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Sinn Féin MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty today led a party delegation including Bairbre de Brún MEP and Barry McElduff MLA to meet with the Joint Chairs of the North West Gateway Initiative.

The meeting took place in Strabane and was held to explore the remit, work plan and implementation framework of the Gateway Initiative. During the meeting the Sinn Féin delegation stressed the importance of active engagement with groups and individuals in the North West at all stages of the formation and implementation of future plans.

They also emphasized the need for formal ministerial meetings to drive the agenda forward in developing the North West area through active cross border work.

Speaking today Mr Doherty said:

"We raised the lack of road, rail and energy networks in the region. I specifically raised with the Department of Transport representative local demands for infrastructure and development around the N14/A5/N2 road route. I conveyed to him the outcome of my recent meetings in Strasbourg with the EU Transport Commissioner.

Ms de Brún said:

"Today's meeting was a positive engagement, and a commitment to future discussions was agreed. Officials also undertook to forward us further information in regards to this issue." ENDS

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An historic decision by Sinn Fein to participate in policing could come within weeks of a timeframe being agreed for the transfer of powers to local politicians.

And with crucial negotiations in Scotland getting closer, Gerry Kelly has acknowledged "massive changes" since the days of the old RUC.

In the event of republicans endorsing policing, the senior Sinn Fein negotiator said their involvement would not be "half hearted" but "full-bodied".

"You are talking about the full package. You are talking about having achieved a new beginning to policing, then being full-bodied behind it," the party's policing and justice spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I think that we have proved ourselves in the past, that when we have said we will do something, and we achieve that goal, then we go for it," he continued.

But he stressed that the "full package" of police reforms had yet to be delivered.

Working institutions at Stormont, including agreement on a new Policing and Justice Department and the powers to be transferred as well as a timeframe for achieving this, are all crucial if republican participation is to be achieved.

"Clearly in those circumstances we will be going (to a special Ard Fheis) with a leadership proposal," Gerry Kelly said.

And on the timeframe for that, he suggested it could be "weeks rather than months".

This, he said, was the "biggie". "Some people have described it (as being) as big as the Good Friday Agreement in republican terms," the North Belfast MLA said.

And what would republican participation in policing mean?

"I think once you go to that point, you're in the full package," Gerry Kelly said.

"I want Sinn Fein to be involved in the justice process and be involved in any Ministry of Justice - You wouldn't be able to go to an Ard Fheis and say, "Well, we think somebody should be a justice minister, but not (be) on the (Policing) Board‚."

And how difficult would it be for him and other Sinn Fein leaders to encourage young republicans to join the police?

"Well I think if you are convinced, and remember we are 'futuring' here, if you make a decision and you believe that it is the right political decision to make, then you have to stand over it.

"There's no point going in half measures and I won't go at it in half measures," the senior party negotiator said.

He emphasised that policing had to be got right, adding, "I think we are close to it." ENDS

Policing feature

The 'p' words of the peace process can be heard in pretty much every political sentence.

There is little talk now of decommissioning or demilitarisation. These are more or less dead issues - things that have been dealt with, things of the process's past.

The political focus now is on Paisley and power sharing, and the 'Provos' and policing.

This is the agenda between now and the November 24 deadline - it is the business to be settled and sorted in the October talks in Scotland, and in whatever negotiations might follow.

So, how close is Sinn Fein to taking its biggest step in this long process, the step that brings it from outside to inside policing - inside a future ministry at Stormont, into the Board and, for young republicans, into the PSNI.

We may be closer than many people ever believed possible - closer because republicans want and need policing in their communities - but the circumstances that will make that happen have yet to be achieved.

In the waiting, change is acknowledged.

"We haven't achieved the full package (of reforms) yet, and I think the full package is very necessary."

Gerry Kelly was speaking to me in Sinn Féin's Falls Road offices yesterday. He is one of his party's senior negotiators - the policing and justice spokesman.

"I've never taken the position that everyone - even in the RUC - was bad, neither do I accept that there was only a few bad apples," he told me.

