Sinn Féin - On Your Side

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Sinn Féin will hold a candlelight vigil at the GPO in Dublin this evening at 6:00PM to mark the 25th anniversary of the commencement of the 1981 Hunger Strike.

All are welcome to attend. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has demanded that the Taoiseach take action in light of the report from Judge Maureen Harding Clark . Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon Deputy Ó Caoláin called on the Government to "establish a Redress Board -- a forum for the women to state their cases and to obtain due recompense for what they and their families have suffered."

He said, "The victims of the former consultant Michael Neary and others in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda have been vindicated by the Report of Judge Maureen Harding Clark. These women were subjected to a procedure that mutilated them and rendered them unable to conceive again. They were not told what was being done to them. Scores of women are suffering to this day. The implications of the Report are huge -- for the women victims, for the management of our hospitals and for Government health policy.

"What we need now is action and I want to ask the Taoiseach what action will be taken.

"The Tánaiste stated yesterday that the Report confirms the appropriateness of the actions being taken in relation to the new Medical Practitioners Bill, the reform of the current consultant contract and the changes in management systems within hospitals. But how are we to judge this? The heads of the Medical Practitioners Bill were agreed by Government in 2004. The Taoiseach must publish the heads of the Bill so we can judge if the Bill measures up.

"Crucially, Taoiseach, the medical records of many of the women were stolen as part of the cover-up. They have no redress through the courts. The Government must establish a Redress Board -- a forum for the women to state their cases and to obtain due recompense for what they and their families have suffered." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin commenting on the 10.8% increase in NIE electricity costs has said that this will hit those least able to pay hardest.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"This latest increase in electricity prices comes against a backdrop of sustained increases in the cost of living with increased gas and heating oil costs and the proposed water charges.

"Yet with the number of children living in poverty in the north reaching epidemic proportions and the increasing number of older people dying each year as a result of the cold is an indictment of this society.

"We need to see a genuine strategy that will tackle poverty and eliminate fuel poverty because increasing numbers of people are being caught in the poverty trap and are facing the types of stark choices about whether to pay bills or buy food. This is totally unacceptable.

"While NIE are to some extent at the mercy global markets it is encouraging to see that they have brought forward at £1 million fund for vulnerable customers aimed at combating fuel poverty. Now we need to see the wider problems of poverty being addressed by bringing forward a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton commenting on the announcement from Direct Rule Health Minster Shaun Woodward of an independent review into circumstances surrounding the suicide of Danny McCarten focusing on the Health Board has demanded action and said that the Department of Health must accept responsibility for the absence of a strategy and lack resources and funding.

Ms Stanton said:

"The lack of mental health resources for children and adolescents, particularly in Belfast where there is no child and adolescent psychiatrist, has already been clearly identified.

"While this independent review is welcome, more so if it identifies the chronic gaps in support for people moving between child and adolescent services to adult services, the fact is that many of the problems are well understood. What is required is resources, funding and a strategic response.

"The department have already accepted that there has been chronic under funding of mental health services in North and West Belfast, of some £2 million a year.

"Sinn Féin have repeatedly demanded action in bringing forward a regional suicide prevention strategy precisely because the Department of Health has failed in its duty of care." ENDS

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Dublin Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has described those who took part in the riots in Dublin City centre at the weekend as "a rag-bag who saw an opportunity to create havoc and took it." Speaking in the Dáil this evening, during statements on the disorder in Dublin City centre last Saturday, Deputy Crowe said, "it is important to point out that the riot should have no implications for the peace process."

He said, "The events in Dublin city centre last Saturday were an absolute disgrace. Those who took part misused the name of Irish republicanism and Irish nationalism but they were anything but Irish republicans or Irish nationalists in the real sense. This was a tiny and totally unrepresentative minority, a mixture of people on the fringes of micro-political groups, football hooligans and drink-fuelled opportunists. They were a rag-bag who saw an opportunity to create havoc and took it.

