Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew today welcomed the Minister of Health's calls for a united front against the COVID19 pandemic.
The Chair of the Health Committee said:
“I welcome Minister Swann's calls for a united effort to tackle a resurgent COVID19.
“We are now in a second wave of the virus with the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths rising on a daily basis.
“The COVID19 virus recognises neither borders nor political affiliations, and there is an obligation on political parties to work collectively in the interest of all citizens.
“A united effort requires the full cooperation of everyone in our society in relation to observing public health guidance on hygiene and social distancing, and also the relentless and tireless efforts from the government to ensure an effective ‘find, test, trace, isolate and support’ system.
“Every component of ‘find, test, trace, isolate and support’ approach must be applied properly for such a strategy to work and it is incumbent on the Minister of Health to address the current weaknesses in the system with regards to testing and contact tracing.
a society we must act in unison to save lives, protect livelihoods and support
our frontline health workers.
"We can overcome this virus by complying with the restrictions and as an Executive and Assembly we must support and empower people in doing that.”
Sinn Féin MLA Órlaithí Flynn has welcomed the publication of a report into the mental health of young people by the Health and Social Care Board.
The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Mental Health said:
“This is a ground-breaking and detailed report that gives a clear insight into the prevalence of mental ill health conditions among young people.
“This report daws upon young people's own experiences and international evidence.
“The long waiting lists to access mental health services are particularly concerning.
“We must actively work towards high quality mental health services to ensure that the needs of society are met.
“The findings reinforce the need to invest in a broad range of services, with one in eight meeting the criteria for a mood and anxiety disorder, one in ten 11-19 year olds reported self-injurious behaviour, and nearly one in seven having experiences of cyber bullying.
“I am urging the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care board to take the findings of this report on board and to commission services urgently to meet the needs of society.”
A Sinn Féin delegation has met with the Rivers Agency to discuss measures to protect Newcastle from flooding.
South Down MLA Emma Rogan said:
“In August, we witnessed the worst incidence of flooding in many years in Newcastle town and the surrounding areas.
“Homes and businesses were ruined as consequence.
“Myself and the MP for South Down Chris Hazzard met with the Rivers Agency to discuss how we can prevent this destruction from occurring again.
“Sinn Féin welcome that a community resilience task group is to be established within the Newcastle area. This group will work to prepare for weather warnings and prevent future flooding.
“The Rivers Agency has also agreed to work with Sinn Féin representatives to identify a site in Newcastle to store sandbags for easy accessibility.
“While these are welcome announcements, the implementation of a flood alleviation scheme is the only way to guarantee maximum protection for the community in Newcastle from flooding in the future.
Chris Hazzard MP said:
“It is worth reiterating once again the local community’s appreciation for the support that Rivers Agency workers provided to residents in Newcastle.
“It was good today to discuss the forthcoming flood alleviation scheme and I was delighted to hear the scheme will include design features that will mitigate the danger of fallen trees and other debris in the Shimna River.
“Creative solutions such as totem poles in the river bed will not only meet the engineering needs of the scheme, but given the ecological diversity of the water course and adjacent woodland, they will also be suitably sensitive to the needs of the local environment.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection Claire Kerrane TD has said new figures showing a rise in the number of people claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment are deeply concerning and highlight the importance of any new lockdown restrictions being accompanied by financial supports.
New figures released today indicate that there has been an increase of over 15,000 people claiming the PUP compared to last week.
Teachta Kerrane said:
“These figures which show an increase of over 15,000 people claiming PUP in the last week are deeply concerning. These numbers suggests that, as had been feared, greater lockdown restrictions are resulting in people losing their jobs.
“In the course of the last week or so, we have seen the entire country go to Level 3 restrictions, followed by Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan going to Level 4. Many workers and businesses warned this would result in job losses and this is now happening.
“This is deeply concerning and these job losses will mean more and more workers and families across the state facing financial pressure and uncertainty as they try to make ends meet.
