Sinn Féin - On Your Side

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty today announced details of a series of public meetings which are taking place across Ireland in the coming days to discuss Sinn Féin's agenda for change, the housing crisis and the current difficulties surrounding the Peace Process. Party President Gerry Adams MP will be speaking in Dublin and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP will be in Donegal and Cavan.

Speaking today Mr. Doherty said:

"Sinn Féin has taken the decision to call a series of public meetings to discuss Sinn Féin's agenda for change and the very serious implications surrounding the stalled Peace Process. We will be visiting other towns and cities across the country in the coming weeks. We look forward to engaging with local communities and groups and receiving their very valuable feedback and thoughts".ENDS

Public Meetings

8th March - Jackson's Hotel, Ballybofey 8pm - Martin McGuinness MP and Pearse Doherty EU candidate North West

9th March - Kilmore Hotel, Cavan Town 8pm - Martin McGuinness MP and Pearse Doherty EU candidate North West

10th March - Axis Centre, Ballymun 4.30pm - Gerry Adams MP and Mary Lou McDonald EU candidate Dublin

10th March - Mulhuddart Community Centre 8pm - Gerry Adams MP and Mary Lou McDonald EU candidate Dublin

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Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Bairbre de Brún has accused NIO Minster John Spellar of ignoring the role of British agents in the conflict in the North of Ireland.

Speaking after meeting British government Minister John Spellar in Stormont today Ms de Brún said:

"John Spellar refused to accept that there was British intelligence involvement with unionist paramilitaries.

"This flies against established facts about the involvement of RUC/PSNI Special Branch - MI5 double agents such as Brian Nelson in directing and arming unionist paramilitaries and evidence that British agents were directly involved in the murder of citizens on this island.

"Why else would the British government refuse to publish the Stevens reports or indeed why is it continuing to stall on the publication of the Cory Report into collusion between elements within the British security system, Special Branch and unionist paramilitaries?

"The British government cannot try to absolve itself of responsibility in creating and maintaining the conflict in the North of Ireland.

"It is also astonishing that John Spellar said that there was no evidence that the DUP or UUP had any influence over the activity of unionist paramilitaries.

"Sinn Féin welcome the focus being put on paramilitarism but this demands that the British government and unionist political parties accept their responsibilities in bringing an end to the violence directed at Catholics, such as the attacks last night in North Belfast." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National EU Director of Elections Pat Doherty MP has welcomed the launch of the Electoral Commission campaign aimed at getting people on the register for the June election. But Mr. Doherty was critical of its late start and the figures being quoted by the Commission for the shortfall in the register.

Mr. Doherty said:

"It is welcome that the Electoral Commission have finally launched a campaign to bridge the massive shortfall in the register. It is a recognition that what Sinn Féin have been saying for months is in fact true.

"The figure being quoted by the Commission for those missing from the register is 170,000. Although a massive total this figure does not tell the full story. In a comparison with the census figures and adding on the figure previously given by the Commission for those registered but not having the required ID the figure for those currently being disenfranchised rises to 211,000. That is one fifth of the electorate.

"This situation is not tenable. This year the register fell by another 28,000. This will become the annual pattern if urgent action is not taken. This registration campaign will not solve the underlying problem of seriously flawed legislation enacted with the purpose of manipulating the electoral process." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TDs Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Martin Ferris have accused the Government of violating its Programme for Government promise to ensure that a minimum of 40% state Board nominations are women because it has refused to include these targets in its own legislation creating new statutory agencies. The Sinn Féin Deputies have called on the Government to make a fresh commitment on International Women's Day to include this target in legislation for all newly-created bodies.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "Knowing the evidence that affirmative action targets work, and in view of the specific commitment made in the Programme for Government, it is nothing short of outrageous that last week the Government refused a Sinn Féin amendment that would have required the Minister for Justice to ensure equal gender representation on the newly created Private Security Services Authority. Sinn Féin should never have had to table this amendment at all. The Minister should have kept his promise and included the provision in the Bill. For our part, Sinn Féin have set similar targets in our own party as we are convinced by results from the Nordic countries that target-setting is an effective tool for increasing gender representation. We are fully committed to getting our own house in order."

