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Commenting on an Sinn Féin Press Office advertisement placed in the national media by the National Roads Authority in relation to the M3, Sinn Féin candidate for the Meath by-election, Joe Reilly accused the NRA of missing the point entirely. Cllr Reilly said: "It is not about what the NRA has done, the reality is that the route through the Tara/Skyrne valley is not the place for the M3. There is a viable alternative route that can and should be adopted."

Speaking before he left for London today he said:

"The NRA has taken out a full page advert in today's Irish Times which sets out the importance of the M3 motorway and the steps the NRA have taken to come to their decision.

"They are missing the point entirely, we are not questioning the importance of the motorway and it is not about what the NRA has done. The reality is that route through the Tara/Skyrne valley is not the place for the M3. Eminent archaeological experts from Ireland and abroad have testified to the archaeological importance of the Tara/Skryne valley and have spoken about their dismay at the proposed routing of the motorway. There is a viable alternative that can and should be adopted." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today said that the possible introduction of Electronic Voting for the Referendum on the EU Constitution should not be allowed to detract from the very serious issues which are at stake.

Ms McDonald was responding to reports that the Government is continuing with tests on E Voting with a view to its implementation in time for a future EU Constitution Referendum. Ms McDonald said that the debate on E Voting 'must not be allowed to cloud the EU Referendum debate'. She further called upon the government to either 'scrap electronic voting or get it right'.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"In its current form, the Electronic Voting System is fundamentally flawed. The Government found this out to its cost, and the cost of the taxpayer in the run up to the recent EU elections.

"If reports are correct that the Government is still insisting that there is no need for a paper trail with E-Voting, then once again they have failed to heed all the warnings regarding this system. An inordinate amount of money has been spent on E Voting, and we are still no further forwards in verifying the accuracy of the system.

"A system that instils public confidence is required, not one which remains divisive. What we do not need is a European Constitution Referendum campaign dominated and clouded by a debate on E Voting. A clear focus is required in the run up to any referendum on an EU Constitution, which has clear political and socio-economic implications for Ireland. This government should either scrap electronic voting or get it right.

"Sinn Féin will do all its in power to ensure that the referendum campaign focuses on the real issues - namely further diminishing sovereignty, increasing EU militarisation and threats to public services" ENDS.

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Cllr John O'Dowd MLA, said that the review of health and social care provision announced today by Direct Rule ministers Ian Pearson and Angela Smith will only be effective if it seeks to undo decades of health service underfunding.

Cllr O'Dowd said:

"There is no doubt that the problems confronting the health service are a legacy of years of under investment and neglect. It will take a substantial effort to recover the situation but we believe it can be done.

"Sinn Féin is of the view that there is a need to get spending up to the European average on health if we are to achieve the goal of an effective and efficient health service.

"Not only do we have to get spending up, we need to get the money spent on front line services. Far too much cash is being under spent as a result of unnecessary bureaucracy or tied up in unwieldy long term PFI contracts. These two NIO ministers must explain why they have launched yet another review of the health service, particularly as we have already had the Hayes Review, the Developing Better Services report, and are currently awaiting the outcome of the Review of Public Administration

"Provision of effective and modern health and social care services cannot be secured on the cheap. Our health service needs a massive injection of funds and we believe the majority of people in this country understand and support that. We also believe that many people are also coming to the understanding that Ireland is too small a country to support two separate health service systems, and there is clearly a need to harmonise provision and delivery of health services across the whole island." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor John Dwyer has expressed serious concern that some purchasers of Local Authority homes in Wexford may have suffered overcharging by the local authority.

Cllr. Dwyer's concerns were raised following a question put to the October meeting of New Ross Town council, when he asked whether the provisions contained in Circular HRT6/95 from the Department of the Environment have been rigorously applied to all tenant purchase applications.

Under the Tenant Purchase Scheme tenants of local authority homes must be offered a discount of 3% of the market value of the house, less improvements made by the tenant, for each year of tenancy up to a maximum of 10 years, plus a discount of €3,809.21 and no stamp duty must be applied.