“Sinn Féin have been clear throughout that the PUP should never have been cut. The Government’s decision to cut it last month from the full rate was short sighted and out of touch.
“Sadly, the pandemic appears to be with us for the foreseeable future at least. We must ensure that people who have lost their jobs or who now face losing their jobs due to increased lockdown measures are not abandoned by this Government.
“I am once again urging the Government to restore the full PUP rate of €350 per week. Failure to do so will see thousands of workers and families across the state in dire financial situations. This will become more and more apparent if increased lockdown measures force more businesses to shut their doors, yet the state fails to provide for their workers.
“These people have lost their jobs through absolutely no fault of their own and simply because of necessary public health restrictions which are required to keep our communities safe. We cannot abandon them. The Government must act now to restore the full PUP.”
Sinn Féin MLA Jemma Dolan has reiterated calls for Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to take immediate action to resolve the sewerage problems in Galliagh Shore.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said:
“The Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon must take immediate action to resolve sewage issues in Galliagh Shore, Enniskillen.
“When I previously called on Minister Mallon to take urgent action to resolve ongoing sewerage issues in Galliagh Shore, the Minister had said that the finances were not available to do so.
“In the period since then, Finance Minister Conor Murphy has allocated £15m to the Minister to invest in ‘NI Water’.
“However, despite this cash injection and consistent lobbying from political representatives and the local community, Minister has still failed to come up with a plan or to make any moves to resolve this nightmare that the residents of Galliagh Shore are living through.
“The pumping station requires complete replacement and the Minister must step up and take responsibility for this problem.
"Sinn Féin will continue to support the residents of Galliagh Shore and work to bring this issue to a satisfactory conclusion."
Sinn Féin TD for Sligo/Leitrim Martin Kenny will bring a Bill to second stage in the Dáil on Thursday evening which would make forestry developments over five hectares subject to planning permission.
Teachta Kenny first introduced the Bill in 2018. He has said that forestry plantations have a significant impact on people living near them, so should be subject to planning permission like any other development.
Teachta Kenny said:
"Planning permission for forestry is something that is needed throughout the State.
"Planning permission is currently only required in order to plant more than 50 hectares, which is a very large area.
"As a result, very few people have had to apply for planning permission in respect of forestry developments over the years. What is particularly concerning is the type and scale of forestry that is evident in many parts of the country and the visual, environmental and societal impact it has.
"The visual impact is certainly something I see in my part of the world, where we have large areas of forestry - mainly Sitka spruce and pine forests - which grow and block out many people's access to light.
"Many people have built or bought houses with a beautiful view of a lake or mountains and within a couple of years forests have grown in front of them and they have no right to object and no right to say anything to anyone about it.
"There are various groups around the State that support this Bill and some local authorities, including Leitrim County Council, have tried to regulate forestry over the years, with cross-party support.
"In the last Dáil term, Fianna Fáil indicated that its TDs would support this Bill and now that Charlie McConalogue TD is the Minister for Agriculture, I will be very disappointed if the Bill does not progress. I look forward to debating the Bill in the Dáil on Thursday; which will be voted on next week."
Sinn Féin will use its Private Members' time in the Dáil tomorrow night to move a Bill that would ban co-living and build-to-rent developments.
The Ministerial Power (Repeal) (Ban Co-Living and Build to Rent) Bill 2020 amends the Planning and Development Act 2000 and repeals the Build to Rent and Shared Accommodation sections of Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin said:
“Every week, we hear of another co-living planning application, particularly in our large cities.
“At the latest count, there are almost 4,000 proposed co-living beds planned or in the planning process in Dublin and our other urban centres, which is in stark contrast to the number of planning applications for genuinely affordable homes for working people.
“Despite being a vocal opponent to co-living in opposition, the Fianna Fáil Housing Minister Darragh O’ Brien is conducting a review of co-living.
“It was not just the Housing Minister that was adamantly opposed. Micheál Martin, the current Taoiseach, referred to this kind of accommodation as 'battery cage-type accommodation'.