Deputy Ferris meanwhile announced his plans to table a similar amendment to the Bord Bia Bill which also fails to legislate for equal representation. Deputy Ferris said: "I cannot understand why there is no provision for affirmative action targets in this Bill. Clearly Ministerial discretion has not been sufficient, as only 17% of appointments made by the Minister for Agriculture have been women, and the Government have fallen short of the 40% target ever since they first agreed to it in 1991. While Sinn Féin should not have to table these kind of amendments, we will do so whenever necessary as part of our commitment to building an Ireland of Equals. Equal representation will not happen overnight, nor because Government Ministers mouth platitudes. It will only happen when those with power agree to share it. No one is absolved. We each have a responsibility to ensure that affirmative action targets are set and met." ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has said that the death of a man in the Lee Hesita Hostel in Brunswick Street last week was a 'tragedy for the man's family'. Mr Maskey also called for a debate on the provision of proper accommodation for homeless people in the city.

Mr Maskey said;

"During my time as Mayor of Belfast I prioritised the issue of homelessness in the city. I visited many of the hostels and other facilities in the city dealing with homeless people and indeed I visited the Brunswick Street Hostel one morning in the early hours. It was obvious the pressure under which the staff there were trying to operate.

"Talking to people involved in the sector there is clearly a crisis of funding and therefore of proper provision for homeless people in the city.

"The death of a man last week in the Lee Hestia hostel is obviously a tragedy for his family and friends. I hope however that it can provoke a debate on how best we provide the necessary care for homeless people, many of whom are extremely vulnerable.

"I have written to the Social Development Minister seeking a meeting to discuss how best we can learn the lessons of last weeks tragic events." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East, Daithí Doolan, has described Michael McDowell's comments in the Sunday Star as disgraceful. He said: "Minister McDowell would be better off doing the job that he is being paid to do rather than jeopardising the peace process for party political advantage."

Mr. Doolan said:

"People know that the Minister is acting in a totally cynical manner but there is growing amazement that he is willing to jeopardise the peace process for party political advantage.

"Ordinary people are fed up listening to the President of the most right-wing party in this country abusing his position to attack Sinn Féin in the run up to the European Union and Local Government elections.

"People know who is responsible for lengthening hospital waiting lists, the widening poverty gap, rising house prices and the withdrawal of funding to community projects across the state.

"They also know that Sinn Féin is working hard to get the peace process back on track, that we are working in our local communities and that we are the only alternative to the cosy political cliques that have run this state for so long.

"Given his almost singular focus on Sinn Féin, it is little wonder that the portfolio for which Minister McDowell is responsible is in such disarray. It is time that he got back to doing that job that he is being paid to do."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking from Derry this evening said that the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern would be better off facing up to his responsibilities instead of constantly hectoring Irish republicans. He said that it was no coincidence that his attacks on Sinn Féin were becoming more frequent in the run up to European Union and Local Government elections.

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"This evening, Bertie Ahern, instead of explaining to the Irish public how he intends to implement an Agreement, to which he admitted being in default last October, choose to attack Irish republicans.

"Sinn Féin is up to any challenge from Fianna Fáil and the other establishment parties, north and south, in the run up to the elections but we are certainly not going to accept lectures from a government that has walked away from its responsibilities in relation to the peace process.

"The Good Friday Agreement is not some sacred piece of paper to be supported in theory. It is an international Agreement, which was massively endorsed not just by nationalist Ireland, but the vast majority of people in Ireland six years ago and which the two governments are committed to implementing in full.

"But instead of doing this, they have walked away from their commitments, suspended the political institutions, failed to move on equality, human rights, demilitarization, policing, northern representation, Irish language and many other issues.

"We all want the Good Friday Agreement to work, but it will only work if all of those responsible for implementing it face up to their responsibilities and that includes the Irish government." ENDS

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A meeting of the Sinn Féin Officer Board took place this morning in Monaghan. The meeting discussed the current state of the Peace Process and was briefed by Party President Gerry Adams on last week's discussions with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Martin McGuinness's meeting with the Taoiseach. The meeting also discussed preparations for both the EU and 26 County Local Government elections.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Adams said:

"Today's meeting of the Officer Board was the first meeting since our Ard Fheis. I briefed the meeting on the current state of play in the peace process and on our discussions with Tony Blair in London this week and Martin McGuinness's meeting with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

"And at this time I would again challenge Bertie Ahern to face up to the responsibilities that the Irish Government have as co-guarantor with the British Government of the Good Friday Agreement.

