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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has said that systemic and fundamental reform of forestry policy is required.

Carthy told the AGM of the Timber Packaging and Pallet Confederation (TIMCON) that forestry policy should “be good for the environment, good for communities and good for the economy. At present, our strategy is not delivering in full on any of these metrics”.

Addressing the TIMCON conference in Dublin on Tuesday morning on current and future policy challenges for the timber sector, Teachta Carthy said:

“A good forestry strategy is one that delivers for the environment, for local communities and for the economy. At present, government strategy is not delivering in full on any of these metrics.

“We know that Forestry will be a pivotal aspect of meeting our Climate Action targets. If we don’t deliver on forestry – then we won’t deliver on Climate. At the moment we’re nowhere near delivery.

“The Programme for Government sets a target of planting 8,000 hectares of new afforestation each year. Last year we reached about a quarter of that – this year could be even less.

“All the numbers that are recited about 2030 and 2050 climate targets work under the assumption that we have actually met our 2021 and 2022 targets. 

“So, in reality, every year of missed milestones results in the need for even greater numbers in the coming years. Nobody within the sector has the slightest confidence that this will be realisable within the current framework. The implications for our climate action and biodiversity plans are incredibly worrying.”

Carthy also referenced the hostility to forestry that has developed within many communities and within farming as a result of a failed policy.

He said:

“In some parts of this country, forestry has become a dirty word.

“The failure to adequately engage with local communities, the concentration of forestry - especially the blanket planting and subsequent clear-felling of Sitka Spruce - within a few regions, and the failure to ensure that local families, farmers and wider communities see the economic benefits of afforestation; has led to widespread hostility and ill-feeling in those regions.

“This was and is entirely avoidable. A forest is something that people should want to live beside. They should have the benefits of clean air, good living and economic benefits that afforestation can represent – when it is done correctly.

“And those economic benefits can only happen when there is a functioning, vibrant timber industry. And, that means that you have to have a sustainable, constant, free-flowing supply of wood.”

On farmer participation in forestry schemes, Deputy Carthy said:

“Farmers have become resistant to participation in forestry – primarily due to past negative experiences. 

“The failure, sometimes the refusal, of successive governments to ensure that the process of engagement of farmers in forestry was a positive one has meant that their friends and neighbours largely now refuse to even contemplate forestry as an option for their lands. 

“The lack of support for those affected by ash die-back disease is a case in point. 

“Unless this is turned around we will be fighting a losing battle.”

And, in outlining a new course, the Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson insisted that systemic and fundamental change is required:

“It appears evident to me that the problem is rooted in the fact that the implementation and delivery of forestry policy rests within the same section, of the same department, with the same culture that has overseen the development of the crisis in the first place.

“Therefore, unless there is systemic and fundamental reform of the forestry services then old mistakes are bound to be repeated until the crisis becomes an emergency.

“A commitment to that reform of forestry policy and services in Ireland will be the essential first step."

The full text of Matt Carthy's address to the TIMCON AGM can be read below:

A chairde,

Go raibh maith agaibh as an cuireadh go dtí an gcomhdháil inniu – chum labhairt ar an ábhar tabhachtach seo.

I am delighted to have been asked to address this important conference which is taking place at a crucial period in a perilous economic cycle – one that I know is of concern for those gathered here, for your suppliers, your customers and for your employees.

The timber industry is an important part of our economy and society. Its value is particularly evident during times of uncertainty and volatility. Forestry and timber manufacturing don’t just up and leave when recession hits. They are an integral part of the communities in which they are based.

Many of the companies represented here today played a crucial role in restoring growth following the financial crash, for example, and acted as economic drivers for regions that desperately needed them at that time.

Likewise, as we face the new realities and challenges of post-pandemic supply strains, post-Brexit complications, a cost-of-living emergency, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ambitious climate action targets – your industry will be called upon to be a beacon of sustainable, and stable, economic activity.

I know that your members are up to, in fact eager to, play your full role in that regard. It is important that public policy is equally up-to providing the framework in which you can operate and expand with confidence and certainty.

That is why, at the heart of getting things right, is a forestry strategy that works.

I have often said that a good forestry strategy is one that delivers for the environment, for local communities and for the economy.

At present, our strategy is not delivering in full on any of this metrics.

Climate change is happening; and every individual, company and state must take action.

The bigger the entity, the bigger the responsibility.

For Ireland, we know that Forestry will be a pivotal aspect of meeting our climate action targets. I would go so far as to say that if we don’t deliver on forestry then we won’t deliver on climate. And, at the moment, we’re nowhere near delivery.

