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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Seán Crowe has described the suggestion that the Government plans to do away with free fees for certain families as tantamount to "turning the clock back on education" and called on the Government to seriously address the need to redistribute the abundance of wealth in Irish society.

The Dublin South-West TD said: "If the Government is serious about helping people from disadvantaged areas get into University, surely there are better ways to do it. Sinn Féin has called for the abundance of wealth in Irish society to be redistributed. In our pre-budget submission we called for a super tax rate of 50% for individuals earning over €100,000, along with increases in Capital Gains Tax and Corporation Tax to really redistribute the massive wealth in Irish society. This is the root and branch way we need to go about tackling this problem.

"I understand the intention of the Taoiseach is to only tax families on very large incomes but the proposals are imperfect at best. Simply because a family income might be large does not indicate a potential student can access this support. A young person from a very well off background who is estranged from his or her family is as likely to need financial support as young people from working class backgrounds.

"There is no evidence that the money raised from this decision would lead to investment in Education. A large amount of the money raised from the massive increases in Registration Fees earlier this year disappeared into Charlie McCreevy's pockets where he offset it against massive Corporation tax cuts.

This proposal is not about creating a more equal society or improving access to Third Level education or helping students from low income families, it's about turning the clock back on Irish education" ENDS

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Speaking at a press briefing in Belfast today Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness urged the British and Irish governments to use their engagement tomorrow to set a June date for a new Assembly election. Mr McGuinness said:

"Can I first say that we have scheduled a meeting, at our request, with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahem for this Saturday. This meeting will focus primarily on the issue of British state sanctioned killing of citizens in the north over a long period.

" Tomorrow we will meet with Richard Haas and Brian Cowen and Paul Murphy will also meet tomorrow. These meetings are important and must focus on the current slate of the political process.

" We are currently in a political vacuum and this process is in deep crisis. The root cause of this is the British government suspension of the political institutions and their subsequent cancellation of the Assembly elections.

" What we want to hear tomorrow is the two governments setting a June election date. There is no rational for any other outcome to their discussions." ENDS

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The Good Friday Agreement was 5 years old on April 10. Five years on, the British government has failed to implement key sections of the Good Friday Agreement. They have suspended the institutions on four separate occasions. They have now cancelled an election in Ireland, which derives directly from an Agreement endorsed by the majority of people in Ireland. This has come after months of intensive talks, leading up to the Joint Declaration and unprecedented initiatives from Irish republicans.

From the beginning the peace process has been stalled, blocked and frustrated by unionism's resistance to change and by those elements of the British political and military establishment who cling to the old notion of empire.

Since John Major's refusal to hold the promised inclusive talks in 1994 to the cancelling of elections by Tony Blair, the pattern has been sadly consistent. The rights and entitlements of Irish citizens are subject to British political interests and a unionist veto.

From the earliest days of no talks, talks about talks, talks where the unionists would not speak directly to Sinn Féin, to the events of the last few weeks, unionists have had to be dragged begrudgingly every inch of the way. They have used every tactic, from the disruption of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council to Trimble's multiple threats to walk out of the Executive, so as to slow down or halt the democratic process.

And ever-present behind the scenes are the securocrats, the nameless, faceless men who ran the north of Ireland, politically and militarily, for 30 years, who killed citizens, who controlled death squads, who spied on their own government, who would be the envy of any totalitarian state.

Some of what they were involved in is well known. Our assertions of systematic collusion, dismissed for so long, have been vindicated by the initial summary of the Stevens Report. Not just State tolerated sectarian murder, but state initiated, armed and directed sectarian murder. And that is only the tip of the iceberg. Is it over? The turning on and off of loyalist violence to suit the British military agenda is an indication that they haven't gone away you know. Is their war over? Is the war of the unionist paramilitaries over? They continue to attack nationalist communities and isolated catholic families.

