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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. tonight raised the failure by New Ross Town Council to apply the proper terms of the local authority tenant purchase scheme in the Dáil. Deputy Morgan raised this matter with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the request of New Ross Town Councillor and Wexford County Councillor John Dwyer who brought to his attention the fact that tenant purchasers who bought their houses from New Ross Town Council since 1995 had been overcharged by €3,809 each.

Speaking in the Dáil during Matters on the Adjournment tonight Deputy Morgan said

"This issue was brought to my attention by Sinn Fein Wexford County Councillor John Dwyer, after he discovered that New Ross Town Council had not, when calculating the discount to be applied to the gross property price in the sale of local authority houses, applied the additional amount of €3,809 as per circular HRT 6/95 from the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The suspicion is that the failure was ongoing over approximately 10 years and amounts to a considerable sum of money. The Minister needs to tell the house how long this situation has been going on and when it was brought to his attention?

"How much money must New Ross Town Council now pay out to those who did not receive the appropriate discounts when they bought their house? Where will this money come from? Will it be paid out of by the Department in recognition of their failure to conduct adequate audits?

"There are serious concerns that the practice of not applying the €3,809 discount in all cases has been in place in all five local authorities throughout Wexford. As Wexford County Council is the loans authority for the county then all valuation certificates for local authority houses sold under the tenant purchase scheme pass through this office. If New Ross Town Council was alone among the Wexford local authorities in not applying the €3800 discount this matter would have been spotted and rectified.

"Has the Minister investigated the compliance of other authorities with the terms set out by his Department? The Minister needs to outline in his response what procedural checks his Department has in place in order to prevent deviation by local authorities from the terms of the tenant purchase scheme? If these procedural checks are in place, how did this go undetected?" ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has welcomed a report on EU Asylum procedures and protections, to be debated in the European Parliament this afternoon. The draft report is due to be presented by Ms Jean Lambert (Greens).

Ms de Brún was speaking before delivering a speech to the EU Parliament on the issue of asylum. Commenting upon the report entitled 'Report on asylum procedure and protection in regions of origin,' Ms de Brún said: "This report is to be strongly commended for the focus it gives to the issues of humanitarian and civil rights which lie at the heart of the asylum debate."

Speaking in Strasbourg Ms de Brún said:

"One can judge the quality of a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable. Much of the world assesses the EU's commitment to equality, justice and fair play by the way each member state conducts itself in terms of the treatment of those fleeing war and persecution across the globe.

"Ms Lambert is to be strongly commended for the focus her report gives to the humanitarian and civil rights issues which lie at the heart of the asylum debate. I echo her call for the highest possible international human rights standards to guide EU policy in this regard. The report's rejection of so-called 'holding centres' as even a short-term solution to the issue of asylum is welcome and should be strongly endorsed.

"At any given time in my constituency, there are a number of people fleeing persecution who are kept in a 19th century Victorian jail, badly housed and treated like criminals. Such treatment is unacceptable and must be opposed.

"Conflict, poverty and socio-political instability affect millions of people across the world. We need to shift the emphasis towards promoting conflict resolution and prevention under the auspices of the United Nations, rather than moving towards greater militarization and military intervention. The long-term solution to the issue of asylum is to reduce conflict and poverty globally. The EU has a major role to play in this regard and must rise to the challenge.

"I am delighted to support this report and look forward to working with others in future, on this important policy issue. Let us hope that we get the policy right and in turn demonstrate to the world that when it comes to human rights, justice and equality - the policy implementation of the EU is as good as its rhetoric". ENDS

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Responding to remarks from a faceless individual within the British Army press office (in this mornings Irish News) after he questioned Crown force figures concerning alleged accidents at checkpoints in South Armagh, Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy said:

" It appears my remarks articulating local suspicions about the alledged incidents at checkpoints in South Armagh has hit a raw nerve with the British Army. I have to say however that they have a cheek criticising the democratic mandate held by Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin represent the majority of the nationalist community in the Six Counties. We put our views to the people and seek endorsement. The people of South Armagh are very clear that the British Army are not welcome and not wanted.