"Sinn Féin has been consistent on this issue since Willie Frazer and his so-called Love Ulster and FAIR groups first mooted it. And while we profoundly disagree with Frazer we chose not to oppose his groups' march down O'Connell Street -- notwithstanding the fact that we believe it was a deliberately provocative and insensitively organised March. We believe it is the right of all citizens of this island to march down the main thoroughfare of the capital city -- no matter what part of the island they live on. We also believe in the right of people to hold peaceful counter demonstrations. However, we believe that both of these rights come with responsibilities. On one hand marchers must not engage in sectarian or abusive behaviour and on the other that counter demonstrators must refrain from physically engaging with those marchers. Proper stewarding by those participating in the demonstrations and by the Gardai is crucial in this respect and it is clear that neither was in evidence on Saturday.

"Saturday's thuggery has also served to obscure the real nature of Mr. Frazer's group. In fact, those who engaged in the violence and destruction gave him exactly what he wanted. They played into his hands and allowed him to claim a moral high ground that he is not entitled to. This is a man who has gloried in the actions of loyalist death squads -- this is the man who only today is trying to blame the President for Saturday's trouble." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

The events in Dublin city centre last Saturday were an absolute disgrace. Those who took part misused the name of Irish republicanism and Irish nationalism but they were anything but Irish republicans or Irish nationalists in the real sense. This was a tiny and totally unrepresentative minority, a mixture of people on the fringes of micro-political groups, football hooligans and drink-fuelled opportunists. They were a rag-bag who saw an opportunity to create havoc and took it.

Sinn Féin has been consistent on this issue since Willie Frazer and his so-called Love Ulster and FAIR groups first mooted it. And while we profoundly disagree with Frazer we chose not to oppose his groups' march down O'Connell Street -- notwithstanding the fact that we believe it was a deliberately provocative and insensitively organised March. We believe it is the right of all citizens of this island to march down the main thoroughfare of the capital city -- no matter what part of the island they live on. We also believe in the right of people to hold peaceful counter demonstrations. However, we believe that both of these rights come with responsibilities. On one hand marchers must not engage in sectarian or abusive behaviour and on the other that counter demonstrators must refrain from physically engaging with those marchers. Proper stewarding by those participating in the demonstrations and by the Gardai is crucial in this respect and it is clear that neither was in evidence on Saturday.

Sinn Féin made our position quite clear that we wanted people to ignore this march. We instructed our membership not to go anywhere near it. Martin McGuinness made this very point at the Dublin Sinn Féin AGM only two weeks ago. Deputy Ó Caoláin gave the Sinn Féin position on a recent appearance on Questions and Answers and I myself made a number of statements in advance of the march and up to the point of calling on people to desist while the rioting was still going on.

Saturday's thuggery has also served to obscure the real nature of Mr. Frazer's group. In fact, those who engaged in the violence and destruction gave him exactly what he wanted. They played into his hands and allowed him to claim a moral high ground that he is not entitled to. This is a man who has gloried in the actions of loyalist death squads -- this is the man who only today is trying to blame the President for Saturday's trouble.

I would like to defend the role of Dublin City Council. They bear no responsibility for the riot and their workers acted quickly to make the streets safe and clean again.

In conclusion it is important to point out that Saturday's riot should have no implications for the peace process. We are determined to see progress made in the peace process in the coming weeks and months. For Sinn Féin that includes outreach to the unionist community.

Unlike those who misused our National Flag last weekend, we take seriously the message of the Tricolour -- unity and equality between Orange and Green.

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Dublin Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said those who rioted in Dublin last Saturday "must not be allowed to undermine the fundamental rights of democrats." Speaking in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Snodaigh expressed, on behalf of Sinn Féin, appreciation to Dublin City Council workers "who impressively cleaned up the effected streets in a matter of hours."

He said, "Those who acted disgracefully on the streets of our capital city on Saturday past were not republicans. They were, in the main, a crowd of thugs, many of them fuelled with drink. Those among them who claim to be political simply besmirched the national flag and ran riot with criminal elements.

"Sinn Féin clearly and repeatedly called on people to ignore Saturday's march. Our members and supporters did so.

"The right to march down O'Connell Street in particular is of special significance to Irish political activists. Last Saturday must be seen in perspective. The protest in support of Irish Ferries workers last December and Sinn Féin's Rally for Irish Unity demonstration in November saw up to 100,000 people and 20,000 people respectively march peacefully down O'Connell Street. Those who rioted, and those who would exploit the event of the riots to serve their own interests, must not be allowed to undermine the fundamental rights of democrats.

