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David CullinaneResponding to figures released by the National Treatment Purchase Fund showing hospital waiting lists hitting a record high of 819,000, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane has called on Minister Donnelly to urgently produce a health plan.

Speaking this evening, Teachta Cullinane said: “Over the last number of months, our health services have responded to an unprecedented health emergency. 

"Managing both Covid and non-Covid care has presented major challenges and has seen a reduction of hospital appointments, medical procedures and screening services.

“As a consequence, wait times have massively increased and have hit a record high of 819,000. 601,300 patients are now waiting for an inpatient appointment. Covid-19 has exposed a healthcare system which does not have enough beds, enough consultants or enough nurses and other allied health professionals.

“As we approach the winter season, our acute hospitals are facing a perfect storm. Up to 40% bed capacity could be lost due to social distancing and infection control guidelines.

“We need an urgent plan to massively and rapidly increase capacity. Sinn Féin has published a fully costed €2b plan.

"It calls for a marshalling of resources to maximise bed numbers in acute hospitals, rapid build of modular units, sourcing appropriate physical space in communities and leveraging at cost care at private facilities.

“We also need to address the two tier nature of consultant contracts and working conditions for all on the front line. We need to guarantee a contract for all nurses available for work.

“We are facing an unprecedented crisis on a scale never seen before. We need a response on a scale never seen before.

"Sinn Féin has published its plan. Minister Donnelly must publish his also.”

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Mary Lou McDonaldSinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has urged the government to step up and ensure that tenants' rights are upheld following an illegal eviction in her constituency of Dublin Central.

Commenting on the eviction at 7 Berkeley Road, Teachta McDonald said: “No one should be at risk of losing the roof over their heads in the middle of this pandemic.

"Sinn Féin warned against lifting the ban on evictions. The decision by this government to end a blanket ban on evictions left the door open for shocking incidents like this to take place.

"The regressive Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill implemented by the government only adds to the problem.

"Threshold have confirmed to me that they are now dealing with a significant increase in cases and queries regarding evictions.

"The legal representative for two of the evicted tenants has advised that there is no legal document circulating which would form the basis for a lawfully authorised eviction. This is deeply concerning.

"I have written to the Garda Commissioner asking him to clarify the guidelines in place, the legal basis for the role of the Gardaí at this eviction, and the steps taken to confirm that this eviction was lawful.

"I have also written to the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Housing.

"Fianna Fáil, both in their General Election manifesto and in the Programme for Government, promised to improve security for renters. Government must live up to this commitment and take decisive action to uphold tenants’ rights."

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Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan has called on the Education Minister to intervene to restore A-Level grades for students in the north.

Speaking after challenging the Minister and CCEA at the Committee, the Foyle MLA said:

“I have been inundated with parents, students and teachers from right across the north who are devastated after their results were drastically downgraded.

“It’s also deeply concerning that students may lose out on a university place for this year as a result.

“These are unprecedented times and children should not be punished, it’s difficult enough preparing for a return to school after months off.

“I challenged the Education Minister today to intervene and take action to sort out this shambles. 

“The Minister and CCEA must respect the professional judgement of our teachers and restore our students’ grades immediately.”

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Darren O RourkeSinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Darren O’Rourke TD today called for the Ministers for Education and Transport to address the myriad of issues around school transport and Covid-19.

Deputy O’Rourke is calling for additional buses to be put on to allow for more social distancing, and for operators to be provided with additional money to ensure buses can be cleaned regularly and that PPE is available to keep drivers safe.

Speaking today, the Meath East TD said: “Each year 120,000 children, including over 14,200 children with special educational needs, rely on the School Transport Scheme, and this term will provide significant extra challenges due to Covid-19.

“It will come as a surprise to many, that although capacity on public transport has been limited to 50% due to Covid-19, no social distancing is planned for school buses when they return at the end of this month.

“While it may not be possible to achieve 50% capacity on these services, we believe additional buses should be put on to allow for more social distancing for schoolchildren.

“It’s envisaged that children will sit in designated seats, but as many school buses serve numerous schools, an outbreak in one school could spread through the school bus system under the current plans.

“We believe each school should have designated buses, to try and prevent the spread of Covid-19 from one school to another should there be an outbreak.

“We have thousands of buses and coaches sitting idle in yards around the state due to the lack of tourists this year, so the vehicles are there and the workers are keen to get back on the road.

