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Responding to the publication of the Garda Siochána Bill 2004 today, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said he "recognised that improvements had been made" to the Minister's original proposals but that the Bill was still deficient. He went on to say, "We need to get this critical area of public policy exactly right, not partly right".

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"We are still considering this lengthy 86-page Bill. We recognise the changes and welcome the improvements that have been made since the Heads of the Bill were published last summer but having said that, we want to give it the detailed consideration it deserves.

"It is clear that some of these changes have been introduced as a result of the proposals put forward by both Sinn Féin and human rights groups who have taken an active interest in this issue.

"And while we welcome the increased powers the Minister intends to give to his 'Ombudsman Commission', from my reading the Bill still falls far short, particularly in relation to one area of specific concern - that is the lack of power to conduct retrospective investigations. If we are to redress the legacy of the deficiencies that have existed in relation to the Garda Complaints Authority, the power to conduct retrospective investigations is crucial.

"We are also not convinced that the Minister's reforms will provide for sufficient civilian oversight, transparency and local accountability. We acknowledge that he has introduced some changes to his original proposals but both the Minister and the Garda Commissioner still retain too much discretionary power under the Bill as published.

"This is a critical area of public policy. We must get it exactly right not - partly right.

"We believe it is still possible to achieve a Bill that is based on international best practice and which could achieve consensus support across all political parties, and the endorsement of the human rights sector, including the Irish Human Rights Commission. And while we recognise that improvements have been made, we are not there yet. This Bill is still deficient." ENDS

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Sinn Féín Prisons spokesperson Gerry Kelly has said that he is concerned that ordinary prisoners in Maghaberry have been held in a lockdown regime for almost four weeks simply because they happen to share the same block as the loyalist inmates who damaged the accommodation in the prison last month.

Mr Kelly said;

"Families of prisoners serving sentences in the Bann House wing in Maghaberry have contacted my office concerned that the men who are not part of any protest have been on a lockdown regime for almost four weeks. That means that they are confined to their cells 23 hours each day. These men are housed on a separate landing from the loyalist prisoners.

" The justification being given for the lockdown regime by the prison authorities is that the loyalist inmates who damaged the jail are also housed in the same block.

" This is communal punishment and it should cease. Prisoners do have rights and these rights must be respected." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Housing Spokesperson Fra McCann has called for changes in Housing Legislation to allow the Housing Executive to start building new homes.

Mr McCann said:

"The current situation where the Housing Executive cannot drive forward a major building strategy is a disaster. It means that we are not nearly meeting our targets in terms of providing social housing The result is longer waiting lists, greater housing stress, more overcrowding and a huge demand for social housing.

"We need to radically review the current strategy because the reality is that the current housing strategy is failing to meet need. The Housing Executive is well placed to be the central driver in a major strategy of social housing build.

"The current hotch potch of social housing providers means that there is any strategic overview is lost. There needs to be a level playing field for the Housing Executive in the provision of social housing. It is the only way that we will begin to meet our housing need." ENDS

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Dublin South East Sinn Féin is launching a major campaign against incineration and for a proper waste management strategy for Dublin City. This campaign, which is being supported by party spokespersons on the Environment Arthur Morgan TD and Willie Clarke MLA, will involve protests at the proposed site of an incinerator at Ringsend, lobbying of politicians locally and nationally, ongoing consultation with the local community and a waste management charter which we will be asking people to sign. Speaking at the launch of the waste management charter - Towards Zero Waste, Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East Daithí Doolan said:

"There is a real waste management crisis in this country. Landfill sites are overflowing, and illegal dumping is widespread. Instead of a comprehensive and effective waste management system being implemented across the island, we have seen plans for a network of incinerators as the primary response to this crisis. Sinn Féin is campaigning for an all-Ireland strategy to combat waste and pollution, a strategy based on waste reduction, reuse and recycling.

"Unlike the government who feel it necessary to bring in draconian legislation to assist them in their plan to impose hazardous incinerators in our cities and towns. We will consult, engage and respond to peoples needs

"We are calling on elected representatives from all parties, environmental groups, community organisations, rural and agricultural groups and the business sector to sign up to this charter and strengthen the campaign for a long term solution to our waste management crisis.

