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Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has said that the response of DARD minister Ian Pearson to the delay in farm subsidy payment is unacceptable.

Ms Gildernew said:

"The response of Ian Pearson to the impact of the civil service pay dispute on the payment of farm subsidies is not good enough.

"If the department does not have in place effective delivery mechanisms to deal with its problems then it is unacceptable that the farmer will suffer.

"Figures on farm incomes published show that incomes are not improving and that farmers are heavily reliant of subsidies and carry huge debts. The failure to apply interest to delayed farm subsidies will impact on the resources and borrowing of farmers. It is wrong of the department to pass on its failures to the shoulders of the farmer who is already carrying a heavy burden." ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Belfast Assembly member Cllr Alex Maskey has described the additional £100,000 allocated to help fight hate crime as a 'pittance' that fails to recognise the scale of the difficulties faced by ethnic communities and the urgent need develop a large scale response.

Cllr Maskey said:

"While any money that can help in the fight against race hate crime must be welcomed. This money is a pittance compared to the level of funding that is needed to develop a meaningful long-term response.

"It is important that there are resources available to provide a practical response on the ground in communities where this is a major problem but this is only a drop in the ocean.

"Many people will draw a comparison between the figure of £3 or £4 million that is being bandied about as the carrot the British government are dangling in front of the UDA to give up gangsterism, who incidently are widely regarded as being behind much of the race hate crime in Belfast, with the figure of £100,000 additional resources to combat the impact of their campaign.

"Everyone has a role to play in challenging racism yet the failure to put in place proper resources will only undermine the efforts of those working on the ground to root out ingrained racist attitudes. Racism impacts on the daily lives of people from ethnic communities who, particularly here in Belfast, are a vital part of the rich social fabric of this city.

"The numbers of reported racial incidents in increases every year and yet these are only the tip of the iceberg. The Housing Executive deal with two cases a month on average and over 30 families and individuals have been forced to flee from their homes. The Equality Commission figures show racist attacks in Belfast are 30% higher than in England and Wales (16.4% per 1000 Belfast population compared to 12.6 for England and Wales)." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún today said that the DUP dalliance with Ulster Resistance provided a very real motivation for the DUP to try and prevent the truth about collusion coming out and provided a rational for the hysterical reaction of the DUP MEP Jim Allister to the news that a large delegation of families affected by collusion will travel to Brussels next week to lobby MEPs.

Speaking today from Brussels Ms deBrún said:

" Jim Allister's reaction while not surprising may well be motivated by a desire to prevent MEPs from hearing the full extent of this collusion policy. The six county state was in effect propped up by a terrifying mixture of British State repression, discrimination and violence. That is a reality about which many within political unionism are still in denial.

" It also has to be remembered that one of the vehicles used to rearm the unionist paramilitaries was Ulster Resistance. It was DUP leader and at the time sitting MEP Ian Paisely who set up Ulster Resistance. We can all remember well the images of the DUP hierarchy with their red berets in the Ulster Hall.

" It may well be that the DUP have been successful in hiding this reality from the rest of the European Parliament up until now. But the families and the victims of the British policy of state sanctioned murder have every right to tell their story. Sinn Féin make no apology for standing with the victims' families and supporting their search for the truth." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald will deliver the keynote address to a seminar on the proposed EU Constitution, to be held in Dublin this weekend.

The seminar, hosted by the Dublin MEP, will discuss ways to campaign against the constitution which consolidates and expands militarisation of the EU and further erodes Irish independence, democracy and neutrality.

Other speakers include Green Party TD John Gormley, Carol Fox of the Peace And Neutrality Alliance (PANA); Brendan Young, of Democracy And Public Services in Europe (DAPSE) and Frank Keoghan of the People's Movement.

The seminar takes place this Saturday 4th December between 10am and 1pm at the EU Parliament Offices, Molesworth St, Dublin 2. All are welcome.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on All Ireland Development, Omagh councillor Barry McElduff MLA speaking at a major conference on 'North South political relations in the 21st century' organised by the Confederation of European Councillors in the Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh on 2nd and 3rd December has said that 'partition has damaged communities, it is time that we build the momentum for greater harmonisation and co-operation to overcome this damage and it is time that we tackled the waste and inefficiency created by maintaining two bureaucracies across this small island.'.

Cllr McElduff said:

"Sinn Féin is committed to achieving full national and democratic rights for all the people of Ireland. Sinn Fein has an All Ireland parliamentary group. We demand much more by way of recognising the rights of northern citizens within the South. There needs to progress on rights for northern elected representatives in the Oireachtas and voting rights in presidential elections.

"On this small island of 5 million people it is sheer folly that we have two competing bureaucracies. Partition has damaged communities, it is time that we build the momentum for greater harmonisation and co-operation to overcome this damage and it is time that we tackled the waste and inefficiency created by maintaining two bureaucracies across this small island.

"Greater harmonisation and co-operation can release more money for frontline services and for investment in our infrastructure. It is important not just for Sinn Fein but to everyone on this island that we see the fullest development possible of the all-Ireland arrangements and institutions.

"It is also important to emphasis and recognise just how negative the impact of the border and partition has been in terms of social and economic development. It has directly impacted on the quality of life for everyone and it has damaged businesses.

"There is a growing recognition among policy makers and business leaders that balanced development demands the strengthening of economic and social cohesion by promoting and deepening all-Ireland integration. This requires the long term development of the range, remit and number of all-Ireland implementation bodies and areas of co-operation." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún today voted in favour of a report calling for the EU to play a greater role in promoting safe use of the internet. The report, presented by Dutch MEP Edith Mastenbrooek was the outcome of discussions at the Civil Liberties committee on the proposal to establish a EU wide programme on promoting safer use of the Internet and new online technologies. The programme would focus particularly on issues of child pornography and racism.

