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Sinn Féin International Affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the response from Foreign Affairs Minister Dermot Ahern today to a question regarding the search of US planes at Shannon Airport. Minister Ahern said, "the gardaí must have a reasonable suspicion before they can enter a premises". Deputy Ó Snodaigh described this as "a significant and welcome move away from the Government's previous position where they claimed the Gardaí could not board planes without significant evidence."

Speaking in the Dáil Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "The gardaí should investigate these flights by boarding them and ensuring that available evidence is obtained and passed on to the DPP.

"Does the Minister agree we have an obligation under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which this State ratified in 2002, to actively seek to prevent any activity that may contribute to torture? If we are party to this convention, it is logical that we investigate these flights. The Government should direct the Garda Síochána to seek evidence based on the suspicions of Members of this House, the Council of Europe, journalists and reputable organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

In response to a charge of being anti-American by the Minister he said, "I am not being anti-American. My arguments relate to extraordinary rendition, which is a breach of international law."

Speaking later Deputy Ó Snodaigh welcomed the Minister's response saying, "Although the Minister tried to avoid my question by referring to a completely different matter using his usual anti-republican bile I am quite happy that the he said 'reasonable suspicion' is enough for the Gardaí to seek a warrant to enter a premises.

"This a significant and welcome move away from the Government's previous position where they claimed the Gardaí could not board planes without significant evidence.

"Surely the suspicions of Members of this House, the Council of Europe, journalists and reputable organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch constitute 'reasonable suspicion' and therefore these planes should now be searched by the Gardaí." ENDS

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Ms de Brún is due to deliver a speech to the EU Parliament this evening where Milos Koterec's report on 'The role of state aid as a tool of regional development' will be formally discussed.

Speaking today Ms de Brún said :

"State Aid needs to be viewed as a positive contribution to the promotion of economic and social cohesion on a regional basis.

"I want to particularly welcome the report's assertion that the 'natural effects' region should be eligible for a more flexible regime of state aid in the future. It is particularly important that a bottom up approach to the design and implementation of future funding is sought and that a set of properly funded programmes are in place to ensure that areas are not left behind as the economy develops and improves. Regional imbalances should not be taken for granted, and we need to continue striving for equality of treatment for disadvantaged regions throughout Ireland, and in particular the North West.

Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil cúnamh Stáit feicthe mar chomhpháirt riachtánach de fhorbairt réigiúnach san Aontas Eorpach. Fáiltím dearbhú na dtuairisce gur cheart don "chionroinnt chúnamh Stáit a bheith iomlán follasach sa chaoi go mbeadh sé mar ghléas tairbhiúil faoi choinne forbartha réigiúnach cothromúil inbhuanaithe".

In Éirinn, is léir gur fhorbair réigiúin áirithe níos fearr agus níos gasta ná ceantair eile mar gheall ar chúiseanna éagsúla, mar shampla, d'fhulaing muintir chontaethe na dteorann mar thoradh ar blianta fada de chríochdheighilt agus caithfimid an éagothroime seo a chur ina cheart

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Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has again called on the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to resign over the leaking of confidential documents to Independent Newspapers. During a heated debate in the Dáil this afternoon Deputy Ó Snodaigh said if McDowell does not resign “the Taoiseach has a duty to sack him.”

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said,“I charge that the Minister has acted as judge and jury against a private citizen.  He has violated Articles 38 and 40 of the Constitution, which provide that no citizen shall be tried, save in due course of law, and that all citizens shall be held equal before the law.  In what way was the security of this State threatened in the last few weeks?  How exactly did the Minister envisage that giving confidential Garda files to a newspaper would address that supposed threat and advance democracy and the security of this State?  He has failed in his opening remarks to explain exactly how due process was safeguarded or even observed by his actions.  Does he believe in the presumption that someone is innocent unless proven guilty?

“The Minister must state how many other requests from Independent Newspapers for confidential Garda information have resulted in his leaking material to the media.  Is he the ‘Garda source’ so often reported in the tabloids?  The Minister has breached the spirit of his own Garda Síochána Act 2005 by disclosing confidential Garda information. The criminal offence is punishable by five years' imprisonment.  I call on him to resign.  If he does not, the Taoiseach has a duty to sack him.” ENDS

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Commenting on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the PPARS computer system in the health services, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said:

"The C&AG Report highlights the massive waste of public money on the bungled PPARS system. The bill rose from the original estimate of €9.1 million to a projected cost of €195 million to the end of next year. This project has enriched consultants and others with no resultant savings or greater efficiencies for the health services. On the contrary, the bungled system has set back progress towards integrated health services.

