Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has urged drivers to 'show their support for European Car Free day tomorrow, by using public transport for the day'. But she was critical of the Government, whom she accused of promoting private car use more than any other government before it.
The 22nd September has been designated 'European Car Free Day', and this is the fifth year that the state will officially participate in the event. Free public transport will be available in a number of towns and cities throughout the state.
Speaking today Ms McDonald said:
"Sinn Féin once again welcomes the participation by this state in European Car Free Day, as a small yet significant step towards creating public awareness around issues such as pollution, car-pooling and the availability of public transport as a viable alternative to our spiralling traffic problems.
"However, the government's promotion of the event is laughable given that the chronic congestion in our cities and towns is the result of years of neglect of our public transport infrastructure by successive governments.
"Instead of investing in our bus and rail services we have the Minister for Transport scurrying around the country in his ministerial limousine opening new sections of motorway. Coupled with his ideological drive to privatise public transport, it is clear that this Minister and his Government have done more to encourage private car use than any previous administration.
"Yes, we need new roads, but more importantly we also require much needed investment in our public transport infrastructure if we are to capitalize on initiatives such as European Car Free day instead of it remaining a token feel good gesture.
"Sinn Féin would like to see this scheme extended in future so that as wide a range of people can benefit from this positive venture. Widespread availability of free public transport throughout the state, during the initiative is essential if this scheme is to be successful. I would encourage drivers to make a contribution toward protecting the environment by supporting European Car Free Day". ENDS
Speaking at a News Conference in Westminster this morning Sinn Féin Vice-President and West Tyrone MP, Pat Doherty outlined the course of events preceding and during the intensive talks at Leeds Castle this past weekend.
Mr Doherty explained:
"In June Gerry Adams set out the Sinn Féin objective for the Leeds Castle talks, which where; a comprehensive, holistic agreement which would conclusively deal with all of the outstanding issues.
"Finding such an agreement was our singular focus in weeks of intense discussion between Sinn Féin and the two governments.
"We expressed privately and publicly our preparedness to face up to the challenges that this major undertaking would present. But we also made it clear that the two governments and the DUP also needed to face up to the challenges if we were to be successful.
"We repeatedly pointed out that if the Leeds Castle engagement was to have any hope of success that closure was needed on a range of key outstanding issues. Our view was that the preparatory work, between the two governments, but particularly between the British government and the DUP that needed doing to achieve such an outcome, had not been done.
"We made it abundantly clear, and were backed by all of the other pro-Agreement parties that any attempt to undermine the core principle of power-sharing and the all-Ireland architecture of the Agreement would be totally unacceptable. But we were also working against a background of persistent anti-peace process activities on the part of securocrats and the NIO and therefore little effort was made to impress the position of the pro-Agreement majority on the DUP.
"Notwithstanding these very deep worries, the Sinn Féin Negotiating Team travelled to Leeds Castle to do our best to find agreement.
"We knew it would be a huge challenge particularly given the anti-agreement agenda of the DUP and their refusal to talk to us. Despite the difficulties this presented, we did some good work with the two governments and made some progress across a range of issues.
"The DUP did not engage and did not negotiate. If the DUP therefore, remain unwilling to accept equality, if they remain unwilling to share power and to accept the all-Ireland shape of the agreement, then there is an onus on the two governments and the British government in particular, to move immediately on the human rights, equality, policing and demilitarisation agendas.
"The most significant message to come out of the Leeds Castle talks was that the Agreement would endure. I believe that many politicians, analysts and even some within the DUP will come to realise that this could be a very significantly defining moment in the Peace Process.
"Because no agreement was reached at Leeds Castle and a truly significant opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of all the people of Ireland was spurned by the DUP it does not follow, that Sinn Féin is giving up on our peace Agenda. We want an agreement with unionism, including the DUP. But such an accommodation must be on the basis of equality, inclusivity and mutual respect. We are determined to remain engaged and will continue to make progress in conjunction with all of the other pro-Agreement forces that represent majority opinion not just on the island as a whole but a majority in a North of Ireland context also.