Overall unionist reaction to the revelations of the Stevens Report is a glaring example of double-think. As has been pointed in several newspapers, unionists, either dismissed it, justified it or ignored it. Their attitude to unionist violence is the same.

In spite of all this, Sinn Féin has held firm to the Good Friday Agreement. We have refused to be provoked, as David Trimble obviously hoped by his succession of offensive, puerile remarks. We are not going to walk out or going to be put out. Sinn Féin is there as of right. We were not 'allowed' into government. We were not 'persuaded' into politics. Our aim, for the last twenty years or more has been to replace conflict with a democratic political process. But there must be democracy for a political process to work. And democracy demands equality. And this is at the heart of the present impasse just as it was at the heart of the conflict itself.

For almost four months now Sinn Féin has been involved in a very intensive round of talks with both the British and Irish governments and various political parties in an attempt to resolve the current impasse in the peace process. Throughout all of these negotiations we worked exhaustively to achieve a plan for the full implementation of the Agreement and to counter any attempt to have this implementation thwarted by unionist obstruction. Over the last two weeks we have seen republicans make unprecedented statements to bring this about.

The unprecedented statement by the IRA provided a clear basis to move forward for those who wished to do so. In his statements last Sunday and again on Wednesday, Gerry Adams made absolutely clear the commitment of Irish republicans to this peace process and to ensuring that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented, something acknowledged time and time again by the two governments.

Sinn Féin has now gone to the limit of its responsibility under the Agreement and far beyond in order to break the impasse. Any objective reading of the Good Friday Agreement will show that we have long fulfilled all our obligations as a political party. There is anger among many republicans that, yet again, it is Sinn Féin that makes the extra effort and the difficult choices while the Ulster Unionist leadership continues to say 'No' and is indulged in its obstructionism by the two governments.

It is important that the legitimate concerns of the unionist community are addressed but what has happened this week is that unionism have been allowed to exercise a veto over the election, institutions, the Agreement and the peace process.

The reality is that, despite their assertions to the contrary, neither the Irish or British governments have any difficulty with the clarity of the IRA statement. They are simply trying to ensure that David Trimble and the Unionist Party do not have to bear the political burden of their responsibility for the current impasse. It is totally unacceptable for the Irish government to continue with such a charade. The Irish government must act on behalf of the Irish people and demand the implementation of the Agreement and an end to unionist obstructionism.

The publication of the Joint Declaration is welcome. But it is not an act of completion. It is conditional and qualified. It is a commitment to a process towards completion. It is accompanied by sanctions, dictated by the unionists, aimed at Sinn Féin and outside of the terms of the Agreement.

The volume of the Joint Declaration is a testimony to the tenacity of the Sinn Féin negotiating team in trying to get the Good Friday Agreement implemented. Its size also demonstrates the large gap, which the two governments need to close to achieve implementation - 5 years on.

However now that the two governments have published their plan they must proceed and implement it and all other elements of the Agreement. Policing, human rights, justice and equality should not be conditional and qualified. Commitments mean nothing if they are not implemented. All commitments given should now be implemented in full. That is our focus.

Ironically, the first page of the Joint Declaration states: "The best way of ensuring that peace remains permanent is by demonstrating that politics work." This week the British government has damaged this project by preventing an Irish election. They have no right to do so. They did this against the wishes of the Taoiseach and all the political parties accept the UUP.

People are rightly angry but that anger must be channelled constructively in protecting and advancing the Irish peace process. The Irish government has a particular duty to defend the rights and entitlements of Irish people. These rights are not optional. They cannot be subject to a unionist veto.

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Sinn Féin Chairperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin has called on the British government to publish the full contents of the Stevens Report.