"We also fully understand that the causes and consequences of our waste crisis knows no borders or boundaries. So those in Sinn Féin are in the unique position to implement this charter on an all Ireland basis. All our communities are affected by a waste crisis, all our communities will be affected by incineration and it is up to all of us to implement an environmentally sustainable response. And it is with this charter we hope to play our part and we encourage all others to join with us and do the same."ENDS

Towards Zero Waste

  • A new Zero Waste Strategy that prioritises the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste;
  • Halting and reversing plans for a network of waste incinerators. These proposed incinerators will endanger human health and the environment and will require a constant stream of waste in order to operate, thus working against real waste reduction;
  • Legally requiring the main industrial and commercial producers of waste and packaging to reduce waste production in a planned and targeted manner;
  • A comprehensive strategy for agricultural waste, concentrating on biological treatment of waste in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner;
  • Development of a strategy to ensure that packaging is reusable.
  • Establishing "recycling and reuse" enterprises on a community and commercial basis locally and regionally, providing employment and efficient waste management;
  • Abolishing local authority refuse charges which penalise the householder. (Household waste accounts only for less than 10 per cent of all solid waste.);
  • Reversing the privatisation of local authority refuse services.
  • The establishment of a Waste Agency responsible for the planning, financing and implementation of an all-Ireland waste management strategy, including an island-wide drive to research and establish markets for reclaimed materials;
  • Legislation to allow government, local authorities and other public bodies to give preference to the procurement of recycled and re-used materials;
  • The extension of the Plastic Bag Levy, already enacted in the 26 Counties, to the Six Counties;
  • A major public education programme to promote awareness of waste and resources.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Human Rights and Equality, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has challenged NIO Minister John Spellar to clarify his position on Asylum Seekers after it emerged that he has shunned Asylum Seekers by withdrawing his constituency services from Asylum Seekers at his West Midlands constituency of Warley last year.

Ms Ruane said:

"It has emerged that John Spellar withdrew his constituency services from Asylum Seekers at his West Midlands constituency of Warley on the grounds that he was only prepared to see anyone who was 'on the electoral register' and that he regarded as 'proper constituents' who 'deserve any help' he could offer them. Such comments send out a very dangerous and worrying signal.

"Given the increase in racially motivated crime in the Six Counties it is vital that John Spellar publicly clarify his position on Asylum Seekers. Any failure to do so would only re-enforce the perception that within the NIO we have a Minister who is responsible for Human Rights who has scant understanding of the issues involved the vindication and promotion of the rights of all or in combating racism.

"Sinn Féin have called for the introduction of race hate legislation to be extended so that it covers incitement to hatred. In such circumstance anyone who promotes the idea that Asylum Seekers are not entitled to the same rights and protections as everyone else or are somehow not proper constituents and thus not deserving would be treading a very fine line.

"John Spellar has already lost the confidence of many nationalists over his role in supporting the killers of Peter McBride remaining in the British Army and now these latest revelations will only undermine any confidence in his ability to tackle major human rights issues such as the disgraceful detention of Asylum Seekers in Maghaberry or the major difficulties in a Human Rights Commission that is severely damaged and in urgent need to repair.

"In the context of over 200,000 people being wiped of the Electoral register his stance on recognising only people on the electoral register as 'proper constituents' also sends out a very very damaging signal. The British government are engaged in a massive act of electoral fraud and in John Spellar we have an NIO Minister who appears to regard people denied their democratic rights as not deserving." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said his party will be supporting the Dáil motion calling for a moratorium on electronic voting. He pointed out that Sinn Féin had highlighted the serious problems with the system shortly after it was announced, including the absence of any verifiable paper trail.

However, Deputy Ó Caoláin said Fine Gael has "spurned the opportunity to have the motion signed by the entire Opposition". He could only assume that this was "in preparation for Fine Gael's and Pat Rabbitte's hoped-for pre-General Election pact between Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party". Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"From the beginning we in Sinn Féin have identified the fundamental problems with the electronic voting system which this Government insists on imposing. While we support the idea of electronic voting using a kiosk type system we are calling for the Mercuri method to be applied where a paper copy of the vote, verified by the voter, is held for the purpose of independent recount. We are also calling for the design of the system to be publicly available for inspection by citizens and especially by Computer Science experts.

"It is anti-democratic for the government to forge ahead with this system in the face of widespread lack of trust among the public at large and among all the Opposition parties. Therefore Sinn Féin TDs will support the Dáil Private Members motion calling for deferral by Government of plans to use this system in the EU and local elections.

