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Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has welcomed the announcement that another step in the roll out of Broadband to rural areas has been reached, in negotiations with the preferred supplier reaching their final stages.

Ms Gildernew said:

"West of the Bann, in rural areas like Fermanagh and Tyrone our local businesses and economic development have been disadvantaged because of the lack of investment in infrastructure. The roll out of Broadband into rural areas will be an important incentive in creating a level playing field both in terms of our local indigenous businesses and in attracting inward investors.

"However, this must be part of a wider economic development strategy that creates a dynamic for rural economies, particularly in border areas that have suffered decades of under-investment, discriminatory policy and from the impact of the artificial border.

"We need to ensure that investment in the rural transport network including road, rail and air, the infrastructure required to support manufacturing including power supply and sewerage and economic activity is targeted towards rural areas.

"We also still urgently need to address the costs of electricity, spiralling insurance costs and the impact of how the industrial de-rating and rating of vacant property are being handled. These are key issues that are making it harder for local businesses to survive in a competitive global economy and harder for us to attract inward investment.

"For border areas it is also vital that we build on the potential of all Ireland trade and continue to recognise the barriers they face as a result of a border that is becoming more artificial and irrelevant by the day." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's EU Candidate for Dublin, Mary Lou McDonald today responded to an opinion poll in the Irish Times (09.02.04), which claimed that 47% of Irish voters were in favour of an EU Constitution, whilst 58% were against faster and closer European integration.

Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin welcomes the fact that 58% of those surveyed were opposed to creating an elitist two-tier EU. We have consistently argued that the EU has become an embryonic super state.

"Ironically, support for an EU Constitution, in its present form, will cement the EU as a two-speed power bloc, where the larger countries form inner groups, leaving the smaller nations to fend for themselves.

"Sinn Féin believes that in its current form the Draft EU Constitution will lead to a further erosion of Irish national sovereignty — and place our future firmly in the hands of an elite, at the heart of Europe." ENDS.

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In a wide ranging speech today at the Sinn Féin Six County Cuige AGM in Belfast, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness challenged the DUP to 'talk directly to his party rather than use the conduit of the British government, a government that they have for years been denouncing as treacherous and dishonest'.

In his speech Mr McGuinness addressed a range of issues including the political process, the upcoming elections, the registration debacle, collusion and the party organisation.

Below is the text of Mr McGuinness speech.

"The elections last October re-enforced Sinn Féin‚s position as the largest nationalist party in the north. We are also the largest pro-Agreement party in the north. It was a testament to the hard work of everyone in this room and the positive leadership given by Sinn Féin in the Peace Process and to the radical agenda being pursued by us ˆ a radical agenda to deliver change. It is our job, our clear obligation to ensure that the trust and confidence invested in us by the electorate is delivered on.

In the year ahead we face yet other key electoral contests with the local government elections in the 26 counties and the Ireland wide European elections in June. These are elections in which Sinn Féin stands to make very significant gains. The votes are there, the quotas are there. However, there is much work to be done between now and then.

Registration

We need to address the massive issue of registration and the disenfranchisement of around 200,000 people. Yesterday Gerry Adams wrote to the British Prime Minster and the Taoiseach about this. What is involved is a case of 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. There is a campaign to get people back on the register underway at local level and we need to work at this but there is also a campaign directed at the rules and legislation that have created this crisis. Sinn Féin will not stand idly by and let a system that appears to be designed to uniquely disenfranchise citizens in the Six Counties go unchallenged.

In the coming period we will be launching a Six County wide publicity campaign and I commend everyone to ensure that this is taken up at local level and in particular we are calling on the Irish government to defend and secure the democratic rights of Irish citizens.

Collusion

In the time ahead it is also vital that we continue to support the campaign to expose the British governments refusal to deal with its problem of the policy of British state agencies and agents colluding directly and indirectly in the murder of citizens. It goes to the heart of the British governments policy here and the dismantling of this apparatus and policy is a central component to resolving the conflict.