However, Cllr. Dwyer has questioned whether these statutory discounts have been applied in every case.

Speaking on Monday Cllr. Dwyer said:

"Following my request to New Ross Town Council, I am seriously concerned at the possibility that the discount of €3,809.21 may not have been applied to every local authority house sale in New Ross and fear that this may also be the situation in the other local authority districts in Wexford. Indeed the Wexford County Council website does not even include this discount in its section dealing with Tenant Purchases: http://www.wexford.ie/Housing/tenantPurchase.htm

"I am continuing to investigate this situation and would call on all purchasers of local authority homes in Wexford to check their Valuation Certificates from their local authority and to investigate if the proper statutory discounts have been applied.

"Any tenant purchasers who feel that the proper discounts may not have been applied should contact me directly as I intend to continue to vigorously pursue this investigation." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today reiterated the party's calls for a single all Ireland phone tariff, after it emerged that the EU's telecom regulator will investigate the effects of 'roaming' charges for people living in the border region.

Ms de Brún said that the benefits of a single all Ireland phone tariff would ensure that people 'would not be discriminated against simply because of where they lived in Ireland'.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms de Brún said:

"With the increasing popularity of the mobile phone, Irish customers have been at the mercy of the large tele communications companies who have charged customers exorbitant rates when making calls from the north to the south and vice versa.

"In addition to the unequal tariffs between north and south, it must also be remembered that mobile phone signals do not recognise borders. Many mobile phones switch to another service provider when the signal from a different mast provider is stronger. People all along the border region are affected by this, and are having to pay extra charges, heaped on top of their standard phone bill.

"Sinn Féin believes that Irish mobile phone users deserve better. Tele-communications companies have made their profits on the back of this situation, for too long. We have consistently called for the introduction of a single all Ireland phone tariff, which would ensure that mobile phone users would not be discriminated against simply because of where they lived in Ireland. At the end of November '04, a Sinn Féin delegation met with the Regulators of the Mobile Phone Industry north and south to put the case for a single mobile phone rate for all users.

"I want to welcome the news that the EU's telecom regulator will investigate this issue. If service providers in Ireland are not going to take the initiative, then it may be necessary for an EU body to make recommendations. If enough public and political pressure is brought to bear on this industry, Irish mobile phone users will pay an equal service charge whether they live in Kerry or Belfast, Newry or Dundalk." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation including Martin McGuinness MP, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Cllr. Joe Reilly, Michelle Gildernew MP and Caitriona Ruane MLA for discussions with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London today. (Monday 13th December)

The meeting will take place in Downing Street at 1pm and the delegation will speak to the media.

Mr Adams will also hold talks with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern tomorrow.

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Sinn Féin Assembly group leader Conor Murphy has dismissed remarks made by SDLP leader Mark Durkan concerning the content of the proposed deal as coming from the leader of a party which appears increasingly 'isolated and directionless'.

Mr Murphy said:

" Mark Durkan is correct when he says that the DUP were seeking a veto over ministerial decisions. Mark Durkan is correct when he says that the DUP wished to remove the requirement to vote for Ministers. The DUP achieved none of these objectives because Sinn Féin as the largest pro-Agreement and the largest nationalist party were in the negotiations defending the Agreement.

" What were the SDLP doing? From their increasingly isolated position they stood on the sidelines sniping, hoping against hope that a deal would not be achieved that progress would not be made. I have to say that their decision to join with Ian Paisley and other rejectionists in seeking to humiliate the republican community shows just how politically directionless the SDLP is at this time.

" Sinn Féin remain positive and remain committed to seeing a deal done. We will continue to defend the Agreement from attacks by rejectionist unionism or the SDLP. Sinn Féin have no problem debating our record with anybody and will gladly do so with the SDLP. But of course Mark Durkan will not have a veto over which Sinn Féin representative challenges his latest sideline political intervention." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met in Dublin today and was briefed by party President Gerry Adams MP on the current state of efforts to complete a comprehensive deal. Speaking during a break in the meeting Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

"Today Gerry Adams briefed the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle on the current state of play concerning efforts to see a deal concluded.