Speaking after the vote Ms de Brún said:

"Internet access and use of new technologies such as mobile phones across the EU continues to grow at a rapid rate. The opportunities, which accompany the proliferation of these technologies, in education and business particularly, must be welcomed. These technologies also provide a great boost to free speech and independent discussion and debate fora.

"However there are also clearly dangers associated with the use of these technologies to transmit unwanted and indeed illegal material. Of particular concern is the danger posed by the child pornography business. The nature of internet and mobile phone technology makes these global issues, which need a global response.

"I wholeheartedly endorse the proposals outlined in Ms Mastenbrooek's report which was presented to the European Parliament today. Promoting awareness and understanding of the law is important in dealing with these issues. So too is developing greater filtering technology.

"The resourcing of awareness centres to deal with public concerns is a vital element in giving these proposals a real presence within member states.

"At a time when racist attacks are on the increase across Ireland, and children's rights campaigners are highlighting the issues of sexual and physical abuse against children, it incumbent on the EU and national governments to support and resource the proposals outlined in Ms Mastenbrooek's report.

"Sinn Féin is conscious that there are those who want to restrict the use of internet technologies to clamp down on free speech and Sinn Féin shares those concerns. This report however is about protecting children and combating racism and other forms of hate speech. That is something which our party strongly supports.‚"ENDS

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Councillor Killian Forde, Sinn Féin spokesperson for Finance on Dublin City Council has called on the Minister of Finance to legislate to allow local authorities set the bands for stamp duty. Cllr. Forde welcomed changes in stamp duty application in Wednesday's budget but believes the net result for first time buyers in the Dublin City Council area will all be eliminated within six weeks. Cllr Forde said:

"The Minister increased the ceiling on which first time buyers pay stamp duty to €317,000. Given the crisis with affordability and access to the market for first time buyers this is to be welcomed. However given that the average price of a house in Dublin is now €330,000 the change will merely increase demand, act as a cost driver so that many of the remaining eligible properties will be over the limit within six weeks‰.

"This 'one size fits all' approach to the application to stamp duty is misguided, inflexible and, in the case of Dublin, counterproductive.

Cllr Forde proposed that ceilings on stamp duty rates be set by Councillors in each local authority. His proposal recommends that Council's would receive half the stamp duty cost, the other half going to central government.

"The decision would be a resrved function of Councillors and should not be seen as an alternative revenue raising mechanism to offset the underfunding of local government. Local Authorities still need to be given proper fund-raising powers and responsibilities."

"In Kerry, Donegal or even Fingal council area a ceiling set at €317,000 for first time buyer exemption from Stamp Duty is generous. However in Dublin city it is simply too low, in my own constituency of Donaghmede a three-bed semi second hand home, suitable for first time buyers costs between €285,000 and €325,000, most of the properties on the lower end will soon extend beyond the ceiling. Within the Dublin City Council area a more suitable figure for this exemption would be €350,000. Councillors in the area know this and we are the best qualified to set the ceilings. I am calling on the Minister of Finance and the Minister with responsibility for Local Government to decentralise the decision making to those with the local market knowledge and interest working on the ground."ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD, has stated that the Budget does little to address the future needs of Irish agriculture. Deputy Ferris was responding to the measures announced yesterday by Finance Minister Brian Cowen. These included the extension of stock relief for young qualified farmers and a tax relief scheme for farmers taking anti-pollution measures.

Deputy Ferris said: "While I welcome the measures announced, in reality they are fairly marginal and do not address the long term needs of Irish farmers. I have said on numerous occasions in relation to the cuts in Teagasc, that what is needed at present is substantial investment in research and development as agriculture faces the challenges of a reformed Common Agricultural Policy and changes within the World Trade Organisation. I note that a former head of Teagasc, Professor Liam Downey has stated that unless a comprehensive research capacity is in place that farming in marginal areas may disappear by 2020.

"There are almost 100,000 farmers who will be entitled to less than €10,000 under the Single Farm Payment. While this does offer the possibility of providing some basic security of income, that will not be sufficient to maintain the majority of small to medium farms unless they are enabled to move into areas of production that will provide viable returns. With farmers no longer tied to the need to produce in order to draw down subsidies there is an opening for new systems that can also be tied into an expanded domestic processing sector. However, that will not happen by itself. It will only do so if, as with the expansion of other economic sectors, there is the back-up in terms of research and development and that can only be done with the support of the state. The current programme of cutbacks in Teagasc indicate that the political will to do is not there at the present time." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has revealed that the promised GP-only medical card will be only a quarter of the value of the real Medical Card. In reply to a Dáil Question from Deputy Ó Caoláin, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney stated that while the GP-only card will cost approximately €250 per year, the cost per year of the full medical card is €1,000 per year. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The revelation that the GP-only medical card is a quarter of the cost of the real Medical Card comes on Budget Day and adds a dose of reality to the hype over Minister Cowen's first big outing as Finance Minister.

"Hospital charges and medicine costs have already been increased by the Government so that the FF/PD Coalition is giving with one hand and taking away with the other. While the extension of free GP services to many more people will be welcome, the Government should not try to fool people into thinking that they are getting the full value of the General Medical Services Scheme. They will still bear the heavy cost of medicines which together with hospital attendances represent three quarters of the value of the medical card."