"We have arranged to talk to the two governments over the coming days and we will participate with renewed determination in the engagements to be convened by the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowan and British Secretary of State, Paul Murphy scheduled to begin in Belfast today.
"As we resume these discussions at Stormont today it is clear that agreement is only possible if the DUP begin to engage positively and accept that there will be no return to unionist domination; that there will be no dilution of power sharing; that there will be no erosion of the all-Ireland architecture.
"However, if the DUP remain unwilling to engage - unwilling to accept equality and power sharing - then the two governments and the pro-Agreement parties must move on. The DUP cannot be allowed to block progress or to undermine the positive work that was done last week. The process of change must continue."
"In the meantime, the door is open for the DUP to join the other pro-agreement parties in face to face dialogue when it finds the courage and confidence to work as equals with all other democratically elected representatives to build a better future for all of the people of Ireland." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator, Martin McGuinness MP, speaking after meeting with both governments in Stormont today has said that the DUP need to come into the real world of negotiations, engagement and agreement.
Mr McGuinness said:
"The DUP did not engage at Leeds Castle. In the real world of negotiations you talk to people, you engage with people, and you make agreements which others can live with.
"The DUP need to come into this world of negotiations, engagement and agreement. They must understand that they cannot simply make demands; they must understand that there will be no changes to the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement. Equality, power-sharing and the all-Ireland institutions are fundamental to the Agreement.
"On these key issues the DUP will not get their way. There will be no return to unionist rule. There will be no unionist veto. There will be no dilution of the all-Ireland structures.
"We have a unique opportunity to move forward. The DUP can be part of this. But if they remain unwilling then the pro-Agreement parties and the two governments will move forward without them." ENDS
In the wake of the two reports released today by the policing board and the police oversight commissioner, Sinn Féin Policing Spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has said that Sinn Féin remain committed to achieving a new beginning to policing that is accountable, representative and free from partisan political control.
Mr Kelly said:
"Sinn Féin continues to be at the forefront of working to achieve an new beginning to an acceptable policing. It is our intention to complete this task
"The transfer of policing and justice powers is crucial to this.
"To have the new beginning to policing promised by the Patten report there must be maximum transfer of powers. To achieve that, the political institutions need to up and running. The main obstacle to that remains the DUP's unwillingness to accept change.
"Sinn Fein again put the vital issue of the transfer of powers on policing and justice at the centre of the Leeds Castle negotiations.
"It is our view that we will achieve our goals on policing and justice and that the tenure of both the oversight commissioner on policing and the oversight commissioner of criminal justice should be extended to complete the job.
"We don't have accountable policing. We don't have representative policing. As events this summer in Ardoyne and Lurgan proved the problem of political policing remains.
"The removal of plastic bullets and the Full Time Reserve have also not yet been satisfactorily dealt with. In fact the policing board has ordered some 120,000 plastic bullets over the past two years." ENDS
Sinn Féin Councillor and Group Leader on Dublin City Council Christy Burke has expressed his delight at the passing of Sinn Féin motions at a meeting of Dublin City Council last night calling for the site at No. 16 Moore St to be converted into a museum for the 1916 Rising.
Cllr Burke said: "No. 16 Moore St. was the last headquarters of the Provisional Government of 1916 and is a place of immense historical and political importance to the people of Ireland. In May of 2003 Dubliners rallied to its defence following a proposal to demolish it, which was defeated at City Council.
"But we believe that merely preserving it is not enough. An essential part of any heritage plan for Dublin must include the development of the site into a museum that would have a commemorative and educational function. I want to thank other councillors for supporting our motions who saw the importance of the 1916 Rebellion to all Irish people regardless of political affiliation.
