Sinn Féin spokesperson Gerry Kelly has said that his party fully supports the stance of the families who have demanded that the British government keep their word and publish the Cory Report.
Mr Kelly said:
"The British government announced that it would be publishing the Cory Report on December 1st. That deadline has come and gone yet the families of those killed and being investigated have not yet been informed what exactly is happening.
"Sinn Féin have consistently supported these families in their search for the truth. We support their demand for independent judicial inquiries into the deaths of their loved ones. We will continue to do this in the time ahead.
"The Party President Gerry Adams raised this matter with the US Ambassador Richard Haas yesterday and he will be raising this matter with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin this afternoon." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described Budget 2004 as a "Budget of Inequality" and an "empty package wrapped in tinsel paper marked 'decentralisation'".
He said: "This is a Budget of Inequality which does nothing to narrow the gap between wealth and poverty maintained by Minister McCreevy in every Budget since 1997.
"The Government has broken its promises to deliver substantive increases in Child Benefit and old age pensions to levels that will meet the National Anti-Poverty Strategy targets. An increase of €1.50 and €2 per child per week is pathetic from a Government that boasts that it is addressing child poverty.
"The social welfare increases in this Budget are inadequate and are already undermined by stealth taxes such as local authority charges, the savage 16 cuts to welfare entitlements and the cuts in CE schemes. It is disgraceful that the government did not use its increased revenue to reverse these cuts, especially the miserly and dangerous Rent Allowance cut.
"This Budget did nothing to end the gross inequality of our taxation system. Last year top Irish executives awarded themselves 50% pay increases yet the highest earners still pay tax at the same rates as ordinary PAYE workers.
"Tax benefits for the lower paid in this Budget are also totally inadequate and are also undermined by stealth charges and health charges like the raising of the ceiling for the Drug Payment Scheme and the increased charges for A&E. This has especially hit those whose incomes are above the qualifying level for the medical card - the 200,000 people were promised by Fianna Fáil that the medical card would be extended to them. This Budget spurned that promise because it was totally silent on Health.
"This Budget was an empty package wrapped in tinsel paper marked 'decentralization'. Decentralisation is not a Budget measure but something which has been promised by Minister McCreevy every year since 1999. I welcome plans to move Departments out of Dublin but we must ask how long it will take to deliver these promises. There is no timescale for this programme but it is obvious that the main time period the government has in mind is run-up the local elections of June 2004." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Culture Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has welcomed the Government's extension of the Section 481 Film Industry Tax Relief until 2008 as a "rational decision to save a vibrant Irish industry," but maintained that the Government's plan to raise the ceiling to €15 million from 2005 was insufficient to attract the big budget films that are the biggest earners for the local economy.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"While I believe that the ceiling should have been at least doubled to €21 million, I certainly welcome that Minister McCreevy looked at the evidence of the 3:1 return on investment, and the thousands of jobs that were at stake had he proceeded with his plan to eliminate Section 481, and finally saw reason. I also welcome that the Minister for Arts John O'Donoghue eventually took this issue on board after intense lobbying by the sector and by opposition politicians such as myself.
"The ordinary workers in the film sector who were galvanised into action by the bid to save their industry are to be congratulated for a well-organised and successful campaign. But others were not so lucky -- the most vulnerable people in this state did not get an eleventh hour reprieve. However, the film workers have proved the value of one important maxim: don't mourn -- organise. Their efforts and success in this regard is something I want to see replicated by other sectors that are differentially impacted or threatened by this Government's successive budgets and by the cuts that will still go ahead in 2004." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Arthur Morgan T.D. speaking following the Budget announcement has angrily criticised the Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy for ignoring the housing crisis once again.
Deputy Morgan said
"This Budget will have done absolutely nothing for people attempting to house themselves and their families. What is in here for the 48,000 people on housing waiting lists in this State, 85% of which have an annual income of less than €15,000 per year? The Government has chosen to attack rent allowance for the second consecutive year. This measures will, I have no doubt, bring about an increase in homelessness where vulnerable people will find that they cannot get into the private rented sector.
"It is a year since the Government abolished the first time buyers grant, leaving people in that category much worse off. The Government should have reinstated this measure in today's budget and applied it to new and second hand homes.