In many of your areas you will have witnessed an increase in British Army activity and in the outworking of a PSNI still wedded to the malign political agenda of the Special Branch; still too ready to harass and intimidate nationalists. It is vital that this activity 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, Sinn Féin are the strongest pro-Agreement party. We are champions of the

Agreement. There will be no renegotiation of the Agreement. At its heart are the principles of inclusivity, the All Ireland agenda, Equality and Human Rights. In the year ahead we need to build on expand on these areas of work.

Sinn Féin will guarantee that there will be no return to majority rule. The DUP proposals launched yesterday are a shift by that party from the never never land politics that they have inhabited for decades. They basically break down into three parts.

1. A corporate Assembly which we would oppose given the fact that its aim and effect would be to hand the DUP a veto.

2. A voluntary coalition which is also a non runner as it is simply a device to exclude Sinn Féin

3. Recognition by the DUP that power sharing government is the way forward.

This is I believe a shift and it brings the DUP into the ballpark of the Good Friday Agreement politics.

However the position which they have adopted regarding dialogue with Sinn Féin is extremely risky for themselves. For decades they have denounced successive British governments as treacherous and dishonest. Yet they now want to use the British government as a conduit to Sinn Féin. They should grasp the political reality of the GFA fully and talk to Sinn Féin face to face.

The biggest barrier to the progress of the Peace Process remains within unionism both inside the Ulster Unionists and the DUP but also within the British establishment. There is a job of work to be done as persuaders of the tangible benefits of Irish re-unification. To build the demand for unity. But that does not mean that we must not challenge unionist intransigence or indeed their refusal to accept their responsibility for resolving the conflict and moving the peace process forward.

In all of this the British Government needs to look at how its approach to the Agreement has both undermined the Agreement and let unionism off the hook. The British government need to ask if their failure to implement the

Equality and Human Rights commitments it has made in the Agreement and in the many discussions since or indeed the frustration of the new beginning to policing and demilitarisation have moved us forward or have 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 both in terms of standing up to unionism and the British government and defending the rights and entitlement of all and the Agreement but also for ourselves as a political party.

We are the fastest growing political party on this island and everyday we are gaining new members. 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 SinnFéin.

So there is I believe still a fair degree of optimism out there. 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 will hold its Cuige (6 County) AGM tomorrow, Saturday 7th February, in Conway Mill - just off the Falls Road in West Belfast.

The Cuige AGM will run from 10.30am till 2pm. There will be media access at aprox 12 noon when Martin McGuinness MP will address Cuige delegates.

He will also be available for interview following his speech to the AGM.

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Sinn Féin Assembly group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has dismissed the proposals from the DUP on arrangements for a new 'council-style' Assembly.

Mr Murphy said:

"The Review is not about a renegotiation of the Agreement. The review is about how we deliver the Agreement.

"Nationalists voted for inclusive government. Nationalists voted for the All Ireland architecture in the Agreement. It should not be forgotten that the majority of people voted for the Agreement.

"The DUP proposals are a blueprint for a return to unionist majority rule. Nationalists know only too well what the DUP really want. They want to exclude nationalists from power. This is unacceptable.

"The DUP should not be allowed to veto the Agreement or indeed any element of it such as the power sharing Executive or the All Ireland arrangements.

"The suspension of the institutions should be lifted immediately in order to create the context for a meaningful review. The governments also need to spell out clearly to the DUP the fact that the Agreement is not up for renegotiation."ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. has reacted angrily to the announcement that the State's biggest industries will not actually have to cut levels of carbon dioxide emissions under Kyoto targets. Deputy Morgan described Minister Cullen's decision as cowardly and has accused him of capitulating to pressure from industry.

Deputy Morgan said, "This announcement is deeply disappointing to anyone who is concerned about the affects of global warming and the future of the planet. It has been known for years now that if we are to address the problem of global warming and reduce emissions output all states and governments will have to take difficult measures. They have to stand up to vested interests in order to tackle global warming. Minister Cullen's decision is nothing short of cowardly and he has capitulated to pressure from large industries and his PD cabinet colleague Mary Harney.

