Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed a £14.8 million funding boost for the A6 Derry-Belfast road upgrade.
The Foyle MLA said:
“I welcome today’s announcement by the Finance Minister Conor Murphy that an extra £14.8 million will be allocated towards the completion of the A6 road update.
“Completion of this vital project will reduce journey times from Derry to Belfast, boost the local economy and improve road safety.
“Work is underway and is progressing well on the other phases of this vital infrastructure project and I look forward to seeing their completion in the time ahead.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson for Culture, Arts and Sports Sinéad Ennis MLA has welcomed the announcement of £29 million funding for the arts and cultural recovery.
The South Down MLA said:
“I welcome the announcement of £29 million funding towards the recovery of the arts and culture.
“The arts and culture sector has been particularly badly hit as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and this funding boost will be extremely valuable to many organisations within the sector.
"Culture and the arts are at the heart of our communities so we must ensure that we protect them during this period.”
Sinn Féin Economy spokesperson Caoimhe Archibald MLA has welcomed the announcement of £9.9million funding for the tourism sector.
The economy spokesperson said:
“I welcome the announcement of £9.9 million by Finance Minister Conor Murphy for the tourism sector.
"The tourism and hospitality sectors have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic which is deeply unsettling for tourism and hospitality workers and their families, as well as the wider economy.
“I also welcome the announcement of a holiday at home voucher and I had written to the Economy Minister previously urging her to explore the potential of a voucher scheme in the north.
“These vouchers will hopefully incentivise people to take staycations and support the local economy.
“This funding will provide a vital lifeline for the tourism and hospitality sectors and could prove crucial in protecting jobs and livelihoods."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has criticised the government for waiting until the 11th hour to extend payment breaks for borrowers impacted by Covid-19.
Speaking today, the Donegal TD warned that unless these payment breaks are extended by Wednesday, thousands of borrowers risk falling into distressed debt.
Teachta Doherty said: “I am alarmed to read reports that the government is waiting until Monday to ask the banks to extend Covid-19 payment breaks.
“This is just two days before the extension deadline.
“In March, the European banking watchdog allowed banks to provide payment breaks on mortgages and loans without automatically triggering default and debt restructuring. But these payment breaks must be granted before the September 30th for these protections to apply.
“In Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal, affected borrowers have been granted payment breaks of up to 12 months. But here the government and banks have only offered breaks of six months.
“This means that the government has until Wednesday to secure an extension to these breaks and avoid thousands of borrowers falling into default.
“That they have waited until Monday, two days before the deadline, is further proof of their hands-off, out-of-touch and amateur approach towards the difficulties faced by mortgage-holders and borrowers at this time.
“Last week I wrote to the Minister for Finance and CEOs of the five retail banks requesting that a further extension is granted to borrowers who have taken Covid-19 payment breaks, without the application of additional interest.
“To date I have received no response.
"Figures published this week by the Central Bank show that 74,000 mortgage payment breaks have been granted by the five retail banks since the outbreak of Covid-19.
“The Banking and Payments Federation say that 37,000 of these borrowers are already on the three-month extension with their breaks due to end in the coming weeks.
“With unemployment remaining high and cuts to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment yesterday, many of these households will be unable to resume their mortgage repayments.
“For weeks I have called on the government and banks to extend payment breaks for Covid-impacted borrowers, without additional interest accruing during the period of the break.
“Their delay risks a debt crisis for thousands of households.”
The Public Accounts Committee has agreed to a proposal from Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy for a further examination into the Department of Education and Skills spending on ‘media monitoring services’.
At the PAC meeting today, the Cavan Monaghan TD questioned the rationale for the department employing the services of a private company to monitor the media at a cost of almost €25,000. It also transpired that normal procurement procedures were not followed.
Teachta Carthy said: “It is not immediately apparent why the Department of Education would have spent €25,000 on media monitoring services.
“We have previously seen evidence of the Department of Justice monitoring those who criticise Direct Provision online. This process seems to be a gross misuse of resources. It now seems that expenditure on media monitoring may be prevalent across a number of government departments.
“I look forward to examining this matter further with my colleagues on the Public Accounts Committee."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence, John Brady TD, today called on Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney to bring forward a cross-party motion to the Dáil on Brexit.
Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Brady said:
“Minister, there needs to be a cross party consensus in this Dáil in relation to the Irish stance on Brexit.