"The failure to address the problem of local government funding is also exasperating the housing crisis. Because local government is not being properly funded local authorities are imposing heavy development charges which are passed onto the new house buyer making houses increasingly unaffordable. Some authorities are seeking to get out of housing provision altogether.
"It is scandalous that this budget does not include an immediate ending of tax relief for speculative buyers of second homes and the restoration of gains tax to its 1997 level of 40 per cent.
"This budget shamefully fails to make adequate funding available to increase the total social housing rental stock to bring about the reduction and elimination of housing waiting lists. This Government seems to think such a housing waiting list and the huge difficulties with affordability of housing is a perfectly acceptable part of life for the disadvantaged of this State." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD, has criticised the failure of the Budget to adequately provide for the future of rural communities at a time of radical change.
Deputy Ferris said:
"There are some positive aspects to the Budget. I welcome the commitment to further decentralise Government Departments and hope that this will be extended. Sinn Féin also welcomes the increase in the tax relief on leases and the lowering of the qualifying age to 40. More, however, needs to be done to encourage the entrance of trained younger farmers
"I also note that nothing has been done to reverse the cuts in the budget available to Teagasc, and that this will continue to have a detrimental effect on the levels of research and training available to farmers. In general I am disappointed that more has not been done to establish the kind of programmes that will be necessary to help farmers adapt to the changes brought about by the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
"What is required is a new strategy that will allow farmers to take advantage of decoupling, and to prepare rural communities in general for the future. The Rural Social Scheme announced in the Budget and the funding made available for it, will be inadequate to fulfil that task. Besides, rural communities will suffer as much as everyone else from the consequences of the failure to protect public services." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Social and Community Affairs Seán Crowe TD speaking during the Budget debate in the Dáil said: "This is a minimalist budget designed to placate backbenchers in the run-up to elections next year. It has done nothing to address the gross inequality that exists in Irish society."
Speaking after the publication of the Estimates a few weeks ago, Father Peter McVerry said that the poor in society had been shown the two fingers by the Government. Any hope the Government might have had a change of heart between then and now disappeared as Minister McCreevy made his budget statement. The Government has not just given the poor and the disadvantaged the two fingers a second time it is asking it to be grateful for the abuse. The seventh in a seemingly endless sustained and vicious assault on working class people in Ireland.
The most regrettable aspect of it is that the Minister had an alternative. He had many alternatives and they were outlined for him in alternative budgets and pre-Budget submissions made by a range of organisations, including Sinn Féin. He chose not to use them and in doing so I have no doubt his name will become a curse for hundreds of thousands of people across this state.
This is a minimalist budget designed to placate backbenchers in the run-up to elections next year. It has done nothing to address the gross inequality that exists in Irish society.
His miserly increases in social welfare, barely keeping above inflation, have already been wiped out with other cuts in social welfare already announced in the Book of Estimates and through the introduction of numerous stealth taxes during the last year.
Again, on Taxation, Charlie McCreevy has left his big business buddies and high flying executives untouched.
However, unfortunately for those on low incomes, the Minister again failed to take minimum wage earners out of the tax net. He had an opportunity to take everybody on the minimum wage out of the tax net with little extra cost in relative terms yet he flunked it once again.
Sinn Féin in principle welcomes the move towards the decentralisation of Government Departments but wonders about the timing of such an announcement considering that it has been on the cards for over four years. I will reserve judgement until we see the detail because my fear is that this is being done at this time to impact on next year's local elections and to allow Fianna Fail and PD councillors to make grandiose claims about job opportunities in there particularly constituencies.
At the end of the day this is yet again another failed opportunity. Charlie McCreevy had tinkered at the edges of our taxation system when fundamental and real reform was required. He has not done anything to end inequality.
"It is the children living in poverty in Ireland who have been most betrayed by this Government. Despite 300,000 children living in poverty in this state Minister McCreevy has shown contempt, where he should have shown compassion. The Government promised the people that Child Benefit would be increased to €149.50 and €185.40 by Budget 2003. They broke that promise. They then renewed it, saying they would achieve those figures in Budgets 2004 and 2005 under Sustaining Progress. The increases announced today fall far short of coming close to those figures; €16 short for the lower rate and €20 short for the higher rate. These are the increases the Government must deliver next year in order to make good their promise a mere two years late, but at the current rate of spending they will fall well short.