The Programme for Government sets a target of planting 8,000 hectares of new afforestation each year. Last year we reached about a quarter of that – this year could be even less.

All the numbers that are recited about 2030 and 2050 climate targets work under the assumption that we have actually met our 2021 and 2022 objectives. So, in reality, every year of missed milestones results in the need for even greater numbers in the coming years. Nobody I know or have spoken to within the sector has the slightest confidence that this will be realisable within the current framework. The implications for our climate action and biodiversity plans are incredibly worrying.

So too, is the fact that in some parts of this country, forestry has become a dirty word.

The failure to adequately engage with local communities, the concentration of forestry - especially the blanket planting and subsequent clear-felling of Sitka Spruce - within a few regions, and the failure to ensure that local families, farmers and wider communities see the economic benefits of afforestation; has led to widespread hostility and ill-feeling in those regions.

This was and is entirely avoidable. A forest is something that people should want to live beside. They should have the benefits of clean-air, good living and economic benefits that afforestation can represent – when it is done correctly.

And those economic benefits can only happen when there is a functioning, vibrant timber industry. And, that means that you have to have a sustainable, constant, free-flowing supply of wood.

Of course, there will be a growing need for soft-wood. If for no other reason than that we will need it to build the houses that my party wants the government to deliver. And for furniture, for pallets, for the vast array of products that can be produced most sustainably when they’re produced with timber.

So, my view has always been that when the required timber can be sustainably produced in Ireland, that this is where it should be produced rather than Irish companies being reliant on imports.

The balance needs to be the correct one. One or two counties should not be expected to accommodate wildly disproportionate levels of mono-culture afforestation. There must be a regional balance as well as a species balance across the board.

So, how do we get to the place where we deliver a forestry strategy that delivers for the environment, that delivers for communities and delivers for the economy and your industry.

The simple answer is that we plant trees – but how do we get there, considering the current dismal numbers?

Primarily, we must get serious.

I want to tell a tale of two countries and two governments. 

The Scottish Government employed the services of a consultant, James Mackinnon, to make recommendations in relation to resolving their forestry crisis. 

An Irish Government did the same. 

Following the completion of the Mackinnon report in Scotland, within 24 months the Scottish forestry sector saw the annual afforestation rate rise from 4,600 ha to 12,200 ha. They are now setting targets of upwards of 18,000 ha.

The Irish Government commissioned a Mackinnon report.

They then received the completed Mackinnon report. 

What happened? 

Following the report, there was a review of the report, followed by an analysis of the review of the report. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine carried out a series of hearings and made its own report with recommendations – which essentially said implement the Mackinnon report. 

And, government continues to carry out reviews, assessments, analyses and audits. All the while Ireland, since the commissioning of the Mackinnon report has seen numbers plummet to the point that this year we are set to witness the lowest rates of afforestation since the middle of the second world war.

I know that there are people here today who could tell me that the Scottish system isn’t perfect or point out the obvious and real differences in Scottish and Irish land-ownership models. The point I am making is that where there is a determined will on the part of government and stakeholders to deliver a change in policy – then it can happen.

So, to get to the crux of the situation in Ireland today we have to get to the source of the resistance to change.

I believe that government means it when they say they want to reverse the current trajectory – it was they, after all, that set the targets that they are missing. 

It appears evident to me that the problem must be rooted in the fact that the implementation and delivery rests within the same section, of the same department, with the same culture – that has overseen the development of the crisis in the first place.

Therefore, unless there is systemic and fundamental reform of the forestry services then old mistakes are bound to be repeated until the crisis becomes an emergency.

A commitment to that reform of forestry policy and services in Ireland will be the essential first step.

That must be followed by leadership at public level. Every government department, every state agency and semi-state body, every local authority – should be obliged to adopt a tree-planting strategy, especially in respect of our Climate Action targets, utilising public lands for tree-planting projects and setting the example for all others to follow.

You have heard this morning the outline of Coillte’s programme of future work – it contains ambitious and laudable objectives that I hope it can meet. But I’m sure Ms. Hurley will acknowledge that a significant factor in Coillte’s ability to achieve them will be their ability to source land.

Because, of course, you can’t plant trees if you don’t have land.

And, farmers are the crucial landowners that we need as partners in afforestation schemes. 

But, farmers have become resistant to participation in forestry – primarily due to past negative experiences. 