"Industry and IBEC will gloat over this announcement but it will be ordinary citizens and consumers who will end up paying when carbon tax is introduced in 2005. A phased introduction of carbon tax should be directed at the agents most capable of making the behavioral change to low emitting fuels and chief among those most capable of making reductions are industry. Ordinary tax-payers will also end up paying when this state is faced with huge fines for its failure to comply with the Kyoto protocol.

"Minister Cullen must abandon this misguided policy and ensure that industry, which produced one third of this State's emissions, is obligated to cut its level of carbon dioxide emissions." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD described the Minister for Justice's claim in the Dáil yesterday that the Immigration Bill was a temporary measure as "a blatant lie" following his refusal today to allow a Sinn Féin amendment which would give affect to that assertion. Deputy Ó Snodaigh was responding after the Minister refused to allow an amendment that would specify that the provisions were temporary and time limit the Bill until a comphrehensive, compassionate and human rights-compliant immigration legislation was brought before the house.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "Yesterday, in defence of his blatantly undemocratic approach to ramming this Bill through the Oireachtas the Minister insisted he would accept some Opposition amendments to the Immigration Bill. He also insisted repeatedly that his Bill was to be a temporary measure pending the publication of the Immigration and Residence Bill later this year. It is clear now that the Minister's assertions yesterday were nothing more than blatant lies to cover up his failure to engage a proper and constructive consultation process on this issue.

"Sinn Féin along with other opposition parties as well as numerous human rights NGOs including the Human Rights Commission had very serious concerns and reservations about this draconian Bill. Today the Minister had an opportunity to address those concerns. However, in his usual arrogant manner he failed to do so and is railroading through a seriously flawed, unconstitutional Bill that violates our international obligations with regard to both refugees and migrants as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, and also has major implications for human rights in this state.

"It was once again evidence of the increasingly dictatorial nature of decision making by Ministers in this bankrupt Government. I will repeat my comments from yesterday that Minister McDowell and his Government are unfit to frame Irish immigration and asylum policy - much less the EU Common Migration and Asylum Policy."

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The Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle and regional leadership representatives are meeting today in County Meath for a brainstorming session on political strategy.

A senior party spokesperson said:

"The meeting is reviewing the party's attitude to the political process and future negotiations. There is a particular focus on the need to get both governments to honour their commitments and obligations. These include:-

  • Ending the suspension of the political institutions;
  • Effective human rights and equality mechanisms, including cultural and political equality of treatment;
  • A speedy transition to civic policing, especially the ending of partisan political control, accountability and representativeness;
  • Demilitarisation;
  • Prisoners and outstanding anomalies arising from the release programme ("OTRs").

"The meeting will receive a detailed report on the party's preparations for the upcoming local government elections in the South and the European Union Elections.

"Party president Gerry Adams warned today's gathering to expect a continued and sustained political assault on Irish republicanism focused on Sinn Féin and involving the Irish government."

The Sinn Féin spokesperson added:

"Sinn Féin's success in last year's Assembly elections have rattled the Southern establishment. The most conservative elements are now focused almost entirely on short term electoral concerns. This can be expected to become increasingly hysterical and strident at the prospects of further success in the South.

"Sinn Féin will not be distracted by this. The party's focus has to be on building the peace process and on developing Sinn Féin's political strength across the island." ENDS

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Speaking during the course of the Immigration Bill debate in the Dáil this evening Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, accused the Minister for Justice of being a "footsoldier of Fortress Europe" and unfit to guide immigration and asylum policies in Ireland or Europe.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "I am speaking to this odious Bill under protest. This is not an immigration Bill, it is an anti-immigration Bill. It should not have come before this House at all - and certainly not in the dictatorial - and indeed chaotic - manner in which the Government has proposed to introduce it.

"Contrary to the Minister's assertion that no one has complained of the outdated law before now, ever since we entered this chamber Sinn Féin has been calling for comprehensive immigration law reform and the introduction of a human rights-compliant, positive, compassionate immigration law. We need a new law that upholds our international obligations with regard to both refugees and migrants, that recognises the massive positive economic and social potential of immigration, that allows for family reunification, and that provides complementary protection for those genuinely in need but who do not fit the strict Convention refugee definition.

