The Minister for Health and Children has admitted that income thresholds for medical card qualification are too low. He was replying to a Dáil Question from Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin who challenged the Minister to act on his statement and extend medical card qualification to all under 18 during the lifetime of this Government.
Deputy Ó Caoláin described as "another snub to the people, another broken promise" the Minister's failure to commit to the extension of medical card cover as promised before the last General Election. The Minister would only say that "hopefully" there would be an extension during the remainder of the Government's term.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"When I last raised this matter the Minister stated that, due to the prevailing budgetary situation, it was not possible this year to meet the commitment in the Government's health strategy to increase the number of people eligible for a medical card. Since the Minister made that statement, the budgetary situation has greatly improved as have the general economic trends.
"Yet the fact remains that a married couple with two children with a miserly income of E260 per week will not qualify for free GP care for their children. That is scandalous in the Ireland of 2004 - the Ireland of a booming private healthcare industry, the Ireland of record sales of the most expensive cars, where many can afford multiple annual foreign holidays, where there is a new landlordism. At the other end of the scale are the families who suffer real hardship in order to meet the medical needs of their young children.
"The Government's Health Strategy repeatedly stresses the vital importance of primary care and the Minister rightly repeats that at every opportunity. Yet many, many of the children of the nation are being denied proper access to primary care. The principle of universal qualification, regardless of income, is applied to people over 70 but not to those under 18. Because of the total inadequacy of the income guidelines there is a vast pool of unmet need." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe today raised in the Dáil the urgent issue of the threat of imminent closure of Carmichael House in Dublin and urged the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to intervene to ensure the survival of small NGOs like the Coeliac Society of Ireland which provides a "vital role for the thousands of coeliac sufferers in Ireland".
Deputy Crowe said:
"There is an urgent necessity for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to make a commitment to provide the necessary funding to keep the Carmichael Centre open and running at its current level of professionalism. The Centre currently hosts 45 volunteer groups, including the Coeliac Society of Ireland who service and provide support to 7,500 coeliacs.
"The services that the Carmichael Centre provide to community groups and NGOS is invaluable with many people dependent on the support and networking that is provided from advocacy groups to disability groups to lobby groups. The services and work that the 45 small organisations in the Centre provide cannot be underestimated. The Coeliac Society has played a vital role for the thousands of coeliac sufferers in Ireland - this disease was largely ignored for years and now that so many people yearly are diagnosed as sufferers, it is vitally important that they have access to the information and support that the Coeliac Society offers.
"With all the money flowing around this country, we should be seeing upgrading, not downgrading, of services. If we have a department for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, then they should certainly sit up and pay attention to this very important issue for community affairs with wide-reaching effects amongst the members and supporters of these 45 essential groups, now threatened with homelessness." ENDS
At tonight's meeting of Lisburn City Council a motion calling for power sharing to be introduced into the Council is being debated.
The motion urging Lisburn to introduce such a policy was recently passed by Fermanagh Council and then sent on to Lisburn.
Council protocol compels Lisburn councillors to debate the motion tonight.
There is a counter proposal before the Council from the Council's Chief Executive, Norman Davidson, rejecting Fermanagh's motion accusing Fermanagh Council of 'unprecedented and unwarranted interference'.
The motion from Fermanagh arises from a lobby carried out by Sinn Féin Councillor, Paul Butler, following the decision at last year's AGM of Lisburn Council to exclude Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance from positions of authority on the Council.
The meeting will take place tonight at 7pm in the Council Offices in Lisburn
Cllr. Butler can be contacted on 07961577811 for further details
Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP has expressed his concerns that the British government are dragging their heals on establishing the public inquiries demanded by Judge Cory into a number of high profile killings.
Mr Doherty said:
" The British government received Judge Cory's Report last October. They sat on it for months before finally publishing a censored version. At that time they committed themselves to holding three public inquiries but have repeatedly failed to give such a commitment in relation to the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.
" Yet months on it seems that little actual progress has been made on establishing the three inquiries which the British government have announced are to go ahead. I would share the concerns raised by these families over the current slow pace being adopted by the British government.
