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Speaking following the release today of CSO statistics on employment, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise and Employment, Arthur Morgan T.D. said the statistics highlighted the ongoing unemployment problems which exist in border counties.

Deputy Morgan said: "Four out of the five towns with the highest unemployment rates are to be found in border counties. These statistics show that the position which prevailed over the last three decades is continuing in these border regions.

"That Carndonagh, Carrick-on-Suir, Castleblayney and Dundalk all have a rate of unemployment of a least 19% is an indictment of the coalition government, particularly coming off the back of the economic boom of recent years. This region has been passed over by successive governments for far too long. We need to see increased investment in infrastructure along with Government support for the development of indigenous industries in the border region.

"The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, An Tanaiste Mary Harney T.D. is failing to address the needs of the border region and people are faced with growing job losses ? 140 jobs are to at Quantum peripheral products in Dundalk in the new year while Fruit of the Loom is seeking a further 26 redundancies at its plant in Buncrana, Co. Donegal. Clearly the promised peace dividend following the Good Friday Agreement, in terms of economic development and regeneration, has not penetrated through to these border regions. We need to see a strategy that aims to decentralise job creation and give particular focus to communities on both sides of the border who have suffered greatly because of its existence." ENDS

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Introduction

The Book of Estimates published on 13 November promises the second Budget of Cuts since the 2002 General Election. Already the Estimates themselves have hit the most vulnerable hard. This is epitomised by the miserly and dangerous restrictions on rent supplement which will penalise the homeless, the poorly housed and those on the economic margins.

More stealth taxes have been imposed. Health charges have gone up for the second year in a row and hardest hit are those whose income is just above the limit for medical card qualification - the very people to whom Fianna Fáil promised to extend medical card cover before the General Election.

Since the Fianna Fáil/PD Coalition was elected in 1997, relative income poverty in Ireland has steadily increased. People living on under 50% of the average income are defined as living in poverty. In 1997, 18.1% of the population was below the poverty line. By 2000 it had risen to 20.9%. Government policy has increased inequality in Irish society.

This is the background to Budget 2004. Instead of using unprecedented resources to redistribute wealth and close the poverty gap this Government has worsened social and economic inequality in every Budget since 1997. Now cuts are being imposed and it is the weakest who are targeted.

In times of economic contraction it is tempting for Governments to cut spending in areas perceived to have less impact on day-to-day survival. It is also tempting for the public to accept Government assertions that such cuts are "necessary and unavoidable", and that the spending cuts are only on "non-essentials".

But we should learn from the experience of other western industrial nations who have experienced economic decline or recession and whose governments have advocated a fiscal strategy similar to that proposed by the Fianna Fáil-PD coalition since the boom ended. The cuts under Thatcher, Reagan and their successors ultimately did not target "non-essentials" at all -- they targeted worthwhile "public goods" necessary to a decent quality of life beyond mere survival. In Britain, America, and elsewhere, such cuts in successive budgets have riven the social fabric and reduced many to desperate circumstances. And now Budget 2004 threatens the same. We should consider ourselves warned.

Sinn Féin believes that public goods are worth financing -- they should not be treated as expendable and thus the most convenient place to cut.

We know that particularly in the case of social spending, well managed short to medium-term investment will often yield medium to long-term savings, as other direct and indirect costs are reduced. The health service is the prime example of how cuts and underfunding which were seen as short-term have had the unintended consequence of driving up costs and significantly reducing efficiency in the longer-term. Thus "value for money" is complex, can only be accurately gauged in the medium to long-term, and cannot always be equated with spending less.

Sinn Féin believes the priorities in Budget 2004 must be:

• Concentration of resources on much needed improvements in health, housing, education, social welfare and public services which enhance the quality of life of all;

• Real reform of these services to ensure equality of access, and efficient and effective delivery, to a best practice standard, in order to guarantee true value for money;

• Fundamental review and reform of the tax system to achieve greater equity and increased revenue for improved services; tax reductions for the low paid only; higher taxes for the highest earners in place of stealth taxes which take no account of ability to pay.

Tax on wealth not tax by stealth

Instead of restructuring our taxation system to bring about greater equity the Government has chosen to introduce stealth taxes which take no account of ability to pay and which penalise those on lower income. Instead of taxing wealth they tax lower earners by stealth.

€91 million in new stealth taxes were announced on the same day as the 2004 budget estimates, with more to come. This is on top of last year's stealth taxes, including increased VAT. There are increased charges for hospital visits and medicines, increased local authority charges and rents, higher fees for sitting State examinations and motor tax up by 5%.

At the same time the extent of massive tax evasion and avoidance by the wealthiest sections of society is being revealed. This has yielded major revenues for the State but there is potential for much more, especially if the taxation system is reformed and the Revenue Commissioners are empowered and resourced to ensure compliance.

The improved public services which people need and demand can only be brought about by a planned programme of reform and resourcing. Unlike other parties Sinn Féin does not shy away from the reality that such improvement will mean higher rates of taxation for the wealthy and no more cosy tax concessions for those in our society who can most afford to pay.

We also need to move away from the outmoded model of annual budgeting and towards multi-annual budgeting based on long-term planning.

Avoidance and evasion

It seems that it is business as usual for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. When they entered office together in 1997 they faced a tax regime riddled with double standards, where the wealthiest in society often paid the least tax and where the average PAYE worker was being levied with a growing array of charges and stealth taxes.

Alongside this we had the revelations from the Flood, Moriarty and Ansbacher inquiries. Collectively they revealed just some of the truths of a rich elite in Irish society, using their wealth to buy political power for their own private gain which was then hidden from the Revenue Commissioners in secret banks and offshore accounts.

Today more than six years later and nothing has changed. We still have avoidance and evasion and we still have the average worker carrying an unfair tax burden.

Who is paying tax?

Throughout the past year we have watched the changing exchequer position. By the end of October tax revenue for the first ten months of 2003 was over €1 billion ahead of the 2002 position but still well below actual government forecasts.

The exchequer had collected over €24 billion by the end of October. €6.8 billion was income tax. €7.9 billion was VAT. The amount of Corporation Tax had fallen by over €100 million to €3.8 billion. The next largest contributor to tax revenue was excise duties running to €3.5 billion. It is clear then that the average worker is paying through income tax and levies on household consumption a huge amount of the total tax raised.

Who is not paying tax?

This must raise the question whether everyone is paying their share. Revenue Commission audits raised €350 million last year showing that many are still avoiding tax and in many cases evading it deliberately and systematically.

The costs of tax evasion

What is clear is that the unmasking of the DIRT and Ansbacher fraudsters has not altered the activities and values of the super-rich in Irish society. The Revenue Commissioners have given us the warning signs that massive tax fraud is still taking place as high earning individuals hide their income in offshore bank accounts.

For example earlier this year it was disclosed that 254 Bank of Ireland customers with offshore accounts had settled unpaid tax bills with the Revenue Commissioners. The tax recovered amounted to €100 million. One individual paid €7.3 million in back taxes, while a further 27 paid between €1 to €2million.

This is on top of the €684 million already collected as a result of detection of DIRT tax fraud, the €26 million paid by Ansbacher account holders and the €47 million retrieved from the National Irish Bank/Clerical Medical International scheme.

A recent study by international accountancy and consultancy firm KPMG found that over €4 billion had been lodged into the Isle of Man bankks that that they are not fulfilling their responsibilities for customer tax compliance. The same banks also enjoy profits way above the EU average and we believe they could well afford a special rate of Corporation Tax at 30%.

We need more inventive and positive ways of using the massive financial resources of the Irish banking sector. One proposal is to get them to divert some of their profits into social and infrastructural investments such as ICT networks, small business development and social economy projects such as addressing the lack of effective childcare provision.

End the insurance rip-off

The exorbitant cost of insurance is now a major drain on the economy. Tackling it in an effective way would yield real savings for individuals, community and voluntary bodies, businesses and State services. The Fianna Fáil/PD government has failed to tackle this vital issue in a comprehensive mackle poverty

Since the Fianna Fáil/PD Coalition was elected in 1997, relative income poverty in Ireland has steadily increased. People living on under 50% of the average income are defined as living in poverty.

