Sinn Féin TD, Martin Ferris today demanded the release by the British Government of the only man jailed as a result of the activities of the British Army on Bloody Sunday in Derry. Deputy Ferris made his call during a Order of Business in the Dáil this morning and will again raise it in the Dáil with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern this afternoon. Describing it as an "absolute outrage" he said "in this the anniversary week of the murder of 13 civilians by the British Army's Parachute Regiment in 1972 it is a scandal that Martin Doherty is now the only person to have been sent to jail because of his refusal to testify at the Saville inquiry."
Speaking in the Dáil today he said, "Martin Doherty was jailed on the 19th of this month for refusing to testify at the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday.
"Mr Doherty maintains he has nothing to offer the inquiry as he was not there on the day and now he has been imprisoned for not testifying about events he knows nothing about.
"In this the anniversary week of the murder of 13 civilians by the British Army's Parachute Regiment in 1972 it is a scandal that Martin Doherty is now the only person to have been sent to jail because of his refusal to testify at the Saville inquiry. It is not acceptable and is an absolute outrage.
"I am calling on the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern to demand the release by the British government of Martin Doherty and for him to be returned to his family immediately." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has been participating in the opening of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil (26 January/27th January). Ms de Brún along with fellow MEPs, joined hundreds of thousands who marched through the streets of Porto Alegre carrying the message of the World Social Forum - that another world is possible.
The opening demonstration had a carnival atmosphere with artistic contributions from as far afield as India, Brazil, Uganda, Argentina, Australia, Haiti, Peru, France and Italy. Tickertape flew from the windows of buildings along the route as the march passed by. Those participating in the opening ceremony come from political groups, religious and environmental organisations and many community and campaigning groups from around the world. At one point participants laid stones, books and banners as symbols of the diversity of the World Social Forum process. There was also a minute‚s silence in memory of all those who suffered from the tsunami in Asia and Africa.
Speaking from the opening of the WSF, Ms de Brún said:
"This truly diverse gathering has an upbeat carnival atmosphere and is a real celebration of the diversity of the World Social Forum. Behind the carnival atmosphere, however, lies a serious message that we must all act to create a fairer and more sustainable world. That is the real work that will take place in the meetings and seminars in the coming days." ENDS
Speaking today in Belfast in advance of tomorrows meeting with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said:
"The Justice Minister Michael McDowell has misrepresented yesterdays meeting. Martin McGuinness and I did not agree that the Sinn Féin leadership must go away and reflect on the government's insistence that the criminality issue be dealt with.
On the contrary we argued that the government should not allow itself to be distracted from the difficult but necessary work needed to tackle all of the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement.
We asked the Taoiseach to stand up his accusations that the Sinn Fein leadership had prior knowledge of the Northern Bank robbery. He failed to do this either during our meeting or in subsequent media interviews.
In the course of our discussions yesterday the Taoiseach agreed with us that the process needed to be based on the broad principles of inclusivity, equality and dialogue. The Taoiseach and we agreed that all the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement needed to be dealt with. It was also agreed that following on his meeting with the British Prime Minister we would meet again to continue with this work.
The Taoiseach said the government was opposed to sanctions. It is not good enough therefore for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to say that sanctions are primarily an issue for the British. The Irish government's stated opposition to sanctions obliges it to ensure that there are no sanctions. No one issue can be made a pre-condition. All matters are the collective responsibility of all parties.
We also rejected any suggestion that Sinn Féin was involved in criminality or that we have any special obligation to tackle any issue. We are opposed to criminality of any kind.
Finally, reluctant though I am to engage in recriminations, I want to deal with Michael McDowell's role in all of this. The Progressive Democrats have made no constructive contribution to the peace process. Minister McDowell's focus is on staying in power in this or any future coalition. It is a matter of concern that the Taoiseach is allowing Minister McDowell to lead for the government on these important issues."ENDS
Reacting to the news from the Council of Europe that Ireland now has the second highest rate of cocaine use in Europe, Sinn Féin spokesperson for Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said it is "an issue I have been flagging up for some time now, deserving of more effective action from this Government".
Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "The revelation by the Council of Europe that Ireland now has the highest rate of amphetamine use and the second highest rate of cocaine use in Europe confirms a pattern that I have been flagging up for some time now, particularly with respect to the rise of cocaine as a drug of choice. There is an urgent need for more effective action to increase enforcement against drug traffickers. The Minister for Justice must be held to account for his failure to prioritise this issue because it doesn't either serve his ideological agenda or affect the elite in Dublin 4.
"In a party submission to the Natoinal Drug Strategy Mid-Term Review I warned the Minister of State responsible that urgent action was needed on cocaine to prevent this relatively new problem from spiralling out of control. This is one of the main standards by which the recommendations for the remainder of the Strategy will be judged. If the mid-term review report does not set out a clear agenda around the interdiction of cocaine trafficking and providing specific and appropriate services for cocaine addicts - together with a strong commitment of adequate resources for these and a specific timeline for implementation - then it will be a failure." ENDS
Sinn Féin MLA Mitchel Mc Laughlin has welcomed the proposed all-ireland Medical School for Magee Campus.
Mr Mc Laughlin said:
"I have long advocated locating a Medical School at the Magee Campus. I met with Professor Hannigan, and Provost of Magee, Professor Tom Fraser in early December along with the two Sinn Féin MEP's Mary Lou Mc Donald and Bairbre de Brún.
"Among a range of issues discussed was the need for additional Medical training facilities and the case for such a faculty at Magee that would attract entrants from across the island.
"At present only Queens in Belfast and Trinity in Dublin offer Medical Training and the limited number of places available cannot hope to cater for the increased need for Doctors in our Hospitals. Although those Doctors recruited from other countries do an excellent job it should not be a substitute for training our own Medical staff.
"The fact that the proposal is based on untilising the local Hospitals on either side of the border (Altnagelvin and Letterkenny) and recruiting on a 50/50 basis in each jurisdiction is a recognition that health care is best served through integrated planning on an all-Ireland basis. Logistically and economically this approach makes sense and should be used in other areas also."ENDS
Sinn Féin Communications spokesperson, Seán Crowe TD has called on the management of An Post to "pull back from the brink and immediately re-instate the 68 workers that were suspended on Monday."
The management suspended workers hours before a scheduled meeting with the Communication Workers Union at the Labour Relations Commission on Monday.
Speaking in Dublin this morning he said:
"On the 8th of December last the Minister encouraged the workers of An Post not to use industrial action in their fight against the closure of the SDS service, but to show faith in the mechanisms of the State and to use the Labour Relations Commission to resolve the dispute.
"On the back of this the Communications Workers Union went to the LRC and a meeting between management and the union was scheduled for Monday 24th of January. Three hours before the meeting was due to start the management pulled the rug from under the workers by proceeding with plans to relocate the SDS service and suspending workers who refused to co-operate.
"I call on the management to pull back from the brink and immediately re-instate the 68 workers that were suspended on Monday and enter into a talks process with the union in order to resolve the dispute.
"I also call on the Minister to use all his influence to have these workers re-instated and to encourage the management of An Post to show faith in the mechanisms of the state, as he has already asked the workers to do. The Minister cannot be seen to have double standards when dealing with such a sensitive issue."
In conclusion, Deputy Crowe said "Sinn Féin will raise this issue in the Dáil when it resumes today." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald will this afternoon deliver a speech in the European Parliament on the case of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. Ms McDonald said that Sinn Féin was "putting the British Government on notice that it cannot hide the truth from either the Finucane family or the European Parliament for much longer".
Ms McDonald said that she was following up on commitments made to the Finucane family last week, that Sinn Féin would raise the issue in the European Parliament.
Speaking from Brussels Ms McDonald said:
"Sinn Féin will be raising the Finucane case with the European Council, Commission, and Parliament in the near future. However today, I wanted to take this opportunity to initially raise the matter and put the British Government on notice that it cannot hide the truth from either the Finucane family or the European Parliament for much longer.
"For 16 years the family of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane have campaigned for a public enquiry into the circumstances surrounding his murder. During that time, cogent evidence has emerged that the police, British Army, and the intelligence services all colluded in his murder.