"Successive Ministers for Health and Children must accept responsibility for this fiasco.

"In reply to my Dáil Question last month, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney gave the average annual cost of medical card health service entitlements as €954.62 per person. The €195,000,000 wasted on PPARS would pay for medical card services for over 204,000 people for a full year. Before the last General Election this government promised to extend the medical card to a further 200,000 people. They duly broke that promise as they continued to allow public money to be poured down the drain, enriching private businesses while public patients suffered.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast Alex Maskey has today given a 'cautious' welcome to the decision by British Minister Shaun Woodward's commitment to ensure that approximately 40 families affected by the recent floods in the Lower Ormeau Road area will be compensated.

On a visit to the district, Mr Woodward promised that payments of between £1,000 and £2,000 would be made available to families as early as tomorrow.

Speaking this afternoon Mr Maskey said:

"I am pleased that Mr Woodward has visited the Lower Ormeau to view the damages caused by the recent flooding in the area, albeit almost two weeks ago. I also welcome the fact that his department is prepared to accept responsibility for the fact that the system failed in this district.

"Residents are encouraged by the fact that an immediate emergency payment will be made within the next 24 hours of between £1,000 and £2,000 will be made available to those most affected by the floods. I am hopeful that Mr Woodward's pledges will be met in the days ahead to help those affected in the lead up to Christmas." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Truth, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has challenged the British Secretary of State Peter Hain to state clearly his government's approach to the issues of truth, healing and closure.

Mr McGuigan said:

"Today's further postponement of the Billy Wright Inquiry is further evidence of the British Government's contempt for those trying to shine a light into the past.

" The irony of it is that this isn't even an independent inquiry but rather one being held under the discredited Inquiries Act which this government introduced in order to limit the scope of any investigations into the past. It is also of course further irony given the fact that many believe that Billy Wright and his gang were working for many years closely with the British State in a campaign of sectarian murder and terror.

" Just as we witnessed during the Saville inquiry, the Barron Inquiries and any number of attempts to uncover the truth about the past, the British Government will use any number of tactics and excuses to frustrate the search for historical clarification.

" Yesterday we learned that documents relating to the state-sponsored Miami Showband massacre may not be accessible due to their being held in a building containing asbestos. And today we have the British Law Lord appointed to head an inquiry complaining about a lack of cooperation from the Prison Authorities and other State Agencies." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking today at the launch of 'Mná na hÉireann, Unfinished Revolution' a series of cards outlining the positive role played over the past 200 years by Irish Republican women, said that: This year has witnessed significant initiatives by republicans to create the conditions for forward progress. While republicans remain ready, willing and able to play our full part in advancing the political process the onus to break the current stalemate rests with the two governments and the DUP'

Mr. Adams said:

"The IRA announcement to formally end its armed campaign is now five months old. The weapons issue was also decisively resolved several months ago.

Republican initiatives have cleared the way and removed any excuses for delay. Immediately after the Christmas period Sinn Féin believes it will be long past the time for the two governments to make a real effort to see substantial progress.

Between now and then the challenge for the DUP is to decide whether or not it is up to working with Sinn Féin and the other parties to manage the political, social and economic affairs of the people of this part of Ireland in their interests.

The Church leaders, business people, civic unionism need to use this time to send a clear message to the DUP that further prevarication is not acceptable.

Direct rule is a failure - a costly political and financial failure. The onus is on the DUP to ensure that the tough decisions that have to be taken on health and education and rates and water charges and all the other matters which affect peoples daily lives are taken by politicians here and not by unaccountable direct rule Ministers.

The governments must make clear to that party that there is only one way forward and that is through the Good Friday Agreement. The British government especially cannot allow the rejectionist position of the DUP to delay, frustrate or block progress."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caolain TD has announced that Sinn Féin has Submitted “two very reasonable amendments” to the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005.