"While Sinn Féin welcomes the increase in the amount of money provided for school buildings in this Budget, we are aware that it is far below what is needed. The move to multi-annual funding is welcomed but €200 million a year is €100 million less than what INTO and the Department of Education agree is needed over a five year period. That is what is needed to eliminate the school building waiting list. That is what is needed to ensure our children are educated in safe and secure environments.
"We also need more support to get children into those schools. The National Education Welfare Board received little joy in the Budget Estimates. It can currently only cater to 26% of schools, despite the recommendation of an independent consultancy that they need a staff of 363 people to fulfil its legal obligations, by the end of this year, the new staff the Government is providing leave it with less than a third of that number. The Minister has failed to provide sufficient funding to meet the needs of the NEWB, to meet the demands of the Education Welfare Act, and the children who fall through the cracks in our schools every year will pay the price. Young people have a tendency to pay the price at the hands of this Government. The urgent need for a mere €5 million for funding for youth work, outlined by the National Youth Council of Ireland, has also been ignored by the Minister.
"The Minister has often spoken of how prosperous this State has been over the last five or six years, the success of the Celtic Tiger, and he has not been slow in taking credit for it. Such statements show a basic lack of understanding of economic theory. Almost a hundred years ago James Connolly, (a man I quote often in the hope the Labour party might recognise the name), pointed out that such economic growth "...is purely capitalistic prosperity-that is to say, prosperity gauged merely by the volume of wealth produced, and entirely ignoring the manner in which the wealth is distributed amongst the workers who produce it.
"Talking about the wealth produced in society without looking at how it is distributed is the kind of shallow, childish economic thinking that Minister McCreevy is capable of. If the economy is growing but the workers and the poor are not benefiting from it, they might even be worse off and certainly the rapid increases in relative poverty indicate this is so, can the Government truly claim that the growth is benefiting the people?
"In conclusion, this Budget, like last year's and the one before it, represents a failure by this Government to tackle inequality in Irish society that will have implications for many years to come. This Government has failed the working class, it has failed the poor, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable and the voiceless. As long as it remains in power, inequality and poverty are inevitable
as the Government pursues the interests of the business class." ENDS
Speaking in advance of an address to the Historical Society in Trinty College, Dublin tonight, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said that 'the minority rejectionist position must not be allowed to place a stranglehold on future progress'.
Mr McGuinness said:
"In last weeks election almost half a million people voted for pro-Agreement parties. That is 70% of the total electorate. Their voice must be heard and not drowned out by the rejectionist camp who gained around 30% of the votes.
"It is my belief that a way can be found through the current difficulties. But I am a realist. We have since the election sought meetings with the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister and the other parties. We need to build a pro-Agreement axis which will either compel the DUP into the institutions or, if they refuse, will leave them behind.
"But the increase in the DUP vote first and foremost poses a challenge for the British government.
"The DUP can refuse to participate in the institutions, that is up to them. But they cannot be allowed to veto the other elements of the Agreement. It is therefore up to Mr Blair along with Mr Ahern to proceed with their commitments on the other outstanding matters. The minority rejectionist position must not be allowed to place a stranglehold on future progress " ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has described as "outrageous" a response (attached below) he received from the Minister for Justice in which he stated that he could not provide details of the per capita ratio of Gardai to population on a Divisional and District basis.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "It is totally outrageous that the Minister for Justice does not have this information, and that the Garda Commissioner is unable to provide it. This is very serious as it indicates a serious defect in the systems for evaluating how Garda resources are deployed.
"The Minister was only able to provide an overall figure of one member of An Garda Siochána to every 325 people in the State. But this tells us very little if we don't know how these Gardai are distributed in particular Garda Districts and Divisions. If we don't have this rather fundamental information then how on earth can we hope to deploy the resources that are available to the best advantage of the communities the Gardai are supposed to be serving. As things stand we have no way of knowing if current deployment patterns are optimal. How can the Minister or even Commissioner respond with assurance to communities who believe that they need more police resources? How, indeed, can the Minister argue that 2,000 more Gardai are needed - much less where best to deploy them - if he cannot objectively determine where there may be a personnel deficit? It smacks of either unwarranted secrecy or incompetence.
"Clearly the Minister is letting himself be fobbed off by the Garda authorities on this issue. Their response is just not acceptable and I would call on Minister McDowell to insist that these figures be made available to himself and to the public on an urgent basis.
