Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today welcomed a report which seeks to protect Europe's declining eel population. Ms de Brún said that the report dovetails well with the considerable efforts that have been made on Lough Neagh to conserve stocks and protect the future of the industry.
Ms de Brún made her comments before supporting the own initiative report on 'the development of a Community Action Plan for the recovery of European eel'. The report was compiled by Albert Jan Maat MEP.
Speaking from Strasbourg Ms de Brún said:
"The sensible proposals contained within Mr Jan Maat's report will be welcomed wholeheartedly by those who wish to see this industry protected in a sustainable way that takes into account the need to protect the environment.
Over the years, eel stocks throughout the European Union have dropped dramatically. This is bad news not only for those who run commercial wild eel fisheries, but also the very existence of the species.
The Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative has taken great care over the years to manage the fishery in such a way as to conserve stocks, avoid pollution and protect the future of the industry. This has included the purchase of elvers once it became clear that natural recruitment was in serious decline. Unfortunately this approach was not always matched elsewhere leading to a crisis in the European eel population.
"I particularly welcome the proposals in today's report, therefore that the European Commission should carry out research into 'pollution as a factor in assessing possible causes of mortality among eel stocks in freshwater waterways', and that policy on the export of eels from Europe should be adjusted in such a way that enough glass eels are available for natural migration. These proposals should have a positive knock on effect within my own constituency.
"I want to pay particular tribute to the efforts which have been made by the Lough Neagh Fishermen's Co-operative Society to conserve eel stocks in the Lough. I presented a document on this issue to Commissioner Borg when he visited my constituency last week. My colleague Martin McGuinness MP has also met with the British Government to put the case for direct aid to support the sustainable development of stocks in Lough Neagh. Maintaining sustainable stock levels is vital to providing for the long-term future of eel fishing.
"My hope is that this report will help to cement the need for the conservation of the eel population in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has welcomed the decision of the US Administration to donate EUR12miliion into the International Fund for Ireland for distribution next year.
Ms de Brún said:
" This year marks the 20th anniversary of the International Fund for Ireland. In that time it has contributed to a variety of important projects both in the six counties and the border areas. The EU, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and US have all contributed to this important fund in that time.
" Today's announcement that the US have agreed to invest EUR12 million into the IFI for distribution next year is obviously welcome news. We need now to ensure that the other contributing countries follow this lead.
" I will be travelling to Australia and New Zealand next week and part of that trip will be to lobby for an extension of the International Fund monies from those countries.
" All of us in political leadership need to concentrate on consolidating the progress made in recent times and building upon it. Part of that work must be to ensure Peace III funding from the EU, a continuation of the IFI and the securing of a genuine peace dividend from the British and Irish government to underpin the work of any future power sharing executive." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly has reiterated his party's support for the family of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in their campaign for an independent international inquiry into his murder. Mr Kelly 's comments come as the Finucane family meet with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern in Dublin.
Mr Kelly said:
" Despite a public commitment after Weston Park to establish an inquiry into this killing the British government have subsequently brought forward legislation which, in the view of the Finucane family would ensure that any inquiry held within these parameters would not deliver the truth.
" The British state has from the outset sought to frustrate the Finucane family in their pursuit of justice and truth. They have sought to cover-up the role of their own agents in this and other killings. It seems that this policy is continuing.
" Sinn Féin will continue to support the Finucane family in their campaign for the truth. It is also important that the Irish government do likewise. They need to make it clear to the British government that the sort of concealment and evasion which has been the mark of the British government approach to this case up until now and also to the inquires established into the Dublin/Monaghan bomb and the Seamus Ludlow case is unacceptable and must end and end." ENDS
It has been over three years since the British Government suspended the Assembly and the Executive on October 14th 2002.
In that time, British Direct Rule has undermined the Programme for Government and the priorities agreed by members of the last Executive and Assembly. Driven not by a commitment to serve the people of the north, but by a Whitehall imperative to slash public spending, British Direct Rule Ministers have refused to adequately finance badly needed services, programmes and reforms that were identified as essential to make social and economic progress. While Direct Rule persists, this will not change.
Direct rule is not just undemocratic. It's not just bad for the Peace Process. Direct Rule has proven bad for our economy and bad for our society. It has made it impossible to manage the economy in the interests of all. It has impeded the delivery of essential services to all on an equal basis. It has stalled the process of reform in healthcare and education. It has inflicted damage on the agricultural sector. It has therefore imposed unacceptable economic costs and social costs.
It's high time to count the costs of Direct Rule, and to set about putting it right.
Direct Rule: Counting the Costs
Direct Rule Ministers have not operated in the interests of the people of the north.
In some cases this is partly attributable to Ministerial disengagement or incompetence. For example, Direct Rule Ministers recently overlooked the fact that we were about to lose EU Peace funding. But such indifference and incompetence only compound the central problem, which is structurally inherent to Direct Rule -- that is unaccountability. We have no way of removing those from power who either cannot perform or who follow an agenda detrimental to the interests of our people.
The main problem with Direct Rule Ministers is that they are interim appointees with no mandate and accountable to nobody in the north. Their ability to deliver has no impact on their political futures. Further, their decisions are circumscribed by a broader agenda and policy imperatives that have nothing to do with the people of the north. They have flatly refused to listen to either the genuine concerns raised by democratically mandated politicians or the local expertise of community and voluntary organisations.
Direct Rule decisions have had broad negative consequences for us all.
Thirty years plus of British under-investment has meant that major economic and social infrastructural deficits impeding our development remain unaddressed. Spending cuts in the most recent Direct Rule Budget will further devastate services across a range of areas.
So there are specific costs of Direct Rule that can be counted, which impact on the economy, agriculture, healthcare and education, some of which are detailed in this document.
The fact that the British Government is now determined to force us down the road to privatisation of services and greater dependency on PFI and PPP makes ending Direct Rule a matter of urgency. If PPP/PFI contracts are signed under Direct Rule, this will bind any future Assembly and Executive into a policy straitjacket and severely restrict its freedom of action for decades to come.
Direct Rule is therefore a liability to all of our society -- nationalists and unionists alike.
...And Putting It Right
Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed more than seven years ago the institutions have functioned properly for less than 18 months. This dysfunction and the more recent lengthy suspension have denied us all an adequate opportunity to work together to reverse three decades of British Direct Rule and unionist misrule.
We urgently need to get the institutions back up and running so we can start to undo the damage now. Any further delay will only compound our problems with continued under-investment, mis-investment and under-funding of services. This will mean further damage to our economy, our education and healthcare systems and our rural communities. It will mean that the fight against poverty, disadvantage and inequality will slide even further down the policy agenda.
The IRA decision to end its armed campaign and complete the process of putting arms beyond use has opened up a new opportunity to get the institutions back up and running. Failure to make the most of this opportunity benefits no one, as this will consign us all to more bad decisions under Direct Rule.
This is a challenge for us all. Unionists have walked away from every initiative aimed at restoring the institutions. Their refusal to engage and agree a way forward has penalised everyone, not just republicans. The question is -- how long will the DUP allow Direct Rule Ministers to take decisions to the detriment of people in the north?
The political institutions must be restored. The British Government must deliver a Peace Dividend that can be invested by locally accountable government for the common good. And we must all work together collectively to plan our new society.
Sinn Féin is up to the challenge.
I. Direct Rule and Economic Management
Economic Cost of Direct Rule No. 1 -- An Inefficient, Ineffective and Unequal Economy
Several centuries of British rule followed by decades of unionist misrule created an inefficient, ineffective and unequal economy. This has been consolidated under contemporary British Direct Rule by Ministerial failure to redress structural weaknesses and wrong policy choices.
