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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will travel to the Family Caring Centre based in Rathenraw, Antrim, tomorrow, Thursday 30th March. She will be accompanied by local Antrim Sinn Féin councillor, Anne Marie Logue.

Ms de Brún Bairbre will discuss the work of the Family Caring Centre and other projects in the Rathenraw area, and also meet with community activists based in estates throughout Antrim to discuss issues around the design and delivery of PEACE III.

Speaking today Ms de Brún said:

"This is about meeting local communities and seeing first hand local community initiatives that have benefited from Peace funding and encouraging them to participate in debate around their hopes for the anticipated PEACE III programme.

"It is essential that local communities have an active role in the discussions about the PEACE III fund. Sinn Féin is keen to facilitate this debate.

"In discussions with the EU Commissioner for Regional Development, Danuta Hubner, and with both the British and Irish governments, I have stressed that local communities must be actively involved in all stages of the planning and design of the Peace III programme.

"The practical planning for PEACE III must not take place behind closed doors.

"Sinn Féin firmly believe that PEACE III priorities should be focused on the promotion of peace and national reconciliation and on tackling discrimination and disadvantage." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams commenting on an expected announcement
tomorrow by the Health Minister Sean Woodward on the issue of suicide said:

"Any announcement on the issue of suicide by the Health Minister will be
judged on how effectively it delivers on a effective regional suicide
strategy, within an all-Ireland context, a 'crisis response team' for north
and west Belfast, and additional resources for families, communities and
professionals working to prevent suicide, particularly among our young
people.

"There is a lot of anger within the community at the failure of the Health
system so far to tackle the issue of suicide prevention in a coherent and
holistic fashion.

"Since last summer Sinn Féin, the families and support organisations have
held a series of meetings with the Health Minister. He knows what is
required. He knows that this must be a priority health issue. He must
deliver tomorrow." ENDS



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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children and Young People, Sue Ramsey MLA has said that it is totally unacceptable that thousands of children and young people are still waiting for speech and language therapy 12 months after the Commissioner for Children and Young People warned that more needed to be done.

Ms Ramsey said:

"It makes for stark reading when 2,055 children and young people are still waiting to be assessed for speech and language therapy and that 3,402 who have been assessed as requiring the therapy are still waiting for it to start.

"The fact that there has been little progress in the 12 months since the Children's Commissioner first raised this problem reflects badly on the commitment of British direct rule ministers to ensuring the services for our children and young people are prioritised.

"Given that the direct rule cuts currently being forced through the Education Library Boards will also have an impact on statementing and particularly on the provision of resources to support special educational needs this lack of commitment gives rise to very serious concern.

"The continuing postcode lottery is also a huge concern. There should be equal access to services. While there has been some progress in waiting times between assessment and the start of therapy the fact is that the maximum waiting time 12 months ago was 16 months, yet this year the corresponding figure is 24 months for the Homefirst Trust, an increase of 8 months.

"It is also clear that the big problems are to do with resources and the lack of speech and language therapists, with 11 of 14 Trusts claiming this is affecting them. It is clear that specific resources are required to finance Speech and Language Therapy. I will be writing to the Children's Minster Jeff Rooker demanding urgent action." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Economic Spokesperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA welcomes British Secretary of State, Peter Hain's demand for further action from the mobile phone companies operating on the island of Ireland to end inadvertent roaming charges.

Mitchel Mc Laughlin said;

"I have been meeting on a regular basis with the Mobile Phone Regulators North and South regularly to have this issue resolved. I have also met directly with some of the providers.

"I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Hain that for too long mobile phone customers, north and south, have had to pay out unfair and unjustifiable fees just for making or receiving a call while travelling on the island of Ireland.

"I am encouraged by the advances on the issue by most of the Southern based providers but I cannot say the same for the Northern providers as only O2 have to date made significant moves to address this injustice. But even the advances made by the providers to date do not comprehensively tackle the issue and I don't believe that the Direct Rule Minister, Angela Smith or the 26 County Minister Noel Dempsey have been proactive enough in demanding resolute action by the Service Providers to eliminate this problem.