"I think you had a systemised approach,‰ he continued. "It (the RUC) was certainly the frontline troops of unionist rule, and I think that we have made massive changes to that. I think we have someway (still) to go."

But you sense that wherever it is that republicans need this process of policing change to go - in order to achieve their participation - then eventually that can and will be worked, not easily, but, yes, it can be done.

The policing stepping-stones that somehow have to be arranged to allow republicans to cautiously tiptoe into this process have long been identified.

They are in the shape of working political institutions, agreement on a new and shared policing and justice department at Stormont, the transfer of powers to local politicians and an agreed timeframe for achieving this.

Republicans will also want to see and read the changes in legislation.

And, if it can be achieved, how quickly then will the Sinn Fein leadership call that special Ard Fheis - or party conference - to open the door for republicans into the world of policing?

"You are talking weeks rather than months is probably the best way to put it," Gerry Kelly told me.

"Clearly in those circumstances we will be going with a leadership proposal," he continued.

That proposal can only be written one way if the overall political project is to be successful.

It is a proposal that has to be about republican participation - yes, maybe a critical, questioning, participation in policing, but the Sinn Fein leadership will have to direct its supporters and community towards something they have long been suspicious of.

That requires preparation, and a lot of that work has already been done in small and big meetings on both sides of the border.

Gerry Kelly and other senior and significant republicans have already been talking in a structured process to the grassroots.

Some of this has been about exorcising the policing myths in the places where republicans meet and talk, and about introducing new thoughts and the new possibility of a place in policing.

And what will that mean?

It will mean everything from a hoped for involvement in a new policing and justice department at Stormont, to being on the Policing Board, to encouraging young republicans and nationalists to join the police.

It is what Gerry Kelly calls a "full-bodied" participation, if the circumstances can be created.

"I want Sinn Fein to be involved in the justice process and be involved in any Ministry of Justice," he told me. "You wouldn't be able to go to an Ard Fheis and say, "Well, we think somebody should be a justice minister but not (be) on the (Policing) Board."

There are, of course, concerns - big concerns - not least around the decision to transfer responsibility for national security matters to MI5.

"If a person is a member of the PSNI, then that person, at all times, needs to be accountable to the accountability mechanisms connected with policing," Gerry Kelly argues.

"(They) cannot be separately accountable to MI5. They cannot become an MI5 operative and therefore not tell about that part of their duty," he continued.

"And this is crucial and this is something which needs to be sorted out."

The reading between the lines in all of this is that there is a preparation, circumstances allowing, for the next big republican step in this process.

Gerry Kelly, who in an IRA role had an active part in a long "war", is now part of the Sinn Fein management team that is moving republicans in a new and different direction.

It is a further confirmation that the IRA war is over - that the shooting of police officers or anyone else is finished, and that is what is so hugely significant about this possible - even probable - next step.

"We are very, very, aware that this (policing) is the biggest obstacle that we will have to overcome in our peace strategy and our political strategy," Gerry Kelly says.

But republicans are getting ready to climb over that obstacle.

It depends on Ian Paisley and power sharing and on an agreement with the DUP on a policing process and future that could do more for peace than the ceasefires and all of the decommissioning and all of the words of the IRA a year ago. Ends

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has this morning said that DUP MEP Jim Allister's latest rant regarding the political process "reflect the thoughts of a person who is not interested in sharing political power witht the rest of us".

Speaking today Ms de Brun said:

"Jim Allister's latest familiarly depressing statement makes clear that he is not interested in the November 24th deadline or reaching political accommodation with nationalists about an agreed future.

"His comments that 'November 24th will come and November 24th will go. So why rush our fences? We can afford to wait more than most', reflect the thoughts of a person who is not interested in sharing political power witht the rest of us.

"People will not be surprised by Jim Allister‚s latest rant, but his disdain for the 24th November deadline is a great disservice to his constituents. Whilst the DUP stall and block political progress, the vacuum is filled with unaccountable British Direct Rule Ministers making crucial decisions about all of our futures.

