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South Dublin Sinn Féin representative Shaun Tracey has described as "obscene" the price and the demand for apartments in the Sandyford area. Mr. Tracey was commenting today after it was revealed that more than 200 apartments were sold within 24 hours yesterday in a new development in Sandyford. One bedroom apartments on the site started at €330,000 and three bedroom duplexes were available at €625,000.

Mr. Tracey said, "The obscene amounts of money being spent on tiny apartments in the Sandyford area shows the lengths some people will go to, to buy property in Dublin. It also highlights the fact that many investors are mindful of the money to be made in the private rented sector. It is ironic that the Government can afford to finance some 60,000 mortgages for rich landlords through the rent supplement yet it cannot provide social housing for the near 44,000 families on the social housing waiting list.

"The demand for these apartments -- more than 200 sold in less than 24 hours -- once again highlights the chronic need for social housing to be provided in this Council Borough. Yet Dún Laoghaire -- Rathdown County Council continues to capitulate to the demands of developers instead of the needs of its citizens.

"There are currently 2,699 families on the social housing waiting list in DL/RD. With the thousands of houses and apartments that have been built across the borough in the last number of years serious inroads in to the Council's chronic housing waiting list could have been made if Part 5 of the planning act had been used properly." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD has attacked the decision by Marine Minister Noel Dempsey to impose a cut of 6,000 tonnes in the Irish mackerel quota, with a threat of a further 35,000 tonne cut. The Minister claimed that this was due to reports of illegal landings and that it was being deliberately targeted across the entire pelagic fleet as a "lesson" for those who tolerate illegal fishing.

Deputy Ferris said, "Firstly, the imposition of a collective penalty is unacceptable; secondly, there has been no actual official confirmation that the illegal landings are taking place; and thirdly, once again the Department here has acted unilaterally and without any consultation with the industry.

"Coming as it does at the same time as the draconian new Fisheries legislation, Minister Dempsey's decision will be regarded as yet another attack on the beleaguered Irish fishing sector. Fishermen and fishing communities are entitled to wonder whether in fact the Department is engaged in an attempt to make it impossible for most of them to survive. It certainly explains why Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher from a fishing county decided to get out of the Department and why Fianna Fáil backbenchers are so annoyed with Dempsey's handling of the fishing sector." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today urged the Taoiseach to press ahead with proposals for Northern Representation in the Oireachtas.

Ms de Brún made her comments before she attended an Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs at Leinster House today, where she will encourage the Irish Government to reject the European Services Directive.

Speaking today Ms de Brún said:

“Sinn Féin is committed to the principle and practice of Northern MPs participating in the work of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Foot dragging by the Taoiseach has ensured that Irish citizens in the six counties remain disenfranchised and excluded from much of the political life of the nation.

“Only last week the Taoiseach back tracked on his commitment to move on this important issue.

“It is deeply ironic that as an MEP for the people of the six counties I am entitled to address the Oireachtas, yet my 18 Westminster colleagues are not. As Irish Republicans we strive to see our electorate treated with equality and respect.

"It is unacceptable that they continue to be seen as strangers in their own land.

“It is time for people to think outside of the box. Partition has failed and Sinn Féin is working to bring about new political realities on the island and to advance the dynamics of all-Ireland politics.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Mid-Ulster Martin McGuinness said that he was shocked at the announcement that plans were afoot to close the maternity unit and the 24 hour A&E Department at the Mid-Ulster hospital in Magherafelt.

Speaking from Magherafelt Mr McGuinness said:

"There has been speculation surrounding the future of the maternity services at the Mid-Ulster for sometime. However the announcement today and the speedy timeframe which the Trust appear to be trying to force through the closure has come as a shock to the local community. The proposed closure of the 24 hour A&E service is a double blow.

"We are now entering into a 12 week consultation period and it is vital that all of those interested in maintaining services at the Mid-Ulster galvanise their resources and make use of this time. As MP I will be meeting with a wide range of local people and healthcare professionals to ensure that the voice of the people is not ignored.

"There is a role for smaller hospitals like the Mid-Ulster. This hospital has provided a top quality level of service for the people of this area for many years and is still in my view the best option for the future delivery of top quality healthcare."ENDS

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Speaking at the National Forum on Europe in Dublin Castle this morning, Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún asked the following question of EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Charlie McCreevy:

Ms de Brún said:

"An bhfuil a fhios agat, a Choimisinéir gur ábhar mór imni an rún a ritheadh i bParlaimint na hEorpa an tseachtain seo a chuaigh thart faoi Treoir Eorpach na Seirbhíse? Cearta oibrithe agus caighdeáin seirbhísí a bhéas thíos leis dá bharr.