Mr Mc Laughlin speaking in Derry today said:

"We have had a week of British Intelligence agency leaks and spin. It is time for the British government to come clean on the activities of its agents' murky activities here over the past thirty years. Tony Blair needs to get control of his government's Secret Services and end their dirty war in Ireland. He must also put a stop to attacks on the Peace Process by these agencies leaking and spinning unverifiable allegations. A start would be the publication of the full contents of the Stevens report. The limited publication of just 15 pages showed conclusively that British Intelligence agencies were recruiting, training and equipping unionist paramilitaries for a murder campaign against the republican/nationalist population resulting in dozens of deaths, most of which were non-combatants.

"If 15 pages of a 3000 page report revealed such an incriminating indictment of British government culpability in the murder of citizens what is in the rest of the report that would be so damning that it can not be published.

"The full publication of Stevens will give us a proper assessment and help us prevent the activities of these faceless securocrats that are intent on undermining the peace process through selective leaking of unverifiable allegations. "ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on International Affairs Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, speaking following the publication of today's MRBI poll in the Irish Times, said ten years of government mis-information has created confusion on the issue of neutrality. He called for a full debate on the issue and for neutrality to be enshrined in the Constitution.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"It is little wonder that there is confusion in the public mind regarding neutrality. Over the last ten years successive Irish governments have steadily eroded neutrality by stealth. While publicly insisting that they are deeply attached to neutrality, this government, throughout its two terms of office, has been drawing us further and further away from an independent foreign policy into support for military alliances.

1997 Joined NATOs Partnership for Peace without the promised referendum

1998 Signed Amsterdam Treaty

1999 Described the bombing of Kosovo as warranted

2001 Supported the Nice Treaty, which sets up a common foreign policy committee

2002 Allowed US military to use Irish airports on their way to the Gulf

2003 Entered the coalition of the willing without a UN second resolution or support of the Dáil

"It is time for the government to come clean on what its actual position on neutrality is and to clearly set out their foreign policy position.

"Sinn Féin is calling for a full public debate on neutrality. We want to see it enshrined in the Irish Constitution and the Government made accountable to the Dáil in relation to facilitating or participating in any war or other armed conflict." ENDS

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Dublin Ógra Shinn Féin members this morning occupied the offices of the British Tourist Board on Dublin's Dame Street. The party activists were protesting the British government's decision to cancel the Assembly elections scheduled for 29 May and were highlighting Britain's dirty war in Ireland.

The Dublin republicans made their protest on the 29th anniversary of the1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

Ciaran Doherty, one of the Ógra members inside the building, said:

"We are here today to highlight Britain's ongoing denial of democracy in Ireland. For 30 years they have engaged in a dirty war that has resulted in the deaths of many people. Even as these covert and murderous dealings in Ireland are being exposed, the British are subverting democracy by cancelling elections in the North. These elections should go ahead in June."

Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O'Toole took part in a picket outside the Tourist Board. He said:

"There has been much speculation this past week about an alleged agent called 'Stakeknife', but what the most recent revelations of collusion reveal, confirmed by even the limited publication of the Stevens' Report into collusion, is a campaign of murder carried out at the behest of the British state. This is something that the families of the 33 Dublin and Monaghan victims, who are still awaiting full disclosure, can testify.

"Loyalists carried out those bomb attacks, but all the evidence, like in so many other killings over the past 30 years, points to the guiding hand of British Military Intelligence.

"The truth behind Britain's dirty war in Ireland is slowly coming to light. There should be full disclosure of the strategies and activities of Britain's secret agencies in the north over the last 30 years."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan T.D., this afternoon in the Dáil, put forward amendments to the Local Government Bill 2003 to repeal some of the most controversial and undemocratic legislation affecting Local Government in this State.

Deputy Morgan said

"I have put forward these amendments today because I belive we must roll back measures which have in recent years undermined the autonomy of local government in this State. Sinn Féin has consistently highlighted the failures of local government in Ireland. For decades there has been a stripping away of the powers of local government making it increasingly weak and powerless. Theseamendments seek to address the democratic deficit in local government which is currently alienating people from the decision-making bodies."

