Sinn Féin MLA for north Belfast and party spokesperson on policing and justice has called for the immediate removal of the two Scots guardsmen, convicted of murdering Peter McBride, for the British army. The call follows the Independent Assessor of Military Complaints Procedures stating that the two should never have been reinstated to the British army.
Speaking today Mr Kelly said:
"Here we have the Independent Assessor for Military Complaint Procedures saying publicly that the McBride family been enduring a long standing wrong. The British government should now order the immediate dismissal of these two convicted killers from the British army and allow the McBride family some closure on this injustice.
"This statement follows the Court of Appeal declaring that the army had been wrong to allow Wright and Fisher to remain as soldiers because of the exceptional circumstances, yet the MOD have continued to ignored this ruling.
"It is completely unacceptable that those convicted of murdering Peter McBride should be reinstated and rearmed. It sends the clear message that the murder of Irish people by British crown forces is acceptable and will go unpunished.
"I will be writing on this matter to the British government and Sinn Féin will continue to support the McBride family in their search for justice." ENDS
Speaking during report and final stages of the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004 Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. reiterated Sinn Féin's total opposition to the Bill which he argued would enable the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to "bring about the destruction of the Heritage of this State and its national monuments". Deputy Morgan put forward a number of amendments on behalf of Sinn Fein which sought to curb the damaging elements of the bill and in particular put forward one amendment to ensure that "Nothing in this Act shall cause the State to derogate from it's responsibility to preserve, protect and maintain to the highest possible standards the heritage of the state including it's national monuments."
Deputy Morgan said:
"What could be more important for any Minister responsible for heritage than protecting, preserving and maintaining our national monuments to the highest possible standard? Does the Bill seek to do that? Unfortunately it does not. On the contrary, it seeks to give the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, even a wayward Minister like the incumbent, sweeping powers. It gives the Minister the authority to tear down our national monuments if he so wishes.
"To its shame, the Government does not value our heritage or history. It has proven already that it will always side with the developers and not with the conservationists. This Bill has more to do with lobbying by the National Roads Authority than with trying to preserve our national heritage and monuments. The current Minister is the man who abolished Dúchas, the one organisation with responsibility for preserving these national monuments. If he has abolished that organisation how can we have any faith in his interest in preserving our heritage and monuments?"
Sinn Féin voted against the National Monuments (Amendment) Bill 2004 at Report and Final Stage. ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. today slammed the suggestion by the Institution of Engineers of Ireland that domestic water charges should be introduced saying that "the less well off would inevitably suffer".
Deputy Morgan said:
"Sinn Féin is totally opposed to the introduction of domestic water charges as there is overwhelming evidence that the less well-off would inevitably suffer disproportionately as a result of such stealth taxes. People are already paying for services such as water, sewerage and refuse collection through the general taxation system, which is the proper system for raising revenue.
"Cash-strapped local authorities would no doubt embrace proposals such as the introduction of water charges merely because they are now underfunded to the extent that they are unable to provide proper levels of service. The solution is to reform the funding of local government - not the introduction of further inequitable service charges.
"The water charges advocated by the Institution of Engineers of Ireland are nothing to do with improving water quality - nor are they designed to protect resources. These are nothing more than unconvincing excuses to impose further taxation by stealth. Sinn Féin will continue to resist vigorously all attempts to introduce these unjust service charges." ENDS
Speaking after meeting with a US Congressional delegation led by Congressman Jim Walsh at which a range of issues including policing were discussed Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing Gerry Kelly said that 'Sinn Féin shared the desire of the delegation to see the creation of an acceptable and accountable policing service'.
Mr Kelly said:
"We discussed a wide range of issues with the delegation including ongoing initiatives to see a peaceful summer, efforts to see the political institutions re-established and the need to see the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.
"We also discussed with the delegation in some detail the issue of policing. Sinn Féin share the desire of the delegation to see created an accountable and acceptable policing service. We do not have this at present.
