Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "scandalous" the situation that has been allowed to develop at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital. He deplored the statement of the Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin's spokesperson that the situation was "an operational matter" for the hospital's authorities and the Department "could not interfere". Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"The Government's so-called Health Reform programme was launched with great fanfare last month but it does not make one whit of difference to people who continue to suffer on trolleys in overcrowded A&E units. Crises such as those at Beaumont at the weekend will recur because of the underfunding and inequitable delivery of our health services.
"The Government should drop its plans to close more A&E units in hospitals throughout the State. This is a recipe for further crises such as those at Beaumont, with patients forced to travel to centres which cannot cope. Are we to have a combination of the threatened A&E closures in local hospitals and bed closures in the bigger centres like Beaumont and the Mater which led directly to the appalling situation at the weekend? That is the way this Government is heading. It must be stopped." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on energy Dr. Dara O'Hagan has welcomed the weekend announcement from NIE, Premier Power and the ESB on energy provision. She said that it is another small step in the right direction but now is the time to set up an all-Ireland energy agency.
Dr. O'Hagan said:
"In recent years we have seen the increased capacity of interconnection between NIE and ESB. This announcement is another small step in the right direction towards the establishment of an all-Ireland energy market.
"There is a pressing need for an all-Ireland energy supply that is affordable, environmentally sustainable and nuclear free. We believe that the best way for this to occur is through the establishment of an all-Ireland energy agency in public hands which should come forward with plans to:
· develop all-Ireland electricity generation plans along with gas distribution proposal
· set up a single transmission operator across the all-Ireland market
· increase energy efficiency
· reduce greenhouse gas emissions
· research into the development of forms of renewable energy
· gas network extensions
· ensure that major infra-structural developments reflect all-Ireland strategy
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, responding to speculation that the British government are examining the possible establishment of the Civic Forum to allow for consultation in the absence of political institutions said that there can be no substitute for the holding of Assembly elections.
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"Sinn Féin supports the establishment of the all-Ireland Civic Forum and the all-Ireland Inter-Parliamentary Forum which were agreed under the Good Friday Agreement. But there can be no substitute for the holding of the Assembly elections and the re-establishment of the political institutions. That is what the British government should be focusing their attentions on.‰ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this afternoon backed calls for the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, to make Debt Cancellation one of his priorities when he takes over the EU Presidency in January 2004. Mr. Adams said 'each of us has a real role to play in the coming months to turn the Irish government's support for the 100% debt cancellation into an active priority.'
Mr. Adams said:
"I am calling on the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to use Ireland's Presidency of the European Union to call on world leaders to work together to achieve the cancellation of foreign debt. Twelve months on, the Irish government needs to take a more pro-active role on this issue, and honour their commitment to 100% debt cancellation, both in the European Union and in the United Nations.
"The debt burden faced by developing countries is overwhelming. The UN has estimated that if the funds to pay off debt were diverted back into health and education the lives of seven million children a year could be saved. That is two million more than the entire population of this island.
"We share a collective responsibility to end this nightmare and I am calling on people to make their voices heard on the issue of world debt in the months ahead. I believe that political leaders who take risks and give leadership will win the backing and gratitude of people throughout the world. "ENDS
Newry & Mourne District Council Deputy Mayor, Elena Martin said there is mounting anger within the community at the size and scale of a huge new pylon recently erected in Forkhill British Army Barracks.
The Deputy Mayor said;
"Following intensive activity at Forkhill British army barracks local people have complained that a huge new pylon equipped with sophisticated surveillance cameras has been erected during the past week. Local people also complain about the increase in roadside checkpoints in the area.
"There has been considerable opposition in this area to the erection of mobile phone masts sited in close proximity to occupied dwellings and people living in the shadow of these barracks have questioned why the same restrictions and rules do not appear to apply to these British army installations. There is mounting anger within the community at the size and scale of this new pylon in Forkhill Barracks. Newry & Mourne District Council have adapted a policy of opposition to the siting of mobile masts within a radius of 700 metres to occupied dwellings yet these monstrosities appear overnight without any consultation in defiance of the wishes of local people.
"People are naturally losing faith and patience with empty British army promises to implement a rolling programme of demilitarisation in south Armagh. We are shown some bases being dismantled but refurbishing and refortifying other existing bases continues unabated. Demilitarisation must involve the complete removal of all British army personnel and equipment." ENDS
Dublin South Central TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has today described the comments of Fine Gaels Olivia Mitchell, in which she called for the costs of today's no fares actions by CIE unions to be taken from the pay packets of the workers as "reactionary half-baked lunacy" from an "inept opposition party".