Last year, almost 6,000 Irish people died as a direct result of poverty according to Dr Jane Wilde of the Institute of Public Health. In 1997, 18.1% of the population was below the poverty line. By 2000 it had risen to 20.9%. Government policy has increased inequality in Irish society.

These numbers are even higher among some of the more vulnerable groups. Poverty in the over 65s is at 35.9%, for children, at 24.9%, representing an incredible 300,000 children living in poverty.

For a significant proportion of Irish society, poverty is a lifelong prison sentence. It is especially alarming that the increase in poverty takes place against a backdrop of an economic boom and historicarecipients.

•Child Benefit should be increased to €142 per month for the first and second child and to €176 for third and subsequent children.

•Examine ways to extend the school meals programmes to ensure they reach all children who would benefit from access to them.

•Increase the Qualified Adult Allowance to a minimum of 70% of the personal rate with the objective of achieving a figure of 75% of the personal rate by 2007.

•Clothing and footwear allowances should be integrated into the main welfare system and delivered in conjunction with Child Dependent Allowances.

•The National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPS) target of €150 for the lowest social welfare payment in 2002 terms was 30% of gross average industrial earnings (GAIE). It is made all the more difficult to achieve by 2007 because of the miserly €6 increase in basue. The DP system is totally unfair and needs to go, and this should be accompanied by a fundamental reform of the immigration and work permit system.

Equality and Efficiency in our Health Services

Despite a series of detailed reports analysing the state of the health services, despite the Fianna Fáil/PD Government's Health Strategy, and despite an increasing level of current spending, the health services still suffer from the legacy of decades of underfunding and from the persistent reality of gross inequality within the system.

The Brennan Report highlighted many of the economic inefficiencies in the system. The Prospectus Report showed up shortcomings of its organisation and management. The Hanly Report dealt with medical staffing and deployment and the location of hospital services. Each report proposed varying and sometimes conflicting solutions. All came in the wake of the Government's 4 therefore is:

•Establishment of a Cabinet Committee on Health to spearhead the phasing in of an Irish National Health Service. The Committee's first task to plan the transition, assessing costs and savings in the short, medium and long term and commencing multi-annual budgeting on that basis.

In the Estimates for 2004 there is no extra allocation for the delivery of Fianna Fáil's promised 200,000 further medical cards or for their promised elimination of hospital waiting lists by the summer of 2004.

Instead, for the second year running increased charges have been imposed for hospital visits and for medicines. Hardest hit by these charges are those whose income is just above the limit for medical card qualification - the very people to whom Fianna Fáil promised to extend medical card cover. The public patient is penalised once again.

In Budget 2004 Sinn Féin calls foug prescribing to reduce costs of drugs in the General Medical Services Scheme. Generic drugs cost approximately 30% less than proprietary drugs but they are prescribed far less in this State than in other EU states.

•Acceleration of renegotiation of Common Contract for Consultant Medical Staff. Government to ensure a fairer deal for public patients and an end to the exploitation of the two-tier system.

•All new consultant posts to be exclusively in the public system.

•Removal of tax incentives for private medical care and for the construction of private medical facilities. Savings to be ploughed into the public system.

•Funding to health boards to restore all Home Help hours cut back in 2002/2003.

•Increased All Ireland co-operation on Health. The skills of service providers in the health systems, North and South, can be better utilisedéin is calling for a constitutional right to housing; a Minister for Housing with a full cabinet position; a properly funded national housing strategy; the establishment of a National Housing Agency to co-ordinate all aspects of housing provision; the capping of the price of building land and wider powers for local authorities to use CPO's to procure land for housing. Sinn Féin is also committed to the abolition of ground rents.

The current housing situation

There are 48,000 household units on housing waiting lists in this state. 85% of these households on local authority waiting lists have an annual income of less than €15,000.

Official figures for 2002 showed 5,581 people homeless in the state. There is a serious data deficiency in relation to homelessness in the 26 Counties.

The average price of a new house across the state between 1998 to end of June 2003 increaseelief for speculative buyers of second homes.

•Compulsory Purchase Orders to be used against speculators sitting on land banks and derelict properties. In the same way as the Derelict Sites Act allows for a derelict sites levy, levies to be imposed on those speculators/developers who are hoarding land.

•Capital Gains Tax to be restored to its 1997 level of 40 per cent. There should be an increase in Capital Gains Tax on speculative owners of multiple dwellings. Such a tax would be introduced on a phased basis over two years.

•Control of land prices, with a statutory ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing to stop speculation and reduce soaring house prices.

•No cuts in the provisions for local authority and social housing programmes. Funding should be increased at least in line with building inflation.

•Publish the National Publiwith an immediate target of 70% of applicant units to be provided with suitable accommodation within two years of their being on the list.

•Statutory control of rents in the private rented sector, strengthened laws to set standards for accommodation and more resources to implement those regulations.

•Immediate reversal of the disgraceful restrictions to apply to those seeking Rent Allowance announced with the publication of the Book of Estimates. The restriction of rent supplement to those who have been in rental accommodation for over six months will cause huge hardships for many thousands of our fellow citizens and their dependents, including women and children seeking to escape domestic violence.

•Removal of the €107 cap on Rent Allowance which is causing severe hardship for people. There is very little rental accommodation available which costs below this level. The current cap ural Development

The 2004 Budget will be framed at a time when Irish agriculture is about to undergo the most radical changes it has faced since the State joined the European Union in 1973. This is because of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and especially the advent of the single farm payment which will be decoupled from production.

Sinn Féin was the first party to argue in favour of de-coupling, and while we would like to see a more radical approach to other aspects of CAP reform, we believe that de-coupling can, in tandem with domestic policy changes, bring about a more advantageous situation for Irish farmers and for rural Ireland in general. It is vital, therefore, that this Budget ensures that the necessary investment is made available to the sector over the coming period.

Sinn Féin calls for:

• A reversal of the cutbacks in the Teagasc budget to alse to a younger person.

Taking control of our natural resources

The ongoing controversies regarding the control and exploitation of our natural mineral resources highlight the need for a radical revision of the licensing and revenue terms which govern the sector. This was given renewed emphasis earlier in the year with the rejection of the application by the Shell subsidiary Enterprise Energy Ireland to build a pipeline to transport gas from the Corrib field off the Mayo coast.

Apart from the environmental reasons for the rejection, one of the authors of the report, Kevin Moore, pointed to the lack of any real economic benefit for the region. Sinn Féin believes that neither the region nor the country as a whole will benefit because of the way in which successive governments have abandoned our natural resources to multinational companies. In order to address this, Sinn Féin proposes: training and employment for people with disabilities.

An equality ethos must underpin all government action with regard to disability. Therefore the first commitment to disabled people from Budget 2004 must be:

•To ensure that resources are committed in the short, medium and long term to implement rights-based disability legislation.

We should not tolerate a situation where over half the households headed by a person with a disability or a long-term illness are living in relative income poverty. We should not tolerate a 70% unemployment rate for people with disabilities. Yet after a decade of unprecedented prosperity in this State, that is still the situation for citizens who continue to be disabled by the social, economic, cultural and physical obstacles placed in their path by our society.

In Sinn Féin's pre-Budget 2003 submissimany costs people with disabilities incur as a result of disability. It should be based on an assessment of needs rather than means.

•Reverse Community Employment cuts as they affect people with disabilities and remove the three-year cap on CE participants length of stay on schemes.

•Implement the Government's own commitment to mainstream all funding and services for people with disabilities currently delivered through CE schemes.

•Carry out a comprehensive assessment of the housing needs of people with disabilities, including those currently in institutional care, and resource local authorities to meet those needs where appropriate.

•Reform the Disabled Persons Housing Grant by abolishing the differentiation between grants for work in new and existing homes. Assessment to be based purely on need and grants to cover the full cost of works involved.

e to foreign investors should be made available to indigenous enterprises. We need to encourage both small and large-scale indigenous companies with a research and development anchor, recognising that the bulk of employment stems from small and medium-sized enterprises.