Text of Question and Reply

121. Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timescale for delivery of the promised 200,000 general practitioner-only cards; the legislation that will be necessary to provide for them; the estimated cost per card in comparison with the cost per card of the full medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31636/04]

Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children (Ms Harney): Subject to clarifying legislative and administrative issues, the new doctor visit card will

be introduced as early as possible in 2005. The estimated cost of 200,000 new doctor visit cards will be approximately €50 million in a full year, which means an estimated cost per card per year of €250, compared to an estimated annual cost of €1,000 for a full medical card. The Department of Health and Children will work closely with the health boards and authority in the coming weeks. It will work with the HSE, which is due to assume responsibility for the service in 2005, to oversee the operation of the scheme. Arrangements have been agreed to put the processes required in train. The Irish Medical Organisation, which has been made aware of the initiatives, has indicated that the developments are in line with its views.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will tonight address a Sinn Féin selection convention in Navan, County Meath. In his address Mr Adams will deal with the current situation in the political negotiations. Mr. Adams said: "As far as we are concerned we have made our final representations on the governments‚ text. We look to both governments to make sure that it is in line with their own stated position, that it upholds the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement. The DUP leader, Ian Paisley, also needs to face up to his responsibilities to join in the collective challenge of peace making."

Mr. Adams goes on to say "At this point in the negotiations one of the most important issues to be resolved is the DUPs refusal to do this. This unwillingness to share power with Sinn Féin, to accept Sinn Féin's democratic mandate, and to respect the rights and entitlements of our electorate is a block on efforts to- a partnership of equals - cannot be built through a process of humiliation. Our focus is on achieving a deal. In every negotiation there is a time when you have to call it. For Ian Paisley that time is now.""ENDS

The full text of Mr Adams speech follows.

" We are at a defining point in the peace process. The last months, weeks and days have seen accelerating discussions, involving the DUP for the first time, about a comprehensive agreement which would see all outstanding matters dealt with and the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full. The discussion of the issues has been detailed, thorough and exhaustive. In my opinion these discussion can go no further - it is now time for a decision.

The two governments are absolutely clear about Sinn Féin‚s view of their draft outline of a comprehensive agreement. Our party made our initial response when we received the document from the Taoiseach on 17th November. We gave our response in writing to them the next day. The criteria for our judgement on this document were also made clear. That is, that the proposals need to be bedded in the Good Friday Agreement and capable of delivering the Agreement in full.

As far as we are concerned we have made our final representations on the governments‚ text. We look to both governments to make sure that it is in line with their own stated position, that it upholds the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

The DUP leader, Ian Paisley, also needs to face up to his responsibilities to join in the collective challenge of peace making.

His refusal to talk to Sinn Féin makes this very difficult. His recent remarks compound these difficulties. They also explain his refusal to embrace the power sharing, all-Ireland and equality fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

A DUP demand for the humiliation of republicans is not only unacceptable, it will not happen and it has no place in a process of peace making. The days of humiliation, of second-class citizens and of inequality are over and gone forever. If the DUP want to be part of a new and shared future, they will have to replace the mindset of humiliation with a new psychology of accommodation and generosity.

Unionist leaders have set out concerns about the issue of IRA weapons. Sinn Féin believes that this matter can be dealt with to the satisfaction of all reasonable people in the context of a comprehensive agreement and under the remit of the IICD.

Sinn Féin's approach in this phase of the process has been two fold. We are trying to get the DUP on board. We are also seeking to ensure that any proposals from the governments, and any agreement emerging out of these discussions, are rooted firmly in the Good Friday Agreement. The governments‚ proposals have to be about delivery of the Agreement. They have to defend the democratic wishes and mandate of the electorate, north and south.

Under the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, parties have to vote for the nominees for the joint office of the First and Deputy First Ministers. At this point in the negotiations one of the most important issues to be resolved is the DUPs refusal to do this. This unwillingness to share power with Sinn Féin, to accept Sinn Féin's democratic mandate, and to respect the rights and entitlements of our electorate is a block on efforts to move forward. The DUP have not only refused to declare their willingness to accept the power-sharing core of the Good Friday Agreement, but their refusal to share power in Ballymena, Lisburn, Castlereagh and other local councils is the most practical evidence of their position.

The DUP demands are not acceptable to Sinn Féin. They should not be acceptable to the two governments.

Sinn Féin is determined to defend the Agreement and to ensure that any deal is entrenched in the principles of powersharing, inclusivity and equality, and the all-Ireland institutions which are the bedrock of the Good Friday Agreement. Ian Paisley says he wants a fair deal. So do we. The Good Friday Agreement is that fair deal.

Mr. Paisley‚s recent remarks, including his desire to "humiliate‚ republicans" to have republicans "wear sackcloth and ashes", and his party‚s constant use of offensive language, particularly in describing republicans as criminals and gangsters, is not the language of peace making. Republicans can find a lot to object to about being in government with the DUP. Both our party and Ian Paisley‚s have a lot to do to make this process a success. But the prize of a just and lasting peace demands that of all responsible political leaders. In this spirit it is worth remembering that the least said, the soonest mended.

So there are clear difficulties for Ian Paisley in coming to terms with the principles and ethos and commitments contained in the Good Friday Agreement and which underpin current efforts.

I rehearse all of this tonight not as an obstacle to finding an agreement with the DUP - nor as a rebuttal to his remarks against republicans - but to remind everyone of the journey which the DUP has to make, in a very short time, if we are to achieve a comprehensive agreement and I do so also because I am looking for continued support from republican Ireland for Sinn Féin's efforts to secure this.

Going into government with the DUP will be a huge challenge for republicans. Republican patience with how unionism deals with the political institutions, and with key issues like equality and human rights, will be tested because, obviously, there will be a battle a day on these matters. So lets face up to all of this with our eyes wide open.

