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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Gaeilge, Gaeltacht, Arts and Culture, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, today called for a full explanation from Minister Catherine Martin as to why the long-awaited basic income for the arts has been delayed for the third time since applications closed.

Teachta Ó Snodaigh said:

“Minister Martin has spent over a year promising artists whose livelihoods were destroyed by pandemic restrictions that a basic income was on the way.

"The Minister provided hope to many when she committed €25 million to it in the Budget last year on the basis that applications would open in early Q1 2022, with the first payments promised for April.

“Instead, applications did not open until April, and now we know it will be after Budget 2023 before any funding actually reaches artists’ pockets.

"Applicants were then emailed in May to say that the high level of applicants – 9,000 – meant they applicants would have to wait until June to find out if they were successful. Then they were emailed in June to say the same high level of applicants meant they had to delay until July.

"Now as July draws to a close, they received a third email, with the same excuse about the high level of applicants being used to justify delaying selection until September.

“Given that there has been no change in the number of applicants since May, why the repeated delays? This comes after the opening of applications was delayed, as a result of the consultation with stakeholders being delayed from last year.

“This effectively means that the €25 million promised for the scheme in Budget 2022 was a phantom figure, and won’t in fact be spent this year.

“To the many artists who have been forced to sell equipment, leave the sector, or even emigrate to make ends meet in the meantime, a €25 million underspend for vital arts supports at a time when the sector is on its knees would be a total betrayal.

“Minister Martin has proven utterly incapable of keeping her word to our artistic community and cultural workers. How many more months can they face being strung along with the promise of getting supports, if they’re lucky enough to be picked at all?

“It was a shameful decision to begin with for the Minister to turn what was originally proposed by the Taskforce as a recovery programme for all artists and arts workers into what is now essentially a lottery system for the lucky few, based on pure chance rather than need, that won’t reach anybody until far too late to aid recovery.

“Minister Martin must explain how her Department ended up blindsided by 9,000 applications to begin with, when the very report where the basic income was first proposed itself identified a potential 55,000 directly employed in the wider arts sector.

"What sort of numbers had been expected and planned for, and what work went into setting deadlines and making sure they were realistic before making promises they could not keep?

“Had she been honest from the start about timelines, Minister Martin could have put in place a robust system of temporary immediate supports at the same time as this pilot was being developed – like Sinn Féin’s proposal for a Hardship Fund to help those struggling most – instead of rejecting them on the basis that this basic income would be up and running within no time.

“Instead of unachievable deadlines and phoney excuses, it’s time for government to give artists some respect. The 9,000 applicants need a cast iron guarantee from Minister Martin that they won’t get another last-minute email in September telling them they’ll just have to wait another few months.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly is seeking an urgent meeting with PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne over fresh allegations that a PSNI officer shared images from a police computer of a victim of  suicide. 

The party’s policing spokesperson and member of the Policing Board said: 

“Further reports that a PSNI officer shared images of a victim of suicide are deeply disturbing and shocking. 

“It’s my understanding that a member of the PSNI has been suspended on full pay for five years and is awaiting the outcome of a PPS decision. 

“The media are also reporting that one officer has now been dismissed from the PSNI while other investigations are ongoing. 

“However, it is unacceptable that any family should have to wait five years for action to be taken. 

“The question is why has it taken so long for the senior staff of the PSNI to act on what are very serious allegations.

“There have clearly been  failures in the system to act on these complaints.  

“I have spoken to the Chief Constable Simon Byrne and he has agreed to meet to discuss these very serious issues.

“I will make it clear that these actions cannot be tolerated within any police service whose duty it is to protect citizens. 

“This is a matter of public confidence in the police and it must be transparent, accountable and fair.

“More importantly it has brought further trauma to an already grieving family.”

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Sinn Féin group leader on Causeway Coast and Glens Council Leanne Peacock has said the party will continue to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the Extraordinary Audit Office report to ensure transparency and accountability.

Speaking after a Special Council meeting to discuss the report, Cllr Peacock said:

“I welcome the acceptance from councillors of the recommendations of the recent audit office report at tonight’s special Council meeting. 

“The serious failings, and actions of officers, identified in the report are simply not acceptable and urgent action is required from council to right these wrongs and ensure that nothing of this nature can ever happen again.