Sinn Féin is calling for:

•No cuts to funding for job creation activity of Enterprise Ireland, Shannon Development and the County Enterprise Boards. The proposed cut of 15% in Enterprise Ireland grants to industry contained in the proposed estimates is short sighted at a time when promoting indigenous industry should be a priority.

• Cost benefit analysis of task forces established in the wake of job losses. In most cases the Government's response to job losses has been to establish a new task force. 24 such task forces have been established since 1997. An Tánaiste has admitted that no cost benefit analysis has been cp>

• Reinstatement of 5000 CE places which have been cut by the Government. There has been a huge increase in the level of job losses in the last year and the Government has failed to fulfil commitments to mainstream many of those jobs particularly those in the health sector. These cuts were made without consideration of the impact on CE participants and on those availing of services provided through CE schemes. The cut of 5000 places was a breach of the PPF Agreement. CE schemes are vital, giving participants work experience and skills and allowing people to make the transition from welfare to work. They have also provided essential services within communities such as childcare, support for the elderly and disabled and youth services.

• Reinstatement of all Jobs Initiative places which have been cut.

• As an effective tool to assist people set up in business and move off welfare, those unemployered method of dealing with carbon emissions, shows its fundamentally flawed approach to environmental sustainability. They have distorted the 'polluter pays principle' and have targeted households rather than the primary polluters -- industry.

Investment in the Environment and renewable resources will benefit the citizens of this State today as well as ensuring a better quality of life for future generations. The Government must invest in climate change prevention, waste management based on a zero waste policy and environmental protection.

Ireland should be leading the world in the generation of renewable energy. Sinn Féin believes that our goals should be efficient, cost effective, state-led development of natural and renewable energy resources focused on ending external dependencies and reducing fossil fuel emissions.

Sinn Féin is concerned that the government's response to its obligations undercentives to be assessed for possible impact on the environment.

Equal Access to Education

Investment in primary education, and specifically capital investment, must be the Government's education priority in this year's Budget.

Almost 500 schools are on the Department's list. Sixty three are under construction but with only 12 given approval to proceed to construction in 2003, that leaves approximately 417 primary schools mired in the limbo of the planning process. At this rate it will take decades to complete the current School Building Programme.

Many of these schools have been on the planning list for years, others have spent years waiting to get on it. For example Gaelscoil na Camóige in Clondalkin has been trying for ten years to get on the list and according to the INTO there are at least 100 additional schools that have not made it onto the list.

he use of limited borrowing for capital projects where absolutely necessary.

We remain resolutely opposed to the use of Public Private Partnership in the education sector on the grounds of cost and the involvement of private companies, motivated purely by profit, in our education system.

Sinn Féin proposals:

• Reverse the cutbacks in VTOS childcare supports which are restricting the opportunities of working class people in accessing education and lifelong learning.

• The college registration fee has increased by over 350% since it was introduced in 1996. We propose an immediate commitment to no further increases over the lifetime of this Government and a pledge to work towards substantial reductions during this period.

• An increase in the capitation grant to at least €150 per pupil in national schools and to €300 per pupil in secondar €33.95 per week for H.Dip students.

• Measures to seriously tackle the insurance costs that bedevil schools across the country. Rampant profiteering in the Insurance sector has seen many schools face insurance increases of 35% to 100% in the last few years.

Public Transport is vital infrastructure

Sinn Féin believes that Ireland's public transport system is an essential part of our economic and social infrastructure.

Lower income households and communities are heavily reliant on public transport. Over a quarter of a million households in the State do not have access to a car, a figure at its highest in the Dublin City area where over 40% of households do not have a car.

Within Dublin City Centre, only 20% of commuters use public transport. We have not reached a stage where the alternative of public transport is available widely s and this has seen improvements in the public transport system but we are starting from an historically low base as a result of decades of institutionalised neglect by successive governments. This has also allowed our public transport system to continue to provide what are, by European standards, below average fares. CIE is now responsible for facilitating 320 million journeys a year.

Unfortunately, the gains of recent years, as a result of an expanded bus and rail fleet, the introduction of Quality Bus Corridors (QBCs) and the contribution of public transport workers, are in danger of being thrown away. Minister Brennan's ill-thought out and ideologically blinkered approach to privatising and breaking up our public transport system is a recipe for disaster.

Key Sinn Féin recommendations

• Investment in Public Transport to continue and to be accelerated with the objective of reaching the EU averag Last year the Joseph Rowntree Report found significant inequality in access to justice for deprived communities in Ireland. Yet Budget 2003 cut the Legal Aid Board budget by over half a million euro and also cut funding to the Free Legal Advice Centres. These cuts hit low-income individuals and families who cannot afford private legal representation, worsening the situation described in the Rowntree Report. As a result of the cuts, many applicants for Civil Legal Aid now must wait between 7 and 12 months to see a solicitor at a Free Legal Advice Centre. Where the case concerned involves child custody, access, or maintenance matters, the economic and other consequences of this delay can be devastating. It may also constitute a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right of effective access to the courts.

Even Minister McDowell has admitted that "a class-based justice system has no place in a republic." t of Justice (€337 m), the Courts Service (€84 m), the Attorney General's office (€13 m), the Department of Public Prosecutions (€28 m), the Chief State Solicitor's office (€29 m) and the Prison Service (€328 m). It also comfortably exceeded 2003 defence spending at €707 million. This year, while many of these other votes will be cut, Garda spending will exceed one billion euro. An increasing proportion of these Garda funds will be spent on overtime payments -- some of which are massive.

The policing service in this State needs a lot more than increased funding and more Gardaí.

Sinn Féin recommends:

• Greater transparency and accountability in Garda deployment decisions.

• Review how Garda resources are presently deployed and whether this meets local needs.

• Fundamental reform to make the service more locally accountable to the communities it serves.

• Any force increases as a result of delivery on Programme for Government Commitments to be dedicated to those Divisional areas and Districts found to suffer from inadequate policing services, and those aspects of policing that are most needed in communities.

• Garda authorities to be held accountable for their spending decisions so that increased resources are effectively translated into increased security in our homes, streets, and communities.

An effective penal system

It is recognised that the Irish prison system is one of the most bloated and least effective institutions in the State. Despite having one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, this State has the fastest growing prison population. Contrary to assumption, only a tiny minority are imprisoned for serious or violent offences. One in four people sentenced are imprisoned for non-payment of fines. Poor people are disproportionately represented in prisons. The 26 Counties has one of the most expensive prison systems in the world -- with per prisoner incarceration costs ranging from €84,750-€206,700 per year -- and one of the highest rates of recidivism at 89%. Imprisonment is too expensive and overused, compared to community sanctions which are less costly and underused. Clearly the present system is not working and does not provide "value for money". For economic and social reasons, this must change.

Given its unnecessarily high staff to prisoner ratio in excess of 1:1, staffing costs made up the lion's share of the 2003 Prison Service Budget at almost €210 million. As it will cost more than €64 million this year, Prison Officer overtime will be a huge issue in Budget 2004. In contrast, spending on rehabilitative and other services was a very small proportion of the overall 2003 spend.

Alternative community sanctions for minor and non-violent offenders cost only a fraction compared to custody. Investment in education and rehabilitation is found to reduce recidivism and costs less than unnecessary confinement. Despite these realities, Budget 2003 targeted the Probation and Welfare Service, the Community Service Orders Scheme and prisoner education programmes for funding cuts, and the Government proposes to cut them again in 2004.

For Budget 2004 the Minister has given the Prison Officers Association an ultimatum on overtime costs which clearly must be reduced, but Sinn Féin is not convinced that the solutions he proposes will solve what is obviously a structural problem that has developed over years and possibly decades.

Neither the plan to annualise hours nor to close and transfer staff from two prisons tackles the problem of a system bloated with too many prisoners and too many staff, which over-incarcerates instead of using more socially and economically efficient community sanctions, and which spends only a tiny fraction of its budget on rehabilitation. Indeed, the Minister may end up creating additional staffing costs by his proposed new management for Shelton Abbey and Loughan House.

