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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will participate in the all-Ireland Roundtable discussion on Child Protection that has been organised by both the British direct Rule Health Minister and the Irish government in Dundalk on Monday 18th September.

Speaking ahead of the meeting the former Six County Health, Social Services and Public Safety Minister said:

"It is clear that any gaps in Child Protection measures either side of the border undermine the safety of children throughout Ireland and Sinn Féin have consistently promoted an all-Ireland approach to Child Protection. We have also been adamant that child protection measures must be harmonised upwards in order to protect our children and vulnerable adults.

"This is an important and significant conference in that it brings together the relevant professionals from across the island. However, it is essential that this is seen as part of a much deeper process and not merely a one-off to placate the demands of the many organisations working to protect the rights of children on this island.

"Both governments must show political leadership. One of the clearest objectives of this conference should be the establishment of a joint forum to take forward and oversee progress on the issue of child protection on an all-Ireland basis. Our goal must be to ensure that children on both sides of border will be protected by improved co-operation." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP MLA Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has today called upon the Health Minister Paul Goggins to provide Hospice facilities in South Tyrone. Speaking after Cancer Choices event "Cancer in Rural Communities", at Dungannon Enterprise Centre, Michelle Gildernew has insisted such hospice facilities should be made available to rural communities.

Michelle Gildernew said:

"Hospices offer a specialised service. They provide assistance to the patient in an effort to control their pain and their symptoms. They are smaller and quieter than hospitals and they often work at a much gentler pace.

"The fact that there is no available service in South Tyrone is unacceptable. It is intolerable that cancer patients are subject to long journeys and prolonged stays along away from home.

"There is a need for an oncology unit in the constituency that can meet the demand for the full range of cancer treatment services, particularly pediatric oncology, and a demand that is regrettably expected to grow in years ahead.

"I have today called upon the Minister to provide assistance and funding to meet the demand for a hospice and the provision of palliative care in this constituency. The aim of palliative care is to relieve suffering and improve the quality of the living and dying for people whose disease cannot be cured. This type of care supports the principle that it is important for people to be given the opportunity to live out their days with meaning and as little distress as possible. It may complement and enhance disease-modifying therapy or it may become the total focus of care.

"Palliative care helps people receive the care they need in the surroundings they prefer. It can be provided at home, in a hospice, a long-term care facility or in a hospital. It is planned and delivered through the collaborative efforts of many people including the patient, their caregivers (family and friends) and service providers (cancer care team and community healthcare providers).

"Sinn Fein see these provisions as a priority and will ensure that the Minister addresses the need to improve cancer care provisions, not only in the constituency of Fermanagh South Tyrone, but across the 6 counties, in an effort to harmonise the Health services north and south of the border to achieve an all island health service" ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health & Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has written to the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney urging her to agree to the unanimous request from Monaghan County Council for an urgent meeting with her to address the downgrading of Monaghan General Hospital. The Cavan-Monaghan TD also urged Fianna Fáil TDs in the constituency to act on their "new-found opposition to the withdrawal of all acute inpatient services from Monaghan".

The Cavan-Monaghan TD said: "The massive public rally in support of Monaghan General Hospital last night sent a powerful message to the Fianna Fail/PD Government and to the Health Service Executive. People are not prepared to see their hospital taken from them. As a result we have had statements from the Fianna Fáil TDs for Cavan/Monaghan Brendan Smith and Rory O'Hanlon saying that they oppose the withdrawal of all acute inpatient services from Monaghan General Hospital.

"Neither Deputy O'Hanlon nor Deputy Smith attended last night's rally. Deputy O'Hanlon cited prior commitments while Deputy Smith was simply absent without apology or explanation. Both TDs must now act on their new-found opposition to the further downgrading of Monaghan General Hospital.

"If Deputy O'Hanlon's duties as Ceann Comhairle are too onerous to allow him to represent his constituents then he should step down from that post and devote his time to saving Monaghan General Hospital.