"The DUP has only a short timeframe in which to decide whether or not it wants to remain in the political dark ages. It certainly seems that Jim Allister has already made his choice clear. We can only wait and see if others in the DUP are up to the challenge of entering into fully functioning power sharing institutions with the rest of the parties." ENDS

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Responding to a study by Halifax building society that exposed the inability of key public sector workers nurses, firefighters and teachers cannot afford to buy average-priced homes in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Waterford, Sinn Féin Social Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe TD blamed government policy for pricing workers out of the cities.

 

The Dublin South-West TD said: “Teachers, firefighters and nurses are just some of our society’s key workers. However, like many other people in this state, they are finding it impossible to purchase homes in our major cities. This is what happens when housing provision is largely left to the market.

 

“The only winners in the housing market today are the property speculators, developers, estate agencies, the banks and solicitors. Young families are faced with crippling mortgages while Minister Noel Ahern is failing miserably to address Ireland’s housing crisis and to stand up to the aforementioned groups.

 

“House prices are estimated to continue to rise by 20% in the next two years. The fact that wage increases are lagging behind the explosion in house prices means that for many, owning their own home is an unrealistic and unattainable dream. Average house prices in Dublin are 14 times the average salary of public sector employees. These key workers are being priced out of cities by a government that values developers and property speculators over teachers and nurses.”

 

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Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has harshly criticised the performance of Minister for Children Brian Lenihan at a UN special committee on children’s rights in Geneva. Describing the Minister’s performance as a ‘masterclass in bluff, spin and deception’, he predicted a condemnatory report from the Committee when it publishes its findings.

 

The Cavan-Monaghan TD said: “Reports from Geneva yesterday indicate that Minister Lenihan gave a masterclass in bluff, spin and deception to the UN special committee on children’s rights.

 

“As I pointed out ahead of his remarks, his pledge to examine the Constitution to insert a provision for children’s rights cannot be taken as a serious commitment. Fianna Fáil combined with Fine Gael and PD deputies to reject a comprehensive Sinn Féin proposal for just such a provision earlier this year at the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. He deliberately misled the UN committee yesterday.

 

“Mr Lenihan also told the committee when questioned on youth justice reform that the age of criminal responsibility has raised from seven to 12, but that children as young as 10 and 11 can be prosecuted for certain offences. What he left out however, was that under the Children’s Act the increase in the age of responsibility to 12 applied to all crimes and that it was Minister McDowell’s recent criminal justice legislation that lowered it. So in reality, the most recent legislative change on the age of criminal responsibility for children by this government was to lower it, not to increase it.

 

“The content of the question and answer session in Genevayesterday remind me of a child with poorly prepared homework trying to bluff his way through an exam. His admission that only ‘that morning’ had they noticed financial support for asylum-seeking children was a pittance and his blank refusal to accept standard poverty measurements were particular low-points.

 

“This Government is simply not serious about tackling child poverty, or about putting in place a constitutionally protected rights based approach to children’s issues. In June, the government admitted over 300 separated children seeking asylum have gone missing in Ireland since 2001 and that a number of the centres designated to cater for these children have been operating illegally. Can this government seriously claim to be trustworthy on the issue of children's rights? While Minister Lenihan bluffed his way through the UN committee in Geneva yesterday, I believe the report they publish will be harshly critical of a government for whom children’s rights is very much a minor issue.”

 

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann John O'Dowd said today that he shared the grave concerns being expressed by the family of Rosemary Nelson at the very direct involvement of MI5 in the operation of the inquiry into her murder.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"Rosemary Nelson was a highly respected human rights lawyer ,murdered by unionist paramilitaries after receiving numerous death threats from members of the RUC. There is a widely held belief that British State agents were directly involved in her murder. This belief has been strengthened over the years as successive RUC and PSNI regimes have sought to frustrate and delay the search for the truth.

"Yesterday it emerged that MI5 have sought and been granted full legal representation at the inquiry into Rosemary Nelson‚s murder. I share the grave concerns being expressed by the Nelson family at this turn of events.

