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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin is on a two day tour of Munster where he will speak at engagements in both Cork and Waterford. Mr McLaughlin will be joined on the tour by Munster EU Candidate David Cullinane. Speaking today from Cork Mr McLaughlin said that 'the rise of Sinn Féin in recent times had created major challenges for the existing political establishment in the 26 Counties'.

Mr McLaughlin said:

" In recent years with the ending of censorship there has been a massive resurgence in republicanism throughout the island but particularly in the 26 counties. Sinn Féin are now the third largest political party on this island.

" The rise in support for Sinn Féin and for republican demands has created obvious difficulties for the existing political establishment in the 26 counties. As a result some within this establishment have placed narrow party political interest before the national interest or the demands of the peace process. That was and is entirely the wrong approach.

" Sinn Féin will, as the recent Assembly elections showed, continue to grow, develop and increase our electoral mandate. We face into two elections within the next number of months. We are the only party contesting all of the EU constituencies on the island and in addition to this we will be fielding candidates in the local elections across the 26 Counties.

" It is my belief that we are up to this challenge and that we will again make significant gains in the June polls." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that Health Minister Mícheál Martin's plans for the health boards will undermine democracy. Deputy Ó Caoláin said that if Minister Martin had his way elected representatives would be removed from health boards from June 2004 without any democratic accountability in place for the proposed new health service administrative structures. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Everyone is agreed that the health board system needs fundamental reform to cut out excessive bureaucracy and inefficiency but the Minister is undermining democracy and accountability. Councillors on health boards provide representation for health service users. The new Health Service Executive will have no such representation.

"Minister Martin is proposing that from June 2004 the health boards should operate without elected representatives, pending the establishment of new regional structures some time in 2005. The question arises immediately as to what the Minister and his Department, in conjunction with CEOs in the health boards, will attempt to push through in that 'limbo' period when they will be virtual dictators in health service administration.

"There must also be a legal question over the Health Boards operating without their statutory quota of elected representatives. The Minister should withdraw his proposal and councils should go ahead and nominate members to the boards after the local elections." ENDS

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Commenting on the announcement by the British Direct Rule Minister Jane Kennedy that repressive legislation is to be renewed in the six counties for yet another year, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly MLA said that decision was 'further evidence that the securocrats are continuing to drive British policy in Ireland'.

Mr Kelly said:

" Ten years on from the first IRA cessation and the British government are still relying on repressive legislation. The decision to renew this legislation is further evidence that the securocrats are continuing to drive British policy in Ireland.

" The fact of the matter is that if you give repressive legislation to a force like the PSNI then it will be used.

" The British government need to act to remove such repressive powers and begin to seriously deliver on their overall commitments on Human Rights, Policing and Justice issues." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing matters Fra McCann MLA has said that the 3% hike in Housing Executive rents will hit those people on low salaries most.

Mr McCann said:

" The announcement by the NIHE that they are to raise their rents by 3% will hit those tenants who are low wage earners and therefore unable to access benefit most. If banks raised their mortgage rates by 3% in one swoop there would be an outcry from home owners.

" Yet the Housing Executive believe that it is appropriate to raise yearly rents by around £70 and then offer the lame excuse that the rents here are still less than England.

" This rent hike cannot be justified and is certainly not matched by any rise in service which tenants receive from the Executive." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA in a major speech today in St. Malachy's College in North Belfast has warned that there "there is undoubtedly a dangerous and deeply worrying sense of drift in the political situation since the Assembly elections in November."

In his address to students at St. Malachy's College in Belfast the Sinn Féin leader describes as "intolerable" the failure of the two governments to fulfil their commitments or providing "any satisfactory explanation for reneging on their commitments."

Mr. Adams says that it "appears to nationalists and republicans that the governments will now let the DUP set the agenda in respect of citizens rights and entitlements. This is unacceptable."

The Sinn Féin leader also assesses the contribution of the two governments, of republicans, the Ulster unionists and the position of the DUP.

He believes the current difficulties "are rooted in the British government's tactical approach to the Good Friday Agreement.

In other words, for the last five years rather than fully implementing the Agreement over all its aspects and particularly those elements for which the British government has direct responsibility, London has proceeded at a pace which the UUP and its own government agencies were prepared to tolerate.

