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Responding to reports today that almost half of all those living in Dublin and a third of all those living outside Dublin will not be able to afford a home in two year's time, Dublin EU election candidate Mary Lou McDonald said "Everybody knows land speculators and developers are ripping off the people of this state, and that this government either doesn't have the guts, or isn't interested in standing up to them."

The reports are based on a study by Trinity College professor PJ Drudy, which points out that while salaries are rising on average 3% a year, the price of new homes are rising by 11-19% annually. There are currently over 48,000 families or almost 140,000 people on the 26-County housing waiting list - which doesn't include Travellors, people with disabilities, or refugees.

Ms McDonald said:

"In his study, Professor Drudy points out that in many other European countries, the right to housing is enshrined in the constitution. Sinn Féin has been campaigning for this to happen for some time now, and submitted a document to the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution dealing with the issue of private property and the right to housing, just last year.

"The study's findings will come as no surprise to anybody who's currently struggling to get on the property ladder. The average price of a house in Dublin is €300,000, and only slightly less around the rest of the country. Everybody knows land speculators and developers are ripping off the people of this state, and that this government either doesn't have the guts, or isn't interested in standing up to them. In fact Noel Ahern tried to defend his government's housing policy today. He should sit down with some of the young people I've met who are despairing because they know they have been priced out of ever owning their own home.

"This state needs a housing strategy and a housing agency to co-ordinate all aspects of housing provision. The right to housing has to be enshrined in the constitution. There has to be investment in affordable and social housing. Capital Gains Tax on speculative owners of multiple dwellings, needs to be increased and a statutory ceiling must be introduced on the price of land zoned for housing, to stop speculation and reduce soaring house prices. These are just some of Sinn Féin's proposal's, which will help to solve the massive housing crisis in this state." ENDS

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The SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell's platform piece in the Irish News of March 26th, under the headline "Only the paramilitary criminal fears police" was dismissive of whole sections of our community. The unfortunate fact is there is a fear and mistrust of this police force, which is deep-seated both in the past and the present. Members of the RUC and PSNI have been involved in a campaign against nationalists and Catholics for generations. More importantly members of that force still run unionist paramilitary agents who have been involved in every conceivable crime including the killing of citizens. Since the setting up of the PSNI this partisan political agenda has continued. For example, in the Abernethy case the forensic scientist involved stated under oath that systematic attempts were made to interfere with evidence.

In the recent investigation into Sean Brown's murder members of the PSNI acted to conceal two critical pieces of evidence from the Ombudsman's office. Also, for more than a decade the RUC has refused to give information in their possession critical to the inquests of 10 Tyrone people including Roseanne Mallon even though the Coroner demanded the evidence be produced. The latest refusal to comply was by the present Chief Constable of the PSNI, who sent documentation that was censored. The Coroner ruled all the information should be made available to him.

This is the tip of the iceberg.

Judge Cory's report has been published. At least some of it has been published. A large part of the section on the Special Branch has been censored by the very people Judge Cory was tasked with investigating or held back from the public gaze by other devices. Despite this, from what has been published of the Cory Report the public now know that what Sinn Fein and others have been saying all along is true.

The Cory Report shows that there is clear and strong evidence that British military intelligence, MI5 and Special Branch were involved in collusion with unionist paramilitaries. Hundreds of nationalists and Catholics died as a result. The report shows that:

  • Special Branch and MI5 officers from the joint security service knew as far back as 1981 of a plot to kill Pat Finucane and did nothing about it. They acted likewise in 1985 in respect of a second plot
  • seven weeks before Pat Finucane was murdered MI5 became aware of the plot to kill him but did nothing to prevent it
  • Special Branch, both in 1981 and five days before his killing in 1989, had information on these plots but did nothing
  • Special Branch, despite being informed by William Stobie about the murder weapon 3 days after Pat Finucane was killed, did nothing to trace it
  • documentary evidence indicates that Special Branch did not take steps to prevent UDA attacks or to warn those who would be victims. This had fatal consequences
  • Special Branch frustrated the RUC investigation into Pat Finucane's death by withholding information about Nelson, FRU and Stobie.
  • a senior government official, in November 1990, asked for information to be supplied to him which could be used with the Attorney General to persuade him that FRU agent and UDA intelligence officer Brian Nelson should not be prosecuted
  • that the British defence secretary wrote to the Attorney General in the terms provided in the information brief on Nelson asking him not to prosecute Nelson
  • the British Attorney General allowed bogus testimony favourable to Brian Nelson to go unchallenged at this trial
  • military intelligence, senior British government officials and the British defence secretary were all implicated in attempting to keep a lid on collusion by seeking to halt the prosecution of FRU agent and UDA Intelligence officer Brian Nelson
  • multiple impediments were placed in the path of inquiries into these matters by FRU and the RUC

Despite, or perhaps because of, these findings the British government has refused to act on Judge Cory's recommendations even though Tony Blair gave a public undertaking to do so.