"Cavan-based Deputy Brendan Smith needs to be reminded that he was elected to represent both Counties Cavan and Monaghan. The downgrading of Monaghan General Hospital has added to the burden on patients and staff in Cavan General Hospital and this will worsen if the HSE's plans are allowed to go ahead. With Deputy O'Hanlon, Deputy Smith should refuse the Government whip on the resumption of the Dáil if the Minister for Health and Children does not stop the destruction of the hospital.

"Minister Harney should immediately comply with the unanimous request of Monaghan County Council for an urgent meeting with her on this most important of issues."

CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on Justice Minister Michael McDowell to give the new Garda Ombudsman Commission resources, staff and powers at least equivalent to those of Nuala O'Loan, the Police Ombudsman in the Six Counties. Speaking after meeting the new Commission this morning Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "It is clear that, contrary to all of Justice Minister Michael McDowell's assurances, the resources and powers of new commission fall short of what is required by the Good Friday Agreement."

He said, "After meeting with the new Garda Ombudsman Commission this morning it is clear that contrary to all of Justice Minister Michael McDowell's assurances the resources and powers the new commission fall short of what is required by the Good Friday Agreement.

"Nuala O'Loan's office has 125 staff, none of which are members of the PSNI, to deal with 5,000 officers. The Ombudsman Commission are only cleared for 81 staff to deal with nearly three times as many officers. Because of under staffing the new commission will have to rely heavily on Gardaí to carry out the investigations for them which is just the same as the current situation of the Gardai investigating themselves.

"The Garda Ombudsman Commission does not have the power to insist on disciplinary action being initiated against a Garda. Nuala O'Loan has this power in respect to the PSNI. The Ombudsman Commission have no powers to investigate retired officers, Nuala O'Loan does. These are issues which we hope that amending legislation will be brought forward to resolve.

"If the Ombudsman Commission is to play an effective role in addressing the abuses highlighted by Morris and others as we hope it will then McDowell needs to provide the resources and powers necessary. The sooner this body is up and running and dealing with complaints the better and we wish them well in their role." ENDS

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Sinn Féin International Affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has expressed his party’s support, in principle, for the government’s decision to deploy 150 troops to Lebanon. While acknowledging legitimate questions about the specific role of the Irish troops exist, he pointed out that protecting people engaged in rebuilding Lebanon from possible attack ‘especially from Israeli forces with a track record of targeted fatal attacks on UN personnel and positions, is vital.’

 

The Dublin South-Central TD said: “While there are legitimate questions to be asked over whether the best use of the skilled and experienced peacekeepers in the Defence Forces, including no doubt some veterans of previous deployments to Lebanon, is as bodyguards for troops from another country, Sinn Féin in principle welcomes the decision to deploy Irish forces. We look forward to discussing it further when the Dáil resumes.

 

“The rebuilding of Lebanon after the devastation of Israel’s brutal assault is a major task of work. Israeli forces have acknowledged they deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure such as roads, bridges and energy networks. According to the Lebanese government’s preliminary damage assessment report, Israeli forces caused extensive damage to over 700 industrial enterprises. Indirect and direct damage to industry and business sectors has been widespread with direct damage estimated by the Lebanese to be about $220 million in the south alone.

 

“Protecting Finnish troops engaged in this work from possible attack, especially from Israeli forces with a track record of fatal targeted attacks on UN personnel and positions, is vital to ensure this work can go ahead.”

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD has expressed his hope that an undertaking by Minister for Social and Family Affairs Seamus Brennan to review means testing for persons the Non Contributory Old Age Pension as part of the forthcoming Budget will allow farmers to participate in a new scheme that permits pensioners to earn up to €100 per week without affecting their benefits. Deputy Ferris was referring to a reply from the Minister to a letter he wrote requesting that farmers would be included in the scheme.

 

Deputy Ferris said: “While I am disappointed that farmers are not to be included in the current scheme, I would hope that the undertaking by Minister Brennan to review means testing arrangements will allow him to reconsider the exclusion of farmers from what is a worthwhile scheme and one that would provide considerable relief for elderly farmers on low incomes. I trust that the Minister will be allowed to do so as part of any further changes to the Non Contributory Pension in the Budget.”