The failure, sometimes the refusal, of successive governments to ensure that the process of engagement of farmers in forestry was a positive one – has meant that their friends and neighbours largely now refuse to even contemplate forestry as an option for their lands. 

The lack of support for those affected by ash die-back disease is a case in point. 

Indeed, we have reached a point now whereby a significant portion of even those farmers who seek afforestation licences don’t actually proceed to planting.

Unless this is turned around we will be fighting a losing battle. Some important progress has been made in shaping the new CAP in a way that allows forestry schemes to align with other measures. But, we have to go much further. 

There must be a substantive consultation with farmers and their representatives in order to map out a route to large scale farmer buy-in to forestry. Every farm should have a tree planting element to its work but this needs to be on the basis of partnership rather than on punitive threats to payments.

Without such partnership, every afforestation strategy is doomed to fail.

The entire licensing framework must be reassessed. This can be done in a manner that protects environmental standards, upholds the principles of good planning practice and ensures that communities voices are heard in the process.

The legislative changes to the appeals system were welcome and necessary. More is now required.

Considerations around thinning, road construction and felling licences should form part of the initial planting licensing and planning processes to ensure that we don’t have substantial delays at every stage of the forestry life-cycle.

As soon as the current backlog is under control, we must implement a statutory timeframe into the licensing application and appeals process to provide certainty to applicants. As the Mackinnon Report recommended there should also be a Customer Service Charter which could assist in building confidence for all stakeholders.

None of these suggestions are ground-breaking; but none of them will happen easily.

As I said, if we depend on the same institutions to resolve the problems they themselves created then we are going to run around in circles.

We can deliver a forestry strategy that works for the environment, communities and the economy.

The role of your industry will be critical and I welcome your eagerness to engage with policy makers. I look forward to our future conversations and discussions.

Above all I look forward to a new beginning for the Irish forestry and timber sector.

Go raibh maith agaibh go leor.

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Sinn Féin MP John Finucane has called on the British government to get back to the table and enter in talks in good faith with the EU to provide certainty for businesses here.

John Finucane was speaking after Vice President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič said the EU stands ready to work in an "open and constructive way” to minimise checks on goods coming into the north.

The North Belfast MP said: 

“The Vice President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič has today offered solutions to address Brexit-related issues and ensure local people and businesses have certainty by reducing the number of checks at ports. 

“The Protocol is helping our businesses to create jobs and attract investment. It needs to be built upon, not undermined.  

“We need a change of tack from this new British government. 

“They must demonstrate that they will respect international law, honour agreements made and stop giving cover to the DUP’s cruel block on an Executive during a cost-of-living emergency. 

“After seven months of refusing to engage and solo runs in breach of international law it is time for the British government to get back to the table and enter in talks in good faith with the EU. Businesses need certainty.

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Sinn Féin MP John Finucane has called on British Prime Minister Liz Truss to bin the flawed Tory legacy ‘bill of shame’ without any further delay. 

Speaking at the Time for Truth demonstration in Belfast today attended by thousands, the North Belfast MP said: 

“The introduction of the Legacy Bill is evidence that the British government have much, much more to conceal and cover-up from their dirty war in Ireland.

“Those who seek to introduce a formal amnesty for their soldiers and agents; 

“Those who seek to block the rights of families to due legal process.  

“Those who seek to halt the ability for families to take civil proceedings, to seek an inquest have much to cover-up.

“These actions are deliberately cruel, and show that the British government care not for the lives of our loved ones, nor do they care about the rule of law, truth or justice.

“And that they couch this legislation in the language of reconciliation is truly shameful.

“We need to be honest. This Bill is another slap in the face to victims.

“It is the price for delivering a Tory manifesto commitment that prioritises the demands of the British military over the legal rights of victims.  

“This Legacy Bill is about providing an amnesty for British state forces and deny families their basic legal rights to an inquest, an independent investigation and to pursue civil actions.  

“This is political interference of the worst kind in basic legal process which will have far reaching implications for confidence levels in the rule of law and the administration of justice.

“These legacy proposals are not only opposed by Sinn Féin but also the Irish government, all political parties across Ireland, the Executive Justice Minister Naomi Long, victims’ groups, families and the churches.  

“So let’s be clear this Bill is unworkable, it will not deliver for victims and survivors, it is in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, and that it is incompatible with Article 2 obligations.  

“But it is the price to be paid to protect those in Downing Street who know the extent of collusion and State murder because it was their predecessors, who planned it.  