"In all of the public remarks from the two governments there has been a focus on what others should do and no indication that the two governments will fulfil their responsibilities despite clear public admissions by both Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern that they have yet to complete the implementation of many aspects of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Much of the meeting however focused on our preparations for the 26 County Local Government elections and the EU elections scheduled for June. Party Vice President Pat Doherty has been appointed as our National EU Director of Elections and we face into the elections in a confident mood.

"Sinn Féin's agenda for change is garnering supporting across the island. I believe that this growing support will result in a major breakthrough in June when an all Ireland Sinn Féin team will be returned to the EU parliament. I believe that both Bairbre de Brún and Mary Lou McDonald are well placed to pick up seats and that we will make major advances across the 26 counties in the Local Government elections.

"I think that the establishment parties know this also and this provides much of the rational for the recent unwarranted attacks being made upon this party.

"Sinn Féin does not take the electorate for granted. We will continue to work hard in the coming months to ensure that the potential which clearly exists, with an ever growing number of republicans on the island, is delivered." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD warned strongly against what he referred to as a "dangerous and worrying development" around issues of racism in light of a racist ad placed in a Galway newspaper this week.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"We need to be very careful that signs of blatant racism are not ignored or tolerated in our society - this could lead to a dangerous and worrying development. The published ad is more reminiscent of what was seen by many unfortunate people, Irish included - seeking employment or accommodation in the 1940s and 50s in Britain and North America. The fact that a newspaper should carry an ad with such outrageously and blatantly racist words is genuinely worrying. But it is not enough to simply note this so-called "misprint" in passing. This Property company in Galway needs to be pressed further for a proper explanation instead of insulting the intelligence of the nation by calling it a "misprint". Computers do not automatically type hidden words so how did the words "no coloured" appear? I assume they didn't mean the house was unpainted.

"The Property company try to assure us saying they had 'many coloured people in different properties' as though that could excuse the occasional racist ad. Anyone aware of racism in their midst - and this is hardly a recent phenomenon, knows that black people are not 'coloured'. It is in fact highly objectionable to call them 'coloured' in any context, good or bad. I hope the matter will be dealt with comprehensively by the Equality Authority, at the least, so that non-nationals in Galway do not have to fear further discrimination or racism from any quarters, as suggested by NGOs there.

"We need to keep on top of this issue. Racism lurks in our midst, evidenced also by the Vincentian Centre's recent report on racism and housing, and only constant education and positive initiatives to address it will ensure that it will be proactively tackled" ENDS

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Sinn Fein County Councillor Gerry Murray has called on planning section of Mayo County Council to take a tougher stance in relation to the activities of rogue developers. There are cases in the county of where there has been a total disregard for planning regulations and conditions. Some of these cases have been on the books of Mayo County Council with years and it is practically impossible to obtain enforcement action against the developers concerned.

Cllr Murray said; "While the Council might prefer to resolve these issues via negotiation it is obvious that some of these developers will only respond to tough legal action. Many of the residents in the Estates concerned have lost all faith in local Government due to its failure to take decisive action in relation to serious breaches of the Planning law."

"The Planning and Development Act of 2000 bestows huge powers on County Councils in relation to non compliant developers, these powers are wide ranging and can be used to veto all future proposed planning applications by non compliant developers. In other words planning permission should not be granted to Developers who have failed to comply with planning conditions in their other developments."

"I have called for more resources to be allocated to the Enforcement Section of Mayo County Council in relation to this issue. Its time we had swift and decisive action in relation to rogue developers whose attitude to Local Government is bordering on the contempt. In the meantime the people who have bought into these developments are totally disillusioned and dismayed with the lack of action by the planning authority". One particular case is ongoing with the last six years and still no sign of a resolution. The full rigours of the Planning Act must be applied to these non compliant developers."ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Spokesperson on Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD and Spokesperson on the Environment and Housing, Arthur Morgan TD, have welcomed today's publication of new guidelines for rural housing. The guidelines are meant to provide the basis of a more flexible and consistent policy in place of the current situation where many rural dwellers find it impossible to secure planning permission.

