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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Martin Kenny TD has called on the Courts Service to reconsider its decision to relocate all Dublin’s district court sittings to the Criminal Courts of Justice at Parkgate Street, Dublin 7.

Deputy Kenny said;

“The Courts Service has relocated Tallaght District Court, Blanchardstown District Court (Courts 1 & 2), Swords District Court, Balbriggan District Court and Dun Laoghaire District Court from Tuesday 31st March, 2020 to Wednesday 8th April, 2020 to the Criminal Courts of Justice building.

“I have been contacted by solicitors and Gardaí to express their concern regarding the implications for social distancing in the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The atrium at the court building is now packed with those attending these five courts;  defendants, their families, solicitors, barristers, Gardaí and court officials. In these days of social distancing it seems to be counter to all medical advice to hold courts in such circumstances.

“While I recognise that other measures have been taken to protect court users, such as greater use of video-link and the removal of the need for those on bail to appear in person, this move seems reckless. I have emailed the Minister for Justice to ask him to intervene for the safety of all concerned.”

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Sinn Féin Senator Máire Devine has said that vacant student accommodation and hotels should be used to accommodate frontline healthcare staff where possible, saying that a number of nurses and other hospital staff who have returned home to find they are struggling to access accommodation or who cannot stay at home due to "at risk" people within the household.

Senator Devine said;

"Many Healthcare workers who have returned home to battle the COVID-19 outbreak here have found it difficult to find suitable accommodation through the current health emergency due to a lack of supply and some homes having 'at risk' people within the household.

"Many hoteliers and others have already offered accommodation capacity to the government to help with the crisis.

"However, the Government should also look at providing vacant student accommodation to nurses where possible to help ease the burden they face.

"Last night's announcement from the Minister that healthcare workers should move out of home due to the risk of spreading the virus seems unhelpful. Where are they to go if so many are struggling to find accommodation as it is?

"Across Dublin 8 there are multiple villages of vacant student accommodation that could be of great benefit to the staff in St. James' Hospital, the largest hospital in the State. 

"Many of our frontline workers are traveling long distances and working long shifts to tackle this emergency. Any support or solutions we could offer them would go a long way.

"My colleague Louise O'Reilly will be meeting with the HSE later today and will push for a solution to be found to this matter as soon as possible."

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment David Cullinane TD has said that 'attempts by Dublin Bus to undermine workers rights at a time of crisis cannot be tolerated'.

He said:

"In recent days we have seen attempts by a number of companies to use the Covid-19 pandemic as a means of undermining workers rights, including through the introduction of forced leave.

"A particular issue has arisen at Dublin Bus, where the company is forcing workers to take a day of annual leave a week, and I have engaged with trade unions on the matter. 

"There is provision for annual leave to be taken at the discretion of employers, but this is subject to proper engagement and adequate notification. I would urge Dublin Bus to engage constructively with trade unions on this. 

"Paid leave is to be used for holidays for workers - this is obviously not possible at this time.

"These are extraordinary times, but they cannot be used to undermine the rights of workers.

"These are essential workers, who are ensuring that transport services in Dublin are continuing and who are making sure that frontline hospital staff and others get to their workplaces. They deserve proper treatment and respect."

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has called for all landlords, private and university, to refund students who have had to end their licences early because of COVID-19.

 Deputy Ó Broin said:

 “We have received hundreds of emails from students and their parents who have had leave their private rented accommodation and end their licenses early due to COVID-19. They have been refused rent refunds.

 “In particular parents and students have raised concerns about the policy of the University of Limerick and Kavanagh Court, ran by private company Uninest but is used by Trinity College to accommodate students.

 “Many of the households paying for accommodation that is not now being used by the students have lost jobs and incomes and money is tight.

 “These families should not have to try and wrangle refunds, the providers should pay back the money immediately to students who have had to end their licences due to COVID-19.

 “I have written to the Minister for Education and the Taoiseach calling on them to make a statement on the matter and to call for full refunds.

 “I have also written to the University of Limerick and Trinity College expressing my deep concern about their policies.”