But this phase of these discussions has to be brought to a conclusion. If the DUP is not up for a deal then the two governments have to come forward with proposals to move the process forward, if the DUP refuses to engage properly, then the two governments must move ahead without them. The process of change cannot be frozen because rejectionist unionism refuses to come to terms with the new political realities. Political unionism cannot be allowed to veto the fundamental rights of citizens or to veto other changes necessary for the development of a peaceful society.

In this context the British and Irish governments will have to promote a new, imaginative and dynamic alternative in which both governments will share power in the north. The Good Friday Agreement and the basic rights and entitlements of citizens that are enshrined within it must be defended and actively promoted by London and Dublin.

In my view all of these outstanding matters can be resolved if the governments are genuinely committed to the Good Friday Agreement. A deal is still possible. But an accommodation - a partnership of equals - cannot be built through a process of humiliation. Our focus is on achieving a deal. In every negotiation there is a time when you have to call it. For Ian Paisley that time is now." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Meath County Councillor and Ard Chomhairle member Joe Reilly was this evening selected as the party's candidate for the forthcoming Meath by-election. Also attending the convention were Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald and party President Gerry Adams MP. Speaking at tonight‚s election convention, which was held in the Newgrange Hotel in Navan, Councillor Reilly said "We are contesting this election to win, to return the first Sinn Fein TD for Meath since Liam Mellows was elected in 1918."

Full Text

I am honoured to have been selected to stand as your Sinn Fein candidate in the forthcoming Meath by-election.

Sinn Fein has brought a new type of politics to Meath and to Ireland as a whole. We are leading the way in the peace process, we are working hard in our local communities and we are putting forward an alternative vision for a united Ireland based on equality and justice.

Sinn Fein's success in the local and European elections shows that our agenda for change is popular. I want to give a warm welcome to our newly elected MEP for Dublin - Mary Lou McDonald.

In the last decade Sinn Fein has gone from strength to strength in Meath. We now have six councillors and are continuing to expand. Our success in electing Caroline Ni Loinsigh, to Trim Town Council, Anne Gibney to Navan Town Council, Connor Fergusan to Kells Town Council, Michael Gallagher to Meath Co. Council and myself to Meath County and Navan Town Council is testimony that the voters in Co. Meath recognise that Sinn Fein is the only real alternative to the other establishment parties.

We are contesting this election to win, to return the first Sinn Fein TD for Meath since Liam Mellows was elected in 1918. This is a realisable goal. My commitment is to winning

The past decade has been the decade of the peace process in Ireland and the politics of Sinn Fein's peace strategy is to empower people.

But the past decade has also been the decade of tribunals when the corrupt relationship between leading politicians in this state and big business was exposed as never before. Most of the scandals centred on planning. Corrupt politicians, corrupt officials, land speculators and property developers profited from the misery of others and counties such as Meath are now coping with the fall out of this.

Their crimes were not victimless crimes. Every young couple in County Dublin who moved to Meath because they could not afford to live in their area, in their own county are victims of the greed and corruption of some politicians.

Since then of course the wealth of this state has been greater than at any time in its history and I welcome that. But today, despite the wealth created, children and teachers are forced to teach and learn in sub standard schools. Today young couples that have obtained a mortgage are working all hours to keep up payments and are commuting for hours every day due to traffic chaos and poor public transport.

Those who are most in need and who can least afford to pay for housing are left at the end of the line. There are nearly 1,000 people on the local authority housing list in this county and that is an absolute disgrace.

Sinn Fein is working to bring about change now. We are working to build an alternative to the kind of government which can preside over one of the wealthiest economies in the EU, yet fail to provide ordinary citizens with decent public services, in health, in education, transport and housing. That means reforming the tax system, investment in social and affordable housing and having a proper public transport system.

Also let me re-state here tonight my earlier calls for the immediate construction of by-passes for Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells. Our transport needs must be driven by the needs of the commuter and not by the needs of the public - private partnerships.

I also calling on Minister Dick Roche to abandon plans to drive a motorway through the Skyrne/Tara Valley domain. There is an alternative route that allows for an un-tolled motorway to be built.

As the county with the fastest growing population in the country we need an integrated transport policy that sees a central bus station in Navan, quality bus corridors and the re-opening of the Dublin - Navan rail link.

On health we need to be assured that Our Lady‚ Hospital in Navan will continue to up-graded to the standard that is fitting for a major urban centre with a growing county population.

But the business of making change and delivering for our communities is not easy. There are powerful opponents of change throughout this island. We have to confront them in negotiations and confront them in different institutions across the island.

As Chairperson of the National Elected Representatives Forum I am keenly aware of the amount and important work our representatives do on a daily basis to bring about the change necessary.

Again throughout this campaign, like we have seen in other elections over the years, the opponents of Irish Republicanism will be working flat out to stop our project.

We have to work even harder than them.

We have to knock more doors than them.

We have to engage with more people then them.

We have to encourage more people to join with us.

That is the task for the people in this room.

Experience shows us that republicans focussed on a project are the most powerful force on the island. We are focussed on winning.

Earlier this week I travelled with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, to Downing Street and to Government Buildings in Dublin where we have been involved in a crucial series of negotiations.

We want to see a deal achieved. We want to see the Good Friday Agreement with its all-Ireland architecture implemented and delivering for people throughout the 32 counties. We want to see the DUP come onboard this project.

But we will not allow the two governments to depart from the fundamentals of the Agreement. The people of Ireland have endorsed the Agreement in referenda and the vast majority of the Irish people are still firmly behind it. I respect the mandate of the DUP - but the reality is they represent an anti-Agreement minority and they cannot be allowed to veto or stall progress any further.