" Neither the British Army nor their British political masters represent anyone in Ireland. They are an occupying force who continue to terrorise nationalist communities across the six counties. British Army checkpoints in South Armagh are nothing to do with the rule of law. Like their fortresses and helicopter flights they are about domination, intimidation and terror.

" The British Army may have a desire to continue occupying South Armagh and other republican heartland's, they may have a desire to continue firing live rounds at local civilians but Sinn Féin will continue to demand that the British government honour their commitments and remove their war apparatus and their personnel from our communities.

" Building peace works both ways. Republicans have time and again proven themselves to be up for the challenge. Time and again the Crown forces have shown themselves to be incapable of grasping the challenges presented by this process. The people of South Armagh will simply not stand for their phoney excuses to continue their occupation any longer." ENDS

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At last nights meeting of Carrickmacross Town Council the members rejected a motion by Balbriggan Town Council on the proposal of Sinn Féin Councillor Matt Carthy.

The Balbriggan motion read: „To call on the Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform to return all asylum seeking unaccompanied children under the age of 18 years to their country of origin at immigration point."

Sinn Féin's Matt Carthy proposed that Carrickmacross Town Council reject the motion and this was unanimously agreed. Speaking afterwards Cllr. Carthy said that the elected members of Balbriggan Town Council should be ashamed of themselves for presenting such an overtly racist motion.

He said: "I am extremely disappointed that any local authority would have enough racist representatives to secure a majority to back this motion and forward it to other council chambers. The motion shows no compassion for the most vulnerable in our society. Children coming to Ireland seeking asylum need our support and understanding, not to be booted back on a boat or plane. Thankfully the members of Carrickmacross Town Council (made up of 3 SF, 3 FF, 2 FG, 1 Ind) were united in our rejection of this racist motion and I hope that a similar result will be forthcoming from other local authorities who receive this correspondence from Balbriggan".ENDS

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Sinn Féin national Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking at the launch of the party's response to the draft Budget and Priorities for 2005-08 has said that the proposals are a betrayal of the priorities and commitments agreed by local elected representatives in the Assembly and Executive. Speaking in Belfast Mr McLaughlin said:

"This draft is a betrayal of the direction, priorities and commitments agreed by local elected representatives. It will have a devastating long-term impact on vital services particularly for the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society. Across a range of areas services will be devastated, particularly for our children and young, in our health and education systems and in the priority for tackling poverty.

"It also demonstrates the British governments' determination to force us down the road to privatisation of services and greater dependency on PFI and PPP. It will tie the Assembly into a policy straitjacket and severely restrict the freedom of any future Assembly and Executive.

"The reliance on the Investment Strategy and the SIB is a matter of concern. We are being required to take much of this in good faith. This is not good governance. Essentially an entire section of the economy and the Programme for Government is being handed over to an unelected, unaccountable non-transparent body.

Sinn Féin spokesperson Equality, Human Rights and Women, South Down MLA Catriona Ruane has said that the decision to end the Children's Fund was fatally flawed and called for its reintroduction. Ms Ruane said:

"This is not a budget for the future of the 6 counties. It is a budget that betrays the responsibility of British direct rule ministers to develop and maintain services, to address the major infrastructural deficit created by their own failure to invest adequately for decades and to support the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society.

"The Children's Fund recognised the historical under-funding of children's services in the six counties and higher levels of family and children's poverty. Direct rule ministers gave a commitment to continue to build on the progress made by the Executive yet NIO ministers have unjustifiably moved away from these commitments. They are reneging on commitments to children made by democratically elected politicians. Axing the Fund involves a loss of £27m and is a blow to necessary services for children and young people that rely on the Fund and will lead to a reduction in services for the most vulnerable children.

"There is also an attempt within the Draft Priorities and Budget to ignore legal equality requirements to skew resources on the basis of objective need and instead to introduce a criteria on the basis of 'particular difficulties in Protestant working class areas'. Catholic working class areas also have particular difficulties stemming from the structural and institutional discrimination practised by the state. Across all the deprivation indicators Catholic/nationalists are worse off. There is a statutory equality duty on government to target resources on the basis of objective need. That is not being done and will result in the skewing of resources even further away from nationalist areas.

Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Employment and Learning, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson added:

"Sinn Féin is also extremely concerned with the insufficient resources allocated to Education in the draft budget. It is imperative that monies allocated improve services rather than just maintaining the current position.

"Across all services that are vital to the future of our young people - funded through the Children's Fund or through the education and health systems - there are huge pressures because of under funding. These proposals betray the future of our young people.

"The proposals to end Worktrack funding by 2006 will impact adversely on areas with a history of high unemployment. 1220 participants on Worktrack will simply stay on the benefits system and 150-200 permanent jobs - which are supported through the Worktrack programme - will be lost.

It is acknowledged in the Draft Priorities and Budget that "over 20% of the adult population.. perform at the lowest level of literacy and numeracy" in the north and that "high numbers of young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds . leave school with low levels of qualifications". The ending of programmes such as Worktrack and Learn Direct, which teach literacy and numeracy, increase self-esteem and increase individual employability, will exacerbate this situation.

The plans to impose Variable Fees are also deeply flawed. Top-up fees will reduce access rather than increase it and increase inequalities.

"Government must rethink the allocations for the education sector. The far-reaching plans that are underway with regard to the curriculum programme, SEN and Costello need adequate financing to be successful. It is imperative also that the ELB situation be taken in hand realistically yet not to the detriment of front line services and the children who avail of them.

"Cuts in Education and Library Board budgets are unacceptable as they are already facing financial crisis because they do not have enough resources to provide crucial services. Rather than the Department trying to strong arm ELBs to slash their services, the budget allocation for education should be reassessed. It is imperative that there are real increases in spending beyond those swallowed up by inflationary pressures. Quality of service is a core issue."

Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd added:

"It is clear that despite year on year increases that the budget allocated to the DHSSPS is not sufficient to meet our health and social care needs.

"The linkage between levels of deprivation, ill-health and morbidity, including mental health problems, also weakened our position in respect of relative health spending. While proportionately more children require social services here than in England relative spending in England on children's social services is some 35% higher than here.

"Given the significant differential need over many years, and the continuing and devastating pattern of under-investment it has been estimated that spending here should be some 17% higher than those levels in England to achieve parity in meeting needs. That would have equated to, at least, an extra £190 million being made available to the DHSSPS budget.

"There are already enormous and increasing pressures on staff in the health service, growing labour market shortages across all disciplines and fundamental inequalities and gaps in the provision of training. It also remains to be seen if sufficient resources are available within the proposed budget to meet and underpin Agenda for Change.

"Each Board is expecting shortfalls in service funding to occur next year (£25m is a conservative estimate, possibly up to £65m). Even if Boards can remain static in maintaining present levels of delivery of services in year 1, by years 2&3, the situation could be well be one of decline.

"Learning Disability, Resettlement and Mental Health are other areas where further under-funding will have negative knock-on effects through possible loss of community care packages. Child-care and family services could face a major deficit, and requirements needed to fund the Children's Order were not met. There are also major consequences arising out of the instruction to Trusts that no new service development funding will be available for at least two years.

"The current proposals put 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."

Commenting on the economic aspects of the draft proposals Mr McLaughlin said:

"The entire chapter on North/South, East/West and International Relations has disappeared from this document. It is a clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement that there is no all-Ireland economic strategy in this consultation. Partition and the existence of two economies on such a small island have had a detrimental effect on economic growth and wealth creation on the Island of Ireland.

"Instead there is a focus on the north as a separate political and economic entity that can compete on a global scale. This is an absurd as it is clear that the economy of the north of Ireland is not sustainable on its own. The lack of an all-Ireland economic agenda with the south viewed as a rival rather than working to a common agenda is not an acceptable approach. Competition between north and south is costing money. Island wide strategies that avoid duplication and make the most of finite resources is the most sensible approach to adopt.