“Liz Truss needs to hear that we will not allow our rights to be cherry picked or traded by any British government.  

“She must bin this flawed legislation without further delay.”

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“We Must Formalise Direct Dialogue with the Assembly” - Chris MacManus MEP
 
Sinn Féin MEP calls for official Brussels-Belfast parliamentary engagements
 
Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has emphasised the need for direct dialogue between the EU institutions and the Assembly in the North of Ireland. 
 
MacManus was speaking after a roundtable event organised by the Renew Europe Group, which saw MLAs from the six counties engaging with MEPs. 
 
MacManus said:
 
“I welcome the opportunity to engage with our MLA colleagues at this roundtable event. However, I do not believe it should be up to individual MEPs or political groups to organise such events. This should be an ongoing formal engagement.”
 
“Today we have had, what were on occasions, frank exchanges between MEPs and MLAs from across the political spectrum. These exchanges were healthy and productive, that is why I believe it is important that the European Parliament and the Assembly formalise engagements such as this and that we have direct dialogue between the elected representatives of both institutions.”
 
“I consider this to be both a practical and crucial step we can and should take, as EU legislation can often have an impact for the north of Ireland, therefore it is important elected representatives from the north and other sectoral interests are heard in the drafting of any such legislation.”
 
“It is also worth noting that the Assembly itself has sought mechanisms for direct dialogue in the past and that the European Parliament agreed to this. Indeed, Vice President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič referred to such a concept in his non-papers. It is now time to make formal those assurances.”
 
MacManus concluded by pledging his continued support to the realisation of direct dialogue.  “I will be engaging with my MEP colleagues and other EU officials to work towards formalising direct dialogue between MEPs and MLAs.” ENDS

Chris MacManus MEP pictured with MLAs Caoimhe Archibald and Declan McAleer in the European Parliament this week
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Mary Lou McDonald TD meets with Nancy Pelosi

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has met with Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, to discuss the importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring that the incoming British Prime Minister does not breach international law through Brexit.

Speaking following their meeting in California yesterday, Teachta McDonald said:

“This week I have been in San Francisco for a series of engagements with business leaders, the local Irish community, trade unions and political leaders. We have discussed the challenges and the many opportunities for both Ireland and the United States in the time ahead and the unique ties which bond our two nations.

“Yesterday I met with US Speaker Nancy Pelosi and thanked her for her steadfast commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring that the Irish people do not become collateral damage to the Tories’ Brexit plans. Speaker Pelosi’s commitment to protecting peace and all elements of the Good Friday Agreement is unshakeable.

“Speaker Pelosi reiterated to me the importance that the US Administration continues to place on protecting these important rights and affirmed again that the US stands firmly with the people of Ireland. We discussed President Joe Biden’s remarks earlier this week to the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss that she must show a change of tack from previous holders of that office and engage in good faith negotiations around the implementation of the protocol.

“British Prime Minister Truss must break with the bad faith agenda of her predecessors and change direction, end the unilateral actions and respect international law. We need to see a recommitment to the Good Friday Agreement, support the restoration of the political institutions and an end to game playing around the Irish protocol.”

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Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has extended deepest sympathies to the British Royal Family on the death of Queen Elizabeth II and saluted her contribution to change, peace and reconciliation in Ireland.

Ms. McDonald said:

"I wish to extend deepest sympathy to the British Royal Family on the death of Queen Elizabeth II. 

"Her passing marks the end of an era.

"Relationships between our two countries for so long marked by conflict and suffering have been recast and reimagined through the Good Friday Agreement. 

"The Queen proved a powerful advocate and ally of those who believe in peace and reconciliation.

"I salute her contribution to the huge change that has evolved in recent years.

"Her death is a moment of heartbreak and pride for the British people. To them, and especially to Irish unionists, I extend on behalf of Sinn Féin and Irish Republicans sincere condolences. 

"Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dilis."

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Speaking following news of the death of Queen Elizabeth, First Minister Designate Michelle O’Neill MLA said;

“It is with deep regret that I have learned of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II today.

“The British people will miss the leadership she gave throughout her 70 years as monarch.

“I would like to offer my sincere sympathies and condolences to her children, and her extended family circle as they come to terms with their grief.

“I wish to especially acknowledge the profound sorrow of our neighbours from within the unionist community here who will feel her loss deeply. 

“Personally, I am grateful for Queen Elizabeth’s significant contribution and determined efforts to advancing peace and reconciliation between our two islands.