“Sinn Féin supported this motion to ensure transparency, accountability and good local government that works in the interests of the community and the ratepayers that it serves.

“We will continue to monitor the implementation of these recommendations.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing, Eoin Ó Broin TD, has described today's RTB rent report as "more bad news for renters". 

Teachta Ó Broin called on Government to apply the 2% Rent Pressure Zones to "all counties, all tenancies and all rental stock".

The latest report shows new rents up 9% in Q1 of this year on the pervious year. Average rents statewide are €1,460 per month and in Dublin are €2,015.

12 counties have double digit rent inflation, 4 counties have inflation above 20% - with Leitrim experiencing the highest inflation at 22%.

The Dublin Mid-West TD said:

"Todays Q1 2022 RTB rent report is more bad news for renters. New rents are up 9%. 12 counties have double digit rent inflation, with 4 above 4%. Leitrim has seen the highest inflation at 22%.

"The level of rent increases outside Rent Pressure Zones is now so high that Government must move to ensure all tenants, in all counties are protected by the 2%. This should apply to existing, renewed and new tenancies, and include new properties to the market.

"Today we have had news of rising house prices and rising rents. It is clear that the Government's plan is not working. Social and affordable housing delivery remains glacial.

"Budget 2023 is the last chance for Government to change course. Unless they dramatically increase investment in and accelerate the delivery of public housing to meet social and affordable housing needs, then this crisis will get worse.

"In the meantime Minister Darragh O’Brien must extend the Rent Pressure Zones to all counties, to new and existing tenancies, and to existing and new rental stock."

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Public acute hospitals in the state are estimated in a ESRI report published today to need up to 15,500 more staff within 13 years.

This will represent a substantial challenge as staff shortages exist at present driven in part by a lack of training places across the further and higher education sector.

Teachta Conway-Walsh said:

“The ESRI report clearly demonstrates the scale of the workforce planning needed in all areas of healthcare.

“Our hospital system is already struggling under acute staff shortages. At the same time the severe lack of GPs, dentists, and pharmacists poses a major threat to community healthcare.

“In order to meet this challenge, we need to ramp-up training across the healthcare system.

“We have a high rate of young people going to third-level but that doesn’t mean that we have the right balance of places to meet the needs of our society.

“The ESRI report comes on the back of an economic evaluation into higher education that highlighted how a decade of austerity in higher education has created a situation where colleges have been pushed to increase the number of cheaper to deliver courses at the expense of more expensive cost intensive subjects.

“The evaluation highlighted how this has particularly been the case in health and social care subjects.

“The government needs to join the dots on the staff shortages in healthcare and the lack of third-level places.

“By the government’s own admission, there is a €307 million funding gap. That needs to be filled and that funding should go hand in hand with the ramping up of healthcare places in the system.”

ESRI report: https://www.esri.ie/system/files/publications/RS147.pdf

Economic evaluation: https://www.gov.ie/en/policy-information/49e56-future-funding-in-higher-education/

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Sinn Féin have today published the Energy Poverty Strategy Bill 2022 to ensure that the government takes urgent steps to help people hit by high energy costs.

The legislation would commit the government to establishing an Energy Poverty Advisory Group and delivering an Energy Poverty Strategy to ensure that people struggling with expensive electricity and heating bills get much-needed help to ensure they can afford these costs.

Speaking today as he launched the legislation, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Action, Darren O’Rourke TD, said:

“Energy bills are far too high and are spiralling out of control. We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis and people are worried about how they will be able to afford their heating and electricity bills. The government must take urgent steps to help people who need a break from high energy costs.

“Despite the urgency of this issue, the government has failed to act. Shockingly, the last Energy Poverty Strategy lapsed in 2019, and has not been replaced, despite our repeated calls. There is a serious lack of data in this area – which means energy poverty cannot be properly identified or tackled. Our Bill would ensure the government introduces a strategy so that people can get appropriate support urgently. The government cannot bury their heads in the sand on this issue and pretend this crisis isn’t happening.

“The Bill would also ensure that the government establishes an Energy Poverty Advisory Group, which was recommended back in 2016, and that there are agreed definitions and measurements of energy poverty. This is essential for the introduction of targeted supports.

