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Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has expressed concerns at the Agriculture Minister’s plans to increase tuition fees at the College of Agriculture Food & Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

The North Antrim MLA said:

“The Agriculture Minister should bin plans to increase tuition fees at the College of Agriculture Food & Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

“There is absolutely no rationale for this proposed increase given the low impact that subsiding these fees has on the Department’s budget. 

“The Minister's proposals will have a negative impact on students hoping to attend courses at CAFRE and potentially impact on the numbers able to attend these courses.

The skills challenge in rural areas is significant and by providing financial support and widening participation to education, such as that offered in CAFRE College, is pivotal to the sustainability and growth of the rural economy and rural communities.

“I will be writing to the Minister urging him to reconsider this decision.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Climate Justice, Senator Lynn Boylan, has welcomed the Port of Cork’s decision to cut ties with the company planning to develop a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) import terminal in the harbour, but is seeking clarity from Minister Eamon Ryan about other similar projects still in development.

Senator Boylan said:

“In an era of climate chaos, it doesn’t make sense to build new fossil fuel infrastructure like the LNG import terminal in Cork.

“Today is a big victory for the climate activists that have been building pressure, but sadly, now is not the time to take the pressure off.

“There are other LNG terminals planned off Cork, Mayo and Louth. Predator Oil and Gas want to turn Ireland into a major exporter of gas.

“According to the company’s end of year operational updated published just last month, Predator is focused on completing its planning application for a “floating storage and regasification unit” early in 2021.

“Building this infrastructure would create a 'lock in' effect to high levels of gas consumption, all but guaranteeing we won’t meet our emission reduction commitments.

“Minister Eamon Ryan needs to come out and say if these floating LNG terminals will still get the go ahead."

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Following on from Britain’s decision this afternoon to ban travel from 15 South American countries and Portugal over fears of a new coronavirus variant, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Darren O’Rourke TD, has called on the Irish Government to immediately address these concerns here.

Speaking this afternoon, Teachta O’Rourke said:

“We have received no information from the Irish Government on the new strain of coronavirus identified in South America that has now led to Britain imposing a travel ban on 15 South American countries in addition to Portugal.

“This information should be shared immediately and a decision on a similar travel ban here needs to be taken today.

“If the evidence points to this variant being more transmissible or dangerous, or if this is not yet known, then it is essential we follow suit with a similar travel ban on these countries immediately.

“We’ve seen the damage other coronavirus variants can do and with our health system currently in crisis we cannot take any further risks of importing new strains of Covid-19.

“I appreciate inward travel from most of these countries will be limited anyway, but it only takes one individual to import a new variant of this deadly virus.

“Now is the time for an abundance of caution. We cannot afford more mistakes in the handling of this pandemic.

“With this travel ban now applying to the north, it’s essential we have an all-Ireland approach and ensure restrictions are aligned across our island.” 

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Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has called on the Minister for Health and the Minister for Further and Higher Education to step up to the plate and pay student nurses and midwives.

Teachta McDonald said:

“The Minister for Health received the review on student nurse and midwife pay two weeks ago and I understand that there is a meeting to discuss it today.

“The situation has changed dramatically in the past two weeks.

“There was a severe staffing crisis before the pandemic; it is even worse now.

“The review was conducted before the current stage of the crisis and the review recognised that if the situation changed that it would be appropriate to return to the March pay agreement.

“Where students are needed to fill employment gaps - and make no mistake, they are - they should be paid appropriately at the healthcare assistant rate.

“The decision to pay student nurses and midwives lies with the Minister for Health, but Minister Simon Harris is also responsible for protecting students from exploitation.

“Minister Donnelly and Minister Harris need to step up to the plate and pay student nurses and midwives now. There should be no more delay.”

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DonnchadhSinn Féin spokesperson for Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has welcomed the announcement from Minister for Education Norma Foley that special schools and classes will reopen from Thursday January 21st.

However, he has urged the Minister to re-engage with stakeholders to ensure all those with additional needs are included in the reopening.

Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“I welcome the announcement that special schools and classes will reopen from next Thursday. This result is in no small part thanks to the brilliant work of advocacy groups and families of children with special educational needs.