Proposals to "outsource" certain services such as prison escorts to private companies run counter to both the Minister's own Departmental Expert Group and best international evidence about economic efficiency and effectiveness. There is also no commitment that any savings will be ringfenced to improve rehabilitative services.

Likewise, neither the proposed closure of low cost, and/or rehabilitation and reintegration-oriented open institutions such as Shanganagh and Spike Island nor the possible re-opening of Shelton Abbey and Loughan House as public-private partnership prisons, bear any relationship to reform needs identified by the Prisons Inspectorate and European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The Minister must not be allowed to engage in a prison property sell-off programme to raise revenue for the Exchequer when real reforms and restructuring are needed.

Sinn Féin's recommendations:

• Stopping over-incarceration is the most effective way to save monies to the system in the short and long run. The criminal sanctions system in this State needs to be fundamentally restructured and the prison system itself needs fundamental reform.

• Reform of penal system must be based on best international practice models and plan for investment in needed facility upgrades and in services.

• Prison staffing arrangements must come into line with international best practice, and be reviewed and agreed in partnership with Prison Officers Association. As they are currently constituted, the Prison Visiting Committees are also too costly and do not act effectively as a watchdog on conditions.

• At minimum, Budget 2004 must reverse the cuts to prisoner programmes and rehabilitative services.

Arts investment must reflect its true social and economic value

Despite the fact that the Programme for Government promised to implement the Arts Plan 2000-2006 which called for an increase to €53.7 million in funding to the sector in 2003, Budget 2003 delivered only €44 million to the Arts Council -- a cut of €4 million. While resulting savings to the Exchequer were minimal, the costs to the sector were disproportionate -- an estimated 1,000 people have lost their jobs, productions and tours have been cancelled and artists have moved overseas in pursuit of work.

State support for the cultural industrial sector need not "drain" resources but if handled correctly can act as an important investment in both cultural and economic development. For example, it has been estimated that the annual overall contribution of the performing arts alone to the economy is as much as €247 million, including €88 million in cultural tourism spending -- much of it in economically peripheral regions. "Cuts" can therefore end up as a net cost to the Exchequer.

There must be no further arts cuts in Budget 2004. Funding must be restored to the levels recommended by the Arts Plan. Restoration and a compensatory increase of monies to non-profit and community-based arts groups and projects should be a priority. As with other areas of the budget, multi-annual funding is the only responsible way to prevent further destabilisation of the arts sector and a commitment to multi-annual funding should be renewed in Budget 2004.

The Government has announced that Budget 2004 will eliminate the Section 481 tax relief which has generated the Irish Film Industry's annual growth of 18%, produced a highly-skilled workforce of over 4,000, contributed €107 million annually to the Irish economy, attracted €136 million in foreign direct investment, and provided the Government with a 3:1 return since its introduction. If the Government goes ahead as planned it risks decimating this nationally important, vibrant and globally competitive industry and forfeiting all the associated economic benefits. In the absence of robust state investment in the Irish Film Industry, the Section 481 tax relief to the industry must be retained.

Irish language spending -- an investment for future generations

After years of waiting, the Government has finally passed the Official Languages Equality Act. But unless the Government makes significant commitments to restore and increase funding for the Irish language in Budget 2004, the degeneration of capacity resulting from decades of underfunding may mean that neither the State nor the Irish-language voluntary sector will be in a position to implement the Act -- and its promise will remain unfulfilled.

Repeating a now familiar pattern, Budget 2003 cut Irish language spending. Appallingly, last year's combined funding for Bord na Gaeilge and TG4 amounted to less than half that budgeted for the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund. Despite its Good Friday Agreement mandate and new cross-border duties, Foras na Gaeilge was not only denied the increase it needed to carry out its additional, approved work programme, but its funding was slashed and then only partially restored. TG4 funding was cut by 11% last year and never restored. There was also no sign of the investment needed to kick-start the process of establishing Ollscoil na Gaeilge -- a development essential to ensuring that Irish is a living language of the future.

The Government in its EU Presidency Programme commits to "the preservation of the richness of European cultural diversity...including especially the diversity of language."

In keeping with this, Sinn Féin recommends:

• At minimum, no cuts to Irish language spending.

• Additional funding to ensure rapid implementation of the Official Languages Equality Act 2003 by all concerned, and the introduction of multi-annual budgeting for Irish language promotion to consolidate the promise of the new Act.

• Foras na Gaeilge funding should be doubled to €28 million in recognition of their role and responsibility as the main institution on the island promoting the Irish language.

• Grant aid to the sole Irish language TV broadcaster TG4 should be restored and increased by at least the rate of inflation in order to assist them to prepare for their new 32-County role mandated by the Irish and British Governments' Joint Declaration of Spring 2003.

An Ghaeilge -- infheistíocht don todhchaí

Tar éis blianta ag feitheamh, faoi dheireadh, tá an Rialtas tar éis glacadh le Acht na dTeangeacha Oifigiúla. Ach mura ndéanann an Rialtas infheistíocht substaintiúil sa bhreis don Ghaeilge i gCáinaisnéis 2004 ní bheidh an Stát nó rannóg deonach na teanga Gaeilge in ann an Acht a chomhlíonadh agus beidh gealltanas an Rialtais fágtha gan sásamh.

Ghearr Cáinaisnéis 2003 ciste don teanga Gaeilge. Go scanrach, bhí an Chiste don bhliain seo caite do Bord na Gaeilge agus TG4 le chéile san iomlán nios lú ná leath an méid a bhi leagtha amach sa Cháinaisnéis do Chiste Rás Capall agus Cúnna.

In ainneoin sainordú Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus cúramaí nua treas-teorainn, ní hamháin gur dhiúltaiodh an ardú a bhí riachtanach do Fhoras na Gaeilge chun a clár oibre breise a chomhlíonadh, ach gearradh a ciste agus ansin ní raibh sé go léir tugtha ar ais.

Gearradh ciste TG4 11% an bhliain seo chaite agus ní raibh sé curtha ar ais riamh. Chomh maith le sin, ní feictear an fuilleamh riachtanach chun Ollscoil na Gaeilge a bhunú -- rud atá riachtanach chun bheith cinnte go mbeidh Gaeilge ina theanga beo sa todhchaí.

Deir an Rialtas ina Chlár do Uachtarántacht an AE go ndéanfaidh siad: "saibhreas éagsúlacht cultúrach Eorpach a chaomhnú...go speisialta éagsúlacht teanga".

Molann Sinn Féin:

• Gan Ciste na Gaeilge a ghearradh.

• Ciste sa bhreis a dháileadh chun Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla a chur i bhfeidhm, agus gealltanas a thabhairt go dtiocfaidh Cáinaisnéis il-bliantúil do chrothú na Teanga Gaeilge chun an Acht nua a neartú amach anseo.

• Ciste €28 milliún do Fhoras na Gaeilge mar aitheantas ar an ról lárnach atá aige ar an oileán ag cur chun cinn na Gaeilge.

• Deontas sa bhreis do TG4 ar a laghad ag an ráta boilscithe chun cabhrú leo ag ullmhú don ról 32-Chontae atá acu tar éis Comhráiteas Rialtas na hÉireann agus Rialtas na Breataine in Earrach 2003.

Investment in Global Social Justice

Irish Official Development Assistance (ODA) is an investment in global social justice. It is money well spent.

The Government has pledged to increase ODA spending to the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007. Given that this is now the fourth wealthiest state in the world, we can well afford it. Indeed, many of our European neighbours do better. Five have already reached and exceeded the UN target. Luxembourg and Norway have committed to increase their spend to 1% GNP by 2005 and Sweden has committed to reach 1% by 2006.

Not only did the Government fail to increase ODA to 0.48% of GNP for 2003, despite a prior agreement between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Finance, they clawed back on the 0.45% ODA spend originally promised for 2002. In Budget 2003 the Government compounded this disappointment with their failure to ringfence ODA and to make a multi-annual commitment to progressive incremental annual increases to 2007, and by effectively freezing 2003 ODA spending at 2002 levels (0.41%). The Government now proposes to freeze ODA spending in 2004 at a level of 0.41% of GNP for the third year running.