"Unfortunately Fine Gael have spurned the opportunity to have all the Opposition parties - and I would presume most of the Independents - sign up to the motion. This is ironic given that the motion itself notes the government's failure to 'consult with or seek agreement of the other parties' in the Dáil. The motion appears in the name of the Fine Gael, Labour and Green TDs. I can only presume that this is in preparation for the Fine Gael-Labour-Green pre-General Election pact which is hoped for by Fine Gael and by Labour leader Pat Rabbitte." ENDS

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Sinn Fein local election candidate for Donaghmede Killian Forde has urged Dublin City Council to increase the maximum loan level that can be applied for under their "Shared Ownership Scheme". Mr. Forde said "Currently the maximum loan available from the Council is €200,000 and the maximum purchase price for a property is only €220,000. The result is that young people from North East Dublin are effectively being priced out of their own neighbourhoods."

Mr. Forde said

"Over the last week I checked with twelve estate agents with property for sale in the Donaghmede area and discovered that there is not one single property available which could be purchased under the Shared Ownership Scheme. The cheapest property I came across in the Donaghmede Ward was on sale for €230,000. I fail to see the point is advertising, administrating and operating an affordable housing scheme that excludes all property in Donaghmede, Kilbarrack, Raheny, Edenmore, and Harmonstown.

"Young people from North east Dublin are effectively being priced out of their own neighbourhoods and been forced to move to Meath, West Dublin, Kildare and beyond. Dublin City Council needs to raise the maximum loan available to €250,000 to ensure that communities like Donaghmede do not become a no go area for first time buyers and young househunters."ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has said that reports of a racist attack in the Botanic area last night would indicate that much work remains to be done despite recent publicity over the issue of racism in the city.

Mr Maskey said:

"In recent weeks there have been a number of initiatives taken to highlight the problem of racism within our society and the level of attacks taking place on ethnic minority communities. This included a well attended rally at the City Hall.

"It has been reported that a number of people were last night injured in a racist attack in the Botanic area. If this is the case then it shows that we all have much work still to do to get the message through to a small number of individuals that racism will not be tolerated and these sorts of attacks have to end.

"I would wish to extend my good wishes to the victims of last nights attack in Botanic and seek to reassure them that the vast majority of people within our society are committed to building an inclusive and tolerant city." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Prison issues Gerry Kelly has added his voice to those supporting the demands for a review into the circumstances surrounding the death of Donegal man John Boyle who was found hanged in Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1994.

Mr Kelly said:

"John Boyle was found hanged in Wormwood Scrubs prison in December 1994. A post mortem revealed that he had multiple wounds on his body. He had been moved to an isolation unit after he protested against the strip searching of two of his visitors. At the inquest into John Boyle's death the coroner returned an open verdict.

"Despite this the Metropolitan Police concluded that there had been no impropriety in John Boyle's death. It has now emerged that in the period since 1994 the Prison Service has been forced to pay out over £2million in compensation to prisoners for assaults and mock hangings carried out by prison staff at Wormwood Scrubs.

"The Boyle family are now demanding that the circumstances surrounding the death of John Boyle be re-examined. Given the information already in the public domain this is the very least that this family should be granted at this time and I would urge that this review would take place speedily and that the full findings be made available to the Boyle family." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on European Affairs Bairbre de Brún MLA will meet with Minister for Finance & Personnel Ian Pearson tomorrow, Tuesday 17th, to call for urgent action to secure funding for peace building programmes. Ms de Brún will lobby the Minister to do everything in his power to secure an extension of the Peace II Programme and the delivery of a Peace III.

Speaking before the meeting Ms de Brún said:

'Sinn Féin has argued for some time that there is a continued need for peace building, reconciliation and conflict resolution. Further European Union support in the form of an extension of Peace II to 2006 and a further Peace III programme would do much to assist these processes.

'In December 2003 Sinn Féin launched our proposals for a Peace III programme. In doing so we hoped to highlight the need for ongoing financial support for peace building in Ireland. This afternoon I put the case to Minister for Finance and Personnel Ian Pearson and urged him to act now to ensure that such funds become available in the immediate future.'It is also important that Minister Pearson sponsors the broadest possible discussion at grass roots level on the future of the funds.