"It is regrettable that many of these families had to make the difficult decision to share their stories in the media to get the government to listen. 

“This will be a huge relief for families who have been extremely frustrated and distressed from government u-turns of the past 10 days.

“Special schools are a lifeline for so many, and the ups and downs of the past week have been extremely distressing. 

“If the Minister had done things right and put contingencies in place, it would never have got to level of chaos we saw last week.

“We were clear from the start that children with special educational needs needed to be priority number one.

"I am glad that the Minister listened to us, and has taken the decision to reopen special schools and special classes in primary schools.

"I am also pleased she has also listened to our calls for school meals to continue, and I hope that she will listen to our call for increased vaccine priority for those working in special education.

“But I regret that those with additional needs in units in post-primary schools have not been facilitated. I will be seeking more clarity on how those with additional needs in mainstream classes will be facilitated.

"I regret that more hasn’t been done on this point, and I am calling on the Minister to engage with the appropriate stakeholders to ensure all children with special educational needs, both primary and post-primary, can be included in this return to school.

“It is only right that children with special educational needs are given priority for any reopening of schools.

"We will examine the detail of today’s announcement, and will look to ensure that the appropriate safety measures have been put in place, including surgical masks for SNAs and all in close contact with students, regular serial testing for staff in special education, and improved contact tracing.

“It is also essential that the 40% cut in funding for PPE is immediately reversed, and that urgent action is taken on ensuring safety on school transport, including rethinking how to ensure distancing can take place and providing drivers and bus escorts with the appropriate PPE.

“I reiterate my call for the Minister to engage with the HSE and the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to see if school staff can be considered for Group 6 on the priority list for the Covid-19 vaccine.

"I look forward to learning more about the potential for this move, after the Tánaiste indicated earlier this week that school staff will be recognised in this regard.

“Sinn Féin want to be constructive, and we will continue to engage with the Minister and all stakeholders to ensure that the return to school is safe and sustainable."

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David CullinaneSinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has called on the Minister for Health to apply common sense to the vaccine rollout and have doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine delivered and stored now ahead of EMA approval.

He said this would allow for a more rapid rollout by GPs and pharmacies once it is approved.

Teachta Cullinane said:

“When the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is approved, it will be a gamechanger and we need to be ready for this.

“Vaccine doses should be delivered to GPs and pharmacies ahead of approval as this will allow them to begin rolling it out as soon as it is approved.

“For this to be speedy, we also need to get the registration system right.

“GPs are currently able to register for a vaccine, but pharmacists cannot.

“We are also hearing many reports from GPs unable to access the registration system.

“GPs, pharmacists, and their staff need to be fully vaccinated before they can administer the vaccine to the public.

“We cannot waste time on this and the Minister for Health needs to rapidly apply common sense to the vaccine rollout, especially as AstraZeneca already has large quantities manufactured.

“I am very concerned by indefensible reports of upper management and non-patient facing staff getting the vaccine before frontline staff.

“None of it should go to waste, but there should not be much risk of this if it is organised properly.

“I am also concerned at reports of Germany and others buying up additional doses of the vaccines ahead of other EU states.

“This should not be happening and all Member States should be getting timely access to their fair share of the vaccine.”

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Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy has welcomed confirmation that used cars sold to businesses and consumers in the North from Britain will not incur an additional 20% VAT.

The Mid-Ulster MP said:

“The confirmation today from the British Government that used cars sold to car dealerships and consumers in the North will not incur additional VAT is welcome.

“This additional 20% would have crippled many businesses in the North, resulted in the loss of jobs and resulted in families paying extra money for cars.

“Sinn Féin have engaged with car dealerships over the course of recent months on this issue and continuously raised their concerns directly with the British Government and Michael Gove.

“The British Government must now take urgent steps to mitigate against all impacts of Brexit for the North, including the importation of goods, unjust duty on steel and other resources. 

“Sinn Féin will continue to protect families, workers and businesses from Brexit.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has today called on the Minister to urgently publish the contingency plans in place for the Leaving Certificate, and to provide necessary clarity to 6th year students.