"Bhí na heochairchodannna den rún mealltach. Tá ainm nua ar Phrionsabal na Tíre dúchasaí ach go bunúsach is é an rud céanna é - rud a ligean do chomhlachtaí daoine a fhostú faoi choinníollacha oibre na tíre ina mbíonn an comhlacht bunaithe nó cláraithe chan coinníollacha oibre na tíre ina mbíonn na daoine sin ag obair.

"In light of the European Parliament vote at first reading of the highly controversial Services Directive, could the Commissioner confirm the European Commission view that the Services Directive will be interpreted by the European Court of Justice in accordance with existing case law and that the Directive as passed by the EP last week will be interpreted in accordance with the Country of Origin principle?

"And could you further confirm that the only way that the directive would be interpreted otherwise would be through a clear reference to the country of destination?

"Is the Commissioner aware of the deep-seated opposition in Ireland and across Europe to the Services Directive?

"Could the Commissioner comment on the competitive challenge facing small and medium sized enterprises from those who establish themselves in countries with weaker employment standards, and in particular the unfair competition they will face from those companies who use what are called "self-employed" workers in order to get around any obligation to observe Irish employment law?

"And finally, the Commissioner stated his view here this morning that people were not ready 'as yet' for highly sensitive sectors such as health to be included in the Services Directive. Can he comment on what sectors are or are not included, in his view, and on the fact that some aspects of health are included at present. Can he tell us if it is his intention to move in time to include the whole of the health sector?" Ends

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Sinn Féin MP and former Education Minister Martin McGuinness this morning addressed a session of the Youth parliament in the City Hall in Belfast. Mr McGuinness spoke on the plans for post primary reform in a session also addressed by leading advocate of selection Ken Bloomfield.

In the course of a wide ranging address Mr McGuinness challenged head on the arguments being put forward by those supporting academic selection at 11. He used international examples of good practice to put forward his vision of an education system which delivers for all children.

"The changes proposed in our education system will, with proper planning and effective implementation, have an immediate and positive effect. Of course one of the greatest obstacles to the delivery of a first class education system is the availability of adequate resources and money. That is a difficulty which every department and aspect of the public sector faces. But setting that aside for the minute, if we look at the inherent flaws in the system itself, rather than the impact of outside factors, we cannot but conclude that academic selection, its negative impact at every level of our education system and the consequent inequality and additional segregation it generates is the single greatest flaw in our current arrangements and I welcome its long over due demise.

"The mush disliked 11+ and academic selection are inextricably linked. The sole reason for the 11+ is to provide a means of academic selection for grammar schools. The reason why parents, teachers and pupils feel under such pressure and children feel failures has little to do with the 11+ and everything to do with getting a place in a grammar school. The issue is not simply about the injustice of the test thought in my view that is in itself a massive issue. Branding any child a failure at the age of 11 is an indictment of any modern society. Branding the majority of our children as failures at age 11 is entirely unacceptable as is the creation of an academic elite. The reality is that academic selection for the minority means academic rejection for the majority. Academic selection crates an education system based on academic apartheid.

"The supporters of the current system, or some less offensive version of it, have peddled three key myths to support their position. I want to tackle those myths directly. The cold facts do not support the myths that we have a world-class education system, or that academic selection is a ladder to success for working class children, or that grammar schools are an essential route for entry to higher education and university. The first myth is that we have a world-class education system. Yes we do have a high proportion of pupils achieving good examination results, but Scotland has as many pupils as we do achieving 5+ GCSEs at A*-C and markedly more young people entering higher education. England has more pupils achieving 5 GCSE passes and we still have the highest proportion of children with low qualifications in these islands.

"In the key areas of reading, maths and science we perform on a par with England and Scotland but we perform substantially worse than the top performers - Finland, Korea, New Zealand and Canada - all of which have non-selective education systems. And critically, the variation between our best and worst scores is among the widest in the world, highlighting again the recurring theme of an education system with high achievement and substantial low achievement - a system that does well for some and does not deliver for the rest.

"The second myth holds that academic selection provides a ladder for "more able" children - and I take issue with that very offensive term - from disadvantaged backgrounds. Recent statistic show that only 8% of pupils in grammar schools are from low-income families and the proportion has been falling over recent years. If this is a ladder it is an extremely narrow one!