The excuse is the "sub-judice" rule which the same British government is ignoring in another case presently going through court by pushing the International Monitoring Commission to publicly report on this case in the next week or so!

Alasdair McDonnell's colleagues in the SDLP have spent the days since the Cory Report was published avoiding attacks on the Special Branch involved and attacking republicans! While most nationalists were appalled at the Special Branch activities the SDLP diverted attention onto republicans.

The Cory Report is as much an indictment of the SDLP as it is of British policy. Instead of acting as a catalyst for change within the policing system and on the policing board, the SDLP has become part of the system. It has failed to hold to account those human rights abusers who moved from the RUC directly into the PSNI. It has failed to advocate or demand the expulsion of human rights abusers from the PSNI. It has failed to challenge the structures, individuals and continuing culture of collusion.

Many of those who ran and carried through this strategy of administrative collusion and state-sponsored killing still serve British interests in the Special Branch, in MI5 and within the political and bureaucratic structures which established and protect those involved.

The SDLP made a fundamental mistake three years ago of signing up to these policing arrangements. By its policy the SDLP is failing all of those who supported the demand within the Good Friday Agreement for a new beginning to policing.

When Alasdair McDonnell writes in the Irish News under the headline "Only the paramilitary criminal fears the police" he unintentionally highlights the reality, thus far, that Special Branch, MI5, British military intelligence and senior British government officials -- all of whom were involved in collusion or attempting to cover it up -- have nothing to fear from the police. And isn't that the problem?

I have continually said that those nationalists in places like north Belfast who have suffered from bad policing over the years want proper policing most. However, they are not naive. Sinn Fein is striving to achieve a politically neutral, civic policing service, which will be representative of all sections of the community. The SDLP jumped too soon and accepted too little. We will not.

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Sinn Féin North Belfast councillor Carál Ní Chuilín has accused Loyalist paramilitaries of stoking up tensions ahead of the marching season after the latest in a series of suspect devices planted by Loyalists in North Belfast caused traffic chaos in the Carlisle Circus area.

Cllr Ní Chuilín said:

"The UDA is responsible for the vast majority of Loyalist activity in the North Belfast. Despite fine words indicating that the organisation is on ceasefire the evidence on the ground in North Belfast would indicate that the organisation is still very active.

"We have had a series of devices left throughout North Belfast since the start of the year and we have had ongoing attacks and intimidation.

"This latest round of traffic chaos only serves to stoke up tensions ahead of the marching season.

"Unionist politicians and civic and church leaders need use their influence as a matter of urgency to tackle this problem.

"Loyalists seem intent on creating chaos and a continuing with a widespread campaign of intimidation throughout North Belfast. This is unacceptable." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has said that the wider West Belfast community is in a state of total shock after an elderly man died after being attacked with a bottle by a gang of drinkers outside his Fort Street home.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Firstly I would wish to extend my sympathy to this mans family and friends. His death in this manner id nothing sort of disgraceful.

"It appears that this elderly man went outside his home to challenge a group of hoods who were drinking close to his house. One of the gang then hit the man with a bottle and left him dying in the entry beside his home.

"Those responsible for this attack are beyond contempt. These sorts of groups offer nothing to this community except distress and criminality. Across West Belfast local communities have been organising themselves to confront and counteract the anti-social elements which are engaging in behaviour like this. Sinn Féin will continue to encourage and work with communities intent on challenging individuals involved in this sort of activity and ridding this communities of anti-social elements once and for all." ENDS

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin Assembly member Barry Elduff has again challenged the BBC to state publicly their policy regarding their staff wearing Easter Lilies. Mr McElduff's challenge comes after the BBC refused to comment on demands he made for the wearing of the Easter Lily to be brought into line with the wearing of the poppy.

Mr McElduff said:

"For much of the week since I made my public demand for either equality or neutrality to be the principle guiding the wearing of symbols at the BBC the organisation refused to comment on the issue. They then stated that they had no policy regarding the wearing of the Easter Lily.

"This is in sharp contrast to their policy on the poppy. Presenters are forced to wear the poppy symbol in the lead up to remembrance events in November. Taken alone this position is unacceptable. The BBC is a public body. Either they afford the Easter Lily the same respect as the poppy or they adopt a position of neutrality.

