Sinn Féin representative for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy has called on the SDLP to clarify its position on a referendum on the issue of Irish Unity.
Mr Murphy said:
" During the last Westminster election campaign the SDLP proclaimed themselves as being a post-nationalist party. The main plank of this approach was that the SDLP would not accept a 50% plus one vote for Irish unity in any border poll.
" Sinn Féin's position is crystal clear. We ensured that the mechanism to trigger a border poll and subsequent polls every 7 years was inserted into the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will ensure that a 50% plus one outcome for Irish unity is immediately legislated for. There can be no negotiation about that.
" This week the SDLP called for a border poll. However they have so far failed to tell us if they would respect a 50% plus one outcome in favour of Irish unity. Is the SDLP still a 'post-nationalist' party or has it genuinely shifted to a united Ireland position. The SDLP need to clarify this crucially important point." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has urged voters to ensure that they have the correct forms of identification to enable them to claim their vote in the Assembly elections. Mr. McLaughlin's call comes the day before the deadline for claiming the special electoral identity card.
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"Given the absolute mess which the electoral office made in compiling the register under which the election will be fought it is crucial for those who have managed to access the register that they have the correct form of ID.
"Tomorrow is the final day for people wishing to claim the electoral identity card from the electoral office and I would urge those who do not have a passport, driving licence or Translink smart card to make sure that they claim their voter ID." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will launch the party's Agenda for Government(manifesto) for the Assembly elections at 11am on Monday 17th in the Culturlann on the Falls Road in Belfast.
Also attending the press conference will be former Ministers Bairbre de Brún and Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin and Dr. Dara O'Hagan.
Speaking from Ballymena where he is canvassing with local representative Philip McGuigan, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that in this election campaign Sinn Féin were breaking new ground.
Mr. Adams said:
"With just over a week to go the feedback from across the 18 constituencies is very positive. I am here in Ballymena this morning and I will be traveling to East Derry this afternoon. Sinn Féin are up and running in all 18 constituencies and we are breaking new ground in this campaign.
"We are taking our vision of a united and peaceful Ireland far beyond the republican heartlands and into places like North Antrim, the heart of Ian Paisely's constituency.
"It is my belief that Sinn Féin after this election can be in a position to nominate either an First or Deputy First Minister and that we can continue the task of implementing the Agreement and delivering real change."ENDS
Responding to comments made by the SDLP leader Mark Durkan, who claimed that his party did not accept the heath portfolio in the last Assembly because of some sort of deal with Sinn Féin, party Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:
"The claim by Mark Durkan that there was a Sinn Féin/SDLP agreement on the destination of the health and education departments is complete rubbish. In fact Alaister McDonnell admitted last week that health was not a priority for the SDLP at the formation of the last Executive.
"The SDLP ran away from the challenge of health, Sinn Féin on the other hand grasped the challenge and began the work of undoing decades of under funding and neglect.
"We have already stated that if we were given the opportunity after this election then we will seek the Education and Heath portfolios once again." ENDS
Sinn Féin Upper Bann representative Dr Dara O'Hagan has expressed concern at the high number of fuel poverty 'cold spots' after receiving a council-by-council breakdown from Westminster after requesting Labour MP Kevin McNamara to table a question. The figures revealed today show that the Craigavon, Antrim and Ballymoney Council areas had the highest levels of fuel poverty in the north of Ireland. With Ballymena, Belfast and Derry also having high levels of fuel poverty.
Commenting on the figures, Dr. Dara O'Hagan said:
"It is disgraceful and unacceptable that nearly 50% of homes in Craigavon suffered from fuel poverty and that in 5 other council areas that over 35% of all households also suffer from fuel poverty. These figures come in the wake of revelations that over 200,000 households in the north of Ireland are fuel poor.
"Through my work on the Assembly's Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee and as Energy Spokesperson for Sinn Fein I have been working on the issue of fuel poverty for sometime. I believe that fuel poverty needs to be prioritised in government and tackled as a matter of urgency by lowering energy prices and ensuring better standards of energy efficiency.