"Questions must also be answered by Minister McDowell and Garda Management. Was there a request from the officer in charge for additional gardai to be made available to the area for Saturday's march? Was this request turned down? Is there sufficient ongoing monitoring of the football hooligan element in the riot which was quite significant?

"Before concluding, I would like to express my appreciation on behalf of Sinn Féin, and all Dubliners, to the Dublin City Council workers who impressively cleaned up the effected streets in a matter of hours." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

Those who acted disgracefully on the streets of our capital city on Saturday past were not republicans. They were, in the main, a crowd of thugs, many of them fuelled with drink. Those among them who claim to be political simply besmirched the national flag and ran riot with criminal elements.

Sinn Féin clearly and repeatedly called on people to ignore Saturday's march. Our members and supporters did so.

I don't know what march on O'Connell Street Deputy Crawford was referring to earlier but it was certainly not a Sinn Féin Easter commemoration.

Article 40 of the 1937 Constitution enshrines the rights of citizens to assemble and to freely express their opinions as fundamental personal rights. There is a real danger now that the events of last Saturday may be used to curtail this right to protest. The right to march down O'Connell Street in particular is of special significance to Irish political activists. Last Saturday must be seen in perspective. The protest in support of Irish Ferries workers last December and Sinn Féin's Rally for Irish Unity demonstration in November saw up to 100,000 people and 20,000 people respectively march peacefully down O'Connell Street. Those who rioted, and those who would exploit the event of the riots to serve their own interests, must not be allowed to undermine the fundamental rights of democrats.

Questions must also be answered by Minister McDowell and Garda Management. Was there a request from the officer in charge for additional gardai to be made available to the area for Saturday's march? Was this request turned down? Is there sufficient ongoing monitoring of the football hooligan element in the riot which was quite significant?

But, make no mistake about it, in the end of the day, full responsibility lies with those who engaged in violent actions in our capital city.

Before concluding, I would like to express my appreciation on behalf of Sinn Féin, and all Dubliners, to the Dublin City Council workers who impressively cleaned up the effected streets in a matter of hours. Finally, on behalf of the Sinn Fein Dail deputies I record our support for the agreed motion now before us.

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Report on Drogheda Hospital

Redress Board required for Drogheda Hospital victims

Commenting on the Report of Judge Maureen Harding Clark into the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD said:

"This report is a damning indictment not just of one consultant but of a conspiracy involving a number of people who either participated in gross medical malpractice or turned a blind eye or took part in the cover-up afterwards. This included the unlawful removal of the charts and birth registers of many of the victims of former consultant Michael Neary ‘with a view to concealing the details of the operation performed and the treatment given’. In other words, this was theft to facilitate a cover-up

"All of this was allowed to happen in a climate where consultants were seen to be above reproach and where elitism led to a total lack of accountability.

"The Minister for Health and Children should respond to the Report with the immediate establishment of a Scheme of Redress to deal with all claims of medical negligence by the women who were in the care of the consultants and staff of the Maternity Unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda between the years 1974-1998. This call has already been made by 21 Oireachtas members in the catchment area of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital.

"The Minister owes a solemn obligation to the women victims to establish a Scheme of Redress which will provide them with both a forum to state their cases and recompense for the physical injury and personal grief they have all suffered.

"The Government also needs to make clear where stands the Garda investigation of these matters. Are prosecutions being pursued in relation to those who stole medical records?

"This Report also raises profound questions about the regulation of the medical profession which must be addressed. Self-regulation is no longer acceptable.

"Tribute must be paid to the women and their families who have campaigned under the banner of Patient Focus. Today’s Report is above all a vindication of them." ENDS

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Sinn Féin delegations, led by party President Gerry Adams MP and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP, will hold discussions with both the Taosieach Bertie Ahern and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair over the next two days.

Speaking today before the meetings Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP accused the two governments of considering proposals to accommodate the DUP's refusal to accept the power sharing arrangements set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr McGuinness said:

"Sinn Féin has expressed publicly and directly to the two governments our belief that they are pandering to the rejectionist demands of the DUP. The proposals put forward for talks, which would have excluded Sinn Féin, is clear evidence of this.

"In our view, the two governments must defend robustly and resolutely the principles of equality, inclusivity and mutual respect which underpin the Good Friday Agreement and they must take the lead in resisting DUP attempts to destroy its underpinning architecture and safeguards. Up to now both governments have failed to do so.