Speaking in the Dáil during private members business this evening he said, “Sinn Féin fully supports the proposed Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2005.  The problems that this Bill seeks to rectify have been allowed to persist for far too long with the terrible consequence that families have been denied justice and the court has been restricted in its ability to identify recommendations to prevent further fatalities.  We commend the Bill to the House and urge all to support it. 

“However without wishing to unnecessarily delay the Bill Sinn Féin have submitted two very reasonable amendments with the purpose of addressing two further priorities that we had identified.  The Bill as proposed does not cover two very important issues.  In light of the good will in the House I would urge Deputies to consider improving the Bill by ensuring that it puts mandatory inquests into deaths occurring in custody and following custody on a legislative basis.   The need for this is clearly illustrated by the tragic death of Brian Rossiter.

“I also believe that the Bill would be greatly improved by the inclusion of a provision enshrining ‘the public interest’ as a positive principle underpinning the purpose of the Coroners Court.  The Court should be encouraged to make general recommendations where this could prevent future fatalities, particularly in custody and hospital settings.  To achieve this the Coroner’s Act must be reformed to allow a broader interpretation of the purpose of the Coroners court thereby allowing it to ask all the necessary questions.

“In the tragic case of young Frances Sheridan who died following her discharge from Cavan General Hospital, the Court was not allowed to ask the questions that were necessary to fully understand the causes of her death and hence to make recommendations aimed at preventing further fatalities.  The Court should be in a position to examine the understaffing, under-funding and mismanagement of our health services that tragically contribute to preventable deaths.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin Belfast City Council Group Leader Cllr. Paul Maskey today said
that the victims of State violence will be angered at Alban Maginness and
other SDLP Councillors 'hobnobbing' with the Colonel and Chief
of the Parachute Regiment, Charles Windsor in the City Hall last night.

Cllr. Maskey said:

" In recent weeks after being silent on the issue of state violence and collusion for three decades Alban Maginness and the SDLP have been using the issue to try and score cheap political points. Last night the mask slipped and Alban Maginness and his SDLP colleagues in Belfast City Hall hobnobbed with the Colonel and Chief of the British Parachute Regiment Charles Windsor.

" Nationalists and republicans need no reminders of the actions of the Paras on the streets of the six counties for the past thirty years and more. From the murder of civilians on the streets of Derry on Bloody Sunday to the promotion through their ranks of the convicted murderer Lee Clegg their legacy in Ireland is one of murder, violence and repression.

" Last night instead of challenging the head of this discredited regiment Alban Maginness instead chose to chat with Windsor who he described as 'a mutual friend'. This sort of pathetic bowing before a British Monarch, while not untypical of the SDLP, does show clearly the priority the SDLP place on the victims of state violence and the need for the British
Crown Forces to come clean on their activities in the six counties." ENDS



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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP and Bairbre de Brún MEP will meet with the European Commissioner for Transport Jacques Barrot this afternoon to discuss the Irish Ferries dispute and wider maritime issues.

Ms McDonald will hold the meeting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg
at 4.30pm (5.30pm Strasbourg time).

Speaking before the meeting Ms McDonald said that she would be 'pressing
Commissioner Barrot for the EU to introduce a Ferries Directive to deal
with ferries operating in European waters under flags of convenience'.
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Sinn Féin MP for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy today said that the news that the IMC is exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act adds further evidence to the belief that this organisation is operating in the shadows afraid of the glare of public attention.

Mr Murphy said:

"Since its inception the IMC has operated as little more than a tool of the British securocrats. Its purpose is to provide political cover for those hostile to the peace process and hostile to the involvement of Sinn Féin in it.

"Given the fact that the IMC is in the main made up of and reliant upon spooks and spies it will come as no surprise that they have been exempted from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. This fact will add further evidence to the widely held belief that this organisation is operating in the shadows afraid of the glare of public attention.

"Sinn Féin will continue to resist attacks on the political process, our party and our electorate by this unelected and unaccountable quango. Unlike those who back this grouping Sinn Féin will continue to stand by the Good Friday Agreement and defend it in the face of securocrat attacks." ENDS



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Speaking ahead of the launch of the Ilex Regeneration Framework Plan, which will be unveiled tomorrow, Tuesday 13th December, Sinn Fein General Secretary and Economy spokesperson, Mitchel McLaughlin has expressed a cautious optimism that the City and indeed the greater North West Region may finally begin to witness some tangible progress for the social and economic regeneration of the North West.