"Rather than echoing the comments of his junior Minister about how much progress has been made, Peter Hain should issue a deadline for voluntary all-Ireland tariffs. Failure to comply should result in compulsory tariffs being imposed. Noel Dempsey should issue a similar ultimatum in the South. It is clear that the Providers, in order to maximise profits, will procrastinate as long as they can, even up to the time that the EU brings in regulations. It is up to the two governments to ensure they are not permitted to do this.

"I believe that without Government intervention the Service Providers will continue to move piecemeal until the EU moves to take legal action against them, probably in the autumn. The governments should move now and insist on the scrapping all roaming charges before they are forced to do so by the EU." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD accused the Minister for Justice of "hyperactively" producing legislative reforms that are unnecessary saying they amounted to little more than "superficial gimmicks". Deputy Ó Snodaigh made his comments on the second day of the debate on the amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill put forward by Minister McDowell.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "According to the Minister, his latest amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 aim to bring criminal law up to date to make it "relevant to the needs of modern society". However, in my view the Minister is electioneering at the expense of democracy.

"McDowell is hyperactively producing legislative reforms that are in the main unnecessary. His proposals amount to little more than superficial gimmicks which he is selling, often via press statement, to the public as quick fix solutions in order to gain cheap votes. In reality, however, there are no quick fixes to today's complex problems of crime. What is needed is the reform, restructuring and resourcing of the Garda Siochana to ensure the enforcement of existing laws. And it is also vital that any new provisions are evidenced-based and human-rights compliant.

"My Sinn Fein colleagues, civil liberties and childrens rights groups have expressed serious concerns about the number and intent of the measures being proposed by the Minister. Amongst the issues causing most concern are: the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility; the introduction of ASBOs. And the motives behind, legality and potential effectiveness of new sections relating to gangland crimes, conspiracy, drugs, sentencing and electronic tagging.

"Of course the ability of ourselves, the NGO sector and the Human Rights Commission to absorb and analyse the Ministers proposals and thereby contribute to the development of sound legislation in this crucial area has been greatly inhibited by his typically anti-democratic actions. The Bill began in 2004 with 38 sections and he is now attempting to introduce over 200 amendments which we had sight of only last week. And there are substantive differences between these amendments and the Heads preceding them that he published at the end of the year. Yesterday he indicated his intention to introduce yet more new sections at report stage. The whole thing is gone beyond a joke.

Commenting on the sections dealing with gangland crime he said, "It appears that the Minister's desire to be seen to do something, anything, to address the country's growing gangland crime problem has led him to propose a series of rash new offences and proceedings that would have grave and dangerous consequences for the fundamental civil and political rights of people in this state. " ENDS

Full text of speech follows by Aengus Ó Snodaigh to Criminal Justice Bill 2004

According to the Minister, his latest amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 aim to bring criminal law up to date to make it "relevant to the needs of modern society". However in my view The Minister is electioneering at the expense of democracy. He is engaged in a war on fundamental rights and he has a coalition of eager allies in his Fianna Fail partners, much of the media and indeed in the so-called alternative coalition.

McDowell is hyperactively producing legislative reforms that are in the main unnecessary. His proposals amount to little more than superficial gimmicks which he is selling, often via press statement, to the public as quick fix solutions in order to gain cheap votes. In reality, however, there are no quick fixes to today's complex problems of crime. What is needed is the reform, restructuring and resourcing of the Garda Siochana to ensure the enforcement of existing laws. And it is also vital that any new provisions are evidenced-based and human-rights compliant.

My Sinn Fein colleagues, civil liberties and childrens rights groups have expressed serious concerns about the number and intent of the measures being proposed by the Minister. Amongst the issues causing most concern are: the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility; the introduction of ASBOs. And the motives behind, legality and potential effectiveness of new sections relating to gangland crimes, conspiracy, drugs, sentencing and electronic tagging.

Of course the ability of ourselves, the NGO sector and the Human Rights Commission to absorb and analyse the Ministers proposals and thereby contribute to the development of sound legislation in this crucial area has been greatly inhibited by his typically anti-democratic actions. The Bill began in 2004 with 38 sections and he is now attempting to introduce over 200 amendments which we had sight of only last week. And there are substantive differences between these amendments and the Heads preceding them that he published at the end of the year. Yesterday he indicated his intention to introduce yet more new sections at report stage. The whole thing is gone beyond a joke.