"In effect what we have a number of 'cold spots' in the North. Given the fact that over 1360 senior citizens died from the cold last year and the fact that nearly 40% of our children live in poverty we must act now. We need to create a 'Warm Zone' initiative driven both centrally and by councils that can deliver cheap and affordable energy to all homes where people are living in fuel poverty. We need to bring these people in from the cold. Action is required to tackle fuel poverty it must include measures to raise incomes, reduce energy prices, as well as installing energy efficiency measures in homes." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP today launched the party's candidates for the Assembly elections. Mr. Adams said:
"We come here today as the third largest party on the island and as the largest nationalist party in the six counties. After this election Sinn Féin is going to be the largest nationalist party in the Assembly. We are standing 38 candidates across all 18 constituencies including 12 women candidates - the largest of any party in this election.
"This will not happen by chance. It will happen because Sinn Féin is making a real difference.
"The transformation of Local Government came about because of the involvement of Sinn Féin councillors. The Peace Process itself was initiated and has been continuously energised by our party. Sinn Féin brought forward a peace strategy which has already brought about huge progress. There is more to do. The Agreement must be implemented. That is why we went into the negotiations and that is why we will stay there until the rights of all have been achieved.
"People are responding to this message positively, and with just 12 days to go, the canvas returns from all 18 constituencies are very positive.
"I am confident that we will take an additional four seats at least.
"Sinn Féin will be seeking to nominate a first or deputy first minister after this election
"We will also seek to continue the work we have advanced in Education and Health.
"However Sinn Féin does not take the voters for granted. We are asking people to endorse the work we have undertaken and to validate our position. People have the opportunity to become agents for change in this election. They have an opportunity to make history."ENDS
Gerry Adams MP
Bairbre de Brún
Cllr. Sue Ramsey
Cllr. Fra McCann
Cllr. Michael Ferguson
Cllr. Joe O'Donnell
Cllr. Alex Maskey
Cllr. Paul Butler
Cllr. Martin Meehan
Cllr. Philip McGuigan
Cllr. Oliver McMullan
Dr. Dara O'Hagan
Cllr. John O'Dowd
Pat Doherty MP
Cllr. Barry McElduff
Cllr. Brian McMahon
Fermanagh South Tyrone
Michelle Gildernew MP
Cllr. Gerry McHugh
Cllr. Tom O'Reilly
Newry & Armagh
Cllr. Davy Hyland
Cllr. Pat O'Rawe
Martin McGuinness MP
Cllr. Francie Molloy
Cllr. Francie Brolly
Cllr. Willie Clarke
Cllr. Eamon McConvey
Speaking following the publication of the Government Estimates for 2004 Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD, has castigated the lack of commitment and funding for social housing in the proposed estimates.
Deputy Morgan said: "When the price of new houses nationally grew by 13% in the year to June 03 and the price of second hand houses grew by 17.9% in the same period, it is clear that an increase of 3% for Local Authority and Social Housing Programmes will do absolutely nothing to address the needs of the 48,000 people on local authority waiting lists. It is barely in line with the rate of inflation.
"It makes an absolute mockery of the nonsense which the Minister of State with responsibility for Housing Noel Ahern keeps repeating in the Dáil about the supposed commitment of the Government to addressing the housing crisis.
"The 48,000 people on housing waiting lists and the 6000 homeless people have nothing to celebrate this evening. Any hope they may have had about securing access to housing will have vanished. If this is the attitude of the Government there is very little prospect for any resolution to the housing crisis. The Government's continuing failure to act in the interest of the disadvantaged who are worst hit by the housing crisis was the context in which Sinn Féin attempted to enshrine the right to housing in the 1937 Constitution." ENDS
Following today's call by Human Rights Commissioners Paddy Kelly and Frank McGuinness for the Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson to resign Sinn Féin has today added its support to their position. Belfast City Councillor Chrissie McAuley, who manages Sinn Féin's Human Rights and Equality team said:
"Without doubt today‚s revelations by Commissioners Paddy Kelly and Frank McGuinness regarding the extent to which the Human Rights Commission's independence has been compromised has serious implications for the entire Commission.
