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Sinn Féin Dáill leader Caoimhghín Ó Caolain has called on the Minister for Finance Brian Cowen to prioritise the needs of children and to take key steps to tackle child poverty in Budget 2005. Speaking at the launch of Sinn Fein's budget priorities document 'Putting Children First' Deputy Ó Caoláin said there was "greater awareness now than ever before of the persistent inequalities in Irish society that have been deepened by this Government".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The Cabinet reshuffle has created an expectation that the new Minister, Brian Cowen, might adopt a different approach to that of his predecessor Charlie McCreevy. Minister McCreevy's seven Budgets of Inequality created a more divided society and missed the opportunity to use wealth to end poverty. He allowed the wealth-poverty gap to grow while failing to properly develop vital public services and social infrastructure.

"The poor performance by Fianna Fáil in the European and Local elections was followed by complaints by Fianna Fáil backbenchers that the influence of the PDs was too great and that the Government had gone too right of centre. The first real test of all that will be Minister Cowen's first Budget.

"The public is entitled to expect a new approach from a new Minister.

"There is a greater awareness now than ever before of the persistent inequalities that have been deepened by this Government. This is underlined by a series of studies and reports published in the autumn and providing a stark backdrop to Budget 2005.

"Some 21 % of the population are living below the 60% income poverty line, compared to an EU average of 15%. 66,000 children in this State live so far below the poverty line that they experience deprivation of basic needs such as proper food and heating. Of those living in relative income poverty over 250,000 are children.

"This is a prosperous country. It is a small country. There is sufficient wealth in our society to ensure that, at the very least. no child should want for any of the basics of life and should be able to look forward to a full and rewarding future. The lack of vision. the incompetence and conservatism of successive governments in this state have robbed generations of children of their birthright.

Therefore, as key measures In this Budget. Sinn Fein is calling for:

• Increase in Child Benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and €185.50 for third and subsequent children. (Additional cost approximately €190 million). Child Benefit is recognised as the single most effective social welfare measure for addressing the needs of children. Such an increase would also assist working parents with the cost of childcare.

• Comprehensive package of childcare measures, budgetary and legislative, implementing the right Of all children to the best care, allowing parents to care for their children full time up to one year of age and equalising women's participation in the labour market.

• Immediately extend medical card qualification to all under 18. (Cost approximately €116 million) Children are suffering most from the disgracefully low income threshold for medical card qualification.

Improve funding for primary education, Including school building programmes and schemes to tackle educational disadvantage."

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Cllr Francie Molloy has welcomed the announcement that the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the operation of bank charges by all of the four main banks operating in the Six Counties.

Mr Molloy said:

"Excessive and unregulated charging by banks eats into the pockets of everyone. Of course people accept that there are legitimate charges but what is unacceptable is excessive charging to boost bank and shareholder profits.

"Excessive charges hit struggling small businesses just as they impact badly on people on low incomes. With the move to benefits and pensions being paid through banks it is vital that bank charges are properly regulated and that banks are forced to stop charging people for basic services.

"Banks are moving into a position where they can do what they want and there is little provision for the thousands of people who are dependent on their services. It is unacceptable that this relationship is allowed to go unchallenged. There needs to be clear cut guidelines for how and when banks charge and a recognition on the part of banks that there are situation when they should not levy charges. This is particularly true in relation to accounts used by people on benefits and in receipt of state pensions." ENDS

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ammes bodies have delivered huge benefits for communities - unionist and nationalist - in many parts of the north and in the border area. Waterways Ireland is trying to unlock the potential of the waterways and since the establishment of Tourism Ireland we have seen tourist figures increase and increase.

"It is clear that in many areas that the future of specific sectors such as agriculture and tourism demand greater urgency in developing the single Ireland identity both in terms of building a strong brand image and in removing wasteful duplication.

"Lord Laird's attack is politically motivated and based on a distortion of the facts. This money is not being wasted, it is being put to good use - what is wasteful is the duplication of services and resources on this small island. These bodies do nothing to undermine unionist, protestant or Ulster-Scots communities. This is simply paranoia." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for South Belfast Cllr Alex Maskey MLA has expressed serious concerns about the funding crisis facing health services particularly in the Greater Belfast Area.

Mr Maskey said:

"The failure of Direct Rule British Ministers to allocate sufficient funding to the Eastern Health Board for 2005-2006 will mean that services to the most needy and vulnerable in our society are under threat. I am particularly concerned that in order to meet the predicted shortfall the EHSSB are planning to cut mental health, children's and community care services.