In order to understand why it did so it is important to appreciate that the British government is a unionist government. Not unionist of the Irish variety but British unionism."

The Sinn Féin leader also examines British strategy and concludes that none of its objectives have been achieved.

"The IRA was not defeated. And after ten years of cessations the question of beating the IRA or trying to demoralise, split or humiliate it should no longer be an issue.

Unless of course no value is placed on the IRA's support for the development of the peace process and its endeavours to facilitate a sustainable process of change to build the peace or unless Sinn Fein's peace strategy and our contribution to the process which includes our efforts to bring an end of physical force, is to be set to one side.

The Sinn Fein President expressed deep concern about the continuing power and influence of the securocrats; "

Mr. Adams also examines the role of the Irish government and the fact that at times there are those in the Dublin political establishment who know better who "have put party political electoral or narrow self interest above the national interest, and the interests of the peace process.

At other times the failure of the Irish government to prevent the British government from breaching the Agreement has caused difficulties throughout nationalist Ireland."

Of the Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP Mr. Adams says; "Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The dialogue between the UUP and us was a central part of our strategy and we are determined despite all the difficulties to deepen and extend this dialogue to all elements of unionism.

Mr. Adams sets out Sinn Féin's attitude to the DUP; "Sinn Féin sets no preconditions whatsoever on talking to the DUP. Neither are we against sharing power with them, despite the record of some of its most senior members."

However, he points out that while 74 or two thirds of the Assembly are pro-Agreement, one third, the DUP has a "desire is to destroy the Agreement, ignore the wishes of the Irish and British people, and turn the clock back to the bad old days of domination and supremacy of one section of people over another.

But they know, if they reflect at all, that this cannot happen. The process of change can be frustrated or delayed, but it cannot be stopped.

The DUP can be moved. And there is no doubt that unionism; even of the Paisleyite kind will have to face in time the same reality that led the UUP to agree the Good Friday Agreement.

But this will take too long and the process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait."

On the Review the Sinn Féin President says: "The principles, structures and obligations of the Agreement cannot and must not be subverted.

The review as set out in the Good Friday Agreement is about improving the delivery of the Agreement. It was never envisaged that it would take place during suspension of institutions indeed the British government had no right to suspend the institutions, and had to step outside the Agreement to unilaterally take that power on themselves.

The review was never meant to deal with a process which is on hold. So while the review may find there are ways of improving the delivery of the Agreement it cannot resolve the current difficulties.

Sinn Féin will bring a positive attitude to the review even though the review can only perform a limited function and must therefore be short, sharp and focussed, as the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister promised.

Sinn Fein has asked that the review be completed within a month. In reality it could be conducted in a week. Any attempt to make it a protracted exercise has to be resisted. "

Finally, and despite a warning that no political process could be sustained on a diet of the last five years and of continuous stalemate, stagnation and eventual breakdown, Gerry Adams expresses confidence that; "With the application of proper strategies I believe the process can be moved on.

This places a heavy responsibility on the two governments ' but especially on Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern ' to provide the essential political leadership that this dangerous crisis urgently demands.

As the leaders of the two sovereign governments and the joint and co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, it falls to them to marshal the pro-Agreement forces and implement a strategy to defeat the wreckers and move the process forward.

This may mean the pro-Agreement, pro-peace parties and governments agreeing and setting out an agenda for progress. Obviously such a task is outside the remit of the review and may require a different mechanism.

But whatever else happens the British government must lift the suspension of the institutions and allow the process defined in the Agreement to take its course.

It also means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last years Joint Declaration and made in subsequent discussions."

Full Text of Speech:

Two Governments "must do what they promised" - Adams

There is undoubtedly a dangerous and deeply worrying sense of drift in the political situation since the Assembly elections in November.

Instead of stable political institutions with the people's elected representatives making decisions on important issues which affect all our lives, across a range of social and economic issues; instead of a fully operational Assembly and all-Ireland institutions leading the delivery of change, advancing the equality agenda and championing a human rights based society; we have continuing impasse and an ever deepening political crisis.

Some commentators argue that the last election caused all this. That is nonsense.