“He asked whether we were going back to the era of tenements and I could not have agreed with him more.
“Our cities do not need glorified tenements for people. The idea that someone would spend €1,300 a month to live in a shoebox, beggars’ belief.
“By not immediately banning co-living Darragh O Brien is once again continuing with the failed Fine Gael Housing policy that he was so vehemently against a few short months ago.
“And while Fine Gael may be happy to refer to co-living as 'boutique hotel living' the Green Party are on the record as referring to co-living as an 'inhumane and profit-driven model' of accommodation.
“The Bill we will debate tomorrow seeks to do three things. It will scrap the controversial power for Ministers to make dramatic changes to planning law without a vote of the Oireachtas, ban co-living and ban substandard design of build-to-rent properties for renters.
“I hope the Bill will be supported by all parties and none and that we can finally ban this ridiculous type of accommodation.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, Darren O’Rourke TD, today called for a ban on electricity and gas disconnections this winter, as the cabinet finalise more restrictions which will likely lead to thousands more job losses.
Teachta O'Rourke said:
“The government must ensure extra protections for workers and families form part of any escalation of restrictions announced today.
“It’s vital this includes a ban on disconnections for gas and electricity customers, for those who run into difficulties meeting their bills at this incredibly difficult time.
“People are now facing higher energy costs due to the recent increase in the carbon tax and electricity PSO, in addition to price hikes announced by providers.
“It is crucial families have reassurance that if they run into difficulty meeting energy bills this winter, their gas and electricity will not be disconnected.
“A moratorium on disconnections was put in place earlier this year by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and ran from mid-March until the end of June.
“Facing into the colder winter months now, this protection is even more important now.
“Minister Eamon Ryan must take the lead on this today and ensure a new moratorium on disconnections forms part of any escalation of Covid-19 restrictions announced this afternoon.”
Sinn Féin MLA Sinead Ennis has welcomed financial support for over 1,000 artists as a support scheme is rolled out today by Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.
The Sinn Féin Culture, Arts and Sport spokesperson said:
“Today over 1,000 artists in the arts, heritage, culture and language sector received financial support to assist and support them during this ongoing pandemic.
“This is the beginning of a support scheme totalling to £29m being rolled out in the North to support the sector.
“The pandemic has been particularly detrimental for the arts, heritage, culture and language sector.
“Culture and the arts are at the heart of our communities so we must ensure that we protect them during this period.”
The fourth meeting of the EU/British Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement met this morning in London, with Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster representing the Executive as Joint Heads of Government, and participating virtually. The meeting was co-chaired by Michael Gove MP and the European Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.
Speaking after the meeting Michelle O’Neill said, “I welcome the opportunity to represent the citizens and businesses in the North at these important meetings.
“Time is undoubtedly short to secure a future partnership between the EU and British Government, but a fair deal, not at any cost, is still possible and I hope that negotiators are successful in their efforts over the coming days and weeks ahead.
“It is my determination to ensure that the Irish Protocol is rigorously implemented by the end of this year. It is specifically designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the achievements of the peace process, and prevent a return of the border on the island of Ireland. It is critical to recognising our special status and allowing growth and prosperity to continue.
“The Executive has legal obligations to fulfil also towards implementing the Protocol, and I reported that the Agriculture Minister has now awarded the contracts for sanitary and phytosanitary checks and controls at our ports of entry, and recruited additional veterinary officers for the task also.
“As regards East-West trade our concern is to ensure that there is minimum disruption to trade, no price hikes for consumers and that through our special status, that businesses have access to both the EU single market for goods and the British market.
“I made the case that where there is concern at this moment on the registration of northern Irish traders for Value Added Tax purposes, which enables our businesses to trade in both markets.
“Without being registered to get their own unique designator as an EU VAT registration number they cannot avail of the service put in place around the free Trader Support Service, putting them at a disadvantage, negating the value of the mitigation for them.