“By utilising the coach and tour bus operators, we can ensure a greater level of social distancing takes place on school buses and also provide a lifeline of work for companies who have been hit hard by the pandemic.

“We are also calling for additional money to be made available to bus operators to ensure they can clean the buses regularly and have adequate PPE for drivers.

“Many drivers in the sector are older workers, so it’s imperative they have appropriate equipment to keep them safe at work.

“Contractors have told me that the money announced by the government for cleaning and PPE only works out at about €4.50 per day per contractor, which is inadequate to meet the costs they will face.

“Children in urban areas rely on the public transport network for their school transport needs, so extra services will be needed from next week to meet the increase in demand.

“There are significant issues outstanding in the current government plans, and we believe much more needs to be done ahead of school buses returning to the roads.”

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Eoin Ó BroinSinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has described the promotion of shared equity as a solution to the housing affordability crisis as a ruse to get around the Central Bank mortgage lending rules.

Deputy Ó Broin was responding to the housing report published by economist Ronan Lyons, commissioned by Irish Institutional Property (IPP), the lobby group for institutional investors.

Teachta Ó Broin said: “The report by Ronan Lyons, commissioned by Irish Institutional Property, calls on the government to reduce the cost of delivering homes and for a shared equity scheme to be introduced to make purchasing a home “more affordable”.

“The promotion of shared equity as a solution to the housing affordability crisis is a ruse to get around  the Central Bank mortgage lending rules.

“The home itself is not more affordable under shared equity. The developer pockets the same purchase price with the homeowner taking on two loans instead of one mortgage.

“Shared equity locks in high prices and transfers risk from the developer to the buyer and the state.

“This is highlighted by data from past shared equity schemes where 44% of homeowners ended up in arrears.

“We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and stop repackaging bad schemes that only benefit the developers.

“In fact since private developers are struggling to make it viable to deliver affordable homes, the State should step in and do it.

“A recent report published by the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland shows that delivering public homes on public land can be between €140,000 and €160,000 less expensive than private delivery.

“The government should double capital investment in housing to deliver 20,000 public homes a year, including affordable cost rental and affordable purchase homes.

“The affordable cost rental would cost on average between €700-€900 per month with affordable purchase costing €230,000 in Dublin with no hidden extra equity charge.

“The private market should not be facilitated by the taxpayers to deliver unaffordable homes to rent or to buy just so developers can further increase their profit margins.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has said the Guidance on Decision Making for a Pension from the British government on a pension for victims of the conflict is discriminatory and unacceptable.

Gerry Kelly said:

"These latest proposals from the British government on a victims' pension are exclusionary, discriminatory and unacceptable. 

"There is a need for a scheme which not only acknowledges the hurt and suffering of all victims of the conflict but also meets their needs, including financial needs. 

"What the British government are putting forward in this guidance Document would create a hierarchy of victims which would exclude many, particularly those from within the nationalist and republican community. 

"We made it clear that there is a need for a political solution to this issue so that a resolution could be found which meets the needs of all victims, with no one left behind. Instead the British government have presented this Guidance without consultation and completely against the 2006 legal definition of a victim. 

"The victims' pension scheme cannot be exclusionary. The hurt and pain of all victims is the same. 

"This is a further indication of the British government attempting to abandon the agreements on legacy in the Stormont House Agreement, agreed by the two governments and all the political parties. They focus instead on protecting and covering up the role of State Forces in the conflict, regardless of the needs of victims. 

"We are committed to seeing the delivery of a victims' pension scheme which meets the needs of all victims and excludes no one."

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Eoin Ó BroinSinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has described the promotion of shared equity as a solution to the housing affordability crisis as a ruse to get around the Central Bank mortgage lending rules.

Deputy Ó Broin was responding to the housing report published by economist Ronan Lyons, commissioned by Irish Institutional Property (IPP), the lobby group for institutional investors.

Teachta Ó Broin said: “The report by Ronan Lyons, commissioned by Irish Institutional Property, calls on the government to reduce the cost of delivering homes and for a shared equity scheme to be introduced to make purchasing a home “more affordable”.

“The promotion of shared equity as a solution to the housing affordability crisis is a ruse to get around  the Central Bank mortgage lending rules.

“The home itself is not more affordable under shared equity. The developer pockets the same purchase price with the homeowner taking on two loans instead of one mortgage.

“Shared equity locks in high prices and transfers risk from the developer to the buyer and the state.