Sinn Féin has a substantial electoral mandate. That is why we are in negotiations. The opportunity exists for the people of Meath in the coming months to strengthen our negotiating hand further. Ordinary people can impact on the corridors of power in Dublin, London and Washington - that has been the lesson of the rise of Sinn Féin over the past decade.

Voices and votes for too long taken for granted by the establishment parties north and south have found a home in Sinn Féin, the oldest of all of the Irish political parties.

In what must be one of the most important by-election in years Sinn Fein will be appealing for votes right across the board.

From Ashbourne to Oldcastle, from Ballivor to Laytown we will seeking No 1 and transfer votes from Fianna Fail voters unhappy with this government, from Labour voters who know that Sinn Fein represents their interest in councils, to Fine Gael voters who support the peace process and know that we are the only party capable of ensuring that FF don‚t win the seat. As for the PD voter, Michael and Mary they don‚t have any in Meath.

So as we enter 2005, let us leave here tonight committed to the task ahead. Let the people of Meath elect the first Sinn Féin TD in this, our centenary year.

Go raibh maith agaibh.

Profile of Councillor Joe Reilly

Joe Reilly is a Sinn Féin Councillor for Meath County Council - Navan and Navan Town Council. He is a long standing member of the party's Ard Chomhairle (National Executive) and head of the party's Local Government elected representatives Forum and is keenly involved in our reach out to Unionism.

He was General Secretary of Sinn Féin when in 1988 the party first produced "Scenario for Peace". This document was the foundation stone for the current peace process, which was initiated by Sinn Féin.

He has played a central role in the peace process as a member of Sinn Féin's negotiations team and was involved in recent talks at Downing Street and Government Buildings.

In 1994 he was first elected to Navan Urban District Council. In 1999 he was re-elected to Navan UDC topping the poll and he also took a seat on Meath County Council for the first time. In the 2002 General Election he received 6,042 first preference votes. In this years Local Government elections Sinn Féin increased its representation from one councillor to 6 council seats throughout the county.

As a Meath County Councillor Joe Reilly has campaigned tirelessly on a range of issues affecting the people of the area, including housing, the environment and roads. He is a member of VEC, Navan Civic Trust, Navan Travellers Advisory Committee, the Board of Management of Meath Youth Federation and a member of Our Ladies Hospital Action Committee.

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Commenting on the news that the British Government has announced their intention to lift the beef ban, Sinn Féin Agriculture spokesperson Michelle Gildernew said:

" The impact of the beef ban was so great on local farmers that we raised the issue directly with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Downing Street on Monday.

" I said after that meeting that I believed that the case put to Mr Blair was irresistible and that I was hopeful of early movement in the wake of the meeting.

" I am obviously delighted that our intervention on this issue has borne fruit and it is now important that the lifting of the ban proceeds quickly and without any further delays." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, MP, today welcomed the fact that the Andersonstown Barracks is to be closed, once and for all:

"There is no reason for this fortress in the middle of Andersonstown. Sinn Fein is the only party which has consistently campaigned for the closure of Andersonstown barracks.

" Now, the property and land should be made given back to the west Belfast community again. Sinn Fein will join forces with the local community to ensure this symbol of militarisation and oppression is made part of the regeneration of west Belfast which we are advancing." ENDS

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Responding to comments this afternoon by the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde on the continuing use of plastic bullets, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing and Justice issues Gerry Kelly said:

" The continuing use of plastic bullets has been raised by Sinn Féin in each and every phase of the political negotiations including the one we are currently involved in. This is a key issue in the delivery of an acceptable policing service. This is work we are still currently engaged in.

" The Sinn Féin position on these lethal devices is clear and consistent. The use of plastic bullets should be ended immediately. That is the motivation behind raising the continuing purchase and use of plastic bullets by the PSNI with the British government.

" In contrast the SDLP oppose plastic bullets in public, yet in the privacy of the policing board rubber stamp the purchase of tens of thousands of these killer devices. It is hardly a coincidence that at a time when Sinn Féin has put the issue of plastic bullets and other such key issues at the heart of the political agenda that the SDLP suddenly decide to pass public comment." ENDS

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A Sinn Féin delegation today travelled to Downing Street for discussions with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and senior officials. The Sinn Féin delegation was led by party President Gerry Adams and included Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin, Joe Reilly, Caitriona Ruane, Michelle Gildernew, Gerry Kelly and Mitchel McLaughlin.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Adams said that as far as he was concerned Sinn Féin 'had made its final representations on the governments text'.

Mr Adams said:

" As far as we are concerned we have made our final representations on the governments' text. We look to both governments to make sure that it is in line with their own criteria, that is, that it upholds the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

" The two governments are absolutely clear about Sinn Féin's view of their draft outline for a comprehensive agreement. Our party made our initial response when we received the document from the Taoiseach on 17th November. We gave this in writing to the two governments the next day. The criteria for our judgement on this document was also made clear. That is, that it needs to be bedded in the Good Friday Agreement and capable of delivering the Agreement.

" We also look to DUP leader, Ian Paisley, to face up to his responsibilities to join in the collective challenge of peace making.

" His refusal to talk to us makes this very difficult. His recent provocative remarks compound this. They also provide a rationale for his refusal thus far to embrace the power sharing, all-Ireland and equality fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement.

" Ian Paisley set out concerns about the issue of IRA weapons. Sinn Féin believes that this matter can be dealt with to the satisfaction of all reasonable people in the context of a comprehensive agreement. This can only be done under the tutelage of the IICD.

" A deal is still possible. An accommodation, a partnership of equals, cannot be built through a process of humiliation. Our focus is on achieving a deal. But it is only possible in the terms of the Good Friday Agreement." ENDS

Editors Note: On his return to Ireland this evening Mr Adams will address Sinn Féin activists in Navan, Co. Meath when he will deal in more detail with the current situation regarding the negotiations.