Teachta Ó Laoghaire said: 

 “I wholly regret that again today the Minister has not published any contingency plans for this year’s Leaving Certificate. I have been calling on her to do so for months now. 

“It has been an extremely difficult 12 months for 6th years students, with enormous learning time lost in 5th year and now the chaos of the Government’s u-turns of the past week to contend with. It is a disgrace that this year group have been let down so badly by the Minister and her Department.  

“I urge the Minister to listen to the students and to take seriously their concerns. 

“The mock exams are coming up in the next few weeks. Deadlines for some projects are this week and next. Oral and practical exams are also set to take place in the very near future. Students need clarity on when and how these will go ahead. 

“If the Minister had spoken to the students, she would know that the changes that have been made to the Leaving Cert papers this year go nowhere near far enough. Much more radical change is required at a minimum, and perhaps much more than that. The Government needs to take seriously the level of learning loss that the current 6th years have experienced. 

“The Minister needs to be transparent and honest with students. She must accept at this stage that there is a question over the provision of a traditional Leaving Cert this year. It has not been a traditional 12 months for 6th year students.  

“Today, I again urge the Minister and her Department of Education to engage honestly and frankly with all of the options on the table, but most importantly, to listen to students, to engage with students. This isn’t an issue that can drift into the Spring, students are calling out for clarity now. 

“This is urgent – the Minister must communicate with students in a clear and considered way her contingency plans for this year’s Leaving Certificate. It is the least these students deserve.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD and spokesperson on Workers' Rights Louise O'Reilly TD have said that reports that senior hospital staff members who do not treat patients have been given Covid-19 vaccines ahead of medical and healthcare workers is a source of great frustration for those working on the frontline.

Teachta Cullinane said:

“As the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination continues, it is important that the Vaccination Allocation Sequencing, approved by government and issued by the HSE, in the ‘National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme’ is adhered to.

“The prioritisation list states that frontline healthcare workers in direct patient contact roles are to be to the forefront of the vaccination programme.

“It is therefore worrying to hear from healthcare workers in some of our hospitals that there is no uniform approach to vaccinating. 

"This has led to non-frontline staff receiving vaccines before medical and healthcare staff working directly with patients on the wards.

"One reason given for that happening is that hospitals do not want to see any vaccine allocation wasted.

"Nobody wants to see that, but that should not lead to staff not working on the frontline appearing to skip the queue to receive the vaccine ahead of those who do and need it most.

"That has understandably caused great frustration for frontline staff."

Teachta O'Reilly said:

"If there is a risk of vaccination waste, it is frontline workers who must be fast-tracked to ensure that does not happen - not senior staff who have little or no contact with patients.

“Vaccines are at a premium right now and hospitals cannot just give the jab to who they wish. There needs to be a uniform approach for very clear and obvious public health and workers’ rights reasons.

"Frontline workers are at risk and it is imperative that hospitals adhere to the Vaccination Allocation Sequencing laid out in the National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme.

“This is not about pitting workers against each other, this is about ensuring that those staff who are most at risk of contracting the virus due to their frontline role are prioritised."

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Pearse DohertySinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has today introduced the Insurance (Restriction on Differential Pricing and Profiling) Bill to the Dáil.

The legislation would reduce insurance prices, increase fair competition, and the reduce the time and money customers spend switching.

Speaking today, Teachta Doherty said: “The Insurance (Restriction of Differential Pricing and Profiling) Bill 2020, which I introduced to the Dáil today, is a landmark moment for the Irish insurance market.

“This legislation will ban dual pricing in the insurance market, reduce prices and increase fair competition in the market.

"Insurance companies use dual pricing to identify customers who are less price-sensitive and target them with artificially high premiums.

“They do so using opaque and complex pricing models using big data without the knowledge of consumers.

“Its objective is simple - to overcharge customers as much as they possibly can.

"Last month the Central Bank confirmed that insurers in the Irish market use dual pricing to price-gouge their customers, with renewing customers paying significantly more than the actual cost of their policy.

"It affects more than 70% of insurance customers, with the report showing that 2.5 million policyholders are paying a total of €187 million more than the actual cost of their policies as a result of dual pricing.

"The Central Bank also found that this disproportionately impacts older and more vulnerable customers.