 

Note to editor: Copies of the letter of response from Minister Brennan available on request

 

CRÍOCH

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Sinn Féin has questioned the position of Invest NI on jobs creation and employment retention in Belfast as Norwich Union announced that it is making 100 local employees redundant.

Cllr Alex Maskey, who leads the Sinn Fein group in Belfast City Council said that at a meeting arranged by the party this week with Invest NI, the government agency claimed that the future of economic growth over the next few years would lie in back office customer services jobs:

Cllr. Maskey said:

"Invest NI claims about future investment potential are no consolation to the people who have lost jobs in Norwich Union. The first many staff knew about these job losses was when the an announcement was made on the news this morning. This morning, the office of Gerry Adams MP has complained to the company about the handling of this announcement and the decision which has already been made.

"The company is not dumping the jobs which are being lost in Belfast. It is relocating them. This begs serious questions of government agencies. Earlier this week, a Sinn Fein delegation met with Invest NI to challenge it over its lack of a coherent strategy for creating jobs in areas of highest deprivation and unemployment, like west Belfast. Invest NI claimed that the future solutions to long-term unemployment would be found in the very jobs which Norwich Union has announced today it is moving away from Belfast. Sinn Fein wants to know how joblessness in this city is going to reduced if Invest NI and the others with responsibility for investment and job creation cannot even keep the jobs already here?".

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Sinn Fein TD for Dublin South West Sean Crowe today welcomed the Governments' plans for providing more affordable housing throughout Dublin through the Affordable Homes Partnership. However, Deputy Crowe pointed out that although this plan is a welcome development for people who wish to own their own homes, the Government is still neglecting its' duties to people that are in need of social housing.

Deputy Crowe said, "This scheme can only be a positive advancement in terms of addressing the housing crisis if the lack of social housing is examined and the Government make a substantial effort to combat this problem. It is unacceptable that there can be 43,684 people on the social housing waiting list and the Government expect a pat on the back for providing 3,000 affordable homes. 3,000 affordable homes are no good to the families that are on disability or welfare benefits or to those that are living in sub-standard rented accommodation that the State is subsidising. The housing crisis in this State is a direct result of consistent Government policies that have failed miserably to provide social housing to those who are in need of it. It is no great coincidence that the Government wishes to address the issue of affordable housing and there is a general election around the corner. It is high time now that they address the issue of social housing.

"If the Government had not allowed and supported the consistent watering down of Part V of the Planning Act we would not be in a situation where the Affordable Homes Partnership would actually have to go into negotiations with builders and developers to get a measly 3,000 homes -- and 3,000 affordable homes is miniscule when looked at in the overall context of those who want a home.

"Last year out of the 81,000 housing units built, only 1,371 of these fell into the Part V category. Part V was intended to provide 20% social and affordable. 1,371 housing units is far cry from 20%. This scheme is a poor effort on the Governments behalf to portray themselves as doing something about the housing crisis but the reality of the situation is that this could not even be described as a half-hearted attempt. It ignores the needs of the 43,684 families that are on the social housing waiting list." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP today said that Ian Paisley's public declaration outside Downing Street yesterday that the DUP were not up for sharing power with nationalists and republicans before the November deadline should focus minds in London and Dublin.

Mr McGuinness said:

"The reality remains that Sinn Féin and all of the other parties with the exception of the DUP are ready and willing to enter a power sharing Executive. All of the other parties with the exception of the DUP are ready and willing to confront and tackle the difficult issues like rates and water charges rather than allow Direct Rule Ministers to continue to take bad decisions which impact heavily on the people who live here.

"Yesterday Ian Paisley set out in a very public fashion in Downing Street his view that the DUP were not up for sharing power with nationalists and republicans by the November 24th deadline. Given Ian Paisley's political record and the fact that the two governments have allowed the political process to drift for so long in the face of DUP intransigence this claim will surprise few people.