Deputies Morgan and Ferris said:

"We welcome the publication of the guidelines as a step towards tackling the crisis in rural housing. Both of us have raised this issue in the Dáil and our Councillors are confronted on a daily basis with the problems faced by people attempting to build so-called 'once-off housing'.

"We hope that the guidelines will become the basis for a planning policy that favours those who live in rural communities. That would certainly appear to be the intent and we will watch with interest how this is interpreted. Some of the guidelines - such as the one on occupancy - are simply common sense and similar to what Sinn Féin has urged. Likewise, there are proposals regarding the building of holiday homes, which we hope will be interpreted in a manner that ensures a proper balance between the needs of local people and those who wish to holiday in rural areas.

"Finally, we hope that this document will be widely discussed by all who have an interest in rural communities and that it becomes the basis for a wide-ranging debate and consultation process at local authority level, prior to the new guidelines being implemented." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast Alex Maskey, speaking as figures in relation to central spending by political parties for the 2003 Assembly election were released, said that Alex Attwood's growing obsession with Sinn Féin was clouding his judgement. Mr. Maskey said that rather than fabricating stories he should concentrate on the facts.

Mr. Maskey said:

"In recent times Alex Atwood has become increasingly hysterical in relation to Sinn Féin and once again this evening, in a rush to grab the headlines, he choose to attack Sinn Féin rather than actually reflect the facts.

"Today the Electoral Commission published central party spending for the Assembly elections. In June they will publish constituency returns. Unlike other parties the majority of Sinn Féin's election funding is raised and spent by local constituencies and this will be reflected when these returns are published in June.

"Our central funding of the Assembly election was £28,000, as indicated in today's report. Total constituency returns for the election is in the region of £126,000.

"This mirrors the situation last year when the Electoral Commission allowed parties to reclaim funding which they had spent in relation to the cancelled May elections. At that time Sinn Féin claimed less than £40,000 while the other three large parties claimed between £100,000 and £200,000.

"Sinn Féin supports and practices total transparency in relation to the funding of political parties. Last December we published our full accounts and opened them to public scrutiny.

"We would call on all other parties on the island to follow our lead on this issue rather than engaging in hysterical ranting.."ENDS

Editors Note:

According to figures released to the media in October, in relation to amounts claimed back due to the cancelled Assembly election in May - the DUP claimed around £200,000, the UUP claimed more than £150,000 and the SDLP claimed more than £100,000.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP today address an event in the Culturlann organised by Féile an Phobail welcoming the different ethnic minority communities to West Belfast.

Mr Adams said:

"The event is an important statement that everyone is welcome in West Belfast. We should make no distinctions on account of colour, or religion, or ethnic background.

All visitors are welcome in West Belfast, whether they are coming from the other side of the world or the other side of the city.

Everyone who settles here is a valued member of the community whether they have lived here all their life or less than a year.

Racism is sectarianism by another name. Like sectarianism racism cannot have any place in our community. We must ensure that ethic communities who settle in West Belfast are made to feel welcome.

The record of the British government in relation to racism and in particular the issue of asylum seekers has been disastrous. Imprisoning people seeking asylum is wrong.

Ireland is known throughout the world as a place of welcome. We have a famous phase Cead mile failte.

Cead mile failte has to be more than a tourist cliché. Our welcome is more than honeyed words. It is an invitation to share with us. To share our community, to share experiences and to learn from each other.

Within West Belfast we have ethnic communities including Moslems, Latinos, Irish Travellers, West Indians, Chinese, Korean, Pakistani, Basques, Africans and Philippinoes. These people are our doctors, nurses, retailers, employers, neighbours and friends.

We must all examine how we make these communities welcome. Can premises we used as meeting places for ethnic minorities, can technology be made available to ethic communities to maintain connect with family and fiends at home. What can be do to share our experiences and history. How can we learn from with ethnic minorities.

Travel any where in the world and you meet Irish people. Irish People who have left home for economic and other reasons came to form ethnic minorities.

Irish People who have contributed to the social cultural and economic life of their host counties. They are now valued workers, business and community leaders.

When republicans were being marginalised and demonised at home. It was the elements of the international community who had suffered the legacy of colonialism and imperialism and recognised injustice and inequality. These groups stood shoulder to shoulder with this community.

