Sinn Féin Higher and Further Education Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has said that the plans of the British Labour government to introduce top-up fees will introduce the marketplace into universities 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.
"The British Labour government 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 flawed. 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
Donegal Sinn Féin Chairperson and E.U candidate Pearse Doherty, has this morning informed the parents committee of Gortahork national school that the Minister for education is unwilling to meet a delegation from the parents committee personally.
Mr. Doherty said;
"Following a personal request from Sinn Fein TD Sean Crowe to Minister Dempsey, that the minister agrees to meet the parents committee of Gortahork National School, the minister has informed him the he unable to meet them personally but would see no problem in a meeting with department officials.
There is no doubt that this position adopted by the minister is a slap in the face to the parents committee who have come up with sensible and moderate conditions that have to be met prior to the children returning to class.
However after speaking with representatives of the parents committee this morning, I have again submitted a requested that the minister meet with the committee and failing to do so that he arrange that the committee is meet by senior officials from his department.
The ball is now firmly in the minister's court. ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on community safety, West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff commenting on the newly published proposals on tackling anti-social behaviour has said that the reliance on Asbos is not the complete answer and said that fundamentally a new beginning to policing and a resources for
community initiatives such as Community Restorative Justice are vital.
Cllr McElduff said:
"In theory the use of Asbos could be a very useful tool in tackling anti-social behaviour. However, the reality is that we do not have an acceptable police service and we have a justice system that is failing people.
"It is madness that the very people, namely the PSNI, who often turn a blind eye to the activities of anti-social criminals on our streets so long as they continue to act as informers and continue to destabilise nationalist and republican communities would become responsible for enforcing Asbos.
"Fundamentally we need to see the new beginning to policing that was promised in the Good Friday Agreement five years ago and the creation of a new police service that is representative and accountable and that is not driven by the political agenda of the Special Branch.
"We also need to see greater resources put into community led initiatives such as Community Restorative Justice that focus of rebuilding relationships with the community, challenging offenders behaviour and supporting victims seek to create long-term solutions to the problems of anti-social behaviour and criminality in our communities. We also need to see more resources put into communities where there are the greatest problems with anti-social behaviour." ENDS
Bairbre de Brún MLA, former Health Minister in the Six Counties, is supporting the campaign in favour of official working status for the Irish language in the EU. She will be showing support for the campaign at the Forum on Europe in
Dublin Castle today.
Ms. de Brún said: "The Irish Government should be happy to put this motion before the European Council and the Taoiseach as its current chairman. At the moment it is possible to get correspondence from institutions in Irish but
legislation is not translated except for treaties or official documents. Also, there are jobs in EU institutions open to citizens of the Union who have two (or more) official languages of the EU. The Irish citizen is, therefore, disadvantaged because Irish is not included as an official language. I intend putting it to the Forum on Europe in Dublin Castle today that the EU Commission or the other EU member states are not against official working status being given to the Irish language.
"Noel Mulcahy, one of the officials who was pushing for the state's entry into the Common Market 30 years ago, admits that there was a mistake made by the Government with regard to the Irish question at the time that they didn't look for recognition or status for Irish as an official working language of the Common Market. This question also applies to cultural and linguistic diversity and the influence of international status that the language would have on its speakers and learners."
At the meeting of the National Forum on Europe on 23rd October 2003, Bairbre de Brún asked the Taoiseach what steps he would be taking to make sure that Irish would be a working language in EU institutions. Having regard to the document setting out priorities for the Irish Presidency of the EU, she also asked the Taoiseach what steps he was planning to take to, as the programme says: "Preserve the richness of the cultural diversity in Europe in every aspect."
Ms. de Brún also said: "Following the May accession, the European Union will have 20 official languages. This is a good opportunity for the Government of Ireland to raise the question of the status of Irish again and to secure proper status for it. The public of the other countries in the Union or their respective governments, are not against granting that recognition on the Irish language. All that is needed to get full recognition for Irish as an official language of the EU is political will coming from the Government. The European Union will be happy to give official language status if the Government of Ireland would just ask for it." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Senior Citizens, Foyle MLA Mary Nelis has called for imaginative solutions to the problems of crime against the elderly.