“Throughout the peace process she led by example in building relationships with those of us who are Irish, and who share a different political allegiance and aspirations to herself and her Government.

“Having met Queen Elizabeth on a number of occasions alongside my colleague, the late Martin McGuinness, I appreciated both her warmth and courtesy.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Darren O’Rourke TD, has called on Minister Eamon Ryan to address a gap in the recent public transport fare reduction measures, which has resulted in 17 and 18-year-olds who use private bus operators receiving no reduction in transport fares at all.

The Meath East TD said;

“While the temporary 20% fare reduction and the introduction of the Youth Travel Card are welcome, poor planning has meant young adults who rely on private bus operators have been excluded from both initiatives.

“The 20% fare reduction was never extended to commercial bus operators and while the Youth Travel Card was in recent days, that scheme is only available for those aged 19-23. Meanwhile, full time students over 23 years of age can avail of the Student Leap Card. 

“As a result, thousands of 17 and 18-year-old students who just got their Leaving Cert results and CAO offers, and who will now be using private bus operators to commute to work or college, will be forced to pay significantly more than their fellow passengers.

“Private bus operators run a significant number of routes right across the state, with many students using them to commute to college.

“The Minister needs to address this as a matter of urgency. It’s an obvious anomaly and it is unfair. 

“This age cohort are facing massive cost-of-living challenges, from college fees to extortionate rental prices and they don’t need higher commuting costs thrown in too.

“It’s imperative we remove as many barriers to using public transport as possible, and cost can be number one for many.

“The Minister should revisit these initiatives and ensure 17 and 18-year-olds are immediately included in the public transport fare reductions.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Órlaithí Flynn has said an Executive must be formed now to secure funding for mental health projects and deliver a three-year Budget.  

Speaking after meeting with health officials today, the West Belfast MLA called on the DUP to stop blocking a government being formed.

Órlaithí Flynn said:

“Health officials today revealed a £3 million shortfall in funding for projects to improve mental health and suicide prevention due to the lack an Executive.

“This is deeply worrying for vital services that support people in our communities and could lead to a cliff-edge in March when funding should be renewed.

“I have contacted the Health Minister today to raise these concerns and highlight the need for these services to be protected.

“Sinn Féin is ready to form an Executive today to deliver a three-year Budget for health and invest an extra £1 billion in health, which will include funding for mental health services.

“The DUP should get back to work and stop blocking an Executive being formed which will work to improve mental health and suicide prevention work.” 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Kathleen Funchion TD, has welcomed the announcement by government of the first Employment Regulation Order (ERO) for staff in early years and school-age care. 
 
Teachta Funchion said:
 
"It cannot be understated that this is a truly enormous step in the right direction for thousands and thousands of extremely dedicated early years professionals, that have been demanding better pay and working conditions for decades.
 
“For too long low pay, precious employment and poor conditions have been the defining feature of Ireland’s early years and school-age sector.
 
“This is a historic moment, but it can’t be just a moment, we must now see continued public investment into the future.
 
"I continue to remain concerned the sector will struggle to keep services open and retain staff due to historic underinvestment by successive Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Green governments.
 
“Considering that early years and childcare services nationally employs in the region of 31,000 people; mostly women, they have been massively let down over many years.
 
“Fragmented and piecemeal investment typified successive governments approach to a sector that is vital for children, their families, communities and the wider economy.
 
“I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all who have advocated and campaigned for so many years. The work of securing continued better pay and staff retention continues, this is just the first step.”

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, has added his voice to calls from the UN for urgent aid for Somalia as millions face malnutrition and hunger, amidst a devastating drought across the Horn of Africa.

Teachta Brady said:

“There are currently over a million and a half children who will be left to face severe and acute malnutrition within weeks if action is not taken by the international community. We already have a situation where there are well in excess of two hundred thousand Somalis currently experiencing famine-like conditions.

"In the words of the UN – ‘the clock is ticking, and time is running out…’ for the people of the Horn of Africa, and Somalia in particular.

"Failure to act now will inevitably lead to catastrophic consequences for the whole of the Horn of Africa. Which has experienced four straight years of devastating drought, with all the indicators suggesting that we are heading into a fifth year.

"The region is tethering on the brink of reaching what constitutes the technical definition of famine, which is really a matter of semantics, as the reality is that one person is dying every 48 seconds. With children in particular suffering horrifically. Millions of livestock have also perished leaving the eventual route to recovery for the region even more difficult. We need to see action now.