“The government’s continued inaction highlights a shocking disregard for people who face unaffordable energy bills and a lack of will to address it. This must stop. The time to take action to help people with high energy costs is now.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, said:

“Across the country, people are deeply anxious about paying their heating and electricity bills. Bills were sky high last year and many families struggle to keep on top of them. They are set to rise even higher this Autumn and Winter. Simply put, many people’s finances won’t stretch far enough.

“The government has to act and ensure it takes crucial steps to deliver much-needed support for people struggling with high energy costs. Our Bill would be an important first step in forcing the government to acknowledge and begin to address the problem.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Justice, Senator Lynn Boylan, said:

“Sinn Féin’s legislation would ensure families hit by high energy costs could get the targeted support they need. The government has been kicking the can down the road on this issue for far too long and ordinary people are forced to pay the price.

“It is scandalous that the Energy Poverty Strategy was allowed to lapse in 2019, especially given the dire cost of living crisis which is hitting people across Ireland.

“The government must act now and ensure it delivers on this issue. Families will be worried sick about how they can cover the cost of their energy bills in the Autumn and Winter. The government must act now to ensure people get the support they need. 

“Sinn Féin in government would stand up for people hit by the cost of living crisis, to ensure they get a break from spiralling costs.” 

 Sinn Féin's Energy Poverty Strategy Bill 2022 is available to view here

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has reiterated his call for the government to step up workforce planning for the health service.

He said that a Sinn Féin government would establish a high-level group including the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Health and Further and Higher Education to implement a 10-year health workforce strategy.

Teachta Cullinane added that for the last 20 years and more, successive governments failed to look ahead and train, recruit, and retain enough healthcare workers to safely and fully staff the health service, and that the consequences of this were clear for all to see in outdated contracts, understaffing, and major burnout.

Teachta Cullinane said:

“The ESRI report published today on health workforce needs is a stark reminder of the extent of the challenge facing the health service.

“There is no plan in place to train, recruit, and, crucially, retain enough specialist healthcare professionals to reach the 15,000 target by 2035.

“We need a high-level group, led by the Taoiseach, Minister for Health, and Minister for Further and Higher Education, to implement a 10-year health workforce strategy.

“The government needs to bring its full muscle to bear on the many workforce challenges facing the health service.

“We know there are hundreds if not thousands of highly qualified Irish graduates leaving our shores every year for better working conditions in Australia and elsewhere.

“We need to stem the bleeding. The HSE must engage with students in college, particularly their final year, to guide them into appropriate employment in the health service, and ensure that we do not lose them abroad or to the private sector.

“They must continue to engage with young people who are employed in the health service and contemplating leaving. For those that do leave for training and experience, they must know that a job is waiting for them to return to, and that they have a government actively working to make the health service a better place to work.

“The government must also set out a multi-annual plan to increase college places for health and social care professions, with a job guarantee for those graduates.

“Sinn Féin is proposing a 10% increase each year in health and social care graduate places for the next five years.

“We would deliver larger increases where possible in some professions such as occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, where we do not train anywhere near enough graduates.

“The Minister for Health must also finally resolve the many contract disputes to foster a modern workforce – medical scientists, consultants, junior doctors, GPs, and more, all have serious issues with their contracts and working conditions.

“The Framework for Safe Staffing and Skills mix must be applied to every ward, every emergency department, and all community settings.

“That framework is the agreed scientific method of determining whether we have enough nurses and healthcare assistants, and there must be transparency on the real deficit we are facing in those professions.

“In addition, in the short-term, international recruitment is key to filling vacancies in the health service. We need to attract Irish graduates home and compete for highly skilled international talent.

“A Sinn Féin government would set annual training and recruitment targets over a 10-year period, across the range of professions and across higher education institutions.

“We would work with training bodies and the HSE to ensure the necessary capacity is funded and delivered.

“Governments have failed to take the initiative in strategic workforce planning, and consequently, our health service has always been understaffed and under pressure, with the workforce enduring extreme burn out. That must change.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has called on the Government to take action and help families who are struggling with back-to-school costs which are detailed in a worrying Barnardos survey.

Speaking this morning, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“The findings of the Barnardos survey about back-to-school costs are extremely worrying and expose the extent of the real crisis families are experiencing. It is clear that the Government must now listen and take action immediately. Families can’t wait.

“The survey found that over two thirds of primary (69%) and three-quarters of secondary school parents said they were worried about meeting costs this year.