"More advantaged pupils are over 4 times as likely to achieve a grade A in the 11+ as the most disadvantaged pupils. This hardly supports the case for academic selection as an escape route from poverty through education.

"The poorest results in the 11+ are seen in controlled schools with high levels of free school meals serving working class Protestant areas. In some working class Protestant areas a grammar school place is beyond the reach of almost all pupils - in the Shankill for example, less than 2% of pupils achieved a grammar school place.

"The system is not serving the working classes and it is certainly not serving children from working class Protestant families. It is hardly surprising that some community activists have questioned the position of

Unionist Assembly Members representing Protestant areas who appear to be content with a system of academic selection that denies educational opportunities to their own constituents. And I would ask the question - by taking this position are they really representing the best interests of the children in their constituencies?

"The third myth that we hear so often is that a grammar school education is necessary to get to university and get a good job. Traditionally grammar schools have indeed been the main providers of university entrants. More recently, however only about 50% of students at the University of Ulster have traditional A-levels and the rest come from a variety of routes. Significantly, the university found no difference in academic outcome irrespective of the route students have taken to reach university. Queen's University has many students who do not come via the traditional A-level route and they include some of the universities best students.

"The reality is that academic segregation, like other forms of social segregation is not something any modern society should tolerate, much less encourage. The entire concept of academic selection is based on notions of intelligence measurement, which have been largely discounted and discredited. Indeed Cyril Burt, the primary architect of the Butler Education Act of 1944, which created the 11+, has recently been exposed as a fraud and a charlatan. The flaw in his attitude to children and their education should have been obvious in the title of his seminal work published in 1937 - "The Backward Child". IN my view, the only thing backward in our education system is not the children but a system which brands the majority of 11 year olds as failures. That is wrong and the sooner we replace it the better.‰" ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will host an event for community groups and activists from across Belfast to discuss the next round of PEACE funding for the period 2007 - 2013. The EU has pledged €200 million in funding for the next seven years, subject to overall agreement on the EU budget.

The seminar will take place tomorrow (Friday 24th February) at 12.00 noon in the Middleton room at the Wellington Park Hotel in South Belfast.

Speaking in advance of Friday‚s event Ms de Brún said:

"The EUs commitment to a PEACE III programme is extremely important. It is recognition that the peace process still needs bedding down and is recognition of the vital work being carried out by community groups across the six counties and the border regions.

"Friday's event provides an opportunity for community groups and activists from across Belfast to inform us of their hopes for the roll-out of a PEACE III and to discuss the way forward.

"Sinn Féin has been proactive in ensuring that this funding was secured. Over the past two to three years we have pressed the case for PEACE III with both the British and Irish Governments as well as holding a number of meetings with the EU Commissioner for Regional Development, Danuta Hubner, and community organisations across the North." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will travel to Dublin this morning for a series of engagements on European affairs. Ms de Brún has warned that we risk turning the EU into a 'bargain basement society'.


Ms de Brún will attend the National Forum on Europe at Dublin Castle and then travel to Leinster House where she will participate in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs.

Speaking in advance of the meeting Ms de Brún said:

"Later this morning the EU Commissioner for the Internal Market Charlie McCreevy will address the National Forum on Europe. The EU in continuing its drive for competitiveness at all costs is eroding the conditions in which workers are employed. Privatisation and attacks on public services are marginalising large numbers of people. I hope to challenge this agenda and tell Mr McCreevy that the EU risks becoming a bargain basement society.

"I will also be taking the opportunity to encourage the Irish Government to reject the EU Services Directive at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs. The Services Directive will be put before the Government for ratification in the time ahead and it is crucial that they are made aware of the negative consequences of rubber stamping this controversial directive." ENDS

Note to Editor:

The National Forum on Europe will take place at Dublin Castle at 10.30am

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs will convene at 3.30pm



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Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy was today joined by party colleagues Davy Hyland MLA and Cllr. Packie McDonald along with a representative of Dromintee GAC, Declan Fearon, for a press conference in Belfast. The Press Conference revealed a document recently found by a local farmer detailing which sites cameras on a British Army spy post in the area where fixed upon. Amongst those targeted was the clubrooms of Dromintee GAC and the homes of nine club members.

