditional clean safe image. Sinn Féin will continue to press this issue and will be calling on the Irish Government to reverse its support for GM prior to the forthcoming meeting of the European Council on April 26 and 27 that will vote on whether to lift the current EU embargo on specific GM products."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Six County EU candidate Bairbre de Brún has today criticised the bias in favour of some EU member states, amid reports that the Commission will issue stern warnings to both Italy and the Netherlands, for breaking the rules underpinning the Euro.

Speaking in advance of a meeting today where the Commission is expected to unveil economic reports for EU member states, Ms de Brún said:

"The EU Commission is expected to reprimand both Italy and the Netherlands for exceeding the 3% of gross domestic product deficit limit imposed by the EU. I am concerned that France and Germany have repeatedly been in breach of this limit in recent years, and have never been reprimanded.

"The difference for France and Germany is that they were able to persuade other finance ministers to suspend these procedures in November 2003. This is a worrying development, as the most influential states of the EU can flout the rules when it suits them, with little comeback from the EU Commission.

"I believe that the smaller states within the EU should be treated in the same manner as the power elites of Britain, France and Germany. We have consistently reiterated our belief that the EU has become a two-tier institution.

"Sinn Féin is calling for a renegotiation of the Stability and Growth Pact, so that member states may deal effectively with the specific problems facing their own economies." ENDS

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Maghera Sinn Féin Councillor Sean Kerr has praised the initiative taken by the local republican band not to exercise their right to parade the whole of the commercial section of the Maghera town as part of their annual Easter Commemoration on Easter Monday.

Cllr. Kerr said:

"The decision taken by the local republican flute band not to exercise their right to parade through the commercial section of the town on Easter Monday is a welcome initiative. I would also welcome the fact that the Parades Commission did not restrict the republican parade at the top end of the town as had been the case in previous years.

"All rights come with responsibilities and the local band has shown by their gesture that they take their responsibilities very seriously. They have shown that they are willing to forgo something for which they have campaigned for years in order to enhance the spirit of mutual respect with other traditions in the town.

" I hope that this initiative is taken in the spirit in which it is intended and that we can hope for similar initiatives from others in the town as we face into the marching season." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has described as "constitutionally questionable" the revelation that deportees are being forced to surrender their children's Irish passports upon their removal from the State.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Just when I thought the Department of Justice could not sink any lower in its handling of immigration matters, we are presented with this constitutionally questionable action, which all Irish democrats will find profoundly offensive. Surely this erases any doubt that could be left about the racism underlying Department policy. These children, who are Irish citizens, are not only being forced to leave but are effectively being told not to come back. It is simply outrageous and these orders are coming from the very highest levels of the Department. What's next? Legislation to retroactively strip citizenship from those the Government deems undesirable?

"If this was happening in any other country it would be recognised for the appalling human rights violation it is. Indeed, if the United States were to deport U.S. citizen children of illegal Irish immigrants and confiscate their passports, this Government would be on the phone immediately to the State Department, and rightly so. This is one more instance of the hypocritical double standard operated by this Government in respect of immigrants to and emigrants from Ireland.

"Earlier this week, the Taoiseach stated that there would be no cabinet reshuffle before the summer recess. I urge him to reconsider this decision. At the very least Michael McDowell, Ireland's version of Enoch Powell, and the Progressive Democrats must be removed from control of this State's immigration policy. If they are not, racism and xenophobia will be among this Government's chief legacies." ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has said that figures released today by OFM/DFM regarding the scale of racist attacks 'are alarming in themselves, but only scratch the surface of the real problem'.

Mr Maskey said:

"The figures released today do not make good reading for those of us committed to seeing an inclusive and tolerant society created here. However, although these figures are alarming they only scratch the surface of the real problem.

"Many attacks on ethnic minority communities simply go unreported. On countless occasions I have spoken to members of various ethnic minority communities and time and again they tell of attacks and racial abuse which they simply tolerate and move on.

"Many within the ethnic minority communities have spoken of their frustration that in the face of what is a campaign of harassment and violence conviction rates remain virtually nil.

" All of us in political leadership have an obligation to address and tackle the problem of racism within our society. We need to make it clear to those who continue to intimidate and threaten ethnic minority communities that their actions are unacceptable, unwanted and must cease." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has welcomed the announcement of new measures to tackle anti-social behaviour within Housing Executive estates but added that this is only the first step in tackling the issue.

Mr McCann said:

"This is a good first step now that the Housing Executive has been given these powers. The test will be to ensure that they are used to rid estates of those who persistently make the lives of other residents a misery.

"Sinn Féin will be making representations to the NIO Minister for these powers to be extended. In particular there is a problem about those within Housing Executive estates who own their homes. These measures will have little impact on private tenants yet in some instances such tenants have become the focus of very serious anti-social issues.

"We will work with the Housing Executive to ensure action is taken to reclaim our streets and to build sustainable communities where both young and old can flourish. This will require further measures, greater partnership and imagination." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has said that the announcement that the new Invest NI Headquarters will be based at Bedford Street in Belfast raises questions about the commitment to regionalisation.

Ms Gildernew said:

"The history of economic development and investment throughout the Six Counties has been deeply partial with areas West of the Bann having seen little emphasis in securing inward investment.

"Any long term economic investment strategy must not reinforce the failed patterns and priorities of the past. Particularly with the loss of many traditional manufacturing jobs in the textiles industry and in Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone where that remain stubbornly high levels of unemployment there needs to be evidence that the stated commitment to regionalisation across all policy is backed up by decisions.

"It is disappointing that an opportunity to create a focus for investment away from Belfast and the Eastern seaboard has been lost in the decision to build the new Invest NI Headquarters in Belfast. In such a geographically small area arguments that everything must be in Belfast carry little weight.