"It’s time to ban dual pricing.

"In Britain, the FCA found that a ban to dual pricing would save consumers between €4 and €12 billion over the next decade, increasing competition and transparency.

"That is why the British regulator is banning the practice. It is why dual pricing has been banned in 20 US States since 2014. 

"Dual pricing discriminates, it overcharges customers and distorts the market.

"My legislation will ban its use.

"This legislation will reduce premiums, resulting in significant savings for consumers.

"It will also require insurers to inform customers of the factors they have used to calculate their premiums at renewal.

"It will require the Central Bank to regulate this ban on dual pricing, and publish a Code of Practice that will assist both the Courts and the FSPO where an insurance company has broken these new laws.

"Sinn Féin vowed to end the rip-off by the insurance industry.

"Banning dual pricing was a commitment we made in our General Election Manifesto.

"This legislation will ban the practice and reduce prices for consumers. I hope and expect that it will receive cross-party support.

“Irish consumers deserve no less.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Justice Senator Lynn Boylan has welcomed the government’s consultation on a microgeneration scheme but cautioned against unnecessary barriers blocking access to ordinary people.

Speaking today, Senator Boylan said:

“The microgeneration consultation is a welcome development. Sinn Féin have campaigned for years for microgeneration and introduced legislation in the form of Brian Stanley’s Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill as far back as 2017.

“Microgeneration has the potential to spread the benefits of the transition throughout society. That outcome is not automatically guaranteed, and devil is in the detail.

“We look forward to making a submission to the consultation which seeks to ensure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past with wind energy - we need real engagement and to share the benefits of the renewables transition widely.

“We want to see that there are no unnecessary barriers to accessing the scheme and where they do exist, that there are supports to overcome them.

“Done right, this scheme could ensure that ordinary people play an important role in the transition and that renewables benefit their lives in a tangible way."

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Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has said extending the rail network throughout the north west should be the goal to improve connectivity across the island. 

The Foyle MLA said:

“It's clear that rail has a major role to play in our islands future for connecting communities and achieving green, sustainable transport.

“Sinn Féin has been calling for the Transport Ministers north and south to look at extending the rail network to the north west as part of a long-term transport strategy. 

“A rail extension from Derry to Letterkenny for example, would mean Donegal would once again have access to rail, connecting the county to the rest of the northern rail network.

“At the Infrastructure committee today, I requested an update from the Minister on what actions have been taken towards addressing this vital issue and I will continue to do so." 

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Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy has called for duty placed on steel transported into the North to be urgently scrapped.

The Mid Ulster MP said:

“It is deeply concerning that steel originating from outside of Britain and bought by companies in the North will incur a 25% safeguard duty.

“I have been speaking with many engineering companies across the North, and in particular Mid-Ulster, who fear for the sustainability of their business should this duty remain in place.

“I have also been speaking with workers in larger international manufacturing firms who are concerned their employers might consider moving their business out of the North.

“The British Government must take urgent action to scrap this unjust duty that is burdening businesses.

“This shows again the brutal and real reality of Brexit for our island.

“There is no good Brexit for Ireland and Sinn Féin will continue to work to protect families, workers and businesses.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has responded to today’s Statistical Release on Retail Interest Rates by the Central Bank by calling on banks to cut interest rates for Irish borrowers, who now suffer the highest mortgage interest rates in the EU.

He also said that the release, which shows the average mortgage interest rate in November stood at more than twice the EU average - underlined the threat posed by Ulster Bank withdrawing from the Irish market.

Teachta Doherty said:

“Today’s release by the Central Bank shows that the average mortgage interest rate for Irish borrowers in November, at 2.79 percent, is the highest in Europe and more than twice the EU average.

“This results in Irish borrowers paying thousands more in interest per year than the average European borrower.

“In September, I called on lenders to follow new entrant and Spanish-owned lender Avant Money by cutting their interest rates, after it offered fixed and variable rates below the current rip-off average being offered by Irish banks.

“That Avant Money is able to offer lower interest rates is proof that these high interest rates can be reduced.

“Today’s release by the Central Bank also underlines the serious threat posed by the exit of Ulster Bank from the Irish market.