Headlines about growing prosperity and employment disguise the reality that more than half a million people in the north of Ireland are still 'economically inactive'. Just under half are on long-term sickness or incapacity benefit (the bulk of the remainder are pensioners and students).
Under Direct Rule between 2002-2004 the north lost proportionately more manufacturing jobs than any area of Britain or Ireland. The only growth in jobs has been in the part-time, low wage female service sector. While the creation of such jobs boosts employment statistics it has no real effect on reducing or eliminating poverty.
Direct Rule Ministers are not motivated to engage in the profound structural reform and investment necessary to reverse this situation and truly revitalise the economy. Instead, they are satisfied if they can cut spending to the greatest extent possible without causing economic and social collapse under their watch.
These, therefore, are the ongoing economic costs of Direct Rule.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.1: Persistent Structural Weakness in the Economy
The structural economic problems in the north are by now familiar. They include:
• The loss of the manufacturing base, and consequent poor productivity
• A lack of focus on R&D, training and skills
• Over-dependence on the public sector and service industries
• Poor infrastructure
• Imbalanced regional development
The result is an inefficient, ineffective and unequal economy characterised by high levels of economic inactivity, poverty and inequality.
In their 'Economic Vision' document last year, even the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) recognised that the main obstacle facing the economy in the north of Ireland is the lack of economic sovereignty -- that fiscal policy, taxes and public expenditure, along with the regulatory frameworks, are set in Whitehall not in Belfast. In other words, Direct Rule is the problem.
Another impediment is partition itself. It has made the economy less viable.
A small island with a population of just over 5 million people cannot develop successful economic strategies on the basis of economic division. The smaller northern economy within that is unsustainable by itself and cannot exist in isolation.
The devastating economic consequences of partition are most obvious in the border counties, but the impact is broader in that the north as a whole has been excluded from the economic advances of the 26 Counties.
Partition also means automatically forfeiting economies of scale available from island-wide initiatives. For example, indisputably the most efficient response to the infrastructure deficit common to both jurisdictions is to establish all-island Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), energy and transport networks that include the North West.
Thus, competition between north and south and neglect of all-Ireland economic opportunities is wasting money every day.
We know the two macro-structural problems in our economy are lack of sovereignty and partition. No British Government review can really ensure efficiency, avoid duplication and make the most of finite resources while partition and Direct Rule remain in place.
The only way to truly transform the economy in the north of Ireland is to set it in the context of an island-wide strategy for development and regeneration. To succeed, any economic development strategy must at a minimum remove the barriers to north/south business development and trade and to cross-border working mobility.
Putting it Right: It is only by adopting a unified approach to the development of an all-Ireland economic strategy that our economy and the country as a whole will achieve its full potential. As an immediate interim measure we need to end Direct Rule, restore the Assembly and devise an agreed remedial package in the common interest, with a strong all-Ireland dimension.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Prioritise further development and expansion of the existing All-Ireland Implementation Bodies and Areas of Co-operation such as IntertradeIreland.
- Push for the amalgamation of investment agencies such as Invest NI and IDA Ireland. In the short term, rather than being competitors, they should work together on harmonising investment regimes and sectoral development strategies, and towards a fair geographical share-out of inward investment.
- Increase investment in partnerships to deliver the skills required to increase small businesses, meet the skill requirements of small businesses while also increasing investment in new indigenous and existing small business support. (Currently 60% of INI's budget is in direct foreign investment which is a tried, tested and failed strategy e.g. Europa Tool, CC Technologies etc.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.2: Persistent Poverty and Inequality
In the north half a million people live in poor households. One hundred and fifty thousand children live in poverty, as do 50% of disabled people's households.
Persistent and deep-rooted poverty exists in both unionist and nationalist areas and in both rural and urban areas. Sinn Féin recognises this, and wants it to end.
Seven years on from the Good Friday Agreement, instead of measurable progress achieved across the range of social, economic and cultural disparities that prevail, inequalities are actually deepening. This is because the equality and human rights components of the Good Friday Agreement that should help remediate the cross-community problem of poverty have been deliberately blocked, undermined and minimised.
Under Direct Rule the British Government has failed to give the appropriate political, economic and legislative leadership and has largely abdicated responsibility for decision-making on key policy areas to bureaucrats and civil servants who have acted as gatekeepers against change.
Political parties who have not worked together to put them under pressure to ensure that tackling poverty is a priority have let direct Rule Ministers off the hook. There is huge unrealised potential in bringing our political forces together such as under the West Belfast and Shankill Economic Taskforce. But such successes have only been possible when the Assembly was functioning.
This failure of political leadership has given the green light to those within unionism historically opposed to equality in the north, who have consistently denied their role in fostering and maintaining the conditions in which inequality thrives. Direct Rule has therefore minimised the impact of the Equality Agenda.
As a consequence, the most recent statistics from OFMDFM Indicators of Social Need for NI (September 2004) show that on every social indicator nationalists continue to be worst affected. However, the levels of comparable and consistent disadvantage in some unionist areas are equally unacceptable and have also not significantly changed under Direct Rule.
Putting it Right: Everyone without exception deserves to be lifted out of the poverty trap. We need to tackle disadvantage everywhere it exists. This requires the restoration of the Assembly, cooperation on anti-poverty strategies and prioritisation of public spending on the basis of objective need alone. Any other approach, particularly one based on religious or sectarian criteria, will only compound inequality.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Ensure public spending is prioritised on the basis of objective and fulfils Section 75 requirements.
- Push for an anti-poverty strategy that tackles unemployment, low pay, the under-provision of childcare, and educational and health inequalities suffered by all deprived and marginalised communities.
- Fast-track development of a comprehensive plan to eliminate the historic gap between rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, West and East of the Bann including strategies to eliminate inequalities in housing, infrastructure investment, and community development.
- Harness the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement to create a society based on the full expression of equality and human rights for all and the prospect of a different social, political and economic landscape emerging out of decades of sectarianism, discrimination and division.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.3: Persistent Investment Disparities
The Invest NI (INI) report published in July 2005 shows that Direct Rule Ministers have presided over a continuing imbalance in the targeting of investment resources to the detriment of the areas of highest deprivation and unemployment.
INI claim that more than 80% of investment is located in Targeting Social Need (TSN) areas. The figures show that this is clearly not the case.
For example, despite high deprivation and unemployment and demonstrably great need, West Belfast received fewer offers of financial assistance than any other constituency. North and West Belfast together received less than a third of the financial assistance given to South and East Belfast for 2003-04 (£12.6 million compared to £41.5 million).
West of the Bann has received only 10% of assistance given and is due to receive only 10% of planned investment.
Investment is also not being directed to border areas despite well-documented evidence that these are severely disadvantaged.
For example, the five border constituencies (South Down, Newry and Armagh, Foyle, West Tyrone, and Fermanagh and South Tyrone) together have received, and will receive, less planned assistance than South Belfast alone. South Belfast is set to receive nearly one third of all INI planned investment in the current financial cycle.
Overall Belfast gets the lion's share of INI support, having received over 45% of all assistance in 2003-04, and set to get an even greater share of all planned investment. In comparison all seven border councils (Armagh, Omagh, Newry and Mourne, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Strabane and Derry) will receive just over 20% of planned investment. The seven councils West of the Bann received £20 million less than Belfast in 2003-04 and the planned investment is £92 million less.