"This total lack of transparency and accountability to the public is a prime example of why Sinn Fein is calling for the establishment of civilian oversight in the form of an independent Policing Board in this State." ENDS
Question and answer below
Question No: 311 To the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
QUESTION: * To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the comparative per capita distribution of Gardai by division and by district - Aengus Ó Snodaigh
*For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 2nd December, 2003.
ANSWER: I have been informed by the Garda authorities that population statistics were last published by the Central Statistics Office in 2002. At that time the population stood at 3,917,336 while current strength of the Force is 12,031 which equates to one member of An Garda Siochana per 325.6 head of population.
As Garda Divisional/District boundaries do not correspond to District Electoral Divisions it is not possible to provide the Deputy with the information sought on the comparative per capita ratio of population by individual Garda Divisions and Districts.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation to meet the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at 2pm tomorrow, Thursday 4th December, at Government Buildings.
Also on the delegation will be Martin McGuinness MP, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Bairbre de Brún MLA and Ard Chomhairle members Mary Lou McDonald and Dessie Mackin.
Sinn Féin candidate for the North West EU constituency, Pearse Doherty, has criticised the government for announcing Friday 11th June next as the date for the European and Local Elections. Mr. Doherty said that a Saturday election would be preferable in order to fully accommodate students and young people who work away from home.
Mr. Doherty said:
"Any arguments used against holding weekend elections in the past are now completely redundant considering the second referendum on the Treaty of Nice was held on a Saturday. This is simply evidence that Fianna Fáil are afraid to allow young voters the opportunity to pass judgment of the performance of the government parties in Europe and in local council chambers. The fact that it is proposed that polling stations will close at 9pm rather than 10pm, as was the case in the general election, compounds these suspicions.
"It is unfortunate that the elections will be held during the leaving certificate examinations. Sinn Féin would have been happier to see a late May election date to avoid this clash. However, the least that we should expect would be that young voters and those working away from home would be accommodated by a Saturday election.
"I am asking Minister Cullen to reconsider his decision and I am proposing that a Saturday election be called."ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation including newly elected MLAs Alex Maskey and Bairbre de Brún to meet with US Special Ambassador Richard Haas in Belfast this afternoon.
The meeting will take place at 4.20pm.
Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South West and Spokesperson on Social and Community Affairs, Seán Crowe, has described today‚s comments by the Minister of State for Social Welfare, Mary Coughlan, as "completely outrageous". Defending the decision to extend the period by nine months before a person can qualify for the Back to Education Allowance, Ms Coughlan accused many Europeans of giving up work in their own countries and coming to Ireland for the 'craic' while claiming the allowance.
Deputy Crowe said: "Once again Mary Coughlan has managed to not only denigrate the very real problems faced by people reliant on social welfare as they try to get back to employment but has made a gross and unjustified generalisation against fellow Europeans.
"To defend your Governments cuts in the Back to Education scheme by blaming Germans, French, Spanish or other Europeans for coming over to Ireland for a bit of 'craic' and sponging off the state is completely outrageous and smacks of the type nonsense more commonly found on the Tory benches in Westminster.
"This Government has presided for six years over policies and strategies that have widened the gap between rich and poor. There is no excuse for this Governments €58million worth of savage cuts on social welfare and Ms Coughlans remarks clearly show that she is scrapping the bottom of the barrel to defend the indefensible.
"The Back to Education Allowance is widely recognised by those who work in the sector as an important bridge for those making the transfer from welfare dependency to employment.
"If there are people abusing the system then the Minister needs to target those individuals instead of punishing everybody. However, we all know that the reality is that this Government is intent on introducing a series of savage cuts in social welfare and is now using increasingly desperate and wild allegations to explain away their attacks on the least well off in society." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Natural Resources, Martin Ferris TD, attempted today in the Dáil to have the business of the house adjourned to discuss the dumping of waste from the route of the proposed Corrib gas pipeline at the Bord na Mona bog at Srahmore, County Mayo.
Deputy Ferris raised the issue following an admission by Bord na Mona that the company would accept liability for any environmental damage caused to local water systems. Deputy Ferris also referred to the fact that as with the sale of Bellanboy Wood to the same company, Shell subsidiary Enterprise Energy Ireland, that no details of the contract have been released.