“I also took the opportunity to inform the meeting of the fact that the majority of Assembly members have in recent weeks voted to reject the draft Internal Market Bill currently going through Westminster. We did so because it violates international law and undermines the Irish Protocol.
“The British Government treats the Good Friday Agreement like a commodity to be traded in negotiations which serves their interests, and this will not be accepted by the majority of people or parties in the North of Ireland.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has called on the government to reintroduce the ban on evictions, notices to quit and rent increases. The call comes as the government looks set to introduce a new round of Covid-19 restrictions.
Teachta Ó Broin said:
"The government is poised to introduce new restrictions to help stop the spread of Covid-19 tomorrow. These restrictions have to be accompanied by additional protections for renters.
"The government must immediately reintroduce the ban on evictions, notices to quit and rent increases.
"It is simply not possible to comply with the existing public health advice while being evicted. How can tenants search for a new rental home? How can they allow viewings at their current property?
"If the government is urging people not to have visitors to their home and to reduce their social contacts, then they must ban evictions. It is the only logical course of action.
"They must also ban notices to quit and rent increases as struggling renters need greater protections at this very uncertain time."
Sinn Féin MLA Jemma Dolan has launched a new Bill to ban Zero Hour Contracts in the north in an effort to tackle the uncertainty faced by workers.
The party’s Workers’ Rights spokesperson said:
“Today, I’m launching my bill to Ban Zero Hour contracts in the north.
“People employed under these contracts are faced with deep uncertainty and stress and no guarantees on what they will earn or what hours they will work.
“This needs to change; workers and families deserve fairness and certainty.
“This Bill will replace zero-hour contracts with Banded Hour Contracts and will ensure that workers are given guarantees over their minimum and maximum working hours each week.
“Over the next number of weeks, I am encouraging Trade Unions, Businesses, Workers and others to take part in my consultation to help me to advance workers’ rights which can be completed here: surveymonkey.com/r/MVC9FV3.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has called for significant improvements in the testing and tracing regime. He was speaking following reports today in the Irish Examiner that students who have been in receipt of support from an SNA who tested positive have not been deemed close contacts.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“The report from this morning's Irish Examiner is concerning. It is difficult to imagine - given the intense and very often close and intimate support offered by SNAs - that children who were being supported by an SNA, and who were not wearing masks, were not deemed close contacts.
“This is not the first such example I have heard and there is increasing concern among school staff I speak to that the testing and tracing regime is inadequate.
“I am regularly being informed of situations where school staff who are close contacts are only being informed several days after a positive test arrives. They are concerned that in the interim - because they have been kept in the dark - they have not been able to limit their movements within the school. Others are concerned that there are instances where they have not been deemed a close contact, even though they have been in close proximity to a Covid-positive student.
“Teachers and school staff deserve to feel safe in their workplace. These delays are not good enough.
“Frankly, some have expressed a view and a fear to me, that a different and a lesser approach is being taken to who is and isn’t a close contact in schools.
“I would hope very much that that fear can be dispelled. But that can only be done by ensuing a very rigorous and comprehensive approach to testing and in particular tracing in schools, and ensuring the confidence of school staff, students and families in the system. Certainly many school staff expressed surprise at statements that there was mass testing in schools by the Minister for Education - that hasn’t been their experience.”
Deputy Ó Laoghaire has also said that there needs to be greater levels of communication and leadership from the Minister:
“There are over one million children and staff in our schools. School goers, staff and their families represent a significant cohort of the population. So we know that cases will occur, and nobody wants to create hysteria or panic. However, I am concerned that we may be going too far in the opposite direction, with inadequate information provided to the school community.
“I have also spoken with parents who have been affected by cases in their children’s schools. They are legitimately worried that they are not being communicated with. In some instances of course, there are good reasons for their children not being deemed close contacts. It does seem, however, that communication between schools and the parents of children who are not close contacts is not entirely consistent.