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson Deputy Louise O’Reilly has said that a solution must be immediately arrived at for the numerous healthcare workers who have found themselves without accommodation due to the crisis or unable to stay in their own home because they live with an “at-risk” or vulnerable individual.

Speaking this afternoon, Teachta O’Reilly said:

“I have been in contact with many, many frontline healthcare workers who have found themselves without accommodation due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Some have arrived home from abroad to help with the fight against COVID-19, but have been unable to secure a place to live.

“A further group are those who can no longer live in their home due to living with 'at-risk' or vulnerable people and the fear that if they stay in the home they could present a danger to their lives.

“Many hoteliers, BnB providers, and others have already offered accommodation capacity to the government to help with the crisis.

“They have offered accommodation for healthcare workers and the health service in general and those offers should be taken up.

“There are many empty hotels and student accommodation buildings around the state which could be put to good use to provide accommodation for healthcare workers who, for whatever reason, need somewhere to live for the duration of the crisis. 

“Local arrangements are being put in place on an ad hoc basis, but a more coordinated national approach is needed. The Irish Hotels Federation and the other representative bodies need to be involved so that this can be coordinated nationally.

“I will be meeting with the HSE later today and I will push for a solution to be found for this matter as soon as possible."

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Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan has welcomed the publication of the Children's Commissioner’s rights-based review of special educational needs provision in schools. 

The Foyle MLA said:

“This review is an important contribution to the debate on improving the experiences of children with special educational needs within the education system.

“The findings have identified a series of significant flaws which presented barriers for some the most vulnerable children in the north, resulting in a lack of public confidence.

  “Despite a yearly increase in the numbers of children identifying with different forms of special educational needs, the Education Authority has failed to adapt its systems and procedures to cope. 

“The result of this is that thousands of children have had their right to education undermined. 

“I will work in the time ahead to ensure the Education Authority quickly and efficiently implements the recommendations from both the Children’s Commissioner’s report and its own internal audit.

 “There can be no further delay, these children have waited long enough.”

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Eoin Ó BroinSinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has said that the latest homeless figures from the Department of Housing show that there has been 'no let-up in the homeless crisis'.

The Dublin Mid West TD also called for ‘greater attention to be paid to the needs of homeless individuals and families at this time of increased risk' during the COVID-19 emergency.

Deputy Ó Broin said: "The Department of Housing has this evening released the official homeless figures for February. It shows a marginal drop in the numbers of adults, children and families in Department-funded emergency accommodation in February.

"Last month there were 6614 adults, 3534 children and 1610 families in Department of Housing-funded emergency accommodation. This represents a drop of 86, 40 and 1 respectively from the January figures.

"These figures show that there is no let-up in the homeless crisis. While public and media attention has understandably focused on the COVID-19 crisis in recent weeks, we should not forget the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis, particularly at this time of increased risk of infection for those living in shared or communal accommodation.

"I am calling on the Government to do everything they can do to reduce the risk for homeless individuals and families by moving people to own door accommodation to reduce the risk of infection and help people adhere to social distancing guidelines.

"The same efforts must be made by the Department of Justice for those in Direct Provision and in Tulsa-funded Domestic Violence refuges."

The February homeless report can be found here.

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Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has said taxi drivers cannot be left behind during this period of uncertainty as a result of the COVID19 crisis.

The Newry/Armagh MLA said:

“Taxi drivers across the north have faced a massive drop in demand due to the coronavirus and are feeling the worst of the financial impacts of the outbreak.

“While we welcome the steps taken to support the self-employed in the job retention scheme, gaps  still remain. 

“Sinn Féin have asked the Infrastructure Minister to consider extending expiring Taxi Driver Licenses to protect drivers from the virus and having to attend training and medical exams.

“We have also raised the possibility of taxi drivers  assisting the community response such as the delivery of vital goods. It’s welcome that the Executive is now exploring that option. 

“Taxi drivers provide an essential service to many members of the community and it is vital that they are not left behind.

“Sinn Féin will continue to fight for adequate protections for all workers throughout the island.”

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Defence Aengus Ó Snodaigh has asked for clarity on rotation arrangements for the troops and their families.

Rotation of Irish defence forces troops currently stationed overseas in Damascus and Kosovo on United Nations peacekeeping missions are due to rotate on dates beginning April 4th with further rotation dates in May.