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh said: "Just when people thought Fine Gael's ideological confusion couldn't get any worse we are treated to a bitter attack on public
sector works by Olivia Mitchell. Her call to take the cost of today's no-fares protest out of the pay packet of workers, pay packets a lot smaller than the one Ms Mitchell receives for attacking them, is the kind of reactionary half-baked lunacy Trade Unions had to face in the 19th century
"The responsibility for the no fares action today rests squarely on the shoulders of Minister Seamus Brennan and the right-wing ideologues in the Progressive Democrat government who are set on breaking up CIE with a half-baked plan to emulate the disastrous private owned London transport model. If the Olivia Mitchell and the Minister want to have the cost of today's protest taken out of their bloated pay packets I have no objection.
"Fine Gael is anti-Union and anti-worker. We already have a Government with those policies, we don't need an inept opposition party to function as Minister Brennan's cheerleaders on the other side of the House.
"The actions of the Trade Unions today are to be applauded. They registered their opposition to the proposals being brought forward by the Government and did so with no disruption to passengers and consumers. Seamus Brennan should show similar common sense by reopening negotiations on his privatisation plans for public transport." ENDS
Sinn Féin Vice President and MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty this morning announced that the party representatives for the North West - Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Sligo and Leitrim - will be meeting in the Millennium Theatre in Derry on Monday 21st July to bring forward Sinn Féin's plans for the region.
Sinn Féin will hold a press conference at 12 noon on Monday 21st in the Millennium Theatre which will be attended by Pat Doherty MP, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Mayor of Sligo Sean MacManus and Limavady Mayor Anne Brolly.
Speaking beforehand Mr. Doherty said:
"For the last number of years Sinn Féin has been to the fore in arguing for the regeneration of the North West and for agencies and elected representatives in these six counties to work together to make this happen.
"On Monday Sinn Féin representatives in the North West will be meeting as a group to continue with this work and to set out our programme for the time ahead. This is an important initiative for the party and among the issues to be discussed will be the economic regeneration of the North West, the need for the re-establishment of the political institutions in the Six Counties and the ongoing work of reaching out to unionism."ENDS
Commenting on the decision of the WEF to cancel its planned meeting in Dublin Sinn Féin EU candidate Marylou McDonald said:
"The cancellation of the World Economic Forum summit, scheduled to be held in Dublin this October, is to be welcomed. And indeed a secret sigh of relief must be echoing through the corridors of Government buildings this afternoon after it was announced that the Summit was unexpectedly cancelled. Despite Mary Harney's expression of regret at the WEF decision its clear that the summit would have provided the perfect focus for the increasing numbers of Irish people voicing their opposition to the global economic policies espoused by Mary Harney's Government and the summit organisers.
"If the last two weeks are anything to be judged by then thousands more workers will have been made redundant and the unprecedented anger across a broad cross-section of progressive forces in Ireland would hav
Commenting on the escalating job losses, Sinn Féin Dail leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said they showed the failure of the Government's PD-led economic strategy and the need for new thinking on the economy. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"The response of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Harney to the daily toll of job losses is a mantra that each factory closure or workforce cut is 'devastating'. This has now become meaningless. Workers and their families do not have to be told how grievous a blow it is to lose employment. What they want to hear from the Tánaiste and her Government colleagues is how lost jobs will be replaced and how sustainable employment will be put in place for the future.
"The Tánaiste boasts that the Irish economy is the most globalised in the world. But it is the over-reliance on the globalised market and on inward investment by multinational companies that is leading to the dramatic drop in jobs that we are
now seeing. The escalating losses show the failure of the PD-led economic strategy of this government. They have failed to put in place the type of mixed economy we need to maintain employment with the State, small enterprises, the community sector and inward investors playing their part.
"The Tánaiste herself has failed to deliver on her commitment to reduce insurance costs. She and her colleagues have also failed to put in place the essential infrastructure needed to sustain industry and to decentralise economic development from the east and south. These failures are major contributory factors to the job losses.
"New thinking is needed on the direction our economy should take and Sinn Féin will be taking up that challenge while resisting the plans of the Government to impose further cuts and to privatise State enterprises." ENDS
Speaking after a meeting of senior party activists from across the island in Dublin this morning, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that 'there was now a real need for the British Government to come forward with a definitive date, without qualifications or conditions, for the Assembly elections to proceed'.