I will now focus on one issue of particular concern, that is the proposed new provisions in the area of organised crime. On my reading of the proposed amendments, that is a reading from a human rights-based perspective, a series of red line issues are thrown up. It appears that the Minister's desire to be seen to do something, anything, to address the country's growing gangland crime problem has led him to propose a series of rash new offences and proceedings that would have grave and dangerous consequences for the fundamental civil and political rights of people in this state.

The Human Rights Commission question whether the Minister's organised crime proposals are a proportionate or even necessary response to the problem of organised crime. They conclude that "the activity which is targeted here is already subject to appropriate criminal sanction, through existing common law and statute which prohibit conspiracy to commit an offence and prohibit the aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring of an offence". Likewise the Irish Council for Civil Liberties argued in their submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee yesterday that: existing laws are sufficient; the Minister's proposals lack certainty and clarity; and that efforts would be better spent improving the law enforcement end of the equation e.g. developing and resourcing proper Community Policing initiatives.

To add to these sound arguments against the Minister's proposals put forward by the HRC and ICCL, his provisions in the area of organised crime are based to a large extent and at times verbatim on the Canadian Criminal Code. The same section of the Canadian Criminal Code that the Minister is eager to introduce here was recently found by the Supreme Court of British Columbia to be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Minister's proposals are framed in such a way that you could almost be found guilty of an offence for babysitting a possible criminal's kids. And the prosecution would not have to prove that any criminal offence was committed or that you really knew anything about one if it was.

Instead of assaulting the fundamental rights underpinning this democracy the Minister should reform, restructure and resource the Gardai. As a priority he should arrange for the civilianisation of appropriate tasks such as a dedicated traffic corps and certain administrative office duties thereby freeing up Gardai to do what they are trained to do i.e. fight crime.

Sinn Fein will oppose all measures proposed by the Minister that fail to comply with international best practice and human rights standards. And that will ultimately fail to address the country's crime problems.

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Sinn Féin Lisburn Council group leader Cllr Paul Butler has written to the Local Government Auditor asking him to investigate Lisburn Council's spending of over £20,000 of ratepayer's money to pay for legal advice in relation to civil partnerships, proportionality and membership of Council Committees, the Irish language and the flying of flags at the Council headquarters, all of which are controversial decisions created by unionist councillors who are opposed to the equality agenda.

In relation to civil partnerships and proportionality and the exclusion of Sinn Fein councillors from Council Committees the Council sought legal advice and were forced to change their policies.

Sinn Fein councillor Paul Butler said:

"Sinn Féin is determined to confront and challenge discrimination wherever it exists. These two victories forcing Lisburn Council to reverse their decisions came at a cost. £17,000 was wasted by Lisburn Council on obtaining legal advice to reverse decisions that should never have been taken in the first place.

"Ratepayer's money has also been spent opposing the implementation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages giving recognition to the Irish language and on legal advice in relation to the flying of the union flag at the Council's headquarters.

"This is a scandalous waste of ratepayer‚s money which should be investigated by Local Government Audit Office.

"Sinn Féin has been campaigning for improved youth and leisure provision across the Lisburn Council area, from Dunmurry and Lagmore to Glenavy. When I think of how much better use £20,000 could have been put to, it makes me very angry.

"The DUP's agenda on Lisburn Council has been one of promoting exclusion and fomenting division. We are anxious to work with the many progressive people within Unionism who are equally eager about striving to create a Lisburn which is truly inclusive and welcoming for all its citizens. But for as long as the DUP continue to pursue a sectarian agenda, Sinn Féin will challenge their actions and take a stand for equality." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Gerry Adams has spoken to Angela Smith, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment on the future of the TriVirix Company on the Springvale site in West Belfast.

Mr. Adams today said:

"I do not believe that the British direct rule Ministers or Invest NI are doing enough to save this plant and the jobs which depend on it.

"I am aware that there have been expressions of interest in the TriVirix plant from possible buyers. Among the expressions of interest are some which may be serious. More time and more effort is therefore needed to explore these possibilities. Another £85 thousand would be a modest provision compared to the cost of people going onto the dole.