"The poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment and lack of job density west of the Bann is ignored within this document. This inequality between east and west of the Bann needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. The focus is solely on economic competitiveness as opposed to economic regeneration and job creation. There is a failure recognise the potential of the social economy in developing small to medium size enterprises and as a means of job creation particularly in the more disadvantaged areas.

"The net outcome of this budget will be cuts in public services. This will have a detrimental impact particularly on health and education. The policies of successive British and unionist administrations have resulted in huge infrastructural deficits with the failure to invest in essential services such as water and sewage, transport, hospitals and education. In addition, we are a society emerging from decades of conflict. All of these require a peace dividend and greater levels of public expenditure.

In conclusion Mitchel McLaughlin said:

"No response to these draft proposals would be complete without raising concerns about the issue of water charges. The proposals are to raise this revenue through water rates. The budget states clearly that it intends: 'to implement a programme of reform of the delivery of water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland which will secure full self financing arrangements for these services by 2008/9 and provide a sustainable and long term funding arrangement to meet future investment needs'.

"The main drive behind the upgrading is from EU Directives and Environmental Heritage Services calls for clean and healthy water supply. This is disingenuous - there is no EU imperative on how funding should be raised. Sinn Féin remains opposed to the imposition of this new, regressive tax. We do not believe that people living here should be penalised for British Government negligence in its duty to maintain and improve this system over the last decades. The net outcome of these proposals will be a double tax on Water and Sewerage services." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Cllr. Pearse Doherty has called for a review of the current process used to update electoral registers.

Speaking in Donegal today he said:

" The current system is unacceptable people are taken off the register without their knowledge, it only comes to their attention when they go to vote and cant because they've been removed .We now see electoral courts taking place where individuals go to the courts and take people off without the person's knowledge. As a councillor I received a list of proposed people that were being taken off the register. My own wife was on this list, had I not been a councillor and received this list it would not come to her attention. "

"Reasons given for taking people off include Duplication which is a genuine reason however people are being taken off when there is no duplication because someone thought it was. While I understand the difficulty the council face with registers people cannot be denied their right to vote because of someone's mistake."

Cllr. Doherty concluded "Sinn Féin are constantly active on this subject of registration and we have been inundated in the run up to elections with people who are unable to vote as they were taken off without their knowledge. The bottom line is people must be informed, citizens must not be denied their right to vote. Sinn Féin will be attending all these courts to ensure people are not taken off unnecessarily." ENDS

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Commenting on a court case in Belfast today by a woman challenging the Special Branch blacklisting her from working in certain areas, Sinn Féin Assembly member Raymond McCartney has said that this sort of uncontrolled power being exercised by faceless individuals went to the core of the policing argument.

Mr McCartney said:

" From the evidence presented in this case this morning it is clear that the Special Branch blacklisted this woman from participating in her work for one of two reasons or indeed both. Either she refused to spy on republicans or refused to enter into a relationship with a Branch man.

" It is a disgrace that the faceless individuals of Special Branch are able to exercise this sort of unaccountable and uncontrolled power over citizens everyday lives. This case raises the issues that go to the very heart of the current policing arguments.

" The vast majority of the nationalist community who continue to hold out for a genuinely accountable policing service, despite others who have settled for this sort of second class policing, will simply not accept an unaccountable Special Branch cadre continuing to operate in this fashion." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President and MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty will today travel to London for a series of engagements and political briefings.

Mr Doherty will hold a press conference in Jubilee Room, House of Commons at 10am tomorrow morning (Wednesday 15th December)

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Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, spokesperson on Policing and Justice, lead a delegation to meet the Oversight Commissioners for Policing, Mr Al Hutchinson on the publication of his latest report. He was accompanied by Mr Raymond McCartney, MLA and Cllr. David Kennedy.