“There needs to be time set aside by the government next week to bring forward a cross party motion on Brexit.
“The Seanad and the Northern Assembly in Stormont have both passed motions, this Dáil must follow suit.
“Ireland needs to send out a strong message to Boris Johnson.
“A message needs to go out from the Dáil to the British government and to the international community that the Island of Ireland is United.
“This Island is absolutely and unequivocally opposed to Brexit, the Internal Market Bill and the potential of the serious economic, social and political implications for the citizens of Ireland, North and South.
“Let us bring forward this motion, a motion that enjoys the support of all parties in Leinster House, of all of the Deputies in this Dáil.
“Let us stand together and send that message to Boris Johnson, that we as a people will not stand for the duplicity, the folly and disregard shown by the British government to the Island of Ireland, the EU, and the international community who stand in support of the Irish Peace Process.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Darren O’Rourke TD, has said he "holds out no hope" that the Minister Eamon Ryan is prepared to address the issues outstanding around the school bus transport system caused by the new Covid19 guidelines.
Deputy O’Rourke this morning challenged the Minister for Transport in the Dáil on the issues, including the fact that at least 6,120 fewer children have been accommodated this year compared to last.
Speaking today, the Sinn Féin TD for Meath East said:
“This morning at Ministerial Questions I took the opportunity to raise the plight of many families in Meath and beyond regarding unresolved problems in the school bus transport system.
“I told Transport Minister Eamon Ryan that thousands of families have been left with no transport options for their children and that the state authorities have done nothing to remedy this. Previous Ministerial responses to me confirmed that at least 6,120 fewer children have been accommodated on school transport this year compared to last. Demand has remained. Supply has disappeared.
“For those communities who were never serviced by the school transport scheme, they established their own privately funded school bus routes over the years, but the new Covid restrictions have now made these routes unsustainable.
“Many parents were relying on the Local Link / Flexibus network, but with the new restrictions they were told these buses wouldn’t run and the National Transport Authority washed their hands of the issue saying the NTA doesn’t do school transport. This is the case for 33 children in Ratoath and Skryne in Co. Meath.
“In addition, thousands of other children, who would normally secure a place on buses on the concessionary ticket scheme, have also been left without a place this year.
“Covid-19 is a factor, but Government’s complete failure to plan, to prepare and to deliver are a larger factor. The HPSC were consulted about bus loading, for example, but NPHET weren’t. That tells you everything.
“As a result, a huge additional burden has been placed on families who are trying to juggle work, family life and other commitments at this challenging time and they are getting ignored by the system.
“It’s clear the school transport system needs an overhaul to ensure those children who want a place on a school bus, to whatever school they attend, can get one. But in the short term, action needs to be taken immediately to get these kids on school buses from this month on, for both eligible and concessionary applicants.
“It was painfully clear from Minister Ryan’s response this morning in the Dáil that these concerns are falling on deaf ears.
“He is the Minister for Transport and he simply cannot wash his hands of this mess, which is of this government’s own making.”
Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley has called for urgent action from health authorities following a cluster of COVID-19 in Strabane, Co.Tyrone.
The West Tyrone MP said:
“In recent days we have seen a spike in the number of COVID19 cases in Strabane town and the surrounding areas.
“I have been in contact with the Public Health Agency to request that they immediately locate a mobile testing unit in Strabane town.
“As COVID19 continues to spread within our community, it is unacceptable that those needing a test have to travel over 30 minutes to the nearest testing facility in Derry.
“If we are to ensure an effective test, trace and isolate system to maximise the safety of the public then we must ensure that testing is easily accessible to all.
“I am encouraging the public to download the stop covid app and to wear face coverings where appropriate; for businesses to take all possible steps to protect staff and customers; and for the statutory agencies to play a more proactive role in ensuring facilities are safe and adhering to the rules.
“Sinn Féin will continue to do all that we can to ensure that all possible measures are implemented to protect the health and wellbeing of the community in Strabane and to minimise the spread of COVID-19.”
Sinn Féin MP Paul Maskey led a party delegation to meet with paramedics in Belfast this morning on challenges facing the ambulance service.
The West Belfast MP said:
“This morning Fra McCann MLA, Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile and myself as MP for West Belfast met with paramedics to listen directly to their concerns and the challenges which face them on a daily basis, we also thanked them for their tireless work in our community.