Yes, there are difficulties, major difficulties. However it is my view that these difficulties can be resolved.

A starting point for this can only be found in an accurate analysis of the current situation.

The difficulties did not begin when or because the people cast their votes.

They are rooted in the British government's tactical approach to the Good Friday Agreement.

In other words, for the last five years rather than fully implementing the Agreement over all its aspects and particularly those elements for which the British government has direct responsibility, London has proceeded at a pace which the UUP and its own government agencies were prepared to tolerate.

In order to understand why it did so it is important to appreciate that the British government is a unionist government. Not unionist of the Irish variety but British unionism.

But it is prepared to modernise and in terms of the Good Friday Agreement Mr. Blair's government was moved to a range of all-Ireland positions, and British policy has been shifted quite profoundly, including on the status of the union.

But in a state like this which is entirely unionist in its ethos, symbolism and management, any effort to modernise is bound to be very challenging indeed.

And it isn't just about the section of people here who are unionist. I think that they know that London has little loyalty to them. But the senior policy makers within all the agencies here and particularly those unaccountable branches of the so-called security agencies, are entirely anti-republican, anti-nationalist and pro-union.

And these elements have an affinity with local unionism; the NIO for example is the main body for propagating unionist policy and still stands outside the equality agenda.

So it is easy to see why a British establishment panders to unionism.

It is also fairly easy to see how a British Prime Minister who wants to bring about change can be challenged at many levels within his own system.

For example, the continuing power and influence of the securocrats is evident in the on-going attempts by the British system to hide its real role in Ireland over three decades of conflict.

The British government's refusal to co-operate with the Barron Inquiry into the Dublin Monaghan bombings, the obstruction of the Saville Inquiry at all levels of the British system, the refusal to publish the Cory report and establish independent judicial inquiries and the continuing refusal of the PSNI to disclose vital information to inquest hearings are all symptomatic of a culture of concealment which infects the entire British system.

It is worth looking at British strategy.

Notionally it could be argued that British strategic objectives until the Good Friday Agreement were quite limited.

To defeat the IRA.

To bring about a coalition of Ulster Unionism and the SDLP.

To bring in a limited process of change which would satisfy these political interests and to gain Irish government political support for this.

In other words the ingredients of a classical and limited pacification programme when what was and is required is a conflict resolution process. The Good Friday Agreement changed this. It committed the British government to such an approach.

How wedded or united the British political leadership was to this approach is a matter of opinion. What is for certain is that other elements of the British system did not buy into the new dispensation. They were wedded to the old agenda and to pursuing the old objectives.

But in any case none of these three political objectives materialised.

The IRA was not defeated. And after ten years of cessations the question of beating the IRA or trying to demoralise, split or humiliate it should no longer be an issue.

Unless of course no value is placed on the IRA's support for the development of the peace process and its endeavours to facilitate a sustainable process of change to build the peace or unless Sinn Fein?s peace strategy and our contribution to the process which includes our efforts to bring an end of physical force, is to be set to one side.

The coalition most favoured by the British government did not work even when it came together in a partial form in the first term of the Assembly.

Instead, the crisis within political unionism dominated Assembly politics.

And finally the Good Friday Agreement was a charter for very significant change, not least because republicans were part of negotiating it.

So instead of a limited process of change the British government signed up for a fundamental transformation in which the Irish government is a joint and co-equal partner in the shared responsibility for its implementation.

In fact Mr. Blair on October 17th 2002 claimed that this was such a vast undertaking that 'only in the first flush of a new government could we have contemplated it.'

I'm not seeking to exaggerate the radical or progressive nature of the Good Friday Agreement, although there are both radical and progressive elements in it.

But it is in essence a compromise which republicans and nationalists have signed up to even though some may feel that it falls short of what we are entitled to or expect.

It is a charter for change, which deals with a spectrum of issues.

Apart from anything else, it points up the width and depth of the denial of people's rights and is an indicator of what has to be done if these rights are to be restored.

This is necessary as a point of principle and also in order to anchor a peace process through a programme of sustainable change which shows that politics works.

So, in order to advance this entire process of change a British government was required to press ahead with all its commitments. By so doing peoples rights and entitlements would have been secured.