Afterwards, Mr Kelly said:

" Sinn Fein met with the Oversight Commissioner for Policing about this report and we raised a number of issues. Central to our concerns is the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

" Transfer of powers is not merely a recommendation of the Patten Commission but a mainstay of the Patten model for a new beginning to policing. Sinn Fein believes that the greatest barrier to creating the new beginning to policing is the failure to transfer powers of policing and justice. We have been pursuing this in negotiations with the Irish and British governments."

" This yearly summary is the twelfth report produced by the Oversight Commissioner for Policing over the past five years. It is our belief that there are serious, outstanding problems in the implementation of the Patten report including : representativeness ; civilianisation; demilitarisation ; and human rights, amongst other things. Indeed the Oversight Commissioner raises these matters within his report.

" Sinn Fein raised with the Oversight Commissioner the need for an honest appraisal of the religious and political composition of the PSNI. The targets set in Patten clearly envisages change in the composition of all components of policing including the Regular force, the Full Time Reserve, the Part Time Reserve, civilian workers and the NIO Police Division. The figures used by the Oversight Commissioner only cover the Regular Force. Indeed the true statistics show that the religious imbalance in policing is only being addressed by 1% each year. With this rate of change it will take at least 20 years before we had a representative policing service. This is not acceptable.

" The Oversight Commissioner also mentions how policing changes are impacting on the ground with real communities. We pointed out examples like the 12th July in Ardoyne as not auguring well for a new beginning to policing being delivered." ENDS

Editors Note: Gerry Kelly is available for interview on this issue at his Antrim Road Offices at 3pm

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has today urged the Irish government not to 'drop the ball' on the campaign for full working status for the Irish language in the EU. Ms de Brún said that any slowing down of the process would be regarded as 'a slap in the face to those who have worked tirelessly to ensure equality for the language in the EU'.

Ms de Brún was responding to weekend reports, which suggested the Irish government would accede to delays in processing full working status for the Irish language at EU level.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms de Brún said:

"Just a few short weeks ago, I commended Irish government efforts to have the Irish language recognised as an official working language of the European Union. Amidst great fanfare, the government informed us they had set in train this process. However, recent reports have suggested that the Government may accede to delays in processing full working status for the Irish language at EU level.

"I am calling upon the Irish government to pursue this issue vigorously at the highest levels of the European Union. I am also seeking a commitment from government that this remains a priority issues for them.

"Sinn Féin has made the recognition of the Irish language at EU level a party priority and has campaigned long and hard with other Irish speakers and Irish language organisations to ensure that Irish is recognised as an official working language of the EU. Any slowing down of this process will be regarded as a slap in the face to those who have worked tirelessly to ensure equality for the language in the EU. The government must not drop the ball on this issue.

"Sinn Féin is calling upon the Taoiseach to make the full recognition and status for the Irish language in the EU a government priority". ENDS

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Speaking to the media today in Stormont, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said that 'Ian Paisley should agree to meet Gerry Adams. The two should sit down together and find a way of sorting this out'.

Mr McGuinness said:

" Last week the culmination of months of negotiations saw us collectively make significant progress. The comprehensive agreement which is now on the table is a remarkable achievement. It has stalled. Sinn Féin's focus is on finding a solution to this.

" So, let us set to one side all of the diversions and recriminations of recent days and concentrate on the substance of what has been achieved. The opportunity to make a defining leap forward exists. Let's not lose it.

" Ian Paisley should agree to meet Gerry Adams. The two should sit down together and find a way of sorting this out.

" We have one effort left to see the enormous progress made in recent discussions turned into reality. I believe that this can still be done but it needs the DUP leader and the SF leader talking directly to each other." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has this morning urged the European Parliament and the European Council to "continue their positive signals and support for the Irish peace process". Ms de Brún was speaking before the presentation of two reports to the European Parliament. Votes will be taken both today and tomorrow to extend funding for Peace II and the IFI.

Speaking from Strasbourg, Ms de Brún said:

"I wish to welcome the reports being presented this week to the EU Parliament. It is important that all measures are processed speedily and allow continued funding for peace building in the New Year. We have all seen the negative consequences of gap funding projects and measures.

"Sinn Féin is calling upon fellow MEPs to support the proposal for extended funding for the PEACE II Programme and the International Fund for Ireland for a further two years.