"I have recently been made aware that the Belfast City Hospital and South & East Belfast Trust are already experiencing financial difficulties which have led to a moratorium on staff recruitment. The potential negative impact this could have upon direct patient care is alarming.

"Sinn Féin have campaigned long and hard for funding for the health service in the 6 counties. We will oppose any attempt to cut health services by the British Government or by the EHSSB, and will be seeking urgent meetings with the Minister for health and the EHSSB in the near future. " ENDS

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Sinn Fein education spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland, speaking after attending an all-Ireland teacher training conference in Armagh has called for the harmonisation of teaching qualifications throughout the island.

Speaking after the conference, Mr. Hyland stated:

"This was an interesting and informative conference, made more valuable by the contributions of teacher and teaching associations from across the island of Ireland. It is important that there is more of this type of cross border work throughout the whole sector of education. It allows for greater sharing of experience and expertise and can only benefit teachers and in the long run children and young people.

"Sinn Fein believes that we need to see a greater priority given to the harmonisation of teaching qualifications North and South and this type of conference is another step in the right direction. Harmonisation of teaching qualifications would facilitate greater movement of teachers across the island and lead to increased skills sharing. I look forward to seeing further all-Ireland work in this field in the future." ENDS

Note to Editors

This was the second annual conference of the Standing Conference on Teacher Education, North and South (SCoTENS) and was attended by representatives of the teaching fraternity the length and breadth of the island of Ireland.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture and Food, Martin Ferris TD, has welcomed a report commissioned by the North American Free Trade Association which has found in favour of Mexican farmers whose maize was contaminated by Genetically Modified pollen carried over the border from the United States. The report states that such cross-contamination is unacceptable and that the onus is on the growers of GM crops to take steps to prevent this.

Deputy Ferris said:

"This report has major implications for farmers in the EU as pressure mounts to allow the growing of Genetically Modified crops. Apart from proving that it is impossible to prevent cross contamination across land borders, it also lends substantial weight to the demand that the onus be placed firmly on the manufacturers and growers of GM crops to prevent such contamination taking place.

"Given that cross-contamination would be inevitable within EU continental states and across Ireland once crops were licensed it is clear that the only effective way to prevent it is to prohibit the growing of GM crops in the first instance.

"This report must also be used to bolster the opposition to attempts by the United States within the World Trade Organisation to open up the EU and other trading blocs to GM on the basis of their argument that there is equivalence between GM and conventional crops. It is clear that there is not and that the only way to protect conventional and organic species from GM contamination is to continue to prevent them being grown."ENDS

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Sinn Féin East Antrim Representative Cllr. Oliver McMullan has said that nationalists in Larne believe that the UDA were responsible for an attack on the home of SDLP Cllr. Danny O'Connor last night.

Cllr. McMullan said:

"Last night a number of men attacked Danny O'Connor's car and home. They fled after Mr O'Connor fired four shots at them. This is the latest in what can be only described as a campaign of violence at intimidation against Danny O'Connor and his family.

"Local people and the O'Connor family believe that the UDA in Larne has been behind this campaign. It is ironic that the latest attack came on the very day that the UDA announced that they were pursuing a peaceful path.

"Nationalists in Larne want the UDA off their backs. Some may have hoped that yesterday's statement would mark the end of their violent anti-Catholic campaign. The UDA need to realise that they will be judged not on fine words but on actions. Last nights attack on Danny O'Connor's home is unacceptable and unwarranted and will only add to people's scepticism regarding future UDA intentions." ENDS

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Sinn Féin 2005 Pre Budget Submission download here

We have the resources to Budget for Equality

After seven Budgets of Inequality from former Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy the Cabinet reshuffle created an expectation that the new Minister, Brian Cowen, might adopt a different approach. Certainly the public is entitled to expect the new Minister to turn over a new leaf. His predecessor's record has been a sorry tale of how a Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats government squandered the golden opportunities of the past seven years and allowed the wealth-poverty gap to grow while failing to properly develop vital public services and social infrastructure.

As Budget 2005 approaches we have been subjected to the annual ritual of the Minister for Finance attempting to dampen speculation about a 'giveaway budget' and reassuring conservative economists that he will keep the purse strings tightly secured. Expectations are adjusted downward in the hope that whatever positive measures emerge from the Budget will be greeted with rapture by a grateful public and adoring media. But people have come too far and learned too much over the past seven years for that trick to work this time.