'Reconciliation cannot be built on inequality and any future peace building funding must have a focus on tackling inequality and discrimination. There needs to be a strengthening of pathways to reconciliation through social inclusion, tackling inequality in the social, economic, linguistic, political and cultural spheres. A key element of this will be community empowerment.

'At tomorrow's meeting I will argue that the British government in parallel with the Irish government need to make a strong case for continued EU support for peace building, reconciliation and conflict resolution. Ian Pearson has a particular responsibility in this regard and needs to ensure that vital funding is secured for

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Dublin Sinn Féin will launch a new waste management charter entitled 'Towards Zero Waste' on Tuesday 17th February at 11am in the Earl of Kildare Hotel, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Attending the press conference will be party representative for Dublin South East Daithí Doolan, Arthur Morgan TD, Willie Clarke MLA and Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald.

The launch of the waste management charter follows a protest, in opposition to the proposed incinerator in Ringsend, on the East Link Bridge on Friday evening which was attended by more than 100 people.

Speaking prior to the launch Daithí Doolan said:

"This charter clearly outlines how Sinn Féin will turn the current waste management crisis around. This charter is based not on incineration or landfill but on reducing, reusing and recycling of waste. The government agenda of burning or burying our waste is just not good enough. This charter will challenge that simplistic view and will look to deal with the crisis in a holistic approach, and will deal with the causes and not just the consequences of the waste crisis.

"We will be urging people to take the charter, campaign for it, get support for it and implement it."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has demanded that the PSNI and the DPP reveal the circumstances behind the malicious prosecution and detention for 8 months of a young Fermanagh teacher. Ms Gildernew's comments come after the case against Emmett Lavelle was finally thrown out in the High Court today.

Ms Gildernew said:

"This young man was arrested and charged along with other family members after a raid on the family home in Donagh. He has consistently denied all of the charges. Despite this, and at a time when the courts were granting bail to well known unionist paramilitaries without question, Emmett Lavelle was detained for eight months in Maghaberry.

"The dropping of the case today in the High Court, while welcome, poses many questions for the DPP, the PSNI and those who support their brand of policing. Who was responsible for ordering this young mans arrest and who was responsible for charging him with very serious matters while clearly having no basis in law for doing so. The decision of the judiciary to hold this innocent man in custody for eight months amounted to little more then a form of internment.

"People within the nationalist and the republican community cannot be expected to have confidence in either the PSNI or the Criminal Justice system if this is still the experience in 2004. We need to achieve an acceptable and accountable policing service working within a system of criminal justice which is impartial and unbiased. We clearly still have work to do to achieve these goals." ENDS

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Sinn Fein Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has confirmed that Sinn Féin is proposing the establishment of three new departments in the Six County Executive as part of the Review of the Agreement. Two new departments for Equality and Policing and Justice are both consistent with the Good Friday Agreement, the third - a Department for Children and Young People ˆ is a long standing Sinn Féin objective and was raised as far back as the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Commenting on the proposals Mr Murphy said:

"The lack of movement, especially on the central question of equality, is a massive issue. Today there are still the same levels of poverty in nationalist areas and the gap between nationalist and unionist communities has not altered significantly despite more than ten years of the peace process and five years of the Agreement. If anything it now looks as if we are going backward. It is for this reason that Sinn Féin has identified the need for a Department of Equality as an important step in delivering on the equality agenda.

"Similarly the new beginning to policing and the ongoing bias within the Judiciary demand a new Department of Policing and Justice so that we can take power out of the hands of the securocrats and bring about real democratic accountability.

"Sinn Féin has also been consistent in advocating a Department that is cross cutting and deals with all of the issues affecting young people and children.

"To remain consistent with the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Féin is seeking a review of the existing ten departments with the firm view of ensuring that there remain ten departments in total, as outlined in the Agreement." ENDS

Note to Editors

There are strong arguments for amalgamating the Department of Education with the Department of Employment & Learning (including Higher and Further Education), with some functions on training and employment being transferred to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

There are also strong arguments for the amalgamation of the Department of Regional Development and the Department of Environment.

Similarly the proposals could see the Department of Social Development being scrapped altogether with functions being transferred to Regional Development/Environment (e.g Housing & Regeneration); Health, Social Services and Public Safety (Benefits); the new Equality Department (social regeneration); and Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Sinn Féin has also made a number of recommendations for expanding existing areas for All Ireland co-operation including the Implementation Bodies as well as identifying new areas for co-operation and new Implementation Bodies.