"They have no strategy for the implementation of the Agreement or for facing down negative unionism. In fact, they are now considering proposals, which centre on a shadow Assembly, to accommodate the DUP's refusal to accept the power sharing arrangements set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

"These proposals are totally unacceptable to Sinn Féin and, in our view, it is a mistake for the governments to go down this road. We will be telling both the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minster when we meet them this week that this approach will only further encourage DUP intransigence and represents a real threat to the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement." ENDS

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Cllr. Tony Smithers of Sinn Féin has accused the Minister of State for Housing Noel Ahern of implementing a policy of discrimination against single people and lone parents as regards housing and how points are allocated to people on this basis. Cllr. Smithers pointed out that single people and lone parents account for 90% of those on the housing list - single people are 52.4% and lone parents are 37.6% of all applicants respectively.

He said: "The Minister Noel Ahern is implementing a very unfair policy as regards how houses are allocated by local authorities to people. At present 90% of all housing applicants are either single people or lone parents and these people are being discriminated against by the method by which points are allocated to people in various categories. Currently, all applicants are awarded 5 points initially when they apply for housing. For those with partners, 20 points are allocated. For each child per applicant, 3 points are awarded.

"Effectively, this system gives those with partners an unfair advantage over all the others regardless of time spent on the housing list, which means that their chances of ever being housed are seriously diminished. For this system to be made fairer, I am calling upon the Minister to allocate 20 points to all of the above - that is 20 points for all initial applicants, 20 points for a partner and 20 points for each child. This would create a more level playing field while also taking into account particular urgent needs.

"I have asked Dublin City Council to write a letter to the Minister in regard to this situation and ask why this is happening. I would also be happy to discuss this situation with the Minister, preferably in public, and if he is not willing to discuss this, then ask him why he insists on implementing this unjust and unfair policy." ENDS

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Commenting after the latest attack on CRJ schemes by the SDLP, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly has said that the constant complaints about Community Restorative Justice schemes by the SDLP has nothing at all to do with these schemes or the way they operate both is an attempt to justify their flawed decision to jump too early onto policing.

Mr Kelly said:

"Again the SDLP continue with their attacks on what are widely regarded as a progressive and valued community facility in an attempt to prevent further policing change and therefore justify their flawed decision to jump too early onto policing. The SDLP‚s opposition to CRJ has nothing at all to do with these schemes or the way they operate.

"Community Restorative Justice is not an alternative to an acceptable and accountable policing service. Such projects are additional to a policing service and now operate successfully across the world. Indeed the work of the schemes currently operating here has been praised by the Oversight Commissioner.

"The SDLP have in effect become part of the policing establishment and are now determined to prevent the sort of changes necessary to deliver Patten and deliver an accountable policing service." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has said that the harassment and intimidation of an Ogra Shinn Féin member as he travelled from Omagh to Belfast is totally unacceptable and evidence of the routine and targeted nature of political policing.

Mr Doherty said:

"The intention of the PSNI involved in this incident was to try and intimidate a young member of Sinn Féin. This is political policing at its‚ most basic and corrupt level. The attempt to harass and intimidate a political activist is totally unacceptable."

Describing the incident Ogra Shinn Féin member Barra Mac an fhaili said:

"I was on my way to Belfast on Friday, 24th February, on the 5.30 pm bus to Belfast from the Omagh Translink Bus Depot. I was on the bus about 10 minutes, on the Dublin Road, Omagh when the bus was stopped by two PSNI cars. They had their sirens on and their lights were flashing.

"A PSNI member boarded the bus and after a short time approached me and asked me to leave the bus with my bags. When searching the contents of my bag a number of items, including election literature, were thrown onto the roadside. Despite not asking for my details at least one of the PSNI officers knew my name.

"This was clearly a deliberate attempt to try and frighten me. I was held for 15 minutes and questioned me on my movements on that day, why and how long I was going to Belfast for and who I was meeting up with in Belfast."ENDS

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Sinn Fein Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson has said that the party's Belfast Education and Library Board members will not be supporting the Board cuts to Special Needs Services, Patrol Crossings, Teacher Redundancies or any of the proposed budget slashing.