"Many people recognise the importance of the PEACE Programme to a continuing process of conflict resolution in Ireland. Such funding is vitally important if we are to help promote national reconciliation, social inclusion and peace building. A positive signal from the European Union at this stage of the peace process would be an important recognition of its support for the efforts of those who work at the coalface of conflict resolution.

"It is also important to stress that PEACE funding should be distributed on the basis of need. Peace funding cannot be allocated on the basis of religious or political affiliation. It must be and can only be allocated on the basis of need.

"Both myself and my colleague Mary Lou McDonald MEP, urge the European Parliament to play its part in helping to consolidate the Irish peace process at this important time, resulting in an immediate and positive impact upon people and projects at the coalface of peace building in Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin South East Representative, Councillor Daithí Doolan has has welcomed yesterday's decision to, "reject a proposed 36 storey high rise for Ringsend."

Cllr. Doolan said, "At yesterday's Area Committee meeting of Dublin City Council I proposed the rejection of this high rise. To put it in perspective, it would be twice the height of Liberty Hall in a residential area. The scale of this development, which includes a night-club, indicates to me that it is a development based on greed and has nothing to do with providing homes for those who need them. This development is unsustainable and provides nothing for the surrounding area. If it were to go ahead it would become a monument to developers total lack of regard for people and their needs.

"It is wholly unacceptable to both myself and the wider community that private developers believe that they can simply impose their will on local residents, pocket the profit and leave behind a high-rise that will simply blithe the cities skyline. A line needs to be drawn, development is welcome here but not at any cost."

Cllr. Doolan concluded by calling on the applicant Candourity Ltd, "to immediately withdraw their plans and to engage in consultation with communities and their representatives." ENDS

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Hundreds of people attended Sunday's annual Liam Mellows Commemoration held in Castletown, County Wexford where Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris paid tribute to Liam Mellows whom he described as a "Giant of Irish Republican history".

On June 25th, 1922 Liam Mellows, Rory O'Connor, Joseph McKelvey and Dick Barrett, along with other comrades, took over the Four Courts in Dublin. Two days later, they were forced to surrender having been bombarded by Free State forces using a British gunboat, from the river Liffey.

Mellows aged 27, who had been elected as a Sinn Féin TD for both Meath and Galway, was imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail. Six months later, following the assasination of Sean Hales, on the morning of December 8th 1922, Liam Mellows was taken from his prison cell, along with Rory O'Connor, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey. All four were shot dead, as reprisals, on the orders of the Free State government. Liam Mellows is buried in Castletown, Co. Wexford on his specific request, as it was here that he spent much of his youth, living with his grandmother.

Martin Ferris reminded the attendance at Sunday's Commemoration, that throughout the long history of Irish Republicanism, the political establishment have never been for the Republic and have attempted to criminalise the struggle for Irish freedom at every single stage. "Whether it was the United Irishmen in 1798, Robert Emmet in 1803, the Fenians in 1867, or the IRA from 1916 onwards. At every single stage in the history of the struggle for Irish freedom the ruling establishment has attempted to put down and to criminalise the Republican struggle."

Referring to the ongoing negotiations Martin Ferris said:

"Sinn Féin is not giving up on this process. The IRA have made a declaration of peaceful intent which should be pursued and ultimatums from Ian Paisley or anyone else will not advance the process. If the DUP are serious about reaching a deal then they should have the courage of their convictions and sit face to face with Sinn Féin and not attempt to humiliate a community that will not be humiliated."

Speaking afterwards Wexford Sinn Féin Councillor John Dwyer echoed those sentiments and referred to the incessant outrageous attacks on Sinn Féin by the present Minister for Justice remarking that: "In the case of Michael McDowell it is certainly true to say that he is carrying on an ignoble family tradition of antipathy to Irish Republicanism."

"As we commemorate one of the great heroes of Irish Republicanism, it is sadly ironic that the Emergency Powers bill under which Liam Mellows and his comrades were executed was seconded by the present Minister for Justice's Grandfather, Eoin McNeill.