"I am calling on the Irish government to use its voice, to use its position on the UN Security Council, and the EU to force the international community to address the tragedy which is unfolding in the Horn of Africa.”


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Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD delivered a keynote address to an audience at the University of San Francisco yesterday evening. During the course of her address, Teachta McDonald welcomed the reiteration by President Biden of the need for good faith negotiations and implementation of the protocol in his call with the new British Prime Minister.

She went on to say: “As Prime Minister Liz Truss enters Downing Street she must break with the bad faith agenda of her predecessors and change direction, end the unilateral actions and respect international law.  We need to see a recommitment to the Good Friday Agreement, support the restoration of the political institutions and an end to game playing around the Irish protocol.

“The Northern Assembly election in May saw the vote of a generation. Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party and Michelle O’Neill was elected as First Minister designate in a state that was designed to ensure this would never happen.  The people voted for progress, for a government for all, an executive that rolls up its sleeves and gets the job done and that is exactly what we intend to deliver.  The DUP must end the boycott of democracy and of the political institutions and work to form a government that works for the people.

“We now approach the twenty fifth anniversary of our peace accord, the Good Friday Agreement.  It is an agreement that the United States played a central role in bringing about.

She said: “Since 1998 we have built that peace.  Now, we look to write the next chapter – the reunification of Ireland.  The Good Friday Agreement provides for referendums on Irish Unity and I believe that they will happen in this decade.  We must prepare for that day.

“We know that we have everything we need to build a new, united and prosperous Ireland.  The economic and social opportunities are immense and we want to see them realised.”

She went on to say: “Ireland has changed, and Ireland is changing.  In this new decade a modern vision for Ireland stands before us.  A vision shaped by all the talent, potential and opportunity that pulses throughout our island. This unprecedented opportunity for Ireland must be seized and maximised with real purpose and determination.

“We currently have a generation that works very hard to get ahead, to build a good life and yet their goals and aspirations are pushed further away from them.  They are locked out of opportunity and they are locked out of home ownership.  This cannot go on. Each generation must advance. Each generation must thrive.  Each generation must have the chance to make it, and that principle will be the driving force behind Sinn Féin in government.”

 
The text of the full speech is available here. A video of the speech is available to view here

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Mental Health, Mark Ward TD, has said that reports sent to the UN today from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) show the continuous failure by government towards children in this state.

Teachta Ward was speaking after the report, Pieces of Us, was sent ahead of January’s meeting between government and the UN.

The Dublin Mid-West TD said:

“The reports sent to the UN today from the OCO show the continuous failure by government towards children in this state.

“Pieces of Us is a report in which over 5,500 children from Ireland took part and told of their lived experiences and the issues affecting them.

“The issue of mental health waiting lists and lack of appropriate services were cited by hundreds of children throughout the report.

“Children describing waiting a year to see a mental health professional as 'a long tiring fight' that 'puts pressure on the families and children already suffering' is the stark reality of where we find ourselves due to lack of funding and staffing.

“A response from a parliamentary question that I received from the Department of Health revealed that more than almost 4,000 children are waiting over a year for an appointment for primary care psychology.

“Children also said that the services that are available to them through mental health charities and through CAMHS are often 'difficult to navigate'.

“It is clear to see that the government is failing children and this is now exposed on the international stage.

“A second report submitted by the Ombudsman for Children, Niall Muldoon, included recommendations for government in future policies for children including adequately funding CAMHS and preventing children being admitted to adult facilities.

“In my time as Sinn Féin spokesperson on Mental Health, I have highlighted the need to address the above issues by increasing our mental health spending to international recommendations and to strengthen government oversight by the reinstatement of a national director for mental health.

“These are commitments that Sinn Féin will deliver in government and have included in our alternative health budget.

“Government must react now to these reports as anything other than action is not acceptable."

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Rural Development, Claire Kerrane TD, and Sinn Féin TD for Galway-West, Mairéad Farrell, have expressed their disappointment at the Government’s decision not to re-establish an Island-specific Local Action Group (LAG) as part of the new LEADER programme.
 
The EU LEADER programme provides a fund for community-led local development in rural areas, with the aim of enabling local groups and organisations to direct this development based on needs in their area.
 
A recent briefing note on Ireland’s 2023-2027 LEADER Programme confirms that consideration was given to re-establishing an LAG for the offshore Islands, but that it was decided they would instead remain within sub-regional areas, which are generally determined on a County basis.
 
This decision comes despite repeated calls from Island communities and representative organisations such as Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, who have advocated for the need for an LAG which deals specifically with LEADER for the Islands.
 