" Given the record of the British government in these maters and the culture of concealment which exists at the heart of the British system there is obviously real concern that there are those within that system who are determined to continue to suppress the truth. That would be completely unacceptable.
" Sinn Féin will continue to support the families of those killed through the British State policy of collusion and murder in Ireland as they search for answers from the British government and we will continue to raise these maters with both governments in our ongoing discussions." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly members Alex Maskey and Kathy Stanton today met with the British and Irish governments as part of the ongoing Review process. Speaking after the meetings Mr Maskey said that 'the Review agenda could not be allowed to be narrowed to suit the agenda of the DUP or any other single party'.
Mr Maskey said:
" As far back as last December Sinn Féin presented the British government with an extensive list of issues which needed to be addressed as part of the Review process if it was to make a positive contribution to overall efforts to see the process put back on track and the political institutions re-established.
" That agenda remains the template for the Sinn Féin team involved in the Review meetings. We are not interested in a process which is narrowly focused or focused on the particular agenda of one party or another. The two governments have a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen to the Review process.
" We made this clear to the British government yesterday and reinforced this point to both governments in our discussions today. It is the responsibility of the two governments to take the lead in the Review and ensure that it results in the maximum benefit possible for the overall process. This will not happen by narrowing the focus of the discussions resulting in a failure to address other crucial matters which fall under the Review remit." ENDS
Commenting on the resumption today of inquests into the deaths of ten people killed in Co. Tyrone by the Crown Forces, including pensioner Roseanne Mallon, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has said, 'that there is a growing belief amongst the families that the only avenue which will deliver the truth will be a public inquiry'.
Ms Gildernew said:
" After years of stalling and years of PSNI cover up the inquests into these ten killings resumed today. However given the experience of the families up until now people are not confident that the PSNI and the British State will allow the truth to be uncovered through the inquest route, despite the best efforts of the Coroner.
" There is a growing belief amongst the families that the only route which will deliver the truth and answer the many unanswered questions will be through a full public inquiry.
" These cases are an acid test of the British government's recently stated commitment to achieving the truth for those bereaved through the conflict. However at this stage the PSNI and the British government do not even class many of these deaths as amongst what they term as unsolved killings. Those victims of British State violence in Ireland are deemed second class even in death. This situation is unacceptable and has to change." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly has appealed to people on all sides to ensure that this weekends re-routed Orange Parade in West Belfast passes off without incident.
Mr Kelly said:
" It is my view given the history of this particular parade and the wholesale breaches of previous determinations, that the Parades Commission came to the correct decision in altering the route of Saturday's planned march.
" I also believe that much of the commentary made by unionist political representatives in the days since the decision was taken will not benefit efforts to ensure that the march passes off peacefully, and is in contrast to earlier statements from prominent unionist politicians committing themselves to working for a peaceful summer in the city.
" The nationalist community living on the Springfield Road want simply to be allowed to get on with their lives without massive disruption from a PSNI operation or from an unwanted parade being forced through their area.
" I would appeal to people on all sides to ensure that every effort is made in the coming days and on Saturday itself to ensure that community tensions are not raised further and that the day passes off peacefully." ENDS
Sinn Fein Councillors Jonathan O Brien and Annette Spillane will tonight meet with the technical group on Cork City Council to oppose attempts to form pacts which do not include all elected councillors.
Jonathan O Brien said: "The politics of exclusion do not work. I am saddened to see that three parties have got together in an attempt to freeze out other parties and independent councillors. In doing so they are ignoring the voters who elected these councillors, four of them poll toppers in their own constituencies."
"We in Sinn Fein attempted to meet all parties over the past week to try and form a democratic and inclusive method of electing mayors and committee chairs. Tonight we will be meeting with the technical group to formulate a strategy to make Cork City Council more democratic and representative of all its constituents."ENDS
Sinn Féin's newly appointed Group Leader on Dublin City Council Christy Burke today thanked all those who helped to elect Mary Lou McDonald as MEP and to elect fourteen Sinn Féin Councillors across Dublin City and County. He said that Sinn Féin's priority was to implement our agenda for change and to deliver for the people of Dublin.
Cllr Burke said:
"The election of fourteen Councillors across Dublin City and County and the election of Mary Lou McDonald as MEP signals a major transformation in the political landscape of the City.