Deputy Morgan put forward amendments to retain the provision for the direct election of Mayors and Cathaoirligh, to transferred the executive functions of the Manager to the Cathaoirleach or Mayor and to amend Section 4 of the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 whereby the making, review, variation or replacement of a waste management plan would become a reserved function of a local authority. The Sinn Féin T.D. also put forward an amendment to repeal Part 21 of the Local Government Act 2001 Act which he argues "is currently being used by the Minister as a threat to hang over local authorities in order to force them to impose measures such as service charges".ENDS

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Reacting to further unsubstantiated media reports in a number of Sunday papers from un-named British securocrats Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

"It is not surprising that those newspapers who last week carried, without question, reports from faceless and un-named British securocrats are this weekend carrying similar reports from the same sources.

" The Sunday Tribune in particular makes a series of unsubstantiated allegations against an un-named Sinn Féin politician. As such these allegations are unchallengeable in law. As with last weeks avalanche of allegations no evidence is produced to substantiate any of them. It is gutter journalism of the worst kind.

" None of these allegations can be detached from the recent publication of the Stevens report and recommendations that senior British securocrats be prosecuted for their role in murdering citizens in the Six Counties and the political vacuum created by the cancellation by the British government of the Assembly elections.

" It is my belief that the most telling element of the weekend reporting is the attempts by faceless members of FRU to wash their hands of the murder of Irish citizens. Those newspapers collaborating with FRU agents in this endeavour are in effect attempting to keep the lid on the decades of institutionalised collusion and deny the truth to the families of the countless victims of British state killing in the north." ENDS

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Dublin Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe today backed calls from the families of those bereaved and injured in the May 1974 Dublin/Monaghan bombings, for the truth of what happened 29 years ago. He said 'it is deplorable that the British government are continuing to obstruct the Barron inquiry' and called for 'an end to what is one of the biggest cover-ups in the past 30 years of conflict.'

Deputy Crowe said:

"Twenty nine years ago today, 33 people were killed in Dublin and Monaghan as a result of collusion between British Intelligence and unionist paramilitaries. Twenty nine years on the families of those killed are still searching for the truth and it is time that the British government ended its policy of obstruction and secrecy and co-operated with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings.

"The relatives and friends of the victims of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings are entitled to know the truth about who and why their loved ones were killed. It is time to bring an end to what is one of the biggest cover-ups in the past 30 years of conflict. It is time for the truth."ENDS

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Speaking in the course of the Second Stage debate on the Temporary Release of Prisoners Bill 2001 Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said:

"The colossal cost of imprisonment has been in the headlines lately in the form of the controversy over prison officers overtime. In fact, it illustrates the pressing need to begin the process of systematically identifying and examining high cost, low-social yield policies and changing them to more socially and economically effective ones. This Bill does not achieve this by any stretch of the imagination. We desperately need comprehensive penal reform legislation.

"Despite having one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, Ireland has one of the highest recidivism rates of 89%, and our prison population has increased by 50% since the mid-1990s. Our prison system has become swollen to gigantic proportions by the over incarceration of non-violent prisoners serving short sentences for minor offences. This system, which has been condemned for low standards and is one of the most expensive in the world at almost €65,000 per prisoner per year, is not rehabilitating prisoners. We need to ask ourselves - should many of these offenders be there at all?

"When I asked the Minister his opinion about the rate of over incarceration in this state, following on from his public comments recognising the inherent class bias in the present system, he replied that this was not his jurisdiction, but rather the jurisdiction of the courts. Well, it is our collective responsibility as legislators to ensure that the law provides the right direction to the courts regarding the use of imprisonment - and to take action to prevent its overuse and its abuse. Such as was recently in a case I highlighted to the Minister, where a 40 year old unemployed man was imprisoned for his failure to understand that he needed to pay a €12 dog licence. That is not justice. The system failed this man, and he deserves an apology." ENDS

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In the Dáil today, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD, speaking on the Redundancy Payments Bill 2003, accused the PD/Fianna Fáil government of having no affinity with protecting the rights and entitlements of the working class.