"Given the history of MI5 involvement in Ireland and the fact that they are a by-word for secrecy and concealment there is a justifiable fear that their role within the Nelson inquiry will be to view material and then attempt to prevent it from either being made public or entering the inquiry at all." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney has said that the report issued today by the NIO research group on alternatives to plastic bullets will do nothing to dampen demands for plastic bullets to be banned.

"Since this research programme commenced, the Policing Board, including the SDLP, has approved the purchase of ten of thousands of plastic bullets. It has bought the PSNI CS spray which is being used with zeal in nationalist areas. They have also bought new water cannon and are considering a request to buy TASER electro-shock weapons. Instead of an end to plastic bullets, as we expected after the Patten report, we have witnessed a proliferation of weaponry for the PSNI."

"Sinn Féin recently met with the NIO Minister for Policing Paul Goggins and reiterated our opposition to the PSNI‚s proposal to procure 12 new TASER weapons. In the evidence session this week on policing and justice, Sinn Féin also questioned British Secretary of state Peter Hain about powers to ban plastic bullets and other new dangerous weaponry."

"Sinn Féin will continue to fight the campaign to end the use of plastic bullets and similar lethal types of weapons. Plastic bullets kill that is the bottom line. They are lethal devices and have no place in an acceptable policing service." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann John O'Dowd has this afternoon been informed by the Parades Commission that they have rejected his request that they issue a determination in respect of this weekends loyalist rally at Drumcree.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"When this Commission was cobbled together by Peter Hain last year we expressed serious reservations about its make up and balance. Many of these fears were seen to be justified throughout the summer months in Belfast, Castlederg, Maghera and elsewhere.

"In the past week the Parades Commission has reached an entirely new level. Just how the Commission can determine that a loyalist parade and rally at Drumcree is not contentious is simply beyond comprehension. The request Sinn Féin made for a review of the original decision not to issue a determination gave the Parades Commission an opportunity to see sense and diffuse the tension and anger within the nationalist community in Portadown at the way in which this application has been handled.

"The situation as it now stands is that the Orange Order have been given a green light to behave in exactly whatever fashion they decide this Saturday night. The PSNI have been handed the power over parades, exactly the role which the Parades Commission have been tasked to do. They have abdicated their responsibility. Given the history of intimidation and violence which is associated with the Orange Order at Drumcree nationalists in Portadown are rightly apprehensive at this turn of events." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams welcomed the first meeting of the Implementation Group for the Regional Suicide Prevention Strategy, chaired by Mr Colm Donaghy, which is being held today. Mr. Adams urged the speedy and effective implementation of the regional suicide prevention strategy and a co-ordinated all-Ireland approach to this issue.

Mr Adams said:

"Suicide across the island has become the biggest killer of our young people. In the last decade the incidence of suicide in Ireland has increased by more than 25%. In 2003/04 there were 577 people who died through suicide, more than the death rate as a result of road traffic accidents.

"That is why Sinn Féin has been campaigning for a suicide prevention strategy in the north, as well as on an all-island basis.

"Sinn Féin believes that the paper produced by the Department of Health, ŒProtect Life -a Shared Vision‚≠ is an important first step in tackling suicide. It emerged as a result of much lobbying by bereaved relatives and Sinn Féin. The key now is delivery. We need to see the implementation of this approach.

"Our concerns about the detail of the strategy, its funding and the timetable for its implementation were raised with Paul Goggins, the Minister for Health during the summer. Among the concerns raised was the allocation of funds to west and north Belfast in the community support package for suicide prevention. After speaking to Paul Goggins, the first allocation of resources from Department of Health was increased to £200k between now and next March to reflect the disproportionate needs of west and north Belfast in relation to risk of suicide.‰

"Sinn Féin views the input of bereaved families and friends as crucial to the oversight and implementation of the strategy. A representative and effective Implementation Group and a strong Families Forum are key to this. Sinn Féin has also proposed that there needs to be a separate mechanism for allowing families to meet the Minister on a regular basis to update him on progress.