"The election results on Dublin City Council, in particular, must ensure that there is real change on the City Council and not just a continuation of the policies which have failed this city for the last five years.
"It is clear that the people of Dublin want change and Sinn Féin will continue to meet with all parties and groups in City Hall with a view to building a left wing alliance that will strengthen the social agenda and address the many problems facing the city. These include the housing crisis, traffic chaos, bringing forward a proper waste management strategy, supporting public services, addressing the causes and consequences of drug addiction. We will also be discussing these matters with the City Manager.
"Sinn Féin is calling for real changes in City Hall. Local communities must have a real say in the development of the City. The previous administration of Fianna Fail & Labour became a faceless bureaucracy which failed to connect with the people of Dublin, starting tonight Sinn Féin intends to change all that."ENDS
Speaking from the Review talks at Stormont today, Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that 'efforts to find a resolution to the impasse in the peace process should not be put off until the autumn'.
Mr Murphy said:
"Sinn Féin's focus is on restoring the political institutions and ending the crisis in the process. Consequently, Sinn Féin has been pressing for a comprehensive and holistic package which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive.
"Before last Christmas and again before Easter Sinn Féin presented to the two governments with a detailed list of the outstanding areas which needed to be addressed including of course the sustainability of the political institutions.
"It is our view that with political will we could make progress this week and especially in Friday's talks in London. However the decision by the governments to put off intensive negotiations until September means that they have bought into the timeframe set down by the DUP.
"Once again the governments are allowing unionism and, in particular, a party which has clearly declared itself against the Good Friday Agreement and which refuses to accept and respect the mandates of others to set the pace in the process. This is unacceptable.
"There is no reason why the effort to resolve this should be put off for the summer and we will put this directly to the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach." ENDS
As part of ongoing Sinn Féin efforts to ensure a peaceful summer in interface areas Assembly members Alex Maskey and Kathy Stanton this afternoon met with the British Security Minister Ian Pearson. Speaking after the meeting Mr. Maskey said:
" Over the weekend there were worrying incidents in Belfast following the Tour of the North Orange parade. This included the disgraceful attack on the Mater Hospital by a gang of youths following the Orange parade.
" I was present in North Belfast throughout the evening and I was disturbed by the policing operation which was put in place. The PSNI riot squad was deployed in nationalist areas of North Belfast while the policing operation in unionist districts was visibly more relaxed. I challenged the PSNI personnel on the ground and actually alerted them to problems in various areas including the vicinity of the Mater Hospital. However no action was taken and the results were evident for all to see.
" I raised this issue with the Minister today and I also alerted him to serious concerns being expressed by nationalists living in mixed areas about the ongoing erection of unionist paramilitary flags.
" All of us in political and community leadership need to continue the work undertaken over recent weeks to overcome these difficulties and ensure that the peaceful summer which communities are demanding is delivered." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has welcomed the European Council's call for the EU Commission to examine the possibility of extending the PEACE II Programme for two years. Ms de Brún has also called for a separate Peace III programme for the post 2006 EU funding cycle.
Ms de Brún said:
"A number of months ago Sinn Féin launched a discussion paper on the future of EU peace funding for Ireland. The intention of the paper was to initiate discussion and to act as an impetus for political activists, community workers and others to debate and mobilise around the need for the continuation of such funds.
"At the core of that document was recognition of the need for continued financial support for peace building across the island.
"Sinn Féin welcomes the European Councills call for a two year extension to the Peace II programme. This would allow much of the good work which has taken place to date to continue. It would also bring the peace funds into line with existing EU funding cycles.
"There is also a rationale for the creation of a Peace III programme, which would fund organisations from 2007 through to 2013. Sinn Féin‚s all Ireland team of MEPs will continue to lobby for this end both within the EU and with the Irish and British governments.
"Clearly there have been many benefits arising out of the work funded under Peace I and II. However there are many lessons to be learned, and criticisms to be made, which if approached in the appropriate way can ensure that an extension of the Peace II programme can allow community activists to deliver more effective programmes.
"The EU and the British government need to listen to the voices of local communities if they are to learn these lessons.