Deputy Morgan said

"Despite the wealth generated in the last ten years, life remains a perpetual struggle for the low paid workers of this state. James Larkin once referred to William Martin Murphy as the "most foul and vicious blackguard that ever polluted any country ... a capitalistic vampire". If he had lived today, I expect that Larkin would describe the current Minister for Finance in similar terms, for it is Minister McCreevy who has led the lockout against the workers of this state, preventing them from accessing the profits which their labour generated during the years of the Celtic tiger boom.

"The workers of Peerless Rugs in Athy and the Irish Glass Bottle Factory in Dublin deserve much of the credit for forcing this uncaring Government to reform the outdated Redundancy legislation, the basic terms of which had not changes in 35 years. It is a sad indictment of this Government that it took the protracted disputes at Peerless Rugs and the Irish Glass Bottle Factory and the determination of the workers of those companies to force the Government to bring forward legislation to increase redundancy entitlements.

"I do not believe the Bill has gone far enough with regard to the level of statutory redundancy. Workers who have long waited for this legislation are deeply disappointed that the Government, once again, has given into pressure from employer organisations to restrict the level of redundancy to two weeks per year of service. Sinn Féin supports the demands made by the Trade Unions that the statutory redundancy payments be increased to three weeks pay for every year of service.

"The provisions contained within this Bill should have been made retrospective as there is evidence that employers have been downsizing and bringing forward redundancies to evade the terms of the legislation. Workers should not have to suffer because the Government delayed in bringing forward this legislation.

"The Government must insure that workers are protected at a time of economic downturn and this includes measures in addition to providing adequate statutory redundancy. We need to see a real strategy from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment to deal with job losses which goes beyond simply setting up a new task force each time a factory or business closes." ENDS

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Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP in an address to a republican commemoration event in the Ulster Hall tonight called for full disclosure by the British government of the strategies and activities of it's secret agencies in the north over the last 30 years.

Mr. Adams said:

"The process is in deep trouble. The multiple suspensions of the Assembly by the British government; the rejection by the governments and the unionists of seismic initiatives by republicans; the failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement; and the cancellation of the elections, have all created a political vacuum.

"This is being filled by those who letter-bombed the UUP office; by the continued activities of unionist paramilitaries; and by the securocrats. There is now a period of uncertainty with the upcoming marching season and the threat, which is posed to beleaguered nationalist communities as summer approaches.

" All of this arises from the strategic and scientific application of a programme for change which Sinn Fein has been pursuing, There is a battle between those who want to maximise the change and those who want to minimise it.

" By creating a vacuum the British government has given an advantage to those who want to stop the change. Evidence of this is abundant in the avalanche of briefings by the securocrats of a largely compliant and unquestioning media.

" What agenda is being served by all of this?

" And what do we do about it?

" The agenda being pursued is a wreckers agenda.

" The conflict here requires a political solution - that is self-evident. But for years attempts to bring about a political solution was prevented. Those within the British system, who want to cover- up the practice of illegal and criminal behaviour, including the killing of citizens, are opposing it now.

"The responsibility to stop them rests with the two governments, but especially with the British government. Mr, Blair has to call a halt to the activities of the wreckers in his system.

" And people here who are the victims of collusion between the state and unionist death squads; who are the victims of Brian Nelson and the UDA and Ulster Resistance, and of FRU and the Joint Services Group, which replaced it; and who lost relatives in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and other similar actions; all have a right to the truth,

" There should be full disclosure by this government of the strategies and activities of Britain's secret agencies in the north over the last 30 years." ENDS

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Speaking in the debate on the decentralisation Sinn Fein Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said there had been zero delivery from the Government which was speaking out of both sides of the mouth.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The promise of decentralisation from this Government has become the modern equivalent of the once infamous promise to drain the Shannon. In his contribution to the debate last night Deputy Michael Smith, the Minister for Defence, tried to refute the argument that the Government had failed to deliver on its commitments. He stated: 'This is the first of a five year term and I challenge those on the other side of the House to sustain their arguments at the conclusion of our full term'.