We own great deal of gratitude to our friends throughout the world. The counties and groups who spoke out against injustice and the communities who welcomed and supported Irish immigrants.

Here in Belfast, and across the North Nationalist suffered repression, discrimination and sectarian violence. It gave rise to the civil rights movement. Our goal then was to end injustice and end equality. Our goal today is to complete that work.

There is an onus on the state to enact laws, polices and practises to ensure that ethic minorities do not face repressive or discriminatory practises.

I hope that today we build this dialogue and develop support and projects.

I believe that the message of today has to be that there is no place in West Belfast or any other community in Ireland for racism." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU Candidate Mary Lou McDonald today expressed concern that the EU Commission has defended its controversial plans to include biometric data in EU passports, including digital face images and the possibility of fingerprints on EU passports, and called on the Minister for Justice to oppose the measure in Council.

Speaking today, Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is deeply concerned at this latest attempt by the EU to incorporate biometrics into EU passports. Digital face scans, iris scans and fingerprinting on passports all seem like something from an Orwellian science fiction movie. But while most Irish people are totally unaware of it, these proposals could become reality as early as 2005 if the Commission has its way.

"I believe that the Irish people do not want an EU which holds a database of our personal details and tracks our every movement. Instead we want an EU that will fight to protect our civil liberties. While the Minister has supported the incorporation of biometric data into travel documents in the past I call on him now to vigorously oppose this measure on behalf of the Irish people when it comes before the Council.

"For my part, my party and I will continue to defend the freedoms and civil liberties of Irish and other citizens within the EU and we will continue to oppose the unrelenting drive towards the evolution of a an EU big brother EU at every opportunity and in all the institutions in which we participate. ENDS

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At a meeting in Castlebar on Wedensday night Mayo Sinn Fein ratified the following candidates. Noel Campell will contest Castlebar Town Council. Dave Keating will contest Westport Town Council and Peter Clarke will contest Ballina Town Council. Outgoing County Councillor Gerry Murray was slected to stand in the Swinford Electoral area for the Mayo County Council elections.

Mayo Sinn Fein expect to announce a number of other canditates in the coming weeks and will be putting forward their biggest ever election team in the county since the 1920's.

Speaking after the convention, which was chaired by Sinn Féin Sligo Corporation Councillor Chis McManus, Mayo Sinn Féin's Vincent Wood who was the party's candidate in the last general election said:

"I am very pleased to endorse the nominees ratified at this convention and know that we have a formidible team of candidates now in place to contest the three Town Councils. Dave Keating, Noel Campbell and Peter Clarke will ensure that the people of Westport, Castlebar and Ballina experience the change in political representation so badly needed in these towns. I have absolutely no doubt that Gerry Murray will be returned in the Swinford electoral area and will be joined by other Sinn Féin County Councillors.

"We will be holding further conventions to finalise our panel for the County Council areas in order to offer the people of Mayo the widest possible opportunity to vote for the only real political opposition. This will be a good election for Sinn Féin. Our opponents in all parties know this and we can expect all kinds of hysterical attacks from national and local politicians alike as a response to this growth. The people of Mayo will see through all of this and the future shape of Mayo politics will be changed for the better." ENDS

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Meath County Councillor Joe Reilly has welcomed the decision of his fellow councillors to support his motion calling for An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to introduce legislation that would allow Irish citizens in the Six Counties the right to vote in the Presidential Elections.

Cllr Reilly said:

"The big idea underpinning of the Good Friday Agreement was the issue of equality. The rights of Irish citizens in the Six Counties to participate in and to be part the political life of this island is an issue of equality.

Pointing out that as President of Ireland President Mary McAlease was unable to vote for herself because her home address was in Co. Down he said that rights of MP's, MLA's to attend and participate in debates in Leinster House, as promised by An Taoiseach, needs to be addressed immediately".ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly Member Bairbre de Brún today led a party delegation to meet with the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley in Belfast. The meeting discussed the serious shortcomings which currently exist in the electoral register and particularly the issues of annual registration, the availability of registration forms and the number of people being called to electoral courts even after submitting these forms. The meeting also dealt with the issue of photographic ID.