There is a greater awareness now than ever before of the persistent inequalities in Irish society that have been deepened by this Government. This is underlined by a series of studies and reports published in the autumn and providing a stark backdrop to Budget 2005. They include:

  • The EU Measure of Poverty Risk shows 21% of the population living below the 60% income poverty line. This is compared to an EU average of 15%. ESRI report states that the Government will have to increase spending on social protections if it wants to reduce relative income poverty in Ireland (Combat Poverty Agency, ESRI, September 2004).
  • Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative shows high levels of educational disadvantage, inadequate housing, higher than average unemployment, high dependence on social welfare, lack of childcare, and insecurity due to anti-social behaviour. This mirrors the experience of many similar communities throughout the country. (October 2004).
  • Vincentian Partnership study of families on low income, shows that a "low-cost yet dignified" standard of living is out of reach for thousands of people who are dependent on social welfare (October 2004).
  • Justice Commission of CORI estimates rich/poor gap has widened by €294 per week over the last seven years as a result of government policy. (October 2004).
  • The End Child Poverty Coalition estimates that 66,000 children in this State live so far below the poverty line that they experience deprivation of basic needs such as proper food and heating. (October 2004).
  • Irish Congress of Trade Unions says Irish tax sytem is "fundamentally unjust" and "biased against those on low and middle incomes and it does not raise enough tax overall to pay for modern public services" (October 2004).

The Living in Ireland Survey (2001), which is the most recent such detailed study, is used to estimate levels of poverty in this State. By its reckoning over 700,000 people have incomes so inadequate that they are deemed to be living in poverty. Of these over 250,000 are children. All the front-line agencies agree that, while there have been some improvements, this level of disadvantage and inequality persists in 2004.

The scandal is that these inequalities persist in an affluent economy. For a decade now the Irish economy has experienced record growth. Government revenues were never higher. Tax receipts have consistently exceeded forecasts - up 15% during 2004. We have the resources to Budget for Equality and that is what Sinn Fein is campaigning for.

Put Children First in Budget 2005

This is a prosperous country. It is a small country. There is sufficient wealth in our society to ensure that, at the very least, no child should want for any of the basics of life and should be able to look forward to a full and rewarding future. The lack of vision, the incompetence and conservatism of successive governments in this state have robbed generations of children of their birthright.

Reversing all of this will mean a change in economic policy, a shift in emphasis towards social need and equality. This will require moving away from the outdated model of annual budgeting and the 'Budget Day' ritual and towards multi-annual budgeting based on medium to long-term planning.

The priorities that Sinn Féin presents for Budget 2005 are designed to tackle immediate needs and the most extreme inequalities. A much more comprehensive approach will be required to move towards an Ireland of Equals. In this Budget we urge prioritization of those most in need -- the children of the nation.

Summary of Sinn Féin Budget 2005 Priorities

  • Increase Child Benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and €185.50 for third and subsequent children. Child Benefit is recognised as the single most effective social welfare measure for addressing the needs of children. Such an increase would also assist working parents with the cost of childcare.
  • Comprehensive package of childcare measures, budgetary and legislative, implementing the right of all children to the best care, allowing parents to care for their children full time up to one year of age and equalising women's participation in the labour market.
  • Immediately extend medical card qualification to all under 18. Children are suffering most from the disgracefully low income threshold for medical card qualification.
  • Improve funding for primary education, including school building programmes and schemes to tackle educational disadvantage.

Income supports for children

As a key measure to tackle child poverty the Government set a target of €149 per month for Child Benefit by 2005. This target should now be met and, given the wealth of the economy, exceeded in the coming year. While far more wide-ranging measures are also needed, it is recognised that Child Benefit fulfils a key role in the absence of more comprehensive equality strategies.

  • Increase Child Benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and €185.50 for third and subsequent children.
  • Increase Child Dependent Allowance (CDA) to a single weekly figure of €26 for all recipients. The value of CDA has decreased by 25% since it was frozen in 1994.
  • Clothing and footwear allowances to be integrated into the main welfare system and delivered in conjunction with Child Dependent Allowances.
  • Increase the minimum level of social welfare rates by €14 per week to make progress towards the Government's own target of €150 per week by 2007.

Childcare as a right

There is no more important concern for parents, families, communities and our society than the care of our children. There has never been a greater need for a comprehensive and accessible childcare infrastructure. Yet, over five years since the publication of the National Childcare Strategy childcare provision is still, in the words of the Strategy, "uncoordinated, variable in quality and in short supply".

The Government's failure to ensure comprehensive childcare provision has negative consequences for children, women, families, society and the economy. Lack of adequate childcare, including pre-school, after-school and out-of-school childcare, continues to restrict the participation of parents of young children, particularly women, in the workforce, education and training. There is an urgent need to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy for childcare provision up to and beyond the completion of the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme in 2006.