"There have been discussions about a new telephone help-line and the introduction of proper training and protocols for health professionals to care for individuals and families affected by suicide. Plans underway for an information campaign on an all-Ireland basis are welcome. I hope to meet again soon wit Paul Goggins on these issues. Sinn Fein wants to see harmonisation and integration of strategies on suicide prevention on an all-Ireland basis." ENDS

Note to Editors

The campaign for a regional suicide prevention strategy in the six counties and on an all-Ireland basis has now been ongoing since 2004:

August 2004 - Gerry Adams, MP, wrote to Angela Smith on the issue of suicide prevention

October 2004 - Gerry Adams lead a delegation of Sinn Fein and community activists to meet with Angela Smith. Amongst the proposals tabled was the creation of a regional suicide prevention strategy and that the Department of Health take the lad role in prioritising suicide prevention in its own budgetary priorities for action.

December 2004 - SF met with the Irish joint secretary of the North-South Ministerial Council to discuss how suicide prevention could be made an Area of Co-operation

February 2005 - a roundtable meeting requested by Gerry Adams between SF, Dept. of Health and others was held in City Hall. At this, Dept. of health announced a regional sub- group was being formed to look at suicide prevention.

March 2005 - SF met with the Children's Commissioner in the north and urged his office to join forces with the Ombudsman for Children in the 26 counties.

April 2005 - North and West Health & Social Services Trust, with whom SF had been meeting in preceding months, convened an event to set up a task group to develop area specific proposals on suicide prevention for north and west Belfast

April 2005 - families began to hold protests at N&W Trust and Eastern Board meetings at lack of progress

May 2005 - Gerry Adams wrote to Mary Harney and requested a meeting on suicide prevention. Correspondence and communication has continued since with no reply from M.Harney. A freedom of information request submitted by G.Adams office to M.Harney's department is pending.

June 2005 - Sinn Fein held an event at Stormont to launch the campaign for a regional suicide prevention strategy. By this time, Angela Smith had been replaced by Shaun Woodward.

June 2005 - Sinn Fein and families met with Shaun Woodward. Afterwards, he announced that the regional sub-group was to be made a regional Task Force and would have the creation of a suicide prevention strategy as its remit.

October 2005 - Dept of health indicates that suicide prevention will be a priority for action in its interim budget bid. Around that time, SF met with the regional Task Force chaired by Colm Donaghy and made representations to him on the components of any new strategy.

January 2006 - regional Task Force made its final report to Shaun Woodward including recommendations for a regional suicide prevention strategy and an all-Ireland approach. It also highlighted that west Belfast, followed by north Belfast, were indeed the constituencies with the highest rate of suicide over a 5 year longditudinal study of official statistics.

March 2006 - Shaun Woodward published 'Protect Life - a shared vision'. A suicide prevention strategy and action plan 2006-2011‚. He also ringfenced money for suicide prevention.

March - June 2006 , consultation was organised on the draft strategy. SF made a submission to this consultation process. Also during this period, Ogra Shinn Fein organised a campaign for an all-Ireland approach to suicide prevention.

July 2006 - Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams lead a delegation to meet with Paul Goggins on the final suicide prevention strategy. The Dept. of Health later increased the first allocation of resources for the strategy to west and north Belfast after Mr Adams made a phonecall to Paul Goggins.

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP has this morning said that it is "shocking" that many women are being forced to give up their jobs due to the spiralling costs of childcare in the state.

Ms McDonald made her comments after a report released by the OECD concluded that childcare costs have spiralled out of control and accounts for approximately 30% of household income.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"Many people will be shocked by these latest findings regarding childcare costs across the 26 counties. Report after report indicates that these costs are spiralling out of control and many families are struggling with childcare costs which are regarded by many as the equivalent of a second mortgage.

"What will shock most is that many women are being forced out of employment and this can only further serve to reinforce the gender inequality gap within the workforce which is manifested in unequal pay with their male counterparts, a greater likelihood of being unemployed and become more likely to fall into the poverty trap.