"The people responsible for collusion, responsible for the killing of Pat Finucane, responsible for hundreds of deaths through the control of unionist death squads now occupy the most senior positions within the PSNI. This issue must be dealt with. Young nationalists do not want to be part of a policing force which still uses plastic bullets. These matters and the issue of democratic accountability still have to be resolved.
"We want to see the British government addressing and resolving the outstanding matters. That continues to be our focus in ongoing discussions with the British government. Sinn Féin want to get policing right." ENDS
Sinn Fein Education Spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has said that it is unacceptable that more than two years after agreement on the All Ireland Centre of Excellence for Children with Autism in Middletown, County Armagh that the site in the former St Joseph's Adolescent Centre has still not been purchased.
Mr Hyland said:
"It is an absolute disgrace that well over two years after agreement on the All Ireland Autism Centre of Excellence between Martin McGuinness and the then 26 county Education Minster Michael Woods was reached that the site has still not been purchased. It also disappointing that there have yet to be any final decisions on the level of staffing and specialist inputs required. This pushes the whole project further down the line.
"This cutting edge facility will be of huge benefit to children and young people from right across this island when it becomes fully operational. Yet it appears that through a combination of either foot dragging or incompetence on the part of either the Irish government, British direct rule Ministers or both that people are being denied this facility.
"The Centre of Excellence will provide not only a learning support service; an educational assessment service but also act as a training and advisory service and centre for autism research, dissemination and information service.
"This delay is unacceptable. I will be meeting NIO Education Minister this week to raise in the strongest terms my serious concern at this delay and demanding a full explanation. Autism and providing educational support for children and young people with special needs should be among the top priorities with the both the 26 County and NIO direct rule administrations but it seems that both have failed to deliver for this section of our society." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan has welcomed the announcement by the British Nuclear Group of the closure of its Chapelcross power station in the North of England.
Deputy Morgan said
"I welcome the announcement by British Nuclear Group of the closure of its Chapelcross power station.
"I would call on the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government to actively liase with the authorities in Britain to ensure that the British Nuclear Group do everything necessary to ensure the safety of the public, both in Britain and in Ireland, during the defulleing and decommissioning of the station.
"I would also take this opportunity to call on the Minister and the Government to re-intensify their efforts in relation to Sellafield. The continued existence of Sellafield is unacceptable as it still poses an intolerable risk to the health of the people of Ireland, particularly those living along the East coast. It is regrettable that Minister Martin Cullen did not use the opportunity afforded by Ireland's Presidency of the European Union to further efforts to bring about the closure of Sellafield and to work for the progressive realisation of a nuclear-free Europe."
Deputy Morgan was speaking after raising these issues with the Government in the Dáil. ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has described as "scandalous" the fact that up to forty people on any given day are serving time in jail for very minor offences. He said it provided clear evidence that the "whole justice system is skewed against those who are less well off and marginalised in Irish society".
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Along with its litany of other broken promises this Government has repeatedly said, going back to 1998, that it would bring forward legislation to deal with the scandalous practice of sending people to prison for very minor offences, mainly for the failure to pay fines and for minor debts.
"Yet six years on the current Minister for Justice - who has no problem whatsoever fast-tracking his own pet projects through the Dáil - has still not dealt with this socially urgent issue.
"Contrast the plight of these people who can't pay relatively small fines with the super wealthy in this country who have been evading tax and stealing from the public purse for years on a massive scale. Not one of them have seen the inside of a prison.
"This is not just a matter of the present practice being inefficient and costly. It is much more fundamental than that. It is a case of the whole justice system being unjust and skewed against the less well off and marginalised in Irish society. Put bluntly, there are many, many people who simply should not be in prison, but who are in prison because they are poor.
"I have been calling for this situation to be addressed ever since I was elected. The Minister himself has agreed with me in the Dáil that prison should only be the option of last resort used only for serious offences. The Minister should now stop building bigger prisons and instead introduce as a matter of urgency legislation to end this fundamental injustice and waste of public money." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly Group Leader Conor Murphy has welcomed the decision of the High Court to set a date for the hearing of a Judicial Review of the British Government's decision to impose sanctions on Sinn Féin in the wake of the flawed IMC Report.