"I have to say that Sinn Féin is still focused absolutely on seeing a deal concluded. However what we now need to hear from Ian Paisley is that he is prepared to accept the deal on the table and move forward in a partnership based upon equality and respect.

" Ultimatums from the DUP or anyone else will not advance this process. We have achieved much in the course of recent months and to the vast majority of people on the island it is inconceivable that if Ian Paisley is serious about reaching a deal that he will squander this opportunity over an unrealisable demand to humiliate the republican community." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Environment spokesperson on Dublin City Council Councillor Daithí Doolan has said that the decision by Environment Minister Dick Roche to withdraw the Critical Infrastructure Bill from the Cabinet is "a major victory for the Anti Incineration Campaign".

Speaking from Dublin today he said:

"The Critical Infrastructure Bill was a completely anti democratic bill. It was designed to help the Government to impose incinerators and motorways on communities where they are not wanted. This bill was a Government attempt to get around listening to the people who may oppose their projects.

"The withdrawal of the bill is a welcome u-turn in Government policy and was obviously brought on by the enormous amount of public pressure brought to bear on the Government by the very people that they where trying to ignore.

"People in my own constituency have been very vocal in their opposition to the incinerator at the Poolbeg Peninsula. I would like to congratulate the people of Dublin South East and indeed I would like to congratulate all the people throughout Dublin who have lobbied and protested against incineration because they have obviously played a major role in bringing about this decision.

"This decision is a major victory for the Anti Incineration Campaign and I hope we can go on now to secure the complete reversal of the policy of incineration and the introduction of a Reduce, Re-use and Recycle policy for waste management." ENDS

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In order to allay any public concerns re the recent tragic death of City Council tenant Ms. Brid Cummins, Sinn Féin Councillor Daniel Callanan has called for "the establishment of an Independent Review of procedures adopted in this case."

"I believe that an independent review is required to confirm the general public‚s confidence in the present policies and procedures. I also believe that people must reflect and be sensitive to the trauma which this tragic event has caused to all parties associated with this case. That trauma should not be exacerbated by any rush to judgments or conclusions pending review of all the facts. I would therefore urge all those concerned or associated with this tragic case to refrain from making judgments or reaching conclusions pending the outcome of such a review.

"The independent report needs to be brought before City Council as soon as possible.

"This tragic event has generated great emotion within the city and any lessons that need to be learned must be acted upon without delay. A terrible tragedy has occurred and I would urge everyone concerned to unite, allow due process to take place, to try and ensure such a tragedy never occurs again." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for the environment, Arthur Morgan TD has given a cautious response to news today that Irish officials have secured increased access to the Sellafield nuclear plant. Deputy Morgan said he would reserve his judgement on this until he saw the full details of the agreement and how they are implemented as the management of British Nuclear Fuels Limited have a long history of fraud, deception and deceit and they certainly cannot be trusted.

Speaking from Louth this afternoon Deputy Morgan said:

"While I welcome any co-operation between Ireland and Britain in terms of monitoring the Sellafield plant I reserve my judgement on this until I see the full details of the agreement and how they are implemented.

"The management of British Nuclear Fuels Limited have a long history of fraud, deception and deceit and they certainly cannot be trusted.

"If this agreement amounts to a couple of officials from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland donning hard hats and sitting in a wooden hut in Sellafield drinking tea all day then it will have no impact on the safety of the Irish people. However if experts from Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland are to be allowed monitor and carry out tests in any part of the Sellafield plant and if they are allowed to communicate the results of these tests to the Irish people quickly then this agreement may have some use." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has said that the EU has to stop paying lip service to social inclusion and start prioritising the eradication of poverty and targeting resources to tackle social need. She said that it is entirely unacceptable that social inclusion and workers rights are bring undermined in favour of the EU‚s privatisation agenda.