"But instead of these urgently needed changes, the Minister has manipulated the situation to introduce a number of new draconian measures such as the now notorious provision to exclude disabled people at section 4(3)(c). He has opportunistically used the High Court decision to escalate his ongoing war on immigration that commenced with Operation Hyphen in July of 2002, when he had nearly 50 legal non-nationals rounded up and arbitrarily arrested.

"There is absolutely no question that the High Court judgement demands a response. But it is misleading for the Minister to insist that he had no choice but to introduce the Bill in this form. That is not true.

"The Minister has shown that he is nothing more than a footsoldier for Fortress Europe. He is unfit to guide the process of developing of the EU Common Migration and Asylum Policies as per his responsibility during the Presidency. He is totally unfit to frame Irish immigration and asylum policy. And he is increasingly proving that all the legal education and experience in the world cannot compensate for a basic failure to comprehend what justice really means.

"This state does not need another flawed piece of immigration legislation. It does need a positive, compassionate, anti-racist immigration law and policy as befits a nation scarred by emigration, a nation with an extensive diaspora, a nation whose people have reaped such massive benefit from the open immigration policies of other countries, a nation that has felt the hurt caused by xenophobia and discrimination abroad, typified by the injunction that 'no Irish need apply'.

"It is also high time to drop the disgusting hypocrisy that drives anti-immigration law in this state. Thousands of families in this state have relatives who are illegal immigrants in other countries. We don't stigmatise them as criminals. We don't call for their immediate arrest and deportation back to Ireland. Instead even the Minister for Foreign Affairs calls for sympathetic treatment and the regularisation of their status. Such hypocrisy pervades this Bill and this Government's whole approach to immigration.

"Sinn Féin has submitted more than 40 amendments to this Bill, but I must admit that for us it is merely an exercise in damage control. We believe this Bill is so fundamentally flawed that no amount of amendments can fix it. It should not be passed. It should be withdrawn." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Equality and Human Rights Spokesperson, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane, attending a major conference in London today in the run up to the British Governments' white paper on establishing a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights in England, has said that there are many important lessons to be learnt from the way the Equality and Human Rights Commissions have been established here.

Ms Ruane said:

"This is an important opportunity to debate the many issues that have arisen here about the way in which our own Equality and Human Rights Commissions were established. The white paper coming from the British Government proposes the establishment of a single commission dealing with human rights and equality. Sinn Féin believe that there are many important lessons that human rights and equality activists across the world can learn from the mistakes that have been made here.

"Given the difficulties that exists here with the two Commissions it is vital that from the outset that issues around the appointments procedures, appropriate powers and resources are addressed in order to create an body that can be an effective instrument of change.

"Unfortunately our own experience regarding the Human Rights and Equality Commissions in the North show only too clearly that unless these issues are addressed that bodies are created that are ineffective and can indeed undermine the process of change and the advancement of equality and human rights.

"Sinn Féin will be raising our serious concerns within the Review of the Agreement about how both the Equality and Human Rights agendas have been frustrated and undermined here, largely as a result of a failure by the British government to live up to commitments it made in the Good Friday Agreement and in the many discussions since then." ENDS

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Speaking today from London where he is meeting with families of those who had relatives killed through the British policy of collusion, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP paid tribute to the former SDLP leader John Hume who announced his intention not to stand in the forthcoming EU Election.

Mr Adams said:

"I want to pay tribute to SDLP leader John Hume. His decision not to stand again for the European Parliament marks the end of an era.

"The SDLP and ourselves have a different analysis and different objectives. But it is to John Hume's credit that he worked with us in trying to find a peaceful resolution of the causes of conflict on this island and between Britain and Ireland.

" He was vilified, of course, but in a short period the Hume/Adams dialogue, as it became known opened up the possibility of a new beginning. This gave all our people hope and led to an agreement which was endorsed by rank and file unionists as well as nationalists and republicans.