"The Minister's grand-uncle, Hugo McNeill, was the officer in charge of the firing squad that executed Liam Mellows. A 20-strong firing party carried out these executions, ten standing, ten kneeling. When the firing subsided murmuring was heard from one of the men lying on the ground. It was Joe McKelvey, badly injured. Hugo McNeill fired two shots into McKelvey, one to the chest, and one to the head.

"Eoin McNeill, the Minister's grandfather, had signed a countermanding order forbidding military action by Volunteers in 1916, causing great confusion and weakening the Rising. At the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in 1917 Countess Markiewicz, referring to McNeill was to declare, "The Proclamation had to be reprinted at Liberty Hall on Sunday to take his name off it."

"This is the tradition that our Minister for Justice inherits and may perhaps even explain some of his own motivation. But the legacy of Liam Mellows, and of all the Irish men and women who have given their lives for Irish freedom is that the Irish Republican struggle will never be criminalised.

"If the present Taoiseach wishes to examine his new found Socialism, he should remember Liam Mellows and remember those who attempted to criminalise him and those who executed him. Liam Mellows was a true Irish Republican and a true Socialist. His words from Mountjoy Jail in 1922 ring just as true today: "the commercial interest so-called money and gombeen men are on the side of the Treaty, because that Treaty means Imperialism and England. We are back to Tone -and it is just as well - relying on that great body, 'the men of no property'. The 'stake in the country' people were never with the Republic." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor for North Belfast, David Kennedy has slammed the sectarian attack on a fifteen year old girl, which took place around 10:30 pm tonight, on the Serpentine Road. The young girl who was walking home with a friend was attacked by three men and a women who were seen in the area in a car.

Speaking tonight Cllr Kennedy said:

"This attack was an act of cowardice. Those responsible picked a very easy target and attacked two vulnerable teenage girls. The girls were walking home tonight when a car stopped and those inside got out and beat one of the girls unconcious. Her friend was lucky enough to escape and call for help but she is also, as can only be expected, very shaken.

"Tonight's attack however happened only yards from a PSNI camera placed on the interface. If there is evidence on it it must be produced and if not serious questions need to be asked.

"I am urging all nationalists, especially in North Belfast, to be extremely vigilant. Many people will be out visiting friends or enjoying Christmas occassions and unfortunately loyalist gangs are exploiting this.

"I am also calling on those with influence within the loyalist and unionist community, following now the third serious attack on young nationalists in the space of a week, to help put an end these attacks." ENDS

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Sinn Féin candidate for the Meath by-election, Councillor Joe Reilly has said, "child poverty is a real live issue which must be put at the top of the political agenda. It is scandalous that children are still going to school hungry in Navan in 2004." Councillor Reilly was responding to a report from Navan St. Vincent de Paul that said that children in the town are still going to school hungry.

Speaking in Meath at the weekend he said:

"It is scandalous that children are still going to school hungry in Navan in 2004. Child poverty is a very serious issue here in Meath and indeed it is a national issue. This is another example of the serious inequalities that exist in Irish society today.

"While the Government continues to paint itself as a more caring and sharing kind of Government, the reality is that children are still going to school hungry, children are still sleeping on the streets and up to 250,000 children are living in poverty in this state.

"At the heart of all Sinn Féin policies is the equality agenda. Sinn Féin believes that every child should be guaranteed as a right, access to quality food, shelter, education and healthcare and to an equal stake in society as envisaged in the 1916 proclamation. Reversing all of this means changing economic policies. It means shifting the emphasis towards social need and equality rather than corporate greed and inequality. It was with this in mind that we set out our pre-budget submission to prioritise children.

"Among Sinn Féin's proposals are:

  • a comprehensive package of childcare measures
  • parents to be allowed care for their children full time up to one year of age
  • increase child benefit to €150 per month for the first and second child
  • extend the medical card to all under 18
  • improve funding for primary education including school building programmes and schemes to tackle educational disadvantage."ENDS

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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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