Ms McDonald made her comments after the Chamber of Commerce Ireland (CCI) called upon the Taoiseach to speed up national economic and social reform to improve European competitiveness and economic growth so that the EU can become the most productive and competitive economy in the world.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said:

"The EU's obsession with competitiveness at the expense of the social aspects of the Lisbon Agenda, clearly indicates where the priorities of many European Governments lie. The European Union is failing the most vulnerable people within society. A recent review of the Lisbon Agenda painted a bleak and depressing picture of the EU's economic plan. The social inclusion aspect of the Lisbon Agenda has been undermined and largely ignored in favour of a privatisation agenda and an approach that sees competitiveness only being achieved at the expense of workers' rights.

"68 million people within the EU continue to live in poverty. Both the European Union and national governments have a duty to protect the most vulnerable citizens within our society. The EU has consistently failed to address the social aspects of the Lisbon Agenda. Sinn Féin has consistently called for a refocusing of the priorities of the Lisbon Agenda and calls for the mid-term review of the strategy in 2005 to refocus the policy on sustainable economic development, full employment and social protections.

"The Taoiseach must begin to refocus his priorities at home. There is no point pointing the finger of blame at the EU if governments are not taking the issue of social inclusion seriously at home. This state remains one of the most unequal within the EU, with a widening chasm between rich and poor. Sinn Féin is committed to bridging all of these gaps. Those in power must also play their part." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has been meeting with a number of community groups throughout Co Donegal this morning. As part of her series of meetings, Ms de Brún will meet with staff members from the Irish language daily newspaper LÁ this afternoon at their offices in Gweedore.

Ms de Brún will discuss funding cuts with staff from the newspaper, which remains under threat due to recent funding decisions.

The Sinn Féin Councillor Pearse Doherty and Grainne Mhic Géidigh, Sinn Féin candidate in the upcoming Údarás na Gaeltachta election will accompany Ms de Brún on her visit.

Speaking from Donegal, Ms de Brún said:

"Throughout the course of the day I will be meeting with various community groups including resource centres and youth projects to find out about the work that they are involved in. Donegal experiences high levels of deprivation and unemployment - similar to my own constituency of west Belfast.

"It is absolutely imperative that we begin to address the neglect and isolation felt by many people within the county. The unemployment rate in Donegal continues to sit at around 16%, which is around 4 times the national average.

"I will be meeting with staff from the Irish language newspaper LÁ, to discuss recent funding cuts which threaten the very existence of the newspaper, an important vehicle for cultural expression. At a time when negotiations are underway to give due recognition the status of the Irish language in the European Union, it is unacceptable that the very existence of this newspaper is threatened by a political decision to reduce funding.

"Sinn Féin is committed to both preserving and developing the status of the Irish language throughout Ireland. This is particularly important in a county such as Donegal, which proudly boasts a thriving Gaeltacht area". ENDS

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Sinn Féin mayors and chairs in Derry City, Fermanagh, Omagh, Strabane and Magherafelt will hold a civic 'Day of Reflection' in the council areas they represent.

Each event will be different, reflecting the engagement that has been taken forward within each council area.

Timetable

Derry City - 1pm - 1.30pm Guildhall Square

Fermanagh - 7.30pm Enniskillen Town Hall

Strabane - 12 noon Strabane Council Offices

Omagh - 1pm Omagh Council Offices

Magherafelt - 12 noon Magherafelt Council Offices

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin has endorsed the work of the Derry Mayor Gearoid Ó hÉara in developing the 'Day of Reflection' initiative and the ongoing work being taken by Sinn Fein mayors and chairs throughout the Six Counties in Fermanagh (Gerry McHugh) Magherafelt (Patsy Groogan) Omagh (Sean Clarke) and Strabane (Jarleth McNulty).

Mr McLaughlin said:

"The initiative taken forward in Derry City Gearoid Ó hÉara is the culmination of sustained engagement with many different sections of the community within that city. It builds upon the important work initiated by Alex Maskey during his term as Mayor of Belfast.

"Sinn Féin mayors and chairs throughout the Six Counties have worked hard to build an initiative that reflects our commitment to providing civic leadership for the people we represent.

"The initiatives are not uniform across any of these council areas but are guided and shaped by the engagement that each has had with the people they represent as first citizens. It is built upon engagement with many representatives and organisations representing many of those who have suffered as a result of wars and conflict. It is still very much a work in progress.