It would also have changed the political conditions here in such a way as to encourage pragmatic unionism while thwarting rejectionist unionism.

Instead the tactical approach of the last 5 years has encouraged the rejectionists.

This cannot continue.

This is not to underestimate the progress that has been made. There is now a profound difference in the political landscape here and everyone involved, including the British Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and the leaders of pragmatic unionism are to be commended for their contribution.

The Irish government has played a significant and essential role in this process. But the challenges facing it are every bit as daunting as those facing London.

Arguably an Irish government required different or at least additional and more far-reaching strategic objectives than a British government. Any consideration by Dublin advisors or Ministers of a way forward has to consider whether its objectives for the last five years were devised to promote Irish national and democratic interests and the rights of Irish citizens. Or were its objectives the same as the British?

The Good Friday Agreement is an all-Ireland Agreement. While its cutting edge was to create a changed political landscape in the north, because it is an all-Ireland agreement it effects all parts of the island.

But that too brings difficulties and conservative elements have been uncomfortable with such a prospect, because it involves change in the southern state, and particularly as this has been accompanied by a repopularisation of republicanism - national and democratic ideals - and a growing support for Sinn Féin.

So at times those in the Dublin political establishment who know better have put party political electoral or narrow self interest above the national interest, and the interests of the peace process.

At other times the failure of the Irish government to prevent the British government from breaching the Agreement has caused difficulties throughout nationalist Ireland.

Maybe with the best will in the world an Irish government could not have stopped a British government from departing from its commitments, but the effects of this on national morale cannot be ignored especially because people from all over Ireland voted for the Agreement and the Irish constitution was changed on the understanding that the Good Friday Agreement would be implemented.

So any perception that the British are taking the Irish government for granted is a cause of concern.

Republicans are not exempt from criticism and on a number of occasions I have acknowledged this in a very public way.

But sometimes I have to say that some of this criticism is without foundation. It gives succour to those who claim that no matter what republicans do it will not be enough.

There is criticism, for example, of what is referred to as a lack of transparency on the IRAs acts of putting arms beyond use.

This criticism ignores the enormity of this issue for the IRA and its support base. But more importantly it ignores the Good Friday Agreement position on weapons and the role of the IICD.

It also ignores the issue of other weapons in use in the hands of unionist paramilitaries and British state forces, as against the IRA's silenced arms. And it ignores the lengths to which the British system has gone to protect their state agencies, which put guns into the hands of unionist paramilitaries.

All of this was brought very much into stark profile when the sequence of initiatives agreed for last October 21st was aborted by Mr. Trimble, after republicans honoured commitments as part of an agreed sequence of statements and actions.

Mr. Trimble's commitments and probably more importantly at this time, the British government and Irish government's commitments have been put on hold. Neither government has moved one inch on the commitments which they made.

Only Sinn Fein and the IRA upheld their parts of the agreed sequence.

This has caused profound difficulties for the Sinn Fein leadership. And the irony of it all is that there is no doubt, even among its detractors and opponents, about the significance of the IRA's act. This has been acknowledged by governments and rejectionist unionists alike.

Despite what happened consequently I want to make it clear that I stand over the remarks I made that day.

I set out a peaceful direction for republicans because I believe that is the proper position. But myself and Martin McGuinness and others had negotiated and received commitments from London, Dublin and the UUP leadership which persuaded the IRA leadership to put beyond use the largest amount of arms to date. And also to set out its view of my remarks.

It was bad enough that Mr. Trimble walked away from this but there is little that can be done about that now.

But the two governments can fulfil their commitments and it is intolerable that the British and Irish governments have not done so.

They have also failed to provide any satisfactory explanation for reneging on their commitments.

All of this brings us back to the Assembly elections which could have been conducted in a positive atmosphere and which could have seen the process move decisively forward, if others had kept their commitments.

It is unfortunate that for their own reasons others did not see the merit in this. But the elections did see Sinn Féin make a significant and historic breakthrough emerging with the second highest vote, an increased number of seats and our status confirmed as the largest nationalist party in the north, and the third largest on the island.

But of course none of this counts. Britannia waves the rules. The electoral rights of all those citizens who voted for our party and all the pro-Agreement parties are set aside by the British government and the Sinn Fein electorate is told that we have to pass a series of tests before we are acceptable.