Development Cooperation Ireland and Dóchas have recommended managed ODA spending growth in the form of an incremental increase each year until the target is reached: 0.48% in 2004; 0.5% in 2005; 0.62% in 2006; and 0.7% in 2007. Sinn Féin endorses this approach.

During its EU Presidency in 2004 the Government has extra responsibility to meet their commitment.

Sinn Féin recommends:

• The Irish government must show leadership to those EU and other states who have yet to meet the UN ODA target, by committing to ringfence the ODA spend and to annual incremental increases to 2007 beginning with a minimum spending increase to 0.48% of GNP for 2004.

Divert Defence dividends to social spending

Since the commencement of the 1998 plan to sell off surplus Defence properties, the Government has secured approximately €63.5 million in sales. The projected total revenue once the sales are completed is €85-€100 million.

Monies received to date have been used to underwrite defence spending, much of which has been on upgrading required under EU-NATO interoperability agreements. The Department recently estimated that €150 million has been spent on upgrading since 1997. As an EU-NATO military harmonisation deadline has now been set for 2010, such spending is likely to accelerate over the next few years. Indeed, the Department of Defence estimates that this could cost as much as €340 million over the next decade.

There can be no justification for NATO harmonisation spending when the state is bleeding from health and education cuts, and the Government is urging fiscal restraint. The revenues from Defence property sales should be used to pay for essential, safety-related Defence modernisation with the balance being redirected towards urgently needed social spending.

Sinn Féin recommends:

• Eliminating spending on EU and NATO compliance measures that can only draw Ireland deeper into an EU Common Defence

Equality proofing and equality spending to benefit majority

Last year the Government engaged in budget cuts across all Departments without regard to the greater impact of those cuts on the most marginalised in our society. In anticipation of this, Sinn Féin called for the Budget to be "equality-proofed" (including poverty-proofing) in a transparent process, and insisted that any budget cuts be specifically equality/poverty proofed. The Government did not respond to this demand, however, and we are forced to repeat it this year, as it is needed more than ever.

Just because groups of people are marginalised doesn't mean equality is a marginal issue -- in fact, it couldn't be more mainstream. Fully 50% of the population are women and thus would benefit from gender equality measures. Nearly 10% of the population live with a disability and face discrimination. When the indirect impact of this discrimination on their family members is accounted for, then almost one third of the population is affected. As Irish society diversifies ethnically, the need to challenge racism increases -- Amnesty International has found that 73% of people of minority ethnicity experience some form of racism in Ireland, claims of racial discrimination in the workplace more than doubled in the first nine months of 2003, and racist attacks and even killings have increased steadily over the past several years. Everybody ages and is therefore at risk of age-related discrimination. Equality spending is an investment in a better society and a better future for each and every person on this island.

Despite ongoing discrimination and pressing needs for equality measures, last year the Government also made cuts right across the equality sector -- some of them very deep. On this basis they cut back spending on the Equality Authority and Equality Tribunal, and cut Equality Monitoring by 48%. They cut the Status of People with Disabilities measure by 44%. They cut funding to the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism and slashed the Anti-Racism Awareness Campaign by 63%. For 2004 the Government proposes that many of these cuts will be repeated, and deeper: Equality Monitoring will be cut by an additional 18%; the Status of People with Disabilities programme will be cut by 19%; and the Anti-Racism Awareness Campaign will be cut by an additional 76%. Such cuts bear no relation to organisational ineffectiveness, to proven waste, nor to reduction of need.

Sinn Féin equality recommendations for Budget 2004:

• At minimum, the 2003 cuts to the equality sector should be reversed and full funding reinstated. If Budget 2004 again fails to fund the full implementation of the long-outstanding recommendations of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy, the National Plan for Women, the Taskforce on the Travelling Community/Traveller Health Strategy, and the Report of the Commission for the Status of People with Disabilities, it should at least provide a timescale for investment towards full implementation.

• Increase transparency on equality spending by either creating a line-itemised "Equality Measures" table in the budget reflecting spending across all departments or line itemise this spending in each departmental table, for the purpose of comparison.

• Equality proof Budget and all cut

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Launching the party's proposals for Budget 2004 Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin called on the Government to move away from the outmoded model of annual budgeting and towards multi-annual budgeting based on long-term planning.

Announcing details of Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission he said that the party's proposals offered measures to tackle inequality and poverty in Irish society.

Speaking at a press conference in Buswells Hotel today he said:

"As we face into Budget 2004 in a fortnight Sinn Féin today launches our alternative programme which looks to this Budget and beyond and sets out the measures we believe will tackle inequality and poverty in Irish society. This is the most detailed Pre-Budget submission yet presented by Sinn Féin. And it goes further because it takes a long-term view and calls for a strategic approach. We are calling for a move away from the outmoded model of annual budgeting and towards multi-annual budgeting based on long-term planning.

"We are issuing a rallying call today to people to Oppose the Cuts and Demand a Fair Budget. Now more than ever, after six years of a Government which has widened the gap between rich and poor in our society, we need to show that it need not have acted in this way. The resources exist in this country to ensure that everyone is cherished in childhood, decently housed, properly educated, cared for when they are ill and treated as equals.

"And we recognise that it is simply not good enough to denounce the cutbacks. We also have to present a real and viable alternative strategy. We set out such a strategy in our document.

Our priorities are:

· Concentration of resources on much needed improvements in health, housing, education, social welfare and public services which enhance the quality of life of all;

· Real reform of these services to ensure equality of access, efficient and effective delivery, to a best practice standard, to ensure true value for money;

· Fundamental review and reform of the tax system to achieve greater equity and increased revenue for improved services; tax reductions for the low paid only; higher taxes for the highest earners in place of stealth taxes which take no account of ability to pay.

"Instead of restructuring our taxation system to bring about greater equity the Government has chosen to introduce stealth taxes which take no account of ability to pay and which penalise those on lower income. Instead of taxing wealth they tax lower earners by stealth.

"The two-tier health system is the classic example of a system which is both inefficient and grossly unfair. The significant increases in health spending over recent years have not been put to best use. This is because the public system is still subsidising the private system massively. We seek the phasing out of the two-tier system to be replaced by a National Health Service with care free at the point of delivery and funded from general taxation. Government policy should be focussed on that goal and in the transition period should be seeking to minimise the inequities and inefficiencies of the system.

"We are calling for the Establishment of a Cabinet Committee on Health to spearhead the phasing in of an Irish National Health Service. The Committee's first task would be to plan the transition, assessing costs and savings in the short, medium and long term and commencing multi-annual budgeting on that basis. " ENDS

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The five Sinn Féin TDs have joined other prominent individuals and human rights groups in signing an open letter to the Minister for Justice initiated by the Coalition Against the Deportation of Irish Citizens. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"My party supports this campaign. The Sinn Féin TDs wrote to the Minister on this issue during the summer, when the first deportation letters were issued to these families, and I myself have raised this issue in the Dáil repeatedly since the Supreme Court decision was issued in January.

"The Minister's policy of deporting Irish citizen children together with their non-national parents not only goes outside but directly contradicts the Supreme Court ruling. The policy violates these citizens' constitutional and other rights, and as such must be immediately reversed.

"The Human Rights Commission has now made a detailed submission to the Minister including eight recommendations. While the Minister has arrogantly dismissed the Human Rights Commission's concerns on other issues in the past, he must take them on board now. The prospect that 11,000 Irish citizens will be effectively expelled from the country as a sacrifice in the Minister's war on immigrants is an appalling vista. It cannot be allowed." ENDS

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Sinn Féin will launch its Womens Manifesto for the Assembly Election tomorrow, Thursday 20th at 12 noon, in the Culturlann, Falls Road Belfast.

Attending the press conference will be Caitríona Ruane, Bairbre de Brún, Sue Ramsey, Geraldine Dougan and Kathy Stanton.

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Sinn Féin Assembly candidate Raymond McCartney, outlining Sinn Féin's policy on housing and homelessness, has stated that, "Sinn Féin has committed itself to making housing a right, not a commodity."