Mitchel Mc Laughlin said:

"The Ilex Regeneration Framework Plan should present an effective strategy for the City and Region to develop and particularly on how best to utilise the potential of the two former British Army sites at Fort George and Ebrington.

"I will also be very interested to see how the proposals will address the role of Magee campus as a prime driver in delivering for the Region as a centre of Educational Excellence.

"This would require the University to expand its faculties to offer international best practice in terms of research capability, gaining recognition as a centre of excellence in Information & Communication Technology, Medical disciplines and other key sectors.

"I am also hopeful that the Plan will allow us to build on road and rail transport and other infrastructural linkages on an All-Ireland basis. Both Peter Hain, the British Secretary of State and Dermott Ahern the Irish Foreign Minister in recent days have acknowledged the practicability of developing the Derry/Donegal region as a single travel to work area. Their economic futures are intertwined. The City of Derry Airport, and Seaport for instance, have an obvious role to play in providing not only economic but huge social benefits to the entire region.

"Sinn Fein has consistently argued that this region needs a major financial injection to allow for proper infrastructural development. I hope that this will form part of tomorrow's announcement.

"Special attention should also be paid to the huge potential of the Region in terms of tourism and cultural development that would market the City Centre as a cultural, tourist and heritage hub.

Mr. McLaughlin concluded:

"The Ilex Plan must offer this region the opportunity to build the potential of our road, rail, air and seaport infrastructure to rejuvenate economic activity here. It is crucial that it promotes Derry as a prime site to locate business, with a highly skilled / trained workforce that can compete with Belfast, Dublin or Cork. Derry is the fourth largest city on the island and has the potential to spark the development of the entire Atlantic Corridor. Ilex, in this plan must demonstrate that it can get it right and deliver tangible applicable results."

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Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Arthur Morgan T.D. has described the minuscule nature of the reduction in the number on social housing waiting lists as further evidence of the inadequacy of the government's response to the housing crisis.

Deputy Morgan said, "At a time of unprecedented wealth and unprecedented revenue surpluses it is an indictment of this Government that 43,600 families remain on social housing waiting lists. Yet we have Minister of State with responsibility for Housing Noel Ahern strutting around behaving as if what amounts to a decrease of around 3% per annum in the number of those on waiting lists is a huge achievement. It is not. 43,600 households on social housing lists is nothing to be proud.

"There needs to be some careful examination of these figures to determine whether people have actually received social housing or whether it has merely been made more difficult for them to prove their housing needs by the introduction of a more complicated and bureaucratic assessment of needs form.

"The Minister cannot give any of the families currently on social housing waiting lists any indication as to when they might expect to be housed. There are still no targets for the elimination of housing waiting lists and the Governments commitments in regard to housing are weighed heavily in favour of so called affordable housing.

"The Government announcement of 23,000 new social housing starts over the next three years falls far short of the recommendations in the NESC report on housing which called for an increase in the social housing stock of 73,000 units in net terms from 2005-2012. The Government commitment is remarkably weak when one considers that a large number of social housing units will be sold under the tenant purchase scheme particularly in light to of the announcement that Dublin City Council is being given the go head to make its flats available for sale to tenants." ENDS

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Commenting on Justice Minister Michael McDowell’s admission that he supplied Independent Newspapers with a controversial passport application Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said, “The Minister’s actions have proved that he is not fit to serve in the position of Minister for Justice and he should now resign.”

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, “Michael McDowell has said that the document that he leaked to the media was not a confidential document. However, all passport applications are confidential. If one is ‘bogus and fraudulent’, as the Minister puts it, it does not mean that it is no longer confidential. It should be passed on to the Gardaí and remain confidential.

“The Minister has some questions to answer in this case. Where did he get this document? Did he receive it from the Gardaí? Or did he pass it on to the Gardaí?

“By passing this confidential document on to the media he has turned the Justice system on its head. The Minister’s actions have proved that he is not fit to serve in the position of Minister for Justice and he should now resign. It is typical of McDowell to interpret the remit of his role as Minister to serve his own ends contrary to the basic principles of the judicial system in Ireland – innocent until proven guilty.

“He has already admitted that he does not believe in equality and now he has shown that he has scant regard for the basic principles of the judicial system. So we now have a Minister for Justice and Equality who does not believe in equality and who does not understand the justice system.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP will tonight address the European Parliament to voice her support for calls to designate 2007 European Year on Equal Opportunities for All.