It is rather ironic that those who are loudest on this issue also demand that their mandate has to be respected and British Ministers who have no mandate here whatsoever can change the rules to suit their government.

Most nationalists have no real conviction that the DUP will move speedily to engage with the current process.

They voted for Sinn Fein in this knowledge also.

Let me reiterate Sinn Fein's attitude to the DUP. Sinn Féin sets no preconditions whatsoever on talking to the DUP. Neither are we against sharing power with them, despite the record of some of its most senior members.

Our record shows clearly that we are for the peace process, the political process and the wider process of conflict resolution. This is unchallengeable.

So what does the DUP vote mean?

It means that they succeeded in mopping up all the anti-Agreement sentiment in the last Assembly. And with the transfer of Jeffrey Donaldson and his colleagues from the UUP, there is now a quantifiable and significant unionist majority in the Assembly against the Good Friday Agreement.

They now can count on 34 anti-agreement votes in the Assembly. On the other hand the pro-agreement parties can marshal 74 votes.

Indeed those who promote the second Assembly election results as a 'victory for the extremes' are seeking to serve some other agenda by camouflaging the realities behind the vote. The majority of people want the Agreement to work and they are represented by two thirds of the MLAs.

One third, the DUP, have a desire to destroy the Agreement, ignore the wishes of the Irish and British people, and turn the clock back to the bad old days of domination and supremacy of one section of people over another.

But they know, if they reflect at all, that this cannot happen. The process of change can be frustrated or delayed, but it cannot be stopped.

The DUP can be moved. And there is no doubt that unionism; even of the Paisleyite kind will have to face in time the same reality that led the UUP to agree the Good Friday Agreement.

But this will take too long and the process of change and the rights of citizens cannot wait.

The two governments have to face up to that reality.

Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The dialogue between the UUP and us was a central part of our strategy and we are determined despite all the difficulties to deepen and extend this dialogue to all elements of unionism.

The DUP has an opportunity to demonstrate its good intentions, but it must not be allowed to use the review to unravel the progress we have made.

The principles, structures and obligations of the Agreement cannot and must not be subverted.

The review as set out in the Good Friday Agreement is about improving the delivery of the Agreement. It was never envisaged that it would take place during a suspension of institutions ? indeed the British government has no right to suspend the institutions, and had to step outside the Agreement to unilaterally take that power on themselves.

The review was never meant to deal with a process which is on hold. So while the review may find there are ways of improving the delivery of the Agreement it cannot resolve the current difficulties.

Sinn Féin will bring a positive attitude to the review even though it can only perform a limited function and must therefore be short, sharp and focussed, as the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister promised.

Sinn Fein has asked that the review be completed within a month. In reality it could be conducted in a week. Any attempt to make it a protracted exercise has to be resisted.

And the two governments have to be energised in how they approach the next phase.

With the application of proper strategies and political will I believe the process can be moved on.

However, if the next five years is to be a continuation of the past five years, then we face continuous stalemate, stagnation and eventual breakdown. No political process could be sustained on such a diet.

This places a heavy responsibility on the two governments ? and especially on Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern ? to provide the essential political leadership that this dangerous crisis urgently demands.

As the leaders of the two sovereign governments and the joint and co-equal guarantors of the Agreement, it falls to them to marshal the pro-Agreement forces and implement a strategy to defeat the wreckers and move the process forward.

This may mean the pro-Agreement, pro-peace parties and governments agreeing and setting out an agenda for progress. Obviously such a task is outside the remit of the review and may require a different mechanism.

But whatever else happens the British government must lift the suspension of the institutions and allow the process defined in the Agreement to take its course.

It also means that the two governments have to honour their obligations made in the Agreement, made in last years Joint Declaration and in subsequent discussions.

We were told this would happen, irrespective of the outcome of the election.

It hasn't.

On the contrary there has been a paralysis affecting all of the many matters which are the responsibility of the two governments and which are of particular concern to nationalists and republicans.

The institutions remain suspended.

Important changes on policing and on the transfer of powers on policing and justice are now on hold.

The programme of Demilitarisation outlined in the Joint Declaration has not materialised.