Mr Murphy said:

"This document was found by a local farmer. It shows which sites cameras on a British Army spy post in the area where fixed upon. There are over 30 cameras on the post, this document lists 12 of them. One of the cameras was permanently fixed upon the local GAA clubrooms, a facility used by the entire community. The other cameras were fixed on local family homes including the home of local Sinn Féin Councillor Packie McDonald. All of the families targeted are members of the Dromintee GAA club.

"It is quite clear that the British state have taken a conscious decision to spy on the local GAA club and its members. Local people are outraged at this exposure and this operation raises very serious matters for the GAA at national level.

"The spying on the local GAA club of course also raises very serious questions for Tony Blair and the British government.

Why are they spying on local people 10 years into a peace process?

How long has the operation against the GAA being ongoing and what other clubs are involved?

Why are they specifically targeting the GAA and this club?

Who authorised the spying operation on Dromintee Club and what was the motivation behind it?

"These are the sort of questions local people are asking and demanding answers to. Sinn Féin will be raising this matter with both the British Prime Minister and Taoiseach in discussions next week. The local club is seeking meetings with the GAA President to discuss this very serious matter.

"It has long since past the time for Tony Blair to commit his system to peaceful and democratic activity. They must end their war against ordinary nationalists and republicans if progress is to be made in the coming months." ENDS

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Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin speaking at the end of the Sinn Féin Private Members motion on the establishment of a Department of Labour Affairs said, “Workers rights are not an add-on extra – they are basic requirements of a healthy economy and just society”.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "Established rights of workers are under attack in Ireland, in Europe and throughout the world. Rights, freedoms and protections built up through the efforts of generations of trade unionists are being eroded.

"The Department of Labour Affairs that Sinn Fein is proposing would not be a substitute for trade union organisation and a strong grassroots union membership. Rather it would be an essential step to ensure that the full range of labour rights, including the right to trade union membership, are totally vindicated.

"I would like to address a number of comments made by Minister of State Tony Killeen when he spoke last night.  He spoke of the “deep and unwavering commitment of the Government in the area of employment rights”.  This is, with respect, quite untrue.  The lack of commitment was evident during the Irish Ferries dispute in particular when the Government showed little interest in intervening to protect workers’ rights.

"The bottom line is that existing employment rights legislation is not being enforced and will never be enforced until the labour inspectorate has the resources and the number of staff necessary to carry out ongoing spot checks on employers to assess compliance levels.  There must be an immediate increase to bring the inspectorate up to 75 inspectors.  

"Workers’ rights are not an add-on, an optional extra which can be enjoyed at the whim of employers or when the economy allows. They are basic requirements of a healthy economy and a just society.

"Sinn Féin is committed to defending and extending workers’ rights.  That is why we want to see a stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, that is why we want an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Labour Affairs, that is why we tabled this motion." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:- 

Ba mhaith liom buiochas a ghabháil le gach duine a ghlac páirt sa diospóireacht ar an rún tábhachtach seo. Buiochas ach go háirithe do na Teachtai atá ag tacú leis an rún. Tá bagairti nua ar chearta na noibri in Éirinn, ar fud na hEorpa agus ar fud an domhain faoi láthair. Má táimid chun na cearta sin a chur chun cinn caithfimid tosú sa bhaile agus tá an rún seo mar chuid de na hiarrachtai atá á dhéanamh ag daoine ar an eite chlé agus i ngluaiseacht na gceardchumann chun cearta a chosaint agus a chur chun cinn.

I thank all the Deputies who have taken part in the debate on this important motion, particularly those Deputies who have expressed support. A number of members pointed out that this is a timely motion and so it is. Established rights of workers are under attack in Ireland, in Europe and throughout the world. Rights, freedoms and protections built up through the efforts of generations of trade unionists are being eroded. How is that possible? One of the main reasons is the fact that the very basic right to be a member of a trade union is not vindicated. While the right exists in theory in this State under the 1937 Constitution, in practice, employers are allowed to deny workers that right by making non-membership of a trade union a condition of employment.

An RTE TV programme on Monday recalled the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike of the early 1980s. I attended that picket line myself. It was a shining example of selflessness on the part of young workers who refused to handle the fruits of apartheid and who, after a long and gruelling strike, succeeded in forcing an Irish Government to impose an embargo on South African goods. For anyone who thought those days of solidarity and popular protest were over they were proved wrong with the widespread support for the GAMA workers, the Irish Ferries workers, the Rossport Five, Joanne Delaney and many others in recent years who have stood up to exploitation. These include immigrant workers who have been disgracefully treated by certain employers, something every Deputy, including myself, has seen in his or her own constituency.