Commenting upon the cuts Michael Ferguson said,

"The proposal by the Belfast Education and Library Board to save money for British Direct Rule Ministers by reducing Special Needs educational provision, risking the health and safety of our children crossing roads and paying off teachers is treachery.

"This is also only the tip of the iceberg because cuts in all of the Boards may result in over 500 more teachers losing their jobs while the condition of school estates will worsen and all because we have no local Assembly.

"We should not undermine our own education system by doing Angela Smith‚s dirty work and Sinn Fein Board members will not be policing this budget for the British Government. We are also calling upon other Political Parties to support us in not enforcing these budget cuts.

"The British Direct Rule Minister is using falling rolls as an excuse when falling rolls should allow us to mainstream the special educational needs of our children, provide better teacher pupil ratio in our class rooms and address the numeracy and literacy difficulties that leaves almost 25% of school leavers without any qualifications every year.

"We need a return to our own local Assembly with our own accountable local ministers if we want a real budget to support education and learning." ENDS

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Last night North Antrim's Moyle Council joined with Omagh and Strabane District Councils in declaring its support for Irish unity and agreed to send a letter to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD, asking him to be more proactive in pursuing All-Ireland agenda policies.

The motion was passed at last night‚s monthly Council meeting. The motion had the support of Sinn Féin and 2 SDLP Councillors. One SDLP Councillor, Catherine McCambridge, broke ranks with her party and abstained. Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Féin Councillor, Cara McShane, said she welcomed the decision to send a letter to Bertie Ahern.

Cllr McShane said:

"Irish Unity is the stated objective of all nationalist and republican parties on the island of Ireland including the present Irish government administration. This proposal is challenging Bertie Ahern to put his money where his mouth is. It is a challenge to An Taoiseach to be more pro-active in pursuing the All-Ireland agenda policies and to move on from the long and drawn-out rhetorical stage. The passing of this motion clearly sends out a signal to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that he must start acting on the democratically expressed wishes of its Irish citizens in this part of the 32 Counties.

"While I am not shocked that Unionist representatives were vocal in their opposition to the motion, as they often are with any policy which promotes All-Ireland Co-operation, I trust that they accept that it is a legitimate right to pursue the objective of Irish Unity through political and democratic means. This motion is a legitimate mechanism through which to achieve this objective. Moyle Council is far from being a Œcold house for unionists‚ as was suggested at last night‚s meeting. In-fact Moyle has an excellent track record of good relations within the Council and All-Ireland co-operation.

„This motion is clearly challenging Bertie Ahern to spell out what pro-active strategy his government is going to undertake in pursuance of the stated objective of a United Ireland. The support of Moyle Council in North Antrim to take An Taoiseach to task over the stated objective, quite blatantly shows the present Irish government administration that Ireland does not stop at the border.‰ ENDS

Note to Editor

The motion proposed was:

This Council welcomes the fact that Irish Unity is now the stated objective of all nationalist parties on the island of Ireland including the present Irish government administration.

This Council therefore believes that An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD has a unique responsibility in giving practical expression to his administration‚s and nationalist Ireland‚s stated objective on the issue by immediately commissioning a green paper on Irish unity.

This Council further calls on An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD to initiate a holistic consultation process amongst all sectors of society north and south to assist in the formulation of a green paper.

This Council further calls on An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD to give immediate effect to the constitution‚s recognition of the entitlement of every person born on the island of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation by legislating for: Six County representation in Dáil Éireann, the right of people in the Six Counties to vote in national referenda on articles of the constitution and the right to vote in presidential elections.

This Council communicates the above requests in writing to An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD.

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson, John O'Dowd MLA, has said that the presence of a part-time direct rule health minister is failing nurses in the Six Counties. He made his comments following the release of a new survey published today by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) which revealed that almost half (47%) of nurses in the North reported that they have been harassed or assaulted by patients or their relatives in the last 12 months.

Over a quarter (27%) of the survey‚s respondents said they had been physically attacked at work and over two-thirds (68%) had suffered from verbal abuse. Nearly a quarter of those interviewed also felt that they had been bullied or harassed at work in the past twelve months.

The Upper Bann assembly member said, "The RCN figures are supported by two British government reports. One shows that in the period from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2005, there were 1,032 officially recorded verbal attacks and 2,305 recorded physical attacks on nursing and midwifery staff. The second report, released yesterday (Monday 27th February), revealed that over 1200 staff employed as nurses, midwives and health visitors had left those professions in the past year."