In fact a council-by-council analysis of the distribution of investment by INI shows that the six most income and employment-deprived council areas (Strabane, Derry, Omagh, Moyle, Cookstown and Newry and Mourne) received less financial assistance and will receive less planned investment than the wealthy parliamentary constituency of South Belfast. Moyle Council is at the bottom of the table for number of offers, actual assistance and planned investment. These six most deprived council areas received only £5,752 financial assistance per person within their council area compared to almost five times as much (£27,054) per person in South Belfast.
The correlation between those areas that are losing out on Invest NI support -- West of the Bann, the border counties, North and West Belfast -- with the mapping of areas that are the most deprived and have the least jobs is highly significant.
Under Direct Rule Invest NI are clearly failing in their duty to not only equality-proof their investment strategy but are failing to ensure tangible equality outcomes. By replicating patterns of neglect, under-investment, disadvantage and discrimination, Invest NI has become part of the problem. They have no commitment to seriously tackling economic and social need. Direct Rule Ministers have shown no interest in challenging or changing this.
Putting it Right: Equitable economic development in the Six Counties requires the elimination of this entrenched disparity in investment. This will only happen if the Assembly is restored, and objective need is made the primary basis for investment.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Ensure that both INI and DETI are made accountable for these failures.
- Set targets and timetables to urgently redress investment imbalances.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.4: Ill-Advised Budgetary Cuts
It would be impossible to catalogue here all the ill-advised budget cuts made by Direct Rule Ministers. Nor does this short document allow for a fully detailed statement of the cumulative impact of British budgeting that has created the economic mess that a restored Assembly would have to try to rectify.
The recent decision to cut funding to the Start a Business Programme (SaBP), a core Invest NI programme, provides but one illustrative example of the disconnect between social value and spending decisions under Direct Rule.
We all know that outside the Belfast region the bulk of new business growth and new jobs will be from local small businesses. In this regard, SaBP has proven to be a successful programme creating additional jobs and wealth, consistent with DETI's Economic Vision, which identifies enterprise as one of the four drivers of the economy.
Nevertheless, this year the budget for SaBP was cut almost in half, from £6.7m per annum to £3.5m. Notwithstanding the fact that this cut was due to a loss of money from Europe via local councils, Direct Rule Ministers failed to prepare for this loss and failed to make up the shortfall. The impact of this will be the loss of between 900 and 1500 potential jobs and a loss of turnover to the economy of between £12 and £19 million. Without a functioning Assembly there was no one to step in and ensure that this budget remained a priority and protected it from unwarranted cuts.
Putting it Right: We need to restore the Assembly in order to rid ourselves of such patently poor budgetary decision-making under Direct Rule. However there is also an onus on the British Government to deliver on the Peace Dividend to tackle these problems.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Equality-proof, human rights-proof and poverty-proof all budgets;
- Ensure that small, locally-owned businesses remain a policy and budgetary priority.
- Push for delivery of a Peace Dividend with an economic development package from Britain that includes:
- Public expenditure commitments
- Job creation strategies that create higher value jobs.
- Support for indigenous industry
- Balanced regional economic and infrastructure development.
- Investment in R&D, training and skills.
- Effective implementation of the statutory equality duty.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.5: Persistent Infrastructure Deficit
Investors will go where the infrastructure is and avoid the areas where it is absent. As a consequence of a persistent lack of infrastructure and consequent investment, the most deprived region in the north is West of the Bann, particularly in relation to unemployment and income levels, as confirmed most recently in the PWC Annual Report 2005 and Multiple Deprivation Measures (NISRA, May 2005). Direct Rule Ministers have done little or nothing to change this.
Their ongoing neglect of the transport infrastructure in Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh is just one example. The lack of motivation to change this under Direct Rule was illustrated by the statement of a senior civil servant at a seminar in Derry in October 2004, that the Belfast -- Derry route may get a dual carriageway by 2025, but even then it would only go as far as Dungiven.
The practical out-working of this ongoing neglect of the infrastructure deficit under Direct Rule is that while the overall manufacturing loss in the north is 6%, in Derry it is 34% - more than five times greater.
Without strategically managed infrastructural development, the northwest will continue to face higher unemployment and lower levels of income. A long term, sustainable capital investment programme with an All-Ireland dimension is required to deliver balanced regional development.
Rather than doing this, however, Direct Rule Ministers are pushing through a privatisation agenda that will lock in 25-30 year infrastructural development contracts, despite the cross-jurisdictional evidence showing that Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) or Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) are not always the most efficient or cost effective.
- June 2005 - after spending £14m on lawyers, consultants, architects and miscellaneous sundries, the NHS ditched plans for the Paddington health campus in west London, because projected costs rose from £360m to £1.1 billion, and the number of beds fell from 1000 to 800. This wasn't the case with a PFI scheme at Walsgrave hospital where the number of beds fell by 20%, while costs rose by 1100%.
- June 17th 2005 - Scottish ministers decided it was cheaper to spend £25m buying out the private financiers who built the Inverness airport terminal than to let them carry on. In six years, corporations made £8.5m on an investment of £5.5m.
- The Skye Bridge was bought back by the Scottish Executive in 2004 for £27m. Total cost to the public was £93.6m for a bridge that should have cost £15m.
- June 9th 2005 - a senior civil servant in the British Department of Health revealed that PFI deals were locking the NHS into 30-year contracts for services that might become useless in five.
Without a functioning Assembly, there is no way to effectively challenge the PPP/PFI dogma, or to even demand an accurate comparative costing on a project-by-project basis.
Putting it Right: We need to restore the Assembly in order to regain control over the future of infrastructure development and to ensure that the people in the Six Counties really do the get best deal and real value for money.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Work for balanced regional development and set targets and timetables to urgently redress infrastructural imbalances.
- Establish a PPP-PFI watchdog body to monitor existing contracts.
- Ensure that all options are examined for public funding of future projects to guarantee value for money and that the best interests of the people in the Six Counties are being served.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.6: Increasing Energy Costs
It is well established that the privatisation deal (and particularly the fixed long-term generation contracts) brokered by Direct Rule Ministers in the 1990s has been a disaster in the north. The previous Regulator, Douglas McIldoon, revealed that by the end of the decade electricity privatisation will have taken an additional £1 billion out of the local economy.
The Direct Rule energy deal has been bad for the individual domestic customer and bad for the economy.
Putting it Right: The Assembly must be restored to address this as a matter of urgency, and should pressure the British Government to accept responsibility for this bad deal. It should demand that the British Government come forward with a plan to create a level playing field for our businesses, significantly bring down electricity prices and eradicate fuel poverty.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Work to eradicate fuel poverty, which contributes to over 1,300 early deaths of older people every year from cold-related illnesses.
- Lead the debate around the need for a British Government intervention to buy-out the remaining life of the generation contracts and to allow, for example, new entrants into the energy market such as ESB to set a lower and more competitive price given the commitment to create a single all-Ireland energy market.
- Ensure that private companies in the energy sector do not make super-profits while people struggle to pay energy bills.
- Hold these companies to account and ensure that they act in a transparent manner, adhering to the regulatory framework.
Economic Cost of Direct Rule No. 2: A Rural Crisis
Direct Rule Ministers have presided over a rural crisis. Farming and fishing incomes are falling and poverty levels are increasing in rural communities.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.1: A Spiralling Crisis in Agriculture
Direct Rule agriculture policy and the separate development of the northern agriculture sector as a result of partition have worked against northern farmers.
Agriculture has a very important part to play in the North's economy, 80,000 jobs are dependent upon its existence.