Ms Nelis said:
"Crime against our senior citizens and the fear of crime are serious problems that require imaginative solutions.
"A new beginning to policing and the creation of a police service that is not politically motivated is obviously a first step. But we need to go much further in creating solutions that challenge the behaviour of people carrying out crime against senior citizens as well as initiatives that deepen relationships across generations and initiatives that support our senior citizens.
"This means that government policy must pro-actively involve senior citizens within the education system from the earliest ages and that must be given a role in the rehabilitation of offenders who have targeted them. We also need to the expansion of initiatives such as Good Morning Colin in Belfast and Good Morning Galliagh in Derry where volunteers, predominantly young people support the well being of our senior citizens.
"We need to see greater resources out into personal security measures, and initiatives such as security camera‚s linked to the TV as already operates in North Belfast, for senior citizens delivered through the Health Boards, particularly where the PSNI have no credibility. However, the solution is not to build fortresses around our senior citizens. The solution must be based on tackling criminal activity, strengthening community initiatives and preventative measures." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Davy Hyland along with the party Director of Elections Danny Power and Omagh Councillor Sean Begley today attended the Electoral Commission Open Day in Malone House to discuss the conduct of the recent Assembly elections.
Speaking after the meeting Mr Hyland said:
"It has now been widely accepted that the electoral process right from the registration process, through rolling registration and the conduct of the election itself and the count was something of a fiasco. Sinn Féin are determined to ensure that this situation is not allowed to arise again.
"Resources are clearly an issue for the Electoral Office and it is necessary that this is addressed. However a much more pressing issue is the legislation upon which the electoral process is based. The legislation is deeply flawed and came about at the behest of the SDLP and Unionists as they sought to explain away the rise in the Sinn Féin vote. People who were disenfranchised at the last election are rightly angry at the actions of these parties.
"People within both the Electoral office and the Electoral Commission have acknowledged that if the current one year term for each register is retained then the register will continue to shrink year after year and more and more people will be disenfranchised.
"It is our belief that this situation can be resolved if common sense is applied to the electoral and registration process, the legislation is reformed and the necessary resources are given to the Electoral Office." ENDS
Sinn Féin T.D. Arthur Morgan today questioned the decision by an Post to downgrade Clonakilty Post Office from a branch office to a sub office. Speaking following the presentation by the Clonakilty Post Office Committee to the
Committee for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Deputy Morgan urged An Post to reverse what he termed a disgraceful decision.
Deputy Morgan said
"The decision by an Post to "re-designate" i.e. downgrade the post office in Clonakilty from a branch office to a sub office in inexplicable. This very busy Post Office, based in the fastest growing town in County Cork, is set to experience a significant increase in business with the proposed re-location of part of BIM and a section of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to the town. That this expanding town should face a downgrading of its post office services raises many questions. An Post needs to respond to allegations that the central motivation for downgrading this viable branch office is the possibility of selling the premises.
"The decision with respect to Clonakilty Post Office is representative of what is happening in many parts of the State where local communities face loosing vital services provided through the post office. Sinn Féin is fully supportive of the campaign to retain the current status of Clonakilty Post Office and supports the vital role that the local post office plays in most rural communities. ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Environment and Local Government, Arthur Morgan TD was this evening highly critical of the decision to create additional three seat constituencies in Dublin, Meath, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim. He said the loss of five seat constituencies will favour the establishment parties and prevent the emergence of new voices in Irish politics, making the Dáil even less representative than it is today."
Deputy Morgan said: "Given the constraints placed on the Constituency Commission by the 1997 Electoral Act, which limits constituencies to a maximum of five seats, there are few surprises in today's report.
"However, the decision to increase the number of three seat constituencies and decrease the number of five seat constituencies is a backward step. It is something, which will favour the establishment parties and prevent the emergence of new voices in Irish politics, making the Dáil even less representative that it currently is.
"Sinn Féin, in our submission, called for a return to larger constituencies, as the number of members returned per constituency is a crucial component of our electoral system. We believe that a wider political spectrum is more democratic and more representative. It is disappointing that such a position was not adopted.