"I could hardly believe my eyes it when I read it. I have pursued this matter closely since I was first elected in 1997 and I know the Government's record very well. You would think from the Minister's comment that this was a government of new Members, wet behind the ears, rather than an administration full of veterans such as Minister Smith. The Government's promise of a massive decentralisation programme goes back not to Agreed Programme for Government of June 2002 but to the last millennium.

"The Minister for Finance first made the commitment in his Budget speech in December 1999. It was quite clear. Minister McCreevy, said the next round of decentralisation would be "more radical than those to date"

"He stated the Government's intention to transfer the maximum possible number of public service jobs from Dublin and to move almost complete Departments of State and other public bodies to provincial centres. 10,000 civil servants were going to be decentralized and the advantages for Dublin and for the regions would be enormous. The promise was made, the commitment was given and the expectation was created.

"Six months passed and I raised the matter again in a Private Members debate in June 2000, pointing out that there had been no progress. In October 2000 in a written question I asked the Minister for Finance about the Cabinet sub-committee on decentralization. He confirmed that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste Mary Harney, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government Noel Dempsey and himself were on the Committee. The Minister for Finance stated, most significantly: 'I am satisfied that the Government will be in a position to take decisions in relation to the new programme by the end of this year'.

"That was 17th October 2000. The Minister repeated his statement during Oral Questions in the House on 26 October 2000. I questioned the Taoiseach in February 2002 and he said no announcements would be made before the General Election but that enough work had been done for a new Minister for Finance to advance the programme.

"This brings us to the aftermath of the General Election. The commitment to decentralisation was repeated in the Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fail and the PDs. I questioned the Minister for Finance again on 12 November 2002 and now, safely embedded at the start of another term in Government, lo and behold, the Minister told us that it was "not possible to state at this time when the Government will be in a position to take a decision on the issue of decentralisation". This was the decision that was supposed to have been made a full two years earlier!

"In that reply the Minister claimed that they had not acted before the General Election lest they be accused of acting for political purposes. That never worried Fianna Fáil before. But of course it was just another excuse for inaction.

"So here we are now three and a half years after the '99 Budget, a year after the Programme for Government and we are no further on. Minister Smith's role last night, in moving the Government amendment, was to dampen down expectations. He said "decentralisation will not, of itself, create jobs in any locality. While I am certain that the establishment of a new Government office in any provincial town has the potential to act as an economic catalyst for that area, it ought not to be as the necessary solution to job losses." But in total contrast, in his response to my Question on 26 October 2000 Minister McCreevy said:

"Some reporters in the Dublin media do not appear to take account of the fact that decentralisation of a section of a major Government Department to certain areas throughout the country would be better for them than the arrival of a major industry.

"This government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth and the reality is we have had zero delivery from them on decentralisation. I support the motion."

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD, speaking at the Report and Final Stages of the Local Government Bill 2003 today, argued for the repeal of legislation which has disempowered local authorities. He called on the Government and opposition parties to support amendments which he had put forward to repeal some of the most controversial and undemocratic legislation affecting Local Government in the State. Deputy Morgan criticised the fact that the debate on the Bill was guillotined before all amendments were discussed. He welcomed the ending of the dual mandate.

Deputy Morgan said

"The debate on this Bill should have been allowed to continue to allow all amendments to be discussed. Conveniently for the Minister the debate ended before the contentious issue of the election of Mayors and Cathaoirligh was discussed. I had put forward amendments that if accepted would have rolled back measures which have in recent years undermined the autonomy of local government in this State and which would have redressed the stripping away of the powers of local government which have made it increasingly weak and powerless. It is shameful that the Government gave so little time to the discussion of amendments which sought to restore the democratic deficit in local government which is currently alienating people from the decision-making bodies.