“It was deeply concerning to hear directly from the paramedics on the lack of resources and personnel available which has placed extreme pressure on the service.
“On one recent weekend day, out of the seven ambulances dedicated to the Belfast area only one was available.
“Tomorrow I will meet with the Head of the Ambulance Service in the North, Michael Bloomfield, to discuss these concerns and how we can work to address them.
“Sinn Féin will continue to support our health service and frontline health workers to ensure there is adequate resources and support."
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has raised very serious concerns around legislation being discussed in Westminster which would permit MI5 and police agents to break the law.
The Sinn Féin policing spokesperson said:
“Today the British parliament will discuss legislation that, if passed, would permit MI5 and police agents to break the law without fear of prosecution.
“This is the British Government placing agents above the rule of law and giving a green light to carry out serious crimes which could include murder.
“Ironically, the British Government has given a commitment that agents will comply with the EU Human Rights Act – however, this is the same Human Rights Act that the British Government have indicated that they plan to dismantle as part of their manic Brexit.
“In Ireland, we know that this amnesty for agents is nothing new.
"Throughout the conflict, British state agents were allowed to carry out countless killings – many under direction of intelligence agencies, RUC and the British Government itself.
"No one should be above the rule of law. British state agents must be accountable for their crimes.”
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has criticised the Government’s 2020/21 Winter Plan as a wish list which is short on targets, timelines and ambition.
Teachta Cullinane said:
“This is a wish list, not a plan – it is lacking in detail, targets, and timelines for staff recruitment and bed delivery. It is underwhelming and very disappointing.
“It’s not a plan to catch up on missed care, it’s not a plan to build capacity, it’s not even a plan to stand still.
“It falls far short on the number of beds and staff required to safely deliver covid, non-covid, and catch up care in the coming months.
“Our plan, which I launched in early August, would deliver 1,100 additional acute and sub-acute beds and 50 ICU beds this year, €40 million to kickstart Cancer care, and bring on an additional 2,500 staff ahead of winter, not after.
“The Government plan will only deliver 251 acute beds and 89 sub-acute beds in 2020 and 232 acute beds in early 2021.
“The 17 ICU beds proposed is far short of what is needed. Additional ICU beds in early 2021 will be crucial but no target has been set.“These new bed numbers include additional beds already due to come online; it only provides revenue funding to open them not capital funding to deliver additional beds.
“The HSE admits that the so-called ‘new’ beds will only mitigate covid-related capacity shortfalls, not meet demand.
“There are hundreds of unfilled vacancies across the health service, as the INMO and IHCA have said. Without filling these, new beds cannot be opened.
“Without clear commitments and rapid recruitment this will not relieve the burden on existing staff – they are overworked, burned out, and have worked hard through last winter and this pandemic with no relief.
“There are no mentions of disability services and mental health services, and no funding to kickstart cancer services this year.
“We welcome the investment in occupational welfare supports for frontline staff, investment in community care and community intervention teams, and the winter flu expansion.
“These were core parts of our Capacity Protection plan. But these alone are not enough and the rest of the plan misses the mark.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has said that breaches by KBC, which saw 11 families lose their homes, showed that the rot at the heart of the Irish banking sector prevails.
Deputy Doherty was reacting to the €18 million fine slapped on KBC by the Central Bank for grave breaches, which damaged over 3,700 tracker mortgage customers.
The Donegal TD once again called on the Government to publish legislation requested by Central Bank nearly three years ago to increase accountability in our banks.
Speaking this afternoon, Teachta Doherty said: “This morning the Central Bank announced it had fined KBC Bank €18.3 million on Tuesday for a series of regulatory breaches, which damaged the lives of thousands of its customers.
“This involved taking mortgage customers off their tracker rates, failing to comply with the Central Bank’s Tracker Mortgage Examination, among other grave breaches.
“These breaches affected over 3,700 borrowers, leading to the loss of 66 properties and 11 family homes.
"This shows that the rot at the heart of the Irish banking sector has not gone away.
“In the words of the Central Bank 'KBC caused avoidable and sustained harm to impacted customers'.
"This harm was meted out by KBC even during the Tracker Mortgage Examination, with its failure to comply with the Central Bank’s 'Stop the Harm Principles'.
“This included failing to stop charging higher, incorrect rates of interest and failing to stop repossessions as a result of their malpractice.