The deep rooted and serious problems around the Human Rights Commission, and the Equality Commission, have not been resolved. The issues they are meant to address are not resolved.

And promises on the Irish language issue have not been delivered. In fact the Irish government has failed even to seek official status for the language in the EU.

The anomalous situation of people On The Run continues.

The rights of northern citizens to participate in southern institutions are continuously long fingered.

This sends out entirely the wrong message.

The reality is that when the governments decide to do something they do it.

The suspension of the institutions and the introduction of the International Monitoring Commission are proof of this.

But it appears to nationalists and republicans that the governments are going to let the DUP set the agenda in respect of citizens rights and entitlements. This is unacceptable.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern must do what they promised without any further delay.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Ahern also know that a vacuum will encourage those who want to tear down this process.

They have to build trust and confidence back into a process badly damaged, especially at this time, by their failure to keep to commitments.

For our part republicans recognise that building peace is a collective endeavour.

We have demonstrated time and time again our preparedness to take risks for peace; to reach out to others; to seek to build new and better relationships between the people of this island and between us and the people of Britain.

In the time ahead we all of us have to refocus on what is needed to make the Agreement viable and successful.

No matter how daunting, tedious and frustrating this may be there is no alternative way forward and the resolution of the difficulties will only be found through dialogue and keeping commitments made.

Whatever solutions this involves will emerge in the time ahead. For now I can say with certainty that progress will not be secured by pandering to rejectionists or recycling the distractions, diversions and the failed policies of the past.

One thing is certain change will continue - you like all our young people - all our people of all ages - are entitled to and you will have a future based on equality, justice and freedom. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has insisted that reported changes to the Government's draft Garda Síochána Bill do not go far enough, and that a commitment to establish a fully independent civilian Policing Board is also needed.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said: "I welcome that the Minister has been open to strengthening the powers of the proposed Garda Inspectorate/Ombudsman Commission. Many of the changes outlined in press reports today such as the ability to initiate investigations, the granting of full powers of investigation, and the power to investigate and make recommendations on Garda policy and procedure are recommendations Sinn Féin has made in our own submission to the Minister on this issue. If these recommendations have been accepted of course we welcome this.

"However, the Minister is being typically disingenuous when he suggests that it is merely a matter of petty semantics whether he establishes a 'Garda Inspectorate' as he initially proposed, or an 'Ombudsman Commission' as he has now restyled it. This is not the case. One of the fundamental flaws in the Minister's original proposal is that the Garda Inspectorate would have responsibility for both complaints investigation and management oversight. As far as we know, this will also be the case with the so-called OmbudsmanCommission. It is Sinn Féin's position ? and this view is shared by the Irish Human Rights Commission - that investigation and oversight are both necessary for an accountable police force, but must be functionally separated for optimum accountability.

"In keeping with the Patten reform model, Sinn Féin has recommended the establishment of both a fully independent Garda Ombudsman to investigate complaints AND an independent civilian Policing Board to establish accountable oversight. This has become an internationally recognised best practice formulation, and on this basis we urge the Minister to also incorporate this recommendation into his revised Bill." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly MLA has hit out at comments made today in the British House of Commons by Paul Murphy as he attempted to defend the British government over their ongoing failure to either publish or act upon the Cory Report.

Mr. Kelly said:

"It is now very clear that this British government are continuing the decades long policy of covering up the British state policy of institutionalised collusion. There can be no other explanation for their failure to either publish or act upon the findings of Judge Cory.

"The British government entered into very public commitments after the Weston Park talks to act upon Judge Cory's findings. They have had possession of his report from last October and have failed to honour their pledges.

"Despite the efforts of Paul Murphy in the British House of Commons today the position adopted by his government is indefensible. Sinn Féin made this clear to him yesterday and we will continue to support the families in their demand for the truth." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on European Affairs Bairbre de Brún has today called for any future EU peace and reconciliation monies to include measures for tackling sectarianism in the workplace.

As the debate on whether the EU will deliver a Peace III funding programme continues, Ms de Brún has said that any new Peace III programme can help secure the successful elimination of inequality, the promotion of diversity and the recognition of the inter-dependence of all individuals and communities across Ireland.