"This government must bear responsibility for the crisis in the childcare sector. This crisis has not just emerged overnight; costs have been steadily spiralling for a number of years now. One of the most disturbing aspects in all of this, is as far back as April 2004, studies were showing enormous disparities between Ireland and the rest of the European Union. State subsidisation of childcare is pitiful and this Government has some serious questions to answer.

"In addition, the Irish Government signed up to 'the Barcelona Targets' on childcare provision and is also lagging behind other member states in this regard. Not only is the government failing to meet agreed targets, it is also failing families throughout the state who cannot cope with the burden of debt brought on by spiraling childcare costs.

"Sinn Féin believes that alongside a range of income support measures for children, a comprehensive package of childcare measures must be introduced to ensure that all children are given the finest care possible." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation led by Conor Murphy MP and including Caitriona Ruane MLA and Cllr. Carál Ní Chuilín will meet with the New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson tomorrow in Belfast. The meeting will take place at 12.45pm in the Europa Hotel.

Speaking today in advance of the meeting Mr Mu said:

"Since the days of the campaign to link the MacBride principles on fair employment practices to investment here the Office of the New York City Comptroller has been a useful tool for those seeking to ensure that inequality and discrimination are tackled and eradicated. We will be urging Mr Thompson to adopt an equally robust approach to tackling current levels of inequality and disadvantage.

"Tomorrows meeting will provide an opportunity to discuss with Mr Thompson a range of areas of concern which we have relating to what the recently published CAJ report identified as a clawing back of the equality agenda across a range of areas including employment, housing, infrastructure and investment opportunities.

"We will be presenting to the meeting details of the current difficulties in these specific areas and the wider problem of turning the equality demands of the Good Friday Agreement and natural justice into decisive action on the ground which will effectively eradicate the inequality and disadvantage which currently still exists." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today expressed here concerns that a potential care crisis is looming in future years for the elderly.

Ms de Brún made her comments after a Help the Aged commissioned survey revealed that that 62% of 45-65 year olds have made no plans for their future care needs.

Speaking today Ms de Brún said:

"This recent report conducted on behalf of Help the Aged paints a worrying picture regarding care provision for the elderly by the end of the next decade. Confusion regarding what entitlements government will cover and a relaxed attitude by many regarding their future care is leading to a potential crisis in elderly care provision.

"It has been estimated that senior citizen care provision could amount to approximately £400 per week, yet 10% of people aged between 61-65 believe that the state will pay for all of their future care costs. This may leave many people approaching retirement totally unprepared for potential future care costs. There is a need for clear and concise information on what exactly the state covers regarding these costs.

"Sinn Féin believes that elderly citizens are amongst the most vulnerable members of our society and therefore require community and government support. Care costs, pensions and fuel poverty are key issues to be addressed." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights Caitriona Ruane MLA commenting on the announcement of £500,000 from DSD for regeneration of the Kilcooley Estate ahead of a further £10million housing redevelopment for the area and an £8 million regeneration project of four acres of derelict land at Ravenhill Reach/Ormeau Embankment in East Belfast has said that it is essential that public money is allocated on the basis of need, and need alone.

Ms Ruane said:

"There are a number of areas in the north that suffer from serious and sustained levels of poverty and disadvantage. The regeneration of these areas and communities should be a priority. However, it is essential that government departments do not sectarianise poverty because. Poverty must be addressed fairly.

"Sinn Féin obviously wants to see public money being invested into deprived areas whether they are loyalist or nationalist. But it is essential that such funds are allocated on the basis of objective need not political expediency.

"In recent times there has been a justifiable concern that the NIO have adopted a policy towards investing public money into certain loyalist communities at the expense of other areas where greater levels of actual need exist.

"In particular Sinn Féin have repeatedly raised concerns about the approach of the Department of Social Development to implementing policy in a fair and equal way and particularly the manipulation of criteria on objective need.