Mr McLaughlin said:
" There is a deep sense of frustration among people following the cancellation of elections by the British government and the on-going pandering to negative unionism.
" Despite this there has been a lot of work done and is continuing to be done to ensure that the summer months remain relatively calm, particularly for people in interface areas who have had to endure totally unacceptable conditions over recent years.
" At a political level, the institutions will have been suspended for a year in October and there is now a real need for the British Government to come forward with a definitive date, without qualifications or conditions, for the Assembly elections to proceed." ENDS
Commenting on the release of figures showing a massive increase in the use of plastic bullets by the British Army last year Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said:
"When the office of the Police Ombudsman was established Sinn Féin stated our view that the PSNI would in future direct the British Army to fire more plastic bullets as a practice to dodge accountability mechanisms. These figures are a vindication of this.
"Sinn Féin‚s position on plastic bullets is well known - we are absolutely opposed to their use and have campaigned for many years on this issue. We have made the issue of the continued use of plastic bullets a crucial part of our discussions with the British government." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson Bairbre de Brún has written to both the British and Irish governments seeking urgent meetings in light of the resignation of Patrick Yu from the Human Rights Commission and the Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights Report.
Ms de Brún said:
"Patrick Yu is the fourth person to resign from the Human Rights Commission. Both Inez McCormack and Prof. Christine Bell who have previously resigned also cited serious disaffection within the Commission and the actions of some Commissioners in undermining the equality provisions of the Agreement as the reasoning behind their resignations. Inez McCormack and Prof. Bell expand further upon this in today's press.
"Earlier this week the Westminster Joint Committee Report expressed concern at the lack of independence, representativeness, resources and powers of the Commission. Sinn Féin shares those concerns.
"Of particular concern was the interference by former PSNI Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan in the work and independence of the Commission regarding the Holy Cross issue last year. It is unacceptable for Ronnie Flanagan to attempt to get the Commission to disengage from upholding the human rights of the Holy Cross children. The Chief Commissioner's response to this interference is equally unacceptable.
"With regard to the Bill of Rights, we welcome the recommendation of the Joint Committee that a round table forum should be convened to drive forward the Bill of Rights process. This should happen immediately. We are also concerned at actions by the Commission which could impact on existing legal equality provisions. I have written to the Chief Commissioner in relation to this.
"These are serious matters of concern to Sinn Féin and the wider human rights community. We are seeking to meet with both the British and Irish government at the earliest opportunity to discuss the current situation regarding the Human Rights Commission. The Commission is a cornerstone of the Agreement and we will continue to support a Human Rights Commission which is in a position to drive forward the human rights based society demanded by the Agreement."ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development Martin Ferris TD has highlighted the growing frustration of people in rural Ireland over the planning process. Deputy Ferris was speaking at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food which heard a presentation from An Taisce on once-off rural housing.
Deputy Ferris said:
"While I understand and support the need to protect the environment, I also feel that I must give voice to the many people in rural communities who are becoming increasingly frustrated with the planning process. That frustration has reached the stage where many are now prepared to bypass the planning process altogether and build houses without permission. At the moment in my own county of Kerry there are a number of cases where the Council is taking action against people in that situation.
"There has to be enough flexibility to allow people to build houses in their own communities or those communities will continue to decline as they have done up to the present time. If you look around the country there are numerous derelict sites which could be built on and yet when people try to do so, there are invariably objections. Where the objections are valid that is all well and good but we also have the situation where there are what I might term 'serial objectors' who object to any and every attempt to build in rural areas. Unfortunately An Taisce has become closely associated in the public mind with this trend.
"While every effort must be taken to ensure that the rural environment is preserved there must also be scope for people to build and to live in the communities in which they were born. The alternative to that is the increased forced urbanisation with all the social problems which that gives rise to". ENDS
Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member Bairbre de Brún has welcomed reports that West Belfast Irish Language activist Séan O Muieagáin has been released.
Ms de Brún said:
"I obviously welcome reports that Seán O Muireagáin has been released by the Israeli authorities. He should never have been arrested and detained in the first place.