Ms McDonald said that she was "committed not just to the concept of equality of opportunity but to equality of outcome".

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"All people should be entitled to full social, economic and cultural equality. This encompasses the equality of all people on this island irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, marital or family status, sexual orientation, disability, socio-economic status, or political or religious affiliations.

"Societal inequality is not a natural phenomenon but a direct result of power inequalities and Sinn Féin wants to play its part in changing all of this. That is why I want to endorse the calls to designate 2007 the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. The fact that this idea has been suggested at all is recognition that inequality is rife within society.

"In Ireland, we are still coming to terms with the legacy of British rule and the continued partition of our country, along with decades of discrimination in the electoral process, in housing, employment, policing and the judiciary. Celtic Tiger Ireland should have been a success story for all of the Irish people, yet we remain one of the most unequal societies in the EU despite being the wealthiest.

"The reports focus on both migrants and women is commendable.

"A European year must be about much more than raising awareness regarding discrimination. Equality legislation alone will not succeed in tackling the deep-rooted inequalities that exist without the political will of politicians, policy-makers and others to grasp the nettle and comprehensively tackle discrimination." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Dublin Spokesperson on the Environment, Councillor Daithí Doolan, has said that, "lack of resources for Dublin Fire Brigade is putting lives at risk." Councillor Doolan has called on the four local authorities in Dublin, as a matter of urgency, to carry out a city wide Fire Risk Assessment in accordance with government legislation. This will determine what resources, personnel, finance and training must be allocated to our city.

Speaking today, Cllr. Doolan said:

"I can only describe as deadly dangerous the lack of planning put in to the Dublin Fire Brigade. I have had two meetings with senior fire fighters here in Dublin and I am shocked at the evidence presented to me. Following one of the meetings I agreed to raise the issues with the City Manager. The responses which I have received are wholly unacceptable. It is at best a band aid solution at worst an ostrich approach, bury your head in the sand in the hope everything will be ok.

"The four local authorities in Dublin must, as a matter of urgency, carry out a city wide Fire Risk Assessment in accordance with government legislation. This will determine what resources, personnel, finance and training must be allocated to our city. Unfortunately to date, the management refuse to carry out this essential Fire Risk Assessment. As Dublin continues to grow and develop so should the Fire Brigade who protect the residents and their property, but since there has been no Risk Assessment carried out the Fire Brigade can not meet the new demands from a developing city.

"It has also become clear that Dublin Fire Brigade could not even take part in any of the European wide civil responses to recent humanitarian disasters simply because no adequate training or funding was provided.

"I will be meeting with Dublin Fire Brigade officials and trade union representatives again this week. I will continue to work with them until the demand for full and adequate cover for this city is met."

In conclusion Cllr. Doolan called on, "the City Manger to commission a Fire Risk Assessment immediately before this city is forced to deal with a disaster it is not prepared for." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O'Toole has described reports that clampers in Dublin have been put under pressure in the run up to Christmas to reach arbitrary targets of 275 cars a day "as another kick in the teeth for commuters in the city". He said "the bah humbug attitude of Dublin Street Parking Service has everything to do with profits and nothing to do with easing traffic chaos."

Councillor O'Toole said:

"Clamping was introduced by the City Management to deal with the issue of illegal parking but now we see Dublin Street Parking Service, the private company which runs the service, trying to abuse their position to further penalise commuters. The only reason to set these arbitrary targets is to increase profits. It has nothing to do with assisting traffic flow in the city. I will be contacting the company and the City Manager about the matter." ENDS

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Commenting on the release of figures by the Central Statistics Office which show one in five is at risk of poverty Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social and Family Affairs Seán Crowe TD said, “It is deeply disappointing that the Government didn’t use this years budget as a chance to tackle the root and branch causes of structural inequality.”             

Deputy Crowe said, “Given that the poverty threshold we are talking about here is as low as €9,680 a year it is astonishing that 20% of the population are now on or around that threshold. When we look at the average household income of €49,000 what emerges is a massive and ever growing gap between the have’s and have not’s in Irish society.

“It is to be regretted that the Government didn’t use this years budget as a chance to tackle the root and branch causes of structural inequality preferring instead to play at all things to all people with largely cosmetic or misdirected initiatives.