"That period of hope is often forgotten now as the peace process stumbles from one crisis to another. But that hope should be a lasting tribute to the finest hour of John Hume.

"I wish to extend to John and his wife Pat my warmest best wishes for the future." ENDS

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Speaking following his attendance at the launch by the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government Martin Cullen T.D. of electronic voting and counting in this State, Arthur Morgan stated that the launch would do nothing to abate the widespread concerns which exist regarding the system being introduced.

Deputy Morgan said: "There are now widespread concerns regarding the system of electronic voting introduced in this state. A glitzy launch and Minister Cullen's insistence that such concerns are unfounded will not quell concerns.

"A study of the system entitled published by Margaret McGaley and Paul Gibson of the Computer Science Department in Maynooth concluded that '... while an adequate electronic voting system is possible, NEDAP/Powervote is not it'. Zerflow which carried out security assessment on behalf of the department also pointed out some serious flaws in the system.

"Sinn Féin is supportive of the idea of electronic voting using a kiosk type system. However, we are calling for all source code and design to be publicly available for inspection by citizens and especially by Computer Science experts. We are also calling for the Mercuri method to be applied, i.e. a paper copy of the vote, verified by the voter, to be held for the purpose of independent recount and for parallel manual counting be used for a period so that voter confidence is enhanced.

"If electronic voting is to gain public confidence the serious concerns about the system being introduced in this state must be addressed as a matter of urgency. If these concerns are not addressed then any advertising campaign to promote electronic voting will do nothing to increase public confidence and we will face a further decline in voter participation at the forthcoming EU and local elections." ENDS

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Speaking during Taoiseach's Questions in the Dáil this morning Sinn Féin leader in Leinster House, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, challenged the Taoiseach to state whether or not he 'actively and unreservedly' supported the militarisation of the EU in light of the appointment of a leading British securocrat from the MOD to head up the EU armaments agency.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The Taoiseach and his colleagues have repeatedly attempted to rubbish claims that his government is co-operating in the militarisation of the European Union. What is his reaction then to the establishment of the EU armaments agency - or the European Defence Capabilities Agency as it is also being referred to? And what is his reaction to the appointment in recent days as head of that agency of one Nick Witney, the Director General of International Security Policy at the British Ministry of Defence?

"In a week when both the Bush administration and the Blair government have been forced to concede inquiries into the web of lies which were used to justify their war in Iraq, does it not speak volumes that a British international securocrat has been appointed to head up this new EU military body? In the words of the Draft EU Constitution does the Taoiseach "actively and unreservedly support" this aspect of the EU's so-called security policy?" ENDS

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Speaking in Westminster to the families of those killed as a result of collusion between British intelligence agencies and the loyalist death squads, Gerry Adams MP said:

"The continuing power and influence of British securocrats is evident in the on-going attempts by the British system to hide its real role in Ireland over three decades of conflict.

The British government‚s refusal to co-operate with a range of investigations into state and state-sponsored violence is symptomatic of a culture of concealment that infects the entire British system. The British state continues to withhold vital inquest evidence in respect of numerous state and state-linked killings in the north.

They have obstructed the Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday; the refused to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; and they refuse to initiate independent inquiries in a number of controversial killings, including those examined by Judge Cory. Fifteen years after the death of Pat Finucane his family is still campaigning for the truth about his death and who sanctioned it.

The murder of citizens through collusion with Unionist death squads has been and remains a British state policy in Ireland. Collusion - the control, resourcing and direction of loyalist death squads by British state agencies ˆ was sanctioned at the highest level of the British government. It resulted in the deaths of hundreds of republicans, nationalists and Catholics. Members of Sinn Fein, including elected representatives, were among those killed in a vicious campaign of political terror.

This is a human rights scandal which anywhere lese would have brought down governments. Not so with British state terror in Ireland. Is it any wonder that Thatcher and General Pinochet of Chile are such close friends? They shared the same violent policy towards their political opponents.