The development of quality childcare could be self-financing through increased tax returns from the participation of those now able to take their place in the workforce and through less dependency on social welfare.

Sinn Féin believes the government should have the following goals and should work to achieve them within a definite timeframe:

  • to enable all parents to reconcile their childcare needs with participation in the labour force, education and training
  • to enable all parents to exercise their choice to care for their children full time up to one year of age
  • to enable all parents to access affordable childcare for their children
  • to establish universal state provision of pre-school for all children from the age of three to five years
  • to establish universal provision of early childhood care and education based on the Swedish system

In the interim Sinn Féin calls on the government, beginning in budget 2005, to:

  • Harmonise maternity leave on an all-Ireland basis by increasing maternity leave to 26 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid.
  • Increase Maternity Benefit to 80% of earnings immediately
  • Harmonise paternity leave on an all-Ireland basis by introducing paid paternity entitlements of two weeks per child
  • Increase adoptive leave to 24 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid
  • Introduce paid parental leave and legislate without further delay to implement the terms agreed in respect of parental leave under the Sustaining Progress Agreement
  • Assist parents with the cost of childcare by increasing Child Benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and to €185.50 for third and subsequent children and by increasing Child Dependent Allowance to a single weekly figure of €26 for all recipients
  • Introduce a Childcare Supplement to be paid as a top-up for Child Benefit for under 5's
  • Increase revenue for the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme, including capital, staffing and operational funding and immediately expedite all outstanding applications which have been delayed due to the review of the Programme
  • Remove the cap on the Creche Supplement and on the VTOS childcare supports, the cutting of which have caused severe hardship to parents and children in disadvantaged communities
  • Raise awareness of and increase funding for the Childminders' Grant scheme
  • Review the 'Childcare Facilities: Guidelines for Planning Authorities' to assess effectiveness of the guidelines and investigate the possibility of introducing legislation in line with Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to require developers to construct childcare facilities in housing developments and to transfer these to the ownership of the local authority upon completion
  • Bring forward legislation to effectively address the need for employers to share responsibility for provision of childcare for their employees.

Prioritise the health of children

The scandalously low income threshold for medical card qualification is one of the greatest causes of hardship in our society. People well below the minimum wage are not deemed to be in sufficient need to qualify. A couple with two children on a miserly €260 per week must pay the full cost of GP care. As a result parents often forego spending on their own healthcare needs to ensure that their children's needs are met.

When Sinn Féin tabled a Dáil Question to the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney on the cost of GP visits she stated that this was a 'private matter' between the doctor and patient. Yet the prohibitive cost of these visits is a cause of real hardship and is one of the factors contributing to the crisis in Accident and Emergency wards.

It is widely recognised that the most effective and efficient form of healthcare is primary care, including GP services. To be most effective these services must be accessible in terms of affordability, 24-hour coverage and location.

The government is duty bound to extend medical card qualification in Budget 2005. It has allowed the numbers qualifying to fall to record lows. It has long abandoned any pretence of delivering its promise of 200,000 further medical cards but it must make major progress immediately.

Therefore, in order to target those in greatest need and to ease the burden on parents and children alike, Sinn Féin is calling for:

  • Immediate extension of medical card eligibility to all under 18 as a key measure to address gross inequality and real hardship in our health system. This would cost approximately €116 million. (Department of Health, Dáil PQ).

This call is without prejudice to the need to widen the income qualification for the medical card. Sinn Féin also sees these measures as transitional as we seek an end to the two-tier public-private system and its replacement with universal provision based on the principles of need and equity.

Equal access to Education

Investment in primary education, including school building programmes and support for disadvantaged pupils should be the Government's education priority in this year's Budget. The ESRI has reported that the State would save €14 million annually if the Government could prevent young people dropping out of school before the Junior Certificate. Of course the wider benefits of eliminating such educational disadvantage and increasing participation in education are not quantifiable in mere monetary terms but would greatly enhance our society and our economy. Therefore Sinn Féin calls for:

  • School Building Programme to move to multi-annual funding based on a five year plan of targeted investment with the objective of eliminating the school building waiting list by 2010. It is totally unacceptable that thousands of pupils and teachers still have to cope with problems such as dilapidation, overcrowding and underheating in an economy where construction is booming.
  • Extension of the Early Start programme to all schools serving communities with significant levels of disadvantage.
  • Increased capitation grants for primary and secondary schools.
  • Increase investment in the National Education Welfare Board to enable it to fulfil its statutory obligation to ensure all children and young people receive an education.