Mr McCartney said:

"Sinn Féin believes that proper accommodation is a basic and inalienable right. We are concerned that the social housing stock held by the Housing Executive has dwindled significantly from 157,000 in 1991 to 118,000 in 2000. Equally worrying, the Housing Executive has jettisoned its programme of social housing, leaving that responsibility to housing associations that are not subject to equality duty and largely unaccountable.

This decline reflects the broader trend of privatisation by the back door. We are not against mixed tenure housing estates or the right of a tenant to purchase their own home but we are concerned about the impact that the decline in social housing will have in areas of housing stress where there are also high incidences of social deprivation.

In order to ensure that everyone has access to acceptable, affordable and appropriate housing Sinn Féin will ensure:

  • The right to a home enshrined in the Bill of Rights along with associated
  • human rights consistent with tackling poverty as a denial of human rights.
  • The development of a properly funded social housing programme
  • Rigorous use of equality legislation to ensure fair and equitable access to social housing by all sections of the community;
  • Targeted social housing proportionate to the levels of income and income deprivation, reflective of personal needs and consistent with the preservation of human dignity and
  • A multi-agency strategy to eradicate damp and inadequate heating in social, voluntary/non-profit and private housing.

We will also be seeking to promote a system of regulatory rent control in the private sector and the enforcement of enhanced legal protection for tenants to stop them becoming homeless through arbitrary rent hikes.

We will also promote co-operative partnerships between state-run financial institutions and the more progressive financial institutions (such as local credit unions) to regulate or provide more effective avenues for lower income households to purchase their own home if they choose to do so."

"Sinn Féin believes housing is a right, not a commodity and respecting that

right is the challenge we have set ourselves."

ENDS

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Sinn Féin assembly candidate Mary Nelis has urged female voters, when voting, to judge parties on their commitment to gender equality as they cast their ballot:

Mrs Nelis said:

Sinn Féin is actively committed to promoting and supporting women within our party and at all levels of society. We had the best representation of women MLAs in the outgoing Assembly, our ministerial representation was equally divided and we aim to have even more Sinn Féin women elected to the new Assembly. We have also, through the auspices of our Equality Department initiated a rolling training initiative designed to foster a culture in the party that is welcoming to women.

In the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement it was Sinn Féin that argued strongly for a dedicated Department of Equality. The relegation of Equality to junior ministries within the Offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers (and the subsequent poor progress in implementing equality measures, including gender equality measures) vindicates Sinn Féin's position and calls into serious question the commitment of other parties to real equality for all our citizens.

In the Assembly, Sinn Féin led by example. The Education Department now has an approved equality scheme and Equality Branch to implement equality policies within the department and the schools system. Martin McGuinness appointed the first-ever female Chief Education and Training Inspector. He also issued new guidelines on relationships and sexuality education.

Bairbre de Brún's Department of Health implemented new, flexible, family-friendly working arrangements, gender-proofed policies and monitored their application. Nearly £1 million has been made available to women's groups over the last four years. The department has prioritised support for marginalised women, supported healthcare training for Traveller women to work within their communities, produced a strategy for carers, and worked in partnership to develop best practice in combating domestic violence.

Sinn Féin MLAs have been a voice for equality in all the Assembly committees, as time and time again other parties have prioritised business interests at the expense of the less-well-off, disadvantaged and the marginalised.

W have clearly demonstrated our commitment to gender equality. We are asking people to let us build on that work. In the next five years we will work to establish:

a) Targets and timescales for achieving equality of representation for women in public life, and equality of outcome in employment, education and training;

b) Gender-proofing in appointments, policies and resource allocation must be obligatory for all public bodies. Specifically, Sinn Féin will work to ensure that the introduction gender-proofing measures are a core aspect of the Review of Public Administration;

c) Women's groups in the community sector must be properly resourced.

To achieve this, human rights mechanisms are needed. There are no human rights without women's rights. Sinn Féin will ensure that all our rights are respected. ENDS

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Speaking  at  a  meeting of the European Affairs Committee today, which is to be addressed  by  the  UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sinn Féin spokesperson on International  Affairs,  Aengus  Ó Snodaigh, expressed "grave concerns about the direction  of the evolving EU common immigration policy" and what he called "the entrenchment  of  a  Fortress Europe."  He said it was hypocritical of the Irish government  to  endorse this evolving policy "given our own history of extensive economic migration."

Deputy  Ó  Snodaigh said: "Given our own history of extensive economic migration it is hypocritical of the government to be supporting policies which promote the entrenchment of a Fortress Europe.  I firmly believe that it will interfere with our international obligations regarding the protection of refugees. "Given  that  there  is  NO  CONSENSUS on the Government policy of making war on immigrants  and  refugees  there  is  an urgent need for a broader debate on the issue in the Dáil.

"And  because  of  that I am calling on the European Affairs Committee to invite submissions  from the range of human rights and refugee protection organisations active in this state so that they can outline their concerns about the "downward harmonisation" trend in the emerging EU common policy - a concern that is shared by  the  High  Commissioner.  This Committee has a responsibility to follow this up,  in  conjunction  with  the  Justice  Committee,  because  of the escalating pressure to adopt such measures without adequate parliamentary scrutiny. " ENDS

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Rejecting  the  Book  of Estimates during the debate in the Dáil today Sinn Féin Dáil  leader  Caoimhghin  Ó  Caoláin  accused  the  Government  of  launching  a "two-pronged  attack  on  the citizens of this State" by charging more money for less  services.   He  described  as "mean and dangerous" the restrictions on the rent  supplement,  which he said would "penalise the homeless, the poorly housed and those on the economic margins."

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"There  is  deep  anger throughout the country at the series of cuts and stealth taxes arising from the Estimates.

"In  a  two-pronged  attack  on  the  citizens  of  this State the Government is charging  more  money for less services and is cutting back vital provisions for some  of the most vulnerable people in our society. This is typified by the mean and  dangerous restrictions on rent supplement which will penalise the homeless, the  poorly  housed  and  those  on  the  economic  margins.  The restriction of qualification  to  those  who  have been in private rented accommodation for six months  is  a  disgrace.  It  will increase homelessness and mean that people in dangerous  domestic  situations  will  be  further inhibited from moving out and finding their own accommodation.

"Before  the General Election Fianna Fáil promised to extend the medical card to a  further  200,000  people. Since the General Election the same people who were promised  that  they  would benefit by this extension have been hit by increased charges for htimates for health do not provide for the reforms which the  government  claims  it  is  committed  to. They will simply keep the system limping along from crisis to crisis.

"Already  I  have  received  representations about the cuts in Back to Education Allowance  where  the  qualifying  period  is  rising  from  6  to  15 months. A constituent  has pointed out that he will now have to claim unemployment benefit for  an  additional  nine  months.  This  cut is illogical and can only serve to dissuade people from returning to education.

"Minister  McCreevy  in  his  Estimates  statement last week spoke of 'a tighter approach  and  greater  prioritisation  of spending' but where was this approach when  he was bankrolling his pet project in Punchestown in his own constituthat 254  Bank  of  Ireland  customers  with offshore accounts had settled unpaid tax bills  with  the  Revenue  Commissioners.  The  tax  recovered  amounted to €100 million.  One individual paid €7.3 million in back taxes. A recent study by KPMG found  that  over €4 billion had been lodged in the Isle of Man bank accounts of six Irish subsidiaries between 1998 and 1999.

"Of  the  top  400  earners  in  this  State  surveyed  in  2002  by the Revenue Commissioners  117 had an effective tax rate of less than 30%, in a system where over  500,000 PAYE workers are paying the top 42% rate of income tax. 18% of the top earners were paying less than 15% tax. Some were paying no tax at all.

"Instead  of  restructuring  our  tax system to create greater equity and ensur greater  revenue  from the wealthy this Government punishes the ordinary citizen with  stealth  taxes  and  social  welfare  cuts.  Instead of providing both the reforms  and  the  resources  needed to deliver better health, education, social welfare  and  infrastructure,  this Government mismanages on a massive scale and squanders the resources of the Irish people.