"The current situation of adopting a hierarchy of victims is unacceptable. The Republican war dead have to be afforded the same respect as the British war dead. This is a black and white issue. The BBC can no longer be allowed to sit back and discriminate against the republican community in this fashion. They must state publicly their policy regarding the wearing of the Easter Lily and the rational behind it." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast Alex Maskey is travelling to the Basque Country this weekend to attend a conference on conflict resolution and the need for multi party talks. Speaking prior to his departure Mr. Maskey said: "I welcome the opportunity to travel to the Basque Country this weekendú and to discuss Sinn Féin's experience of conflict resolution and the need for a peace process to be established. Sinn Féin supports efforts within the Basque Country to establish such a process and believes that such moves should be responded to positively and supported by the international community."

Mr. Maskey said:

"Following the Good Friday Agreement Gerry Adams travelled to the Basque Country and the message that he brought was the need for a peace process to be established and that it was essential that it be on the basis of equality, not criminalisation and exclusion.

"All of us share a responsibility to address conflict and injustice and in particular Irish republicans have sought to share our experience of conflict resolution and the lessons, which we have learned with others, just as we learned much from the ANC in South Africa.

"Sinn Féin believes that all sections of Basque nationalism want to seriously engage in a peace process. If dialogue can work in Ireland it can work in the Basque Country.

"I welcome the opportunity to travel to the Basque Country this weekend and to attend this conference ú which will be attended by political parties, churches, trade unions and peace groups. I will outline to the conference Sinn Féin's experience of conflict resolution and the need for a peace process to be established. Sinn Féin supports efforts within the Basque Country to establish such a process and believe that such moves should be responded to positively and supported by the international community." ENDS

Note:

The conference, which is being organised by Batasuna, will be attended by:

PNV (Partido Nationalista Vasco), EA (Eusko Alkartaguna), Udalbiltza - group of elected representatives, Elkarri - group made up of peace groups and the Churches who have sponsored round table discussions of all parties in the Basque Country, LAB and ELA - Basque Trade Unions

The day-long conference will address conflict resolution, multi-party talks and nation building.

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Sinn Féin will be holding more than 100 Easter commemorations throughout the country this Sunday and Monday. Please see below for a list of the main commemorations - dates, locations and speakers.

Sunday 11 April Easter Commemorations

Belfast - Assemble 1.00pm Beechmont Avenue. Main Speaker: Bairbre de Brun MLA

Cork City - Assemble 2.30pm National Monument. Main Speaker: Mitchel Mclaughlin MLA

Crossmaglen, Armagh - Assemble 10.30am Rangers Hall. Main Speaker: Arthur Morgan TD

Derry City - Assemble 2.30pm Bogside Inn. Main Speaker: Gerry Kelly MLA

Donegal - Assemble 3.00pm Johnson's Corner, Drumboe. Main Speaker: Pearse Doherty, North-West EU candidate

Dublin - Assemble 1.30pm Garden of Remembrance. Main Speaker: Gerry Adams MP/MLA

Dundalk - Assemble 12.00pm Memorial statue. Main Speaker: John Dwyer East EU candidate

Fermanagh - Assemble 2.30pm St. Aidan's High School, Derrylin. Main Speaker: Michelle Gildernew MP/MLA

Galway city - Assemble 3.00pm Liam Mellow's Statue,Eyre Square. Main Speaker: Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Kerry - Assemble 3.00pm Denny Street, Tralee. Main Speaker: David Cullinane, South EU candidate

Mayo - Assemble 10.00am Dookinella Church, Achill. Main Speaker: Caitríona Ruane MLA

Monaghan Town - Assemble 2.45 O'Hanlon memorial, Clones Road. Main Speaker: Pat O'Rawe

Sligo - Assemble 3.00pm City Hall. Main Speaker: Anne Brolly, Limavady Mayor

Tipperary - Assemble 3.00pm Banbasa, Nenagh. Main Speaker: Ella O'Dwyer, Ard Comhairle member

Tyrone - Assemble 3.30pm Memorial Garden, Carrickmore. Main Speaker: Martin McGuinness MP

Waterford City - Assemble 2.45pm The Glen. Main Speaker: Martin Ferris TD

Monday 12 April Easter Commemorations

Derry- Assemble 2.30pm The Diamond, Swatragh. Main Speaker: Martina

Anderson, Ard Comhairle member

Downpatrick - Assemble 6.00pm SF Office. Main Speaker: Bairbre de Brun MLA

Dublin - Assemble 2.30pm Baker's Corner, Dun Laoighaire. Main Speaker: Mary

Lou McDonald, Dublin EU candidate

Galway - Assemble 1.00pm Teach Piarsigh, Connemara. Main Speaker: Pearse

Doherty, North West EU candidate

N.Belfast - Assemble 11.30am Marsden Gardens, Newington. Main Speaker:

Francie Brolly MLA

Tyrone- Assemble 2.30pm Diamond Corner, Ardboe. Main Speaker: Geraldine

Duggan MLA

Wexford - Assemble 2.15pm Templeshannon Quay. Main Speaker: John Dwyer, East

EU candidate

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Daithí Doolan, has publicly endorsed the campaign to unionise home helps throughout the state. Speaking following a meeting with SIPTU, Mr. Doolan said, "The Invisible No More Campaign is aimed at unionising the home help industry in this state and we endorse it fully."

Mr. Doolan said:

"Following a very productive meeting with SIPTU officials we have given the campaign our full backing. Sinn Féin will actively support this campaign at both local and government level. It is a disgrace that up to 15,000 workers are still not unionised in this industry.

"The aim of the campaign is to ensure that everybody involved in the home help industry has the opportunity to join a union. In this way home helps can be ensured that their pay and conditions should reflect the skill, effort and commitment of their work. For far too long those involved in this work have been seen as volunteers or in fact in most cases they work was not recognised at all. This campaign aims to change that and with the proper cross party support it will succeed.

"The government, in particular Mary Harney to reverse the savage cuts in home help hours imposed on health boards following budgetary cuts. The home help service provided needs to be recognised, strengthened and supported not attacked by this government."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Economy Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has welcomed the decision of Phoenix Natural Gas to freeze the proposed 20% price increase for 2 months. Ms Gildernew said:

"This decision is welcome. It creates the space to properly explore all of the relevant issues surrounding this decision. Many questions still need to be answered.

"There is obviously a need for Phoenix to agree a long-term deal with the Regulator over gas transmission, distribution and supply which would guarantee price stability in the gas industry for the foreseeable future. There must be a long term commitment to develop a reasonably priced gas industry in the north of Ireland and indeed throughout the island of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East Daithí Doolan has called on people to ignore unfounded media hype and spin and take part in May Day protests and said that 'Similar efforts to discredit peaceful protests are a hallmark of media coverage of such events'. Speaking at a press conference held in the Earl of Kildare Hotel this morning and organised by Another Europe is Possible, Mr Doolan said the protests were not against expansion, but against the 'kind of EU we are building' and that Sinn Féin was 'opposed to a Europe written on terms dictated by big business and corporate lobbyists.'

Mr Doolan said: "There has been a lot of unfounded hysteria in the media about the protests planned for May Day. Similar efforts to discredit peaceful protests are a hallmark of media coverage of such events.

"But the media has given very little coverage to what the protests are actually about. People have suggested it is a protest against expansion, against letting in the new countries. On the contrary, we support expansion, but we, new member states and old, need to have a debate about the kind of EU that we are building.

"Sinn Féin firmly believes another Europe is possible. One where 55 million men, women and children are not living in poverty, where vital public services are not open to privatisation and where the ongoing militarisation of the EU and erosion of Irish neutrality is halted, and reversed. People accuse us of being anti-EU, when in fact we‚re simply opposed to a Europe written on terms dictated by big business and corporate lobbyists. I am calling on people to see through the hype and the spin and turn out to the march and carnival on May Day." ENDS

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In an initial response to the publication today of the DUP proposals on the All-Ireland arrangements, Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP said:

"The idea of long fingering a referendum on Irish Unity for 30 years is totally unacceptable. It runs contrary to the terms of the Agreement and is a non starter.

"All-Ireland arrangements are an immutable political reality. If today‚s announcement from the DUP marks an acceptance of that then they need to engage in direct dialogue with Sinn Féin.

"The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people of Ireland, north and south. The Agreement will not be re-negotiated and is the benchmark for any proposals the DUP make." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Representative for Dublin South East, Daithí Doolan, will tonight address the launch of the Ringsend and District Response to Drugs annual report. Speaking ahead of tonight's launch Mr. Doolan said:

"The launch of this report marks an important development in Dublin's battle against the scourge of drugs. After 20 years of tackling heroin we now have to deal with the arrival of cocaine on our doorsteps. While many of us have been to the fore in tackling both the causes and consequences of heroin in our communities, we now have to redouble our efforts if we are to ensure cocaine does not take a foothold in this city. But we need a concerted commitment from this current government to work with us and not against us as they so often have in the past.