In the north the continued link to British farming policy has been detrimental not beneficial -- from the impact of the Beef export ban to the delays in making the Single Farm Payments. Direct Rule is responsible for a spiralling crisis in agriculture.
Direct Rule has undermined progress in key areas including the animal health strategy. For example, at a time when UK produce is viewed throughout the world with suspicion, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) have followed an outdated, restrictive and harmful UK policy agenda instead of adopting an all Ireland approach to selling Irish food. Instead they have insisted in labelling food products and beef as UK.
Despite the north's clean bill of health for many years, our have farmers suffered massive losses running into tens of millions of pounds as a result of the beef exports ban. Millions more were lost in destroying animals over thirty months as required under British agricultural policy, while many other European States tested animals over this age to allow safe animals into the food chain. The South also took similar steps to test animals over thirty months to allow them enter the food chain several years ago. Yet the North's administration has stubbornly refused to seek the regionalisation of the North's beef industry to be allowed to test these animals.
Meanwhile there has been no progress on removing UK status from animals in the north of Ireland. This has compelled the agricultural industry to take whatever price UK supermarkets feel like giving them, costing farmers many millions of pounds. The average beef farm lost in excess of £5,000 last year, yet Direct Rule Ministers failed to act.
Farmers are now caught in a nightmare scenario of falling prices and increasing costs. At the same time as our beef farmers are losing up to £150 per head , they are also facing huge bills with land rental, contractors and fertiliser payments due in the same period. Banks have stopped extending bank overdrafts and started refusing cheques. Meanwhile the Single Farm Payment for this year (2005) will probably not be paid until early 2006, and DARD will not be able to pay our farmers until the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has the English, Scottish and Welsh farmers sorted out. Again due to the fact that the North is tied to UK policy, and the EU make payments to the UK, we are unable to move forward until the other UK regions have calculated their payment entitlements.
The impediments that currently hamper the development of a proper policy need to be removed to allow farmers to sell a world-class product for maximum return. They also need greater ownership and control of an organisation that will be the advocate for marketing our red meat industry.
Given the loss in farm incomes over many years of Direct Rule, the hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted and mismanaged by DARD have had a severe overall impact on rural communities and their economies.
If these disadvantages weren't enough, Direct Rule has also stifled an all-Ireland approach to agriculture. In particular, DARD has ignored the massive potential all-Ireland marketing would bring to the northern producers, who could benefit from capitalising on a 'clean green Irish' brand. In addition, promises made during the lifetime of the Assembly to create an all-Ireland animal and plant health policy, have been buried under Direct Rule.
Putting it Right: Recognising the damage that being tied to UK Agriculture policy has done to the local industry Sinn Fein are committed to the development and implementation of all-Ireland polices and also a more responsive approach to the needs of the farming community.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Push ahead with the development and implementation of an all-Ireland animal health strategy.
- Encourage the development of a clean green brand for all Irish produce.
- Examine the relationship between farmgate and supermarket prices.
- Campaign for an end to the Beef Ban.
- Support measures to stabilise farmgate prices.
Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.2: No Coherent Plan for Rural Regeneration
The approach of Direct Rule, Direct Rule Ministers' to rural development in the north has been piecemeal, with badly designed programmes that proved worthless to the objective of improving incomes.
Direct Rule Ministers have shown no real interest in providing alternative employment in rural areas. If it were not for innovative European Initiatives, far greater poverty would exist in our rural communities.
Direct Rule Ministers' poor planning, under-funding and delay in approving projects has also undermined the delivery of the Rural Tourism Initiative. This will further add to the poor economic outlook for rural communities.
Direct rule has led to a hand's off approach in monitoring the progress of how rural communities are accessing rural regeneration programmes. Local Delivery structures are without doubt the best way of regenerating local communities. Currently the LEADER + programme is the only rural programme which DARD is responsible for that is a success.
This is due in no small way to the massive commitment of local people in their own areas having a say in how programmes are shaped and delivered. Voluntary directors are at the forefront of creating hundreds of jobs in their own areas and responsible for safe guarding many more.
Using the LEADER model of delivery Sinn Féin will seek to consolidate local delivery into one body within the new RPA structures, and bring all government departments together at a regional level so proper resources can be brought to bear to tackle poverty and social exclusion in rural areas.
Direct Rule Ministers have not got the interest or commitment to engage in this process, or to challenge their own civil service about their current policy which has excluded many hundreds of people from accessing the assistance for which they are entitled to.
Putting it Right: The development of effective local delivery mechanisms for a new Rural Development programme with a strong role of rural communities is a priority.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Prioritise the rollout of a new Rural Development Programme.
- Support the development of strong and effective Local Delivery Structures.
- Support and develop policy to tackle poverty and social exclusion in rural areas.
II. Direct Rule and Provision of Essential Services
Direct Rule has had a negative impact on the provision of essential services in two ways. First, the Whitehall regime's spending cuts have been imposed without regard to our needs. Second, Direct Rule Ministers have not delivered on -- and are not prepared to deliver -- the needed structural reforms that will make these services work better in the interests of all.
While the negative consequences are in no way limited to the healthcare and education systems, the impacts on these two critical services provide an example of the kind of problems ongoing Direct Rule prevents us from solving together.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 1 -- Strangulation of the Healthcare Service through Under-funding and Inaction
The health service is in need of a massive injection of funds, which Direct Rule Ministers presently refuse to release.
Many agree that at least £400m-£500 million of additional investment is needed on an annual basis over the next number of years. This investment should come directly through the promised Peace Dividend, and not through Public-Private Partnerships, which will only result in future service cutbacks to meet loan repayments and will limit future service development.
The healthcare service is also in need of major structural reform.
Without the oversight of a functioning Assembly there is no prospect of change, only the prospect of the present situation getting worse.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.1: Stalled Reform of Healthcare Structures
The reform of healthcare structures in the north is essential and long overdue.
Sinn Fein reject bureaucratic change under the guise of efficiency in favour of a true commitment to create real change in service provision based upon value for money, quality assurance and increased accessibility;
There is a need for the establishment of a Single Employing Authority within the health service, the biggest employer in the Six Counties, to ensure parity in terms and conditions across the north for all professional and non-professional staff. There should also be progress in democratising the health service to involve representation from staff organisations, public representatives and user groups in policy, planning and decision-making.
Sinn Féin proposals to end to the confusing layers of health bureaucracy by scrapping the four separate Health Boards and establishing a single strategic body to co-ordinate services ground to a halt under Direct Rule.
Again, since that time nothing significant has been done.
The effectiveness of future healthcare structures should not also be confined by the border but should be configured to reflect the needs of communities across the island.
Putting it Right: The lack of equality of access to healthcare services is the biggest concern for people throughout Ireland. Removing artificial barriers to access and the employment of staff must be a priority in delivering change.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will seek:
- Development of a cross-border network of hospital services.
- Greater co-ordination in the provision of primary care services.
- Setting up a Regional Authority under the joint control of Health Departments north and south.
- Expansion of the cross-border Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT) model.
- Reform of accreditation procedures to allow for the free movement of staff throughout the island.
- Establishment of joint training strategies for healthcare workers.
- Harmonisation of child protection policies and the creation and effective monitoring of a common sex-offenders register.
- Establishment of cross-border initiatives in relation to drugs awareness.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.2: The Rise of Waiting Lists
In March 05, there were 49,250 patients still waiting for hospital treatment. In addition, over 160,000 people are waiting for an appointment to see a consultant and this figure reflects a rise of 11.6% over the past year. Yet, the inpatient waiting list could have been reduced to a figure of over 130,000 if these patients had seen a consultant and even half of them had been referred for inpatient treatment.