"Last Friday (21.01.05), both myself and my colleague Bairbre de Brún met with the wife and family of Pat Finucane. We discussed recent developments in the case and their fear that the British government is continuing to hide the truth of Mr Finucane's murder for its own political reasons. Bairbre and I agreed at the conclusion of the meeting that we would explore ways in which this important case, which has implications for every member state, can be raised at a European level." ENDS
Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has said that a Westminster Public Accounts Committee report into tackling cancer demonstrates that Government policies are failing the less well off in society.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"The deprivation gap in survival between rich and poor was wider for patients diagnosed with cancer in the late nineties than in the late 1980s. Increases in cancer survival during the 1990s are shown to be significantly associated with a widening deprivation gap in survival.
"These inequalities in survival represented many deaths each year which could have been avoided if all cancer patients had had the same chance of surviving up to five years after diagnosis as patients in the most affluent group.
"Contrary to what the British Health minister John Reid asserted last year when he voiced his opposition to a complete ban on smoking, the evidence proves that more people do die in deprived areas because of smoking and also, almost certainly, because of later presentation to health services with their problems.
"Every cancer patient deserves the best possible treatment and care, regardless of where they live. Improving cancer services must become a priority." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesman for education, Davy Hyland, has welcomed the report into the Cabin Hill Preparatory School in East Belfast but has criticised the length of time that it has taken to bring the incidences of sexual abuse at the school to light.
Speaking after the publication of the report, Mr Hyland stated:
"While it is to be welcomed that this inquiry has final released its findings and has found that the establishment in question was negligent in the protection of the children in its care, it is incredible that it has taken over ten years for this serious incident of sexual abuse to be addressed and reported on . It is particularly shocking that the school authorities were unhelpful in moving forward with the allegations of abuse at the time.
"As a parent and a teacher, I find the information I have read about the case, disturbing and unsettling and hope that the Department will take on board the lessons learned from this sad situation, and reinforce its commitment to welfare of all the children in schools throughout the North of Ireland." ENDS
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA, Philip McGuigan, has said that the employment record of Wrightbus Limited is 'absolutely appalling' when it comes to religious equality within the workforce. His comments follow the publication of the Equality Commission's Profile of the Six County workforce, which shows Wrightbus up as being one of the worst Private Sector employers of Catholics in the north.
Mr McGuigan said:
"The recent publication of Equality Commission figures on Employees in the Private Sector is a clear indictment of Wrightbus Ltd, one of Ballymena's biggest employers, which is in the same league as Harland and Wolfe in Belfast. For members of the Catholic community to make up under 6% of the workforce in one of the biggest employers in Ballymena is absolutely scandalous and certainly does not reflect the religious makeup of the council area which is over 20% Catholic according to the last Census.
"Wrights has always been considered as a cold house for nationalists in Ballymena and these figures certainly reflect this. I have written to the Irish Government regarding this situation and will be asking them if they are aware that the company that provides vehicles for Bus Eireann has not addressed the extreme level of inequality that exists in their workforce." ENDS
A Sinn Féin delegation led by Housing Spokesperson Cllr Fra McCann MLA and North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton met with British direct rule minister John Speller to raise a number of concerns about housing including the ongoing exclusion of Sinn Féin representatives from the Housing Executive and the impact of the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) in failing to address the housing crisis in North and West Belfast.
Speaking after the meeting West Belfast MLA Fra McCann said:
"It is unacceptable that in its' entire history that there has never been a single Sinn Fein representative on the Housing Executive board. Nationalists deserve effective representation. Sinn Fein represent the majority of nationalists, particularly in areas where there are severe housing problems.
"Sinn Fein representation is the only way to ensure that pressing housing issues such as the overhaul of housing waiting list points allocation process, the ever increasing gap between need and provision of social housing, the imbalance in the waiting lists and anti-social tenants are prioritised. The policy of exclusion must be ended.
"Sinn Fein are also very concerned at the implications of the BMAP that will fail to deliver the amount of housing needed - with roughly a 3,000 unit shortfall over the lifetime of the area plan. In north and West Belfast BMAP fails to meet housing need and there is little or no planning to co-ordinate the development of the required infrastructure with housing development. Importantly BMAP also fails to consider interface areas.
"The failure to deliver a adequate supply of social housing means that there is a failure to allocate housing on the basis of need and thousands of people are left waiting for unacceptable lengths of time before being allocated decent housing. There needs to be a radical overhaul of not just housing policy but also the policy direction of organisations such as the Housing Executive" ENDS
Commenting on the publication of the 9th annual report of Commissioner for Public Appointments and the revelation that auditors raised serious concerns about the appointments to the Strategic Investment Board, Sinn Fein National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:
"The latest budget plans and policy agenda of direct rule ministers depends so much on the SIB that it should be a huge issue that there appears to be a lack of transparency about something as basic as the appointments process.