Teachta Ó Snodaigh said;

“The Defence Forces authorities need to provide urgent certainty to troops currently stationed abroad on whether due rotations will actually take place over the next period or whether they will be requested to extend their overseas duties.

“They must put in place arrangements themselves with their families depending in decisions made which are out of their control.

“If it is the case that they will be requested to extend their missions, then they need to inform their families, in many cases where they have not seen them for at least 6 months.

“If they are returning home, what travel arrangements are being put in place?

“What isolation and health guidance will be offered during this Covid 19 crisis?

“Will they immediately be returned to domestic duty to help with the emergency back here in Ireland?

“There are many questions that need answering for these men and women serving abroad and they need answers quickly. I have written to the Minister for Defence today and both he and the Army Authorities need to answer these questions urgently”.

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Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has called for businesses and schools to make any stocks of suitable Personal Protective Equipment available for the fightback against COVID-19. 

The Fermanagh South Tyrone MP said: 

"Our doctors, nurses, health and social care staff and frontline workers are doing tremendous work in the fightback against COVID-19. 

"There are concerns, however about access to vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which this key staff need in order to stay safe and protect themselves and others. 

"Some businesses and schools who have had to close as a result of the COVID-19 crisis may have stocks of unused PPE which could be of use to our health workers and others at this time. 

"I would appeal to them to look at their stocks and make any suitable PPE available to the health service. 

"Some firms have also shown great resilience and ingenuity in their ability to manufacture items of PPE. I would call on anyone in that position to get in touch with the Department of Health to see if they can be of assistance.

"It is vital that our frontline health and social care staff and key workers are protected as they go about their work." 

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Employment Affairs and Social Protection John Brady has said that the decision to extend fuel allowance by four weeks is "a welcome step forward" through the current COVID-19 emergency.

Deputy Brady said;

"Sinn Féin welcome the extension being given on fuel allowance by 4 weeks announced by caretaker Minister Regina Doherty today.

"It should be reviewed in May and extended further if necessary. This is an important supplement to the incomes of low income households, including many older persons, who's living costs may have increased as a result of the instruction to remain at home.

"I am also calling on Minister Doherty to extend Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment support to certain people under 18 who have lost employment as a result of this outbreak, such as apprentices, for example.

“During this state of emergency we need to keep people well and save lives."

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Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield has been returned to the 26th Seanad after being elected today. 

Senator Warfield said;

"I am deeply honoured to have been re-elected to the Seanad, and want to thank all of those who voted for me and who supported my campaign. I also want to thank the nominating bodies that helped get me here today; the National Youth Council of Ireland, Comhlámh and Theatre Forum Ireland.

"This needs to be the last time that so few people decide the outcome of so many Seanad seats.

"Over the next Seanad term Sinn Féin will fight to deliver the change and reforms that people urgently need. This means delivering solutions on housing, health, climate change, advancing Irish reunification and giving workers and families a break.

"Finally I want to wish my fellow Sinn Féin Seanad candidates the best of luck as the results of their elections come in over the course of the following week."

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has welcomed the publication of a shorter, eight-page rent supplement application form along with revised criteria by the Department of Social Protection but has said the government must do more to promote it.

Deputy Ó Broin said:

“The publication of a shorter 8-page rent supplement by the Department is welcome.

“It should make it easier for people who need to apply for rent supplement to help cover their rent due to the impact of COVID 19.

“The supplement is available to renters in difficulty with their rent due to Covid income or job losses except for Council tenants and those on HAP 

“However, the government must do more to promote this and to let people know that it readily available.

“For anyone who has lost their job/income due to Covid19  and can’t pay their rent the form is available here https://www.gov.ie/en/service/fb3b13-rent-supplement/ "

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Today a meeting was held through video conference to discuss the response to COVID-19 involving key ministers across Ireland.

Commenting after the meeting deputy First Minister and Joint Head of Government, Michelle O’Neill MLA said:  

“The COVID-19 pandemic does not respect borders. 

“Co-operation and common action across our island is vital at this time.

“Protection of the lives and welfare of everyone on the island is paramount and no effort will be spared in that objective.