"On behalf of Sinn Féin I reject these Estimates. We will be campaigning against these  cuts  and stealth taxes. We will be campaigning for their reversal in the Budget and calling to account this discredited and incompetent coalition." ENDS

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Speaking at a press conference in Belfast this morning Sinn Féin Policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly was joined by party colleagues John O'Dowd, Michelle Gildernew and Alex Maskey as he set out the party's policing agenda.

"Sinn Fein wants to see effective, civic policing. We want to get policing right. Sinn Fein has been central to discussions relating to the future of policing in Ireland.

Sinn Fein put Policing on the agenda of the negotiations in 1997 and we insisted that this issue be directly addressed in the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Fein continues to pursue the agenda of radical change. We have made it a central plank of successive negotiations. The approach of our negotiating team has delivered substantial improvements on policing.

Sinn Fein continued to engage with the British Government to get policing right and to ensure that policing is democratically accountable and representative. Since the Mandelson Act, Sinn Fein have successfully negotiated new legislation both in terms of policing and criminal justice and agreement in principle on the transfer of powers on policing and justice.

In our negotiations with the British Government this year Sinn Fein secured further significant improvements including additional legislative amendments which;

  • Require the British Secretary of State to consult with the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission on key areas of policing objectives;
  • Require the same consultation process respect of Codes of Practice over which the British Secretary of State formerly had a blank cheque;
  • Ensure that the Belfast sub-groups are placed on a par with the District Policing Partnerships.

In addition to these legislative amendments we secured movement on key implementation and operational issues including;

Plastic Bullets

We want to see plastic bullets banned with immediate effect and we intend to hold the British government to their commitment to remove these lethal weapons from service by the end of 2003. This is an advance on the position of the SDLP and the Policing Board, who accepted that plastic bullets would remain in use until at least the end of 2005.

Demilitarisation

We secure a commitment from the British Government to an accelerated process to achieve a demilitarised policing service and we intend to hold them to it.

Special Branch

The corrosive position of the Special Branch at the core of the current policing arrangements has to end. There can be no part in a new beginning to policing for the 'force within a force' which has, as a matter of policy, been involved in the targeting and murder of citizens. Sinn Fein secured commitments from the British Government regarding the roles and powers of the Special Branch and we intend to hold them to it.

Transfer of Powers

Sinn Fein has consistently raised this issue with the British Government. Sinn Fein has secured a commitment from the British Government to transfer these powers and in the recent talks with the UUP we made considerable progress towards Agreement on this issue.

A New Beginning

Sinn Fein continues to engage on policing to secure;

  • An end to paramilitary political policing;
  • The creation of an effective, democratically accountable policing service;
  • All Ireland approaches to Policing and Justice;
  • A routinely unarmed policing service;
  • An end to the Special Branch as a force within a force;
  • The banning of plastic bullets;
  • An end to the use of repressive legislation;
  • Effective inquiries into the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson, the Brian Nelson affair, and multiple allegations of collusion between British forces and unionist paramilitary gangs;
  • Root-and-branch reform of the justice system;
  • Transfer of powers on policing and justice to the Assembly;
  • A policing service with human rights and equality at its core;
  • The removal from the PSNI of human rights abusers and those involved in collusion with loyalist death squads.

"We have delivered real progress. We now want to finish the job of creating the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein is the best guarantee of that." ENDS

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West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty has described the SDLP performance on policing as a record of failure and misjudgment.

Mr. Doherty said

'Sinn Fein wants to see effective, civic policing. Sinn Fein wants to support and be part of democratically accountable policing structures. We want to get policing right.

That has been our consistent focus.

The SDLP made a serious mistake in prematurely endorsing policing arrangements which fall far short of the Good Friday Agreement

They settled too soon for too little. They shattered the nationalist consensus, which could have delivered further change. Sinn Fein has been left to make this argument alone.

The SDLP are now part of policing arrangements which includes;

  • The Special Branch;
  • Plastic Bullets;
  • Militarised Barracks;
  • Interrogation Centres;
  • Repressive Legislation;
  • Human Rights abusers;
  • Impunity for those who directed loyalist death squads through collusion;

policing that is;

  • Armed;
  • Unaccountable; and
  • unrepresentative.

The SDLP also welcomed the appointment of Ronnie Flanagan and said that he was some one they could work with. They now claim that they got rid of Ronnie Flanagan.

The SDLP claim that we have the new beginning promised in the Good Friday Agreement. The reality on the ground is entirely different. Sectarian harassment continues. Loyalist gangs operate with impunity, flooding their own communities with drugs and attacking nationalist families.

How and when is the SDLP going to deliver:

  • Transfer of powers from the securocrats in London;
  • Demilitarisation of policing;
  • A routinely unarmed policing service;
  • A service representative of the whole community
  • The banning of plastic bullets;
  • An end to repressive legislation;
  • A policing service with human rights at its core;
  • An end to Special Branch control of policing;
  • The removal from the PSNI of human rights abusers and those involved in collusion with loyalist death squads;
  • An end to the PSNI practice of withholding evidence from inquests;
  • An end to politically partisan policing;
  • An end to the tolerance of loyalist gangs and an end to the tolerance of sectarian attacks on nationalists.

Sinn Fein wants to get policing right. We have made progress. We now want to finish the job of creating the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement. We can only do so by facing up to the RUC old guard and the securocrats. By pretending that all the problems have been dealt with the SDLP is being less than honest with the electorate." ENDS

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Sinn  Féin  will  launch  a 36-page document outlining the party's proposals and recommendations  for  an  alternative  Budget 2004 in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 on Thursday next (November 20th) at 11am.

The  document  will  be  highly  critical  of  the  Government's reliance on the introduction  of  a  series of stealth taxes and cut backs in public services to balance  the  books  and will instead argue that a fundamental reform of the tax system is needed to ensure equity in society.

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Sinn Féin MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty has demanded the immediate release of a teenage member of the party after he was arrested by the PSNI and charged with taking a photograph of an Ogra Shinn Féin protest outside Omagh barracks a few weeks ago.

Mr. Doherty said:

" This young man attended a picket outside Omagh barracks a few weeks ago where he photographed the protesters. This morning he was arrested by heavily armed PSNI thugs and brought before the court charged with possession of this photograph, which they claimed was of use to terrorists.

" This is blatant political policing by the PSNI. This young man has now been remanded in custody by the courts for four weeks. This is a direct attempt by the PSNI to disrupt the Sinn Féin election campaign. They have clearly been aided in this by the Orange Judiciary who have no problem freeing loyalists caught red handed with weapons, while at the same time remanding in custody young republicans for photographing fellow party members.

" I am challenging Joe Byrne the local SDLP representative and member of the Policing Board to comment on this matter. Joe Byrne has often been to the forefront of the SDLP campaign to convince nationalists that this sort of political policing is acceptable. Let him speak now.

" I will be contacting both the British and the Irish governments about this matter and I am demanding that this young man is released and these politically motivated charges are dropped with out delay." ENDS

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Commenting on the publication of an alternative UUP manifesto by the rejectionist wing of the party setting out demands to exclude Sinn Féin from certain ministries, Sinn Féin representative for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy has said that 'the rejectionists see Sinn Féin as the primary obstacle to their attempts to re-negotiate and collapse the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr. Murphy said:

"Throughout this election campaign the DUP have focused on Sinn Fein and the obstacle that our agenda for change poses to their anti-Agreement project. This morning the anti-Agreement faction of the UUP set out their rejectionist charter and stated that they see Sinn Féin as the primary obstacle to their attempts to re-negotiate and collapse the Good Friday Agreement.

"The rejectionists don't want a strong Sinn Féin team in the Assembly and in the Executive. They know that such an election outcome would halt the anti-Agreement project in its tracks. That is why we see proposals like this from Donaldson and his allies this week and the DUP manifesto last week.

" Those who want to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented know the real story. They know where the real threat to the Agreement comes from and they know that it is Sinn Fein who is most determined to stand up to the rejectionists and to stop their undermining of the Agreement. The rejectionists know that a strong Sinn Féin vote will scupper their ambitions." ENDS

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o share a common agenda that benefits our all of our farming industry and all our rural communities. At the heart of this is an understanding that being tied to British policy decisions has been bad for local farmers. That being categorised along with the British farming industry has been catastrophic.