“Last month, Sinn Féin published a package of measures to cut back-to-school costs. This set out how families can get much-needed support for these spiralling costs, as the price of uniforms, school books, lunches, voluntary contributions and transport can reach hundreds or even thousands of Euro.

“While the government took on board some of our proposals, they did not go far enough and this research by Barnardos shows that families need further help. The Government now need to take on board our other proposals and ensure that parents who are stressed about meeting back-to-school costs this year get the support that they need and deserve.

“Middle income families need help this summer. They can’t wait. People who have one child in school and who have a combined income of €620 or more per week don’t get any assistance in terms of Back To School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. Sinn Féin are proposing that this eligibility is widened to include middle income earners.

“These are people on modest incomes who are working hard and cannot afford to pay these spiralling back-to-school costs. It would be fair and reasonable for the eligibility to be widened to ensure these families get a break from the cost of living crisis. This would make a real difference to so many people.

“There is still time to act, but the Government cannot delay any longer. This issue is urgent. We are already in the middle of summer and these costs are coming in. Families cannot wait any longer.

“The Government has shown before that they can act, when they did agree to take on some of Sinn Féin’s proposals. I am urging them to deliver on all our measures. Our proposals are fair, reasonable and deliverable. They would make a real difference to families who are under major financial pressure.

“The Government must widen eligibility for the Back To School Clothing and Footwear Allowance now, so that middle income earners can receive much-needed help with back-to-school costs. Sinn Féin would extend the Back To School Clothing and Footwear Allowance to an additional 500,000 children. A Sinn Féin Government would stand up for families hit by the cost of living crisis.”

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Mary Lou McDonald meets Penny Wong

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald today met with Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong in Parliament House in Canberra.  

Ms McDonald said “I was delighted to meet with Minister Wong.  It is important that we strengthen and deepen the important relationship between Ireland and Australia politically, economically and socially."

Over the last number of days Ms McDonald met with Ministers Brendan O’Connor and Bill Shorten, and Assistant Ministers Ged Kearney, Emma McBride, Stephen Jones and Jenny McAllister.  She also met with members of the House of Representatives and Senate including Senator Patrick Dodson, special envoy for Reconciliation and with many representatives at State level.

Ms McDonald said:

“Today’s meeting with Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong was an opportunity to discuss the impact of Brexit, concerns about the intention of the British government to breach international law and the importance of the Irish Protocol to prevent a hard border in Ireland and protect the Good Friday Agreement.  We also talked about the wider process of change which is underway on the island and I outlined the need to prepare for Irish re-unification.

“These are conversations which also took place with a range of political representatives at federal and state level, with academics, the business community, trade unions and very many Irish people who are living and working in Australia.

“There is a long history between Ireland and Australia and now is the time to deepen these relationships in the interests of our peoples.”

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Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has expressed his “deep regret at the death of former UUP leader and First Minister David Trimble”.

Mr. Adams extended his “sincere condolences to David’s wife Daphne, their daughters Victoria and Sarah, their sons Richard and Nicholas and to the entire family circle, including his former colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party.

Gerry Adams said:

“David faced huge challenges when he led the Ulster Unionist Party in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations and persuaded his party to sign on for it. It is to his credit that he supported that Agreement. I thank him for that.

“In the years immediately following the Agreement I met David many times. Our conversations were not always easy but we made progress. We used to meet quite often on our own and I got to know him quite well. While we held fundamentally different political opinions on the way forward nonetheless I believe he was committed to making the peace process work.

“David’s contribution to the Good Friday Agreement and to the quarter century of relative peace that followed cannot be underestimated. I want to extend my sincerest condolences to Daphne Trimble, their daughters Victoria and Sarah, their sons Richard and Nicholas and to the entire family circle. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis”.

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Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill has expressed her condolences following the death of former UUP leader and First Minister David Trimble. 

Michelle O’Neill said: 

"It is with genuine regret that I have learned of the passing of former First Minister, David Trimble.

"I wish to offer my sincere condolences to his wife Daphne, their four children and wider family circle who will feel his loss deeply. 

“David Trimble’s very significant contribution to the peace process and his courage in helping achieve the Good Friday Agreement leaves a legacy a quarter century on which he and his family can be rightly proud of.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, Mairéad Farrell TD, has called for Minister Michael McGrath to request that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) investigate potential bid-rigging of public works contracts. 