Taxation justice to fund equality

It is essential to reform and re-weigh the taxation system in favour of the low paid and to increase the overall tax take by targeting wealth, speculative property and corporate profits. By this means we will fund the improved social provision which is so necessary.

Budget 2005 comes in the wake of the revelation that 11 millionaires and 242 people earning between €100,000 and €1 million per year paid no income tax at all in 2001. In the interim period incomes have increased markedly, as have the opportunities for the wealthy to avoid tax, courtesy of the many avoidance schemes introduced by this Government.

The Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners do not know how many tens of millions of euros are being lost every year through tax breaks for property speculators and developers of such commercial ventures as private hospitals, hotels, sports injury clinics, multi-storey car parks and a range of others.

In 2001, the latest year for which figures are available, over €1.8 billion was the cost of capital allowances. But the Government has carried out no cost-benefit analysis of the huge range of such allowances. Instead it tries to confuse the public by claiming that critics of its tax giveaways to the very wealthy are also targeting the untaxed status of Child Benefit. This is a blatant misrepresentation which only demonstrates the Government's desperation.

The reality is that while families on low income struggle to meet €40 bills for visits to the GP for their children.

The tax system must be reviewed, reformed and restructured with the aim of increasing overall tax take in order to increase social spending and infrastructural development. This must be based on equity and efficiency.

This will not be achieved in one Budget but a start should be made and measures could include:

  • End tax avoidance schemes such as tax breaks for developers of private hospitals. The cost of most of these schemes is unknown and the alleged benefit to society is not quantified. But such schemes are among the vehicles used by millionaires to pay little or no tax.
  • Measured increase in Corporation Tax, increased Capital Gains Tax for owners of multiple residential properties.
  • Create a 50% tax band for incomes in excess of €100,000.
  • Take the low paid out of the tax net.

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP will this afternoon warn the British government that Direct Rule for the six counties is not an option in the longer term. In the course of his speech to the annual Edentubber commemoration in County Louth, Mr Doherty said,

"The Good Friday Agreement was an admission by the British government that the six counties had failed as a political entity. Unionist rule for 50 years had failed and Direct Rule for 30 years had failed.

"Given this it is unacceptable and unreasonable to expect nationalists and republicans having signed on for the Good Friday Agreement to once again be inflicted with Direct Rule in the main administered by the unionist dominated NIO.

"If there is to be no political institutions in the north because of intransigence by a unionist political leadership, then the onus falls on the

two governments to jointly move the situation forward. Direct Rule is a direct subversion of the Good Friday Agreement and is not sustainable in the longer term. It is as simple as that.

"Whatever political arrangements are put in place they must have an all-Ireland dimension and they must deliver equality and human rights."

Full Text

"In the early hours of November 11th 1957 five Republicans were killed when a land mine exploded prematurely in a house here in Edentubber. They were Paul Smith (19) from Bessbrook, Oliver Craven (19) from Newry, Michael Watters (55) in whose cottage the fatal explosion occurred, George Keegan (29) from Enniscorthy and Paddy Parle (27) from Wexford Town.

From differing social and family backgrounds, they would have expected to live long and productive lives in a normal society, in whatever trade or profession they would have chosen. But as has been the case throughout the troubled history of our country, these brave Irishmen from North and South, like so many before them, opposed the injustice of British occupation of our country and choose the hard but noble road of freedom struggle.

They came from a tradition that has borne the brunt of the struggle for Irish freedom. That is our tradition.

The then Sinn Féin TD for Sligo and Leitrim and my predecessor as Vice President of Sinn Féin John Joe McGirl, delivered the graveside oration. In the course of it he said: "The tragedy which brought to a sudden end the lives of five great Irishmen is a tragedy of the Irish nation, the tragedy of an Ireland that is unfree and divided. These men came from the North and the South to join together to end the tragedy of our nation and her people.'

The IRA Volunteers who died here 47 years ago and the hundreds of men and women Volunteers who have since given their lives for Irish freedom have paved the way for the achievement of the dream of Irish Unity and the end of that tragedy.

This generation has the greatest opportunity since partition to finally achieve genuine national self-determination. But if we are to be successful then we must resist those in the political establishment who would have us lower our expectations.

Nobody is pretending that it will be easy. Nobody is pretending that difficulties will not pave the road ahead. But as Irish Republicans we have a responsibility to finish off the job.

We have just seen the 10th anniversary of the first IRA cessation pass. When republicans set out on that course over a decade ago none of us could have predicted the journey we would have travelled since then. Today Irish Republicanism is growing, strong and confident.