“This is highlighted by data from past shared equity schemes where 44% of homeowners ended up in arrears.

“We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and stop repackaging bad schemes that only benefit the developers.

“In fact since private developers are struggling to make it viable to deliver affordable homes, the State should step in and do it.

“A recent report published by the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland shows that delivering public homes on public land can be between €140,000 and €160,000 less expensive than private delivery.

“The government should double capital investment in housing to deliver 20,000 public homes a year, including affordable cost rental and affordable purchase homes.

“The affordable cost rental would cost on average between €700-€900 per month with affordable purchase costing €230,000 in Dublin with no hidden extra equity charge.

“The private market should not be facilitated by the taxpayers to deliver unaffordable homes to rent or to buy just so developers can further increase their profit margins.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has called on the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) to ensure the A levels appeals process is robust and fast-tracked to provide certainty to students for the incoming academic year. 

Caoimhe Archibald said:

“Many pupils and parents have contacted myself and colleagues with concerns about the A Level grades awarded by CCEA.

“This year's A Levels were awarded in unprecedented circumstances, however the downgrading of some predicted grades has added to the stress and anguish of young people preparing for the new academic year, with many considering appeals. 

“The timeframe for the appeals process is concerning as the deadline to apply for a review is Thursday 17th September and the new university semester for both Queen's University and Ulster University is Monday 21st September.

“This scenario will put students at risk of missing out on a place for this academic year completely. 

“I have written to CCEA asking them to address this as a matter of urgency and have urged them to ensure the appeals and re-grading process is completed as quickly as possible to give students certainty.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed £1.4m announced today by Finance Minister Conor Murphy to support the bus and taxi industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Foyle MLA said: 

"This funding announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy today of £1.4 million to cover statutory licence fees for the bus and taxi industries is welcome. 

"Bus operators and taxi drivers have been among the hardest hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and many have struggled financially. 

"This funding will help address some of the concerns those in the sectors have had. 

"We also need to see increased support for taxi drivers and bus operators from the Infrastructure Minister to allow them to continue to deliver services to the public in a a way that keeps driver and passengers safe."

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Sinn Féin MLA Liz Kimmins has welcomed the announcement of a £7m funding package from Finance Minister Conor Murphy to support social enterprises. 

The Newry and Armagh MLA said: 

"Today's announcement from Finance Minister Conor Murphy to provide £7m to social enterprises to help them cope with the challenges of COVID-19 is welcome. 

"Social enterprises do great work in providing both employment and services to local communities and they, like many others, have been hit by the ongoing public health emergency. 

"This funding will help them meet the challenges of COVID-19 and ensure they can continue to deliver services and keep both staff and the wider public safe."

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Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has welcomed a £20 million funding package for Translink announced today by Finance Minister Conor Murphy.

The Newry and Armagh MLA said:

“I welcome today’s announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy of a £20 million funding package to support Translink. 

“Public transport is one of the sectors which has been hardest hit by the current public health emergency with a huge decline in passengers travelling on buses and trains. 

“This funding from Conor Murphy will help Translink address the huge challenges that COVID-19 presents for public transport and keep both staff and passengers safe. 

“It’s important that while travelling on buses and trains, people follow the public health advice to wear a face covering and maintain social distancing.”

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Mary Lou McDonaldSinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has described the treatment of St Monica’s workers facing redundancy at the end of the week as shameful, and is calling on the Tánaiste and Minister for Health to ensure that they are treated fairly.

On July 8th, staff and residents were informed of the closure of St Monica’s Nursing Home, and daycare services. This week a liquidator has been appointed to the Belvedere Place facility, and the existing services will close.

Speaking today, Teachta McDonald said: “A commitment to a consultation period was given by the management to the residents, staff and families in July. Yet within a matter of weeks, residents have been moved, a liquidator appointed, and redundancies are on the cards.

"To add insult to injury, St Monica’s workers with decades of service, working throughout the Covid-19 crisis, are now being told that they will not receive holiday pay, and that a fair and adequate redundancy package is not on the table.

"Labour Court precedent has already been set in respect of HSE-funded facilities like St Monica’s.

"The Labour Court has also expressed the view that the Sisters of Charity, along with the HSE as the main funder, both have a responsibility to secure the means to implement redundancy packages.

"We are in the grip of a Covid-19 emergency and the reality is decisions like this will have a knock-on effect on hospitals and other services.