"I think that the lack of documentation to back up the appointments process to this super quango raises very fundamental questions about how it operates and importantly how it is managed.
"For a report from the Commissioner for Public Appointments to be unable to say whether there was documentation back up an appointments process that is clouded is secrecy or even to raise the concern that records existed but were not made available is very worrying.
"Given the dependence of direct rule ministers on the SIB to deliver their investment agenda I believe that we now need a full public investigation of exactly how the SIB is constituted and how its performance is being audited.
"Given that the SIB will be responsible for a budget of £16 billion over the coming decade the fact that it is impossible to tell whether there are any actual or potential conflicts of interest should set alarm bells ringing. The SIB will be central to the awarding of substantial contracts to the private sector. It is vital that there is absolute confidence that the huge investment programme that we desperately need is underpinned by best practice and value for money and not undermined by any conflicts of interest." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has added his voice to those protesting today against the decision to close the Carlow sugar factory, and for that decision to be reversed. Deputy Ferris claimed that the decision taken by Greencore on January 12 represents the first step in what may lead to the end of the Irish sugar industry under pressure from the EU as part of changes within the WTO.
Deputy Ferris said: "It will be an absolute scandal if one of the most successful public enterprises in the history of this state is allowed to be closed down. Not only will it mean that hundreds of workers lose their jobs and thousands of farmers their main source of income, but it will also deliver a major body blow to the food processing industry in this country.
"While I recognise that sugar producers in developing countries are entitled to access to EU markets, this must not be at the expense of Irish jobs and Irish farmers. The Minister for Agriculture needs to fight to ensure that the Irish sugar industry does not become the sacrificial lamb in a deal that will also benefit European agri-business. She must also look more closely at the possibilities of using beet as part of the production of renewable fuels although in her reply to a Dáil question of mine of November 30 she stated that sugar beet is specifically excluded from crops eligible for support under the energy crops scheme. That must also be reversed as part of the effort to save the Irish sugar industry".
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Welfare and Community Affairs, Seán Crowe TD responding to the latest figures that indicate that poverty levels in Ireland are much higher than admitted by the Government said, "this latest survey exposes as a lie the Government's claims on poverty."
Deputy Crowe said, "While the Government was happy to bury its head in the sand, or worse still, wilfully ignore the levels of poverty in the country there are those of us who know only too well from our work in our communities that despite the so-called Celtic Tiger there are still a significant number of people living in consistent poverty.
"It is ironic that this report should be published on the day a former Fianna Fáil Minister is jailed for tax evasion. He was a member of Governments which cut back public services and urged working people to tighten their belts while he and his colleagues took advantage of their political positions for personal gain. Equally scandalous were their policies that led to the closing down of hospital wards, corrupt land deals, dilapidated schools and the degeneration of vital public services, while the monied elite bought and sold Ireland from under its people. We are still living with the legacy.
"This latest survey exposes as a lie the Government's claims on poverty. This report shows that despite all the talk of 'socialism' and a new "caring sharing" image this Government has not changed from its position of supporting and appeasing the mega rich while treating the less well off in Irish society as second-class citizens." END
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness will be leading Sinn Féin delegations to meet the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minster Tony Blair this week.
In order to assist media planning advance notice of media opportunities are given
Bertie Ahern meeting
Tuesday 25th January, delegation available at 1pm, outside government buildings, Dublin.
Tony Blair meeting
Thursday 27th January, delegation available 12 noon, Room C, 1 Parliament Street, London.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking in Belfast today has said that the dialogue, inclusivity and respect for others - is the key to the progress made over the last 10 years and is needed now more than ever
Mr Adams said:
"Our primary focus in our conversation tomorrow with the Taoiseach and on Thursday with the British Prime Minister is to ensure the stability of the process and continued progress in it. The peace process is too important to the people of this island. It is the most important political development in the past 30 years.
"It is the only way forward.
"That is why our meetings this week are so crucial and why, despite our reasonable concerns at the Taoiseach‚s accusations against Martin McGuinness and I, that we are approaching tomorrows meeting positively.