"Together the mayors and chairs from Derry City, Fermanagh, Magherfelt, Omagh and Strabane have worked hard to progress an event to mark 'a day of reflection' today, December 10th, to mark International Human Rights Day.

"But that is not say that we are naïve of the difficulties such an undertaking faces. Nonetheless I want to stress A Day of Reflection is not in any way intended as a replacement of existing commemorative events. Instead it is about something entirely new. It is in recognition of the need to validate and recognise the experiences of all equally, and together." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Children and Young people, West Belfast MLA Sue Ramsey has welcomed the comments from the Children's Commission Nigel Williams that the draft budget could damage services to children and young people.

Ms Ramsey said:

"Sinn Féin has highlighted similar concerns in our response to the draft budget proposals.

"There is widespread agreement that the draft budget has the potential to cause huge damage to services for children and young people.

"Of greatest concern is the threat to Children's Fund that has been vital in targeting resources to children and young people in greatest need. Given the very high levels of poverty that has been identified among children and Young People this is unacceptable.

"We are about to see a new draft children and young people strategy yet these proposals will fundamentally undermine genuine progress in meeting the needs of young people and tackling child poverty.

"In conjunction with the current cash crisis facing the education and library boards and our health services and the possibility that they will be facing even greater financial shortfalls in the next funding cycle there is the potential for even greater threats to meeting these needs." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has said that the SDLP is absolutely no position to lecture Sinn Fein over defending the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Murphy said:

"Sinn Fein stands over our record in defence of the agreement, particularly against the desire of the DUP to insert a veto into the workings of the institutions and attempts to undermine the joint and equal nature of the First and Deputy First Minster.

"While the SDLP have been unhelpfully snipping from the sidelines Sinn Féin have been defending the rights of nationalists, the equality agenda and all-Irealnd architecture against the objective of the DUP to achieve such a veto.

"The reality is that unionists and the British government have already contrived to bring the institutions down 4 times. In that regard the commitment to remove suspension legislation is significant progress in strengthening the agreement although it is impossible to legislate for any unionist threats to walk away from the institutions.

"The SDLP is in no position to lecture Sinn Fein about the defence of the Agreement. The approach of the SDLP approach to a relatively small number of key issues demonstrates that they are increasingly directionless.

Mark Durkan negotiated the reform and re-investment initiative which introduced water charges - now the SDLP have launched a campaign against water charging.

The SDLP claim to oppose plastic bullets in public - in the privacy of the Policing Board they rubber stamped the purchase of tens of thousands of them.

The SDLP claim to oppose repressive legislation in public - yet in Westminster Eddie McGrady voted with the DUP and Tories in support of even more repressive and restrictive powers. Powers condemned by a variety of human rights and civil liberties groups.

The SDLP claim to support the political institutions yet have proposed that the British government appoint ten hand picked mandarins to administer the local departments.

The SDLP support fully the work of the IMC a body established at the demand of unionism to try and exclude republicans from the political process.

The SDLP acquiesced to the British government suspension legislation.

The SDLP supported wholeheartedly in Westminster the introduction of the new Electoral Registration requirements which resulted in the disenfranchisement of over 200,000 people. When Sinn Féin forced the British government to change the rules, the SDLP publicly claimed to be opposed to the regulations all the time.

At Weston Park a senior SDLP negotiator stated that the issue of demiltarisation was solely for Sinn Féin and the British government to resolve - when it became clear that Sinn Féin were making progress on this issue in the latest talks the SDLP suddenly claimed that this issue has been a priority all along.

On the crucial issue of Policing the SDLP in Westminster first supported the Mandelson Bill, then abstained and finally opposed the Mandelson Bill in the three parliamentary sittings.

The SDLP stated that they would not join the Policing Board without an inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane.

"Now they are also supporting the DUP demand that humiliation, a concept entirely contrary to any peace process and the Good Friday Agreement, should become part a comprehensive deal to move us forward." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Equality, Human Rights and Women, South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane, commenting on the publication by the Equality Commission of its Monitoring Report in the workforce said that it provided evidence of 'how much work was still required to redress the workforce imbalance.