"The victory achieved tonight however is not the end of this campaign. The building forms part of the Carlton Development Site, currently the subject of High Court action over a compulsory purchase order and more work will be necessary to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion. Sinn Féin intends to continue to monitor developments as they unfold." ENDS
Sinn Féin Councillor and Group Leader on Dublin City Council Christy Burke has slammed City Management following the revelation that €390 million allocated for local authority spending lies unclaimed in the hands of the Department of Environment. Cllr Burke was speaking after a Sinn Féin Emergency Motion on the issue was ruled out of order at a City Council meeting last night.
Cllr Burke said: "Last Thursday Minister Martin Cullen told the AMMI Conference in Listowel that there is €390 million in local government funding unclaimed by City and Council Managers in the hands of central Government. This is a national disgrace and it is truly staggering that local authorities across Dublin are not beating down the door to ask the Minister for a share of these funds.
"Families in Dublin, many of them in my own area, are living in Dickensian conditions because the Council cannot afford to properly fund the necessary maintenance. There are over a thousand people homeless in Dublin City and almost 7,000 households on our housing lists. Projects across the City are cut back because of a lack of funds and here are hundreds of millions lieing unspent.
"The Sinn Féin Group‚s emergency motion on this issue was ruled out of order tonight (Monday 20th) but it is the City Manager who is out of order leaving €390 million unspent and not demanding a fair share for Dublin. I am calling on the City Council to meet with the Department as a matter of urgency to discuss the disposal of these funds." ENDS
Sinn Féin Councillor for the South West Inner City, Andrew O'Connell, called on Dublin City Council management, to draw down €85 million of 350 million sitting unclaimed in the Dept of the Environment for use towards the original agreed plan for the rejuvenation of St. Michaels Estate, Inchicore. He described the fact that the money has sat unclaimed by city managers as a "disgrace".
Cllr O'Connell said, "Following a special meeting of city council tonight it was highlighted by councillors who spoke to the Minister at a conference in Listowel last Friday that the minister was unhappy at the lack of interest from City and county mangers to the fund.
"Some months ago Council management withdrew their support for the original plan for St Michael's estate due to the downturn in the Celtic Tiger. To date they have not been prepared to explore other funding alternatives, instead trying to force through a Public Private Partnership plan. The original plan, which has taken over 3 years to develop, has already seen 101 units of housing constructed for the community to date. Local residents were central to making this plan workable. Residents do not want a PPP/Council generated plan foisted upon them without any honest and meaningful consultation.
"Last week the City Manager, Brendan Kenny who has responsibility for housing blamed councillors for delaying the redevelopment. It now appears that City Management have had their heads in the clouds given that the Minister has yet to hear from the manager regarding what amount of money they require for projects outstanding in the city councils administrative area.
"I am calling on council management to move immediately to draw down money towards the completion of a people centred plan for St. Michaels Estate." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Disability, Mid Ulster MLA Gereldine Dougan has said that evidence of the link between low birth weight, premature birth and learning disability, where there is an already an established link between poverty and birth weight, provide a compelling case for the need for an anti-poverty strategy.
Ms Dougan said:
"It is clear that the failure of direct rule ministers to develop a coherent anti-poverty strategy has very serious consequences. In failing to address the issue of poverty and social exclusion, the British government is contributing to higher level of learning and physical disability.
"The revelation on Panorama that 40% of premature babies have significant levels of learning disability, and that a quarter are left with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness and arrested development demands action.
"The established links between poverty, low birth weight and increased risks of premature birth demands a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy.
"Levels of poverty in the Six Counties, and indeed throughout Ireland are unacceptable. Both the British and Irish governments have consistently failed to deliver an effective strategy to eliminate poverty, or at the very least, address the many socio-economic inequities which continue to have a detrimental effect on quality of life.
"Sinn Féin will continue to demand that the issue of poverty and social exclusion remain high on the political agenda." ENDS
North Antrim Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has said that 'banks need to do more to ensure that everybody has equality of access to their money'.
Mr McGuigan has written to all the major banks and building societies, to express his concern that a number of towns and villages in his North Antrim constituency have been left out when it comes to the provision of 24-hour cash machines.