Ms de Brún said:

"This meeting is part of a series of meetings which we will be having on this issue with the two governments, the Electoral Commission, international groups and the voluntary and community sector.

" In each of the meetings held to date we have argued that requiring every voter in every household to complete a form every year in order to get a vote is leading to the shredding to the register year on year. We need to move away from annual registration and allow voters to remain on the register for five years. The resources which the electoral office presently spend on an inefficient annual registration scheme could then be better used targeting marginalised groups and groups such as young people who have proved difficult to register.

"We stressed to the Electoral Office today the need for registration forms to be made widely available, for example at post offices, libraries, colleges, universities and through political parties.

"We also pointed out that the rest of Ireland and Britain make far less use of electoral courts. There are so many ways open to the electoral office now to carry out identity checks that it makes no sense to call so many people to electoral courts once they have completed registration forms.

"These and a number of other proposals which we put to Mr Stanley could help restore public confidence in the electoral system

"It is estimated that around 211,000 people in the six counties are currently disenfranchised. In the three months from the Assembly election last November a further 28,000 people were removed from the register. It is not a sustainable situation for around one fifth of the total electorate to be missing from the register." ENDS

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Speaking on the Party's motion on Healthcare during Private Members' Business this evening, Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD strongly criticised the Health Minister Micheál Martin for failing to provide equal access to healthcare for all calling the health service "a human rights scandal". Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Sinn Féin believe that healthcare is a basic, fundamental, equal right of everyone. The World Health Organisation asserts that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being and the realisation of this right can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures. This Government is in breach of these international standards. The equal right to healthcare is violated by this Government on a daily basis through their insistence on pouring taxpayer money into a failed two-tier healthcare model where those who need healthcare most are the least likely to get it.

"Ten years after the economic boom, Travellers are only now reaching life expectancy levels that settled people reached in the 1940s. The Government have financially strangled the Traveller Health Strategy because Travellers do not wield enough economic power or enough votes to ensure that this Government gives their healthcare needs the unquestionably urgent attention they deserve.

"The failure of successive Governments to ensure that the service meets the international standards was highlighted in a campaign by Amnesty International. The mentally ill, many of whom end up homeless or as prisoners, have no means to buy the Government's favour. They are just not powerful enough to matter to Fianna Fáil and the PDs.

"Delivery on the healthcare rights of all should be among the very highest priorities of any Government. For the Government of the fourth wealthiest state in the world to preside over the present state of affairs in our healthcare service is nothing short of a human rights scandal revealing mismanagement and incompetence of the highest order. ENDS

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Yesterday the Minister misled the House when he said that the Sinn Féin motion failed to outline alternatives for the healthcare system. Perhaps the Minister did not bother to read the motion all the way to the end. If he had, he would see that the Sinn Féin alternative is there in black and white. That is, to phase out the failed, unjust two-tier public-private system and replace it with a universal public healthcare service which delivers health services free to all at point of delivery regardless of income, and for this service to be funded from general, progressive taxation so that the rich pay their fair share.

Sinn Féin proposes these fundamental reforms because we believe that healthcare is a right. A basic, fundamental, equal right of everyone. And we are not alone in this. This is not some "loony left" notion. The international community reached consensus on this issue more than half a century ago. The right to health is reflected in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In keeping with these instruments the World Health Organisation not only asserts that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of economic or social condition, but also concludes that Governments have a responsibility, and that the realisation of this right can be fulfilled only by the provision of adequate health and social measures.

Yet when we look at this state we realise that this Government is in breach of these international standards. That the equal right to healthcare is in fact violated by this Government on a daily, systematic basis through their insistence on clinging to and pouring taxpayer money into a failed two-tier healthcare model which has created a situation where those who get sickest and are at greatest risk of early death -- in other words, those who need healthcare most, the most vulnerable -- are the least likely to get it due to delays, shortages, inadequate provision and discrimination on the basis of inability to pay and other grounds.

The Minister for Health said yesterday that he is proud of his record, and he had no shortage of fancy facts and figures to deflect attention from his failures. Minister are you proud of the crisis at James' Hospital in Dublin. Last year I asked the Minister to investigate the case of a man who died there after spending 12 hours on a hospital trolley without being seen by a doctor. My own father-in-law spent two days there on a trolley in an A & E cubicle which he shared with another patient on another trolley, after watching a Government Minister jump the queue. Only last month this same A & E Unit was closed to further admissions for the first time since 1989 after a senior consultant declared that overcrowding had reached dangerous levels. I ask, is the Minister proud that a young child died last year because the heart operation she was scheduled for at Crumlin Children's Hospital had to be cancelled because the resources just weren't there?