Deputy Morgan put forward amendments to retain the provision for the direct election of Mayors and Cathaoirligh, to transfer the executive functions of the Manager to the Cathaoirleach or Mayor and to amend Section 4 of the Waste Management (Amendment) Act 2001 whereby the making, review, variation or replacement of a waste management plan would become a decision taken by local authority members and not the city or county manager. The Sinn Féin T.D. also put forward an amendment to repeal Part 21 of the Local Government Act 2001 Act which he argues "is currently being used by the Minister as a threat to hang over local authorities in order to force them to impose measures such as service charges". This amendment received cross-party support. ENDS

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s its' act together then it is highly unlikely that this money earmarked for our rural communities will be lost. In particular there is a deep well of sympathy in Europe to the loss of significant money that the EU has made available to develop tourism and specifically money lost in the NRRT programme.

"In detailed discussions with Dr Corrado on CAP reform it is clear that finance ministers across Europe are looking to take money out of agriculture. It is important that we examine in detail the CAP reform package in its entirety, particularly as there appears to be a push to get this dealt with in the Geneva Summit in June 2003. We need to ensure there are direct payments to farmers and we need to look fully at the global situation." ENDS

Note to Editors

The Sinn Féin Agriculture team of former Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Gerry, Kerry TD Martin Ferris and Armagh Assembly candidate Cllr Pat O'Rawe are in Brussels to meet with senior EU officials.

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Commenting after Freddie Scapatticci gave an interview to the media Sinn Féin representative Gerry Kelly said:

"Last weekend, British Intelligence comprehensively briefed the British and Irish media. Faceless and nameless securocrats in British Intelligence made a raft of serious but unsubstantiated allegations against Freddie Scapatticci. This storm of accusations and allegations against Freddie Scapatticci has been accepted and repeated as fact by a large section of the media without question, without criticism. Mr Scapatticci has denied the allegations in categoric terms. These allegations were made by the same people who:

• killed Pat Finucane;

• ran Brian Nelson and used him and other agents to control and direct loyalist death squads against republicans, nationalists and Catholics;

• continue to control and direct the unionist paramilitaries;

• continue to target and gather intelligence, not just on Sinn Fein, but also on their own government;

• at every turn of the peace process maliciously leak and brief misinformation to create crises and to bolster anti-agreement elements.

"Even before these recent events, there was a clear need for full disclosure of the activities of these faceless and unaccountable agencies. That case is now over-whelming. The files must be opened up. There must be full disclosure." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD, has welcomed the decision of the IFA to engage on a more positive level with the current proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy. Sinn Féin has already indicated that it is in broad support of the proposals with the proviso that certain changes are made regarding income thresholds and the use of modulated funds. The party, which last week was engaged in high level talks with EU Agriculture Commission officials on the reforms, has argued since the publication of the proposals last July that Irish farming representatives needed to be actively engaged in the debate, and to be presenting their own counter-proposals.

Deputy Ferris said:

"It has long been apparent to Sinn Fein that the Common Agricultural Policy as it currently stands is not going to secure the interests of Irish farmers in the years ahead. Reform is needed and we believe that much of what is contained in the current proposals presents a way forward. Decoupling certainly appears to offer a solution to the problem of guaranteeing farmers income while at the same time allowing them to produce without being tied to the current wasteful system of premia and subsidies. We would, however, argue that certain changes ought to be introduced at this stage and we made several such suggestions in discussion with Mr Pirozi-Biroli and Mr Haniotis in Brussels last week. Among these would be to raise the exemption threshold from €5,000 to €20,000 and to introduce an upper limit. We would also like to see guarantees regarding the use of the monies saved through modulation, and in particular that they remain within their country of origin. We will also be arguing for a much broader programme of rural development to enable rural communities to deal with the changes that will follow reform.