"However serious questions remain to be answered surrounding the role of British Intelligence agencies in the initial arrest and the behaviour of elements of the media in the subsequent coverage of this incident." ENDS
Sinn Féin made an oral submission dealing with the issue of private property and the right to housing to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution today. In the submission Sinn Féin argued that, "social justice must be given pre-eminence to the rights of private property".
Sinn Féin outlines its belief that "The protection given to private property in the 1937 Constitution and the contradictions in the relevant articles have acted as a barrier to introducing a right to housing and to controlling the price of land".
Presenting the submission were Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD and Sinn Féin Councilor John Dwyer.
Councillor Dwyer said: "Sinn Féin believes that the right to housing is a fundamental right and must be enshrined in the constitution. We agree with the right to private property but believe that it is necessary, for the common good, to place limitations on the rights of private property. The constitutional balance must be in favour of the common good over and above the rights of private property."
The submission covers a range of issues concerning private property and the right to housing including Compulsory Purchase Orders, Rezoning and Planning, House prices, the Price of Development land, Section V of the Planning Act and Accessing the countryside.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called on the Joint Committee to rule on a number of key issues "if we are to secure social justice in terms of housing and private property". Deputy Ó Snodaigh said that there "needs to be clarity" in terms of what needs to be addressed in the constitution and what can be addressed by legislation. "At the moment there is no clarity and therefore issues that are raised in the Dáil in relation to property rights are constantly referred to the constitution and when they are raised in the Constitution Committee we are told that the issue might not fall within its remit. This needs to be rectified." he said.
Among the main proposal presented in the submission were Sinn Féin's belief that:
· there are instances where compensation is not merited in relation to Compulsory Purchase Orders
· direct Government intervention is needed to control the price of building land
· a statutory ceiling on the price of land zoned for housing be introduced
· housing should be integrated
· consideration should be given to affording local authorities pre-emptive rights to acquire land zoned for residential use
· the right to housing be enshrined in the Constitution
· ground rents should be abolished
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has welcomed the news that John Spellar is to meet with the family of Peter McBride.
Mr Adams said:
" The McBride family had been keen to meet with Mr Spellar given his role in the Army Board which retained the killers of Peter McBride in the British Army after their murder convictions. Initially Mr Spellar had refused to meet with the McBride family.
" This was an issue which was of concern to nationalists in general and Sinn Féin in particular given that his responsibilities covered Human Rights. We raised this with Mr Spellar and his office on a number of occasions. I welcome the fact that he has now agreed to meet with the McBride family at the earliest opportunity.
" Sinn Féin will be meeting with John Spellar in the near future. At that meeting we will raise a range of issues including the issue of the McBride killers and concerns about recent resignations from the Human Rights Commission." ENDS
The Democratic Challenge
There is no doubt that this new EU draft constitution finally presented last week by convention president Giscard d‚Estaing represents a serious challenge for Irish society. It is a test for the Irish government in that it is they who will have to negotiate through the Inter-Governmental-Conference (IGC) not just on behalf of the 26-Country citizens but ideally on behalf of all the citizens on the island.
In Sinn Féin we are concerned that any new treaty resulting from the IGC discussions will not be put before all the people of the island in a referendum. To have an inclusive informed debate Sinn Féin believes we need not just transparency in terms of what are the government positions entering and during the IGC, but also what sort of engagement do they plan with the Irish people on the issues.
Though the consolidation and simplification of the Treaty is welcome there is a still a job to do in popularising and debating the issues at stake in the draft EU constitution. The question is whether the Dublin Government are up to this democratic challenge of facilitating a really inclusive debate to all parts of Irish society on what sort of Europe we should be part of?
The Sinn Fein view
Whatever form the draft EU constitution finally takes it will play a huge role in the shaping of Ireland over the coming decades. It is because of the seriousness of such an undertaking that Sinn Féin are offering now our first thoughts on the draft EU constitution.
As a party representing voters throughout Ireland and concerned about inequality and exploitation not just here but internationally we have grave concerns about the implications of ratifying a new constitution. Our reading of the constitution leads us to believe that the ongoing process of a developing economic and military superpower emergnstitution rightly commits itself to the eradication of poverty outside its borders but contains no such objective for the citizens inside the internal EU borders. Could the new constitution not commit the EU governments to tackling poverty within its own borders?
In terms of partition, the treaty allows for special provisions for state aid and spending for the costs of re-unifying Germany but not for Ireland where the arguments for funding all-island infrastructure in energy, transport, telecommunications, health and education are compelling.