"They show further serious breaches of conduct by the Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson in relation to the Holy Cross case and reveal that the Commission‚s independence has been compromised by the direct involvement of the NIO in preparing the Human Rights Commission's Action Plan.
"For some considerable time now Sinn Féin has been of the view that the Commission is broken and needs fixed.
"We reached this conclusion after prolonged engagement with the Commission about our well-founded concerns about core elements of the Good Friday Agreement, which have been raised by others in the human rights and equality constituencies. The Human Rights Commission ignored this.
"The Chief Commissioner has refused to take any of this on board. Accordingly we believe that his continued position as Chief Commissioner is untenable and he should resign. If he refuses, we believe that the British government, which is responsible for appointments, should remove the Chief Commissioner from his post.
"The Human Rights Commission then needs to be completely reconstructed to restore public confidence in an essential mechanism of the Good Friday Agreement."ENDS
Note for editors:
Key factors that have influenced Sinn Féin's position are:
Between December 2001 and March 2002 the Chief Commissioner acted in a highly inappropriate manner in relation to the Holy Cross case by entering into correspondence with the respondent in the case, former RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan, and expressed the view that the case had no merit. This was done without the prior knowledge or approval of the parent taking the case or with the prior knowledge of solicitors acting in the case.
In March 2002 Ronnie Flanagan wrote to the Chief Commissioner telling him that he both wanted to use the letter as evidence in court and urging the Chief Commissioner to withdraw funding from the case. At a subsequent Commission meeting Brice Dickson proposed dropping the Holy Cross case and later said this was because of its likely cost and not because of pressure from Flanagan.
Between September 2002 and July 2003 a total of three Commissioners resigned from the Human Rights Commission on issues giving them concern at the Commission's approach on Bill of Rights matters around equality, community/minority definitions and the implications of this on existing fair employment protections.
July 15th 2003 - The Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights focuses on a range of recommendations which highlight problems within the Commission and for the first time bring to public light the detail of the Holy Cross case and the Chief Commissioner‚s role in it.
July 17th 2003 - Irish News interview with resigned Commissioners Inez McCormack and Professor Christine Bell detail their concerns regarding the Commission‚s approach on Good Friday Agreement, Bill of Rights issues and the Holy Cross
July 18th 2003 - Sinn Féin seeks urgent meetings with both governments on the matter and calls for any further appointments to the Commission to be halted and for a programme of complete reconstruction of the Commission.
July 23rd 2003 - The Irish News interviews Brice Dickson regarding Holy Cross and other issues relating to the Commission‚s work. The Chief Commissioner‚s responses raise further concerns about his stewardship of the Commission overall.
July 30th 2003 - A Sinn Féin delegation led by Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún meet with the Human Rights Commission. After several hours the prognosis is that the Commission and the Chief Commissioner provided less than satisfactory and indeed ambiguous answers to serious issues, in particular, Holy Cross. The SDLP also meet the Commission and conclude that serious questions of tenability remain.
September 12th 2003 Commissioners Paddy Kelly and Frank McGuinness withdraw from the business of the Commission.
October 15th 2003 The Human Rights Commission launches its Action Plan in a bid to answer criticisms. It now emerges that the Action Plan was constructed with the direct involvement of the NIO.
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education and Science Seán Crowe TD has spoken of his shock and dismay at the decision of the Government in the Estimates published today to undermine the work of the National Educational Psychological Service and the National Education Welfare Board.
The Dublin South-West TD said: "It is ironic that as the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003 is debated in Leinster House, the Government has chosen to hamstring the development of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) across the country and condemn students with disabilities in schools to another year of being treated as second class students. An increase in funding of 1% is a derisory sum of money for the organisation to expand on.
"NEPS has just over 120 psychologists who serve under 2,000 of the state's primary schools. 57% of schools are not covered by NEPS in the North-West region. The figures are even worse for the Mid-West so that while the vast majority of schools along the east coast are covered by NEPS, other parts of the country lag far behind. They will lag further behind under this Government."