Tonight's launch allows us to give recognition to the work people in this part of the inner city who have continuously battled against heroin addiction and offered hope and help to those families who needed it. We can now proudly say we have one of the most successful community based treatment and rehabilitation services anywhere in Dublin. The Paul Spellman Centre offers a wide range of services to this community and is an example to the whole of Dublin of how we managed to turn a tragedy that is heroin addiction in to a beacon of hope for hundreds of people."

The launch will take place at Clanna Gael GAA Club, Sean Moore Road, Ringsend, Dublin 4. Also in attendance will be Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform Michael McDowell.

Mr. Doolan concluded by calling on, "The government to ensure no community or service is left without adequate support or resources in the battle against drug addiction. It has taken over 20 years to come this far lets not lose the battle due to government inaction."ENDS

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In response to media speculation that the BBC may not be among the number of public bodies designated by the British government under the Equality duty Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality and Human Rights, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane said:

"It is our understanding that the British government's imminent announcement regarding public bodies to be designated under the Section 75 equality duty will not include the BBC. The apparent excuse will be that placing the BBC under equality scrutiny would interfere with the independence of the media.

"This is a completely at odds with the British government's responsibilities to advance the equality dimensions and mechanisms created under the Good Friday Agreement.

"In our view the British government has a responsibility to prioritise equality considerations regarding the BBC over and above any perceived concerns about interference with the independence of the media. The issue here is about ensuring that a public body like the BBC, which is a large-scale employer using public money complies in its policies and practices with all dimensions of equality legislation.

"Sinn Féin argued that the BBC, Translink, the British Secretary of State and other bodies to be designated. Commitments were subsequently given by the British government in the Joint Declaration to seriously consider these. These bodies are only the tip of the iceberg. Others like the Director of Public Prosecutions office, the Ministry of Defence and Housing Associations are also left out of equality scrutiny and compliance.

"If the BBC and other bodies are not designated it is our view that the British government would be acting at variance on a key commitment it made in the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration."

Ends.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will address this year's Dublin Easter Commemoration, which takes place on Sunday, 11 April. The annual parade will assemble at 1.30 pm outside the Garden of Rememberance, Parnell Square, before proceeding to Glasnevin Cemetery. Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald will share the platform with Mr Adams.

Please see below for further details of Dublin Easter commemorations.

Dublin Easter Commemorations 2004

Easter Saturday 10th April - Wreath laying ceremony

11.00am Arbour Hill Cemetery.

Easter Saturday 10th April - Asgard Commemoration

2.30pm East Pier, Howth. Speaker: Mary Lou McDonald.

Easter Saturday 10th April - Ballyfermot Easter Commemoration

1.00pm Dublin South Central Constituency Office, Ballyfermot Road. March to Markievicz Park. Speaker: Aengus Ó Snodaígh.

Easter Saturday 10th April - Crumlin Easter Commemoration

3.30pm Errigal Gardens, Drimnagh / 3.45pm Crumlin Shopping Centre, Crumlin. March to Eamonn Ceannt Memorial Park. Speaker: Aengus Ó Snodaígh.

Easter Sunday 11th April - Dublin Easter Commemoration

1.30pm Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, marching to Glasnevin Cemetery. Speaker: Gerry Adams

Easter Monday 12th April ú Dún Laoghaire Easter Commemoration

2.30pm Bakers Corner. March to Deansgrange Cemetery. Speaker: Mary Lou McDonald.ENDS

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Dúirt an Teachta Aengus Ó Snodaigh go bhfuil sé "dochreidte" nach mbeidh cúiteamh á thabhairt ag an Aire Iompair Séamus Brennan do lucht na bhfeithiclí a bhfuil an comhartha "Tacsaí" orthu nuair a diúltaíodh teastais NCT a thabhairt dóibh de thoradh comhartha as Gaeilge a bheith orthu.

Bhí Aengus Ó Snodaigh á fhreagairt ag an Aire sa Dáil an seachtain seo.

D'fhiafraigh an Teachta Ó Snodaigh den Aire chomh maith cé mhéid gluaisteán ar diúltaíodh teastais dóibh in Ionaid Tástála NCT na tíre mar gheall ar an fhocal "Tacsaí" a bheith thuas orthu in áit "Taxi". Ní raibh aon eolas le fáil mar nach thiomsaíonn an Aire Iompair an t-eolas.