Mr McGuigan said:
"In most cases nowadays people's wages and benefits are paid directly into their banks. This is all well and good except that in smaller villages and rural areas people have no access to ATMs. This means they have to drive sometimes as far as 10 miles to get money.
"Banks are always very keen to get their hands on our money. They should do more to ensure that those who live outside of the bigger towns in North Antrim are treated with the same respect and given the same service."
Party colleague Cara McShane has indicated that since her party's intervention "a number of banks are looking seriously at an ATM provision in the Ballintoy area."
Ms McShane said:
"This area is a popular destination. The lack of an ATM is stunting the amount of money these tourists are putting into the local economy. We are working with a number of banks to overcome this problem." ENDS
Sinn Féin national chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin, speaking after Martin McGuinness briefed the party leadership on the Leeds Castle talks today, has said that it is clear that agreement is only possible if the DUP begin to engage positively and accept that there will be no return to unionist domination, no dilution of powers sharing and no erosion of the all-Ireland architecture.
Speaking after the meeting Mr McLaughlin said:
"In the discussions at Leeds Castle, we made significant progress across a range of issues involving the two governments. But the DUP did not engage in this negotiation. They refused to negotiate. They would not talk to Sinn Fein. They adhered, throughout, to an anti-Agreement agenda and demanded a unionist veto over all decisions in the restored institutions. That simply will not happen.
"As we resume discussions at Stormont it is clear that agreement is only possible if the DUP begin to engage positively and accept that there will be no return to unionist domination; that there will be no dilution of powers sharing; that there will be no erosion of the all-Ireland architecture.
"However, if they remain unwilling to engage - unwilling to accept equality and power sharing - then the two governments and the pro-Agreement parties must move on. The DUP cannot be allowed to block progress or to undermine the positive work that was done last week. The process of change must continue." ENDS
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has expressed concern at suggestions of a less than wholehearted approach by the Department of Finance and Personnel to the agreed joint bid by the Irish and British governments to the European Commission for the extension of PEACE II funding beyond 2004.
Speaking from Brussels Ms de Brún said:
"I understand that the Department of Finance and Personnel is seeking to bid for substantially less money to fund peace and reconciliation programmes in the agreed approach from the Irish and British governments to the European Commission for beyond 2004. This would send out a very bad signal about the commitment of the British government to national reconciliation and peace building.
"Projects and initiatives funded through the PEACE programme have made a vital contribution to the process of conflict resolution. If, as is being suggested, the direct rule administration is setting its opening bid at roughly 50% of the current level of support, the level of this valuable work will not be sustained. We should not have a situation where the British government sends signals to the European Commission that less money is needed at this time.
"There is a clear commitment from both governments to bid for the extension of PEACE II beyond 2004. It is also clear that the Irish government is putting together a case for funding to remain at its current level. However, the approach of the direct rule administration in the north appears to demonstrate a lower level of commitment to the work of national reconciliation and peace building.
"I will be raising this issue with both governments as a matter of urgency. It is vital that we put in place long term commitments to build upon the important work that is being supported through the Peace II programme throughout Ireland, particularly in border communities and communities that have suffered greatly as a consequence of the conflict." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin speaking from Derry this morning said that the party's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness would be briefing the Sinn Féin leadership tomorrow on the talks at Leeds Castle. Mr. McLaughlin said that the DUPs failure to negotiate with Sinn Féin and their attempts to re-write the Good Friday Agreement were unacceptable.
Mr McLaughlin said:
"Over the last few days we saw elements within unionism once again show in the clearest possible terms that they are opposed to a process of change and to genuine equality. Sinn Féin went into the talks to secure a comprehensive agreement but what we were faced was a party who refused to negotiate and whose sole interest was in re-writing the Good Friday Agreement. This is not acceptable.
"The British and Irish governments made it clear yesterday that the only way forward is on the basis of the Agreement. They now need to ensure that the process of change continues and that the rights and entitlements of all are delivered.