Deputy Crowe went on to speak on the increase received by the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB): "The NEWB is only able to provide the service it is legally obliged to provide to just 26% of schools in the State. Independent consultants have stated the Board needs a total of 363 staff to fulfil its obligation but this is three and a half times what the Government has provided it with and an increase in their funding of E300,000 is not going to do very much to expand the programme.
"The ESRI are on record as saying E14 million could be saved on an annual basis in terms of spending on crime, housing and social welfare if young people could be prevented from dropping out of school before the Junior Certificate.
"Every year 15% of young people leave school without the Leaving Certificate and 3% leave with no qualification at all. Up to 1,000 pupils do not transfer from primary to post-primary education. One in ten children leave primary school with significant literacy problems."
Concluding, Deputy Crowe said: "The Department of Education has completely undermined two of the most vital services it provides. The provision of psychological assessments in schools and the necessity of ensuring children, especially those from disadvantaged areas, remain in education are two areas where Minister Dempsey's record is one of abject failure." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described as "disgraceful" the increase in health service charges which Health Minister Micheál Martin has admitted will take place in the wake of the Estimates. He said:
"The increased charges for health services are absolutely disgraceful. A rise in fees for visiting Accident and Emergency comes after a rise of 26% last year. It comes at a time when people are on trolleys in A&E units, when the Government is proposing to close such units in local hospitals under the Hanley report where it has not already done so. It comes at a time also when the Primary Care units promised by this Government have not been delivered. Such units would help reduce the numbers of people going to A&E.
"These charges are a further blow to those whose income is just above the limit for the medical card. They will now face higher costs for medicines after another significant increase last year.
"The Government is charging more money for less services.
"Minister McCreevy speaks 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 constituency? This symbolises the overall economic mismanagement by this Government.
"The increases for health do not provide for reforms which the government claims it is committed to. I believe these estimates will simply keep the system turning over but they will not provide for the fundamental reform that is needed. The two-tier public private system is hugely costly and inefficient as well as being grossly unfair."ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams will be joined by all the Sinn Féin election candidates for a formal launch in Belfast Castle at 12 noon tomorrow, Friday November 14th.
Former Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety Bairbre de Brún and former Education Minister Martin McGuinness speaking in Belfast today said "After this election it is our belief that we will be in a position to achieve either the first or deputy first minister, in addition to this we want to continue the work that we started in Education and Health and will be seeking these Departments once again in the new Assembly. "
Ms. De Brún said
After the last Assembly elections Sinn Féin took a decision to seek those Ministerial positions that most directly impacted on people's lives. We chose to nominate our two Ministers for the portfolios of Education and Health.
These are the two departments that most directly affect every man, woman and child.
These two departments suffered through decades of British Direct Rule, under funding and neglect. Sinn Féin took a conscious decision to tackle this. We decided to use our mandate to bring about real change.
Other parties did not see Education and Health as priorities. We did. This remains the case.
As Ministers we invested considerable resources in school buildings and hospital services. Facilities starved of investment for decades were replaced and upgraded.
I prioritised cancer and cardiac care, the provision of children's services and the ending of inequalities in health. Martin took the decision to end the 11 plus, protect small rural schools and invest in integrated and Irish language schools. We increased the level of all-Ireland co-operation in Education and Health and delivered real benefits to people on the ground.
Mr McGuinness added:
" As Bairbre has said over the past three years we have made progress in reversing the years of decline, under investment and Direct Rule. We are now eager to finish the job.
After this election we will once again seek to take on the challenge of both Education and Health. They remain our priority.
In education Sinn Féin will work for:
In health we will work for:
We have made great progress in recent years and for this to continue we are asking people to endorse and validate our work in this election." ENDS
Responding to an appeal by Seamus Mallon for unionists to support his party, South Belfast Sinn Féin Representative Alex Maskey said that the comments 'were an acknowledgement by the SDLP that Sinn Féin has the support of the majority of nationalists in this election'.
Cllr. Maskey said:
" Sinn Féin's position is to ask for votes for Sinn Féin candidates and beyond that for people to transfer to other pro-Agreement candidates in order of their own preference.
" A number weeks ago in advance of the election, Gerry Adams proposed a pro-Agreement transfer pact to Mark Durkan. The SDLP rejected this.