"Those familiar with the history of this company, and the grounds for the rejection of its application to build the pipeline by An Bord Pleanala, are extremely concerned over the possible implications of this deal. Once again, a public asset is being handed over for use by a private consortium with no disclosure of contract. It is also worrying that Bord na Mona ought to be taking responsibility for any possible environmental damage given the fact that this was the main reason cited for the refusal of permission last May." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Kathy Stanton has accused the Judiciary in the six counties of operating a system of 'blatant discrimination'. Ms Stanton's comments come as Ihab Shoukri became the latest high profile loyalist to be granted bail on serious charges.
Ms Stanton said:
"Ihab Shoukri was today granted bail while awaiting trial for the murder of another loyalist during the recent feud. His brother Andre was recently cleared on serious arms charges despite being caught red handed with a loaded gun.
"In recent months other prominent loyalists have received suspended sentences or had bail granted without delay.
"This approach by the judiciary contrasts with the treatment received by nationalists and republicans in particular. John O'Hagan a constituent of mine received bail last week after spending 20 months on remand. He was repeatedly refused bail by the courts.
" There is an inherent anti- nationalist bias running through the judiciary in the north. Cases like these underline the very real need for root and branch reform of the entire criminal justice system." ENDS
Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O'Toole has welcomed the unanimous support on Dublin City Council for his motion calling for Presidential voting rights for Six Counties residents. This follows the passing of a motion by Newry and Mourne District Council, earlier this year, asking Councils throughout the island to support the extension of the franchise.
Speaking last night Cllr. O'Toole said:
"Following our successful Assembly election campaign Sinn Féin will continue to push for the full implementation of the Agreement. This will include getting An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to fulfill his commitments regarding all Ireland representation.
"After the Good Friday Agreement, Mr Ahern instructed the All Party Committee on the Oireachtas and the Constitution to consider how the people of the Six Counties might play a "more active part in national political life".
"The Committee recognised in their recommendations that the most obvious, immediately inclusive area, would be in extending voting rights in Presidential Elections to all Irish Citizens living on the island of Ireland, in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Good Friday Agreement as contained inthe amended Article 2 of the 1937 Constitution.
"It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. By passing this motion unanimously tonight, Dublin City Council has supported this most basic right. Now Sinn Féin is urging the government to fulfill its promise and support this right also."ENDS
That this City Council urges the Taoiseach and the Irish Government to recognise the exclusion of Irish Citizens resident in the six counties from exercising their right to participate in Presidential Elections and calls on the government to bring forward the necessary legislation to allow them to vote in elections for the Office of President of Ireland
Sinn Féin's Leinster EU Selection Convention will take place at the Ashdown Park Hotel, Gorey, County Wexford, this Sunday, December 7th at 11am.
Following the second Nice Treaty referendum and the consequent reduction in the number of Irish MEP's to be elected to future European Parliaments, the Leinster constituency has been reduced from a four-seater to a three-seater constituency and is now to be known as the 'East' constituency.
Sundays convention which will select the Sinn Féin candidate to contest the new East constituency is the last of a series of Sinn Féin EU conventions held, with Mary Lou McDonald previously selected to contest the Dublin constituency, Bairbre de Bruin contesting the 6 County constituency, Pearse Doherty selected in Connacht-Ulster and Waterford's David Cullinane contesting Munster.
Proceedings in Gorey on Sunday will be chaired by Party General Secretary Robbie Smyth with Ard Comhairle members, elected representatives and delegates from the entire Leinster area in attendance.
Sundays convention, which local general election candidate Cllr John Dwyer is expected to contest, takes place prior to the annual Liam Mellows Commemoration in nearby Castletown.
A Sinn Féin delegation led by party President Gerry Adams and including Conor Murphy and Caitriona Ruane this morning met with the SDLP. Speaking afterwards Mr Adams said:
" This meeting is part of an effort to meet all of the pro-Agreement parties and to develop and co-ordinate a pro-Agreement project between us. 70% of the electorate voted for the Agreement and 70% of the MLAs are pro-Agreement. There is therefore a pressing need for us to work out areas of co-operation between us to defend, develop and promote the Agreement.
"This is especially true for Sinn Féin and the SDLP who represent a shared constituency. We need to explore the possibilities of co-operation above and beyond the Good Friday Agreement.