“As the Deputy Governor confirmed to me in written correspondence on 2nd December, the withdrawal of Ulster Bank could lead to higher interest rates and weaker credit availability.

“Given mortgage interest rates are already the highest in the EU, the threat this poses to borrowers cannot be overstated.

“The Minister for Finance must make the future of Ulster Bank a priority in the months ahead.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan has welcomed the announcement that new rapid COVID-19 tests are to to be rolled out in hospital emergency departments. 

The party’s health spokesperson said:

“The announcement that new rapid COVID-19 tests to be rolled out in emergency departments is very welcome.

“This will assist staff in caring for those who present for urgent or emergency care in a way that helps keep patients and staff safe.

“While this is a positive development it is still important that people stay home where possible, practice social distancing and only those who need to access urgent or emergency care attend EDs.

“Ultimately we need a coherent strategy to tackle this virus and suppress transmission rates in order to protect the health of the public and reduce the immense pressure on our health and social care staff.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has criticised the Minister for Health for not resolving ongoing pay disputes or delivering on promises made on capacity. He also criticised the government for moving beyond the public health advice in early December.

Teachta Cullinane said:

“In reality, the government wasted the summer months.

“The Minister for Health failed to put adequate testing and bed capacity in place.

“I published a plan in August which proposed rapid build modular units to deliver more beds and ICU capacity.

“I also called on the Minister to deal with the pay issues which are a barrier to hiring consultants.

“The Minister could have ended the two-tier pay system, and could also have paid student nurses and midwives.

“The Minister’s lack of action is one of the reasons why staff in hospitals are at breaking point.

“Frontline healthcare workers are overworked, exhausted and anxious about the period ahead.

“From my engagement with health unions, I know that healthcare workers are burnt out and feel let down.

“They know the worst is coming and have had no break for more than a year now.

“They have had no time for rest and there will be no let up even after the pandemic until the Minister’s promises on staff and capacity are delivered on.

“I hope the government have learned from the experience of the last few weeks - it is never good to push back, undermine or move ahead public health advice.

“The consequences are real - rising hospitalisations, an increasing number of healthcare staff out sick with Covid-19 and a real crisis in our hospitals.

“We always knew this could get away from us if we did not get it right."

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Kathleen Funchion TD, has paid tribute in the Dáil to survivors who shared their stories with the Mother and Baby Homes Commission and urged the Government to ensure it finally does the right thing by them.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Teachta Funchion said:

“I want to pay tribute to and commend all of the women and children, many now adults, who heroically came forward and shared their stories. Who fought with courage and determination and who did not give up.

“Over the past number of years I have had the privilege of getting to know many people who are survivors of mother and baby homes, some women who had their babies stolen and some children born into the homes who were denied a relationship with their birth mother.

“Through many conversations I have had with them, one common message always rings through; nobody within the state was willing to listen to them, when forced into these institutions and since then they have been failed on many occasions by this state including this government.

“Mother and baby homes were not 'homes' they were detention centres. A home is somewhere you are supposed to feel safe, loved and protected. Not a place where you are tortured, imprisoned and forced to give birth in the most appalling conditions – often without medical support or even basic pain relief.

“These walls hid torture, deprivation and humiliation on a colossal scale. Human rights did not exist in these centres. As a mother, a daughter, a sister and an Irish citizen I cannot countenance this cruelty.

“When will we learn that survivors need to be listened to, they don’t need our sympathy, they need and they deserve our action. Survivors need assurances that their rights are vindicated, especially their right to unconditional access to birth certificates irrespective of their status of birth. 

“And for their families they need a clear and statutory right to their own ‘care’ or adoption file and to records concerning a family member who died in ‘care’ or adoption.

“It is my fervent wish that the courage shown by survivors in coming forward is now met by meaningful action by government.

The state has failed you.

The state didn’t listen.

The state didn’t care.

The state turned a blind eye.

The state must now accept responsibility and come good for survivors.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan has said the decision by AQE to cancel its planned transfer test is the right decision.

The Foyle MLA said:

“Cancelling the transfer test is the right decision and long overdue having unnecessarily added to the anxiety and stress that children, parents and staff are under.