“For KBC it was a Continue the Harm Principle that guided their operations.
“Today’s announcement comes less than a year after KBC’s CEO told the Central Bank to 'turn the page' on 'the whole tracker mortgage stuff'.
“KBC have been forced to pay €153 million that it wrongfully took from these customers, including compensation, as a result of the Tracker Mortgage Scandal.
“In total, Irish banks have been forced to pay over €1 billion that they wrongfully took from customers, including compensation for the hurt, loss and devastation they caused.
“But we need more than fines against institutions - we need accountability.
“For years, Sinn Féin have been calling for legislation that would ensure individual accountability at senior levels in our banks.
“The Central Bank echoed these calls three years ago, requesting changes to law that would address individual accountability in the financial sector.
“Government is yet to bring this legislation forward. They must do so now as a matter of urgency.”
Sinn Féin Senator Elisha McCallion has called upon the British Government to end the uncertainty around a Brexit deal and "bin the Internal Markets Bill".
Speaking during a Seanad debate on the Withdrawal Agreement, Senator McCallion said:
“For the last three years the British government has pursued a selfish and self-centred approach to its plan to leave the European Union.
“Ireland our people and our economies north and south, are to be the collateral damage of this plan.
“The British government must end this uncertainty, bin the Internal Markets Bill and accept a sensible negotiated departure with the EU, as was agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement.
“The Withdrawal Agreement was hard fought for, much the same as the Good Friday Agreement - and any deviation from either will have devastating consequences for us all.
“The threat of a no deal scenario and the implementation of the Internal Markets Bill being discussed at Westminster is adding a phenomenal amount of unnecessary pressure onto people.
“There is a very real and strong fear locally that the bill could potentially undercut local standards and jeopardise the world class farming and agri-food industry in the North.
“Both the Good Friday Agreement and the Withdrawal Agreement are international treaties that must be maintained and protected in order to prevent a hard border in Ireland, to protect our all-island economy, and to ultimately protect the integrity of the devolved settlement and our peace process.”
Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady has contacted the Home Office to raise concerns over a lack of biometrics appointments available in the North.
The Newry and Armagh MP said:
“Over the course of recent weeks, I have been assisting several local constituents who have applied for the EU settlement Scheme but have been unable to get a biometrics appointment in the Belfast Sopra Steria Centre.
“This has resulted in a delay in their EU settlement scheme application being progressed.
“I have contacted the Home Office and raised very serious concerns around this delay and the uncertainty that it creates for applicants.
“The lack of biometric appointments and subsequent delay in applications being progressed has also caused severe stress for many applicants and families.
“Sinn Féin will continue to work to ensure that issues around biometric appointments are addressed.”
MacManus backs French call for reform of Fiscal Rules
Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has backed calls from the French government to reform the fiscal rules in light of the Covid epidemic. He was commenting after the French Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune said in French media that the rules cannot return as they were when their suspension ends.
MacManus, who is a member of the EU Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee said:
“This intervention from the French government is welcome. The EU quite correctly suspended its fiscal rules as the economic bite of Covid was felt. As we find ourselves deep in a second wave of this terrible virus the reality must start dawning on Europe’s leaders that the rules which were never fit for purpose are now completely redundant.
Minister Beaune points to the fact that investment will be needed to resurrect Europe’s economies. This means an arbitrary target of 3% deficits and reducing public debt to 60% of GDP are simply not feasible anytime soon without inflicting incredible austerity. The rules are simply redundant.
Sinn Féin has always opposed the rules and seeks their abolition or deep reform. Public investment should not be limited by the rules given the need to transform our economy to a carbon free one even before Covid hit the world. Deficits should be what they need to be to support workers and businesses dealing with this shock.
The coming debate offers an opportunity for real change not only in the rules but in the nature of the EU itself allowing a more social Europe. Unfortunately, as we know from his nomination letter to the Eurogroup Minister Paschal Donohue has signalled that his government are very much on the side of “a pathway back to the rule on State Aid and the Growth and Stability Pact in the medium term”.
For me and Sinn Féin the pathway should be to protect our most vulnerable and our workers through this period without regard to arbitrary rules and then to build more sustainable rules that allow sovereign States make the investments their countries need. We look forward to the coming debate” ENDS
Note to Editor:
Link to French report:
Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin has said the provision for a unity referendum contained in the Good Friday Agreement offer an opportunity to build a new future for everyone.