Southern Agriculture Spokesperson, Kerry North TD Martin Ferris added:

"It was Sinn Féin that went to Brussels in May to negotiate with Fishler's Cabinet and other members of the commission. We took the decision to back Full Decoupling and the Irish government followed suit.

"It is vital that we now have an all-Ireland approach to CAP reform. It is the only way to get the best deal for all farming sectors across this island. We need all--Ireland representation in Europe. Sinn Féin will deliver this.

"Sinn Féin will also commission a rural white paper, with a strong all-Ireland dimension. We are arguing for anchange. Sinn Féin believe in decentralisation and would bring these civil servants out into areas such as West of the Bann into direct and daily contact with farmers and rural communities.

"We are committed to immediately lifting the beef export ban. 80,000 jobs here depend on a prosperous economically driven processing sector. Selling a unique brand on the world stage - Irish produce -- puts us in a stronger position to safeguard these jobs.

Pat O'Rawe, mayor of Armagh and Newry Armagh candidate added:

"We will deliver an all--Ireland agricultural policy. The practical outworking of this is an all-Ireland animal health policy now. Brucellosis and Tuberculosis must be tackled, and done so in a cost-effective manner.

"Sinn Féin has led the way in arguing that keeping this island GM free is important not just in terms of the unknown risks in contaminating our environment but also to build on the internationally recognised clean green image of Ireland.

"Women in agriculture have been forgotten, we will support the role of women in agriculture and establish a permanent Women in Agriculture section within a Department of Agriculture."

West Belfast candidate Bairbre de Brún concluded:

"CAP reform and the consequences of EU enlargement demand a new partnership between government, the farming industry and rural communities. It demands a new partnership across this island. Divided we weaken our negotiating hand when these issues are discussed, particularly in Europe.

"During the three days at the National Ploughing championships in Co Meath, hundreds of farmers told us 'we need you to represent us, no other political party has'. Sinn Féin will not let the farming community down." ENDS

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Sinn Féin will set out its priorities for Agriculture and Rural Development at 11am tomorrow, Tuesday 18th in the Culturlann on the Falls Road in Belfast.

Attending the press conference will be Pat Doherty MP, Gerry McHugh former MLA Fermanagh South Tyrone, Martin Ferris TD for Kerry North, Pat O'Rawe Mayor of Armagh and former Health Minister Bairbre de Brún.

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Upper Bann Sinn Féin representative Dr. Dara O'Hagan has hit out at those responsible for the arson attack on Lismore Comprehensive School in Craigavon last night.

Dr. O'Hagan said:

" Lismore School plays a central role in the community life of Craigavon. Last nights arson attack on the school has resulted in one classroom being destroyed and others seriously damaged. The school was unable to open today and students coursework may well have been destroyed.

" Those responsible for the arson attack need to wise up and the community in Craigavon need to make it clear that they will not tolerate this type of mindless vandalism." ENDS

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Sinn Féin candidate for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, has slammed the sectarian attack on a north Belfast nationalist. The attack occurred on the Shore Road as the man was coming home from the Boundary Bar in Bawnmore and has left him with severe head and facial injuries.

Speaking today Mr Kelly said:

"This is an unprovoked, unjustified sectarian attack. This is a very serious incident and we are extremely lucky that we are not dealing with the killing of another nationalist at the hands of loyalists.

"I am calling for calm in the light of this attack and urge extreme vigilance. In the past three months, despite relative calm at some interface areas, loyalist violence has persisted with over 180 separate attacks. This does not account however for the nightly attacks and harassment that occur which largely goes unreported.

"I am also calling on a strong voice from within unionism to come and stand against these attacks. There is an onus on all political parties, but especially unionists, to use what ever influence they have, such as their place within the Loyalist Commission, to bring these attacks to an end once and for all." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness has extended condolences on behalf of the party leadership to Gerry Adams and the entire Adams family on the death of their father Gerry senior in Belfast this morning.

Mr. McGuinness said:

"On behalf of the Sinn Féin leadership and the wider republican constituency I want to extend sympathy and solidarity to the Adams family and to Gerry on the death of his father Gerry Adams senior this morning.

"Gerry Adams senior was well known throughout Belfast and further afield. He was a republican prisoner in the 1940s. He was one of the founding members of the Irish Republican Felons Association and a long time member of the Belfast National Graves Association.

"He will be missed greatly by all of us who knew him but particularly by his large family circle.

"I measc laochra na a raibh sé." ENDS

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For immediate release: 17th November 2003

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness speaking at the launch of the party's Agenda for Government said:

Sinn Féin's Agenda for Government is the most comprehensive manifesto ever produced by our party.  It sets out our policies for the incoming Assembly and Executive and our action plans in terms of the peace process and Irish Unity and Independence.   It also reflects our record in Government, on the Executive, the all-Ireland bodies and the All-Ireland Ministerial Council and the lengthy negotiations, which have taken place with the Irish and British governments and other parties. Later this week we will be launching our Womens Manifesto - Clar na mBan and our Irish language manifesto.

There has been enormous progress across Irish society over the last ten years.  There has been a political transformation.  Sinn Féin has been at the heart of this process of change.  Our peace strategy is delivering.

In this election we are asking people to endorse our work and to increase our mandate to enable us to achieve more -- to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.  The electorate has backed Sinn Féin in growing numbers making us the third largest party on the island.  This allowed us to return to the negotiations stronger and enabled us to achieve more. This election is crucial.

The success of our party can be measured by the extent of the changes that we have delivered. For decades the Unionist parties and the SDLP did not deliver. Sinn Fein has been a catalyst for change. We have used our electoral support to make a difference.

It is critical that Sinn Féin returns to the negotiating table in December with a renewed and strengthened mandate.  Sinn Féin is the engine for change. When others gave up, Sinn Féin did not.  We demanded and then secured commitments from the British government on policing, demilitarisation, Irish language, equality and human rights.

Sinn Féin also initiated an unprecedented dialogue with Unionism. We want to build on that in the time ahead.  It is the key to future progress.

A Vote for Sinn Féin in this election is a vote for the peace process. It is an endorsement of our role in that process It is a vote for a New Ireland, a free, united and independent Ireland It is a vote for change.  It is a vote for a republican alternative that puts equality and change at the heart of government.

At the core of our Agenda for Government is equality.  Equality in terms of the peace process, investment in public services, tackling the crisis in rural communities, ending child poverty and in bringing an end to years of structural inequality in many urban and rural communities and West of the Bann.

Sinn Féin is seeking support for:

  • A Sinn Fein First or Deputy First Minister
  • Irish Unity and Independence
  • Full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement;
  • A new beginning to policing, including the transfer of powers on policing and justice;
  • The restructuring of the Human Rights Commission;
  • Representation in the Dáil and Seanad and voting rights in Presidential elections for Irish citizens living in the North;
  • A Green Paper on Irish Unity by the Irish government;
  • The ending of the academic rejection of 11 year old children;
  • Proper access to acute services for the people of County Tyrone and South Derry;
  • Transfer of the 1.4 billion British Military budget to special job creation;
  • Opposition to the introduction of water charges;
  • Immediate negotiations to ensure that full decoupling of EU farm payments is implemented on an all-Ireland basis;
  • Targets and timetables to achieve equality of representation for women in public life;
  • Measurable targets for the eradication of child poverty;
  • Implementation of a Charter for Senior Citizens
  • Rights of the disabled to be given full priority;
  • All Political Parties in Ireland to sign an anti-racist pledge.

This political manifesto is an agenda for fundamental social and political change.

I want to appeal to voters today to put Sinn Féin in the position to elect a first or deputy first minister post, and to allow us to continue the work that we started in Education and Health. Sinn Féin will be seeking these Departments once again in the new Assembly.

"Sinn Fein is standing 38 candidates across all 18 constituencies and on November 26th I am asking the electorate to endorse our efforts, to ratify and validate what we are trying to do."

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