“It’s extremely disappointing that it took schools taking matters into their own hands and opting not to use this test for AQE to finally make a decision to cancel it.

“This also highlights the failure of the Education Minister to provide leadership and put our children’s interests first.

“The Minister now needs to do what he should have done months ago and that is making sure credible alternatives which don’t involve academic selection testing are in place which are fair, inclusive and place the needs and interests of children first.”

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Below is the address of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD to the Dáil on the Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes:

Yesterday was a day of mixed emotions for the survivors of Mother and Baby Homes.

After five years, the report of the Commission was finally published. It was a very long process from which many survivors and their advocates felt excluded and ignored.

Still, there was slight hope that the publication of the report would bring truth and real accountability.

For many those hopes were dashed. Sadly, many survivors are upset, deflated and angry by some of what they have read in the report.

The assertions that there were no forced adoptions, that there exists little evidence of physical abuse and the overarching attempt to shift responsibility from the State and churches has left survivors shocked and some outraged. 

They are equally furious that still barriers to accessing basic documentation, including birth certificates, are placed in their way by the State.

This circling of the wagons only adds to their trauma and exacerbates the failures of the State.

The purpose and the power of testimony is that it is given to be believed. 

But many survivors feel they were not heard, and they were not believed.

They know that they were coerced.

That they were forced to give up their children.

They know that they were physically and mentally abused.

And whatever they read, they know that the State and churches are responsible for the violation of their most basic human rights.

It is plainly untrue to suggest that the whole of Irish society is responsible. That is a distortion of history. 

The truth is, that these crimes were perpetuated by a reactionary Catholic Church and a confessional State. 

Those in power outsourced their responsibilities to the religious orders, to the churches - including Protestant churches - from the accounts of survivors of places like the Bethany Home.

This was done by the powerful to those who were vulnerable. 

Any idea that ‘we did this to ourselves’ is deeply insulting to victims and survivors, and it is a cop out.

We now know the death rate of children born in these institutions was multiples of the infant mortality rate in Ireland at the time.

9,000 children died in the eighteen institutions covered by the report. 

And as horrific as this is, it is but a glimpse of the true horror that would have been uncovered had the investigation received a wider remit - a remit to capture the vast network of institutions involved in the adoption system; all on the watch of, with the connivance of and funded by the Irish State and successive governments.

It is now crucially important that provision is made for the excavation of sites at former homes throughout the State.

Many women and families know that their children and relatives are buried on these grounds, but they can’t pinpoint where. 

These mothers and families must be afforded the human dignity of reclaiming the remains of their children, so that they claim ownership of their own individual stories and experiences.

Not only is it time for the State and the church, as the perpetrators of these abuses, to issue formal apologies - but to take responsibility for these horrific violations.

An appropriate point for the current administration to start is to afford the respect and dignity due to single parent families, who to this day remain marginalised, and poor, and are often regarded as the low-hanging fruit when the Budgets get tight and when the so-called ‘tough decisions’ have to be made. 

There must be full redress and compensation and the rights of survivors and adopted people to access their own information must be realised - the importance of that cannot be overstated.

We wouldn’t have gotten to this point if it wasn’t for the dedicated, selfless actions of countless people - of survivors and of advocates.

Neil Meehan’s work in uncovering the deaths and mortality rate at the Bethany Home was landmark.

But it is to Catherine Corless that we owe the greatest debt.

She discovered the remains of eight hundred babies in a mass unmarked grave in Tuam. 

The lived experiences documented within the report amount to a devastating catalogue of heartbreak, misery and the violation of basic human rights. 

I want to acknowledge the Taoiseach’s apology to victims and survivors today on behalf of the State. It is something that they have waited a long time to hear.

But it is not true to say what was witnessed was a failure of empathy and compassion in Irish society.

More profoundly - it was an abuse of power.

It was the ultimate abuse of authority.

It was a brutality inflicted on women, and girls and on the poor in particular.

The value of any sincere apology is always found in the actions that follow.

In this, victims and survivors are crystal clear. 

They want meaningful action and they want to be involved in formulating the State’s approach.