So let us be clear. The Department of Labour Affairs that Sinn Fein is proposing would not be a substitute for trade union organisation and a strong grassroots union membership. Rather it would be an essential step to ensure that the full range of labour rights, including the right to trade union membership, are totally vindicated.

I would point out to Deputy John Perry, who misinterpreted this point, that we are not calling for trade union membership for employees to be mandatory. We are most definitely calling for mandatory recognition by employers of the right to trade union membership. That is something Irish workers have been struggling for since the 1913 Lockout, yet employers are still allowed to bar unions from their workplaces.

I note that while Deputy Perry supported the tone of the motion on behalf of Fine Gael, Deputy Breen, also on behalf of Fine Gael, stated that they could not support it in its totality. Unfortunately we did not have an opportunity this evening to hear which parts they object to. I’m sure many of their prospective partners in the Labour Party would be interested, as would many trade unionists.  

I would like to address a number of comments made by Minister of State Tony Killeen when he spoke last night.  He spoke of the “deep and unwavering commitment of the Government in the area of employment rights”.  This is, with respect, quite untrue.  The lack of commitment was evident during the Irish Ferries dispute in particular when the Government showed little interest in intervening to protect workers’ rights. 

The Minister of State mentioned a commitment to statutory rates of pay yet the minimum wage is not even being enforced and wages of some skilled workers are being dragged down to minimum wage levels.  He spoke of a commitment to health and safety and yet as my colleague Deputy Crowe pointed out last evening, there was a 42% increase in workplace deaths in 2005 on the 2004 figure. This dreadful and very disturbing trend must be reversed.

Minister of State Killeen also spoke of substantial increases in redundancy payments yet statutory redundancy payments consist of only 2 weeks pay per year of service and workers over the age of 66 have no entitlement whatsoever.  On work-life balance there is not an entitlement to as much as one day’s paternity leave while maternity leave falls behind European norms and parental leave remains unpaid.  Bringing the labour inspectorate up to 31 inspectors did not constitute a substantial increase nor is it anything near what is required. Is this what the Minister terms a deep and unwavering commitment to workers’ rights?

The bottom line is that existing employment rights legislation is not being enforced and will never be enforced until the labour inspectorate has the resources and the number of staff necessary to carry out ongoing spot checks on employers to assess compliance levels.  There must be an immediate increase to bring the inspectorate up to 75 inspectors.  

Then there are the difficulties in terms of the Labour Court.  When a worker seeks to take an action for unfair dismissal, for example, he or she is confronted by the fact that it takes a minimum of around six months for a case to be dealt with by the Labour Court. The case of the three NCT testers at the Monaghan Test Centre comes to mind at this point.

Minister, the Government is taking no action to deal with the anti-union actions of certain employers.  Deputy Ferris has spoken of the case of Joanne Delaney.  Many of the multinationals who have come into the state over the last decade are virulently anti-union. In the construction sector there is a strong belief that some trade union members are being black-listed from building sites because they are trade union activists. 

Tonight there are three men in Mountjoy Prison for contempt of court for picketing a building site.  This is unacceptable. How many employers have served even a day in jail for creating unsafe working conditions that have led directly to injury or death? The answer, of course, is none.

A previous Sinn Féin Private Members motion strongly opposed the privatization of Aer Lingus. We pointed out then, as we do again tonight, that privatization invariably leads to lower pay and poorer working conditions. This is the most serious concern in relation to the imminent privatization of the Great Southern Hotel Group. These State sell-offs are another form of downsizing as far as working conditions are concerned.

The Government presents the case that they have successfully blended enterprise and labour in one Department as if it was as easy to blend these two competing but not always opposing interests as it has been to mould the current Government coalition. Deputies Ardagh and Greelish’s performed the well-practised FF/PD two-handed reel of ‘when in doubt attack Sinn Féin’. They reminded me of  Podge and Rodge. But they impress no-one. An undazzling performance as bankrupt as their arguments against the common sense in the Sinn Féin proposals before us tonight. But the reality being experienced by workers includes:

·        legislation passed but not enforced

·        growing numbers of their colleagues injured and killed because of a lax attitude from employers on health and safety

·        the government waxing lyrical about social partnership while refusing to intervene as employers intimidate and black list workers who wish to be represented by unions.