In July of this year, it was revealed that some 36% of available weekday hospital theatre capacity was not being used. It was estimated that, at least, an additional £50 million, both in terms of personnel and equipment, would need to be invested to bring that figure up to 100% usage of exiting hospital theatre capacity.
The inability to recruit and retain specialist medical and nursing staff across all health Trusts is a major contributory factor to the rise in hospital waiting lists, and is also creating unnecessary stress and additional burdens on existing staff. We need action now, but none is being taken by Direct Rule Ministers.
Putting it Right: The recruitment and retention of frontline staff across all healthcare professions must be a priority. Sinn Féin will continue with our healthcare reforms and take action against ALL waiting lists as a priority,
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Work for an immediate and significant increase in resources for the health service.
- Support development of a predictive recruitment strategy to fill the current vacancy levels for hospital consultants, anesthetists and specialist nurses.
- Increase the numbers of entrants to medical schools, nursing and post graduation specialist training programmes.
- Tackle the disgraceful waiting lists for community services by recruiting increased numbers of Occupational Therapists, Speech therapists and Physiotherapists.
- Work for the release of immediate funding to end waiting lists for the dispensing of medicines to persons with life disabling diseases such as MS.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.3: A Growing Crisis in Mental Health
Evidence from service users, carers and service providers point to significant gaps in service provision for people with mental health needs. Current information, including that presented by the Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability, shows persistent and significant under-investment by the British government in our mental health services. For whatever reason, Direct Rule Ministers allocated less funding to our mental health service on a pro-rata population basis compared with mental health services in England, Scotland and Wales. On a comparative pro-rata basis, they short-changed our mental health services by at least £50 million between 1999 and 2006.
One of the results of this Direct Rule under-funding of mental health provision has been high levels of pre-mature and avoidable deaths. More people have died in the Six Counties as a result of suicides since 1969 than died as a result of the political conflict.
Putting it Right: It is essential that there is a renewed focus on mental healthcare reform and an equal allocation of resources to deliver reform.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Work together with the community and voluntary sectors, health professionals and others to establish an All-Ireland Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Strategy.
- Streamline the mechanism for delivering accountable funding to the professional sector and to community and voluntary organisations to initiate quality assured community-based health projects to deal directly with suicide and self-harm.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 1.4: Failure to Invest in Children
The recent creation of a Minister for Children's post is welcome and vindicates Sinn Féin's position that there should be a Minster with specific responsibility for Children and Young People.
However, Direct Rule Ministers have presided over unacceptable increases in child poverty levels, and have not been willing to use their power of budgetary allocation to make the necessary changes.
This new Minister must have adequate powers and resources, and children and children's services need mainstream funding denied them by Direct Rule Ministers to build upon the Sure Start initiatives introduced by Sinn Féin Health Minister Bairbre de Brún.
Putting it Right: Mainstreaming of Sure Start and adequate powers and resources for the new Minister for Children must be part a broader prioritisation of the need of children and young people.
In a restored Assembly Sinn Féin will:
- Insist that the new Minister for Children has adequate powers and resources to ensure that the rights of children and young people are protected and promoted and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is speedily implemented.
- Pursue additional funding adequate to mainstream Sure Start into all TSN areas.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2 -- Stunting of the Education System and Stalling of Reforms
The damage caused by Direct Rule is particularly evident in the historic under-funding of our education system compared to huge investment in the education systems of England and Wales.
Successive Direct Rule Ministers have increased the cost of further and higher education in the north while also imposing budget restrictions that have eroded the foundations of our education system in early years provision through key stage 1 to post-16 entitlement, and cut school transport and classroom assistant support for special needs children
The damage caused by under-funding and cuts has now been compounded by Direct Rule Ministerial moves to privatise educational entitlement in further and higher education as well as school services.
Not only have Direct Rule Ministers under-funded our education system, they have also stalled the reform programme introduced by Sinn Féin Education Minister Martin McGuinness.
Only a restored Assembly can address our educational needs with the urgency they deserve.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.1: Failure to Address Educational Underachievement
Direct Rule under-funding has meant that no adequate action has been taken to address the fact that 50% of all male pupils and 33% of all female pupils do not achieve 5 GCSEs at A* to C, and last year more than 1250 pupils left school without any GCSEs. A quarter of all school leavers have poor numeracy and literacy skills.
This catastrophe has been compounded by an appalling delivery of skills to meet the needs of young people, the business sector and the economy and a complete failure to invest in preparation for new post primary transfer arrangements endangering the development of a comprehensive post primary education system.
Putting it Right: Early and targeted intervention is the key to addressing educational under achievement.
In a new Executive Sinn Fein will:
- Promote early intervention programmes and innovative literacy and numeracy learning schemes, complemented by extended school programmes, in order to address the current skills deficit.
- Promote a skills strategy that recognises the starting point of students while working in partnership with business and industry to ensure the delivery of apprenticeship training.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.2: Failure to Address Special Educational Need
As a result of Direct Rule decisions there are 12,606 children with statements of educational need whose needs are still not being met. Another 50,548 are on stages 1-5 of the process. For example in one primary school (Good Shepard PS) amalgamation of two classes has resulted in a class of 30 children, 18 with special needs, yet only half have been statemented and half await completion.
Putting it Right: The strategic delivery of services, including the Centre of Excellence at Middletown, and investment in early years parenting centres can make a real difference in addressing Special Educational Need.
In a new Executive Sinn Fein will:
- Use the Assembly to champion the new Special Educational Needs Order (SENDO) to ensure that resources are available to meet Statements of Need for medical and emotional behavioural support.
- Ensure that special needs transport facilities are available to complement the SENDO while expediting the Centre of Excellence at Middletown initiated by Education Minister Martin McGuinness for the strategic delivery special needs services across the whole island of Ireland.
- Invest in early years parenting centres that offer the best opportunity to expedite the identification of special needs while reviewing the current Statementing process.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.3: Failure to Invest to Offset the Impact of Poverty on Educational Outcomes
Two out of five northern children live in households below 30% of the average income. Yet despite the high level of need for additional educational supports for such children, Direct Rule Ministers cut 62 teaching and education support jobs in one such high-need constituency alone, West Belfast.
Putting it Right: Poverty is one of the greatest issues that British Direct Rule has failed to tackle. Child Poverty must be addressed through early intervention and the targeting of resources to those most in need. The loss of both teaching and support staff, particularly from schools operating in areas of multiple deprivation, only further undermines support for those most at risk from poverty.
In a new Executive Sinn Fein will:
- Make early years provision universally available with enough resources to ensure early effective detection of special educational and other family support needs.
- Accelerate the mainstreaming of Sure Start and parenting centres providing early years provision with a more focused delivery of health and social service care.
- Ensure quality assured nutritious free school meals for all children.
- Expand school breakfast programmes.
- Expand after-school projects and homework clubs.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.4: Persistence of Social Segregation in Education
Academic selection is a system of social segregation that fails too many of our children, particularly those from deprived rural and urban areas. However, under Direct Rule the reforms proposed by Sinn Féin Education Minister Martin McGuinness have stalled.
Putting it Right: Academic selection has meant that children, particularly from some of our most disadvantaged backgrounds, such as the Shankill, have been deemed a failure at age 11. This is wrong.