Mr Murphy said:
"Today in the High Court the go ahead was given for the Judicial Review into the British government's decision to impose sanctions on Sinn Féin and our electorate to proceed in September. This is a welcome decision and we look forward to presenting what is a very strong case.
"This legal case is one aspect of our campaign against the operation of the IMC and the negative role envisaged for it within the broader peace process. The IMC is not independent in its make-up or remit. Its primary function is to provide political cover for the British government to exclude Sinn Féin at a future date. It has also sought to reintroduce the political vetting of community organisations a practice last employed by the British government in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
"Sinn Féin will continue challenge the British government over the continuing role of the IMC and the disgraceful decision to use this unelected and unaccountable grouping to discriminate against our party and electorate." ENDS
Commenting after the four men who were set up for arrest by missing Armagh man Gareth O'Connor were acquitted in the High Court, Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy said that 'the time had now come for PSNI Chief Hugh Orde to make an honest public statement on the matter'.
Mr Murphy said:
"This morning the High Court found these four men not guilty of the charges laid against them after it accepted that they were set up by the PSNI Special Branch through missing Armagh man Gareth O'Connor.
"Hugh Orde has in the past been very vocal on the O'Connor case. Before this trial began and it emerged that Mr. O'Connor was in his employment, Hugh Orde accused the IRA of being involved in the abduction. Since allegations about Mr O'Connor appeared in court Mr Orde has gone silent on this matter.
"This situation cannot be allowed to continue. It is time for Hugh Orde to come clean. Firstly he must give the O'Connor family all of the information he has about the case and significantly he must explain why his Special Branch was deliberately trying to set people up for arrest and wrongful conviction.
" These issues go to the very heart of the policing issue and the fact that the vast majority of nationalists in the six counties have election after election rejected the PSNI as an acceptable policing service. Hugh Orde can no longer hide from the fundamental issue of continuing illegal activity being carried out by the Special Branch." ENDS
Moyle Sinn Féin Councillor Oliver McMullan has accused the SDLP of 'running away from basic principles of inclusiveness and fair play'. Cllr. McMullan's comments come after the SDLP group on Moyle council again refused to support the council adopting d'Hondt as a mechanism for allocating Chairs and Vice Chairs.
Cllr. McMullan said:
"Last night Sinn Féin once again proposed that Moyle council adopt d'Hondt as a mechanism for allocating senior positions on the council. This was done to ensure fair play and to guarantee an inclusive council chamber.
"The SDLP on the council refused to support the adoption of d'Hondt and decided to abstain on the vote. The SDLP as a party seem to be in a complete state of disarray on this issue. Only last week the SDLP councillors in Lisburn were demanding such a system yet on Moyle they act to ensure that it is blocked. Do the SDLP support sharing council positions on the basis of inclusiveness and fair play or do they not.
"This is a very serious matter for the SDLP to deal with. On Moyle their actions are ensuring that the combined unionist bloc is able to prevent fair play and continue a policy of discrimination against Sinn Féin." ENDS
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has stated that the shortage of nurses as highlighted by the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) is undermining the Government's Health Strategy and is a "crisis in the making".
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"The INO has highlighted the expected rise in vacant nursing places from 700 currently to over 2,000 within 18 months. This is a cause of huge concern and totally undermines the Government's Health Strategy. It is a further crisis in the making in our health services.
"In a Dáil reply to me last week, the Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin TD repeated the target in the National Health Strategy that by the end of 2004 all public patients requiring admission to hospital will be scheduled to commence treatment within a maximum of three months of referral from an out-patient department. With the worsening nursing shortage, this and many other targets in the Government's Health Strategy will not and cannot be met.