Sinn Féin wants to be in the forefront of the debate on what type of Europe is best for us all. This discussion document is the first of what will be many interventions over the coming negotiations process.
Sinn Féin believes that democracy is built upon the sovereignty of the people expressed in the form of the democratic nation-state. Democracy is nt of the European Union into a state therefore we do not accept the argument that the EU must have a Constitution.
The Draft Constitution has been portrayed as a necessary consolidation and simplification of existing Treaties. But it is much more than that. The Draft Constitution:
• makes fundamental changes in the structures of the EU
• Gives those structures more powers.
• Gives the EU a single legal personality for the first time
The effect is:
• To shift the balance of power yet further from sovereign national parliaments and towards the EU.
• To take the single biggest step so far in the creation of an EU superstate.
The Draft Constitution has been presented to the Council of Ministers and it will likely be concluded (however tortuously) by member state Governments and the resulting treaty will be put to referendum in the 26 Counties. This means that the people aignty or national self-government.
It says it shall respect "essential State functions" including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, law and order and internal security.
This Article should be amended to include respect for national sovereignty and self-government. The Constitution should recognise that "the social and economic well-being of their people" are among "essential State functions". This would emphasise the right of states to control their own economies, a right currently undermined by the EU.
Primacy of EU law
Article I-10 states that the Constitution and law adopted by the EU institutions "shall have primacy over the law of the Member States" in exercising competences conferred on the EU. This would firmly establish EU law as superior to national law. While the word 'federal', which appeared in earlier drafts of the document, has been removed, this in efsummoned to court and become a member of international organisations. The result would be greater clarity in relations with the rest of the world, increased effectiveness and legal certainty and more effective action".
Taken together with the new roles of the European Council President, the EU Foreign Minister and the further expansion of common foreign, security and defence policy this is a key article in establishing the EU as a single state, aspiring to be a superpower on the world stage.
We firmly oppose Article I-6 and demand that the Irish Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC)negotiators ensure that it is removed from the Draft Treaty.
Common Foreign and Security Policy
The new EU Constitution will require Ireland to cede most or all of our remaining independence in foreign policy to the EU.
We have already noted that Article I-10 has established the primacy of EU law over member state law in its areas international scene or any commitment which could affect the Union's interests".
These provisions represent major incursions on Irish sovereignty in foreign and defence policy. We firmly oppose the diminution of sovereignty and democratic accountability in relation to foreign affairs entailed in these Articles. Irish IGC negotiators at minimum, must protect Irish exercise of sovereign independence in international affairs by securing an explicit statement that EU competence in foreign policy is a shared competence -- that, like with development cooperation and humanitarian aid, the exercise of EU competence in foreign policy shall not result in Member States being prevented from exercising their competence in foreign policy. They must also ensure the retention and strengthening of the unanimity requirement in both spheres of CFSP, which is undermined by proposals in the draft Constitution.
Militarisation of the EU
Sinn0(2) states that EU defence policies shall not prejudice NATO states - and further, shall be compatible with NATO. However, the special rights and responsibilities of the militarily neutral member states are not explicitly acknowledged, and these states are not specifically exempt from Common Defence requirements.
Article I-40(3) directs that member states contribute forces to a Common Defence and improve their military capabilities. It also establishes a European Armaments Agency, the basis for a European military industrial complex. This is contrary to our belief that multilateral disarmament - and multilateral nuclear disarmament in particular - should be a central goal of both Ireland and the EU.
Article I-40(7) introduces a so-called solidarity clause. It directs that member states must come to the aid of another member when it is "the victim of [an unspecified type of] armed aggression" and that they shall work with NATO. However, this The Union's Institutions
President of the European Council
The Draft Constitution proposes fundamental changes to EU institutions and further centralises power.
Article I-21(1) proposes the new post of permanent President of the European Council (with a renewable two and a half year term of office instead of six-month rotation between member states as at present).
This proposal sets aside the partnership model of the rotating presidency, which guaranteed each state a turn at the presidency, regardless of its size, and puts in place another key characteristic of a single state - a Head of State in all but name, the EU President. For example, Article I-21(2) states that the President will represent the EU "on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy".
This is similar to foreign policy role of the US president. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the presidential proposals are desigelopment, as is any measure that maximises available and enforceable human rights. We are worried that it has not been included in the body of the Draft Constitution. Our concern is that its force may be weakened. We are also concerned that its exclusion from the body of the Draft Constitution means that it could still be rejected by the IGC, while the rest of the Constitution is accepted. Irish IGC negotiators need to ensure that this does not occur.