They only serve to reinforce the perception that under British direct rule Ministers any attempt to address the legacy of the past has been abandoned in favour of reinforced past patterns of division and discrimination." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP and MLA, Bairbre de Brún MLA and Philip McGuigan MLA this morning met the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy.

Sinn Féin had requested the meeting after the publication of the Cory report and the British governments refusal to hold an enquiry in the killing of Pat Finucane. The party is also concerned at the British governments attitude to the issue of collusion and of truth processes.

Speaking after the meeting Mr. Adams revealed that he has discussed these matters in recent days with senior officials from both governments, and has written to both the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Adams said:

"At the meeting this morning we put it very directly to Paul Murphy that there should be an immediate, independent international inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane and I have to say that instead of facing up to that issue he retreated into the double speak of Weston Park. It was a totally unsatisfactory outcome.

We also put it to him that the broad effect within nationalism and republicanism by the refusal of this government to face up to issues which occurred in the time of other governments is contaminating the broad view of Mr. Blair's attitude on these issues.

And finally we told him that any discussions about any truth processes would have to be independent of their stewardship and international. There is clearly no way that a British government can facilitate or take responsibility for such processes as the British government is a protagonist, a combatant in this situation."

The Sinn Féin President went on to point out that the culmination of the Cory investigation and of others like Stevens is to prove that there "was collusion between the agencies of the state and unionist paramilitaries in the killing of citizens and I put it directly to Paul Murphy that this is the crux issue which the government is behaving in a cowardly way about. It is refusing to face up to its responsibilities in this matter."ENDS

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Commenting on reports that Andersonstown Barracks may close, Sinn Féin Assembly member for the area Michael Ferguson said that 'the Military Base is a blight on this area and provides no service for the local community. Its function is to spy on and intimidate the local population'.

However Mr Ferguson also urged caution as the SDLPs Alex Attwood has already announced this closure on a number of previous occasions with nothing happening.

Mr Ferguson said:

"The fact is that Andersonstown Military Base is a blight on this area and provides no service for the local community. Its function is to spy on and intimidate the local population.

"The vast majority of people in West Belfast are demanding that this eyesore is removed from our community and the land used for regeneration purposes. Sinn Féin have been campaigning for this closure for decades. In recent times others including the SDLP have moved to support this position.

"It is my belief that the failure to close this base permanently before now is yet further evidence of the British government reneging on its commitments to demilitarise its war machine in our country." ENDS

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Sinn Fein spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights, South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane has expressed "serious concerns" that the Human Rights Commission, as currently constituted, has published a report on the Bill of Rights given the lack of public confidence in the Commission.

Ms Ruane said:

"Without getting into any definitive response to such a substantial document from the Commission, Sinn Fein still want to place on record our total commitment to securing the maximal Bill of Rights as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.

"There is a litany of major problems surrounding the Commission, its lack of independence, unbalanced representation and questionable approach to issues such as the Bill of Rights to date. As constituted the Commission does not command public confidence.

"It is incredible that the Commission has ignored all the advice given to it by ourselves and others not to go down this road with the Bill of Rights process before to the measures required to reconstruct the Commission are put in place by the British government.

"Sinn Fein is also concerned that the Human Rights Commission has unilaterally taken a decision to dismiss the potential of a roundtable forum being established that where contained in the Joint Declaration. This would have allowed political parties alongside civic society the proper space to debate the Bill of Rights. This again calls into question the stewardship of the current Commission. We will be raising the matter with the Irish and British governments as a matter of urgency." ENDS

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Reacting to the Government's announcement that it plans to hold the referendum on Citizenship on the same day as the local and European elections, Sinn Féin's Aengus Ó Snodaigh, the party's spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, described it as the 'height of irresponsibility' which showed the Government was "callously and cynically" exploiting this sensitive issue for short-term electoral gain.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "This is a complex and sensitive issue which the Government is callously and cynically exploiting for electoral gain without regard to the negative consequences and potential for lasting damage to Irish society and the Good Friday Agreement. The Government's decision today has virtually guaranteed that race will become an election issue. It is the height of irresponsibility and must be rejected." ENDS

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Sinn Féín President Gerry Adams MP along with Assembly members Philip McGuigan and Bairbre de Brún will meet with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy tomorrow morning (Wednesday 7th) in Belfast.

The meeting which is being held at Sinn Féín's request will discuss the Cory Report, the failure of the British government to hold an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane and the ongoing issue of truth.

Mr Adams will be available to speak to the media after the meeting at 11am outside the Felons Club on the Andersonstown Road.

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Commenting on the news that the PSNI is to construct an interrogation centre in Grosvenor Road Barracks, West Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Michael Ferguson said that 'given the previous history of many PSNI members and their role in the torture centres in Castlereagh, Gough Barracks and Strand Road this news is a very worrying development'.

Mr Ferguson said:

" It is without dispute that within the current ranks of the PSNI there are a large number of Human Rights abusers who moved en masse from the RUC. Repressive legislation is still in place and now we hear reports that the PSNI are constructing a new interrogation centre in West Belfast.

" Given the previous history of many PSNI members and their role in the torture centres in Castlereagh, Gough Barracks and Strand Road this news is a very worrying development.

" I am sure that the SDLP will claim this new facility as one of their policing gains, ignoring the past of those PSNI members who will be operating it.

" In recent times the Policing Board with SDLP approval has authorised the use of an even more lethal plastic bullet and issued the PSNI with CS gas. Now we hear that an interrogation centre is to be constructed in West Belfast. We should be concentrating on removing the oppressive apparatus of policing in the north, not authorising the PSNI to adopt even more repressive measures." ENDS

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