"I am very concerned that there is a lack of interest within Invest NI to energetically and thoroughly pursue these.

"They should be protecting the substantial public investment already made, protecting the skills-base, and protecting this employment in an area of greatest socio-economic need.

"I have seen little evidence to indicate that Invest NI, together with officials in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the Department of Employment & Learning, have an effective and integrated action plan to sustain TriVirix. Invest NI is not being exhaustive or proactive." ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has urged elected representatives and communities west of the Bann and in the southern part of the six counties to unite to fight what he describes as the return to the 'Golden Six' Hospital Agenda being pursued by senior civil servants in the NIO and Department of Health.

He said,

"The leaked Trauma Report from the Department of Health which proposes the centralising of resuscitation and stabilisation life-saving services at the Royal Hospital in Belfast, the Ulster in Dundonald and at Antrim and Craigavon hospitals would leave Altnagelvin as the only access point for critically ill patients west of the Bann.

"The proposal to also by-pass the 'Acute Hospitals' of Daisy Hill in Newry and the Erne in Enniskillen would effectively lead to the creation of an apartheid system of health care in the six counties where equal access to life saving interventions is denied to hundreds of thousands of people along geographical and demographic lines.

"This leaked plan represents, I believe, the re-emergence into the ascendancy of the 'Golden Six' Hospital agenda which has been the NIO Civil Service blue print for the centralisation of our health services for decades.

"The leaked trauma report proposals contradict assurances being given by the health authorities and the Minister that despite the removal of Surgical A&E Services from Tyrone County this Friday (31st March), that they are committed to retaining the capacity for life saving interventions including stabilisation and resuscitation services.

"On Monday there is a question and answer session with British direct rule Health Minister Shaun Woodward at Stormont. At the meeting I will be asking him to clarify the leaked Trauma Report proposals in the context of the assurances given about the retention of stabilisation and resuscitation services at Tyrone County.

"Elected representatives and communities must unite to fight the Golden Six Agenda and demand equality of access to crucial life saving services." ENDS

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At a special meeting of Omagh District Council on Monday night the Council decided to seek legal advice on the rural planning policy proposals and to enlist the support of other Councils west of the Bann in a combined strategy to oppose the Direct Rule administrations rural planning proposals.

Sinn Féin Councillor Seán Begley, who requested that Council convene the special meeting on the issue, has said that there was agreement among councillors that the rural planning proposals would have a huge impact upon the fabric of local rural communities.

Cllr Begley said:

"While no one disagrees about the need to reform the planning process and to protect the rural environment for this and future generations, these proposals give no equal consideration about how rural communities will survive what is in effect a moratorium on natural indigenous growth.

"In areas West of the Bann, where small holdings predominate, few planning applications would meet the qualifying criteria for what the proposals describe as a 'viable unit'. Given the demographic make up west of the Bann the proposals would undoubtedly have a disproportionate impact upon one side of the community.

"The Department of Regional Development‚s own Draft Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) on the draft proposals concludes that they will impact greatest west of the Bann and have a negative differential impact on Catholics and those with Nationalist community backgrounds.

"Given this and other issues, it is quite possible that these proposals could be the subject of a judicial review." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP and Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly were in London today for a series of engagements. Speaking to the media at Westminster Mr McGuinness expressed his surprise at comments from SDLP leader Mark Durkan overnight, when he called on the governments to stop pressurising the DUP.

Mr McGuinness said:

"Pro-Agreement opinion across Ireland has for years been calling on the two governments to end the pandering to the DUP and put pressure on that party to accept the democratically expressed wishes of the Irish people and row in behind the institutions laid out in the Good Friday Agreement.

"It seems unbelievable that when many feel the two governments may be about to make a significant effort to see the institutions put back in place and exert the sort of pressure required on the DUP, and at a time when the DUP are isolated in their refusal to move forward, that the SDLP would call on the governments not to follow through with this course of action. Their latest position flies in the face of the political realities we currently face.

"Sinn Féin has consistently urged the governments to take the lead in driving forward the Good Friday Agreement agenda and we are in daily discussions with them. The next short period is therefore crucial to the future of the political institutions.

"Any proposal by the governments to reconvene the Assembly must be to give effect to the Agreement. That means electing a government to run the affairs of the north.