"Tomorrow Martin McGuinness will brief the party leadership on the talks at Leeds Castle and we will be in contact with the two governments."ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking following the conclusion of talks at Leeds Castle said "some progress had been made across a range of issues but the DUP had not engaged, they had not negotiated". He said the responsibility now falls to the two governments for the delivery of fundamental rights and entitlements.
Mr. Adams said:
"Sinn Féin came to Leeds Castle seeking a comprehensive agreement on all of the outstanding issues. We knew it would be a huge challenge particularly given the anti-agreement agenda of the DUP and their refusal to talk to us. We did some good work with the two governments and made some progress across a range of issues.
"However the DUP have not engaged, they have not negotiated, they have not moved. If the DUP remain unwilling to accept equality, if they remain incapable of sharing power and the all-Ireland shape of the agreement, then there is an onus on the two governments and the British government in particular, to move immediately on the human rights, equality, policing and demilitarisation agendas.
"The British government must advance and accelerate the agenda of change set out in the Good Friday Agreement.
"Sinn Féin is not giving up on this. We want an agreement with unionism, including the DUP. But such an accommodation must be on the basis of equality, inclusivity and mutual respect. We remain engaged and determined to achieve progress. We have arranged to talk to the two governments over the coming days." ENDS
South Down Assembly Member Caitriona Ruane believes the latest statistics contained in the annual report by the north's chief electoral officer Denis Stanley, provides further evidence of a systematic shredding of the electoral register in the six counties.
Ms Ruane said:
"Between September and February 2004 there was a 2.6 per cent drop of in the electoral register. The impact of the individual registration system and of rolling registration has created a huge democratic deficit that is compounded by ongoing problems with photo ID and the way the electoral courts operate.
For many years the SDLP and unionist parties lobbied for the current electoral legislation on the basis of electoral fraud. Sinn Fein's success in the European and Assembly elections has exposed that as a myth. Unless this legislation is substantially amended more and more people will continued to be disenfranchised with working class communities and people with special needs particularly affected. ENDS
Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin has called on both the Dublin and British Governments to designate the North West Region of Ireland an area of special economic need.
Speaking after it was announced that Fruit of the Loom was to make over 600 workers redundant at its Derry and Donegal plants Mr McLaughlin said:
"The North West area of Ireland has been haemorrhaging jobs at an unacceptable rate over the past twenty years yet both Governments seem impervious to the situation.
"I will be asking both Governments to designate the North West region of Ireland an area of special economic need that would allow for the region to become more competitive in attracting new industries.
"The infrastructure of both Derry and Donegal is antiquated and has been neglected over many years and needs rapid investment to improve it rail, road, air and sea links if we are to compete in the global market.
"This area of special needs would also need to have special status in terms of tax incentives to attract new industries.
"I would also call on Fruit of the Loom to implement a retraining scheme for its employees as part of the working week. This would prepare those people who are facing redundancy to retrain and gain other skills while maintaining their current job." ENDS
Sinn Féin economic spokesperson and Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, commenting on the 11.3% price increase by Phoenix Gas, has stated that while any increase is unwelcome Sinn Féin recognises that Phoenix Gas has tried to keep the price increase as low as possible.
Mr McLaughlin stated:
"While there are unavoidable reasons for this price increase, it is clear that it will impact most on fuel poor households. However, it is unacceptable that government has not yet implemented a fuel poverty strategy.
"Over 200,000 homes - one third of the total - in the north of Ireland are in fuel poverty and 1,300 pensioners die each year from temperature related deaths. Coming on the back of rates increases and water charges it is imperative for government to implement an anti-poverty strategy that really works. It is the responsibility of government to look after the most vulnerable in society.
"Commitments given for the creation of an all-Ireland gas industry must also be followed through as a matter of urgency. An island wide gas industry, operating in a larger market, makes economic sense and will cut costs for customers."
"Sinn Féin is aware that Phoenix Gas has been in extensive discussions with the Regulator and with the General Consumer Council on this issue and has arrived at the lowest price increase possible. This price increase must be seen in the context of increasing fuel costs globally. The reasons for this price increase can be tracked and explained. Sinn Féin welcomes the transparency surrounding this process.