The British politicians who sanctioned the policy of collusion have never been held accountable.

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

The policy of collusion must be ended, 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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Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD today called for the immediate publication of the Disability Bill pointing out that disability groups are still waiting for it after two years of consultation.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The Disability Legislation Consultation Group published their proposals in the document Equal Rights a full year ago calling very clearly for legislation which enshrines positive rights that are enforceable by individuals.

"This legislation was promised for the last Dáil session and in the current programme of legislation, according to the Chief Whip, it is the 'flagship' bill. There is consternation in the disability sector that yet again a Bill which is not rights-based and which falls very far short of requirements is about to be published. The Taoiseach stated last week that the further delay in this long overdue Bill was because the Disability Legislation Consultation Group required further time to reply. They have refuted this suggestion and they have said that there are significant gaps between the draft legislation and their proposals for real rights-based legislation.

"This latest debacle comes at the close of the European Year of People with Disabilities - a year in which disabled people had to take to the streets to protest at Government cutbacks! There seems to be a culture of opposition to rights-based legislation of any kind in this Government. Last week we had the national embarrassment of the Immigration Bill - as published - which would have, incredibly, denied people entry to this State on the basis of having a disability or a disease. The Government has had to back down, to some extent, on that as well. We need to see positive, not regressive, action on these issues." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President and MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty said today that his party 'would not rest until justice was secured for its electorate'. Mr Doherty's comments came after the Appeal Court upheld a decision to continue to refuse to give Sinn Féin Policy Development Grants despite smaller parties receiving this money.

Speaking from the court Mr Doherty said:

"Given the composition of the court system in the Six Counties today's decision was not unexpected. However this is not the end of the road. We will continue to fight these discriminatory practices both through political and legal channels.

"We will now consider our legal options and explore the possibility of removing this issue from the unreformed judicial system in the six counties.

"Sinn Féin will not accept the rights and entitlements of our electorate being discriminated against and we will not rest until justice is secured for them." ENDS

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A delegation from the National Women's Council of Ireland, in response to a request, met with Sinn Féin's five TDs to highlight the key issues affecting women in Ireland, and how political parties can promote equality for women and work towards elimination of gender-based discrimination at local, national and European levels.

The meeting took place in Leinster House last night where the full Sinn Féin team (including TDs and political staff ) were briefed on the legislative needs and policy priorities for women in the State.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Party Whip and Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights said:

"We commend the invaluable work of the NWCI and found this a very informative meeting. We will use the insights gained in our pursuit of the equality agenda to which our party is fully committed. Needless to say, gender equality is a key aspect of that agenda.

"In our view, it is incumbent on legislators of this State to establish dialogue with organisations representing women who make up more than 50% of the population.

It is also imperative that the laws and policies in this State meet the needs of this 50% and that proactive measures are also taken to redress the legacy of discrimination against women and their exclusion from public life.

"Our position is that all parties, whether in government or opposition, are obliged to ? at minimum - undertake such consultations and we hope that all parties who have not yet done so will follow suit."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh Cllr Gerry McHugh has welcomed the mid term evaluation of the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund which was published last week.

Cllr McHugh said:

"This evaluation will give DARD an opportunity now to correct the many mistakes which have resulted in farmers and the rural community becoming disillusioned with the rural development programme".

"The report covers all of the rural development programmes from Peace II and BSP along with the accompanying agricultural measures. The report shows that 70% of farms are considered mainly LFA and that the accompanying support for LFA areas has kept the reduction of farms in the LFA areas to the same proportion as that of lowland areas.

"The report states that a rejection rate of 71% in the BSP programme with 5 measures having no approvals and a rejection rate of 56% in the PEACE II programme with four of the nine measures having no approved applications.

"With this rejection rate and the number of measures having no approvals the report questions as to whether some of the money can be spent.