In a new Executive Sinn Féin will:
- Promote and invest in the development of comprehensive schools working in partnership with their feeder early years and primary schools, FE Colleges, 3rd Level and other learning facilities, to ensure the integrity of entitlement and the development of a skills and non-craft skills base to support the local economy.
- Support comprehensive schools that can deliver vibrant and exciting opportunities with investment that acknowledges the social and economic profile of the community they serve.
- Work towards making every school a good school that celebrates all intelligences equally.
- Ensure effective implementation of Targeting Social Need policy.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.5: The Erosion of School Transport
The erosion of school transport in rural areas has undermined the ability of working parents to sustain employment, abolished the entitlement to free school transport while upsetting teaching curriculum. The decision to end the 2pm Bus Service is risking the health and safety of children forced to walk home along main arterial routes were there are no patrol crossings or a even a pedestrian walkway. This is despite the fact that a child is hurt or killed on roads every 16 minutes and a survey carried out by Brake found that 53% of children surveyed say that the road between home and school is dangerous.
Putting it Right: The provision of school transport that is safe must be a priority.
In a new Executive Sinn Féin will:
- Promote a socially inclusive school transport system, which is presently under threat due to cuts.
- Promote legislation for a responsive school transport system to meet the full range of need from rural to special needs children and working with colleagues in the DRD will promote an integrated public transport system.
- Establish standards for safe rotes and safe journeys with adequate seating that includes seat belts as recommended by the last Assembly.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.6: Higher Costs of Higher Education
Top-up fees for higher education students introduced by Direct Rule Ministers can result in your son or daughter leaving university with a minimum debt of £30,000. This is an odious and unfair burden disproportionately affecting students from lower-income families, who are the very ones who could most benefit from additional support.
Putting it Right: Access to third level education should not be determined by the ability to pay.
In a new Executive Sinn Fein will:
- Work to abolish Student Top-Up Fees.
- Use the All-Ireland Institutions to push for the harmonisation of higher educational entitlement across the country.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.9: Failure to Respect the Educational Rights of Ethnic Minorities
More than 500 pupils from ethnic communities will be denied English as an additional language education because under Direct Rule Ministers have removed 18 qualified teachers from the scheme.
Putting it Right: Children from ethnic minorities have a right to adequate and appropriate support to ensure that they benefit equally from educational opportunities.
In a new Executive Sinn Fein will:
- Legislate to ensure strategic delivery of language development to minority ethnic children for whom English is a second language, including a ring-fenced budget.
Social Cost of Direct Rule No. 2.10: No Concerted Action to Tackle Bullying in Schools
Fully 40% of primary school children and more than a third of secondary school children have been bullied and yet Direct Rule Ministers have no action plan.
Putting it Right: The effect of Bullying on our children is immense. The failure to address the problem is an indictment on Direct Rule.
In a new Executive Sinn Féin will:
- Develop and implement a core Anti-Bullying Strategy based upon an agreed and uniform Code of Practice underpinned by the primacy of children's rights and Child Protection.
Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today challenged Fianna Fail MEP Liam Aylward to stand over his claim that up to 40,000 Irish jobs could be put at risk by the EU REACH proposals.
Ms McDonald made her comments on the day the proposed European 'Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals' legislation (REACH) is to be debated by the EU Parliament. The legislation aims to increase the level of knowledge about chemical substances placed on the market and to ensure substances are used safely at all stages in their lifecycle.
Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:
"Sinn Féin wants to see a strong regulation come into force which would protect workers and the general public from the effects of chemical substances, many of which find their way into household products such as fragrances, pesticides and food packaging.
"I would take this opportunity to encourage Liam Aylward to stand over his claims that the proposals will lead to the loss of up to 40,000 Irish jobs. Indeed, the European Trade Union Federation (ETUC) is saying that these proposals will encourage innovation and will lead to the development of solutions from industry which will improve and enhance environmental and public safety. Such innovation can only lead to economic growth and the creation of further employment opportunities.
"Furthermore, a study commissioned by the University of Sheffield asserted that REACH would help avoid 50,000 cases of occupational respiratory diseases and 40,000 cases of occupational skin diseases from exposure to dangerous chemicals in the EU each year. That would amount to average savings on sick leave of approximately 3.5 billion euros over 10 years.
"The focus of today's debate in the European Parliament should be on ensuring the maximum protections for the health and safety of workers, the general public and the environment and not disingenuous and unsubstantiated scare stories. ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams Speaking at the launch of a party discussion document 'Counting the cost of Direct Rule and Putting it Right' at Stormont today has said that "Direct Rule is a failure. It fails all the people of the north at every conceivable social, political and economic level. People are paid less, costs are higher and local politicians do not take the decisions which can affect any of this. British Ministers are in charge.
"The primary responsibility to change this rests with the political parties. Sinn Féin is also calling on civic and business society to work in partnership with the political parties to achieve this.
"Sinn Féin will be engaging with civic society - trade unions, business leaders, NGOs and the community and voluntary sector to give a focus and to generate a stronger momentum to the campaign to restore the political institutions and end British Direct Rule."
Mr Adams said:
"Our aim is very simple: to restore the political institutions and to put decision making back into the hands of the people of the north through the political institutions and locally elected political representatives.
"It has been over three years since the British Government suspended the Assembly and the Executive. In that time, British Direct Rule has undermined the Programme for Government and the priorities agreed by members of the last Executive and Assembly.
"Direct rule has made it impossible to manage the economy in the interests of all and has impeded the delivery of essential services on an equal basis. It has stalled the process of reform in healthcare and education and inflicted damage on the agricultural sector.
"In some cases this is partly attributable to Ministerial disengagement or incompetence. For example, Direct Rule Ministers recently overlooked the fact that we were about to lose EU Peace funding worth £140 million. But this only compounds the central problem, which is structurally inherent to Direct Rule - unaccountability.
"Direct Rule impacts negatively on the economy, agriculture, healthcare and education. Some of the specific costs of this are detailed in this document.
"We will be taking forward this discussion document and engaging with civic society, with trade unions, business leaders, NGOs and the community and voluntary sector. We will be stepping up our campaign to get the political institutions back up and running." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dublin South Central TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said Sinn Féin will oppose any plans to close Crumlin Children’s Hospital. Deputy Ó Snodaigh commented today after Health Minister Mary Harney signalled that the hospital could be closed and replaced by a new hospital located at an alternative site.
He said, “Any plans to close Crumlin Children’s Hospital will be met by stiff opposition from Sinn Féin.
“To locate a new hospital at an alternative site would be an illogical move given that most non-medical staff at the hospital are from the local area, the location is well known to the whole Country and it is as accessible as anywhere in Dublin.
“Also there is scope for development on the current site as proven by recent developments, including Ronald McDonald House, the theatres and other new buildings. Imaginative thinking can overcome any practical problems which might emerge while building a new facility as the existing one continues to operate.
“The people who will benefit most from building the new hospital on a Greenfield site will be the builders and the land speculators, both of whom seem to be friends of this government.” ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today said she is committed to the promotion of 'strong, progressive, public safety based legislation' regarding the regulation of chemicals in household products. Strong European legislation under the REACH proposals is essential, she said.
The proposed European 'Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals' legislation (REACH) is to be debated by the EU Parliament tomorrow (Tuesday 15th), before being voted upon on Thursday 17th. The Regulation aims to increase the level of knowledge about chemical substances placed on the market and to ensure substances are used safely at all stages in their lifecycle.