O'Dowd added, "These figures also show that more than half of those who left were aged under 39, so we are talking about substantial numbers of relatively young staff, many of whom are women, leaving the nursing professions.

"These problems are clearly inter-related and need to be tackled urgently if we are going to stop more nurses leaving the profession.

"All right-thinking people would agree that the nursing professions are the front-line of the health service. Indeed the health service is dependent upon their dedication and expertise.

"However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the current part-time direct rule health minister is completely failing nurses. Shaun Woodward seems to be more interested and focussed on driving forward a pro-privatisation agenda for the health service than he is in properly rewarding those who work and provide patient care.

O'Dowd continued, "I have no doubt many people in the Six Counties will see through the hypocrisy of Woodward's own double standards. On one hand, people see Shaun Woodward, along with his colleague Gordon Brown, insisting that nurses should only receive a derisory 2 per cent pay increase this year. On the other hand, they can also see the same Shaun Woodward pocket over £15 million pounds from a single property deal in Oxfordshire in Britain." ENDS

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A Sinn Féín delegation met with Dublin Transport officials today to discuss the crucial area of infrastructure development required to meet the needs of the Western Seaboard or the Atlantic Corridor.

The delegation included Sinn Féin West Tyrone MLA , Barry McElduff, Foyle MLA, Raymond McCartney, Dublin South West TD Sean Crowe, incoming All Ireland Co-ordinator Sean Oliver, and County Councillors Pearse Doherty (Donegal) and Gerry Murray (Mayo).

Mr McElduff said:

"This meeting represents the unique All Ireland dimension which Sinn Féin brings in outlining our vision for transport and infrastructure development. Sinn Féin continue to demand that the Irish and British governments to live up to the policy commitments as contained in the Common Chapter with Transport being one of the nine areas identified within National Development Plan 2000 ˆ 2006.

"It is no longer viable to ignore peripheral regions such as the West and the North of island while the Belfast ˆ Dublin corridor enjoys unparalleled bias. The discussion with the Department of Transport All Ireland co-ordination unit, is part of the wider acceptance that the All Ireland approach is vital to balanced regional development and to halt the rot of regional disparity. It is accepted that the Border continues to isolate and exclude communities from accessing key services because of weak transport infrastructure. The Celtic Tiger has not seen a motorway, dual carriageway and rail networks that is it for purpose for the Western Seaboard.

"The situation facing socially and economically peripheral regions such as rural Donegal, West Tyrone, Fermanagh, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan demand action. Sinn Féín wants to see a modern integrated transport system that can meet the needs of these communities. If the island is to reap the full benefits of economic advances this must be coupled with a redistribution of key infrastructure assets to the North and West of Ireland.

"With Transport 21, the Strategic Investment Board Investment Strategy, the new Common Chapter 2007 ˆ 2013, and establishment of greater integration of regions at EU level, there is are clear frameworks to lead the way forward. What is required is the political will to deliver. We need to move beyond the cosmetic and friendly relations between Departments North and South if we are to experience real, meaningful and lasting progress in this area. Integrated systems at regional and sub regional levels needs to occur."

Regional Development spokesperson Raymond McCartney added:

"Sinn Féín remains committed to the establishment of Integrated Area Planning in the Border Corridor Area. Integrated in terms of:

Economic planning and investment;

Health service provision, tourism and education;

Telecommunications, broadband access and the eradication of inadvertent roaming mobile charges;

Urban and rural development;

Waste management and environmental protection;

Upgraded, accessible, multi modal and interconnected rail, air / seaport, road transport systems.

"We must look to integrate and innovate how we prioritise our collective needs, share resources and in how we govern such progress. The process of reintegration must be financed and underpinned by common understanding of the need for equality and inclusivity. Sinn Féin will continue to press for the rights and entitlements of all citizens living on the island of Ireland across every sector which affects marginalised regions."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP late this afternoon met Raymond McCord, the father of Raymond McCord jnr. who was killed by the UVF in November 1997.

Speaking after the meeting Mr. Adams said:

"There is an abundance of evidence to prove the existence of collusion between British state forces and unionist paramilitaries.