"Sinn Féin is opposed to any shadow Assembly with committees scrutinizing the work of British Direct Rule Ministers. Changing or altering the institutional structures of the Good Friday Agreement to facilitate the DUP is not acceptable.

"Irish republicans have taken significant initiatives to advance the peace process, particularly last year. It's now over to the governments to deliver. It is now over to the DUP to deliver.

"Tomorrow the Sinn Féin leadership will meet the Irish government. Its responsibility is to deliver the Agreement. If the DUP refuses to participate then the British and Irish governments must move ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD has said the Fianna Fáil/PD government is "in complete disarray over the A&E crisis which the Tánaiste Mary Harney has now discovered is a national emergency". He said the Government’s ability to respond was being thwarted by the Tánaiste’s health privatisation agenda.

Commenting after he challenged the Taoiseach on the A&E crisis at Leaders Questions in the Dáil, Deputy Ó Caoláin pointed out that the Government could already have provided an additional 1,000 acute hospital beds in the public system with the money wasted on the failed PPARS and FISP computer systems and on tax breaks for developers of private hospitals. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"When I challenged the Taoiseach on the way the A&E crisis is being compounded by the two-tier public-private system he referred to the ongoing talks on a new contract for hospital consultants. We all want to see a new contract that obliges consultants to work in a fully accountable way in the public system and that ensure all new consultant posts are public only. But what credibility has this Government in those talks when it is pouring public money into the private health system, thus subsidising the private practices of consultants whom the Government claims it wants to work in the public system only?

"We have had hundreds of people every day waiting for many hours and often for days on trolleys in A&E since the Tánaiste’s appointment as Minister for Health - an average of 300 per day so far this year. We had the same under her predecessor Mícheál Martin. We have had this crisis since the Government took office – not in 2002 but in 1997.

"The Government’s own Health Strategy in 2001 stated that at least 3000 additional acute hospital beds are needed in our hospitals and this is essential to address the A&E crisis. Yet this Government is pouring public money into the private health business instead of using public money to provide public beds.

"It is obscene that consultants are competing to buy private suites at a cost of €1 million each in one of the Tánaiste’s new private hospitals here in Dublin. These have been funded with tax breaks from this Government.

"The money spent on tax breaks for developers of private hospitals, together with the money wasted on the HSE’s failed computer systems, would already have provided an additional 1,000 acute hospital beds in the public system."

Smaller hospitals are vital

Deputy Ó Caoláin also raised with the Taoiseach the newly published Report of the Nenagh Hospital Action Group, which clearly demonstrates the viability of smaller hospitals in dealing with emergencies. He stated:

"Nenagh Hospital in County Tipperary was targeted by the Hanly Report to have its A&E unit closed. The Fianna Fáil party kicked up a row and the cut was not made. Their party colleagues failed to save the A&E unit in Monaghan General Hospital in the same way and it remains closed, something that has led to loss of lives.

"As an additional measure to address the A&E crisis the Government should move to reopen A&E units in smaller hospitals that have been closed. They should act on the basis of the Nenagh report and develop our smaller hospitals to their full potential, with emergency departments, acute beds and full co-operation with GPs and the primary care system." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Michael Ferguson MLA has said that the latest report from the Auditor General into literacy and numeracy levels at our schools makes for worrying reading and shows that the department is losing its' direction in the battle to beat literacy and numeracy problems and voiced particular concerns that only a third of boys in Belfast at Key Stage 3 achieve a standard level of English.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Some of the statistics in this report make for serious reading. Despite spending £40 million since the mid 90‚s it is clear that the department is not learning the lessons and targeting its resources effectively or efficiently.

"Nearly 25% of children (2,000 girls and 3,500 boys) are starting secondary school at a disadvantage, with underdeveloped skills. This means that they are likely to struggle with the demands of the post-primary curriculum. Every year 6,000 young people are leaving school with literacy problems and 7,000, some 41%, are leaving with maths problems (below level 5).

"These are the basic skills which young people, particularly those leaving school without qualifications, need to enable them to work or pursue further training or education.