"We do believe that the Taoiseach has to explain why he said what he said. However, it has been suggested that tomorrows meeting will be confrontational. That is not our intention.
"This process is in serious trouble. Confrontation is not what is needed. Dialogue, inclusivity, respect for others - that is the key to the progress we have all made so far over the last 10 years, it is what is needed now more than ever.
"How do we build on the significant progress that was made before Christmas?
"How do we advance the peace process?
"These are the crucial questions which must be answered." ENDS
The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Energy, Martin Ferris TD, has voiced his opposition to plans to sell off the ESB. Minister Noel Dempsey claims that this will be one of the options explored in a review of the Irish energy market with the aim of securing supplies and protecting the interests of consumers.
Deputy Ferris said: "Sinn Féin is opposed to the selling off of state assets. We do not believe that there are economic justifications from either the point of view of the consumer or the state, and indeed there is evidence from other countries that consumers suffer from the privatisation of utilities. I would question the motivation for any possible move in that direction given what we now know of the background to the proposed break-up of Aer Lingus.
"Too often it appears that privatisation is either seen as a means whereby big business can cannibalise enterprises built up through long years of state investment, or else as part of an ideologically driven agenda. It is no secret that the junior right wing partner in the current coalition favours radical measures to reduce the involvement of the state in many areas. The question is whether that right wing agenda ought to be the one that dictates Government policy, especially given the Taoiseach's recent claims to be on the left and indeed in the light of Fianna Fáil's historical support for state enterprise." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will tomorrow travel to Brazil to participate in the World Social Forum at Porto Allegre, Brazil. Speaking before her departure Ms de Brún said the World Social Forumpresents the opportunity to 'map out an alternative world, one concerned with prioritising social justice and human rights protections'.
Speaking today Ms de Brún said:
"The World Social Forum in Brazil provides an opportunity to map out an alternative world, one concerned with prioritising social justice and human rights protections.
"In line with our European election promise in 2004, Sinn Féin pledged to use the European Parliament to advance a global justice agenda and the promotion of a fairer world. Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals on global poverty reduction by 2015 must become the single overriding objective for EU external relations policy, as this is the most effective way of ensuring human and global security.
"I will be spending my time at the World Social Forum meeting with various political parties and social movements to discuss this alternative global vision." ENDS
A Peace dividend is a must to help overcome years of neglect by the British Government according to North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan.
He made the comments after attending a seminar in Galgorm Manor, Ballymena, dealing with the future of Waste Management.
Mr McGuigan said:
"More and more we see the effects of British financial neglect to the people of the Six Counties. For over 30 years the infrastructure here has been allowed, without investment, to deteriorate.
"There is a huge onus on this British Government to produce a substantial peace dividend to allow the people of the North of Ireland to help overcome the problems forced upon us by their underinvestment.
"Instead of forcing substantial Water Charges upon us in the near future the water and sewage system should be brought into the 21st Century at the expense of the British Treasury.
"The Good Friday Agreement is about bringing a situation where the people on this island North and South have control over their destinies. It is my belief that the British Government, who had no problem paying for maintaining a war here and have no problem paying for maintaining a war in Iraq, should be prepared to pay." ENDS
Sinn Féin South Down Assembly Member Caitríona Ruane MLA has welcomed the response from Dermot Nesbitt who has agreed in principle to enter into a public debate on the equality issue. Ms Ruane recently challenged Dermot Nesbitt to a debate after objecting to recent comments by the Ulster Unionist MLA in which he claimed Catholics living in the north of Ireland do not face discrimination.
Ms Ruane said:
"Part of the current Unionist agenda is to propagate the absurd claim that the Protestant community is subject to increased levels of discrimination while at the same time perpetuating the myth that nationalists suffer little or no prejudices.
"While I accept that many Protestants live with disadvantage and poverty any objective analysis of the facts show that the Catholic community are disproportionately at risk in terms of housing, unemployment and ill health. Attempts to distort this reality only make it more difficult to target poverty, social need and discrimination in urban and rural areas that are in dire need of investment.
"It is a position that is designed to undermine and discredit the equality agenda in an attempt to prevent real and lasting change. I welcome therefore, the chance to debate this issue publicly with Mr Nesbitt which will give us both the opportunity to get to heart of the debate about equality, discrimination and disadvantage." ENDS