Is the Minister proud of his Government's record on reducing the massive health inequalities in this state? Ten years after the economic boom Travellers are only now reaching life expectancy levels that settled people reached in the 1940s. Their infant mortality rate is still twice as high and only 3% of Travellers live to be older than 65. What has this Government done to change this appalling, shameful situation? Since their re-election in 2002 they have financially strangled the Traveller Health Strategy. No additional funds were provided last year and this year the Government cut the budget by €1 million - not because the funds no longer needed, but because Travellers do not wield enough economic power or enough votes to ensure that this Government gives their healthcare needs the unquestionably urgent attention they deserve.

Is the Minister proud to preside over the appalling scandal that is the chronically underfunded and neglected mental healthcare service in this state - where some recommendations for reform have been outstanding for 20 years now?

The failure of successive Governments of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour to ensure that the service meets the international standards was highlighted in a dedicated campaign launched by Amnesty International almost exactly one year ago. But has this Government responded with appropriate urgency? Have they dedicated the necessary resources from the budget? No. And why? Again, because the mentally ill - many of whom end up homeless or as prisoners as a direct result of the lack of care - have no means to buy the Government's favour. They are just not powerful enough to matter to Fianna Fáil and the PDs.

Delivery on the healthcare rights of all should be among the very highest priorities of any Government. For the Government of the fourth wealthiest state in the world to preside over the present state of affairs in our healthcare service is nothing short of a human rights scandal revealing mismanagement and incompetence of the highest order. And it is on this charge that Minister Martin stands indicted by this House.

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In his closing remarks to the Sinn Féin Private Members debate on Health Care Delivery, Arthur Morgan TD said he would not "accept the unreal picture of a health service heaven, painted by the Minister last night". He said it wasn't the experience of people on waiting lists, people on low incomes or people who suffer and die on hospital trolleys.

The Louth deputy said that Sinn Féin proposed a model of "State-funded and State-delivered health care" instead of the unequal two-tier structure that presently exists. He said, "equal access to healthcare must be a guiding principal for all health policy." Pointing to the list of Government broken healthcare promises Deputy Morgan said the Minister had failed to deliver on 200,000 promised medical cards or to end hospital waiting lists which still stand at 27,000.

Deputy Morgan said, "Sinn Féin is committed to working for a National Health Service free at the point of delivery for all citizens from the cradle to the grave and funded from general taxation underpinned by a right of access for all.

"When we look at healthcare systems around the world we see that universal provision is not some pipe dream. There exist several models for universal care where the standards are higher and waiting times lower than we have in this state, such as Canada or Cuba.

"Healthcare cannot be subject to free market economics. Under such a regime the rich will live and the poor will be allowed to die."

He concluded by saying "all the statistics in the world cannot hide the chaos in Irish hospitals. Look in any hospital, any evening, to witness the trollied patients all along corridors and very lengthy queues at A&E units." ENDS

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I would like to thank all those who participated in this debate. Contrary to the assertion of Minister Martin last night this motion is as much about identifying the alternative model of health delivery as it is about failed government policy.

The Minister also claimed we recognised none of the progress made in recent years. Not true. In his opening statement Deputy Ó Caoláin specifically acknowledged such progress and commended those at all levels of the health services who have contributed to that progress with dedication. I do so again now.

But we cannot and will not accept the unreal picture of a health service heaven painted by the Minister last night. That is not the experience of the people we represent, people on waiting lists, people on low incomes denied medical cards, people who suffer and die on waiting lists and hospital trolleys. We will continue to expose this government's betrayal of those people.

Quite incredibly, the Minister stated last night that Sinn Féin was the only party in this House not to have presented an alternative budget. The opposite is the case! Alone of the parties in this House we have since 1997 presented seven pre-Budget submissions including proposals on health reform and taxation reform.