Ms de Brún said:

"There is a continued need to support peace building across the island of Ireland. Nation-building and reconciliation will require us to address and tackle issues of discrimination and sectarianism which have blighted workplace relationships to this day. Reconciliation can only be built on equality and the recognition that there is no place for discrimination in our society.

"In the course of Peace I and II much good work was done by the voluntary and community sector in tackling these issues. However there is also a responsibility on the business community to fully engage in the process of conflict resolution. Addressing the inequality, discrimination and sectarianism on their own doorstep can best do this. In addition to tackling sectarianism at the macro level, there is a need to examine how vulnerable groups and individuals within individual workplaces can be made to feel more secure.

"In designing any new Peace III package, we must learn from this gap in some of the good anti-sectarian work that has been carried out to date and ensure that adequate provision be made in the future. This can include involving workforces in the design of initiatives to increase the safety, security and peace of mind of groups underrepresented in that workplace. Workplace safety and security remains one of the key equality issues for us all today and adequate funding must be provided for that work."ENDS

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Commenting on the public launch of the Neighbourhood Renewal Strategy in rural areas by British Direct rule Minister John Spellar, Sinn Féin spokesperson on poverty issues Kathy Stanton said:

"Neighbourhood Renewal has been presented as a key answer to tackling the unacceptable high levels of poverty and disadvantage which affects communities across the North. However this same strategy, which was introduced by the Labour government in Britain, has not made any significant impact on alleviating the many varied social and economic conditions facing disadvantaged communities.

"While Neighbourhood Renewal‚s objective to produce a more integrated approach to these issues has merit there are however deep concerns around the fact that additional resources have so far not been earmarked for its implementation.

"What is required is a multi-faceted approach and a serious commitment from British Direct rule ministers and Departments to tackling identified need in deprived communities of which Neighbourhood Renewal is but one aspect.

"It is also of extreme concern that a major flaw in the strategy is its complete failure to acknowledge the detrimental impact of discriminatory policies and practices employed by successive administrations. This remains a core issue which must be addressed by Ministers, departments and those with statutory responsibility for tackling poverty and disadvantage in our society. If not, then no amount of strategies will succeed in turning back the increasing despair which poverty imposes on too many people." ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams will deliver a major speech on the state on the peace process tomorrow afternoon at 2pm in St. Malachy's Grammar School, Antrim Road, Belfast.

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Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator and MP for Mid-Ulster, Martin McGuinness will travel to Davos, Switzerland next week to attend the World Economic Forum to address a dedicated session on the Irish Peace Process.

Speaking in advance of the visit, Mr McGuinness said,

"The World Economic Forum is a gathering of world leaders and key international opinion makers. It is a measure of international interest in the Irish peace process that there is a dedicated session on our on-going efforts to finally resolve the causes of conflict in Ireland. This is particularly important at this time, as it will give key world leaders the opportunity to hear at first hand the history of our peace process but also the difficulties that we face at this time. It will, I have no doubt, add to the pressure on the two governments and in particular the British government to move urgently to resolve the political crisis.

"I will re-iterate my firm view that that the two governments must not be paralysed by negative Unionism and that they must fulfil their commitments under the terms of the Agreement. An anti-Agreement minority cannot be allowed to over-ride the wishes of the vast majority of the people of Ireland.

"Democratic and human rights are not conditional. The British government should immediately lift their unilateral suspension of the political institutions and proceed with the equality, human rights and demilitarisation agendas without further delay." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education and Newry/Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has urged that the proposed centre of excellence for the treatment of children with Autism be implemented as soon as possible.

Mr Hyland said:

"Following the initiative taken by the then Education Ministers, Martin McGuinness and Dr. Michael Woods it was expected that a new centre of excellence for the treatment of children with Autism would open in the Autumn 2003. This was to be based in the former St. Joseph's Adolescent Training Centre in Middletown, Co. Armagh. This cross border facility was intended to be made available to children throughout the island of Ireland.

"In 2002 the Assembly passed a motion calling on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to introduce a training programme for Health Visitors, School Nurses, Key Stage 1 and Nursery School Teachers to facilitate the early detection of autism and to make adequate provision in collaboration with the Department of Education to meet the needs of autistic children.