In all the claims from the Government benches that the arrangement has worked well, absolutely no evidence has been given or could be given to back up the assertion that the current configuration is working well for workers.  The Minister denies that enterprise and labour affairs are competing interests but in many cases they are.  Deputy Morgan gave the glaring example of the attack by the Competition Authority on the right of freelance workers to collective representation. 

Workers’ rights are not an add-on, an optional extra which can be enjoyed at the whim of employers or when the economy allows. They are basic requirements of a healthy economy and a just society.

Sinn Féin is committed to defending and extending workers’ rights.  That is why we want to see a stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, that is why we want an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Labour Affairs, that is why we tabled this motion.I urge all Deputies to support it.

 

 

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Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris has called for "a tighter definition within the Constitution of the right to join a trade union in such a way that would make it illegal for employers to prevent workers doing so."

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, on a Sinn Féin private members motion that calls for a stand-alone Department of Labour Affairs, Deputy Ferris said, "Irish Ferries and Doyle Concrete both emphasised the need for safeguards to be placed to prevent employers attempting to emulate the tactics of the likes of Independent Newspapers in 1913. That need is even greater now that many employers see the existence of a large pool of potentially cheap and unorganised non-national workers from the new accession states as the means to undermine hard won rights and conditions.

"While the 1937 Constitution does recognize the right of workers to join a union, it places no corresponding compulsion on the employer to actually recognise this. In other words if an employer can find a way to break a union then there is no law to prevent this.

"That is why Sinn Féin is calling for a tighter defintion within the Constitution of the right to join a trade union in such a way that would make it illegal for employers to prevent workers doing so, or to sack them under whatever subterfuge for being a member." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

There have been a number of instances over the past few months that illustrate the extent to which some employers are willing to challenge trade union organisation. Not only that, but that they are prepared to challenge workers rights on basic issues such as the very right to join and be identified with a trade union.

Last weekend one of the guests at our Ard Fheis was Joanne Delaney who was sacked by Dunnes Stores for the heinous offence of wearing the badge of the Mandate union of which she is a member. While no doubt it is claimed by the company that she was in breach of uniform regulations, it is clear that wearing union badges has not hitherto being invoked by Dunnes as an excuse to discipline an employee.

We are entitled to ask, therefore, whether this is part of their testing the water prior to further assaults on union members. If so, is Dunnes in fact planning to undermine union organisation as part of a plan to undermine wages and conditions and introduce what are fondly described as "flexible working patterns"?

That indeed has been the pattern in other disputes where companies have deliberately provoked existing work forces in the hope that this will allow them to replace union members with workers on lower wages and with weaker terms of employment.

That was clearly what was behind the Irish Ferries dispute and we had an even more blatant example with Doyle Concrete which disregarded Labour Court instructions and displaced an entire unionised workforce to take on non-national workers on lower wages and of course with no union membership. That company has now decided to close rather than obey the Court.

Irish Ferries and Doyle Concrete both emphasised the need for safeguards to be placed to prevent employers attempting to emulate the tactics of the likes of Independent Newspapers in 1913. That need is even greater now that many employers see the existence of a large pool of potentially cheap and unorganised non-national workers from the new accession states as the means to undermine hard won rights and conditions.

It also stresses the need for tighter legal safeguards for union organization. While the 1937 Constitution does recognize the right of workers to join a union, it places no corresponding compulsion on the employer to actually recognise this. In other words if an employer can find a way to break a union then there is no law to prevent this.

The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act (2001) and Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (2004), while providing options for unions that have been refused recognition by employers, do not deal with union recognition but with disputes over improvements in pay or conditions of employment.

The legislation, in fact, explicitly excludes arrangements for collective bargaining. It is unlikely, therefore, to improve union access to workplaces where the employers are determined to stay non-union and consequently is likely to have minimal influence in reversing the declining union density in the private sector.

That is why Sinn Féin is calling for a tighter definition within the Constitution of the right to join a trade union in such a way that would make it illegal for employers to prevent workers doing so, or to sack them under whatever subterfuge for being a member.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education and Science Sean Crowe accused the Fianna Fáil/PD Government of "letting our children down while it presided over unprecedented wealth". Deputy Crowe made his comments after it was reported today that illiteracy levels were growing in the country, especially in areas of disadvantage.

The Dublin South West TD said, "Whilst we hear Minister for Education Mary Hanafin constantly stating that tackling educational disadvantage is her priority, we currently have a situation in which students, most notably those from areas of high deprivation are performing poorly regarding literacy, according to examiners of 2005 Junior Cert papers.