“I would have to say the awarding of €1.2 billion to the third level sector, in a situation where it is accepted that socio economic background play a determining role in access to third level education in the first place, shows the lob sided nature of this Government.” ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey has written to the Department for Regional Development to urge them to ensure that the issue of liability is dealt with immediately in relation to the recent flooding of homes on the Lower Ormeau Road saying, "This is a vitally important question given that the issue of compensation for residents cannot be resolved until this issue is dealt with. It is unacceptable that, two weeks before Christmas, residents are facing considerable facing hardship".

Cllr. Alex Maskey MLA said,

"Clearly there are serious questions which need to be addressed in respect of the failure of the water and sewerage system. This is especially so since substantial work has been carried out to upgrade the system. Further to this of course is the fact that the area has been flooded at least three times in recent years and worse on each executive occasion.

"I have written to the DRD in order to seek answers to a number of questions.

"Given that the multi-agency response is now underway there is one issue which must be dealt with immediately.

"The Water Service has promised to provide a report into what caused the flooding in the first instance and therein is the question of liability. The Water Service have so far not accepted responsibility and consequently the question of compensation has not yet been resolved leading to considerable hardship for many of those affected by the flood damage. While the DHSS has made a number of grants or loans available from the social fund this is no substitute for liability being established and compensation made available.

"There is great and justifiable anger within the local community that liability has not yet been accepted by Water Service and many families are struggling to deal with the adverse consequences. This is especially frustrating and hurtful so close to Christmas. "The DRD must ensure the question of liability is dealt with immediately while the following issues listed below are being dealt with in the time ahead:

1. Review of how the water/sewerage system failed;

2. Review of Water Service management response;

3. What remedial action is required e.g.

a. emergency re-housing/temporary accommodation

b. decontamination of homes and public realm

c. what repairs to homes have been required

d. what steps were taken to make financial assistance available to families who lost property, were displaced from their homes and /or were out-of-pocket for essential services, food, clothes or vehicles

e. what lessons have been learned from this experience? This is crucial since the Water Service were unable to cope with emergency and this had to be co-ordinated by Belfast City Council. This is despite the fact that the Lower Ormeau area is on the department‚s flood risk register.

4. What measures are required to prevent further flooding in this area?

He concluded,

"The short term priority must be to ensure that the issue of liability is dealt with immediately. The DRD has a responsibility in this and the issue of compensation cannot be dealt with until this issue is resolved. In the long term the DRD must ensure that this never happens again. Clearly, the lesson of the past have not been learned and this is unacceptable." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson will lead a party delegation including Derry City Councillor Maeve McLaughlin and Banbridge councillor Desmond Ward to hand in a petition of 12,000 signatures against cuts to Education Library Board services and the erosion of the Education System in the Six Counties. All three elected representatives come from areas that have suffered heavily from the British Government's so called 'efficiency savings'.

The Sinn Féin Education Representatives will hand in the petition protest at 10 Downing Street, London tomorrow, Tuesday December 13th at 11am

Commenting on the visit Michael Ferguson said:

"We have a petition of 12.000 signatures which is a token of the frustration and anger felt right across our society at the deteriorating conditions within our schools.

"In the last two years we have lost over 500 school staff. In one area alone we have lost over 78 school crossings (SEELB) and school transport in other rural areas, where it is most needed, has been eroded.

"In West Belfast we have lost 82 teaching and non-teaching staff from 18 schools since last year. Over half of these were classroom assistants. In one classroom, in one of the most deprived areas in the Six County, in a class of 30 children 19 are Special Needs. This clearly is not the most appropriate way to implement the new Special Needs Educational Order.

"Instead of offering hope and a new beginning the abolition of the 11+ and recently announced changes to school transfer and admissions procedures have added to the growing public alarm. Instead of building confidence by investing in our schools, the British government is boasting about so called 'efficiency savings' that have left schools without music and sports coaching, without safe routes to school and teachers whose morale is at an all time low.

"It is clear to us, parents, our voters and educationalists that the cost of direct rule is a price to high to pay. We are calling Tony Blair and his Government to trigger D'Hondt to re-establish the Assembly and Cross Border Institutions so that we can deliver our own educational entitlement with our own locally accountable ministers. In this way we can ensure a real budget to support education and learning.

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