"However this will not give comfort to Phoenix Gas customers who will face an average increase of just under £40 per year. The General Consumer Council has issued some very sound energy efficiency advice to customers which, if followed, could help offset some of the price increases and we would encourage people to follow that advice." ENDS
Sinn Féin West Belfast Assembly Member Fra McCann has obtained figures from Belfast City Council, which show a substantial disparity in funding allocated to community centres in nationalist areas in comparison to those in unionist areas. Cllr McCann is now considering lodging a formal complaint of discrimination with the Equality Commission over the allocation of funding in the Belfast City Council area.
Cllr McCann said:
"For years unionists have propagated the myth that the vast majority of community based funding is allocated to nationalist areas. These figures show this is definitely not the case and vast swathes of working Catholic working class communities are left without any funding. In comparative terms, unionist community centres receive significantly more funding than centres located in nationalist districts.
"If the allocation of funding is not remedied then I will be advising nationalist community workers to consult with the Equality Committee with a view to instigating action against Belfast City Council. Cllr Chris McGimpsey may view this issue as a 'red heron' but the figures don't lie. The Community based centre in the Ardoyne ward for example, receives about £35,000 less funding than the Hammer Community Centre on the Shankill.
"Vast stretches of nationalist areas are without any community provision. There is also a significant prima facie case of discrimination in relation to the amount of funding devoted to community centres in unionist areas as opposed to nationalist areas. It is important that this disparity is rectified and that community funding throughout Belfast is proportionate and equitable." ENDS
Speaking after the sentencing of Ken Barrett in Belfast Crown Court verdict today in of for the murder of Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane Sinn Fein's spokesperson on Policing and Justice, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said:
"For over 30 years the institutional use of collusion has led to the deaths of hundreds of people, and the terrorising of the entire nationalist community. The case of Pat Finucane goes to the heart of this issue and is why successive British Governments have been so determined to block an independent Public Inquiry into his murder.
"The trial of Ken Barrett was used as an excuse to obstruct the recommendation of Judge Cory who recommended the establishment of a Public Inquiry into Pat Finucane's death. This bogus excuse, which was always a red heron, can no longer be used as a reason for denying full disclosure of the truth".
"Ken Barrett was a member of the UDA, an organisation which was controlled by agents like Brian Nelson who themselves were directed by British Intelligence, FRU, MI5 and Special Branch in a campaign of State sponsored murder. The sentencing today of Ken Barrett exposes yet again the murky underbelly of British Collusion with unionist paramilitaries and a full independent public inquiry must now be carried out into the murder of Pat Finucane." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dungannon councillor Francie Molloy MLA will be officially appointed as President of NILGA on Friday, September 17th, at the AGM in the Craigavon Civic Centre.
Speaking ahead of the appointment Mr Molloy said:
"It is an honour to take over as President of NILGA in what will be a very challenging year ahead. There are many pressing issues facing local government in the coming months. The Review of public administration will have major implications for our members and NILGA will ensure that local democracy and local accountability is not undermined. The impact of proposals on rates reform and the introduction of water charging will also prove to be very contentious.
"Ten years ago few would have believed that a Sinn Fein representative would today be set to become the President of NILGA. This is the successful fulfilment of d'Hondt.
"It sends out a very clear message that Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and even the DUP can work within a worker sharing mechanism. IT is important for the future of local democracy that we see this support for power sharing implemented across all local government structures and in the institutions arising out of the Good Friday Agreement.
"Power sharing can work. It has worked. The development of sound democratic accountability in our divided society is dependent on power sharing." ENDS
Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin has wished the Washington Ireland Program, formerly known as the Young Leaders Programme, well for the future.
Mr McLaughlin said:
"This programme has given many young people from across Ireland a great opportunity for the past 10 years. Many people active in politics today, including very active young politicians such as Sue Ramsey, Dara O'Hagan and Chris McManus have benefited from this programme, as have many other emerging talents throughout Irish civic and political life.
"I wish this programme all the best for the future." ENDS