"There is also an onus on the pro-Agreement parties to prepare for the Review to ensure that the principles, structures and ethos of the Agreement are protected and developed.
Commenting on speculation around the Cory Report Mr Adams said:
"If even a small part of the media reports around Judge Cory's investigation is accurate, it reinforces the case we have been making for many years about the depth and extent of institutionalised collusion. The Cory Report should be published immediately and the inquiries should also be held without further delay.
"There has already been too much delay, to many efforts to cover up the truth around collusion. Collusion was part of administrative procedure here for a long time. It involved the highest level of the British government and its agencies." ENDS
Sinn Féin Councillor for North Belfast, Eoin O'Broin has called for action to tackle the growing number of people both locally and at global levels who have been infected with HIV and Aids.Speaking today at the launch of Belfast HIV/AIDS awareness day Cllr O'Broin said:
"In the north of Ireland there is an estimated 380 people who are HIV positive. Globally the number of those infected is now more than 42 million and this year alone has seen three million people dying from Aids related illnesses.
"Resources must be made available to stop the spread of HIV and Aids and to tackle the stigma and preconceptions that society has to those who suffer from the virus. HIV and Aids affects all sections of society. Half those living with the virus are women and more than half are under the age of 24.
"Resources must now be allocated immediately. Without such resources prevention, education and awareness will not be possible.
"With the Ireland taking the EU Presidency this coming year the Irish government has the opportunity to raise awareness globally and bring attention to the fight against HIV and Aids." ENDS
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP MLA speaking in Parliament Buildings today to the new Sinn Fein Assembly team said: Sinn Féin is determined to see the Agreement implemented, and a new dispensation of peace and justice on this island. There can be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement."
He said "The DUP can refuse to participate if they wish in the political institutions, that is for them to decide, but they cannot veto the other elements of the Agreement. It is therefore up to Mr. Blair, along with the Taoiseach, to proceed with their commitments on policing, the criminal justice system, demilitarisation, the equality agenda, human rights, the Irish language and other matters, including OTRs."
Mr. Adams said:
"I want to commend all our election workers and to thank all those who voted for us. Last week 24 Sinn Fein MLAs were elected, confirming our position as the largest nationalist party in the six counties and the third largest party on the island. We are very conscious of the responsibility that this puts on us and that is why we have brought our new Assembly team together so quickly and our Ard Chomhairle will be meeting later in the week. I have asked Conor Murphy to take up responsibility as leader of our group. We will look to him and others to recommend portfolios in the days ahead.
I am pleased that so many MLAs have been returned and I am mindful that we narrowly failed to win almost half a dozen other seats by handfuls of votes.
We will be making representations about the conduct of the election in the time ahead. Many citizens were denied their right to a vote. This arose from a campaign by all the other parties to put restrictions on voters rights and I hope that those involved now see the error of their ways. More importantly I hope the voters hold them to account. In the meantime it is of crucial importance that we continue with our registration drive and that those voters who were refused their photographic ID get these as soon as possible.
It is a great honour to represent Sinn Fein and a humbling and proud experience to be elected by your peers. So all of us will endeavour to use our mandates wisely.
Sinn Fein asked the electorate to endorse our peace strategy - and they did that.
We asked them to share our vision of an Ireland united and independent - and they did that also.
And we asked them to strengthen our hand, not only in negotiations but also in defending public services and in working any new administration. And they did that as well.
The election results were a significant achievement for Sinn Fein. We are now poised to take the Deputy First Minister‚s position. This is a far cry from the days when republicans and nationalists were second class citizens in our own country. When a fenian could not be seen about this place. We are pleased to be here as unrepentant Fenians and I dedicate our achievement to the memory of Bobby Sands and the other Hunger Strikers and the sacrifice of other Sinn Féin leaders like the late Maura Drumm and Sheena Campbell.
Where now for the Peace Process
We are also determined to see the Agreement implemented, and a new dispensation of peace and justice on this island. There can be no renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement. That is our position and we make no bones about it. The principles, structures and obligations of that Agreement cannot and will not be subverted.
On Saturday Alex Maskey and I met with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy. We asked him to lift the suspension on the institutions. And we told him that there was a need for acts of completion of those elements of the Good Friday Agreement which are the responsibility of the British government. I was also in conversation with the Taoiseach's department and I made the same point.