"However what Mr Paisley's comments should do is focus minds in both London and Dublin on their strategy for the coming 10 weeks. The two governments have made it clear that November 24th is a real deadline. Time is now short if the political institutions are to be salvaged. The two governments need to make it very clear to Ian Paisley that the process will not be stalled any longer and that they intend to stand by the Good Friday Agreement. This is crucial if progress is to be made." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Dublin Spokesperson on Europe & Representative for Dublin South East, Cllr. Daithí Doolan today welcomed Dr. Hans Blix to Dublin. In his address to the National Forum on Europe Cllr. Doolan congratulated Dr Blix, Chairperson of The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, for his work in promoting global disarmament & non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Speaking today at the National Forum on the Future of Europe Cllr. Doolan said:

"The EU must take the lead form Dr. Hans Blix and heed his call for an end to nuclear, biological & chemical weapons of terror. It is not acceptable that the EU continue to allow the US, Britain and France threaten our very existence with their nuclear weapons while also accepting Israel‚s persistent refusal to sign up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty which enacted in 1968. Nuclear weapons remain the single biggest threat to life on this planet and they must be banished once and for all.‰

Cllr. Doolan added:

"The European Union must stop acting in collusion with US & Israeli foreign policy and take a positive neutral role in promoting a world without these nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The US continues to finger wag and preach democracy while maintaining the largest quantity in weapons of mass destruction. The EU must actively challenge this and statements threatening pre-emptive nuclear attacks as were issued last year by Washington. Unfortunately the EU to date has been seen to have unquestionably supported the US administration and their games of mass deception. This has to stop. The role of the EU must be one of an independent, honest & fair broker between nations. "

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan called on the Irish Government, "to take a lead in forging a new path for Europe, one that promotes nuclear disarmament and focuses on resolving world conflicts through peaceful means and a respect for international law. International law, not aggressive military tactics should be our tools when implementing foreign policy. Our government must demand nothing less." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Mayors and Chairs on local authorities across Ireland will meet in Dublin today, Thursday 14th September at 2pm. At the top of their agenda are plans for a series of initiatives in the coming months to assist efforts to restore the political institutions in the north, a major road safety awareness campaign across the island and support for a Sinn Féin health rally in Dublin on October 21st.

Today the Mayors and Chairs will also announce details of a voter registration campaign which will take place across the country in the coming months.

Also attending the meeting will be party Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald, TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh, MLA Francie Molloy and head of Sinn Féin's councillors group Joe Reilly.

Ms. McDonald will be available to speak to the media at 2pm at the top of Parnell Square (at the entrance to the Garden of Remembrance) There will also be a photo opportunity with all of the party's Mayor and Chairpersons at 2pm with the leaflets and posters which will be used for the campaign.

Sinn Féin Chairs/Mayors

Munster

Anthony Curtin Mayor Listowel Town Council

Robert Beasley Vice Chair Kerry County Council

John Desmond Vice Mayor Bandon Town Council

Connacht

David Keating Vice Chair Westport Town Council

Leinster

John Dwyer Mayor New Ross Town Council

Brian Stanley Mayor Portlaoise Town Council

Paul Hogan Vice Mayor Athlone Town Council

Six Counties

Seán Begley Chair Omagh District Council

Willie Clarke Chair Down District Council

Ian Milne Chair Magherafelt District Council

Pearse McAleer Chair Cookstown District Council

John McElhiney Chair Limavady District Council

Michelle O‚Neill Vice Chair Dungannon Town Council

Uladh

Matt Carthy Mayor Carrickmacross Town Council

Gene Duffy Mayor Ballybay Town Council

Brian McKeown Vice Mayor Cavan Town Council

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has welcomed the announcement by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Leader and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya that they have successfully agreed to establish a national unity government for the Palestinian territories.

Mr. Adams has called on the European Union to immediately restore the Aid suspended earlier this year after Hamas won democratic elections.

The Sinn Féin leader is writing to Javier Solana, the EU Commissioner responsible for EU foreign policy to order the resumption of Aid and to launch an initiative aimed at helping tospeedily restore the stalled peace process.