We find it ironic that in a document that involves huge expansions of the scope of the Union into affairs that were previously the remit of member states, when it comes to fundamental rights, the Constitution is extremely sensitive to national autonomy. It is stated repeatedly throughout the Charter that the protection of rights contained in it is to be "in accordance with national laws and practices". Essential social rights for European workers - such as the right of collective bargaining and action, protection against unjustified dismissal, entitlement to social security benefits and social services - are all subject to this qualification. Similarly, Article II-35 circumscribes the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment to 'conditions established by national laws and practices'. In reality, these provisions add nothing to the protection afforded to European workers, but are simply an exercise in paying lip service to these rights.
In relation to the future implementation of the charter, we are concerned that, given the reluctance of the European Court of justice to strike down EU legislation on human rights grounds to date, the Charter does not expressly state that European legislative measures that violate the Charter shall be void. This contrasts with the position under Article 15.4 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which provides that any law which is in any respect repugnant to the Constitution of Ireland shall be invalid. Irish IGC negotiators should ensure that an equivalent statement should be included in the EU Constitution.
We also have reservations about the content of the Charter. For example, in Article II-36, the Charter states that 'The Union recognises and respects access to services of general economic interest as provided for in national laws and practices'. We believe that this provision may have the potential to undermine the right to legitimate collective action for workers in services deemed to be of 'general economic interest', and should therefore be excised from the draft.
We are also concerned with Article II-16, which establishes the freedom to conduct a business. This article should be clarified. While we accept the right of a person to conduct a business, we are concerned that this article could allow a scenario where the rights of corporations supercede not just the rights of the individual but national ones also. We call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure that the economic and social rights of the citizen are paramount.
Article II-41.4, which states that "Every person may write to the institutions of the Union in one of the languages of the Constitution and must have an answer in the same language" is a very important provision, given that Irish is one of the Constitution's languages (Article IV-9). In effect, it may give Irish speakers better rights in this regard vis a vis the European Union than are currently enjoyed vis a vis the Irish State. However, the Constitution still fails to make Irish an official language of the Union, despite ongoing campaigning by Irish speakers on this issue. We call on the Irish IGC negotiators to press for the inclusion of Irish to be included in the Constitution as an official language of the Union.
In discussing competences, Article I-16 states that 'The Union may take supporting, coordinating or complementary action'. Sinn Féin believes that the outline of what constitutes 'areas of supporting, coordinating or complementary action' is too vague and does not comply with the supposed objective of clarity and transparency in relation to the Constitution. A detailed definition of all Union competences (exclusive, shared and what were previously termed "complementary competences") should be contained in the Constitution. In drawing up this definition, Irish IGC negotiators should strive to ensure that complementary action, or at least shared competence, should, in as many cases as possible - and particularly in non-economic spheres, take precedence over exclusive competences. For example, as we have already noted, there is an urgent need to maintain national control over foreign policy and defence.
Sinn Féin supports the principle of subsidiarity and, while challenging the Union's claims to exclusive competence in many areas (see above), welcomes the commitment in Article I-9(3) that, 'in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the intended action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level'. However, we have concerns as to how this principle is to be enforced. In setting out the practicalities of member states challenging the Union's opinion that it is in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity, Annex II(6) states that if at least one third of states put in a reasoned challenge, then the Commission must review its position. However, it goes on to state that after the review, the Commission may decide to maintain its proposal. Sinn Féin calls upon the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure that states are vested with meaningful sanctions that allow them to effectively challenge the Commission in cases where they believe the Commission is over-stepping its remit.
We also call for the principle of subsidiarity to be extended as far as possible to sub-national levels, and for an expansion of the involvement of local development groups in the management of EU programmes. Real substance needs to be given to the commitment found within the regulations governing rural development programmes, for example, to 'bottom up' development. We are of the firm view that wherever possible, decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level and with the greatest amount of decentralised control. We call on the Irish negotiators to ensure that it is clearly stated that the principle of subsidiarity should include decision-making powers at regional and local levels as well as national.
Sinn Féin welcomes proposals contained in Annex I for the improvement of information coming from the Union to national parliaments. However, we note with concern that, with the exception outlined above, no mention is made of what parliaments can do with the information they receive. Indeed, while the working group on this issue talked vaguely of scrutiny, all mention of the word has been excised in the Draft Constitution. We call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure that national parliaments are given clear and meaningful sanctions in relation to Commission proposals.