The meeting will take place in the Newgrange Hotel in Navan at 8pm and the media are welcome to attend.

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Speaking after a debate in the European Parliament on World AIDS Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has called on EU leaders to do more to assist the developing world combat the ever growing pandemic.

Ms de Brún said:

"Today there are 40 million people across the globe living with HIV/AIDS. Of this number almost 50% are women and 90% from developing countries. Within the developed world the number of people living with HIV has doubled since 1995.

"This is an issue of global significance, which requires united global action.

"There is a need for more research and development of therapeutic and preventative treatments. There is also need for greater promotion of sexual health and safe sex practices.

"Political leaders need to recognise the relationship between poverty, discrimination and HIV/AIDS, and the centrality of implementing the Millenium Development Goals to breaking the cycle of underdevelopment, poverty and disease.

"Pharmaceutical companies also have a responsibility and governments must look at ways to reduce prices to enable developing countries to afford the antiviral drugs which are widely available in the industrialised world.

"In light of all of this I am delighted to support the all party European Parliamentary resolution on HIV/AIDS today.

"In particular Sinn Féin supports the call on the new Commission to ensure that funding continues to plug the 'decency gap' left by the US withdrawal of UNFPA funding, not only in the developing world but also in Eastern Europe and Central Asia;

"We welcomes the Commission's statement of 23 November 2004 on the presentation in April 2005 of an action plan to fight AIDS and looks forward to concrete actions;

"All world political leaders and governments have a responsibility to address this growing crisis. The EU in particular must show leadership. I hope the unanimity of opinion which this resolution represents will lead to significant and radical action by EY member states and the European commission in the months ahead." ENDS

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Inniu d'ardaigh Aengus Ó Snodaigh ceist ghéarrchéim an nuachtán laethúil LÁ sa Dáil. Lorg sé go bheadh an Dáil curtah ar athló chun deileál leis an ábhar práinneach sin. Lorg sé tacaíocht dá rún:

"Go n-impíonn an Teach seo ar Foras na Gaeilge agus INTERREG aistharraingt a dhéanamh ar a gcinní a ghlacadar de bhárr feachtas polaitiúil ó dílseoirí sna Sé Chontae iarratais ón nuachtán laethúil Gaeilge LÁ a chuir ar leathaobh, toisc go bhfuil an nuachtán anois i mbaoill; go bhfuil beirt tar éis a phoist a chailliúnt; go bhfuil gearradh siar ar foilseachán an nuachtán ó cúig lá sa seachtain go dtí 4 lá; agus go bhfuil cinneadh Foras na Gaeilge agus INTERREG ag teacht salach ar Comhaontú Aoine Chéasta agus baineas leis."

Ina dhiaidh dúirt sé go raibh sé scannallach go raibh Foras na Gaeilge ach go h-áirithe tar éis géilleadh do bhrú polaitiúl agus do agenda dílseoirí frith-Ghaelach. "Níl uatha sin ach damáiste a dhéanamh do tógraí agus do thodhchaí an Ghaeilge, toisc go bhfuil said cúlaigeanta agus go bhfuil éad ortha chomh bríomhar is atá pobal na Gaeilge agus go bhfuil céimeanna mór chun tosaigh glactha ar an bóthar fada chun athréimiú an teanga. Tá sé tábhachtach nach gcuidíonn an rialtas nó an stat chóras anseo leo san obair diúltach sin."

"Impíonn ar Ghael na hÉireann tacaíocht a thabhairt do LÁ san ama seo."

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Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann Cllr John O'Dowd MLA has said that the capitation formulae used to allocate funding to the health boards is 'becoming a rationing book for scarce resources rather than a mechanism for enhancing health care'.

The current budget proposals places a future Executive in the untenable position of imposing health cuts without effective revenue raising powers. Direct Rule Ministers have clearly failed to obtain the resources necessary to support our society and the political delivery of a peace dividend.

Sinn Féin has submitted its formal response to the British Government consultation on the manner in which its distributes funding to the four Health boards across the Six Counties.

Cllr John O'Dowd MLA said today:

"There is major concern in many quarters that the health service in the North is not receiving the necessary resources needed to provide an effective and adequate service for all. We are mindful that the health service has been drained of resources over the past twenty years. This has led to the Capitation Formula becoming a rationing book for scarce resources rather than a mechanism for enhancing health care. There is clearly a need for additional resources for health to tackle the legacy of under investment and to develop high quality, effective and accessible services.

"The report of the Capitation Review Group should have reflected the need for greater investment in order to develop a quality service. Currently, it is estimated that the Health Service in the Six Counties would need to receive at least an additional £250 million during the period 2005 - 2008 in order to receive the same uplift which the British Government is giving the health service in England.

"Objectives set out in Investing for Health are being ignored and the Department appears to be attempting to move away from the Investing for Health Programme. It is essential that a cross-Departmental approach be taken to resourcing a programme of major and long-term health change. There are clearly unfinished policy commitments still due to be delivered since the suspension of the Assembly and there must be a rapid progress to resolve outstanding issues from Developing Better Services and the future of NHS structures.

"In particular, those issues relate to the overdue modernisation and resourcing to our healthcare systems which fundamentally fail to meet needs and promote outcomes at even average European health status levels."

Note to Editors

Key conclusions contained in the Sinn Féin document have identified the following:

· There is a need for the Capitation Formulae to reflect the development of greater all-Ireland co-operation and working.

· There is a need for greater investment in the Health Services in order for the Capitation Formulae to be effective and not away of rationing an unrealistic budget.