Mr. Adams said:

"President Abbas told me last week of his hopes to make this announcement. This decision gives hope that real progress towards stability and peace is possible.

"Having spoken to President Abbas, his senior advisors and to representatives of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including Hamas, I came away last week convinced that the Palestinian people want to make progress and understand the importance of speaking with one voice.

"There is now a heavy responsibility on the International Community, but especially the European Union to take initiative which will bolster this development.

"Most immediately the EU should resume Aid to the Palestinian Authority. There is an economic and humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories. The EU should also launch a political initiative to encourage dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I have already called for the release of the Israeli soldiers. The Israeli government should release the 43 elected representatives of the Palestinian people, including the speaker of their Assembly.

"The emergence of a national government of unity is a significant development which deserves immediate support." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Poverty, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton has said that Peter Hain's comments about the installation of solar panels in up to 600 Housing Executive homes as part Environment and Renewable Energy Fund only serves to reinforce the belief that the approach to tackling fuel poverty that is too little, too late and too fragmented.

Ms Stanton said:

"While the objective for reducing the cost of heating to some 600 Housing Executive homes is admirable in itself it does highlight just how low the targets are for tackling fuel poverty.

"When the Environment and Renewable Energy Fund was first announced Sinn Féin highlighted the fact that a major opportunity to put in place targets that would meaningfully tackle the true scale of the problem had been missed. 600 homes only represents the tip of the iceberg, particularly when the target is compared to the many hundreds of older people who die each year as a result of the cold - deaths that are avoidable.

"At every twist and turn the approach to eradicating fuel poverty is minimal and disjointed. Fuel poverty affects 1 in 3 and each year over 1000 older people die because of cold weather. It is a case of too little, too late and too fragmented." ENDS

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Sinn Féin has challenged Invest NI over its lack of a strategy for job creation and redressing unemployment in west Belfast. The challenge was made after a Sinn Fein delegation, including Cllrs Paul Maskey and Michael Browne met with Invest NI.

Cllr Maskey, who leads the Sinn Fein group in Belfast City Council said that the meeting was informative and revealing:

"Invest NI appear to accept that enough is not being done to alleviate long-term unemployment in west Belfast. However, as we have seen over many years now, they do not have any plan or strategy for rectifying this problem. Invest NI must address not only the patterns of job allocation, but investment location."

Cllr Browne, who chairs the Belfast City Council committee on Economic Development said that recent months have seen more jobs lost in west Belfast:

"We had Trivirax close earlier this year, and Invest NI failed in that situation. We saw Daily Ireland close last week, and Invest NI had a part in that scandal also. The part which Invest NI is playing in relation to retention of jobs at Visteon and the InBev will be seen in due course. There are other employers who have remained in west Belfast and created jobs, such as Delta Print and Packaging, and they appear to be succeeding despite difficulties still to be resolved with Invest NI. Overall the evidence of recent years shows that where the old IDB left off, Invest NI have carried on, and that is a dereliction of duty to the people of this constituency"

Cllr Maskey said that Sinn Féin would be pursuing a new economic vision for west Belfast:

"The West Belfast Task Force is mainstream policy. It requires to be implemented. Invest NI is supposed to exist to deliver and implement policy. That means over the next period, we need to see a jobs strategy for skewing investment and supporting local employment. The people of west Belfast, including the Shankill, have a right to jobs and fair wages. Invest NI must show that in outcomes and results. Sinn Fein MP Gerry Adams will be taking this cause up with the relevant British Minister later in the autumn." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Mayors and Chairs on local authorities across Ireland will meet in Dublin tomorrow, Thursday 14th September at 2pm. At the top of their agenda are plans for a series of initiatives in the coming months to assist efforts to restore the political institutions in the north, a major road safety awareness campaign across the island and support for a Sinn Féin health rally in Dublin on October 21st.

Tomorrow the Mayors and Chairs will also announce details of a voter registration campaign which will take place across the country in the coming months.