We also note that the working group's observation that 'many of the measures relating to scrutiny on the national level could also, within each Member State, apply to the substate level' has not been taken up in the Draft Constitution. We believe that inclusion of such a clause would be of considerable benefit to a 6 county assembly, and therefore call upon Irish negotiators to press for such an inclusion.
Freedom, Security and Justice
The pace at which the EU has developed a competence in criminal law over the past decade is staggering. The draft Constitution dramatically increases the European Union's role in this highly sensitive area.
In their final report, the working group in this area stated "there are a number of areas such as cross border crime, asylum policy or control of the unions external borders which cannot be dealt with effectively by States acting on their own, nor is defence against the new terrorism threats compatible with autonomous action at national level". This basic assumption underlines all the arguments used by those who advocate or support integration, or mutual recognition in matters of criminal justice.
Practical examples of the need for such integration are, however, scarce on the ground. While some hope the harmonisation of criminal procedure could result in a levelling up of human rights protection, realistically, a process which is dominated by a Council of Home Affairs and Justice Ministers - with only limited parliamentary scrutiny - is much more likely to result in an erosion of rights.
Our concern with the emerging European criminal justice system is that it will not be a synthesis of the best procedures and protections that currently exist among the member states but will be a new system with increased powers transferred to prosecuting authorities at the expense of individual human rights.
For example, Article III-166(2a) envisages a European Framework Law which would govern the mutual admissibility of evidence between member states. Such a proposal, would most likely result in evidence that is currently inadmissible in the courts of many member states, being deemed admissible, if obtained in another member state. We call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure that no provisions within the remit of freedom, security and justice will lead to an erosion of rights currently enjoyed by Irish citizens.
Again, the Constitution undermines the unanimity requirement in this area of competence, and we call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure the retention of unanimity in the area of security and justice.
Article III-161 of the Draft Constitution also proposes a common European asylum system. While there is not enough detail in the Article to make a definitive judgement on the issue, those advocating that asylum be dealt with at a European level have yet to conclusively establish in what way minimum human rights standards would be guaranteed. We call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure that any provisions under this section ensure that the human rights protection afforded to applicants in the system are equal to or greater than those currently afforded to those within the Irish legal system, and also fully compliant with the UN Convention of Refugees.
There is some confusion as to what sort of economic market is being advocated in the Draft Constitution. Article I-3(2) envisages 'a single market where competition is free and undistorted' to describe the EU. This contradicts Article I-3(3), which calls for a social market economy. An unhindered capitalist market-driven society can neither be described as a social market, nor can it be something desirable to anyone with an interest in equality. We oppose the idea of competition being completely free and unhindered and believe that states should be allowed to exercise democratic control over their economies.
We are concerned that the free market model will emerge dominant from this contradiction, and that economic priorities will continue to outrank social ones. We call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure a strengthening of the pre-eminent status of the social market.
In relation to state aid to industries, the provisions in Articles III-53 and 54 do not go beyond the provisions of extant EU treaties. They need to be expanded substantially. Their application to the Irish economy is hampering the funding and development of much needed infrastructure in ICT, transport, energy, environmental waste management and leading to privatisations. Irish IGC negotiators should be looking at broadening out the conditions for state aid. It should be noted that there are already special provisions for subsidizing the reunification of Germany. Irish negotiators should be demanding equivalent provisions for the unification of Ireland.
We are suspicious of the Irish Government's motivations in their negotiations on tax harmonisation. However, on the grounds that it entails the maintenance of some degree of economic sovereignty, we welcome the fact that the draft Constitution does not impose harmonisation and that the Irish Government has boxed this off as an area of core state interest.
Eradication of Poverty
Article I-3(4), which deals with the Union's primary objectives, commits the EU to working for the eradication of poverty in the wider world. This is positive in and of itself but it exposes the fact that such an objective is not listed in Article I-3 as an internal objective of the Union. This is deeply objectionable and brings into question how serious the Union is about tackling poverty within its own borders.
We call on the Irish IGC negotiators to ensure that the elimination of poverty within the EU becomes one of the key objectives of the Union. We also call on the Irish negotiators to ensure that Article I- 3(3) includes a statement guaranteeing citizens a right to access decent education, health care and housing.