A greater emphasis in some areas particularly with new Implementation Bodies would relocate departmental functions, expenditure and civil service staff outside of the traditional departments into the All Ireland bodies that would be directly accountable to the All Ireland Ministerial Council and through them to the Assembly and Dáil and governed by a new All Ireland Charter of Rights.

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Sinn Féin Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy, South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey and North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan will hold a bilateral meeting with the SDLP today, Monday 16th February, at 12 noon in Stormont, as part of a wider series of engagement with all the pro-agreement parties and the British and Irish governments.

Martin McGuinness has previously said that the DUP should talk to Sinn Féin if they are serious about engaging with nationalists.

Conor Murphy, Alex Maskey and Mid Ulster MLA Gereldine Dougan will then hold a bilateral with the Alliance Party at 1pm in Stormont.

Conor Murphy will be available to speak to the media at 2pm in the Main Hall Stormont or by request.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe has blamed Minister Seamus Brennan's 'shambolic' and 'incoherent' Transport policy for today's strike action. While welcoming the appointment of an independent Chairperson to chair the new talks process, Deputy Crowe said that today's action should serve as 'a shot across the bows of a Minister who is out of control, and out of touch with reality.'

Deputy Crowe said: "Minister Brennan's shambolic approach to transport policy has eroded any and all confidence the Unions had in his ability to deal with them in a fair and above board manner. Today we see the result of his incompetence in the decision of transport workers to take industrial action in order to make clear to him their anger with his method of dealing with them.

"The Minister has constantly, and repeatedly undermined negotiations with the Unions and clearly prefers to negotiate through the national media than with the workers who will be charged with implementing his incoherent transport policy. This action is a shot across the bows of a Minister who is out of control, and out of touch with reality. He would be well advised to heed it.

"While all strike action is regrettable, it is with Minister Brennan that responsibility for today's disruption lies and if he will not listen to reason or common sense, then perhaps industrial action will make him pay attention." ENDS

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South Belfast Sinn Féín Assembly member Alex Maskey has accused the PSNI of 'completely failing the people of the area'. Mr Maskey's comments came after another elderly person was robbed in their own home last night.

Mr Maskey said:

" Last night a 91 year old woman was attacked and robbed in her home in the Lisburn Road area of South Belfast. This is the latest in a long line of such despicable attacks in recent times. I would wish to extend my good wishes to the victim and her family at this time.

" In the face of a rise in general crime across the South Belfast it is my opinion and the opinion of many people that I have met in the constituency that the PSNI are completely failing to tackle these issues. South Belfast is an area where the PSNI have in the past enjoyed a degree of community support. Yet despite this they continue to fail time and again.

" In the absence of a credible community based policing service many communities are themselves being forced to explore alternative community safety options, including neighbourhood watch schemes and community restorative justice programmes. Sinn Féin will work with communities to develop these projects further in the time ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for the North West Pearse Doherty speaking at the tweflth annual Joe McManus/Kevin Coen lecture attacked the decision of British Secretary of State Paul Murphy to once again refuse to provide answers in relation to the Dublin Monaghan bombings. He said it was time that the Irish government stood up to the securocrats in the British system and demanded the truth."

"There is a dangerous and deeply worrying sense of drift in the political situation since the British and Irish governments walked away from an agreement with Irish republicans rather than stand up to unionism and honour their commitments.

The result is that instead of stable political institutions leading the delivery of change, advancing the equality agenda and championing a human rights based society; we have continuing impasse and an ever deepening political crisis.

This situation is made all the worse by those in the British establishment who sympathises with and panders to negative unionism and by the destructive and negative role of the securocrats within the British system who have succeeded time and time again in undermining progress These people have been well and truly exposed in recent times in their very public efforts to conceal the truth of their role in Ireland over three decades of conflict.

The British government's refusal to co-operate with a range of inquiries into state and state-sponsored violence, even inquiries they themselves set up, is symptomatic of a culture of concealment that infects the entire British system. They have obstructed the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and have refused to initiate full and independent inquiries in a number of controversial killings. The British government has refused to publish the Cory Report or to act on its recommendations. 15 years after the death of Pat Finucane his family is still waiting for the truth about his death and who sanctioned it. The British government continue to withhold vital inquest evidence in respect of numerous state and state-linked killings in the north.