· There is a need to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest between Review Group membership and roles within Health Boards. Further to this is the need to include service users and Trade Unions on the group.

· That the recommendations of the Capitation Review are temporary pending the outworking of the ongoing Review of Public Administration.

· There is a need for an additional fund to redress inequalities in Health

· There is a need for the Capitation Formulae to incorporate fully Targeting Social Need by placing a greater emphasis on social disadvantage.

· There is a need for Boards to apply the amended Capitation Formulae at local levels.

· Sinn Féin believes that a process to identify inequalities of access to services and health outcomes should be an integral component of the Capitation Review.

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, responded to remarks today made by the former Special Branch commander Bill Lowry who recently spoke at a DUP function about the possible restoration of power-sharing:

Mr Kelly said:

"This man helped mastermind the politically-motivated raid on Sinn Fein‚s administrative offices at Stormont. The Stormont raid and the Special Branch plot which preceded it was a clear attempt to wreck power-sharing and smear Sinn Fein.

" After this latest outburst, no-one can be under any illusions about the anti-nationalist, anti Agreement political agenda of individuals like Bill Lowry.

" The RUC cartel of political detectives behind the Stormont raid have no future in an accountable policing service. Nor can they evade responsibility for the policy of collusion prosecuted by Special Branch together with unionist paramilitaries and which has lead to the killings of many nationalists.

" For our part, Sinn Fein remains focussed upon achieving the new beginning to policing which others, including those within Special Branch, have sought to resist."

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Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan said it was fear of the voters which forced the Government to abandon the previous policies of Charlie McCreevy.

Deputy Morgan said, My first instinctive response to this Budget is to say WELL DONE. Not well done to the FF/PD collation.

"I'm saying well done to those voters who scared the living daylights out of this Government last summer and sending the message that they, the people, will no longer accept the wanton, right-wing gallop that is widening the gap between rich and the 20% of people living in poverty.

"But let us be clear about this. There are some good measures in this Budget; but there are also failures.

"When former Finance Minister McCreevy introduced his first Budget in 1997 he said he would be judged not on one Budget but on all of them over the following years. That judgement has been delivered by the Government itself. This Budget is a very belated admission that Budgets since 1997 have failed to address gross inequality, they failed to eliminate poverty and they failed to protect the disadvantaged and people with special needs. If some of these are being addressed now we welcome that ˆ but it could and should have been from day one back in 1997."

Full text:

Speech by Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan on Budget 2005

My first instinctive response to this Budget is to say WELL DONE. No, I'm definitely NOT saying well done to the FF/PD collation.

I'm saying well done to those voters who scared the living daylights out of this Government last summer and sending the message that they, the people , will no longer accept the wanton, right-wing gallop that is widening the gap between rich and the 20% of people living in poverty.

Keep voting Sinn Féin; it's working.

But let us be clear about this. There are some good measures in this Budget; but there are also failures. Indeed, if we look at one of the major announcements in last year's Budget, the Relocation (or Decentralisation) issue, only last week, Phil Flynn pronounced that only 3,500 people will now be relocated, instead of the 10,300 announced last year, we see how budget announcements are not always what they seem. People will remember that the announcement made last year was to be delivered by 2007. It has now gone to 2008. The Minister said today that this is well on track. Well on track? Who is he fooling? Himself, I assure you, because if he considers this catastrophe well on track, everyone EXCEPT the FF/PD government will see it for what it is - a mess.

The budget should focus primarily on improving the lot of the disadvantaged and the low paid while seeking to make the wealthy pay their fair share.

When former Finance Minister McCreevy introduced his first Budget in 1997 he said he would be judged not on one Budget but on all of them over the following years. That judgement has been delivered by the Government itself. This Budget is a very belated admission that Budgets since 1997 have failed to address gross inequality, they failed to eliminate poverty and they failed to protect the disadvantaged and people with special needs. If some of these are being addressed now we welcome that ˆ but it could and should have been from day one back in 1997.

Contrary to what the Minister for Finance stated during the course of the speech the Government was indifferent to the plight of the disadvantaged until the reality of electoral repercussions of their neglect of the most needy sections of society started to bite and the prospect of massive seat losses began to loom.

Seven years of McCreevyite economics have deepened the inequalities in Irish society. Instead of using unprecedented resources to redistribute wealth and close the poverty gap this Government has worsened social and economic inequality in every Budget since 1997. The Living in Ireland Survey of 2001 estimated levels of poverty in this State. By its reckoning over 700,000 people have incomes so inadequate that they are deemed to be living in poverty. Of these over 250,000 are children. All the front-line agencies agree that, while there have been some improvements, this level of disadvantage and inequality persists in 2004.

Capital funding increases are to be welcomed but one should not forget that we are playing catch up. The failure of the Government to allocate adequate funding to social housing, childcare and the development of public transport infrastructure have had a very negative on economic competitiveness in the state and will have the severe repercussions for the economy of the state if these policies continue to be pursued. Sinn Féin has called for the Government to address the State's social provision and infrastructure deficits and has specifically called for measures in relation to childcare, housing and health. Government inaction on housing, and the provision of affordable childcare has the inevitable effect of driving up wage demands; workers who are forced to pay extortionate prices for houses and childcare and need wage increases to pay for those necessities. The current government is pursuing a policy of wage restraints in exchange for tax cuts, while the root causes of wage demands such as the lack of affordability of necessities such as housing and childcare are being ignored. In the case of social spending, well managed short- to medium-term investment will often yield medium- to long-term savings, as other direct and indirect costs are reduced. Investing in health, education, transport, infrastructure, housing is planning for the future. The underlying problem is that the state is not raising enough taxation to pay for the public services which need to be delivered. Public funding has fallen from 39.1% of GDP in 1990 to 30.1% in 2004. The tax model in place in this state not adequate to provide European norms of public service. This state has a very low level of public sector provision which is heavily over subsidised by high vat which hits the poorest sections of society heaviest.. It is policy of government to rely heavily on high indirect taxes as the major source of revenue, with almost half of all taxes being raised from spending taxes. VAT is high at 21 per cent compared to 17.5 per cent in Britain. The reality is that our high rates of VAT are paying for the low corporation tax.