Dúirt an Teachta Ó Snodaigh:

"Tá sé dochreidte, i mo thuairim, nach bhfuil an tAire Brennan toilteanach cúiteamh a thabhairt do na daoine ar theip orthu teastais NCT a fháil sa chéad dul síos mar gheall ar an chomhartha a bheith as Gaeilge. Seo daoine atá ag iarraidh a gcuid obair lae a dhéanamh agus tacaíocht a thabhairt don Ghaeilge agus cad a tharla ag Ionad Tástála an NCT? Theip orthu teastais a fháil agus dúradh leo nach dtig leo an comhartha "Tacsaí" a chur suas. Agus, níos measa fós, bhí orthu dul faoi scrúdú arís, íoc as arís, agus comharthaí úra a fháil dá ngluaisteáin. Tá sé sin náireach. DEIREADH

Taxi or Tacsaí - that is the question for the Minister

Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said it was "unbelievable" that compensation was not being allowed by the Transport Minister Séamus Brennan to the owners of vehicles who had the sign 'Tacsaí' on their cars (instead of Taxi) resulting in their cars failing the NCT test.

Minister Brennan was anwering written questions put to him by Deputy Ó Snodaigh on the issue.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister also how many cars were refused the test pass in the NCT centres in the country because of the word 'Tacsaí' being on the roof instead of 'Taxi'. The Transport Minister's reply was that he did not know because the department does not collect this information.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"It is unbelievable and unacceptable that Minister Brennan is not willing to give compensation to people whose cars failed the NCT in the first instance

because of the sign on the roof being in Irish. These are people who are simply trying to do their day's work and to support the Irish language in this way, and what has happened to them as a result at the NCT centre? They failed to get the NCT certificate and were told that they are not allowed put the word 'Tacsaí' up on the roof of the car. What is even worse is that they then had to go to the trouble of having their NCT test again, had to pay for the test again and had to get new signs for the cars. The Minister acknowledges that the rule on this must be changed immediately but the fact that these people are not to be compensated is absolutely disgraceful." ENDS

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West Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Michael Ferguson has hit out at remarks made by the Chair of the West Belfast DPP, the South Belfast Women's Coalition member Anne Monaghan, who has recommended keeping Andersonstown military base open.

Mr Ferguson said:

"It says much about the state of the current policing arrangements when the Chair of the DDP sub group covering West Belfast is a South Belfast based Women's Coalition representative. Anne Monaghan represents precisely nobody in West Belfast, yet she has taken it upon herself to demand that the military base in Andersonstown remains open.

"Anne Monaghan's political party did not even contest the West Belfast constituency at the last election such was the pathetic results achieved in this area by them in the past. She has herself sought election to various bodies in the past and failed to get community support, yet she now feels confident enough to demand that the people of West Belfast continue live under military occupation.

"If Anne Monaghan is so confident of her ground on this issue why does she not stand for election in this area. Why does she not take her message of militarisation and repressive policing to the people and seek a mandate to speak on their behalf. Otherwise Anne Monaghan would be better off keeping quiet than pretending that the people of West Belfast endorse her or the brand of failed policing she is attempting to force upon this community." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Higher and Further Education Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has said that any plans to introduce top-up fees here will create a university marketplace and discourage people from disadvantaged backgrounds from taking up university opportunities.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Sinn Fein are opposed to introduction of top-up fees. We believe that education is a basic right. Tuition fees should be abolished and the student loan should be replaced with a proper maintenance grant.

"Plans to introduce top-fees are yet another stealth tax. Sinn Féin believe that education should be paid for through a progressive general taxation system.

"The way that the British government have approached the problem of increasing resources for universities and increasing access is deeply f lawed. It will lead to the introduction of the marketplace into our universities and a two-tier third level education system. It will also act as a further barrier to expanding access to universities particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"This fiasco highlights a deep flaw at the heart of British government education policy and the failure of the previous Employment and Learning Minister to deal with it's impact here. We need to look at how be develop our workforce here so that it is able to drive forward a modern economy. This means that we need to widen access and it means that we need to support people financially across all the third level education options." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald will meet with EU Ministers of State in Wicklow this morning as part of a delegation from the National Forum on Europe Steering Committee. The event, entitled 'Bringing the EU closer to the citizen' will take place at the Marriott Hotel, Druids Glen in Co. Wicklow at 10.00am.

Speaking prior to today's meeting, Ms McDonald said:

"This event has been organised to promote a greater engagement of citizens in EU affairs. Thus far, the Irish Presidency has failed to engage with Irish citizens on crucial EU matters, which affect them. The citizens of this state need to be aware that this government is negotiating and taking decisions on their behalf, on serious matters like the draft EU Constitution and sovereignty. Irish citizens are being kept in the dark.