"It is very frustrating and reprehensible that we should have illiteracy at all in this country, never mind the worrying level that we do have. In the early 1960s, through voluntary literacy crusades, the Cubans as a third world country at the time, eradicated illiteracy from their island, whilst forty years on an extremely wealthy Irish government are struggling to cope with the same problem.

"There is an undeniable link between educational disadvantage, illiteracy and unemployment. The government must address this issue immediately before levels drop even further." ENDS

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Speaking during priority questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Dáil today the Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh called on Minister Dermot Ahern to encourage the Spanish authorities to realise that the banning of the political party Batasuna is not conducive to peace and to learn from the example of Ireland where it has been clearly shown that inclusiveness is the cornerstone of progress.

He said, "Given our mutual recognition that dialogue is central to building a just and lasting peace -- a common understanding garnered from our experience here in Ireland -- it is obvious that the ongoing banning and criminalisation of one political partner to the peace process in the Basque country is not conducive to the progression of that process. The achievement a viable peace process is impossible when one of the main political parties involved has been declared illegal.

"The inclusion of Batasuna on the EU list of terrorist organisations has been counterproductive in assisting the development of a Basque peace process. It is completely unacceptable to deny a community their fundamental rights to assembly, free speech, political association and representation. The minister must commit to impress this objection to the 'Macrosummario' on the Spanish Authorities. The 'Macrosummario' is an ongoing trial of 90 political and social activists which denies these people their most fundamental civil and political rights."

Speaking afterwards Aengus Ó Snodaigh, while welcoming the Minister's desire to see the peace process advanced in the Basque country, expressed his disappointment that the Minister "feels no need to defend and promote the basic human rights of Basque nationalists. The Minister's contention that this is an internal matter for the Spanish Government runs contrary to the fact that that Government has involved other EU nations in placing Batasuna onto an EU list of banned organisations. Dialogue and inclusiveness are a must for any peace process to succeed." ENDS

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A British Army document containing details of their spying operations in the Dromintee area of South Armagh has come into the possession of Sinn Féin.

The document clearly shows that the British state is spying not just on local homes but specifically on the local GAA club.

Sinn Féin MP for the area Conor Murphy will host a Press Conference in the party offices on Sevastopol Street tomorrow morning (Thursday 22nd Feb) at 11am were he will give further details of the spying operation and outline a number of steps local people will be taking over the coming weeks to deal with this attack on their community. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Equality and Human Rights Spokesperson, Caitriona Ruane commenting on the report published today highlighting in increase in racist attacks by almost 80% last year, and an increase in homophobic attacks by 175% has said that it is evidence of the need to challenge societys attitude towards difference and diversity.

Ms Ruane said:

"This report is an appalling indictment on attitudes within our society and a lack of tolerance for people from different countries of origin or ethnic background or who are lesbian, gay or bisexual.

"Everyone no mater what their ethnic, racial or religious background or sexual orientation is has the right to live free from attack and free from the fear of attack and intimidation.

"These figures show us today that there is a big job of work to be done in challenging the attitudes towards difference and diversity in our society and specifically towards violence directed at people who are perceived as 'different'.

"It means that we need a concerted campaign to root out, challenge and eliminate discrimination wherever it exists because it is discrimination that feeds such violence.

"This means that we need more resources to promote tolerance and diversity and that we need to take a broader stand against racism, homophobia, sectarianism and bigotry in whatever form it takes." ENDS

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Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff has welcomed the cross-border dynamic that the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) has brought in addressing the barriers in accessing essential services faced by border communities.

Speaking after an in depth meeting with the ICBAN Chief Executive, Kate Burns at Stormont yesterday the West Tyrone MLA has said that the future shape of delivery programmes must be geared towards deconstructing the imposed Border. Mr McElduff said:

"With three Cross Border Groups operating along the Border Corridor, it makes sense that not only do they try to address health, transport, tourism, environmental issues on a group by group basis, but that there is increased joint working between groups, specifically in the North West region and the Central region networks.

"Efforts to address regional disparity and balanced economic development must take place at a macro political level. However, central to all of this is the 'on the ground' programme delivery at local level. ICBAN are to the fore in this regard."

Mr. McElduff was accompanied by Sinn Féin Regional Development spokesperson, Raymond McCartney. Speaking after the meeting Mr.McCartney said:

"The introduction of a West East motorway for Sligo Town, Manorhamiltion, Enniskillen, Cookstown, Dungannon, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh City and a North West motorway for Derry, Limavady, Letterkenny, Strabane, Omagh, Enniskillen, Monaghan, Dungannon and Cavan are required to address major road infrastructure deficits. Alongside this must be an integrated rail network to meet the needs of the Western Seaboard.