"If people are to have confidence in the administration of public money then it is vital that the process of allocating such funds is transparent and driven by economic and social realities not the whims of political expediency within the NIO system." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, Fra McCann MLA led a delegation including North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton and Magherafelt councillor Sean McPeake to meet with the newly appointed chair of the Review into Affordable Housing John Semple.

Speaking after the meeting today Mr McCann said:

"This review is long overdue.We made it clear to John Semple that this review must not be cosmetic exercise. It is essential that his remit is wide ranging and that the review team does not pull any punches particularly in relation to the activities of property speculators.

"There is a housing crisis not just in affordable housing but the also the massive under provision of social housing. The corrosive effect of the dominance of the housing market by property speculators who are manipulating both sale and rental values with the rise of the buy-to-let market cannot be under estimated. The activities of these profiteers is also having damaging impact on community cohesion.

"We will be making a detailed submission in relation to these issues and also the very serious situation that is exists in rural communities where many young people, particularly young families are being forced out." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Belfast Alex Maskey branded a threat made by unionist paramilitaries against an Irish diplomat as "disgraceful". Mr Maskey also said that the threat exposed the folly of the current DUP position of attempting to create excuses not to move forward because of an IRA which has ended its campaign while on the other hand turning a blind eye to the activities of unionist paramilitary gangs.

Mr Maskey said:

"This threat is clearly being taken seriously by the Irish government given the fact that all of the main unionist paramilitary gangs remain highly active and have given no indication that they are prepared to end their anti-Catholic campaigns.

"This individual is credited for doing much good work within working class unionist areas and the threat to her life is disgraceful. At a wider political level what it does is expose the folly of the current DUP position of attempting to create excuses not to move forward because of an IRA which has ended its campaign while on the other hand turning a blind eye to the activities of unionist paramilitary gangs.

"The DUP as the lead unionist party have a clear responsibility to address and tackle the issue of unionist paramilitary violence. Despite the denials there is enough evidence out there showing DUP links to these gangs yet little seems to have been done by Ian Paisley to ensure that their violent campaigns against Catholics are brought to an end." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has said that unless Invest NI can prove that they will deliver investment West of the Bann and to Border regions instead of their continued focus on South and East Belfast then they should be scrapped.

Mr Hyland was speaking after questioning the performance of Invest NI in the area at a breakfast meeting in Newry today.

Mr Hyland said:

"Invest NI's track record on delivering assistance into to areas such as Newry and Armagh has to be radically improved.

"The argument that creating 'potential' jobs in South Belfast, that continues to get the lions share of support from Invest NI, is a benefit to the wider economic base has been challenged and exposed as folly. We do not need to force thousands of people onto our roads from Fermanagh, Armagh, Down, Tyrone and Derry so that they can take up jobs in the greater Belfast area.

"Future long-term economic growth requires a recognition of the central issue of economic inactivity. In the south FDI and economic growth has been driven by higher levels of participation. Invest NI must be part of the solution. If they do not come up to the mark then their future role must be questioned." ENDS

Note to Editors

A comparison of the six council areas identified by Invest NI and South Belfast as being the most income-deprived and employment-deprived show that financial assistance per head of population these six council areas is £5,752 compared to £27,054 per person in South Belfast.

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Sinn Féin Social Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe TD has criticised the government for permitting a form of 'housing apartheid' to develop while developers pay off local authorities to buy their way out of their social housing obligations under Part V of the 2000 Planning and Development Act.

The Dublin South-West TD said: "While property developers have handed over nearly €32 million to local authorities in just 3 years to avoid providing social housing, there are still an estimated 43,684 families on local authority waiting lists, some waiting up to seven years.

"This government is culpable for housing apartheid in this state. Part V should be implemented fully to ensure that the low paid are no longer exclusively housed in Council estates. Such estates have suffered from a plethora of social problems over the last few decades where the scourges of drugs and anti-social behaviour have been rampant. Everyone should have the right to good quality housing in communities with adequate facilities and amenities.