This comes in the wake of the revelations by Reuters that the Spanish Competition Authority has issued fines totalling over €200m to six major Spanish construction companies for colluding on bids for public contracts. 

Five of these companies are heavily involved in Irish public-private partnership projects, particularly motorways. 

Bid-rigging is a form of collusive behaviour by contractors to increase the price of a contract or to allow a pre-selected contractor to win a competition for building a school, hospital, homes, etc. It is a practice described by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) as ‘a serious form of anti-competitive behaviour’.

Teachta Farrell said:

“Reuters has reported that these companies met on a weekly basis from 1992 to 2017 to discuss the projects they were planning to bid for, and to coordinate strategy. 

“Given the significant involvement of these companies in Irish infrastructure projects, we have to question whether this practice was taking place here.

“This practice pushes up the prices for public works contracts, and given the large amount of spending which has been outlined in the National Development Plan (NDP), it poses significant fiscal risks.

“Since being elected I have consistently raised the issue of bid-rigging, and the impact it can have on contract price inflation, with Minister McGrath, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council as well as the Finance Committee and Budgetary Oversight Committee.

“I raised it again recently with officials from the Department of Public Expenditure when I met with them to discuss Minister McGrath’s new Inflation Cooperation Framework. 

“This framework will see the state bear up to 70% of the additional costs of capital works projects arising from the inflation of construction materials. And, given the concerns around price manipulation of bids for public works, I relayed my concerns that a similar anti-competitive practice might take place around material costs, which the taxpayer would then have to bear.

“Our Competition Authority has been pointing out since the 1990s that bid-rigging is a serious concern here. Back in the 1990s, it sought more powers to deal with this, which were granted. 

“Its powers were also further enhanced in the last few years. But the difficulty for Ireland dealing with this is that the state’s characteristics make us particularly vulnerable to this practice.

“Characteristics like a limited number of alternative suppliers, high barriers to entry, opportunities for repeated interactions among competitors, active trade associations which can be used, either wittingly or unwittingly, to facilitate coordination amongst competing firms, and close connections between political parties and certain industries.

“I am now calling on Minister McGrath to request the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to investigate this matter.”

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Sinn Féin’s Seanad Leader, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, has welcomed news that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee will look at the constitutional future of the island.

Speaking this morning, Senator Ó Donnghaile said:

“That the Seanad Public Consultation Committee will undertake a series of hearings on the constitutional future of Ireland is a very welcome step and is a positive development at a time of growing conversations across all communities about how a new Ireland can come about.

“The appetite for change is clear and across society people are talking about the benefits of Irish unity and how constitutional change can create a better, fairer and more equal Ireland for us all to share.

“This consultation brings these important issues into the heart of the Oireachtas and creates a crucial platform for discussion of pertinent issues such as the economy, environment, education, social issues and healthcare. We are also encouraging the broadest possible input from communities, including our unionist neighbours. 

“As a member of the Seanad’s Public Consultation Committee I am looking forward to our series of engagements on the issue of Ireland’s constitutional future.

“I would encourage any and all interested groups and individuals to make submissions to our work. This is a growing conversation and this is a crucial opportunity to make your voice heard about Ireland’s constitutional future.”

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Declan Kearney has said that the Party’s ‘Commission on the Future of Ireland’ will welcome all points of view regarding our shared future.

Declan Kearney said;

"The ‘Commission on the Future of Ireland’, which was officially launched by Mary Lou McDonald last week and which I will chair, is intended to widen democratic participation in the ongoing debate about the future and to serve as a model of grassroots consultation.

"The Commission extends an open invitation to all citizens and sections of society and the Irish diaspora to submit their views, concerns and aspirations. The views of those with alternative visions for the future are welcome.

"Our neighbours with a British identity, and the unionist, Protestant and loyalist members of our community are especially welcome to participate. 

"The Commission will be an opportunity for citizens to have their say on the future of Ireland; our economy, our constitutional arrangements; political and democratic structures and governance; the role of the Irish government; the rights and equality agenda; the protection of minorities; future economic and public policy models and a future all-island public health service.

"We are asking people to 'save the date' for the Belfast People's Assembly, which is the Commission's inaugural public hearing, and will take place on Wednesday 12th October in the Waterfront Hall, beginning at 7pm.

"’The Commission on the Future of Ireland’ is an ambitious, 18-month consultation involving public and private engagements, and which will culminate in a written report.