"Today's report is good news for the establishment parties and bad news for representative democracy. Despite this Sinn Féin is confident that the electorate will continue to support radical voices in Irish politics." ENDS
The full report will be available at www.constituency-commission.ie
Donegal Sinn Féin Chairperson and EU candidate, Pearse Doherty, has welcomed the decision taken by the Parents Committee of Gortahork National School, that children will return to class on Monday if certain immediate health and safety concerns are met.
Responding to this morning statement from the Parents Committee, Mr Doherty said:
Today's decision must be welcomed, as it is in everyones interest that these children are educated, but this education must be delivered in a safe environment that is acceptable to all parties - Teachers, Parents, Pupils, and the Department.
"Therefore this window of opportunity that has been created by the parents decision must be seized upon, and all effort made to ensure that between now and Monday that the concerns that have been raised in relation to the health and safety of their children are addressed. The Department of Education must make the necessary funds available to the Board of Management in order for them to tackle these problems.
"This decision also provides Minister Dempsey the chance to right the wrongs of the past. There is no doubt that this school should have been included in this year's school building programme. The additional schools that are to be announced by the Minister for inclusion in the programme, at the end of the month, must include Gortahork national School.
"A request has been formally made by myself, on behalf of the Parents Committee, to Minister Dempsey that he meet with a delegation of the Parents committee without delay. This will be re-iterated by my party colleague Deputy Sean Crowe when he meets the Minister at 2 pm today. ENDS
South Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has again repeated his party's opposition to the International Monitoring Commission which is established today. Mr Maskey said that the IMC 'ran totally contrary to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement'
Mr Maskey said:
"The International Monitoring Commission which comes into effect today is completely outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and will be used as a smokescreen to justify arbitrary acts of exclusion by the British government.
"Many nationalists are angered by the fact that the two governments have proceeded with this measure which is outside the terms of the Agreement while choosing to stall on their commitments across a range of issues including policing, demiltarisation, human rights and equality.
"The powers of exclusion which are now being granted to the British Secretary of State contradict democratic norms and contravene the rights of the electorate." ENDS
Sinn Féin Anti-Poverty Spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton has welcomed comments from the architect of the Barnett Formula, that is used to work out the block grant allocated to the Six Counties, that the formula is out of date, is not based upon need and called has for a replacement of the formula to ensure that we get a fairer block grant that reflects the levels of need that exist here.
Ms Stanton said:
"Poverty is a key issue in the Six Counties. Nearly 40% of our young people live in poverty and young families, particularly lone parent families and our elderly all face significant level of risk in terms of living in poverty. Clearly we have failed to define a strategy for tackling and eradicating poverty.
"I welcome the comments from the architect of the Barnett formula, that is used to allocate our block grant and therefore determine our overall level of expenditure, that the formula does not reflect need and should be replaced. Sinn Féin have consistently argued that the Barnett formula is unfair and that it fails to recognise the levels of need that exists here. It was Sinn Féin that insisted that a challenge to the Barnett formula was included in the Programme for Government.
"Within a number of departments we have already carried substantial work to define need through the Needs and Effectiveness Evaluations. It is time for the Barnett formula to go. Direct rule Ministers must continue with the commitments in the Programme for Government that Sinn Fein secured.
"In essence the Barnett formula means that in successive budgets we have received a smaller increase in expenditure than we need. If you factor in the levels of poverty here and the geographical and social profile of the Six Counties we are getting a very bad deal from the British Exchequer. If we are going to tackle poverty then the resources we have available must reflect the real situation on the ground. This is not a sterile debate about numbers it is about the human face of poverty and the impact it has on people's lives." ENDS
Commenting on allegations made today in the Belfast High Court concerning the role of missing Armagh man Gareth O'Connor in the arrests of four men in Tyrone, Sinn Féin representative for Newry & Armagh Conor Murphy demanded that the British State disclose the full facts and do not hide behind a public interest immunity certificate.
Mr Murphy said:
"This morning in the High Court in Belfast it was alleged that missing Armagh man Gareth O'Connor was a paid PSNI agent who was involved in setting up four other men for arrest. It has now emerged that the British State intend to apply for a Public Interest Immunity Certificate in order to suppress information regarding this matter.
"In the past the PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde has made public comment on this man's disappearance. He made a number of allegations claiming IRA involvement in this without providing any evidence. Others have subsequently ran with this line despite a statement from the IRA categorically denying any involvement in the matter.