“If a vacuum of information exists, it will be filled, and perhaps not always in a factual way. If parents are not confident in the official channels of information, then speculation will occur. Rumours will abound about schools, both true and false.
“The Department must urgently reconsider how it communicates with parents, with students, and with school staff, both on a local, school level, but also nationally on a wider scale.
“I wrote to Minister Norma Foley some weeks’ ago asking that she consider taking part in periodic public health briefings; akin to those attended on a semi-regular basis by Ministers Varadkar and Donnelly and the Taoiseach.
“I believe this would be of value to reflect on the overall picture, identifying how frequent cases are within schools, how they have been dealt with, how processes are being improved. I am yet to receive a response from her.
“Sinn Féin supports the overall objective that schools stay open safely and sustainably in the long run. To keep kids in schools, parents must feel confident that they are being fully informed. Similarly, teachers and school staff must not feel worried going into their workplace.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection Claire Kerrane TD has called on the Department of Social Protection to publish further details regarding the three weeks additional Parent’s Benefit announced in Budget 2021.
Teachta Kerrane said:
“Budget 2021 includes an additional three weeks Parent’s Benefit, which up to now has allowed both parents to take two weeks paid leave each in the first year of their child’s life. It was introduced in November 2019 and applied to any babies born since then.
“An additional three weeks has now been announced with no detail whatsoever on when it will be introduced, who is eligible and most importantly, when parents can avail of it.
“This is at a time when parents are under immense pressure. In some cases their maternity leave has come to an end, they are expected back at work and yet, they cannot access childcare. Due to Covid-19, many crèches have re-opened with reduced capacity and many are not taking young babies.
“I have been able to confirm with Minister Heather Humphreys that this additional leave will be able to be taken in the first two years of a child’s life, rather than one as has been the case. The Minister has also confirmed that legislation will be required to allow for this additional leave. However, what remains unclear is the timeframe.
“This lack of information is causing huge anger and confusion for parents who are trying to make decisions about caring for their new baby and some being left with no option but to take unpaid leave, leaving them under financial strain.
“I now understand that the additional leave announced earlier this week requires a system change in the Department and it appears that this is going to take significant time before it is introduced.
“I called on the Minister to provide clarity when I spoke in the Dáil on the Budget on Thursday. I am again calling for clarity for parents as they try to work out how they will manage in the weeks and months ahead. That clarity is needed now.”
A cross party group of Senators has condemned the Government rushing through the Oireachtas the Mother and Baby Homes Bill, which would seal the records of survivors for 30 years.
The Senators include Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin’s Fintan Warfield, Labour’s Ivana Bacik, Independent Lynn Ruane, Independent Alice Mary Higgins and Independent Gerard Craughwell.
Speaking today, Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan said: “We’re calling on Minister Roderic O’Gorman to do the right thing by these women. Every survivor who has given testimony has a right to that information. This is their lived experiences. We must ensure this never happens to women and children again.”
Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield said: “What we’re saying is that Minister Roderic O’Gorman can do the right thing today. He should do the right thing by these women and finally sort this problem out. People should have a right to this essential information- it shouldn’t be stolen and sealed away.”
Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said: “The Labour party are opposed to the way that this Bill has been rushed, we’re opposed to the lack of access that it will provide for survivors and their families for these important and vital records.”
Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said: “Today is another important day in Irish history but also the Irish present. Survivors have submitted a huge amount of evidence on the trauma and pain that they’ve endured for many years. To now be faced with the prospect of the records being sealed for 30 years without them being able to access them is extremely disrespectful.”
Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins said: “I’m very unhappy with the way the Bill is being pushed through all stages in the Seanad this week. It is vital that there is a clear message from the Minister that he will ensure people can access information that is about them, their families; their essential information.”
Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell said: “I am particularly against the way that this Bill is being rammed through the Oireachtas. It’s an affront to democracy but more importantly it shows total disrespect for the victims. We’ll do everything we can to slow this Bill down."
Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin has branded comments by the DUP’s Edwin Poots ‘an absolute disgrace and entirely misleading’.
The Mid Ulster MLA said:
“Edwin Poots’ comments are an absolute disgrace and entirely misleading.
“The evidence of the rise of COVID-19 infections is all around us and is claiming lives right across the world.
“Today two more people tragically lost their lives, we had 1,299 new cases, more than 200 people are in hospitals with COVID and 20 are on ventilators as pressure continues to mount on our health service and health workers.
“Sinn Féin's focus is on working with the other Executive parties, including the DUP, to tackle this emergency situation.
“That should be Edwin Poots' focus instead of trying to politicise and sectarianise the issue.”
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“There has been scant real detail in relation to the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) which was announced in Tuesday’s budget.
“The scheme has been highly publicised by the Government, however, the actual detail of how it will function is still unclear.
“According to Minister Donohoe’s Budget 2021 speech “The scheme will apply to business premises where the Government restrictions directly prohibit or restrict access by customers”.
“On the back of the Minister for Finance and the Tánaiste’s loose descriptions of how the scheme will work, Sinn Féin are concerned that it will directly exclude suppliers.
“While businesses such as cafes, pubs, and restaurants may be directly affected by the public health restrictions, and therefore qualify for the CRSS, suppliers upstream in the business chain are equally affected by the effects of the public health restrictions to their customers (pubs, cafes, restaurants, etc.) downstream in the business chain, however, it appears they may excluded from the scheme due to the restrictions not directly prohibiting or restricting access by their customers.
“Today I have written to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment to confirm if suppliers will be excluded from the CRSS scheme, or, if they do qualify, what restriction levels need to be in place to meet the qualification requirements.
“There are many concerned business out there who need help and certainty, right now they are not getting this from the government in relation to the CRSS scheme.”
Joint statement from:
Arlene Foster MLA, The Democratic Unionist Party
Michelle O’Neill MLA, Sinn Fein
Colum Eastwood MP, The Social Democratic and Labour Party
Steve Aiken MLA, The Ulster Unionist Party
Naomi Long MLA, The Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
Appeal from party leaders to get behind Covid-19 effort
The Covid-19 pandemic has reached an alarming level in Northern Ireland. The virus has taken a grip in our communities and it is spreading more every day. Our hospitals are in real danger of being overwhelmed.
The Northern Ireland Executive has made interventions to limit the spread of this disease. These restrictions start this evening at 6pm and will last for four weeks.
For those sectors facing temporary closure, we recognise the disruption and impact. We will work with the Northern Ireland Executive and Westminster Government to ensure the best supports are put in place to help those sectors recover.
As a society however, we can all help those sectors by complying with the rules and driving down the spread of this disease.
Where people break the rules, we support the police and courts holding them responsible. The rules must be enforced firmly and fairly. No one and no community is above the law.
The actions of every single person matter. Follow the restrictions; limit your contacts with other people; keep your distance; wash your hands well and often; wear a face covering; and download the StopCovid NI app. If you have symptoms, self-isolate immediately and book a test.
We have four weeks to turn this around and we’re appealing to everyone to please get behind this effort to fight back against Covid-19 and save lives.
These are difficult days. But it won’t last forever and we will get through it. Until we do, let’s all do everything we can to keep ourselves, and each other safe.
Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has called on the Dublin government to honour its original funding commitment to the A5 in order for the vital project to be delivered.
The Foyle MLA said:
“We are still awaiting the Inspectors report on the public inquiry that was held earlier this year on the A5. This is the necessary next step to moving this scheme forward.
“People are tired of the delays and I have written to the Infrastructure Minister to provide an update on this vital project.
“The Minister needs to progress this scheme as soon as possible and work with her counterpart in the south so that the Dublin government honours its original financial commitment to the A5.
“The A5 is an essential road scheme for north west connectivity, for improving road safety, and for helping transform the economic fortunes of the region. Its vital that this scheme is delivered as soon as possible."