"Cash-strapped local authorities are financially pressured into taking money from developers to the detriment of social housing provision. The onus should be placed firmly on the government to ensure that developers carry out their social housing obligations. If the government does not live up to its pledge of promoting social inclusion in the new housing market it will lead to further ghettoisation of those on low income."

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Sinn Féin International Affairs spokesperson Aengus O'Snodaigh TD will travel to the Basque Country this Thursday to speak at an international conference on conflict resolution. The conference will bring together academics, journalists and politicians from a number of regions in conflict including Ireland.

Speaking before his departure, the Dublin South-Central TD said: "The Basque peace process is currently at a critical juncture. While Sinn Féin does not believe that the Irish process can provide a template for any other conflict resolution process, there are nonetheless lessons to be drawn from our experience here to help the Basque people design their own course to bring an end to the conflict.

"Central to this is the need for dialogue and political momentum. Sinn Féin believes that there is an enormous opportunity for political progress in the Basque Country at this time. For this opportunity to be seized there is an onus on all political parties to engage in meaningful dialogue.

"In our view an agreement between the main political protagonists on the modalities and timescale for all-party talks would give the process an enormous boost.

"Cleary there is also a need for Batasuna to be unbanned to enable this process to succeed and for an end to all forms of political harassment."

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Speaking ahead of Minister Brian Lenihan's presentation to a UN special committee hearing on children's rights in Geneva, Sinn Féin Health and Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin accused the Minister of attempting to 'defend the indefensible'. Deputy Ó Caoláin ridiculed Minister Lenihan's claim that he was examining the possibility of a referendum on children's rights, pointing out that when Fianna Fáil had the 'opportunity to support such a measure, they refused to do so' at the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution.

The Cavan-Monaghan TD said: "The statement from Minister for Children Brian Lenihan TD that he is to examine the possibility of holding a referendum to insert children's rights into the Constitution cannot be taken seriously. It is nothing more than an attempt to hide from the government's appalling track record on the issue of children's rights and to defend the indefensible.

"The proof of this is the failure of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution in its review earlier this year of the constitutional provisions dealing with family and the rights of the child. The minimalist wording that came from the Committee does not address the issue highlighted specifically in the Kilkenny Incest Report as noted in our submission. This fell short of what many, including Barnados, the Law Society and importantly the Ombudsman for Children, were seeking.

"Demonstrating once again the reality that there is little difference in the Coalition options being presented to the voters at present, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the PDs combined to oppose a comprehensive constitutional article on the rights of the child as proposed by Sinn Féin in our submission.

"Minister of State Lenihan is being entirely disingenuous by now saying that they are planning a new review of the Constitution. He is attempting to mislead the public and the special UN committee in Geneva in relation to the Governments position on the inclusion of a comprehensive article on the rights of the child in the Constitution. When his party had the opportunity to support such a measure, they refused to do so."

Note to newsroom: Copies of the Sinn Féin submission available on request

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said the report from an international study that childcare costs in Ireland now take up to thirty percent of family’s disposable income is an indictment of the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat Government.  Deputy Ó Caoláin said the Government has failed the young families of this state who now have childcare costs equivalent to the cost of their mortgages.

He said, “The reports in today’s newspapers, that childcare costs have hit the new heights of thirty percent of families’ incomes, represent an indictment of this Government’s record and shows that they have failed the young families of this state who now face childcare costs equivalent to the cost of their mortgages.

“Sinn Féin has been to the fore in the fight for the provision of quality and affordable childcare facilities.  In our last two pre-budget submissions we have prioritised children and highlighted the Government’s failure on childcare costs and we have used our Private Members Time in the Dáil to table a motion calling for the development of a comprehensive and accessible childcare infrastructure and a wide range of measures to assist parents.   However, it is clear that the issue is not a priority for this Government.

“We believe that, along with a range of income supports for children, a comprehensive package of childcare measures must be introduced, implementing the right of all children to the best care and allowing parents to care for their children full time for one year and equalising women's participation in the labour market.

“There is sufficient wealth in our society to do all this – all that is missing is the political will.” ENDS

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