Speaking today Ms de Brún said:
"One year ago the WWF conducted a study on the effects of chemicals which exist in some fire-resistant sofas, non-stick pans, grease proof-pizza boxes, flexible PVC, fragrances and pesticides. A number of MEPs volunteered as guinea pigs for the purpose of the test and the results were astounding. The studies had shown an average of 37 chemicals in the blood of the participants.
"In theory, the REACH proposals have the potential to preserve the health of workers and consumers through ensuring the safe use and labelling of such chemicals. I am committed to the promotion of strong, progressive, public safety based legislation which has health and environmental protections at its core.
"Sinn Féin is calling for strong European legislation under the REACH proposals, to protect people and the environment from harmful chemical contamination. However, I fear that a deal which has been reached by the social democrat and conservative groupings in the European Parliament will water down the stronger elements of the proposed legislation." ENDS
Sinn Féin National Chairperson and MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald will this evening raise the Irish Ferries dispute in the chamber of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Ms McDonald said that the EU had a 'responsibility and a duty of care to protect the rights of all workers, including seafarers who work European waters'.
Ms McDonald made her speech on the same day that the Labour Court recommended that Irish Ferries should honour its current agreements with the trade unions.
Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:
"This evening's speech to the European Parliament is an opportunity to inform my fellow MEPs of the plans by the Irish Ferries company to displace over five hundred employees with low paid slave labour, provided by agency workers, many from outside the EU.
"The European Parliament has a responsibility and a duty of care to protect the rights of all workers, including seafarers who work European waters. Sinn Féin will continue to prioritise the health, safety and conditions of workers throughout the EU." ENDS
Ms McDonald can be contacted for interview on (00 44 7712044282)
Full Text of Speech:
I want to raise Irish Ferries shipping company plans to displace over five hundred employees with low paid slave labour, provided by agency workers, many from outside the EU.
This practice of 'social dumping' is wholly unacceptable. The European Union has a responsibility and a duty of care to protect the rights of all workers, including seafarers who work European waters. The wage rates and secondary benefits afforded to seafarers must be in line with those applicable in the relevant member states.
Irish Ferries must honour their agreements with workers and trade unions in the company. There is no case for breaking those agreements.
We need a European Ferries Directive to ensure that Irish Ferries, and others, cannot ride roughshod over the rights of workers, present and future.
This Parliament must actively oppose the 'race to the bottom' approach to employment and working conditions which is rife within the EU.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD has said that the Minister for Health and Children is now less accountable to the Dáil than prior to the establishment of the Health Service Executive. In reply to a Dáil Question tabled by Deputy Ó Caoláin it is revealed that in the first nine months of 2005 nearly 46% of all Dáil Questions to the Minister for Health and Children were referred to the Health Service Executive. The figure for the same period in 2003 was just under 30%. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"When legislation to abolish the health boards and establish the Health Service Executive was introduced the Government denied that the Minister for Health and Children would be less accountable to the Dáil. The reply I have received today from Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, confirms that there is indeed less accountability now. More questions are being referred by the Minister to the HSE and Deputies have to wait longer for replies. Ministers are required to answer written Dáil Questions within four working days. For Questions referred to the Health Service Executive the deadline is three weeks but Deputies can often be left waiting for longer than that.
"The abolition of health boards, which included elected representatives, removed one layer of accountability and democratic scrutiny. The Government has compounded that by increasingly abdicating its responsibility to account to the Dáil for its stewardship of the Health Service. Meanwhile it has failed to establish the regional health forums promised under the Health (Amendment) Act 2004." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness today led a party delegation including Assembly members John O'Dowd, Geraldine Dougan, Barry McElduff and Meath County Councillor Joe Reilly.
The delegation met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern and the British Secretary of State Peter Hain along with NIO Political Development Minister David Hansen.
Speaking after the meeting Mr McGuinness said:
" There are a number of outstanding matters relating to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement which are the responsibility of the two governments alone and we need to see movement on these issues.
" Sinn Fein were here today to represent the people who elect us. The continuing failure of the DUP to do the same does a disservice to those who elect them and is hardly an example of the confident brand of unionism promised at the last election.
" The DUP like most of the local parties are critical of the decisions being taken by the Direct Rule Ministers. Decisions on Water Charges, Rates, Health and Education which will without doubt cause hardship for many within our society.
" Yet the DUP continue to block progress. They continue to stall the process which would see political institutions re-established and the Direct Rule Ministers replaced by locally accountable politicians.
" Ian Paisley told the two governments last year that the only obstacle the DUP sharing power was IRA weapons. That issue has been decisively addressed by the IRA. The challenge is now for Ian Paisley - is he going to keep his word?" ENDS
Sinn Féin anti-poverty spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton has said that the persistent high levels of fuel poverty that exist in the Six Counties make a mockery of the claims by British Direct Rule Social Development Minister David Hanson that he is committed to doing all in his poverty to eradicate it.
Ms Stanton was speaking after the publication of the Warm Homes Scheme annual report 2004/05 in Stormont. Ms Stanton said:
"Everyone should be concerned at the extent of fuel poverty - 203,000 households or one third of homes across the north are at risk. The most vulnerable in our society - older people, families with young children and people with disabilities suffer most. The overall figure of 33% hides pockets of extreme fuel poverty. In North Belfast 47% of households are in fuel poverty.
"The failure to tackle fuel poverty is the result of the failure of direct rule ministers to prioritise action to tackle fuel poverty.
"The warm home scheme is an excellent initiative in itself. But alone it is not enough.
"Fuel poverty is a combination of poor energy efficiency, low incomes and high fuel costs. The problem of fuel poverty needs to be given leadership at the highest level.
"However, while political leadership can get positive results it is clear that Direct Rule has not provided that leadership. When we had the Assembly up and running and locally mandated and accountable ministers we saw leadership. We saw the energy efficiency levy approved. Without progress on restoring the institutions many will remain unconvinced that Direct Rule is prepared to make this a priority.
"The persistently high levels of fuel poverty that exist in the Six Counties makes a mockery of David Hanson's that he is committed to doing all in his poverty to eradicate it. This is the cost of Direct Rule." ENDS
Sinn Féin Director of Elections, West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has accused the British government of deliberately trying to remove 70,000 names from the electoral register.
Mr Doherty said:
"The Electoral Office has confirmed that at least 70,000 people entitled to vote are to be removed from the electoral register due for publication in December."
"In the last few years there has been a huge decline in numbers of people registered to vote. This has arisen as a result of the introduction of new and restrictive procedures for registration. Just 8 months ago, in response to this decline in the electoral register the British Government announced that to maximise the numbers entitled to vote in the May elections 70,000 people who were earlier removed from the register would be placed back on it.
"It is therefore incomprehensible that the British Government are again in intent on removing these same people from the election register, and effectively denying them their right to vote in the next election."
"I have asked for an urgent meeting with the British Direct Rule Minister, David Hansen, on this issue. It must be addressed as a matter of urgency in advance of the publication of the new register which comes out next month. Everywhere else procedures are being introduced to make it easier to register for voting and cast a vote. It is unacceptable that different standards are being applied here." ENDS
North Kerry Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris has reiterated his call for the Táinaiste and Minister for Health Mary Harney to visit Kerry General Hospital to "see for herself the staffing problems and the terrible conditions and facilities of the Accident and Emergency department." Mr. Ferris, who was ejected from the Dáil last week after he tried to raise this issue with the Taoiseach, was speaking after attending a lunchtime protest, organised by local GPs at the hospital.
Deputy Ferris said, "Having no luck in raising the problems at Kerry General Hospital with two different Health Ministers over the last three years last week I tried to raise the issue with the Taoiseach and I was ejected from the Dáíl for my troubles.