"The Irish and British governments have put in place a commitment of 100 Billion Euro to fund infrastructure development over the next decade. It is essential that the needs of the Greater North West Region (GNWR) are not forgotten. Social exclusion, deprivation and lack of opportunity know no barriers. The National Development Plan 2007 - 2013 and the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) coupled with Transport 21 need to make a massive contribution particularly to the areas outside of Dublin and Belfast." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has pledged his support for those protesting outside Leinster House this afternoon against the decision to allow trials of genetically modified potatoes in County Meath. Deputy Ferris was unable to attend due to his participation in a debate on fishing legislation.

Deputy Ferris said: “I fully support the demand that the license for these trials be withdrawn. Time and time over, myself and others have pointed out the lack of scientific and economic evidence in favour of GM, and to the potential harm that GM will do both in terms of contaminating conventional crops, and to the sales of Irish food. I have also continually questioned the voting record of Irish officials on this issue at EU level and demanded that elected representatives are allowed to debate and to vote on this crucial issue. I would further like to commend those activists who continue to make this an issue and who continue to expose this Government’s abject pro-GM stance.” ENDS

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Speaking today Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Seán Crowe TD, lashed the government due to the fact that Irish people have the worst record for second languages in Europe. According to this EU survey, a massive two-thirds of Irish people speak only English, whilst a mere 9% speak Irish well enough to hold a basic conversation.

Deputy Crowe further expressed his bewilderment at how “the vast majority of students study the Irish language all the way through both Primary and Secondary school, but leave second level education with a poor level of Irish”.

"Instead of Fine Gael’s recent proposal to abolish Irish as a compulsory subject, we should be revitalising Irish as a subject and should be promoting it and enticing young people to take pride in it as an integral part of their culture," he said.

In addition, Ireland is the only EU country with no provision for teaching modern languages in Primary school. Crowe stated that, “despite 390 Primary Schools offering some languages, the fact remains that for some kids the only way to learn a foreign language in primary school is for their parents to fork out on expensive grinds which obviously rules out disadvantaged students.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness today said that the DUP search for excuses to engage had to end. He also called for the British Prime Minster Tony Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to take a hands on role in the process if progress is to be made in the coming period.

Mr McGuinness said:

"The DUP are today meeting with the IICD in Belfast. This meeting has little to do with IRA weapons. The IRA have dealt decisively with that issue and the DUP know this. What today's meeting is about is part of the DUP search for excuses not to engage.

"It is time that the DUP began to live up to their political responsibilities and began showing the sort of political leadership they promised to deliver. The time for excuses is over and the two governments need to make this clear to the DUP.

"It is still my firm view that progress can be made in the time ahead. However I believe that the British Prime Minster Tony Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern need to take a hands on approach and begin to inject momentum and drive the process forward if this is to be achieved." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Newry Armagh MP Conor Murphy will meet the Office of the Children's Commissioner tomorrow, Thursday 23rd February, in Belfast to raise serious concerns about access to child services within the constituency.

Speaking ahead of the meeting Mr Murphy said:

"There are serious problems facing young people in relation to accessing both Respite Care and specialist Health services within the Trust and Board area. A lack of specialist therapists such as speech therapists and those carrying out clinical assessments means that the waiting lists just seems to keep growing and growing.

"The provision of respite care is even worse. The level of provision in the Newry Mourne area is among the lowest in the Six Counties.

"A number of families are unhappy with the provision and care packages which they have being allocated. Families that have made the decision to care for their loved ones at home should be given as much assistance as possible. Respite is a much-needed facility and it is the duty of the Trust to provide an adequate service.

"A recent MENCAP report showed that 80% of families have reached breaking point because they do not get the level of short break respite care they need and that 90% of disabled children's services have a waiting list. This is clearly not acceptable.

"There are specific problems in relation to educational provision for young people moving past the responsibility of the Education Boards where there is no provision of age-specific educational services and young people are often placed within in an environment that is not the most beneficial.

"It is important that collectively we work together to ensure that there is action to address this major failing in the provision of services for children and young people, particularly for those with special needs beyond the age of 19.

"We will also be raising the issue of access to funded pre-school places (PEGS) within in the Southern Education Library Services." ENDS

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