The Mid Ulster MLA said:
"The DUP’s Alex Easton states that he believes that the concurrent referendums on Irish Unity, indicated in the Good Friday Agreement, would be lost.
"While I disagree with Mr Easton's assessment, I welcome discussion on the topic.
“The Good Friday Agreement states that the Referendums must be called if it appears likely that a majority of those voting would express a wish that the North should form part of a united Ireland.
"This is not merely an option for the British Government - it is a legal requirement, endorsed by the people of Ireland in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
"I contend that the criteria have been met to initiate plans for the referendums.
"There is an opportunity to build a better Ireland, for everyone, regardless of their political persuasion.
"Leading economists such as Professor Kurt Hubner and David McWilliams have produced works showing the benefits of unity.
"Sinn Féin believes that the time to prepare for the Good Friday Agreement referendums is now.
"Let the people decide whether their future is best served by maintaining the status quo or unlocking the benefits of a united, inclusive, respectful and prosperous Ireland."
Sinn Féin TD for Laois-Offaly and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Brian Stanley, has branded the HSE’s procurement oversight ‘disappointing and unacceptable’ after the HSE was unable to outline how much of its procurement was non-compliant with government regulations.
Teachta Stanley said:
“It is completely unacceptable that the HSE is not in a position to provide the PAC with information about how much taxpayers' money it spends on non-compliant procurement.
“The HSE, prior to Covid, was provided with a budget of €17.4 billion for 2020. How can an organisation with a budget the size of the HSE not have an efficient and transparent system for procurement?
“This is very disappointing from an oversight and accountability perspective.
“The HSE has replied that it is not in a position to provide the information requested because it doesn’t have a single procurement system and therefore lacks full visibility of all procurement related activity.
“However, we know from data provided by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) that non-compliant procurement is a major issue in the HSE.
“From sample cases studied by the C&AG in the HSE’s Annual Financial Statements, between 2015 and 2018, up to 49% of the HSE procurement was non-compliant with regulations. “What is even more alarming is that the HSE doesn’t intend on having a solution to this issue until 2024 and even then, it will only cover 80% of HSE procurement. “It is vital that all public bodies have good systems, practices and procedures in place.“Unfortunately, there is a clear problem here with the governance of the HSE’s procurement and it must be dealt with as a priority. “I will be calling for the HSE to come in to discuss this matter.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has called on the government to urgently increase the income limits for social housing eligibility as the criteria have failed to keep up with cost living increases experienced by many workers and families.
Teachta Ó Broin said:
“For a number of years the Department of Housing has been reviewing income thresholds for social housing eligibility. Last set in 2011, they are now too low and long-standing applicants are being removed because of modest income increases, while new applicants just over the income threshold are being refused.
“I and other TDs from across the political divide have been calling for the income limits to be revised upwards for a number of years, and we understood a decision on this was imminent.
“However, information I have received in response to a Parliamentary Question indicates that the government does not intend to raise income thresholds.
“The response from the Minister for Housing states; The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.
“While the Minister for Housing commits to looking at the issue in the context of a wider review of social housing, that is of no use to workers and families losing their place on the housing list after many years or fully excluding others from social housing and social housing supports such as HAP.
“The time for reviewing this issue has long passed. The thresholds must be increased immediately and then pegged to inflation into the future.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD has said that the revelation by the Irish Examiner this morning that a large poultry company has been charging employees for PPE is an utterly unacceptable situation and he has called for the practice to end immediately.
Teachta Carthy said:
"Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, no other private industry has had more of an impact on Covid-19 case numbers than the meat and food processing sector.
"Meat plants have accounted for one third of workplace clusters. They are high-risk workplaces and the provision of PPE in these factories is essential to help halt the spread of Covid-19.
"The revelation this morning by the Irish Examiner that Manor Farm has been charging workers - many of whom are on incredibly low wages - for essential PPE reinforces many of the concerns about conditions in the food processing sector.
"It is unthinkable, in the midst of a global pandemic, that a company would not provide its workers with the equipment they need to keep them safe as a basic condition of their employment. This is an utterly unacceptable situation and the practice should end immediately.
"The Minister for Agriculture and the HSA should undertake to find out if this practice is happening elsewhere and ensure it is stamped out.
"This should serve as a reminder that the lack of transparency and poor working conditions in the meat and food processing sector need to be urgently addressed."