The use of the term "giveaway budget" in reference to any budget which gives even a little to the less well off in our society is very misleading and is accompanied by the suggestion that the less well off should be grateful for whatever small increases in welfare etc they receive.

One budget could not be expected to undo the damage done duding McCreevy's seven years at the helm of the Department of Finance but it should have been used as a starting point for reforming the tax system to create an equitable and fair system where the wealthy and business pay their fair share of tax and where the tax system is used as a tool to create an equitable society.

Budget day is all about presentation. We must ask ourselves if the average citizen is really much better off when you consider the rate of increases in the numerous stealth taxes which people are forced to pay - such as waste charges, tolls etc. These are being introduced on a weekly or a daily basis. Stealth taxes are inequitable and have

Tax Issues

Sinn Féin does welcome the fact that the Minister has increased tax credits. This was necessary to address to plight of the low paid and is a belated attempt by the government to live up to their promise to take those on the minimum wage out of the tax net. Increasing credits benefits all taxpayers, but it gives the highest proportional benefit to the less well-off. The widening of the lower tax band is welcome. It is right that those on the average industrial wage should pay tax only at the standard rate. The numbers of people being pulled into the higher 42 per cent rate has been increasing. In 2002 26.7 per cent of taxpayers had part of their income taxed at 42 per cent, with the rest liable only at the standard 20 per cent rate. By last year, the percentage caught by the higher rate had risen to 32.6 per cent.

There are many others out there, struggling on wages that are just above the minimum wage who will continue to pay income tax. That is not acceptable. Sinn Féin would have preferred to see a heavier emphasis put on these people rather than splitting the benefits of tax changes by increasing tax credits and expanding the tax bands. We need to ensure that those most disadvantaged are the ones to make the most benefits out of this budget.

The Minister has stated that he closed down taxloopholes. He certainly has not. Sinn Féin has been calling for review of relief's for years but the Government have refused to do it. Let there be no confusion we are not taking about tax reliefs for ordinary citizens such as mortages relief. We are talking about tax relief's that have massively befitted speculators etc

I welcome the fact that an evaluation of all relief‚s and incentives is to be undertaken and that follow up measures will be included in next years budget. However we should not have to wait until next years budget for such measures to be introduced. Also there are clearly a number of unjustifiable tax loopholes which should have been closed in budget. I am thinking of those related to the horse racing industry in particular which one would have expected to end with the departure of Charlie McCreevy.

The Minister for Finance and the Revenue Commissioners are still not able to tell us the cost of a whole range of tax giveaways for which this Government is responsible - tax giveaways for holiday home developments, hotels, multi-storey car parks, sports injury clinics etc etc. - which benefit wealthy speculators.

We will probably never know how much has been lost through these scams.

Why has the Minister not introduced measures to ensure that there is a base line of taxation, which would ensure that where justifiable tax incentives exist, they cannot be exploited by the wealthy for tax avoidance purposes.

There should be an increase in Capital Gains tax on speculative owners of multiple dwellings. The Government has for far too long promoted investment in property at the expense of ordinary workers trying to secure housing.

Social Welfare

Sinn Féin called for an increase in Child Benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child and €185.50 for third and subsequent children. Child Benefit is recognised as the single most effective social welfare measure for addressing the needs of children.

Increases in child benefit are welcome but not adequate if this remains the Government's stated preferred method of assisting families with childcare costs. Sinn Féin called for a childcare supplement to be paid as top up for child benefit for under 5's? This budget will do little to address the difficulties faced by parents to secure affordable childcare.

Housing

The provisions in this budget in relation to funding for social housing are disgraceful. It is inexplicable. There are now 60,000 households on local authority waiting list to whom to this budget will mean very little. These people are primarily low income families who have no hope of ever being able to buy their own home and to whom the changes in relation to stamp duty will mean nothing.

Sinn Féin has called for adequate funding to be made available to increase the increase the total social housing rental in the State by 30% ensuring that appropriate accommodation is built for the differing sizes of families and that the needs of single people are adequately catered for. We have also called for a target to be set for the elimination of waiting lists by local authorities, with an immediate target of 70 per cent of applicant units to be provided with suitable accommodation within two years of their being on the list.

The Governments attitude on social housing was flagged up in recent days by the attempt by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and local Government to put the entire blame on the Local Authorities for the poor delivery in relation to the construction of new social housing units is not good enough. The most incompetent Junior Minister that this state has seen in a long time - Noel Ahern has been attempting to tell us for the last number of years that there is not problem with the number of social housing units being constructed. He has persistently quoted the overall figures for the construction of housing units in order to hide the low level of construction of social housing. Though some local authorities clearly wish to get out of the provision of social housing altogether I do not believe the Government is taking on board the severe difficulties faced by cash strapped local authorities who attempt to secure land for the construction of housing

If the Minister is really committed to this issue he will reintroduce the original part V provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000 which were repealed by his predecessor.

In relation to the tax relief for those in rented accommodation though tenants will welcome in the absence of rent control this amounts to the government subsidising rack renting landlords, the vast majority of whom have failed to register which the Private Residential Tenancies Board.

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