Last Wednesday almost half a million people voted for pro-Agreement parties and the majority of MLAs returned are pro-Agreement. We also had the DUP successfully returned as the largest Unionist Party. This has caused some to be pessimistic about the re-establishment of the political institutions and the implementation of the Agreement.
There are also those who are attempting to present the current situation as a standoff between Sinn Fein and the DUP. It is not.
Sinn Féin recognises and respects the mandates of all the other parties. We have our own analysis and policies but this does not prevent us from listening and engaging with our opponents. On the contrary unlike the DUP we are not afraid of dialogue. We are very much in favour of it. That is why our party has sought meetings with all the other parties and with the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister.
The increase in support for the DUP results directly from its ability to mop up all of the anti-Agreement smaller parties within the old Assembly. Pro-Agreement Unionism did not switch to the DUP but a section of it sat at home last Wednesday.
Despite this there is also the reality that 70% of the electorate voted for the Agreement.
So, in the immediate time ahead dialogue between Sinn Fein and the UUP is critical. We need to build a pro-Agreement project which will either compel the DUP into the institutions or, if they refuse, will leave them behind.
So the rise of the DUP is a greater challenge at this time for the British government than it is for Sinn Féin. And republicans need no pontificating from British Ministers about our responsibilities.
London has a choice to make.
The DUP can refuse to participate if they wish in the political institutions, that is for them to decide, but they cannot veto the other elements of the Agreement. It is therefore up to Mr. Blair, along with the Taoiseach, to proceed with their commitments on policing, the criminal justice system, demilitarisation, the equality agenda, human rights, the Irish language and other matters, including OTRs.
Sinn Féin will engage in good faith with the governments and the other parties and we look to everyone to play a positive leadership role.
I believe that we can find a way through the present difficulties but I am not naive, I am a realist.
Agenda for Government
This party is not dependent upon 'rejectionist unionism' to allow us to fulfil our mandate.All Sinn Fein MLAs will promote our vision of a united Ireland. We also have a responsibility to make representation on social, economic and other issues affecting our constituents. Public services need to be defended and Sinn Fein has an agenda for government which needs to be promoted.
That agenda will be the measure by which we will judge the work of British direct rule ministers who are here with no mandate whatsoever.
We have a responsibility and an obligation to be a radical voice. And whether it is on health, housing, the environment, water charges, education or the economy the Sinn Fein voice will be heard - and not just in this part of Ireland.
Because we are an all Ireland party the recent election was a national effort by us. Party members from across the island, particularly our TDs and Councillors were active on the ground. So too were our opponents in the southern political establishment.
Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, and the Progressive Democrats have a number of things in common but the one big issue uniting them is their fear of the growing support for Sinn Féin. This is because our party is seen increasingly as an alternative to the politics of corruption and conservatism.
Later this week the Minister for Finance Charlie McGreevy will be publishing his budget. Sinn Féin has already made it clear that we need a budget which will bring Irish social spending from the lowest in Europe to at least the European Union average. Sinn Féin‚s proposals are about the achievement of equality, environmental protection, the elimination of poverty and the development of public services. None of us can have any doubt that the Finance Minister will protect the wealthy and reward corporate greed.
So, in both parts of this island there is a lot of work to be done, whether in the immediate term in facing up to the challenges here in the north, developing relationships with others of a like mind in the south, and all the time building our political strength so as to maximise the possibilities of change right across the island.
I have no doubt that the Sinn Féin Assembly team will play a key role in all of this in the time ahead. And I wish all our MLAs and your families' good luck and best wishes. May I also on your behalf extend best wishes to the representatives of all the other parties.
Speaking following the delivery of the Cory Report to the British government, Sinn Féin Assembly member Conor Murphy said that the British government should now move speedily to establish independent judicial inquiries into the killings investigated.
Mr Murphy said:
"Today the Cory report has been delivered to the British government. The last obstacle put in the place of these families search for the truth has been removed.
"These families should not have had to go through this process in the first place. The validity of their cases is well known. The British government have stalled their search for the truth for long enough.
"Sinn Féin will continue to support these families in their pursuit of the truth into the death of their loved ones and we once again call upon the British government to speedily establish the independent judicial inquires which they know are required." ENDS