"The process of designing any future fund needs to be inclusive. Indeed such an inclusive approach to the design of the programme measures could be a beacon for the type of participatory models of preparing for change which we have advocated in this paper. There is need for a much more 'hands-on' role from the European Commission. There willbe a need for greater openness and transparency. There is a need for less bureaucracy and complexity in the application and processing procedures. There is a need for the special inclusion of the Irish speaking community and the promotion of the Irish language as a means of encouraging reconciliation. The principle of 'Social Inclusion' should be central to any programme." ENDS
Sinn Féin's Dublin City Councillors will meet this afternoon at 4.30pm in City Hall, prior to the inaugural meeting of the Council, to discuss their political programme for the upcoming term and who they will support for the position of Mayor.
They will be available to talk to the media at 4.15pm at City Hall where they will announce the Sinn Féin Group leader for Dublin City Council.
Dublin Sinn Féin Chairperson Justin Moran speaking ahead of tonight's City Council meeting, said:
"Sinn Féin is determined to deliver for the people of Dublin. We are now in a unique position to deliver on our election manifesto, having made major gains here in Dublin in the recent elections. We stood on a platform which was based on delivering change and providing leadership in our communities and that is what we aim to do.
"We will continue to speak to all parties and groups in City Hall with a view to building a left wing alliance that will strengthen the social agenda. The incoming administration must tackle the issues of housing, the environment, the causes and consequences of drug addiction, and the waste management crisis.
"We will forge a unique coalition with local communities to ensure their voices are heard and that people remain at the centre of any plans for this city. Unlike other parties Sinn Féin is firmly rooted in our communities and that is where we intend to stay.
"Sinn Féin is calling on the City Manager to respond in a positive way to this social agenda. The previous administration of Fianna Fail & Labour became a faceless bureaucracy which failed to connect with the people of Dublin, starting tonight Sinn Féin intends to change all that."ENDS
The outgoing Mayor of Sligo Cllr. Sean Mac Manus has called on the Fianna Fail/Labour Coalition on Sligo Borough Council to publicise details of the written agreement reached between both parties, which includes their sharing the Mayoralty and domination of most other committees of the new Council.
Speaking to An Phoblacht after the election of Cllr. Declan Bree as Mayor, Cllr. MacManus said:
"Whilst the Sinn Fein councillors voted for and welcome the election of Cllr. Bree as Mayor, we would urge him and his Labour colleagues to publish details of the agreement which they have signed up to with Fianna Fail. In the interests of openness and transparency, frequently referred to by the Labour group, it would be right that the public are made aware of what caused this massive U-turn by the Labour party. Why have they now agreed to form a Coalition with a party, which in the words of Cllr. Bree's recent election manifesto includes Councillors who voted to impose service charges, who supported speculators and who voted for privatisation, betrayed the very people they claim to represent?
"I'm sure that those who now feel betrayed are those who voted for the Labour party 10 days ago, those voters and indeed the wider public must be told what caused this about-face by Cllr. Bree and his colleagues.
"During the final week of my term as Mayor I made major efforts to secure a 'United Coalition' of all four parties on Sligo Borough Council. This would include the rotation of the position of Mayor and Deputy Mayor between each party over the next five years. The main reason for this unique departure from the present situation was an attempt to overcome the bickering between the various groups and to allow all Councillors to work in harmony to promote and develop Sligo. Indeed the three Sinn Fein Councillors had agreed to recommend that Cllr. Bree be the first Mayor of this term. Unfortunately our attempts to get inclusiveness were spurned by Labour and their new partners in Fianna Fail in their rush to exclude Sinn Fein and Fine Gael.
Cllr. MacManus concluded:
"As the main opposition party to the new Fianna Fail/Labour coalition, Sinn Fein takes this opportunity to assure the public that we will take every step necessary to ensure that the Coalition is held responsible for its actions over the coming months. Given Fianna Fails record in Government this new alliance does not bode well for Sligo." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP addressing the annual Wolfe Tone Commemoration at Bodenstown this afternoon said:
"Irish republicans have made serious and repeated efforts to work with the two governments and unionists to find a way to resolve this crisis in the process. Sinn Féin is again engaged in detailed and intense discussions with the two governments. These have been going on for some months, including during the recent election campaign and have now reached a new intensity of dialogue. Our objective is clear - to restore the political institutions and end the crisis in the process.