• Sinn Féin does not accept the argument that there should be an EU Constitution because we are opposed to the creation of an EU superstate.
• We agree that the simplification and consolidation of existing EU Treaties is necessary but we are opposed to such a process being used to diminish national sovereignty and increase the power of the EU as the Draft does.
• The Draft Constitution would establish the EU as a single State legally and politically and would advance the project to turn the EU into a world power.
• It will enhance the power of the larger states.
• One of the central terms of reference in the Laeken Declaration was that the Convention on the Future of Europe redress the democratic deficit. We conclude that the Convention's draft Constitution has failed in this regard.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has urged the Orange Order to re-assess its attitude to parades through nationalist areas. Offering to meet the leadership of the Orange Order, Mr Adams said that dialogue is the key to mutual understanding and respect and, ultimately, to the resolution of the issue of contentious parades.
Mr Adams call comes after the low key protest at Drumcree and the relatively peaceful Twelfth.
Mr Adams said:
"Sinn Fein is an Irish republican party. We are committed to building a United Ireland in which all sections of the people of this island are comfortable, valued and respected. That includes the significant section of our people who define themselves as British and who identify with Orangism. For this reason, I have always defended the right of Orangemen to march. But this right must be exercised with full respect for the right of others, and in particular, the rights of host communities.
"Those who wish to celebrate the Orange culture must be free to do so but there is no justification for Orange marches taking place where they cause hurt and offence. The reality is that there are areas where Orange marches are regarded as provocative, triumphalist and offensive. The Orange Order do not have to agree with this but should recognise that this is a reality and on that basis should reassess their attitude to parades through nationalist areas.
"At a wider level the Order should review its approach to the nationalist community. Following on from the de-escalation in the Drumcree dispute, the Orange Order now has the space to adopt a new approach which is non-contentious and which is based on dialogue and mutual respect. The Order should begin a process of dialogue with nationalists and republicans to hear and understand their perspective on Orange marches. And, of course, there is a similar responsibility on nationalists and republicans to meet with, listen to and understand the Orange perspective.
" There are only a very few contentious marches each year and we should now set about the task of resolving these through dialogue and agreement. I know that there are difficulties for the Orange Order in all of this but I am available to meet the Orange leadership at any time to facilitate, or as part of, such a process of dialogue." ENDS
Commenting on the report of the Joint Committee at Westminster into the operation of the Human Rights Commission, Sinn Féin spokesperson on the issue Bairbre de Brún said:
"I would welcome the Joint Committees support for greater resources and powers, particularly investigatory powers, for the Human Rights Commission and its view that independence should be introduced into the appointment of Commissioners in line with the Paris Principles. The Joint Committee also makes reference to the need for the Commission to be representative of the community but also that the principal criteria for appointment should be experience, knowledge and expertise in the field of human rights.
"The report expresses concern at the interference by the then RUC Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan into the work and independence of the Commission and the reaction of the Chief Commissioner to such interference. This is a reference to attempts by Mr Flanagan to prevent he Human Rights Commission involving itself in the Holy Cross case in Ardoyne. Sinn Féin shares the concern of the Joint Committee in this matter.
"The views of the Joint Committee echo those expressed by Sinn Féin and by other organisations and individuals working in the field of human rights that Œdiscrimination has been endemic‚, in the north of Ireland and that Œinstitutional sectarianism still persists‚. Indeed the Joint Committee‚s report reflects the concerns of many that the equality and parity of esteem provisions of the Agreement are being undermined by some from within the Human Rights Commission in their attempts to redefine the Framework Convention on National Minorities.
"With regard to the Bill of Rights, we welcome the recommendation that a round table forum should be convened to drive the Bill of Rights process. This should take place immediately.
"The Human Rights Commission is an integral part of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin wants to see the best possible Human Rights Commission in place, one that is truly independent and representative and with the powers and resources to place human rights at the centre of society." ENDS
Sinn Féin's EU candidate for Dublin Marylou McDonald said: "There are a number of key provisions in the draft constitution which give a clear indication of the drive that is on to create a world superpower out of the EU. These provisions include the evolving relationships between the Union and the Member States; the primacy of EU law and the establishment for the first time of a Single Legal Personality for the EU."
She called on the Irish negotiating team to reject the provisions of the draft constitution that allow for the EU to become a single legal entity and that give it primacy in law over national governments.