"The government must step up. The long-term solution is adequate capital investment and proper funding, not closures.

"I have raised these matters with the HSE Chief of Operations in the CHO 9 Area, the Sisters of Charity, the Minister for Health and the Tánaiste.

"Sinn Féin stand squarely with the St Monica’s workers and the community."

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Ryan calls for planning guidelines to be updated

Patricia Ryan TD has called on the Minister for Housing to publish updated guidelines on planning. In a recent Parliamentary Question to the Minister, Deputy Ryan asked when updated guidelines might be published. In response, the Minister has committed to publishing the guidelines next year. 

Patricia said “The current guidelines are over 13 years old, they were published during the Celtic Tiger era. We need guidelines that are relevant to the housing situation today. We need to ensure that developers provide an adequate bond and that we speed up the taking in charge process to ensure bonds are still active when estates are being taken in charge. And most importantly, we need to provide infrastructure before or at the same time as houses are being built. We need to plan for the future, taking into account increases in population and traffic. We also need to consider the effect that the current pandemic might have on future development.”

There have been significant changes in planning law since the guidelines were introduced, including the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018. 

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Sinn Féin TD Patricia Ryan TD has expressed her concern at new figures coming out of the Department of Education, showing class sizes as large as 45 students in some parts of the country. 

Teachta Ryan said: “It is clear that overcrowding in classrooms is a huge problem. New figures show that the median class size in 2019 was 25 students. Kildare’s median class size is 26. The EU average is 20 students per class. Classes in Wicklow and Kerry had up to 39 and 38 children respectively, whilst schools in Galway, Limerick, Louth and Meath were not far behind, with up to 37 kids sharing one classroom. 

"Schools in Kildare had up to 35 kids in the classroom, while in Westmeath there was a shocking 45 kids in one class last year. 

"The reality is that the planning for a return to school in less than three weeks’ time is being made more difficult because we have the highest class sizes in Europe. The Government failed to tackle this in its plans for the reopening of schools, whilst 1 in every 5 primary school children here is in a class of over 30. There are countless classes that are far too big, in buildings too small, and not fit for purpose. 

"The first step in ensuring that educational standards and safety protocols are maintained, is by drastically reducing class sizes down to the EU average of 20. It is extremely disappointing, then, that the government parties voted against our Private Members’ Motion last week that would have committed the Government to doing just that. 

"If there ever was a time to tackle this issue, surely this is it. To start, all classes of over 30 kids should be abolished, and never allowed to return.

"The Government must immediately undertake an audit of class sizes across the country, and work to address this issue sooner rather than later.”

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Reada CroninSinn Féin TD for Kildare North Réada Cronin has said that the submission from the Independent Workers’ Union at today's sitting of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 exposed how the privacy and dignity of women workers has been denied.

The submission outlined how in one meat plant, on the first day of lockdown, the doors to women’s locker-rooms and toilets were bolted open to the walls as a virus safety measure to prevent touching of surfaces. 

This would have had the inevitable effect of leaving already-vulnerable women workers undressing and attending to personal hygiene in full view of a main hallway.

Teachta Cronin said: “The idea of working women, who would also be menstruating women, taking their clothes off and attending to personal hygiene while doors to locker-rooms and toilets are bolted open, and with no prior notice, is repulsive. 

"It is dehumanising and degrading of these women in the €4 billion meat industry whose profits they are creating. It is also an abuse of power. 

“These doors didn’t bolt themselves. Somebody took the decision that bolting them open was good enough for these women as a ‘safety measure’. Would they have taken such action in the case of their own wife, sister, daughter or mother?

“At the committee this morning, I asked the HSA to investigate this action, the like of which you would see in a 19th century prison or asylum. As a woman I am horrified it would be seen as ‘a safety measure’ by any manager or official in the 21st century.

“The responsible minister, Leo Varadkar, claims he is worried about the political fate of white, middle-class men. 

"Is he equally worried about the fate of our vulnerable, poor, exploited women workers, too many of whom, according to the evidence presented, don’t actually exist on the record?

“Covid-19 is making us take a long hard look at ourselves and many do not like what they see. 

"For a meat plant to takes the primitive action of bolting open toilet doors on vulnerable women workers is  indicative of how far we have to go on our journey as women in this state, and how low we can go in our pursuit of profit. 