"There are also matters, which are clearly the responsibility of the two governments, as well as issues for the Review.
"Sinn Féin is committed to playing a full and productive role in resolving these matters. This means more challenges ahead for Irish republicans. This means republicans facing up to these challenges sure in our belief in our republican analysis, and confident in our peace strategy.
"The reality is that if the political will exists - and republicans have that political will - then we can all collectively make progress. Consequently, the intense efforts to agree a package must continue until there is an agreement or until we have exhausted all possibilities of agreement."
I'd like to start off by welcoming everybody here today for the annual Bodenstown commemoration. A special welcome to our honorees from last nights Le Cheile event and greetings to you all from Joe Cahill and a welcome for Annie Cahill.
This is one of the highlights of our calendar, a chance for us to gather together and look at our progress over the year, while honouring a republican hero, Theobald Wolfe Tone.
Tone said during his trial in 1798:
"From my earliest youth, I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain, as the curse of the Irish nation; and felt convinced, that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free nor happy."
We are proud to be Irish republicans in the tradition of Tone and we assert here at this graveside that neither the people of Ireland nor Britain can be truly free or happy while British jurisdiction remains in any part of Ireland.
Our primary political objectives therefore remain, an end to partition, an end to the union, the construction of a new national democracy - a new republic - on the island of Ireland, and reconciliation between orange and green.
But we also want change in the here and now. We are not prepared to wait until we have achieved these goals for people to have their rights to a decent home, to a job and a decent wage, to decent public services like health and education, and a safer cleaner environment.
Building Political Strength
Key to achieving this is the hard, tedious, difficult work of building political strength. By building that strength we will build the capacity to move both the British government and the unionists and to influence the political agenda in this state.
By building political strength we can build the republic that was envisioned by the United Ireland movement and in the 1916 Proclamation - a republic built on equality, justice and freedom.
Last November Sinn Féin took another step forward in achieving our goals. This party became the largest pro Agreement party in the north - a significant achievement for a party, which for over three decades was demonised, marginalised and whose members and families have been the target of assassination.
Last weekend Sinn Féin broke the mould of Irish politics by electing Mary Lou McDonald and Bairbre de Brún to the European Parliament and by electing Councillors right across the southern state.
The front page of the Phoblacht sums it up - 342,000 votes, 2 MEPs, 232 Councillors, 24 MLAs, 5TDs and 4MPs.
I want to make a few comments about the citizenship referendum. While we are disappointed the referendum has been passed, it is not a surprise to anyone. This referendum was rushed through, without any debate and at the worst possible time - during a double election campaign. What is clear is that this referendum has enshrined inequality in the Constitution and this will have harmful, long-term consequences.
It is also clear that what was required a month ago and what is still required is a fair, just and human rights based immigration policy for the island. Sinn Féin will continue to do our utmost to bring that about.
We have come a long way from the Ard Fheis 21 years ago when I said; "If Sinn Féin stands on the side lines, separate from and isolated from the people we cannot hope to attract support for what looks like a vague utopian image of some perfect Eire Nua of the future. The solution is for Sinn Féin to get among the people in the basic ways that people accept - this means new approaches and difficult and perhaps risky political positions have to be faced up to by us."
We have developed those new approaches. We have taken difficult and risky decisions.
We have demonstrated time and time again a preparedness to go on the political offensive, to take initiatives and go toe to toe with our political opponents in the battle of ideas, as well as in the hard job of building workable political partnerships.
A year and a half ago the British government suspended the political institutions in the north at the behest of unionism.
Irish republicans have made serious and repeated efforts to work with the two governments and unionists to find a way to resolve this crisis in the process.
Sinn Féin is again engaged in detailed and intense discussions with the two governments. These have been going on for some months, including during the recent election campaign and have now reached a new intensity of dialogue.
Our objective is clear - to restore the political institutions and end the crisis in the process.
Consequently, Sinn Féin is pressing for a comprehensive and holistic package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive.