"Today I supported a lunchtime protest organised by the doctors at the hospital who are fed up with the staffing problems and the conditions.
"I am again demanding that Mary Harney comes to Kerry to see for herself the staffing problems and the terrible conditions and facilities of the Accident and Emergency department. She cannot continue to ignore this situation." ENDS
Sinn Féin's employment spokesperson Arthur Morgan T.D. speaking this afternoon said that the recommendations of the Labour Court that Irish Ferries should honour its current agreements with unions vindicates the position of the workers at the company.
Deputy Morgan said, "The findings of the Labour Court vindicate the case being made by the workers at Irish Ferries. The court found that Irish Ferries have not made a compelling case to justify breaking the employment agreement reached with SIPTU and the Seaman's Union last year whereby the company agreed to maintain normal staffing on its Irish Sea routes until 2007.
"These findings are very significant because they make clear that employers such as Irish Ferries cannot make and break agreements at will after the workers have upheld their side of the agreement -- in this case it involved accepting outsourcing on board the Normandy in exchange for maintenance of normal staffing on the Irish Sea routes till 2007. This ruling also undermines claims by Irish Ferries that the future viability of the company is dependent on proceeding with these measures . The company was unable to prove this case to the Labour Court.
"Though these findings are welcomed there remains on onus on the Government to seek the introduction of a Ferries Directive to put an end to the ability of companies such as Irish Ferries to operate under flags of convenience and exploit workers to increase profits." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will launch the Sinn Féin discussion document 'Counting the Cost of Direct Rule' tomorrow, Tuesday 15th November 2005, at 11 am in the Long Gallery at Stormont.
Party Spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA; the Economy, Mitchel McLaughlin; Education, Michael Ferguson MLA; Health, John O'Dowd MLA; and Equality, Caitriona Ruane MLA will also be part of the panel.
The launch of the discussion document is the part of the Sinn Féin campaign to get the political institutions re-established.
Speaking ahead of the launch Sinn Féin General Secretary Mitchel McLaughlin said:
"It has been over three years since the British Government suspended the Assembly and the Executive on October 14th 2002. In that time, British Direct Rule has undermined the Programme for Government and the priorities agreed by members of the last Executive and Assembly.
"There are specific costs of Direct Rule that can be counted, which impact on the economy, agriculture, healthcare and education, some of which are detailed in this document.
"Sinn Féin will be engaging with civic society - trade unions, business leaders, NGOs and the community and voluntary sector to give focus to the demand for the re-establishment of the political institutions and an end to direct rule.
"Driven not by a commitment to serve the people of the north, but by a Whitehall imperative to slash public spending, Direct Rule is a liability to all of our society - nationalists and unionists alike." ENDS
Responding to comments on Sinn Féin from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Michael McDowell, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin has said these parties are "using scare tactics in the vain hope of stopping Sinn Fein's growth". He said the Taoiseach "had a brass neck to accuse Sinn Féin of being agents of poverty and disadvantage while he presides over a wealthy economy where one in seven children live in poverty".
He said Fine Gael and the PDs were engaged in a contest over who are the biggest anti-Sinn Féiners "designed as much to damage Fianna Fáil as Sinn Féin".
Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "It is a measure of the political bankruptcy of all these parties that their main focus has been on scare tactics designed to stem the growth of Sinn Féin. Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats are engaging in a contest over who are the biggest anti-Sinn Féiners. Both parties are desperate to present Fianna Fáil as Government partners-in-waiting with Sinn Féin in order to, as they see it, boost Fine Gael and PD prospects in the General Election.
"The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was clearly rattled by the vacuous speech delivered by Enda Kenny in Cork on Saturday. The only memorable thing about that speech was the Fine Gael leader's effort to link Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. In what can only be described as a panic response, the Taoiseach has reverted to the old tactic of the 'red scare'. And he rushed into the arms of the viciously anti-republican Sunday Independent to deliver his message.
"The Taoiseach has a brass neck to describe Sinn Féin as agents of poverty and disadvantage while he presides over a wealthy economy where one in seven children live in poverty. Sinn Féin represents disadvantaged communities across this country who have long been abandoned by Fianna Fáil and the other conservative parties. The Taoiseach's sudden interest in Sinn Féin's policies will fool very few people. He knows Sinn Féin is not a Marxist party but his attack has nothing to do with our ideology or our policies. It is all about decommissioning some of the political weaponry of Fine Gael and the PDs in advance of a General Election.
"For our part Sinn Féin will continue to challenge the conservative parties, including the Fianna Fáil-PD government and the Coalition of the Confused that poses as an alternative. The coalition we want to build is with the Irish people as we work together to create an Ireland of Equals. Scare tactics will not stop the growth of Sinn Féin." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh has said the problem of drug dealing at St James's Hospital "needs to be tackled on many fronts." Commenting on reports in today's media, which say that the hospital is "awash" with drugs, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, the problem was "not new" but rather that it reflected what is going on in broader community, especially the immediate area Dublin that surrounds St James's.
The Dublin South Central TD said, "While this reports may cause surprise and alarm in some quarters the reality is that this problem is not new. Drug dealing and drug taking in St. James's Hospital -- in the grounds, the reception, A&E, the toilets and even in the wards -- is unfortunately a reflection on the wider problems of drug abuse in our society and especially so in the immediate community that surrounds this hospital.
"While increased security measures at the hospital would be welcome, and is necessary for the protection of staff and patients alike, it is nonetheless only one aspect of dealing with what is a chronic problem for this part of Dublin. This crisis needs to be tackled on many fronts. In conjunction with improved resources for security we need adequate resources put into tackling this scourge at a community level. We urgently need additional supports and services for those who are trying to kick their habit -- especially those who have been hospitalised as a result of their addiction and related health issues. We need increased educational resources to educate not only those caught up in a cycle of drug abuse but also to educate young people against the dangers of becoming involved in drugs in the first place.
"The media spotlight on St. James's today, while maybe disturbing to people using the hospital, will be useful if it prompts those in authority to provide the resources needed to tackle what is a serious and ongoing problem in the area." ENDS
Responding to yesterday's announcement by the UDA that they have completed a consultation with their members, Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Gerry Kelly said:
" Given that the UDA over recent years have made a number of positive statements only for this to be contradicted by actions on the ground people will be rightly sceptical about this latest initiative.
" However if this is a genuine attempt to move forward then that would obviously be a welcome move. The UDA have said that they have a clear understanding of their future. People need to hear what this is. We need to hear that their violent sectarian campaign against Catholics is over. We need to hear that their guns and bombs will not be used again and that they want to move forward peacefully with the rest of us." ENDS
As part of an address this afternoon at the annual Edentubber commemoration in County Louth, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness challenged the DUP leader Ian Paisley to come clean over his attitude to re-entering the power sharing institutions.
Mr McGuinness said:
" Last year the two governments made it clear to Sinn Féin during a number of meetings that Ian Paisley had indicated to them that the only obstacle to a return to the power sharing institutions was the issue of arms.
" The IRA have decisively dealt with that issue. It is no longer an issue for the process. Is Ian Paisley now going to step up to the mark? Is Ian Paisley going to follow through on what he said to the two governments last year?
" The DUP have sat back for too long. We need to get the political institutions back up and running. Week by week the Direct Rule Administration is taking decisions based not on the needs or requirements of the people but on fiscal considerations in the British Treasury. Are the DUP content to sit back and watch this happen or are they finally going to stop hiding behind rhetoric and show real political leadership." ENDS