Also attending the meeting will be party Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald, TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh, MLA Francie Molloy and head of Sinn Féin‚s councillors group Joe Reilly.

Ms. McDonald will be available to speak to the media at 2pm at the top of Parnell Square (at the entrance to the Garden of Remembrance) There will also be a photo opportunity with all of the party's Mayor and Chairpersons at 2pm with the leaflets and posters which will be used for the campaign.

Sinn Féin Chairs/Mayors

Munster

Anthony Curtin Mayor Listowel Town Council

Robert Beasley Vice Chair Kerry County Council

John Desmond Vice Mayor Bandon Town Council

Connacht

David Keating Vice Chair Westport Town Council

Leinster

John Dwyer Mayor New Ross Town Council

Brian Stanley Mayor Portlaoise Town Council

Paul Hogan Vice Mayor Athlone Town Council

Six Counties

Seán Begley Chair Omagh District Council

Willie Clarke Chair Down District Council

Ian Milne Chair Magherafelt District Council

Pearse McAleer Chair Cookstown District Council

John McElhiney Chair Limavady District Council

Michelle O‚Neill Vice Chair Dungannon Town Council

Uladh

Matt Carthy Mayor Carrickmacross Town Council

Gene Duffy Mayor Ballybay Town Council

Brian McKeown Vice Mayor Cavan Town Council

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Sinn Féin's Dublin Environment Spokesperson & Representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has demanded, "that the sale of the former Irish Glass Bottle site in Ringsend to be halted pending the completion of the Poolbeg Framework Plan."

Speaking from Ringsend, Cllr. Doolan said:

"If this auction is allowed to go ahead on October 25th it flies in the face of City Council's attempt to produce an effective framework plan for the area. This land on the Poolbeg Peninsula is one of the last remaining land banks in the city. We cannot simply allow it to be sold to the highest bidder and allow a free for all to take place. I will certainly be bringing pressure to bear on both Dublin Port Company & South Wharf plc to postpone the sale of this land‚."

Cllr. Doolan explains, "no one doubts the need to develop this part of Dublin. For years it was scene as the dumping ground for the city. But we must ensure that any development is done with the best interest of the community at heart. I will be demanding that any development:

  • guarantees at least 25% social and affordable housing for the local community
  • no developer should be allowed buy their way out of that clause
  • the development of this site must be socially, environmentally and economically sustainable
  • must contain play areas, crèches, public transport and green space.

"Simply selling off land to the highest bidder and allowing a concrete jungle develop is not the solution to the cities housing needs. The attempt to sell this land is clearly undermining the authority of Dublin City council who have already produced a draft Southbank/Poolbeg Framework Plan."

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan, demanded, "the Dublin Port Company and South Wharf to urgently meet with local Councillors to discuss how we can resolve the matter." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Culture and Language, East Derry MLA Francie Brolly has accused the British government of abjectly failing to honour commitment in the Good Friday Agreement on the Irish language and re-iterated the demand for an Irish Language Act.

Mr Brolly said:

"We see that in Scotland there is the publication of a draft plan for Scots Gaelic. Similarly in the South there has been an Irish Language Act and the appointment of a commissioner. Yet here in the Six Counties the British government have adopted a totally minimalist approach to its commitments' on the Irish language.

"It is an approach that is being mirrored across all government departments and in organisations such as the BBC that Sinn Féin have long demanded be designated under the Equality Scheme.

"For example the comparison between the most recent figures available (2003/04) for BBC expenditure and programming for Celtic languages highlights the almost absolute failure of BBC to support the Irish language. The BBC here is failing the 167,490 Irish speakers in the north when it delivers only 8 hours of TV programming, a quarter of that available for 63,444 Scots Gaelic speakers in Scotland, and less than 2% of that available in Wales. The situation is even worse when it comes to Radio.

"This huge disparity underlines the major concerns that Sinn Féin and indeed the wider Irish language community have at the approach of the BBC to Irish language programming.

"Fundamentally it also exposes the wider impact that the failure of the British government to deliver of its promises on the Irish language is having.