"But perhaps the biggest concern is that where both synthetic phonics and the enriched curriculum have been identified as having a very positive impact on literacy and numeracy that these programmes both require improved pupil teacher ratios and specifically classroom assistants. Yet the short-sightedness of the Department means that the very resource that has been identified as important in the battle to tackle literacy and numeracy problems, namely classroom assistants, are going to be sacrificed in the cuts Angela Smith is trying to force through the Education Library Boards.

"It is also says much about the direction of the Department of Education that there has been little improvement since the Assembly Public Accounts Committee report of 2002.

"There is a very worrying gap between boys and girls in English that needs to be tackled with 72% of girls achieving the standard level in English at secondary school (level 5) compared with only 48% of boys. The situation in Belfast even worse, where only a third of boys at Key Stage 3 achieve a standard level of English.

"There is a clear weakness in the way the department is monitoring this that means that they are not able to improve and target their resources to where need is greatest." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson John O'Dowd MLA has said the consultation by OFCOM on the advertising of junk foods to children should be part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle obesity in children.

Mr O Dowd said

"Sinn Féin share the concerns of health professionals and health user groups about the increasing prevalence of obesity in children and young people. We believe that there is a need for an All Ireland Taskforce to implement an effective and comprehensive strategy to deal with this increasing health problem.

"Obesity is a serious, chronic medical condition. The linkage between obesity and diabetes is well-established, with a significant increase in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in children under 18 years of age. Obese children have a 25-50% chance of progression to adult obesity and, indeed, the figures may even be higher."

Outlining Seven key priorities which the task group should take on board Mr O Dowd said:

"Seven key priority areas in which a coordinated effort on a cross-departmental basis should be made to prevent childhood obesity are:

  • Healthier Schools
  • A Physically Active Community
  • Support for Parents
  • Health Child and Out-of-School Care
  • Greater Community Understanding
  • Increased Research and Knowledge
  • Increased Regulation of the Food and Drinks Manufacturing Industries
  • Any action plan developed by the Taskforce on Obesity must:
  • Increase healthy nutrition, increase physical activity and decrease sedentary living to prevent childhood obesity
  • Provide an effective, high quality range of programmes, services and infrastructure to increase healthy nutrition, increase physical activity and decrease sedentary living
  • Achieve clearly defined social, health, and economic targets

Concluding Mr O Dowd said:

"A comprehensive strategy aimed at combating obesity should also consider the negative impact which television and other mass media advertising of unhealthy sugar rich foods and drinks has on children and young people when making lifestyle choices. It is our view that such advertising is limited in the same manner as has occurred with the advertising of alcohol and tobacco products.

"Likewise, we believe the Food Safety Promotion Board on obesity must also be equipped with the ability to influence and bring about speedy and effective regulatory and legislative change in relation to packaging and labelling of foods and drinks, particularly those aimed specifically at children and young people." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has called for the Criminal Justice Bill to be withdrawn saying the time allowed to comment on the new sections was "grossly inadequate". Deputy Crowe made his comments at the beginning of the two-day debate on the bill, necessitated by opposition to the Minister for Justice's attempts to force through over 200 substantive amendments to what the Sinn Féin TD said was an "overwhelmingly regressive Bill."

Deputy Crowe said, " This government is inserting over 200 substantive amendments into a Bill with just 38 sections. The time allowed to comment on the new sections and even to digest them at all has been grossly inadequate.

"The Minister's 'War on Fundamental Rights' is at the heart of this overwhelmingly regressive Bill and at the heart of the process surrounding its introduction. The Bill should be withdrawn."

Dealing specifically with Parts 11 and 13 of the Bill, which cover the introduction of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders the Dublin South West TD said, "ASBOs are flawed in that they are contrary to fundamental human rights and they don't work.

"Sinn Fein opposed the introduction of ASBOs to the six counties and will continue to oppose their introduction here. The Irish Youth Justice Alliance, a coalition of organisations and individuals who work towards reforming the juvenile justice system, have outlined many of the problems with ASBOs.

"Including the disproportionate interference with personal and private rights and civil liberties they may represent; the imposition of penal sanctions in a manner which are inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights; the criminalising of individuals for breaching an ASBO when the original order was based on rules of evidence government by civil law; and the fact that ASBOs run contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to international standards and guidelines on youth justice.