And in the last week British Secretary of State Paul Murphy refused to make himself available to the Dáil's Justice Committee to answer questions in relation to the Dublin Monaghan bombing. While not surprising this is a gross insult to those seeking justice for the people killed, injured and bereaved in the bombings. Unfortunately the attitude of Paul Murphy like so many more in the British establishment is assisted by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who has been only too willing to accept as fact British claims that they have fully co-operated with the Barron inquiry. It is time that the Irish government stood up to the British government and demanded that Tony Blair and his agencies co-operate and tell the truth.

The British politicians who sanctioned the policy of collusion have never been held accountable. And just as culpulable are those in this state who have consistently put their own narrow self-interest above the national interest, the rights of Irish citizens living in the north and the peace process. These are the same people who colluded in the cover-up of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, who censored republicans, who unleashed the heavy gang on defenceless prisoners, who supported British repression and encouraged unionist intransigence. These are the people who abandoned the nationalist of the north to decades of repression and colluded in Britain's war against Irish citizens. Now they lecture us on the morality of resistance from the comfort and security of their mansions paid for from brown bag corruption. The Ireland these people have created, the inequality, bigotry and selfishness is not what was envisaged in the 1916 proclamation.

Collusion has not ended. The British apparatus, which operates the policy of collusion, continues in existence.

If the peace process is to be successful, that policy and its structures must be disowned and dismantled and there must be full disclosure of the truth about Britain's war in Ireland."ENDS

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Addressing Sinn Féin elected Representatives from across the 32 counties in Navan, Co Meath today Party Chairperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin gave an outline of the present political climate and what needs to be done in order to progress the situation.

Mr Mc Laughlin said;

"Following the Assembly elections last November Sinn Féin consolidated its position as the voice of majority nationalist opinion in the North. But this is not a time to sit on our laurels, as there are bigger challenges ahead.

Sinn Féin is the only party preparing to fight the European election in June on an all-Ireland platform, with all-Ireland policies and a strategy to promote Ireland as a unit within Europe. We are poised to take E.U. seats North and South. We are also positioned to make major gains in the 26 county Local government elections.

'Big Three' nations cannot be allowed to dictate the pace of change in EU

"In four days time Britain, France and Germany will meet at a summit in Berlin to discuss a range of important issues surrounding the EU. No other member states will be involved in this summit. Bertie Ahern has already commented that he has no concerns about the EU's most powerful nations meeting in advance of next months European Council meeting to discuss matters such as the draft EU Constitution and EU enlargement. Sinn Féin has been warning against this type of development for some time now - in effect we have the 'big three' trying to set the agenda for what is happening in Europe. Sinn Féin will be raising our concerns with the Irish and British governments

The 2004 EU elections present an unprecedented opportunity for Sinn Féin to bring our policies and agenda for change to the heart of Europe. We are fighting this election to win and return an all Ireland team to Europe. Sinn Féin is standing in this election on the basis of our alternative agenda for Europe and to challenge the failed politics of the establishment North and South.

These elections come at a pivotal juncture for the European Union in terms of the draft EU Constitution and with Ireland holding the EU Presidency and we must use all of our resources to ensure that a socially inclusive and just Europe emerges.

In 2001 53.9% of the electorate in this state opposed the Nice Treaty and in 2002 nearly 38% of people voted no. People voted no because they are concerned about how the EU is developing and there is still, today a considerable amount of disenchantment with the EU's structures and policies.

The EU does not have to continue in its present direction. There is a credible alternative. Sinn Féin wants a Europe where decisions are taken from the ground up and where national governments are in full control of the decision making process

We are opposed to a two tier, two speed EU where decisions are taken by an elite of the most powerful nations and the smaller nations are effectively relegated to the sidelines. We oppose the increasing militarisation of the EU. Sinn Féin is concerned that Irish neutrality is gradually being eroded as witnessed by the Irish government's disgraceful decision to allow US warplanes to refuel at Shannon airport We call on the government to ensure that the 26 counties, as a militarily neutral state, is exempt from taking part in any joint EU military force.