"The submissions process will be announced later this week. It will enable the public to make online submissions directly to the Commission.

"We have a collective responsibility to help shape the new Ireland and ensure the best democratic foundations are laid for a new society of which we can all be proud. The Commission will provide an important forum to facilitate involvement in that process and actively encourage all citizens to have your say."

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Sinn Féin has written to Causeway Coast and Glens councillor Cathal McLaughlin confirming his immediate expulsion from the party following his conviction for a sexual assault. 

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: 

“Sinn Féin has written to Councillor Cathal McLaughlin upon receipt of information that he has been convicted in a Scottish court of a serious criminal offence.

“Our thoughts are with the victim of this serious crime of sexual assault.

“Cathal McLaughlin failed to inform the party at any stage that he was subject to criminal proceedings.

“Given the severity of the offence, his membership of Sinn Féin is terminated with immediate effect.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment Louise O’Reilly TD has said that while it is welcome that government parties have abandoned previous intentions to raise the pension age beyond 66, they need to go further and give workers the right to retire at 65.

She said the u-turn was a victory for the Stop67 Campaign, the trade union movement and those in the opposition who have campaigned on this issue for many years.

But the Dublin Fingal TD sought clarity on the Taoiseach’s comments regarding people continuing working until they are 70, adding that while flexibility for workers is welcome, nobody should be pressured to work beyond the age that they are entitled to receive a state pension if they do not wish to do so. 

Teachta O’Reilly said:

“I welcome that, thanks to years of campaigning by the trade union movement and the opposition, the Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil has now committed to not raising the pension age beyond 66.

“This in itself is a significant victory for the Stop67 Campaign and those affiliated with it, particularly when you consider the Taoiseach’s partners in coalition, Fine Gael, previously supported raising the pension age to 68.

“But it does not go far enough. Only a Sinn Féin-led government will ensure that workers have the right to their pension rate at 65 and that all workers, when they reach that age, will be given the freedom to choose to retire or work on if they wish to.

“The government should now work with Sinn Féin and support our Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) legislation, introduced in March.  

“Some of the Taoiseach’s additional comments regarding people continuing working until they are 70 appear out of touch and require clarity.

“People who have had a lifetime working on their feet in hospitality or hairdressing, or doing hard labour on construction sites for example, simply cannot be expected to continue working beyond the pension age.

“We absolutely support flexibility for workers who wish to continue working beyond the pension age but that should be on their terms. Nobody should be pressured into working beyond the age they are entitled to a state pension if they do not wish to do so. 

“It will not go unnoticed by workers that this government is now over two years in power, so instead of endlessly flying kites about such an important issue for people, they must now actually publish the details of their plan without any further delays.

“Retiring and receiving a state pension is a sacrosanct workers’ right - and that right cannot be fudged.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, Mairéad Farrell TD, has reiterated her call for the Oireachtas Finance Committee to meet following revelations in today’s Irish Independent that the Department of Finance knew of AIB’s plans to strip cash services from 70 branches before that decision became public, yet they did nothing.

Speaking today, Teachta Farrell said: 

“I welcome that AIB has reversed their decision. This was the right thing to do. Their decision to make branches cashless was short-sighted and poorly thought out. 

“It would have caused major problems for customers in rural areas, including vulnerable people and businesses, by forcing them to travel long distances for basic services.

“The revelations in today’s Irish Independent that the Department of Finance knew about this decision days before it became public and did nothing are extremely damning. 

“This flies in the face of what had been said yesterday, and means that the Finance Committee must meet urgently, so that we can establish who knew what and when.

“The government are majority shareholders in AIB and need to assert their role in ensuring banks serve communities. Despite the government’s assertion that they are powerless on these matters, there is a Relationship Framework in place, which allows for intervention. 

“Our communities deserve to access services locally and to be treated fairly by these banks and by government. I have again written to the Finance Committee asking that we meet without delay.”

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Sinn Féin MP John Finucane has said the British government should end its reckless unilateral action and get back to the negotiating table with the EU. 

The North Belfast MP said:

"The British government’s unilateral actions in undermining an international treaty and international law have inevitably led to the point where the European Commission has taken action in response.

“The Tories have continually worked to undermine the Protocol which is creating investment opportunities and jobs, while giving cover to the DUP to block an Executive being formed at a time when workers and families are struggling with the rising cost of living. 