"While much of the emphasis from the two Departments of Agriculture in Ireland has been on the need for farmers to become 'competitive', we detected a different tone emanating from Brussels. Officials did refer to the need for agriculture to become more market oriented, but put this in the context of de-coupling and the opportunity for Irish farmers to move towards higher quality higher value production. If farmers are guaranteed a certain level of income security, which we believe can be enhanced by raising the exemption threshold, they will then be free to concentrate on producing quality. Again, that presents an opportunity to capitalise on Ireland's natural advantages and to move away from the historical dependence on bulk export of relatively cheap raw material". ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Human Rights and Equality Bairbre de Brún, on a four day trip to the United States, today met with members of Congress on Capitol Hill to update them on the current difficulties in the peace process, in particular the cancellation of the Assembly elections. She was assured of their support for the holding of June elections

Among those who she met were Congress members Richie Neal, Frank Pallone, Donald Payne, Carolyn McCarthy and Peter King. Speaking following the meeting Ms de Brun said:

"Today I met with members of Congress to update them on the current difficulties in the peace process, in particular the cancelling of the Assembly elections. During our discussions today I was assured of the ongoing support for the peace process and in particular their support for the immediate calling of the elections.

"Earlier this week support for the holding of the elections was voiced on the floor of Congress

"We also discussed ongoing revelations regarding Britain's involvement in the assassination of its citizens over many decades and the need for all of the files on these matters to be opened up and for there to be full disclosure."ENDS

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Sinn Féin group leader in Leinster House, Caoimhghin O Caolain, has this evening welcomed as a "positive step forward" the comments made by the Taoiseach in the Dáil today in relation to northern representation in the Oireachtas. In those comments Bertie Ahern said "the Irish Government is in favour of the rights of MEPs to attend and participate in committee debates on the EU and for Northern Ireland elected representatives to participate in debates on the Good Friday Agreeement and other relevant debates". The Taoiseach went on to say that all that was required was "agreement in the House".

Mr Ahern was responding to a question from Caoimhghin O Caolain in which he asked the Taoiseach if he recognised "that following the unilateral suspension of the Assembly elections by the British Government, people in the Six Counties have no democratic forum to which to send their representatives?" He also asked the Taoiseach "what steps are being taken?to pursue the recommendations of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution regarding access for elected MPs in the Six Counties's constituencies to the Houses of the Oireachtas?"

This evening Deputy O Caolain said:

"The Taoiseach's response today was a positive step forward in relation to gaining rights for elected representatives from the Six Counties to take part in debates in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Since the undemocratic suspension of the Assembly by the British Government it is now more important than ever that

the Irish Government paves the way to allow Irish elected representatives access to an Irish elected forum. I would call on the Taoiseach to follow through on the commitment he made today to pursue this issue with the urgency it requires. Following the report of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution I believe there is all-party support to introduce the necessary mechanisms and changes needed to make this a reality. I believe that all that is really required is the political will of the Taoiseach and in that I welcome the commitment he has given me today that he will 'take ownership of this matter'." ENDS

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Commenting on the ongoing controversy around the activities of FRU and other British Intelligence Agencies, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said: ' We need to see a full independent judicial inquiry into the activities of the Special Branch and British Military Intelligence. Clearly the war is not over for British Intelligence Agencies. Their activities continue unchanged.' Mr. Dohety said:

"The media reports at the weekend about an alleged agent all emanated from faceless elements within British Military Intelligence with all the resources of the British state behind them. They were aimed at a named individual who has no such means to counter these allegations and who has since denied these allegations.

"These allegations, speculation and dis-information come on the back of the Stevens Inquiry and revelations from the UVF and Michael Stone that loyalist death squads were manipulated and directed by FRU and the Special Branch.

"The activities of these faceless securocrats must be subjected to full scrutiny. We need to see a full independent judicial inquiry into the activities of the Special Branch and British Military Intelligence. Clearly the war is not over for British Intelligence Agencies. Their activities continue unchanged."ENDS

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