“This is still no country for poor women. I am calling on all women’s organisations and all women politicians to push for proper working conditions and dignity for our sisters working at our meat-plants and in other precarious employment. It is the very least we can do and that they deserve.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Catherine Kelly has welcomed the announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy of funding to support apprenticeships and the Further Education sector. 

The Sinn Féin spokesperson for children and young people said: 

"I welcome today's announcement from my party colleague, Finance Minister Conor Murphy, of £17.2 million to support apprenticeships in the north. 

"Apprenticeships play a key role in helping young people into employment and provide great opportunities. 

"This funding will support employers who take on apprentices and will be beneficial to many young people. 

"The Finance Minister has also announced £5.5m for the Further Education sector to ensure it can provide a safe learning environment when students return and will allow learning to continue in a manner which ensure the safety of both students and staff during this pandemic." 

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Denise MitchellSinn Féin TD for Dublin Bay North Denise Mitchell has asked that the Minister for Transport allocate further resources to clearing the backlog of those awaiting driving tests in Raheny.

Teachta Mitchell said: “This is causing massive problems for people who need to drive to get to work and will be a bigger issue next month when children will need to be dropped to school.

“Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan needs to address this issue urgently. I have contacted him requesting that more resources be allocated to the Raheny test centre in order to clear the backlog of 2,662.

“The RSA have said tests have now resumed at reduced capacity, with those who had a test booked before the pandemic prioritised. But without further action now, this problem is going to persist and potentially worsen. 

“The Minister needs to consider hiring additional testers to deal with the huge waiting list and consult with testers and their union representatives about extending operating hours to deal with the backlog.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan has welcomed the announcement of over £42m to support the safe reopening of schools.

The Foyle MLA said:

“Today’s announcement of over £42 million by Finance Minister Conor Murphy to support schools to safely reopening and well as funding for PPE and free school meals is welcome.

“It’s vital that parents and schools have assurances about the safety of children and staff.

“Schools need proper resources to be able to make the necessary changes to the school day and today’s funding will go a long in support that work.

“The safe reopening of schools and ensuring the safety of pupils and all school staff must be a priority."

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Sinn Fein spokesperson on Young People, Catherine Kelly MLA has expressed concern after it was revealed today that a third of pupils’ results fell below grades predicted by their teachers.

Catherine Kelly said: 

“The hopes of so many young people have been dashed by an algorithm that appears to have generated inconsistent and erratic results and is feared to have discriminated against high achieving pupils from disadvantaged areas.

“I have sought input from the Human Rights and Equality Commission to provide clarity and guidance.

“I am calling on the Minister of Education to take urgent action to resolve this and take immediate steps to protect the future of young people. Those hoping to seek further education have only a small window of opportunity to secure places.

“The Scottish Minister did not hesitate to put right this wrong. Peter Weir needs to act with similar decisiveness.

“I am sure the minister wishes to do his best for our young people. It would be unfortunate if failure to act resulted in legal action to address any such inequality.”

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Sinn Féin Leas Uachtarán Michelle O'Neill has said events to mark the centenary of partition must include a reflective and honest conversation of its failure and form part of the discussion on a new future. 

Speaking after meeting the British prime minister today, Michelle O'Neill said: 

"I met today with British prime minister Boris Johnson to discuss a range of issues. 

"We are still in the midst of a pandemic which is still highly dangerous and we discussed our response to that. 

"I also reiterated to both leaders the joint request for a meeting of the British Irish Council to discuss our response to COVID-19 and ensure it is coordinated across the island and across these islands so that we have a common sense approach. 

"We also discussed the impact the pandemic is having on our economy and I made it clear that we need to rebuild our economy on a fair and balanced basis. We cannot build on the basis of Tory austerity. 

"Our economy also faces a huge threat from Brexit and I made clear to Boris Johnson that the protections secured for the north in the Irish Protocol must be maintained and that there is an urgent need for clarity. 

"I pressed him also on the need to address the legacy of the past and, in particular, on the issue of a victims pension and outlined to him that a political solutions needs to be found which would allow the pension to be paid to all victims with no one left behind. 

"It is unacceptable that victims have had to wait and I reiterated to the British prime minister that action is required urgently. 

"Announcements were also made today on the plans to mark the centenary of the partition of this island and I made it clear this is not a cause for celebration for nationalists and republicans. Partition failed this island and failed Britain. It not only divided our island but also our people and was devastating for our economy. 

"Any event or forum looking at the centenary of partition must include a reflective and honest conversation on partition, its failure and how we move in to a new decade."

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