In our negotiations with the governments, and in our efforts to achieve a package of measures, which will secure progress, we have focused on a number of key issues. These include the need for full participation in the political institutions; the issues of policing and justice, including the transfer of powers to the Assembly; the issue of armed groups and arms, and the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.
There are also matters, which are clearly the responsibility of the two governments, as well as issues for the Review.
Sinn Féin is committed to playing a full and productive role in resolving these matters.
This means more challenges ahead for Irish republicans.
This means republicans facing up to these challenges sure in our belief in our republican analysis, and confident in our peace strategy.
The reality is that if the political will exists - and republicans have that political will - then we can all collectively make progress. Consequently, the intense efforts to agree a package must continue until there is an agreement or until we have exhausted all possibilities of agreement.
The decision by the governments to put off intensive negotiations until September means that they have bought into the time-frame set down by the DUP. Once again the governments are allowing unionism to set the pace in the process. This is unacceptable.
There is no reason why the effort to resolve this should be put off for the summer and we will put this directly to the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach when we meet next Friday.
Sinn Féin believes that it is possible to achieve a comprehensive and holistic package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive. But allowing a party, which has clearly declared itself against the Good Friday Agreement and which refuses to accept and respect the mandates of others at this time should not be allowed to set the pace.
A Can-do Party
For our part we will use our vote wisely. We will not rest on our laurels. Sinn Féin is a can-do party. 342,000 people across this island accept that and gave us their vote.
These votes are not second-class.
Our voters will not be treated as second-class citizens.
Each and every citizen who voted for Sinn Féin is entitled to respect and equality of treatment exactly the same as every other citizen, and this party will be the guarantor of that. Our party accepts criticism. We are not above scrutiny and we welcome debate even of the most vigorous kind. But no-one has the right to question the democratic creditentials of Sinn Féin or our voters. We will work not only for those who voted for us, we will work also for those who did not vote for us.
We also expect the very highest standards from our representatives. We must take our example from the first MP of our generation - Bobby Sands MP and our first TD Kieran Doherty.
We cannot expect to emulate their sacrifices but their integrity, generosity, comradeship and dedication, along with that of Councillor Eddie Fullerton, Cllr John Davey, Cllr Bernard O‚Hagan, Shenna Campbell, Vice President Maire Drumm and the many other members of this party and family members and friends who were killed, are the role models for us today.
Remember that our mandate and the rights of our electorate were won on the sacrifices of others and their families.
And remember also that while elections are about numbers, and seats, our interest, Sinn Féin's electoral interest is in building the political strength necessary to bring about change.
That is why people voted for us.
The motto of the United Irish movement, founded by Wolfe Tone, was one word - Equality. Inequality has thrived in this state as successive governments pursued right-wing policies with vigour.
The reality is, at a time of great wealth the establishment wasn‚t listening to people. It heard people. But it chose to ignore them.
A Real Left Alternative
The opposition parties have been no better. Labour and Fine Gael are already signalling that once again they are considering an alternative coalition government.
Labour has made this mistake before. Three times in the last 60 years Fine Gael was periodically rescued from terminal decline by being put into government by Labour.
People don't want more of the same. If Labour is interested in alternative politics it should work with others to build a real left alternative, instead of concerning itself with getting Ministerial seats. This alternative must also have a progressive and democratic position and strategy on the national question, an issue on which Labour has also been sadly lacking.
Little wonder it has been said that the Labour Party went into the GPO with James Connolly in 1916 and never came out again.
A radical agenda to end inequality and advance the peace process and Irish unity is urgently required. Let me also point up the need for us to support efforts to revive the Irish language. I believe that there are people in every political party who support all or some of these objectives. Certainly every party draws its support from people who have this view. And of course there is that new constituency who support no political party because they see no party capable of delivering on such an agenda. In this election we succeeded in mobilising sections of that vote.
There are good people in every political party on this island and many more outside of the political parties. I believe that everyone who is committed to ending inequality needs to come together in a broad, even at this point, informal alliance for change. This must include not merely political parties but community groups, voluntary organisations, trade unions, rural organisations, campaigning groups and human rights bodies.