"On a broader level there has been an ongoing failure to deal with the democratic deficit within the European Union - how decisions are reached, the ongoing diminishing of sovereignty - including the decision of the Government to re-run the Nice Treaty when they didn't get the result they wanted the first time. And in the Six Counties, people are not consulted at all on any decisions that affect them in relation to the European Union.

"I look forward to the National Forum Meeting today, to put forward the Sinn Féin view on EU engagement with local communities." ENDS

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Speaking on the last day for people to register for the forthcoming EU election Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has called on the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley to 'give public and categoric assurances that all of the forms entered before the deadline will be processed and those applying will receive their vote'.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"Today marks the final date for those wishing to vote in the June elections to register. The debacle which the registration process has become since the introduction of the new legislation has been well documented. Up to 211,000 people have been disenfranchised.

"In the short term I am calling on the Chief Electoral Officer Denis Stanley to give a very clear public assurance that those individuals who have submitted their forms before today will have the application processed in time for the June election.

"I say this because in the Assembly election in November, many people entitled to vote who had submitted registration and ID forms did not receive their vote due to a bureaucratic bottleneck within the electoral office.

"In the period after June the whole issue of the legislation needs to be looked at again. Annual registration and other demands have proven to be a disaster for the electorate and for overall confidence in the political and democratic process.

"Sinn Féin will be continuing our campaign in conjunction with wider civic society to see the legislation amended and public confidence in the electoral process restored." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dáil leader, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin accused Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Greens of joining the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell. However, he said, "Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy."

Deputy Ó Caoláin went on to say that "Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups, the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country.

"This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin, " he said.

Full text of speech by Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin to Fine Gael Private Members Motion

I move the amendment in the name of the Sinn Féin Deputies.

I welcome the fact that Fine Gael has at last used its Private Members time to address an aspect of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement. This is a very rare occurrence and Fine Gael has been joined on this occasion by the Labour and Green Party deputies. It is a pity then, that the motion to which they have put their names is so fundamentally flawed. The motion is ostensibly based on the Good Friday Agreement. Its real political context, however, is the anti-Sinn Féin crusade of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and President of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Michael McDowell. Minister McDowell has decided that such a crusade is a good electoral ploy for his party, especially in its battle for Fine Gael votes, just as he did when he launched his own personal election campaign in 2002. But the Minister and his colleagues in Government have no regard for the impact of his utterances on the wider peace process, as distinct from the electoral contest in this State.

Many of the Fianna Fáil Front Bench are happy to see the Minister unleashed, happy to benefit from any damage they think he may inflict on Sinn Féin electorally. I hope the weather keeps fine for them. No doubt Minister McDowell has sneaking regarders also in the Fianna Fáil back benches, but I believe that many in that party, and many more among their current supporters, are very concerned at the leading role Minister McDowell has now been given in driving Government policy on the peace process and the Six Counties. The Minister's increasingly hysterical statements have been manna from heaven to those unionists who do not wish to share power with nationalists and to those in the British state system who are determined to deny Sinn Féin's democratic mandate. Ian Paisley himself, in an RTE Prime Time interview on 10 February defended the DUP's refusal to deal with Sinn Féin by citing Minister McDowell's accusations. "What better witness could I call?" asked Mr. Paisley. Is that the kind of endorsement the Deputies who support this Cabinet want to receive for their policy on the peace process?

Sinn Féin will not be distracted by any of this. We are committed to the Good Friday Agreement and to its full implementation. We recognise what has been achieved so far and what has yet to be achieved. We take our responsibility very seriously and we stand on our record of achievement. We have delivered and we continue to deliver. So we will not take party political point-scoring dressed up as solemn homilies on our commitment to democracy. We are democrats and we are committed to totally peaceful and democratic means of achieving our political objectives. Both governments and all political parties who have been party to the Good Friday Agreement are supposed to be involved in a process of conflict resolution. A key part of that is to recognise that all armed groups ? the IRA, the British state forces and their auxiliaries the unionist paramilitaries have been involved in the conflict. The British state has yet to acknowledge even a share of responsibility for the conflict, including the deaths of hundreds of people at its hands since 1969. It has yet to dismantle its military apparatus in our country. This alone exposes as absurd the notion that the IRA can be wished away or made to disappear with a magic wand waved by Sinn Féin.

Equally absurd was the statement from Deputy Kenny that the IRA won't go away without what he called the full rigours of the law. For Deputy Kenny's information that was tried for decades North and South of the Border. A so-called law and order solution failed and failed miserably. The lesson was learned and that is why we have a peace process.