“Working closely together, the two Chief Medical Officers will sign a Memorandum of Understanding formalising co-ordination and cooperation between the Irish Government and the Executive this week.

“We need to be agile, open and have close and ongoing contact with frequent meetings of all those who met today, and a fortnight ago in Armagh to do our absolute level best to save lives and protect public health of everyone on this island.” 

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD has today described the charging of quarterly fees by AIB on the accounts of customers who have just lost their jobs as a disgrace.

He called on AIB to cancel the fees charged and refund customers who have lost their jobs. Separately, Deputy Doherty has written to the Minister for Finance Pascal Donohoe and Central Bank raising the issue of banks charging additional interest on mortgage-holders who have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

He said:

"Today, tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs and income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak will receive their first COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350. This payment will be needed for workers to pay their bills and feed their families.

"It is disgraceful to learn that AIB, instead of providing relief to these customers, have on the same day decided to charge quarterly fees to many of these customers who have just lost their jobs.

"These fees do not apply to customers with more than €2,500 in their accounts, but if you have just lost your job as a result of this outbreak they do. That AIB are charging workers and families who have lost their jobs and have little in their accounts these fees is a disgrace.

"I have been in contact with constituents who have lost their jobs and were relying on today's payment of €350 to get them and their families through the week. This morning they were hit with quarterly fees by AIB of up to €100.

"The COVID-19 Unemployment Payment was not intended for the banks, and this pandemic should not be an opportunity for banks to squeeze more out of their customers.

"On March 18th the Government and Banking and Payments Federation announced a suite of measures adopted by the five commercial banks to provide relief to customers.

"We know that this has involved the banks charging customers additional interest of as much as €2,000 for applying for mortgage breaks. To find out that they are still charging quarterly fees of up to €100 to customers who have just lost their jobs is further proof that banking culture has not changed.

"The State is the major shareholder in AIB. It is time for the Government and Central Bank to challenge the actions of the banks and put the interests of citizens first."

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Government must reverse discrimination against northern workers in Pandemic Unemployment scheme – Matt Carthy TD

Cavan Monaghan Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, has confirmed that he has been lobbying the Minister for Social Protection to demand that she reverse the disgraceful position that denies workers who are based in the north, who have paid their taxes and PRSI in this State, are denied access to the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment.  Deputy Carthy said that the issue is particularly pronounced in his own constituency where he has liaised with dozens of cases where workers are denied supports while their colleagues can access them.

He said:

“It is unacceptable that thousands of workers - who have paid their taxes and social insurance like everyone else - are not able to access the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Benefit because they happen to live in the north.

“These workers are being asked to apply for Universal Credit in the 6 Counties and this is causing serious economic hardship for these workers and their families.  

“I have been lobbying the government for the last week but they have failed to address this disgraceful anomaly.  I have written to the Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty, who has yet to even respond which is very disappointing.  

“This payment must be made available to all those who worked in this state and who paid their taxes and PRSI.  This issue is particularly pronounced in border counties like Cavan and Monaghan.  Over the past week I’ve dealt with dozens of people affected.  In some cases company employees that live just a few miles from their workplace are denied payment while their colleagues elsewhere can receive this support.  That is an unjust and unfair situation that must be addressed.

“This is an exceptional and emergency payment and it should be paid to all workers on an equal basis.  We in Sinn Féin will continue to press on this matter and I call again on the Minister and her colleagues in government to do the right thing”.

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Sinn Féin MLA and Assembly Health Committee Chair Colm Gildernew has raised concerns following comments made by the Health and Safety Executive that they will not conduct safety checks on any work places.

Speaking on the issue, Gildernew said:

“Comments made by the Health and Safety Executive that they have not and will not be conducting any workplace checks are extremely concerning.

“We have received numerous reports already of the safety of workers being neglected by employers with no social distancing and other protective measures against COVID19 being implemented.

“Any employer that does not make arrangements to protect workers must be held to account.

“It is my firm view that during this public health emergency, the Health and Safety Executive must be proactive to protect and promote the health and well-being of workers and their families.

“The health and safety of workers and their families is paramount – health must be prioritised above all else.