A Lot of Work to do
Last week's election was not just about seats for us.
Our success in the future will be judged by the amount of change we bring about. Already there are rumours and speculation that the government is going to change some of its policies. If that is the case then we have already begun to make an impact. This is our time. Sinn Féin doesn‚t have all the answers but we have commitment. We have idealism. And we have strategies.
We also have a lot of work to do. We must use our present mandate as a launching pad to grow an island wide, a nation wide mass Sinn Féin movement.
We have to open our party up to women comrades and to people who will bring their own life experiences and values. I particularly want to commend Ógra Sinn Féin for their dedicated work and enormous contribution. Our goal has to be to have a Sinn Féin cumann in every electoral ward across Ireland.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin. We have a year of education, of re-popularising the republican struggle, a year of analysing and learning the lessons of a century in struggle.
We will be launching Coiste Chomóradh an Chéid 'The Centenary Committee' to organise and plan these celebrations.
And then in the same period we will have to reflect on how best to remember and celebrate in 2006 the 25th anniversary of hunger strikes.
We also intend to relaunch An Phoblacht and I want to mark that up as one of the priorities for activists in the time ahead.
So let me thank and commend each and every one of you.
Let me commend all of our workers, our election directors and their directorates, our Finance Department, our Director of Publicity and her team, the Cúige and strategy groups, Friends of Sinn Féin and all of those who contributed in any way to our recent success.
Let me thank especially all of those who vote for us.
On your behalf I also thank every one of our candidates and their families. And to represent them all I want you to welcome Pearse Doherty, Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald.
There will be difficult times ahead. We must rise to the challenges before us.
Irish republicans have demonstrated time and time again our capacity to overcome adversity and advance our struggle for freedom and justice against enormous odds.
It is not enough to sloganise. We are not verbalised republicans or rhetorical revolutionaries. We are deadly serious about turning the vision of 1798 and 1916 into a reality.
I believe this generation of Irish republicans will do just that.
It will not be easy. But our responsibility as activists is to make republicanism relevant in our time. This is our time.
So, let us move the struggle forward. Let us keep building our strength. And let us keep our eye on the prize.
The prize of freedom.
Ar aghaidh linn le chéile.
Welcoming World Refugee Day on June 20th, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD challenged the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell to "show real leadership on refugee protection and send an unequivocal message that refugees are welcome here."
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"Minister McDowell has been conducting a war on refugees ever since he assumed office. During the election period he used them as scapegoats for his Government's failure to make adequate provision for healthcare and housing for all in this state. By his public statements he has himself directly contributed to the widespread misperceptions about them as a group. Irish people need to be educated about the conditions these people have fled.
But the Minister has failed in his duty to inform the public of the real facts.
The message the Minister should be sending is that asylum seekers are deserving of compassion - not derision - for having fled situations where their lives were at risk, or where they were wrongly imprisoned or tortured.
"On the occasion of World Refugee Day, I challenge the Minister to show real leadership on refugee protection. I challenge him to stop criminalising refugees, and to stop contributing to widespread misperceptions about them as a group. I challenge him to instead exercise his responsibility to dispel the prevalent myths about refugees and asylum seekers, and about Ireland's role in refugee protection. He must send an unequivocal message that refugees are, in fact, welcome here and will be shown the respect that they deserve.
"I am also calling for an end to the dispersal and direct provision policies which strip asylum-seekers of their dignity and deprive Irish society of their potential contributions to our economy. Many of these people are skilled, educated workers who are prevented from making a valid contribution here while awaiting their refugee status. Other countries issue temporary work permits to allow asylum seekers to work and pay taxes while their applications are in process. There is no reason why we could not do the same.
"It is time for us as a society, in general, to honour our cultural tradition of hospitality and show refugees the welcome and basic respect that every human being deserves. We live in the fourth wealthiest state in the world, so we can well afford to play our part and fulfil our international obligations on refugee protection. I call on all policy makers and public representatives to reflect on this on World Refugee Day." ENDS
Sinn Féin General Secretary Robbie Smyth said "The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle this morning engaged in extensive discussions relating to the role of our MEPs both in the European Parliament and in Ireland following the party's EU election success."