This decade has also seen the n remarkable growth of Sinn Féin. We now have representation across our island and in Westminster, Leinster House and further afield in Brussels. Indeed in the coming months I am confident that the people here today will see both Conor Murphy and Caitriona Ruane join that growing band of Sinn Féin MPs and TDs. The republican message of Irish Unity and Independence is now reaching arenas for so long closed to us by a combination of state repression and censorship.

But another lesson of the past ten years is that republicans cannot make peace on our own. We cannot make agreement on our own. That requires the British and Irish governments. That requires unionist leaders.

It is now almost a year on from the last Assembly elections. In that time we have been involved in a variety of discussions with the governments, in London, Dublin and elsewhere. But all of this has to date failed and failed for one reason only. The DUP, the party in the leadership of unionism, cannot accept you or I, or any republican or nationalist as an equal.

The Good Friday Agreement is as good as it gets for the unionists. There is no alternative. So they have to decide and decide quickly if they are up for sharing power or they are not. Are they up for all-Ireland institutions or are they not? Are they up for Equality? or Human Rights?

I have seen nothing to indicate that they are.

In fact what we have seen is the opposite. Unrealisable demands to change the fundamentals of the Agreement, in particular the all-Ireland and power sharing aspects. These demands cannot and will not be met. These issues were negotiated and agreed six years ago.

There will be no return to unionist domination, or unionist misrule or second class citizenship.

The DUP do not currently want to face up to this but rest assured they will eventually have to face up to the reality of negotiating with Sinn Féin because change will happen anyway. It is already underway and the confidence within republicanism and nationalism is a general reflection of that reality.

The unity, vibrancy and continual growth of Sinn Féin frightens the DUP. They are so afraid of the logic of our analysis that they cannot yet find the courage to negotiate face to face.

But the failure of the DUP to enter the 21st Century cannot be allowed to paralyse the political process. If the DUP are unwilling or incapable of doing the business now then the rest of us on this island cannot be expected to wait around for them to catch up.

The Good Friday Agreement was an admission by the British government that the six counties had failed as a political entity. Unionist rule for 50 years had failed and Direct Rule for 30 years had failed. Given this it is unacceptable and unreasonable to expect nationalists and republicans having signed on for the Good Friday Agreement to once again be inflicted with Direct Rule in the main administered by the unionist dominated NIO.

If there are to be no political institutions in the north because of intransigence by a unionist political leadership, then the onus falls on the two governments to jointly move the situation forward. Direct Rule is a direct subversion of the Good Friday Agreement and is not sustainable in the longer term. It is as simple as that.

Whatever political arrangements are put in place they must have an all-Ireland dimension and they must deliver equality and human rights.

The British government have time and again defended unionist interests. The democratically elected political representatives of Irish national opinion, and in particular the Irish government, has a responsibility to vigorously defend the interests of Irish nationalists across the island in any dealings with London.

In this respect the Irish government should deliver on representation in the southern institutions for those elected in the six counties as a herald of a national and democratic agenda. If provision is to be made at Westminster for unionist MPs to take up their seats then similar provisions must be made for six county MPs in Leinster House.

Irish citizens in the six counties must have voting rights granted in advance of the next Irish Presidential election.

There is also a heavy responsibility on both governments to deliver on the other outstanding aspects of the Agreement which lie directly in their gift.

We do not have proper policing. We do not have human rights. We do not have equality. We do not have justice. Qualifying republican prisoners remain in jail six years on from the Good Friday Agreement. And if ever there were a physical manifestation of the failure of Tony Blair to honour commitments and deliver obligations it is the hillsides and towns in this area.

Local communities demanding demilitarisation might embarrass the SDLP Councillors in South Armagh or elsewhere, but you certainly do not embarrass Sinn Féin and I pledge our continuing support for your campaign until the spy posts and those who occupy them are removed from our country.

We also must not forget the three Irishmen still being held in Colombia. Simply because they have slipped off the media agenda having being found innocent does not mean that they are not still in extreme danger and in need of our help, support and assistance until they are once again home with their families.

So, many challenges lie ahead in the coming months.

Sinn Féin has demonstrated a commitment to this process and to finding a resolution to the current crisis. But make no mistake we are equally determined to pursue our primary goal of Irish unity and independence.

Sinn Fein will celebrate our centenary in 2005 with a year-long series of events beginning in January.

We will face into elections, north and south. There will be a sustained effort in these campaigns by the opponents of Irish Unity and Irish republicanism to stop the advances we have made in recent years.

But I believe that we as Irish Republicans are up to the task. We have an opportunity to realise the objective for which brave IRA Volunteers died here 47 years ago.