"Irish language speakers pay the licence fee the same as anyone else and are entitled to an Irish language service from the BBC. Yet, the Irish language is still under-resourced and marginalised.

"While the forecast for an increase in Irish language TV programming to 10.5 hours is a step forward it is still woefully inadequate." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy has branded British Secretary of State Peter Hain‚s defence of his rates system as "dishonest".

Mr Molloy said:

"For Peter Hain to claim that anyone here is a winner out of the new rates system is totally dishonest. The fact is that this year Peter Hain forced a 19% increase onto the local councils and that once the British governments new Water Charges are factored in that everyone will be paying substantially more through rates and water charges than at present.

"Even allowing for inflation, the reality is that this is the outworking of a British Treasury strategy to increase the amount of revenue raised for the Exchequer here while at the same time reducing expenditure of public services. In the case of water the British government are actually penalising us for their failure to invest the money in the water and sewerage infrastructure that we have already paid for through our rates.

"The fact is that what the British government have put on the table will cause immense hardship, particularly for pensioners and many of the working poor. We need to come up with solutions that protect those most vulnerable in our society. We need to look at not just the basis of levying rates but fundamentally at the ability of people to pay. In particular, Sinn Féin have consistently argued for tax varying powers to be available to the Executive.

"Hain today has shown that he is not listening. The only way that we will address this is issue is when we get locally accountable ministers at the helm taking these important decisions and responding to the people who vote for them. We have the DUP to thank for the current political stalemate that leaves us all at the mercy of the British Treasury." ENDS

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Sinn Féin councillor South Down MLA Willie Clarke has called on Roads Service to reconsider the design of the junction where the Belfast and Ballynahinch Roads meet.

Mr Clarke made his comments after receiving numerous complaints about the safety of the junction which he said has recently been redesigned.

Calling for the new design to be reconsidered, the Sinn Féin representative said:

"The junction is located on a particularly dangerous and fast section of the Belfast Road.

"The complaints I am receiving revolve around the length of the slowing lane from the Downpatrick direction to allow drivers to turn left onto the Ballynahinch Road. Because of the short distance of this lane cars are slowing down while still on the main carriageway.

"There is no excuse for excess speed and drivers do need to show extra care at this double junction.

"Nonetheless, it is clear that the short distance of the slowing lane is disrupting the easy flow of traffic, particularly during commuting times.

"With such a short slowing lane it can predicted that there will be accidents here in the future. I will be in touch with Roads Service to have the design of the double junction reconsidered." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Antrim Philip McGuigan today said that the DUP were "all over the place on the issue of unionist paramilitaries". Mr McGuigan's comments came after DUP MP Gregory Campbell on today's BBC Nolan Show argued that former unionist death squad members within the DUP ranks should be allowed to join the PSNI.

Mr McGuigan said:

"On one hand the DUP have tried to create the myth that they have no relationship whatever with unionist paramilitaries. This of course flies in the face of all of the evidence stretching over 30 years and more. The reality is of course that the DUP have long had a relationship with unionist paramilitaries and were publicly involved in the formation of Ulster Resistance, an organisation which went on to import tonnes of weapons to the six counties to murder Catholics.

"The individual convicted of murdering my party colleague Malachy Carey in Ballymoney in 1992, Gary Blair, is currently a leading DUP figure in Ian Paisley's constituency and has indeed led a campaign to see those jailed for the LVF sectarian double murder in Poyntzpass released. It has also recently emerged that former DUP Councillor and Assembly member George Seawright was a member of the UVF.

"This morning DUP MP Gregory Campbell having for years opposed republican involvement in policing, to the point that the DUP claimed they would resign form the Policing Board if Sinn Féin were involved, is now arguing on BBC radio for former unionist paramilitaries within the ranks of the DUP to become serving members of the PSNI. The hypocrisy is there for all to see.

"On this issue like almost every other issue involving unionist paramilitary gangs the DUP are once again all over the place, attempting to talk out of both sides of their mouths." ENDS

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