An island-focused LAG was previously in place. However, during the previous LEADER period island communities were included in the LAGs for their respective county administration areas..
 
Sinn Féin has supported calls for an Island-specific LAG to support the provision of LEADER in Island communities, both to provide development opportunities for these communities and to ensure fair competition with regard to available funding allocations.
 
Speaking today, Teachta Kerrane said:
 
“That the Government will apparently not re-establish an Island-specific LAG is incredibly disappointing.
 
“The decision not will undoubtedly be a blow to our Island communities and their representatives, many of whom have advocated on this issue for some time.
 
“It is also frustrating that the briefing note advises that consideration was given to establishing a LAG for the Islands, but ultimately the Government decided not to go ahead.
 
“We know that Island communities are placed at a competitive disadvantage for LEADER funding by being included in current sub-regional areas. Including the Islands in broad groupings, usually by County, does not serve their needs and does not support local development in these communities.”

Sinn Féin TD for Galway-West, Mairéad Farrell TD, has engaged regularly with Island communities in her constituency regarding concerns around their inclusion in the LEADER programme.
 
Speaking about the decision, Teachta Farrell said:
 
“It is deeply disappointing that the voices of the islanders have not been heard.

“We know from engagement with those who work in delivery of the LEADER programme that there are different obstacles for the Islands in availing of funding and that we need to deal with them.
 
“The Government have lost a trick by not moving on this.”
 
Teachta Kerrane concluded:
 
“This decision is yet another example of communities telling the Government what they need to support development in their local areas and these calls being dismissed.
 
“When I raised this matter with Minister Humphreys before the Dáil recess she assured me the matter was being looked at. I had really hoped the call to re-establish an Island-specific LAG would be included as part of the new LEADER programme for 2023-2027.
 
“However this important matter, along with broader issues around Government funding allocations to the LEADER programme for this new period, have so far been ignored.
 
“It is not too late for the Minister to revisit this decision and commit to re-establishing an LAG for the Islands, and I am calling on her to do so immediately.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Action, Darren O’Rourke TD, has said a decade of energy policy failure by successive Governments will add to energy supply and cost pressures this winter.

Speaking today, Teachta O’Rourke said:

“We are entering into a very challenging winter with the prospect of energy shortages and runaway prices. The Government must respond to address and to mitigate the worst effects of this.

“While they will rightly point to the fact that gas is being used as a weapon of war and that this has a direct impact on electricity supply and cost, they should also accept that there are very particular aspects of the energy crisis in Ireland that relate to a decade-long failure in energy policy here.

“Successive Governments have failed to competently balance electricity supply and demand – and as a result, the prospect of blackouts this winter remains a real possibility. The completely reckless approach to allow data centre development unabated is coming home to roost.

“This, coupled with an over-dependence on gas and the failure to deliver on the potential of our renewable energy resource will come at a cost this winter. Bureaucratic barriers to the rollout of renewables remain, including solar PV for homes, businesses, schools and public and community buildings remain. It makes no sense. 

“The rollout and activation of smart meters was delayed by years, starting only in late 2019, and is slow – denying many the option of availing of time of use tariffs.

“Similarly, instead of rolling out a comprehensive plan for energy retrofits during the 2010s, the decade was lost. 24,291 homes were retrofitted under the Warmer Home Scheme in 2010, for example. This reduced significantly year on year over the decade to 3,142 in 2019.

“It is clear that a decade of energy policy failure will add to pressure this winter. Government must accept this and respond to ensure ordinary workers and families – who bear no responsibility in the cause of the energy crisis – are protected.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Nicola Brogan has said increased pre-school entitlement must be part of a broader approach to improve early education and childcare.

Speaking in response to a statement from the Education Minister the West Tyrone MLA said;

 “I welcome commitments from the Minister to progressively increase the provision of pre-school entitlement to 22.5 hours a week.

"Childcare costs are a significant burden on young families and parents, particularly at a time when people are struggling with a cost of living crisis.

"Delivery of better childcare and early education must be grounded on evidence based planning and that requires the department to bring forward a review of current provision and the development of a childcare strategy to meet the needs of parents, children and childcare workers in the north.

 “We need an Executive up and running now to deliver a childcare strategy and to extend pre-school entitlement.

“The DUP needs to get back to work to properly support young families and workers."

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Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has said the Belfast Trust must ensure all patients affected by the Neurology scandal get access to the truth about what happened to them.  