"The disastrous health policy of this Government has created a vicious circle. The chaotic state of the public health system is driving people away from the nursing profession. The shortage of nurses then contributes to the chaos. The Government has postponed indefinitely the Nurses and Midwives Bill, which is to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Commission on Nursing. The Commission reported in 1998, yet six years later we have no legislation and nursing is in crisis. The Government must bring forward the Bill and it must tell us how it is going to avert a catastrophic shortage of nurses in the next 18 months." ENDS
Sinn Fein Human Rights Spokesperson, South Down MLA Catriona Ruane has expressed continued concern at the handling of ASBOs by the British NIO Minister John Spellar, after he laid the draft Order in Council before the British Parliament. Ms Ruane said:
"Despite widespread and vocal concern at the introduction and the handling of the ASBOs issue John Spellar has arrogantly continued with he approach.
"Sinn Fein share widespread concerns that ASBOs undermine children's rights as well as undermining key human rights and equality protections and legislative initiatives that flow the Good Friday Agreement. It contravenes domestic and international human and children's rights standards and best practice.
"The NIO has totally ignored one of the cornerstones of the GFA, the Equality Provisions of the NI Act 1998, designed to protect the rights of the most vulnerable groups including children.
"The proposed legislation fails totally to recognise the "particular circumstances" of the north. Children's rights organisations and advocates of children's rights are concerned that insufficient consideration has been given to the implications of the introduction of this legislation. From the consultation document it would also appear that the proposal is a direct "read across" from the English legislation without any consideration of the fact that we are a society emerging from conflict.
"Everyone agrees that anti-social behaviour is a problem. This is not the way to solve the problem. The experience of ASBOs in England is that it has failed. The approach of this draft legislation also undermines Community Restorative Justice programmes that attempt to deal with anti-social behaviour in a more long-term and holistic manner.
"Sinn Fein is concerned that given the ongoing negative experience of nationalists and nationalist youth in particular that greater powers given to PSNI and district councils will be abused. We all know the problems of the PSNI sectarian agenda and the reality that district councils had powers and responsibilities removed because of discriminatory practices. Not only are there huge concerns about the ability of councils to operate in a non sectarian manner but a genuine fear that this legislation will be used against young nationalists." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has criticised the decision of the University of Ulster to award an honorary degree today to the former Lord Chief Justice Brian Hutton.
Mr Ferguson said:
"Hutton has a record over a period of thirty years of representing all that was wrong with the judiciary and the criminal justice system in the six counties.
"In 1973 when, representing the Ministry of Defence at the Widgery Tribunal he justified the actions of the Paras in Derry when they murdered 13 unarmed civilians. He has since stood by the discredited findings of Widgery.
" In 1978, he defended the British government against the allegations of torture against internees, a case taken by the Irish government. Three years later he acquitted a British soldier who drove into a group of teenagers in Derry killing two of them.
"Hutton was a prominent defender of the supergrass system, and in 1984 sentenced 10 men to a total of 1001 years, on the word of supergrass Robert Quigley. All were later cleared.
"He was also the judge who in 1986 acquitted RUC man Nigel Hegarty, who had shot and killed John Downes at a rally in West Belfast after he opened fire with plastic bullets on civilians at a sit-down protest,
"In the early 1990s at the trial of two Royal Marines charged with murdering Fergal Caragher in a shooting incident in Cullyhanna in 1990, he again acquitted the soldiers even though he admitted they might have been lying.
"And it was Hutton who was directly involved in the Brian Nelson affair. A week before Nelson's trial, which risked exposing British collusion with unionist death squads, Hutton and the trial judge met John Major. Nelson was then offered a deal to plead guilty to sample charges and he served just a few years in prison. The result of this was that the families of those murdered through collusion are still trying to seek the truth around the deaths of their loved ones.
"The decision of the Ulster University to give an individual with such a past an honorary doctorate is nothing sort of a disgrace. It is grossly offensive to nationalists and republicans studying at the university and the wider community from where they come." ENDS
Sinn Féin Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, today spoke of the challenge that bullying in schools posed to society.
She was speaking as she received a research report into the nature and extent of bullying within our schools, which was undertaken by the University of Ulster. The research revealed that 43% of primary school children and 29% of post-primary perceive that they have been bullied at least once.
The Minister commented: "Bullying is unacceptable in our schools and I am committed to tackling this issue head-on.
"Mental health problems are one of the most obvious consequences of bullying and can have terrible repercussions.