"In light of today's revelations Hugh Orde has a duty to lift the lid on this entire case. I am demanding that he disclose the full facts surrounding this case and does not hide behind a Public Interest Immunity Certificate." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin has called on the government to use increased revenues to provide more social housing in 2004 and to reverse cutbacks in the Rent Allowance scheme. Commenting on the exchequer figures which show tax revenues coming in €450 million ahead of target, Deputy Ó Caoláin said there was "either a serious flaw in how the exchequer figures are calculated or there has been manipulation of the figures".
The Sinn Féin Dáil leader said:
"These are a remarkable set of figures but hardly surprising given past experience. The Minister for Finance promised no cutbacks before the last General Election but shortly afterwards it was revealed that plans for €900 million in public spending cuts were being prepared in his Department. Cuts were duly imposed on both subsequent budgets.
"The substantial increases in both Stamp Duty and Capital Gains Tax now shown in the Exchequer figures are primarily being put down to the so-called buoyant housing and property market. I don‚t believe the Government should be taking any credit at all for this.
"It is clear that far from addressing the chronic housing crisis that has existed over the lifetime of this and the previous FF/PD Coalition, the Government have been content to preside over spiralling house prices in a market designed to benefit speculators and landlords. The Government now has a moral obligation to use increased revenues from this speculative and inflated market to increase the supply of social housing. It should also immediately reverse the cuts and restrictions in the Rent Allowance scheme which are driving people into homelessness."ENDS
Speaking this afternoon in advance of the launch of the International Monitoring Commission tomorrow, Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that 'the IMC is outside the terms of the Agreement and its powers contradict democratic norms'.
Mr Murphy said:
"The International Monitoring Commission is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It is ironic that the only aspect of the Joint Declaration which the two governments have advanced upon is the IMC. They have repeatedly failed to implement their commitments on policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality, all of which are within the terms of the Agreement.
"The legislation gives the power of exclusion to the British Secretary of State. Such powers contradict the democratic norms and the rights of the electorate. Indeed the British Secretary of State who has been given these powers is himself in breach of the Agreement by virtue of his refusal to lift the suspension of the political institutions.
"Successive British Secretaries of State have suspended the Assembly on four occasions, at the behest of unionism. Nobody should be in any doubt that the additional powers given to the British Secretary of State will be used similarly.
"The IMC reports will be based upon information supplied by securocrats. The IMC will be no more than a smokescreen to validate arbitrary acts of exclusion by the British Secretary of State." ENDS
North Antrim Sinn Féin Assembly member Philip McGuigan has hit out at the UDA after they issued a public threat to his party colleague Cllr. Oliver McMullan through a Ballymoney newspaper.
Mr McGuigan said:
" Before Christmas loyalist thugs attacked catholic school children at an outdoor pursuits centre in Bushmills. Oliver McMullan highlighted this incident in the press. After this a statement was issued to a local Ballymoney newspaper from the UDA and was published in full. The statement is a clear threat to Cllr. McMullan and we are taking it very seriously.
" I am calling upon unionist politicians in North Antrim to speak out against this threat and make it clear to the UDA that they do not endorse this sort of blatant intimidation.
" Sinn Féin will continue to represent people in North Antrim and elsewhere and we will not allow ourselves to be intimidated by this sort of naked sectarianism from unionist paramilitary gangs." ENDS
Following internal party discussions this morning regarding the forthcoming Review of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said 'that the focus of the review has to be on the failure by the two governments to fully implement the Agreement'.
Mr. McLaughlin said:
"This Review Process is about a review of the operation and delivery of the Good Friday Agreement and is a necessary part of the Agreement achieved in April 98. The failure by the two governments to fully implement the Agreement plus their willingness at times to step outside the terms of the Agreement, must be subject for the upcoming review.
With regard to its format Sinn Fein believes that the review should be time-limited to one month and its conclusions should be published promptly.The Review must address the many outstanding issues including the suspension of the political institutions; the human rights and equality agenda including victims; demilitarisation; the issue of arms; policing and justice; and prisoners and related matters.