" The SDLP's appeal today for unionists to vote for them is not as alleged about protecting the Good Friday Agreement. It is about protecting the SDLP and is a further sign of a party in crisis.
" The SDLP position is an acknowledgement that Sinn Féin has the support of the majority of nationalists in this election." ENDS
Sinn Féin former Education Minister Martin McGuinness and former Health Minister Bairbre de Brún will hold a press conference at 11am tomorrow, Thursday, in the Culturlann on the Falls Road in Belfast.
Speaking from Queen's University where he and Alex Maskey met with students, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has said the SDLP Minister Carmel Hanna 'failed to deliver for our third level students'.
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"The SDLP have a paper policy position calling for the scrapping of student fees and the reintroduction of a maintenance grant. Yet despite holding the ministerial brief with Sean Farren and Carmel Hanna the reality is that we still have student fees and there is still no maintenance grant. Instead we have more loans, more debt and still no mechanism for widening access to third level education particularly for students from poorer backgrounds.
"There was an opportunity to close the door of student fees instead the SDLP have left the door wide open and there is a very real danger that even more students will priced out of the opportunity of studying at university. The SDLP failed our students when they had the chance to do something, It is therefore somewhat ironic that having failed our students once that they are claiming that they will now end student fees if the electorate give them the opportunity." ENDS
Responding to the British Secretary of State's issuing of a consultation document on the priorities and budget for government from 2004-2007, Sinn Féin Cllr Francie Molloy stated:
"To issue a draft programme for government and to expect consultation on it to be completed just two days after the election is nothing less than a denial of democracy. What right do the British have to slip this blueprint for government through under the cover of an election campaign? What right do they have to set the agenda for the new Assembly before that Assembly has even been elected?
"It is the business of locally elected representatives to decide what their priorities will be for the next three years. It is not the business of the Secretary of State to decide those priorities for them.
"I call on the British government to withdraw immediately this consultation document until after the elections." ENDS
Gerry Kelly has welcomed the visit to Belfast and Derry this week of a delegation being led by New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi who is here to take assessments from a range of political parties, government agencies responsible for investment, the Equality and Human Rights Commissions, NGO's and community sectors regarding how equality and fairness is being progressed.
Speaking after the meeting with Alan Hevesi in North Belfast Gerry Kelly said:
"Obviously I am delighted to welcome Alan Hevesi and his delegation to North Belfast to discuss both the political situation and the growing disparities and inequalities that continue to affect communities despite the range of government policies supposedly focussed on tackling the gap between the rich and the poor.
"Clearly as some S15 billion of New York State and New York city pension fund money is invested in US companies here on the basis that they must comply with fair employment practices and the MacBride principles, Mr Hevesi evidently has a vested interest in establishing whether or not equality and fairness is being progressed in the workplace in general and society overall.
"Mr Hevesi recently expressed concerns that the approach of the Human Rights commission could potentially undermine fair employment monitoring provisions. Sinn Féin have expressed similar concerns and have raised these with the Human Rights Commission and the Council of Europe experts who recently visited Belfast. It is our view that any interference with, refinement of or redefinition of these protections is unacceptable in a society where clearly disparity in the overall workforce still prevails. Existing employment protections should be strengthened not diluted. We will explore this and a range of other matters with Mr Hevesi with a view to continuing this dialogue on an ongoing basis." ENDS
Speaking in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan TD raised the issue of underfunded local government and the large levies imposed on home-buyers.
Deputy Morgan said:
"It is essential now that the Government address the serious underfunding of local government which has resulted in local authorities imposing substantial levies on already stretched first-time home buyers while doing nothing to address the serious problem which exists in the state in relation to inflated land prices as a result of decades of unhindered land speculation.
"These levies will cause a further escalation in house prices across the state and will force ever-increasing numbers of people out of the house market and onto social housing waiting lists while increasing the hardship for those young couples who were already hit by the removal of the first time buyers grant. This housing situation, as we all know, has reached crisis point already and it is a matter of serious public concern if the local authorities are not adequately funded". ENDS