A good starting point would be to address the fact that the work of the Commission covers just eighteen institutions, whereas the Clann Project submitted a list of 182 institutions, individuals and agencies involved in adoption, informal ‘adoption’ and other forced family separation.

The apology today must be understood to extend to the women and children who went through all of these institutions; County Homes, children who were boarded out - often in circumstances of indentured servitude - and those who were illegally adopted.

Thus far the current and former governments have refused to progress the detailed recommendations of the Mother and Baby Home Collaborative Forum.

These, alongside the recommendations of the Clann Project, must be advanced.

The Taoiseach must also deliver on his commitment to create a National Archive of Institutional, Adoption and Other ‘Care’-Related records while ensuring proper implementation of EU GDPR rights by all controllers of institutional, adoption and other ‘care’-related records.

In addition to its moral obligations to survivors, the State has numerous human rights duties under international law; including affording access to social services and redress.

This means a redress scheme that can be accessed without unnecessary red-tape, and ensures that the age profile of survivors and families is taken into account. 

Victims rightly point out that a complicated process would only serve to delay and re-traumatise them.

Everything that now must be about acknowledging the full extent of the wrongdoing without qualification.

A real duty of care from government is expected now more than ever.

It is, with this in mind, that I say that the deliberate leaking of the Commission’s report at the weekend was a disgraceful attempt to manage this story.

There is a very serious case to be answered in this regard. 

The legacy of the Mother and Baby Homes is one of shameful crimes perpetrated against women and children by the State, by the churches and other institutions.

Women abused and forced to work without pay. Children who died of malnutrition, untreated illness and neglect. Some were used as guinea pigs in drug and vaccine trials.

It is wrong to use the word ‘home’ in relation to these institutions. 

A home is somewhere you are safe.

A home is somewhere you are loved. 

A home is where you belong.

These institutions were immoral prisons.

There was no love, no kindness, no care.

Our job is to ensure that the survivors now feel from us - the love, the dignity, and the protection - of a real home.

Modern Ireland must step up to the mark in providing what the Ireland of the past stole from them - the truth and justice and the full protection and rigours of the law. 

I want to finish with the words of my good friend Joan McDermott, who was imprisoned in Bessborough for eight months.

She was made to cut the grass of the grounds with scissors.

Joan gave birth to a baby boy, his name is David. He was taken from her without her consent or her knowledge and she didn’t see him again for five long decades.

She said: “When I saw my son for the first time in fifty years, he made the most profound statement. He asked me ‘mam, how old am I really?’. He didn’t know how old he was. He had no birth cert; he had never been abroad. He has a birth cert now. You and I take those things for granted.”

For Joan. For David. For the tens of thousands of women robbed of their futures, for the children robbed of their childhoods. 

For those who died behind those high walls and iron gates, and who were buried in unmarked graves. 

For those who made it out and survived to tell the harrowing tale - let today - though imperfect and unfinished - be the start of the final length of a long road to justice. 

This is not over.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade, Employment, and Workers’ Rights, Louise O’Reilly TD, has said the vote by ex-Debenhams workers to reject proposals put to them by the Labour Court Chairperson is an indication that they will only accept a fair redundancy package.

Speaking this afternoon, Teachta O’Reilly said:

“The vote today by ex-Debenhams workers to reject a dispute resolution proposal from the Labour Court, by a margin of 91 per cent, is a clear indication that they will only accept a fair redundancy package.

“The proposal document which stated that the Government would establish a €3 million training, upskilling, and business start-up fund was given fair consideration by the workers, but the final result, 393 votes against and only 37 for, is an indication of the strong feeling amongst the workers that the proposal fell far below their expectations.

“Indeed, the caveat that workers could not access cash from the fund was certainly a significant barrier to attracting the workers support.

“The result of the ballot should be a wake-up call to the Government, the liquidators, KPMG, and the company, that the workers will only accept a fair redundancy package.

“I would implore all parties to sit down with the workers and their Trade Union, Mandate, and once and for all agree a fair redundancy package for these workers who have been on strike for almost a year.

“Sinn Féin once again offers its support to the workers, and will do all in its power to represent the interests of the workers and will continue to push the Government to broker a deal with delivers for them.”

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