“I will be raising this issue with the Department for Economy and the Health and Safety Executive as a matter of urgency.”

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD has called on the government to immediately publish the rent supplement guidance issued to social welfare offices. Circular 2220 was published last week.

Deputy Ó Broin said:

“The Minister for Social Protection must immediately publish the rent supplement guidance issued to social welfare offices last week.

“It is my understanding that Circular 2020 contains a number of important changes to the rent supplement scheme. 

“The government must publish this circular, so people know what they are entitled to as the start of the month rolls around and rents are due. The must also shorten the current application form as the current 28-page document is too long.

“Some people believe that the failure to announce the rent supplement changes is a deliberate attempt to keep the claims and cost of rent supplement low

“I hope this is not the case and as my emails to the Minister have gone unanswered I have emailed the Secretary General of the Department looking for some clarity on the issue.”

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Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has called on the Department for Health to urgently address growing fears within the residential and nursing home sector that they are being cut adrift as the healthcare system responds to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The South Down MP said: 

“I’ve spoken with a number of care homes in recent days who are seriously worried that a dangerous lack of PPE has exacerbated the decision to withdraw GP and district nursing services, leaving this sector feeling increasingly vulnerable and isolated. 

“Not only do we need to ensure appropriate PPE is made available to this sector, but a rapid response pathway must be agreed urgently with local health trusts to help meet the needs of our loved ones who are being cared for in these settings. 

“It seems illogical that the Department of Health would expect support workers with no previous in-depth nursing skills to step into the gap and pick up delegated nursing duties, including the verification of expected deaths.”

"Sinn Féin are raising these concerns with the Health Minister Robin Swann today.

“In our endeavours to do all that we can for frontline NHS staff in our hospitals we must not forget the huge variety of care homes and the frontline domiciliary care workers who provide a vital service at the coalface in the community.”

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‘Government should protect parents’ and cancel all school tours - Carthy

The issue of school tour operators retaining significant portions of payments made by parents for upcoming trips for their children is causing anxiety and concern at a very difficult time, according to Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy.

The Cavan-Monaghan deputy revealed that he had been in contact with a number of secondary schools and students’ parents, who were worried that their money was going to be retained by third party travel companies for European tours ‘that are not now going to happen’.

Deputy Carthy outlined the problem in a letter to the ministers for foreign affairs and education to highlight the issue this week.

He said: ‘This issue has been brought to my attention a number of times in the last fortnight, since all schools were closed due to the Covid-19 crisis.

‘I have been contacted by a number of secondary schools in my constituency about problems they are experiencing regarding school tours, organised by third party companies, which the parents of their students have paid for and are due to take place in late April and early May.

‘I have seen correspondence to the parents and to the organising teachers from these tour companies, which are based in Ireland, stating that because the tours are booked for four to eight weeks hence, they are not cancelling them because there is no directive from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

‘These tours are to parts of Europe which have been very badly affected by the Covid-19 crisis and are, at the moment, in lockdown.

‘However, the tour companies are pressurising parents to make the call to cancel the trips themselves so the companies can say they were cancelled by parents and therefore they are not entitled to all their money back’.

Mr Carthy said one of the schools affected has around 25 parents who have already paid €410 for the cost of the trip, over a period of months.

He said the tour company is insisting that because there is no government advice at this stage, they continue to plan for the trip.

He said: ‘This is despite the fact that, in reality, there is no way these students will be going anywhere in the next couple of months – and the tour companies know it.

‘By pressurising parents to say they don’t want their children to go, leading them to cancel the trip themselves, the tour companies are insisting that they get to keep a large proportion of the monies already paid. This is incredibly unfair but parents and teachers feel they have no choice because of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

‘This is another source of worry, anxiety and indeed frustration for parents at a time of unprecedented global crisis and I have asked the ministers to issue a statement saying that all school trips for the 2019/2020 academic year should be cancelled immediately.

‘I think this would give parents the security of knowing that the trips are off because of a government directive and they should, in this instance, get all their money back.

‘I have urged the ministers to give this matter their urgent attention because, as the days tick by without any resolution, parents are facing the prospect that nearly all of the money they have paid will be withheld by these tour companies’.

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