With respect to the agenda for the review Sinn Féin has called for it to discuss a range of issues including a re-endorsement of the Good Friday Agreement; referendum on Irish unity; an expansion of North South activity/structures; the All-Ireland parliamentary forum; the all-Ireland civic forum; the Irish Language and Symbols and emblems, as well as the issues of sanctions and the IMC."ENDS
Speaking today from the inquests in Dungannon into the killings of ten people including Rosanne Mallon, Fermanagh & South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew said 'that the continuing refusal of the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings is symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system'.
Ms Gildernew said:
" These ten families have been fighting for the truth concerning the killing of their loved ones for many years. At every turn they are frustrated by a state sponsored cover up.
" The refusal to provide information to these inquests is not an isolated case. It must be seen in the context of the British government's refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system and the on-going attempts to cover-up the extent of British collusion and control of loyalist death squads.
" This culture of concealment is itself evidence of how much the British state has to hide in respect of its campaign of terror against the republican and nationalist community in the north.
" Sinn Féin will continue to stand with those families who continue to campaign for the truth. There must be full disclosure by the British state of its real role in Ireland over the last three decades of conflict." ENDS
Sinn Féin MPs are to meet with Direct Rule Health Minister Angela Smith in the next few weeks to discuss the party's proposals in relation to how it believes the deficit in acute service hospital provision in Tyrone and South Derry can be best addressed.
West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty wrote to Angela Smith in December outlining how the decisions reached by former Health Minister Des Browne, have left a major deficit in terms of acute service provision for the population of Tyrone and South Derry.
"I have now received written confirmation from Angela Smith stating her willingness to meet with a Sinn Féin delegation in the context of discussing our party‚s proposals on this crucial issue.
"We believe that these proposals as contained in our party document, 'A Healthy Future' represent realistic and sustainable solutions to the inequalities that exist in terms of access to acute health service provision between east and west of the Bann, within west of the Bann itself and in the north west region of Ireland as a whole.
"Sinn Féin has enshrined these proposals as a priority in our party manifesto and with the 4 Sinn Féin MPs attending this meeting with Angela Smith, Sinn Féin is signalling our determination to progress this issue without delay." ENDS
Sinn Féin leader in the Dáil, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, has said the recent comments by the Commissioner Romano Prodi and by the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder about a two-speed Europe reinforce Sinn Féin's argument during the Nice Treaty referendum that the Union was heading in that direction and that smaller countries would lose out.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said: "Bertie Aherns protestations at comments from Romano Prodi and Gerhard Schröder ring very hollow. Sinn Féin has over a number of referendums on the future of the Union voiced our concerns at the negative development of a two-speed Europe where bigger nations will increasingly dictate the pace of progress across a broad range of issues. During the Nice Treaty debates Bertie Ahern and his Government were constantly dismissing our party for scare mongering.
"However, it is clear from these latest comments from two of the most powerful and influential people in the European Union that Sinn Féin's analysis of the situation was correct. The Irish people were sold a pup when the Taoiseach forced a second Nice Treaty referendum.
"No amount of spin by Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen or Dick Roche can disguise the fact that the European Union is becoming increasingly centralised with power being concentrated in the hands of a few big states with smaller countries like Ireland being left with little or no influence or control over their own destinies." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe TD has said the Transport Minister Seamus Brennan will be "wholly responsible for the loss of service" if CIE workers go ahead with a threatened strike this week. He described the Ministers attitude to recent talks to settle the dispute as arrogant and "incredibly destructive" in terms of labour relations.
Deputy Crowe said: "Seamus Brennan's statement that he will press ahead with his plans to breakup CIE while negotiations with unions representing the workers at the company are still ongoing smacks not only of gross arrogance on behalf of the Minister but shows an incredibly destructive attitude towards labour relations.
"The unions at CIE have been engaged in what they thought were meaningful discussions aimed are resolving the dispute between both sides. For the Minister to undermine these very talks shows that he has no interest in reaching a resolution. It is obvious that he is more interested in playing the hard man with both the unions and the workers they represent.
"If the workers go on strike this week and withdraw their labour then it is the Minister who will have been wholly responsible for the loss of service to the commuting public.
"Sinn Féin will fully support the workers in whatever action they deem necessary to force the Minister to pull back from the confrontational and high-handed approach he has adopted and we will continue to oppose the breakup of the CIE group." ENDS