Deputy Kenny and others praised the DUP. Fair enough. Sinn Féin has also recognised movement on the part of the DUP where appropriate and we will continue to encourage them. But what Deputy Kenny and others prefer to forget is that the DUP is an anti-Agreement party. They are in no position to accuse Sinn Féin of being in breach of the Agreement since they themselves reject and denounce that Agreement.

To ignore that reality, to feed DUP intransigence, to play to the agenda of the British securocrats who are trying to defeat republicans in peace as they failed

to do in war is to subvert the entire peace process. It is to act as recruiting sergeants for so-called dissidents who will try to say that peaceful methods

have failed. I urge Deputies to think very carefully about that and to measure their approach accordingly.

Sinn Féin does not seek a slap on the back for our role in bringing about a new direction for republicanism, including the IRA cessations since 1994. That was not our role alone. What we do seek is a continued commitment from the Irish Government and from all sides in this House to the process of change which made that new direction possible.

Deputy Rabitte said he wanted to see a post-IRA Ireland. So do I. I want to see a post-IRA Ireland, a post-British Army Ireland, a post-collusion Ireland and a post-British colonial Ireland. He referred to the dark secrets of the past. I will avoid the temptation to delve into the dark past of the so-called Official Republican Movement of which Deputy Rabbitte was once a member. I will just say that I am glad that no obstacles or preconditions were placed in his path to the Cabinet table and that his democratic mandate has been recognised at all times.

I don't think it is too much to ask Deputies on all sides of the House to acknowledge that the use of force, necessitated by the intransigence of successive British governments, played a crucial role in the achievement of independence for 26 of the 32 Counties and that recognition of the right to use force to achieve independence has been a central tenet of Irish nationalism for generations, including among the founders of most political parties in the Dáil. In that context the transformation achieved in Irish republicanism over the past decade is truly historic.

As the Sinn Féin amendment states, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was provided for in legislation by both Governments to deal with the issue of arms. The IRA has put substantial quantities of arms and ammunition beyond use on three occasions. Anyone who knows anything about Irish politics recognises that such a development would have been inconceivable up to the very recent past. The Taoiseach himself has acknowledged in this House that the latest such action on the part of the IRA, carried out as part of the agreed sequence of statements and actions of 21st October last, was sufficient for the Irish Government.

There were real and protracted negotiations between the UUP and Sinn Féin which were to culminate on 21st October. This was the second such attempt to break the deadlock in 2003. The first had been scuppered by the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Despite this massive setback and the outrageous decision of the British government to cancel Assembly elections last May, Sinn Féin again entered negotiations with the UUP. At Hillsborough Castle on October 19th Sinn Féin and the UUP reached agreement on a sequence of events.

When the two governments were informed that agreement had been reached they also signed on for it.

This agreed sequence was the product of many weeks of intense discussions involving Sinn Féin, the UUP and the British and Irish governments and would allow for the restoration of the political institutions and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and allow elections to be held in a positive context. It involved many hours of direct engagement between Sinn Féin and the leadership of the UUP.

All elements of the sequence were agreed in advance, including the public statements containing the commitments, which we would all make as part of this agreement. The sequence involved:

· An announcement by the British Government confirming the date for an Assembly election.

· A statement by Gerry Adams

· A statement by the IRA

· A further act of putting arms beyond use by the IRA, verified by the IICD.

· A report by the IICD

· A statement by David Trimble

· A joint statement by the two governments.

Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinnes have in their possession copies of the statement that David Trimble was to make. They have copies of the Joint Statement that the two governments were to issue.

Sinn Féin delivered our part of this sequence. The IRA delivered their part of the sequence as agreed. The IICD presided over a substantial act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. The UUP however, at the point of delivery on their side, effectively walked away.

The two governments failed to publish their joint statement and, thus far, they have failed to follow through on a range of commitments which formed part of this agreement.

The Irish Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot be party to such an agreement, acknowledge that republicans played their part and then demand more after unionists walk away. When the electioneering is over the Irish Government will have to come back to the correct position and deal with the realities of the situation.

Sinn Féin wants to see force and violence in all its forms removed forever from the political equation in Ireland. To respond positively to Deputy Jim O'Keeence of one point or another or the phrasing of this or that element, let us at least pledge to each other and to all who have placed their trust in this process our commitment to continue to engage, to search and ultimately to succeed in delivering on the hope and promise of the Good Friday Agreement and the potential that flows from it. For my part, as Dáil leader of Sinn Féin, I do so pledge on my own behalf, on behalf of my colleague Dáil deputies and on behalf of Sinn Féin.

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