"There is no doubt that the money paid to farmers in the LFA and other areas through schemes such as the Country Side Management Scheme the Environmentally Sensitive Scheme and the various Compensatory Allowance's provide vital assistance, it is also clear that these schemes are easily accessed, I will be calling upon DARD again to make assistance available to farmers and the rural community to access the Rural Development Programme". ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Higher education Michael Ferguson has accused the University of Ulster of displaying 'gross insensitivity to the nationalist and republican community'. Mr Ferguson's comments come after they awarded an honorary doctorate to the former Diplock and Supergrass Judge Lord Hutton.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Hutton has a record over a period of thirty years of representing all that was wrong with the judiciary and the criminal justice system in the six counties.

"In 1973 when, representing the Ministry of Defence at the Widegery Tribunal he justified the actions of the Paras in Derry when they murdered 13 unarmed civilians. He has since stood by the discredited findings of Widegery,

"In 1978, he defended the British government against the allegations of torture against internees, a case taken by the Irish government. Three years later he acquitted a British soldier who drove into a group of teenagers in Derry killing two of them.

"Hutton was a prominent defender of the supergrass system, and in 1984 sentenced 10 men to a total of 1001 years, on the word of supergrass Robert Quigley. All were later cleared.

"He was also the judge who in 1986 acquitted RUC man Nigel Hegarty, who had shot and killed John Downes at a rally in West Belfast after he opened fire with plastic bullets on civilians at a sit-down protest.

"In the early 1990s at the trial of two Royal Marines charged with murdering Fergal Caragher in a shooting incident in Cullyhanna in 1990, he again acquitted the soldiers even though he admitted they might have been lying.

"And it was Hutton who was directly involved in the Brian Nelson affair. A week before Nelson's trial, which risked exposing British collusion with unionist death squads, Hutton and the trial judge met John Major. Nelson was then offered a deal to plead guilty to sample charges and he served just a few years in prison. The result of this was that the families of those murdered through collusion are still trying to seek the truth around the deaths of their loved ones.

"The decision of the Ulster University to give an individual with such a past an honorary doctorate is nothing sort of a disgrace. It is grossly offensive to nationalists and republicans studying at the university and the wider community from where they come. The Ulster University need to reconsider this decision." ENDS

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Speaking during a Dáil debate on the European Parliament Elections (Amendment) Bill 2003, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. called on the government to stop mutating the PRSTV system through the creation of three seat constituencies. Deputy Morgan proposed that that the island Ireland be considered as one EU constituency electing members under a closed PR list system.

Deputy Morgan said: "The criteria for a just electoral system should allow for the election of a true representation of all the groups in society. The bill before the House by mutating the PRSTV system through the creation of 3 seat constituencies does not achieve this goal.

"The steady growth in the number of three seat constituencies at both Dáil and EU level is in contradiction to the original intention and the main purpose of PRSTV system. When originally developed the PR system with multi-seat constituencies was envisaged as a positive system of accommodating minorities. The PRSTV system has been diluted substantially through the selective redrawing of constituency boundaries such as that contained in this Bill and the reduction in constituency size in terms of members elected from nine and seven seat constituencies to five-, four- and three-seaters."

Deputy Morgan went on to outline the primary proposals contained in a comprehensive submission which Sinn Féin made to the Constituencies Commission in relation to the Constituencies for the European Parliamentary elections.

"Sinn Féin is proposing the whole island be considered as one EU constituency electing members under a closed PR list system. This would be the most proportional outcome possible and could help ensure the other already outlined objectives of fair electoral systems such as reducing the barriers to smaller parties, maximising electoral participation while ensuring parliamentary diversity. We would for the first time have a system where vote share translates equitably into seat shares for the whole island."

Deputy Morgan concluded by outlining Sinn Fein's support for the ending of the dual mandate between the EU and the Dáil. He said:

"Sinn Féin supported the ending of the Dual mandate between local government and the Dáil. We also support the ending of the dual mandate between Leinster House and the European Parliament. Both parliaments will be better served by the separation of the positions of T.D. and MEPS. It will allow elected members to devote their full attention to one elected body and it will facilitate better governance at Dáil and European levels. However the ending of this dual mandate should be brought about immediately and not be delayed until after the next Dáil election." ENDS

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