"We also know from other cases, including that of Pat Finucane, of the lengths to which the Special Branch and other British agencies will go to cover up their involvement in state sponsored murder.

"The McCord family want the truth. Like all families they have the right to the truth and Sinn Fein will do whatever we can to help them in this respect." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has warned that "any proposals from the British government around suicide prevention need to meet the needs of those at risk and their families, while ensuring that sufficient funds are available to effectively resource any plan of action."

Mr. Adams was speaking today after a meeting with relatives bereaved through suicide and a number of support groups from west and north Belfast and County Down.

The meeting was held in advance of a planned announcement in March from the Health Minister Shaun Woodward who is expected to publish for consultation a draft strategy on suicide prevention and announce an allocation of funds to implement it. The announcement will be based on a report by the Suicide Prevention Taskforce which was established last year.

Speaking after the meeting Mr. Adams said:

"'The families bereaved through suicide, community support groups and Sinn Féin will scrutinise very carefully any proposals brought forward by the Minister. The key to a successful strategy, and to tackling this increasingly serious problem, will be the proposals contained in the Minister's announcement, the government's preparedness to implement and resource them, and a commitment to an all-Ireland approach to this issue.

Today's meeting agreed that the families and support groups, as well as Sinn Féin, will judge any recommendations against the campaign demands of those working on this issue.

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Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson, South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane speaking after a meeting with British direct Rule Minster David Hanson has said that the two governments must press ahead with the setting up of the Roundtable Forum on the Bill of Rights.

Speaking after meeting Mr Hanson in Belfast today, Ms Ruane said:

"The British government is in no doubt about the need to press ahead with the setting up of the Roundtable Forum on the Bill of Rights.

"Sinn Féin lobbied the two governments for the Roundtable Forum in our negotiations leading up to the Joint Declaration and succeeded in getting both governments to commit to it. They need to fulfil their long-overdue commitment on this and demonstrate immediate movement on the Roundtable Forum now.

"The Bill of Rights has been stalled for almost 7 years. It is unacceptable that the British government, in particular, have been allowing unionists a veto progress. Rights are non negotiable and the failure to progress the Bill of Rights is detrimental to people across all communities. Sinn Fein firmly believe that the Roundtable will allow politicians and people across all communities to fully understand and appreciate the importance of a strong Bill of Rights." ENDS

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Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has said that the revelation that the last appointments to the Parades Commission were confirmed without references being checked throws into chaos the appointments process.

Mr Kelly said:

"This is not the first time that the appointments process being used by direct rule ministers has been exposed. Clearly these appointments in relation to the Parades Commission were not carried out in accordance with normal standard procedures. Sinn Féin have raised these concerns, and concerns about the appointment of the Victim‚s commissioner directly with Peter Hain.

"Sinn Féin share the serious concerns which exist throughout nationalist and republican communities across the North with regard to the make-up of the new Commission.

Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd added:

"I am also aware that other equally controversial evidence regarding procedures may also emerge in court during a legal case being initiated by one of my constituents from the Garvaghy Road in Portadown.

"This revelation does not help the Commission. It also should not be overlooked that the people who oversaw this appointments process - The Security Operations and Policy Department of the NIO - are the same people who were responsible for the infamous and brutal 'game plan' strategy used against the Garvaghy Road community in 1997." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Newry Armagh MP Conor Murphy has said that John Alderdice and the other 3 members of the IMC should resign and the Commission should be scrapped.

Mr Murphy said:

"The IMC was established outside and in breach of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It is a tool for the securocrats and the opponents of change. It is not and never has been independent. It is politically biased, has a clear anti Sinn Féin agenda, and its procedures are flawed.

"Sinn Féin has met with the IMC on a number of occasions and challenged each of the members of the Commissioners on their political bias, their lack of independence and their failure to employ any of the normal standards of proof required of other tribunals or similar bodies.

"When we met with the IMC, John Alderdice concealed the fact that he remained a member of the Alliance Party. His resignation from the Alliance Party at the end of last week does not mean that he will suddenly cease to be a political opponent of Sinn Féin.

"Sinn Féin has told both governments that the IMC is a problem which they created and it is one which they must resolve.

"John Alderdice and the other three members of the IMC should resign immediately and the IMC should be scrapped." ENDS

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