As far as budgets go, it is deeply ironic that a member of this Government should criticise us on this basis. The Minister for Finance has admitted that he does not know the cost of the range of property-based tax relief's for developers and property speculators which he is extending to 2006. These include tax giveaways for developers of private hospitals which is yet another example of the private health industry being subsidised by this Government.

The Minister said we were presenting no alternative. Again not true! Deputy Ó Snodaigh has also just alluded to this point. It took this Government with all its e fact he had to reveal in a Dáil Reply last week that a few weeks away from the target date for the FF waiting list promise there are over 27,000 people on those waiting lists. 27,000 people!

Equal access to healthcare must be a guiding principal for all health policy. Underlying this Government's failure to deliver an equitable accessible healthcare system is their failure to accept this principle. As my colleague Deputy O'Caolain outlined last night the core of the SF motion before you is the rejection of the public private mixed model of healthcare, the identification of many of the inefficiencies and inequities that flow from it, and the presentation of a radical alternative.

Sinn Féin is committed to working for a National Health Service free at the point of delivery for all citizens from the cradle to the grave and funded from general taxation underpinned by a right of access for all.

When we look at healthcare systems around the world we see that universal provision is not some pipe dream. Political will makes it possible. There exist several models for universal care where the standards are higher and waiting times lower than we have in this state, such as Canada or Cuba.

Sinn Féin is in no way unclear regarding the necessity to properly fund the National Health Service which we are advocating. Deputy O'Caoláin's made this quiet plain last night when he stated that "The model of healthcare delivery we advocate will mean that the wealthy in our society will be required to contribute more in taxation than they do at present. All taxpayers should be guaranteed that the best use is being made of their money. That is not the case at present. Instead we are funding inequity and its twin - inefficiency."

Healthcare cannot be subject to free market economics. This is what has been attempted. Under such a regime the rich will live and the poor will be allowed to die. This ideologically driven blind adherence to a free market economic model of health delivery is the very thing which created one of the most inequitable systems of health care in the world, that of the United States

All the Minister's statistics wont make a damn bit of difference to the expectant mother who is forced to give birth at the side of the road in conditions reminiscent of a third world country, it wont make a damn bit of difference to low income families who cannot afford to take their children to their GP because they have not qualified for a medical card, it wont make a damn bit of difference to the woman who finds she has advanced breast cancer which wasn't caught in time because the breast screening programme has not been rolled out across the state.

All attempts at 'reform' currently being undertaken are ere caesarean hysterectomies were carried out on women in a deliberate act of mutilation; the barbaric carrying out of symphysiotomies on women without their knowledge or consent, including is some cases after they had given birth. The procedures currently in place have not delivered for patients. it is not acceptable for the medical profession to investigate themselves. A full public enquiry is absolutely necessary to unearth the facts regarding how a core state service could go so wrong.

The Minister quoted endless statistics in relation to waiting lists and staffing levels. I will concluded by saying that all the statistics in the world could not hide the chaos in Irish hospitals. All one needs to do is look in the door of ANY hospital, any evening, to witness the trollied patients all along corridors and very lengthy queues at A&E units. The Minister did NOT address this crisis. Of course we know why he didn't do so.

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Sinn Féin Assembly Member Bairbre de Brún will tomorrow lead a party delegation to meet with the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley in Belfast. The meeting, which is being held at Sinn Féin's request is to discuss the serious shortcomings which currently exist in the Electoral Register which his office has compiled.

Ms de Brún said:

"It is estimated that around 211,000 people in the six counties are currently disenfranchised. In the three months from the Assembly election last November a further 28,000 people were removed from the register. This sort of annual shredding will continue to take place unless action is taken.

"It is not a sustainable situation for around one fifth of the total electorate to be missing from the register. We will be presenting to Mr Stanley a number of proposals which we feel his office could adopt to try and help restore public confidence in the electoral system.

"This meeting is part of a series of meetings which we will be having on this issue with the two governments, the Electoral Commission as well as international groups and the voluntary and community sector.

"It is our firm view that the legislation which has given rise to this gerrymander needs to be reviewed and amended as quick as possible. In the meantime those removed from the register need to try and reassert their right to vote through the existing mechanism of rolling registration." ENDS

Editors Note; The meeting will take place tomorrow morning (4th March) at 10.30am in the Electoral Office opposite St. Anne's Cathedral.

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