Ms Ruane said:

"The monitoring statistics released by the Equality Commission show a slight increase in the Catholic representation in the workforce. Among public sector full-time employees this growth was 0.8% while in the private sector among full time employees the growth was 1.1%. Such an increase is welcome, however the statistics are also evidence of how much work still has to be done to redress the imbalance in the workforce which results from decades of structured discrimination.

"The reality is that the Catholic share of the workforce is still below the Catholic proportion of the economically active population.

"In the Public sector 55.1% of the overall composition is Protestant and 39.8% Catholic while in the Private sector the protestant share is 55.6% protestant and 39.4% catholic.

"When it comes to the composition of the private sector with 26 plus employees the pattern of under-representation of Catholics more stark. Among some of the larger employers such as Harland & Wolff - employing 12 Catholics and 235 protestants - Group 4 Securities, Henry Brothers Magherafelt, HHI Building products, Issac Agnew, Gallagher Ltd, the City and International airports and Shorts Brothers PLC which all employee a disproportionate numbers of Catholics in their workforces. Shorts Brothers in particular employs a mere 14.8% Catholics as against some 85.2% Protestants.

"The same pattern of under-representation is replicated among government departments, education, and health boards in predominantly protestant areas and in many district councils including Belfast and Lisburn."

"This latest report needs to be carefully analysed. But it demonstrates the importance for the continual monitoring of the workforce in order to identify those public and private sector employers who need to be made to comply more fully with employment and equality legislation." ENDS

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On the occasion of International Human Rights Day Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women, South Down MLA Caítriona Ruane has called on the British government to "stop paying lip service to the range of international human rights treaties it has signed and instead to act on its commitments, including those contained in the Good Friday Agreement."

Ms Ruane said:

"International Human Rights Day was intended to serve as a reminder to states worldwide that they have a primary duty to protect the fundamental rights and entitlements of their citizens and to comply with the international human rights standards and treaties they have endorsed.

"The British government has been the primary abuser of human rights in the North. It should therefore take stock of its abysmal failure to protect the rights of not only the poorest and most vulnerable in our society but of those who came here seeking asylum or jobs only to find themselves detained in prisons or subjected to growing racism and intolerance.

"The commitments to equality and human rights contained in the Good Friday Agreement, which the British government signed up to, are being ignored across a range of issues which we have raised in all negotiations. Its non-compliance is giving cover to others in our society who wrongly believe that human rights abuses are 'acceptable'.

"In addition the range of anti-equality and human rights policies that are rolling out from central government on a weekly basis will have a far-reaching and detrimental social and economic impact on the most vulnerable. The latest budget priorities document and water charges are just two examples of this.

"The British government's track record regarding human rights in the North is disgraceful. Post Good Friday Agreement it is clear that it continues to flaunt a raft of international human rights obligations with little regard for the implications this will have in trying to develop a society that respects human rights." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald and Councillor Daithí Doolan will attend the final event of the 16 Days of Action against Violence against Women in Ringsend this morning. The event will launch a bookmark, produced by the Ringsend Action Project and Community Groups to highlight violence against women. Also this morning the Ringsend Christmas Tree lights will be turned on to signify hope for all women who suffer from violence and to remember all women who have died as a result of violence.

Speaking before the event Councillor Doolan said:

"The statistics of violence against women in Ireland are truly horrific. Almost half of all women will suffer some sort of sexual abuse in their lifetime and one-quarter of all violent crimes in our country involve a man assaulting his wife or partner.

"So I am honoured to be here today to highlight this very serious issue. I pay tribute to the Ringsend Action Project and the various Community Groups who have produced the bookmark to highlight violence against women. The bookmark will be distributed in libraries across Dublin. I am looking forward to the lighting of the Christmas tree as it is a very significant event and hopefully it will give hope to the many women who are still suffering from violence but are too frightened to come forward." ENDS

The launch of the bookmark will take place this morning at 10:30am in Ringsend Library.

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