Sinn Féin is the only all-Ireland party standing in the EU elections and we provide a unique viewpoint on issues, which effect people throughout the entire island

I want to thank those councillors who have pioneered our work at local level -- very often as a single representative of Sinn Féin. But they will be joined the length and breadth of this state by teams of Sinn Féin representatives following the local government elections in June.

But as we increase our electoral and political strength throughout the 32 counties we must not lose sight of the purpose of our project. We are not involved in the political process just to get people elected in all 32 counties in a partitioned Ireland. We are in politics to create the conditions in which we can progress our all Ireland agenda - our united Ireland agenda. We are in politics to convince people of the benefits that would accrue to all the people of Ireland in the exercise of national self-determination.

In that vein I challenge unionists and particularly the DUP now that it has donned the mantle of leadership in unionism to abandon the crutch of preconditions and enter into direct unconditional discussions with Sinn Féin. I say to the DUP - if you believe that remaining in the Union with Britain in a constant state of dependency presents the best option then show some leadership and convince those of us that have a different perspective of the strength of your argument. If you are confident of your analysis then let the debate begin. For years you have been denouncing the British government as treacherous and dishonest. So why use the British government as a conduit to convey your position to Sinn Féin - there is no substitute for face-to-face debate! We're not afraid of dialogue, we are confident and we are ready. Are you?

While we work towards those face-to-face discussions -- and I have no doubt that the time will come sooner than later -we have much work to do in order to progress our own project. We must identify common issues and common solutions with our comrades in other parts of the country and co-operate in methods of highlighting them.

Registration

In preparation for the European election those of us in the North need to address the massive issue of registration and the disenfranchising of over 200,000 people. The Sinn Féin leadership has confronted the British Prime Minster and informed the Taoiseach on this issue. The imposition of legislation that discourages people from claiming their democratic entitlements or disenfranchises those that are eligible to vote is totally unacceptable. What is happening is an exercise in massive electoral fraud by the British government. Having failed to get the election results they want they are trying through fraud to get the electorate they want. It is nothing short of a modernised form of gerrymandering. Introduced ironically enough to placate the demands of an SDLP leadership that had forgotten one of the key demands of the Civil Rights struggle.

Last week, Martin Mc Guinness launched a campaign, to get people back on the register and we need to put all our efforts into this. A major aspect of this campaign is directed at having the rules and legislation that have created this crisis rescinded. Sinn Féin will not permit a system that is designed to disenfranchise citizens go unchallenged.

We are also calling on the Irish government to defend and demand democratic rights for Irish citizens in the North.

Collusion

In the time ahead it is also vital that we continue to support the campaign to expose the British government's refusal to co-operate with investigations that could lead to exposure of British state agencies colluding in the murder of Irish citizens. Collusion has been central to the prosecution of Britain's dirty war in Ireland -- North and South -- and the dismantling of the apparatus of collusion is a central component to resolving the conflict.

Many of you as elected representatives in the north will have witnessed an increase in British Army activity and the behaviour of a PSNI still wedded to the malign political agenda of the Special Branch. It is vital that this activity be recorded and does not go unchallenged either locally or centrally.

Peace Process

Many of you here today will be wondering at the prospects for political progress and what is likely to come out of the review. Let me make it clear - we will ensure that there will be no renegotiation of the Agreement. And no retreat from the commitments to change made by both governments. That includes the heart of the Agreement, the principle of inclusivity that also incorporates the All Ireland agenda and Equality and Human Rights. There will be no drawing back. In fact we intend to push for the expansion of the Implementation Bodies and areas of co-operation. In the year ahead we will campaign to build and expand on these areas of work.

The DUP proposals launched last week are a shift by that party from the never-never land politics that it has inhabited since its inception. The proposals basically break down into three parts.

The first option is a 'corporate' Assembly, that we would oppose given the fact that, its aim and effect would be to hand the DUP a veto.

The second is a voluntary coalition between parties other than Sinn Fein. This is also a non-runner, as it is simply a device to deny or devalue the mandate and the rights of the republican constituency.

And the third is in their own imitable way recognition by the DUP that power-sharing government is the only way forward.

This option is I believe a shift and it brings the DUP into the ballpark of the Good Friday Agreement politics. They're in the ballpark - now let them become players.