"In particular, the government's proposals run counter to the central logic of the Children Act 2001 which by the Minister of State for Children's own admission is an Act that "is regarded as setting a framework for a modern and progressive youth justice system [and] reflects best international practice". The Children Act 2001 was thirty years in the drafting. We have seen over the last 5 years this government failing to operationalise and resource the Childrens Act.

"While the definition of anti-social behaviour employed by the Minister is a marginal improvement on that used by the British it is still too vague and the core problems outlined above still stand. In addition, the stages prior to the application for an ASBO on a child suffer from an unfettered assumption of Garda infallibility. This is neither in the interests of children nor in the interests of the Garda Siochana and public confidence in it.

"The government are attempting to legislate away complex problems that, by contrast, Sinn Fein recognises require the resourcing and implementation of existing laws and investment in communities.

"This Bill, old and new, amounts to a grave and disproportionate assault on fundamental human rights." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin member on the HSE North East Regional Health Forum has said that a deal between the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael members on that body has exposed both parties as being no different when it comes to the key policy issue of health. Cllr. Brian McKenna (Monaghan County Council) said that the agreement between the two largest parties at Monday's meeting showed that Fine Gael claims that they can be an alternative to the present government's failed health policies are nothing more than rhetoric.

Cllr. McKenna said:

"Pat Rabbitte must be wondering what happened to the 'Mullingar Accord' after Fine Gael excluded Labour party representatives from key positions on the newly established Regional Health Forum. Likewise people in counties such as Monaghan will rightly ask what sort of opposition party Fine Gael are when they readily jump into bed with their Fianna Fáil counterparts on such an important body.

"Instead of becoming a vital arena for raising issues such as the continuing downgrading of services at Monaghan General Hospital it seems that our fears that the Regional Health Forums will be no more than a talking shop may now be realised. Fine Gael, right across the region, have failed those who believed that they would stand up to the Fianna Fáil/ PD government on this key issue. They should now admit that the 'Kells Accord' has superseded the 'Mullingar Accord'.

"Rather than share power among all political groupings on the Forum they jumped into a dirty deal with Fianna Fáil and exposed themselves as being more interested in power than in radical change for our health services".ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Defence, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has said he would hold the Minister for Defence to his promise to come back to the Dáil before agreeing to support a Common Defence Research and Technology fund in the European Union.  However, the Sinn Féin deputy went on to accuse the Minister of being disingenuous in his earlier replies to questions about increased military spending.  Deputy Ó Snodaigh made his comments after questioning the Minister in the Dáil this afternoon.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "At a meeting in Innsbruck, Austria on the 6th-7th March Defence Ministers gave the go ahead to create a common defence R&T fund.  According to the European Defence Agency (EDA) press statement, which followed the meeting, 'The Ministers reviewed three possible approaches to increasing spending and collaboration on defence R&T'.  

"In every discussion with me around EU initiatives Minister O’Dea repeats his mantra that these developments will not imply more spending on defence because we will be buying in bulk.  In stark contrast, announcing the Defence Ministers’ collective decision to give a green light to the Common Defence R&T fund, Javier Solana EU Foreign Policy chief made clear that the purpose of the fund is 'to ensure that we spend more, spend more together and spend more effectively'.  And welcoming the decision to set up the Common Defence R&T fund British Defence Secretary John Reid said 'Any mechanism that persuades, encourages, cajoles others to spend money on research and development is well worth it'.

"It is crystal clear that those at the centre of the EU Defence project see increased spending as an integral part of it.  But it is equally clear from these statements that Minister O’Dea has been misleading the Irish people on this issue.

"However, I welcome the fact that he has given this House a commitment to come back before it in advance of making any commitment to contributing to the Common Defence Research and Technology fund.  I intend to hold him to that promise." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin South East Representative, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has today announced he will be, "raising with Minister Eamonn O'Cuiv the demand to fund the redevelopment of the Grand Canal."

Speaking ahead of tonight's public meeting in the Mespil Hotel, Cllr. Doolan said:

"I want to congratulate the work done by the Grand Canal Development Committee. The Grand Canal has huge potential and if redeveloped in a sustainable manner can once again become a major attraction on Dublin's southside. Tonight we will be discussing the redevelopment of this canal with the local residents, Waterways Ireland, Dublin City Council and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Eamonn O'Cuiv.