"Our children need to feel safe and secure in their school environment. This research provides us with further insight into the nature and extent of bullying in our schools and will help us in our efforts to tackle this problem.
"In light of the report's recommendations, my Department will survey all schools' anti-bullying policies to ensure a consistent approach. By September, an independent counselling service will be available to all post-primary schools in the north, allowing pupils to speak to a trained counsellor about their concerns or fears. We are currently examining the possibility of extending this service to primary and special schools.
"I also believe that we should listen to our young people and provide them with the opportunity to have their say on this important issue."
The research also found that, in both primary and post-primary schools, 22% of pupils admitted acting as 'the bully' at one time or another, with the most common form of bullying being name-calling, mockery and teasing. Boys tended to be the victims and perpetrators of physical bullying, whereas girls were more inclined to bully through exclusion.
In conclusion, the Minister said: "Our society and our schools are growing more diverse everyday and we need to teach our children the importance of respect for the equal rights of all children in our society. Tackling the scourge of bullying is fundamental in winning this battle."
The report is called 'The Nature and Extent of Bullying in schools in the North of Ireland'. The Research Briefing can be accessed at: http://www.deni.gov.uk/rb3_2007.pdf
The Research Report can be accessed at: http://www.deni.gov.uk/no_46_second_edition.pdf
NOTES TO EDITORS:
The research report was commissioned by the Department of Education and undertaken by a team of researchers from the University of Ulster, headed by Professor Gerard McAleavy.
The research surveyed 993 pupils in Year 6 and 1,319 pupils in Year 9. The results were compared to a previous research study published by the Department in October 2002 "Bullying in Schools: A Northern Ireland Study", in order to identify changes or trends. The new research differed slightly in that it concentrated on the pupil perspective with particular reference to pupil age, gender, religion, ethnicity and disability.
Sinn Féin Councillor for Ligoniel, Eoin O'Broin, has called those who attacked eleven to thirteen year old school boys, who were travelling home on a school bus, cowards. The bus, which was carrying pupils from Hightown CBS was boarded by a number of loyalists at the bottom of the Ligoniel Road who set about attacking the school children.
Speaking after the attack Cllr O'Broin said:
"This attack was an act of cowardice. Those responsible picked a very easy target and attacked a vulnerable set of school children.
"The bus which was taking the children to Ligoniel stopped at the bottom of the Ligoniel Road where a number of young men got on and set about attacking the children. They were undoubtedly very upset and shaken by the experience.
"This follows a number of other attacks in the area in recent days and there is a strong impetus on all community leaders to do whatever they can to bring such attacks to an end." ENDS
West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty says that the readiness of the DUP to sit alongside members of the UDA and UVF on the West Belfast Parades Forum shows the sickening hypocrisy of this party.
Mr. Doherty said:
"Day in, day out, DUP politicians attempt to outdo one another in portraying the most hard-line stance against Sinn Féin.
"Yet here we have the spectre of some of these same politicians not only sitting talking to but strategising with members of the UDA and UVF on the issue of Orange Parades.
"The West Belfast Parades Forum was hastily convened ahead of Saturday's Whiterock Loyalist Parade and this "development" was incredibly used by the Parade's Commission as evidence of progress to justify the reversal of its original decision to ban the parade from the nationalist Springfield Road.
"The Parades Commission had earlier cited the refusal of the parade organizers to enter into dialogue with nationalist Springfield Road residents as one of the main grounds for banning the Parade from entering this area.
"Despite the fact that the Parade organisers refused to do this the Parade's Commission capitulated because of predictions of widespread violence from unionist politicians and loyalists.
"This issue is a glaring example of the hypocrisy DUP politicians. These founding fathers of Ulster Resistance rub shoulders with the UDA and UVF on a daily basis. As the DUP becomes increasingly desperate in its attempts to rationalise their irrational refusal to meet Sinn Féin - the majority voice of the nationalist electorate in the north - it is time that the British government stops pandering to the DUPs hypocritical agenda and starts calling a spade a spade."ENDS
Sinn Fein Spokesperson on the Review of Public Administration, South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey speaking ahead of a major conference on the RPA in the Stormont Hotel in Belfast tomorrow, Tuesday 29th June, has said that the review must deliver fair and accountable government.