"Rather than engage with the European Commission, the British government has continued to pursue reckless actions that are not only against the best interests of people and businesses in the north, but opposed by the majority of people, businesses and MLAs in the Assembly. 

"It is time for the British government to get back to the negotiating table and engage in good faith with the European Commission to provide certainty and stability, and ensure businesses here can continue to benefit from access to both the EU single market and British market."

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Writing in his latest online blog for An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney has called on ‘others in the Irish government system to develop new thinking’ on preparing for reunification in the face of the potential repercussions from a trade war if British government policy over the Protocol does not change. 

Declan Kearney said:

“Continued refusal by the next Tory PM to properly reengage with the EU and step back from its unilateral action to break international law, could provoke significant diplomatic and legal retaliation. 

“A trade war would have serious economic repercussions and cause even greater instability for businesses. 

“That potential will inevitably strengthen the growing view that the only way to promote and protect regional economic, business and investment priorities will be through Ireland, as a single economic unit, rejoining the EU. 

“The economic, democratic and constitutional arguments for Irish unity are increasingly influential. 

“The momentum for constitutional change has never been stronger”.

Noting the changing political landscape, he writes:

“The consequence of the chaos and turmoil created by the Tories has given renewed impetus for Scottish independence, a push for greater autonomy in Wales, and also Irish unity.

“The announcement by the Scottish First Minister will have political implications across these islands in the coming months.

“That is why the Irish government’s refusal to even begin the preparations for Irish unity is increasingly untenable. 

“If the three current government coalition parties are unable to grasp this political reality, others within the Irish government system need to begin developing new thinking and policy proposals on how future Irish governments should prepare for re-unification.

“This Irish government should finally do the sensible thing and convene an all-island Citizens’ Assembly on constitutional change, instead of creating silly distractions around the timing of a unity referendum.”

Referring to the launch this week of the Party’s ‘Commission on the Future of Ireland’, the South Antrim MLA, said:

“The end game of partition is now being played out. 

“The one democratic option always denied is the exercise of self-determination by the people of Ireland.

“Irish unity is both a reasonable and achievable objective.

“But the transition towards constitutional change and a new national, democratic framework of governance in Ireland needs to be carefully planned, and resourced.

“This week Uachtarán Shinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, launched the initiative by announcing that an inaugural People’s Assembly will take place in Belfast’s Waterfront conference centre on 12 October.

“The Commission is not a substitute for an all-island Citizens’ Assembly, but it is a genuine initiative from Sinn Féin to constructively nurture the ongoing public debate. Its mission is to encourage alternative proposals to be presented by those with different visions of Ireland.

“Importantly the Commission will seek to engage with the protestant and unionist sections of our people.

“There is an unprecedented momentum for Irish unity. 

“It is time to prepare and plan for the change which is coming.” 

Full blog here: www.anphoblacht.com/contents/28357

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has said that a referendum on public ownership of water is now urgent. 

His comments come as negotiations between Irish Water, the Department of Housing, Council Management and water service unions on the creation of a single water utility have concluded.

Teachta Ó Broin said:

“This week, the Department of Housing issued a final paper arising from the single water utility negotiations. The document deals with issues including a referendum on public ownership, the nature of the proposed utility and its relationship with local government.

“The document is extremely disappointing and incredibly vague. There is no commitment from government to hold a referendum to ensure that water services remain in public ownership. 

“There is no clarity on whether the proposed water utility will be a commercial or non-commercial semi-state body. There is no detail in terms of the future relationship between the water utility and local authorities.

“From the outset of these negotiations in 2018, Sinn Féin made clear that we would not interfere in the industrial relations aspect of the single utility negotiations. 

“That is a matter for workers, their union representatives and the employer. However, there are wider public policy issues which we believe must be addressed if the move to a single water utility is to proceed.

“We need constitutional protection of the public ownership of our water system to protect against any future threat of privatisation. 

“We believe that any such utility should be a non-commercial semi-state body. And, crucially, we believe there should be a continued footprint of water services staff in local authorities to maintain the connection with local communities and council housing and planning departments.

“None of these issues are dealt with in any meaningful way in the Department’s document circulated this week. We will continue to make the case for these wider policy reforms to ensure that the public get the highest quality public water service.”

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