"For too long the canal has been ignored by local and central government and has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

"The aims of tonight's meeting will be to get co-operation from local and central government and with Waterways Ireland to ensure any agreed development does actually take place. The priorities for any plan in the area must:

  • Lighting: upgrade lighting as promised by Dublin City Council in 2000.
  • Waterways Ireland: Creation of a Dublin based maintenance section of Waterways Ireland.
  • Tourism: Develop a plan to attract tourism, improve faculties, signage and fishing points.
  • Lock Keepers Lodge: refurbish the famous Lock Keepers Lodge to house an information centre for the area.

"I firmly believe this development will turn this stretch of the canal into a living, vibrant and positive experience for residents, tourists and businesses. I am calling on the Minister to fully fund the development plan."

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan, called on, "Dublin City Council, Minister O'Cuiv and Waterways Ireland to fully co-operate with residents in ensuring the development plan is fully resourced and it's aims realised in the near future". ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Transport, Seán Crowe TD, slated the Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, over his remarks this morning that he would "facilitate an investment transaction" in Aer Lingus in the next few weeks saying that it "completely undermines" the upcoming Oireachtas Committees deliberations on the issue of the privatisation of the airline and promised discussions with trade unions.

Deputy Crowe said, "Minister Cullen should listen to the workers and the Irish people at large - we don't want the privatisation of Aer Lingus. It is a profitable company and one in which the state can and should invest in, in accordance with the market economy investor principle".

"It is clear that Martin Cullen has already made up his mind. His comments that he is prepared to facilitate an investment transaction completely undermines the investigation of the Oireachtas Committee into the proposed sale of the airline which is only due to begin on April 6th and his promise to engage with the trade unions on the issue."

Deputy Crowe went on to say, "the privatisation agenda is a flawed and greedy ideology which benefits only the few at the expense of public good. As an island economy we need a national airline. If Aer Lingus is to be sold there will be nothing to stop the new owners from asset-stripping the airline, laying off jobs, selling our prized landing slots at Heathrow and even basing Aer Lingus in London.

"It's a credit to all the staff at Aer Lingus, past and present, that the airline has survived and has been profitable in a volatile market. No one can argue against the fact that the airline is a state asset and not a state liability. The list of failed privatisations is seemingly endless; Railtrack in Britain which resulted in tragic deaths where profit was put before safety; Eircom here which has resulted in no investment in infrastructure and higher prices and of course Air New Zealand, privatised in the late 1980s, bankrupt in the 1990s under private ownership, rescued by the State and now healthy under public ownership.

"If this state can invest in British Airways and Ryanair, as it has through the Pension Reserve fund, it is shameful and a national disgrace that it cannot invest in its own airline, namely Aer Lingus."

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Commenting on the latest announcement from the British government regarding demilitarisation, Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy today said:

" Sinn Féin have been the only party who has consistently demanded that the British government remove its war apparatus from the north.

" It has always been a key element of our discussions with the British government. I have met both the British and Irish governments on this issue over a period of years.

" We have consistently called for the British government to produce a comprehensive strategy to achieve the demilitarisation of our society.

" I welcomed the start that the British government made last year to the demilitarisation process and I hope that today's moves advance that process further. I now want to see the job completed as quickly as possible."

Sinn Féin spokesperson on the issue of demilitarisation Davy Hyland today said that people in areas most affected by militarisation had to enjoy the benefits of the peace process denied to them up until now.

Mr Hyland said:

"It is now over ten years since the first IRA cessation. Yet in many areas of the six counties, particularly in South Armagh, local communities continue to be amongst the most heavily militarised in Western Europe.

"This situation was both unacceptable and untenable. It is obviously welcome that the British government are finally living up to their Good Friday Agreement commitments. However Sinn Féin will continue to keep the pressure on for the sort of process which will deliver a society free from the apparatus of war and conflict." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Children and Young People has extended sympathy to the family of Nigel Williams, the first Commissioner for Children and Young People after he passed away today.

Ms Ramsey said:

"Nigel brought an energy and passion and a deep commitment to his work. His
leadership will be sadly missed by everyone who had the opportunity to work
with him and I am sure that many many people will share this loss with his
family." ENDS



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