Mr Maskey said:
"The success of the review of public administration will be in its' ability to deliver 'power to the people' by scrapping the huge layers of bureaucracy and unaccountable quangoism that have flourished as a result of previous direct rule administrations. It is needs to create a new democratic relationship between decision-making, control and accountability in our society.
"The review of public administration is huge in its scope. However if it is to deliver the results that are required it must fundamentally dovetail with the review of local government to ensure that services are provided at the time and in the right place and are accessible and that service provision goes hand in hand with real democratic accountability.
"The Assembly and the institutions are only part of the wider process of democratisation that are crucially important if we are to reject the failed old ways of doing things in the past that was about maintaining prestige and power in the hands of a small elite.
"When we look at local government it is also vital that we develop a model that rejects the type of exclusion we see in Lisburn Council. If people are to be given a real stake in decision-making then their representatives at whatever level must not be excluded by the failed politics of the past. Above all the review of public administration must deliver fair and accountable government." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member for Upper Bann John O'Dowd has said that the Parades Commission could have come to no other decision than to re-route this weekends Drumcree Orange march away from the Garvaghy Road.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"At it most basic level the Drumcree Orange parade is little more than a sectarian coat trailing exercise through the Catholic community in Portadown. It is up to the Orange Order to explain the rational behind wanting to parade through an area where they are clearly not welcome.
"The Parades Commission could not have come to any other decision than to re-route the parade away from Garvaghy Road. However there is now a real concern that given the capitulation of the Parades Commission to an alliance of unionist politicians and paramilitaries over last weekends Springfield Road march that they could go down a similar route over the Drumcree parade.
"Nationalists in Portadown and elsewhere remember well the events of 1996 when an alliance between David Trimble and Billy Wright was used to threaten violence and force the parade down Garvaghy Road. The Parades Commission would be very foolish if they were to consider a similar outcome this Sunday." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has described as a 'shameful spectacle' the forcing of the Orange Order Whiterock parade through the nationalist Springfield Road.
Mr Maskey said:
"Last night the Parades Commission in written communication confirmed that the DUP, UUP, Orange Order, Protestant Churches and the unionist death squads had formed an alliance with the aim of threatening the nationalist community into accepting Orange Parades through their areas.
"After a week of such threats the British Government through the Parades Commission capitulated to those threats and sought to force an unwanted paramilitary parade through the Springfield Road community.
"Today's parade on the Springfield Road accompanied by a massive PSNI military operation was a shameful spectacle. It was a victory for intimidation, violence and threats. The events of the past few days do however raise serious questions for the UUP and DUP. It seems they have no problem forming alliances directly with the unionist death squads but simultaneously they attempt to ignore the electoral mandate of Sinn Féin.
"Nationalists across the island are angry at the events of the past few days and are watching closely to see if further unionist threats and intimidation are rewarded with other parades being forced through nationalist areas." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has congratulated nationalist communities throughout Belfast who came together to block a series of main roads in the city this afternoon to protest at the disgraceful treatment of the Springfield Road community.
Mr Ferguson said:
"This morning nationalist community groups in the city met to discuss their response to the Parades Commission decision to reward the unionist community for threatening the Springfield Road residents with an unwanted parade through their area.
"They decided to block a series of main routes in Belfast to coincide with the blocking of the Springfield Road by the PSNI to facilitate a sectarian parade through that area. The message being sent to the British government is very clear. If nationalist communities are hemmed in and unable to move about their normal business then the same standard will be applied to everyone else.
"Nationalist communities will not be treated as second class. The British government need to understand clearly that the broad nationalist community is not prepared to simply sit back and watch small nationalist areas being besieged by the PSNI to force through unwanted parades.
"The community organisations have made it clear today that the nationalist community will not be walked over by the Parades Commission or anyone else in the coming weeks." ENDS