A united, independent Irish Republic is not rhetoric for us, it is a real and live political project which if we are prepared to work hard and win even more people to our objective will be achieved. That is a responsibility we all share.

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The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met today in Dublin to review progress to date in the peace process and receive an update from party Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness on recent meetings with the two governments. Speaking during a break in the meeting Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

"We are now approaching the first anniversary of the Assembly election. Despite our negotiation team being involved in intensive discussions with the two governments throughout that time it is clear that the process is still stalled.

"It is stalled because the DUP have actively targeted the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement and in particular the all-Ireland and power sharing aspects. The DUP has not yet come to terms with the reality that there will be no going back on these core issues. They were negotiated and agreed upon six years ago.

"The two governments must now send a strong message to the rejectionists. They must ensure that the approach adopted by the DUP is not allowed to stall the process of change any longer.

"They need now to invest significant efforts and resources into a power sharing endeavour which will see the full implementation of the Agreement. The pro-Agreement majority across the island have waited long enough.

"The choice must be clear for the DUP. They can join with the rest of us and move forward along the course set out in the Agreement or that process will have to move on regardless." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan, speaking ahead of today's Sinn Féin National Conference on Waste Management, urged all political parities, "to sign up to a Zero Waste Charter and ensure that our economic growth is not at the expense of our environment. Protection of our environment must become a cross party priority for us all."

Speaking in Dublin this morning Councillor Doolan said:

"Everyone has the right to a safe, clean and unpolluted environment. Sinn Féin is committed to upholding that right and challenging those who would impose incinerators and landfill dumps on communities. These are not the solutions to our waste management crisis, in fact they will only contribute to the problem. These are short term, profit motivated, unsustainable solutions.

"Today's conference will give people from across the island an opportunity to change the direction of waste management in Ireland to one which is sustainable, community based and makes environmental and economic sense. The adoption of a waste management policy which has zero waste as its ultimate goal will remove the need for incineration and landfill, it will also benefit the people of Ireland today as well as ensuring a better quality of life for the future."

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan, "I find it ironic that as we meet today only across the street private consultants meet to promote incineration and massage this community into accepting an incinerator in Ringsend. To ensure our voices are heard we will be hosting a protest outside their meeting." ENDS

Sinn Féin Waste Management conference today 10:30am-4pm Ringsend Community Centre, Ringsend.

Anti Incineration Protest, 12am Ringsend Technical School, Cambridge Road, Ringsend.

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cept or acknowledge their role in the conflict.

"The British government should publicly acknowledge that as a protagonist it needs to be engaging with others to find a way forward on ways of dealing with the past. It is apparent to everyone else that only an independent body would have any chance of progressing this issue.

"It is clear that to date the British government has not been prepared to engage in an open honest debate and that there is no confidence in any process they claim to be leading." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP will speak at the annual Edentubber commemoration in County Louth this Sunday (November 14th).

The parade will leave the Ravensdale (on the main Newry - Dundalk Road) and proceed the short distance to the memorial at 2.30pm.

The media are welcome to attend.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking from the opening of a new Learn Assist Centre in his West Belfast constituency has said that failure of the DUP to accept the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement cannot stop the process of change.

Mr Adams said:

"It is clear that the current impasse is because of the failure of the DUP to accept the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement and their failure to accept nationalists and republicans on the basis of equality.

"The DUP have targeted the power-sharing and all Ireland principles of the Agreement. There will be no going back on these positions. That is the new political reality that the DUP has to come to terms with.

"The pro-Agreement majority who want progress cannot be expected to stand still while the DUP come into the 21st century. The inability or unwillingness of the DUP to engage and to accept the reality of the Good Friday Agreement cannot be allowed to paralyse the process of change.

"The two governments need to send a clear message to the rejectionists, and to all those who would frustrate the work of the peace process, that there is going to be a substantial and significant investment of effort and resources, into power-sharing by the governments to bring about the full implementation of the Agreement.

"The DUP have a choice. They can be part of the process now but that if they don't, or won't, or cannot then the process will move forward anyway." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghin Ó Caolain has expressed his regret at the news that Barford Meats in Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan is to close with the loss of 60 jobs. Management is currently in talks with SIPTU over redundancy settlements with the workforce. The Carrickmacross plant processes beef, pork and lamb for retail outlets. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"I understand that the prospect for the future of the plant is bleak and it is now facing closure. This is most regrettable and the loss of 60 jobs will come as a blow to the workers and their families, to the town of Carrickmacross and to South Monaghan. It is an especially grievous blow as Christmas approaches. I have already contacted the company to see if any assistance could be offered. However, it seems unlikely that closure can be averted.