Sinn Féin General Secretary Robbie Smyth said:
"At today's meeting of the Ard Chomhairle we discussed our future engagement within the EU Parliament, including the party's options in terms of the various Parliamentary groupings.
"The Head of the party's International Department, Joan O'Connor, and National Chair Mitchel McLaughlin will travel to Brussels in the next few days, where they will engage with various Parliamentary groupings. They will report back to the Ard Chomhairle in the coming weeks.
"A decision will be taken before the Parliament first meets.
"There are many key challenges facing us in terms of the EU. Of particular concern for Sinn Féin is the proposed EU Constitution and the consequent referenda to be held, the protection of Irish neutrality and opposition to EU militarisation, the safeguarding and promotion of the Irish language, deepening the equality agenda and advancing the Social Agenda, Rural Regeneration and Fisheries policy and issues relating to Irish territorial reintegration, including the crucial All-Ireland agenda.
"Sinn Féin's MEPs will bring a strong all-Ireland voice to the EU institutions, they will make the institutions more real for people and will have a very visible presence in local communities and the political institutions North and South. They will at all times work to protect and enhance the rights and interests of the people of Ireland."ENDS
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking in Dublin today at the first meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle following the Local Government and European Union election campaigns congratulated the party's election workers and candidates and thanked all those who voted for the party in last week's elections. Mr. McLaughlin said that Sinn Féin's commitment is to deliver on our mandate in local communities, in the European Parliament, in the peace process and in building for Irish unity and independence.
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"Last weekend more than 342,000 people across Ireland vote for Sinn Féin making us the third largest party on the island. This is a tremendous endorsement of our peace strategy, our work in local communities and our analysis of the direction of the European Union. I want to congratulate our election workers and candidates and thank all those who voted for our party.
"This morning the Ard Chomhairle has been reviewing the election results and making preparations for the extensive work that lies ahead on Local Authorities, in the European Parliament, the peace process and in building for Irish unity and independence. There was widespread disappointment expressed at the passing of the government‚s citizenship referendum. The Ard Chomhairle called for full consultation prior to any legislation being introduced and committed itself to continuing to work for a fair, human rights based immigration policy for all of Ireland."
Commenting on last night's announcement that the British and Irish governments are planning to hold talks next week as a prelude to 'intensive negotiations' in September Mr. McLaughlin said:
"There is no reason why the two governments, Sinn Féin and the other parties cannot reach agreement by next Friday on the elements of an agreement needed to end the crisis in the process.
"The decision by the governments to put off intensive negotiations until September means that they have bought into the time-frame set down by the DUP. Once again the governments are allowing unionism to set the pace in the process. This is unacceptable.
"Sinn Féin believes that it is possible in a short period to achieve a comprehensive and holistic package which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive.
"There is no reason why the effort to resolve this should be put off for the summer."ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams commenting this evening on ongoing discussions with the Irish and British governments said:
"Sinn Féin is currently engaged in detailed and intense discussions with the two governments. Our goal is to restore the political institutions and end the crisis in the process. To that end Sinn Féin is pressing for a comprehensive and holistic package which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive.
"In our negotiations with the governments, and in our efforts to achieve a package of measures which will secure progress, we have focused on a number of key issues, these include the need for full participation in the political institutions including the power sharing executive and the all-Ireland Ministerial Council; the issues of policing and justice, including the transfer of powers to the Assembly; the issue of armed groups; the issue of arms, and the issues of human rights, equality and sectarianism.
"There are also matters which are clearly the responsibility of the two governments, including demilitarisation, as well as issues for the Review.
"Sinn Féin is committed to playing a full and productive role in resolving these matters. If the political will exists this can be done. Consequently, the intense efforts to agree this package should continue until there is an agreement or until we have exhausted all possibilities of agreement.
"Many of the issues are matters of basic rights and entitlements for citizens. They are about equality. The two governments must ensure that equality becomes a reality." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will today officially name the Markets Community Development Offices in honour of local community worker Jim Hargey who died recently.
Ms de Brún will be joined by local MLA Alex Maskey and members of the local community for the short ceremony which will take place in Stanfield Street in the Markets at 2pm.