There is an obvious resistance within unionism, both Ulster Unionists and DUP to the process of political, social and constitutional change. It is also present within the British establishment. There is a job of work to be done by Republicans to convince the British Government to become persuaders of Irish re-unification as the only feasible option for long - term peace and stability. To build the argument for unity as the best guarantee of Unionist rights, democratic, social and cultural. That does not mean we must not challenge unionist intransigence or indeed their refusal to accept their responsibility for resolving the conflict and moving the peace process forward.

The British Government has a responsibility to examine how its approach to the Agreement has both undermined the Agreement and let unionism off the hook. The British government needs to ask if its failure to implement the Equality and Human Rights commitments has contributed to a hope within unionism that the Agreement can be destroyed. Has the British government considered that reneging on commitments has fed a unionist belief that the purpose of this process is not to create an equal society but to defeat republicanism by deceit and subterfuge? Has consistent pandering to unionist demands frustrated progress and fed into unionisms refusal to accept the dynamic of change?

Organisational development

In all of this there are many challenges for Sinn Féin.

We are the fastest growing political party on this island and everyday we are gaining new members. (Introduce Billy Leonard and Thomas Pringle) Are we able to respond to our increasing support and the hunger and enthusiasm of members new and old alike? In the coming year we have to continue to build the party to develop our structures. We need to open up the party and to empower everyone within Sinn Féin.

There is, I believe, a fair degree of optimism out there. There is a tremendous well of good will in the country generally. We must tap into it. There is a willing electorate keen to hear our message and it is up to the people in this room to keep on delivering at every level".

ENDS

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Sinn Féin's 4 MPs are set to meet Direct Rule Health Minister Angela Smith on Wednesday 25th February to discuss the party's proposals on how the deficit in acute service hospital provision in Tyrone and South Derry can be best addressed.

West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty requested the meeting on behalf of Sinn Féin in December outlining how the decisions reached by former Health Minister Des Browne, have left a major deficit in terms of acute service provision for the population of Tyrone and South Derry.

Pat Doherty said:

"The issue of equality of access to acute health service provision is crucial to the people of Tyrone and South Derry. Sinn Féin's 4 MPs attending this meeting sends out a very clear signal of our determination to see progress on this issue to Angela Smith.

"We believe that the proposals as contained in our party document, "A Healthy Future" provide realistic and sustainable solutions to the inequalities that exist in terms of access to acute health service provision west of the Bann, between east and west of the Bann, and in the north west region of Ireland as a whole.

"Central to these proposals is the provision a new build "state of the art acute service hospital" on a green field site convenient to the three existing hospitals in Tyrone and South Derry.

Such a provision, Sinn Féin believes, will not only maximise catchments areas thereby ensuring long-term sustainability and equality of access to essential services but will also ensure maximum clinical excellence.

Sinn Féin MPs will also be pushing for additional ambulance cover and resources for the Western Division Area and for action to be taken to stop the decline in service provision at the Tyrone County, South Tyrone and Mid-Ulster Hospitals.

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Sinn Fein MLA for north Belfast, Gerry Kelly, has called welcomed the movement on the Crumlin Road gaol following the appointment of a project manager under the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative. This follows a visit today by a Sinn Fein delegation to the site.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"I welcome the recent appointment of a project manager to drive forward the regeneration of the old Crumlin Road gaol site under the Reinvestment and Reform Initiative.

"The Crumlin Road gaol site is a large fifteen acre site in the heart of North Belfast, containing grade A listed buildings. Work is beginning to clear the site of more modern unlisted premises. This is a good start.

"The Victorian buildings should be renovated and developed to the benefit of the whole community. It needs an anchor tenants and I welcome the keen interest by the nearby Mater hospital and the Public Records Office.

"There is a precedent on storing records in a redeveloped Dundalk gaol and the hope would be that it would make such records much more accessible to the public through a modern and innovative plan.

The core of Sinn Féin's view is that the community should be serviced and that job creation and reconciliation are key concepts in the future layout of any plans. However further uses are not limited and could include a youth hostel, conference facilities and a museum for example.

"The Crumlin Road courthouse, which is also grade A listed, should be a part of the overall project. It changed hands for the amount of £1 some years ago for the very purpose of regeneration and this would be an opportunity to kick-start any project. Alongside this, the British Government should also hand over Girdwood Barracks so that the 23 acres site could also be included in a comprehensive regeneration of North Belfast.

"In such a deprived area it is essential that we move quickly since it has now taken eight years to arrive at this point." ENDS

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