"I am writing to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin calling on him to take a personal interest in this situation and to ensure, if the company cannot be saved, that replacement jobs are secured for the redundant workforce as a matter of urgency."ENDS

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Sinn Féin policing spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has launched a blistering attack on the PSNI after the dawn raid on the home of Ballymena Sinn Féin representative Michael Agnew this morning.

Mr Kelly said:

"Michael Agnew has been the target of a sustained Loyalist murder campaign. The actions of the PSNI this morning are part of a deliberate attempt to justify these attacks. The actions of the PSNI are further endangering the life of Michael Agnew. It is in stark contrast to the lack of action against the unionist murder gangs that are operating with impunity throughout the North Antrim and East Antrim areas.

"This raid is a clear example of political policing. It is an extension of the loyalist murder campaign. It is evidence of the ongoing existence of collusion between loyalists and the PSNI and will only offer further encouragement to those who have targeted Michael Agnew because he is a Sinn Fein representative.

"I again challenge all political parties to come out and condemn the actions of Loyalist paramilitaries in this area and indeed throughout the six counties. The actions of the PSNI today are also a stark and direct challenge to the SDLP and I want to reiterate my challenge to the SDLP policing spokesperson Alex Attwood to come out into the open and have a public debate on policing."

Gerry Kelly will be available to speak to the media today at 12 noon at the opening of a new job assist centre at the Upper Springfield Trust at the top of the Whiterock Road along with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP.

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Sinn Féin policing and justice spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly commenting on news that the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy will announce the de-specification of the UDA has said that while any move will be welcome it will only be judged against the ending of the UDA's sectarian and racist campaign of violence and intimidation.

Mr Kelly said:

"The de-specification of the UDA would be a welcome development if it marked an end to their campaign of sectarian and racist attacks and intimidation.

"The only test that the UDA will be judged against is a genuine end to its campaign of attack and intimidation against the ethnic and nationalist sections of our community." ENDS

Gerry Kelly will be available to speak to the media today at 12 noon at the opening of a new job assist centre at the Upper Springfield Trust at the top of the Whiterock Road along with Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP.

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The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle will meet tomorrow, Saturday 13th November, at the party headquarters in Dublin at 44 Parnell Square.

The party's Executive will be updated on the peace process by the Sinn Fein negotiating team and the upcoming elections will be also discussed.

National Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin will be available to speak to the media at 12.15 in 44 Parnell Square, Dublin.

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Sinn Féin's Ballymoney Councillor Philip McGuigan has again hit out at the handling of ratepayers money within Ballymoney Borough.

His comments relate to a recent decision by the council to increase the budget for the new stadium at the Riada Centre by £300,000.

Cllr McGuigan said:

"We often hear the DUP give long lectures about streamlining and efficiency when it comes to public finances. Their record however in Ballymoney Council, which they control is anything but efficient.

"Two recent projects spearheaded by the DUP, the town-hall development and now the stadium development, have went over budget by a staggering £500,000. These two projects in total will cost ratepayers £3.2 million. This is not giving the ratepayers of this Borough ŒA Fair Deal‚ as the DUP would put it.

"Because of this massive overspend next year‚s projects will have to be reduced. In effect this will mean that once again rural ratepayers will lose out when it comes to dividing out the council's budget.

"Over the last number of years the majority of money spent on projects have been spent in Ballymoney Town. Rural towns and villages across the Borough with inadequate play facilities, sports pitches, changing rooms, etc. are the victims of DUP inefficiency. The £300,000 overspend of this project would have went a long way to addressing some of these deficiencies."

Cllr McGuigan has demanded that action be taken to bring facilities in rural areas up-to-date. ENDS

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"People in Ballymoney Borough are sick and tired of the lack of political courage from within elected Unionism when it comes to the issue of flags", according to Sinn Féin Councillor Philip McGuigan.

Cllr McGuigan said:

"We are now in the month of November and yet we still have flags flying from lampposts in towns and villages in this borough with no attempt by Unionist representatives to address the issue.

"The situation in Cloughmills is an absolute disgrace. This is a mixed village and yet there are currently 25 Union Jacks and other loyalist flags in what is a very small settlement.

"People are left to draw no other conclusion that this is done deliberately with the intention of causing offence to nationalists living there. I also know that the situation is not supported by most Protestants in the village either. It is, in fact, an embarrassment to all decent people who are there.

"I would certainly like to know how 25 tattered and threadbare flags flying outside businesses, churches and houses where they are not wanted is a display of culture. Making a village more nuetral and accomadating to all is in no way a dilution of culture."

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