The North Belfast MLA said: 

“It is disappointing that the cases of a further 19 neurology patients are being reviewed by the Belfast Trust in what is the fifth recall to date, in a scandal which has affected thousands of patients.

“It is vital these patients are reviewed as soon as possible. 

“The continuous drip feed of recalls has been very traumatic and very damaging for former patients of Michael Watt and the Belfast Trust.

“These former patients and their families are entitled to thorough and transparent investigation of this scandal which leaves no stone unturned in establishing the truth and providing whatever redress is necessary to patients.  

“It is unacceptable that these former patients are still waiting for truth and accountability. 

“The Belfast Trust must ensure that all patients affected by the Neurology scandal are kept up to date throughout this process. 

“Sinn Féin will continue to support the victims and their families in their campaign for truth and accountability.” 

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Sinn Féin First Minister Designate Michelle O’Neill will tell the new British Secretary of State in a meeting tomorrow that his immediate priority must be getting an Executive up and running now to support workers and families who are struggling. 

Michelle O’Neill said: 

“There’s an immediate responsibility on Chris Heaton-Harris to work to get the Executive up and running so we can put ministers in place and work together to support workers and families who are struggling. 

“And it’s time the Tories ended its partisan approach and pandering to the DUP which is blocking an Executive being here formed during a cost-of-living emergency. 

“I will be reminding him tomorrow that his government needs to stop undermining the Good Friday Agreement and practise the rigorous impartiality demanded under that agreement. 

“We need a change of tack from this government. Away from the continuous breaking of international law, reckless threats, abandoning commitments and undermining the Protocol which is creating jobs and investment. 

“Likewise, we need immediate action from the British government to cut people’s bills by slashing the profits of energy giants, scrapping the National Insurance hike and cutting VAT on energy bills. 

“This is now the sixth British Secretary of State I have worked with in just a short number of years. That is a clear indication that this chaotic and dysfunctional Tory government has failed people.

“I will speak with Chris Heaton-Harris tomorrow and will make it clear that his first priority must be getting a government up and running. Workers, families and small businesses need our help now.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, has repeated his call for an independent international inquiry into the shooting dead of the American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. 

Teachta Brady’s comments come after Israel released the findings of its own internal investigation that the journalist ‘may’ have been struck by an Israeli bullet, although the report found that alternatively she may have been struck by a round fired by Palestinians. 

This is despite the fact that investigations by the Palestinian Authority and respected NGOs have clearly found that this was not possible.

The Wicklow TD said:                                          

“Since the cold-blooded murder of Shireen Abu Akleh on a street in Jenin last May by Israeli military forces, we have witnessed attempt after attempt by the Israeli authorities to obscure the truth of what happened.

"The reality is that Akleh, along with other journalists, came under sustained sniper fire by Israeli military forces, despite the fact that they were all clearly identifiable as journalists. Akleh was wearing a flak vest with ‘PRESS’ written in large lettering, along with a protective helmet, and was carrying a camera.

"The findings of the Israeli inquiry are nothing but an attempt to obscure and obfuscate the reality of what occurred that day - which is that Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by Israeli forces. 

"Israel cannot be allowed to conduct a sham investigation into the shooting in an attempt to bury the events of the day.

"The Irish government needs to lead out on calls for an independent international inquiry into the events of the day. 

"Israel cannot be allowed to sweep the murder of the American Palestinian journalist under the table, as they have been permitted to do by the international community time and again following the unprovoked murder of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces.

"Minister Simon Coveney needs to use his office to demand immediate action. Israel needs to be held accountable for its actions. The international community cannot continue to sit back and do nothing as Israeli continues to inflict human rights abuses on the Palestinian people."

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said the DUP should get back to work to help tackle the cost of living and put money in people's pockets.

Responding to DUP claims that the protocol is increasing the cost of living the party's economy spokesperson said:

"The reality is that the protocol is a direct result of the DUP's Brexit and they own all the consequences for the hard Brexit they and the Tories delivered.  

"Brexit means increased bureaucracy, trade friction and pain for businesses, and has been shown to cost businesses in Britain billions in lost trade - £44 billion in the first seven months of 2021 alone.

"The protocol provides protections from the worst excesses of Brexit and gives businesses in the north continued access to the EU single market, that is creating opportunities for job creation and investment - much needed in the current economic climate.

"Rather than engaging in deflection and grasping at straws to defend their boycott of the institutions, the DUP should get back to work, form an Executive and work with the rest of us to tackle the cost of living and put money in people's pockets." 

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