"Since then both Education departments North and South have been asked to implement suitable structures and facilities to improve a cross border exchange between pupils and teachers. As a result it is intended that an All Ireland Exchange Trust will begin in March 2004 to deal with special needs children with Autism. Complimentary Parent/Teacher CD ROMs /Videos and literature with information on Autism and Dyslexia will also be launched in the near future. However at present there appears to be a reluctance on behalf of the northern Education department to implement this All Ireland initiative.

"Having discussed this with fellow MLAs at a meeting in Stormont on Tuesday I will be contacting Direct Rule Minister, Jane Kennedy to urge that she fully implements this much needed facility." ENDS

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Speaking after a meeting this morning with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy were he raised the ongoing failure to publish the Cory report, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that he was 'entirely dissatisfied with the excuses given, and the continuing failure of the British Government to honour its obligations and commitments'.

Mr. Adams said:

"Sinn Féin has consistently supported the families demand for full public judicial inquiries into these cases and others. I welcome Judge Cory's recommendation to the British government in respect of these cases.

"I raised this issue with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy this morning. I am entirely dissatisfied with the excuses he gave and the British government failing to honour its obligations and commitments.

"The onus is now on the British government to publish Cory and to honour the commitments it made in August 2001 following the Weston Park talks. On that occasion Mr Blair said that 'in the event that a public enquiry is recommended in any case, the relevant government will implement that recommendation'. There can be no excuse to justify any further delay.

"Cory should be immediately published and the British government must establish full public judicial inquiries. "Of course, the British government reluctance to fulfil commitments made is rooted in the fact that collusion was and is part of administrative practice here and British agencies did collude with, arm, train and provide information for unionist paramilitaries."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, former chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee Mid-Ulster MLA Francie Molloy has welcomed the increases announced in today's Budget but added that the core issue of overall expenditure has not been addressed.

Cllr Molloy said:

"Any increases in expenditure must be welcomed particularly within the agreed priorities of Health, Education and infrastructure. However these increases cannot hide the fact that the funding deficit has not been addressed. The architect of the Barnett formula has recently highlighted the weakness and unfairness of the way in which our overall Budget is worked out. These increases do not take account of the levels of need that exist here, they do nothing to address the legacy of decades of under investment.

"Sinn Féin will be raising the issues of the accumulated funding deficit, the legacy of underfunding, the unfairness of Barnett formula and the need to realise a genuine Peace Dividend in the review of the Good Friday Agreement starting at the end of January.

"The failure to deliver a genuine Peace Dividend and the refusal to address the core issue of funding seriously undermine the ability of any future Executive to deliver real change.

"We need to see significant investment right across our public services and infrastructure. Forcing local people to pay for decades of underinvestment is not the solution.

"I would also have deep reservation about the way in which NIO Ministers are basing increased funding on large rates increases. This will create immediate and long-term difficulties for people, particularly those on low incomes. It is a disgrace that a supposedly socialist government should rely on this form of regressive taxation to raise revenue"ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has written to the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern urging him to seek and secure official status for the Irish language during the Irish Presidency of the European Union.

Mr. Adams said:

"Over 30 years ago the Irish government of the day refused to take up the offer of making Irish an official language of the EEC. That was a disgraceful decision which stands as a mark of shame against that government.

"This year the accession of the new states in May will see the current 11 official languages increase to 20. Maltese, which enjoys 380,000 speakers, is already recognised as an official language of the EU. There are at least that many Irish speakers on this island and many more who have a knowledge of the language.

"So far the Irish government, which will hold the Presidency of the EU during this transitional period, has no plans to seek official status for Irish, even though Irish taxpayers will provide money to a translation fund.

"I have written to the Taoiseach urging him to propose a motion to the Council of Ministers to include Gaeilge as an official language of the European Union.

"I believe this should be done as a matter of principle and because it is also critical to efforts across the island to promote the use and status of Gaeilge." ENDS

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Ógra Shinn Féin is to launch a nationwide campaign calling for voting rights to be extended to citizens in the Six Counties for the Irish presidential election. The campaign will be formally launched by Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, at Ógra Shinn Féin's National Congress in Dublin on 17th January.

National Organiser of Ógra Shinn Féin, Micky Bravender said:

"At our National Congress this weekend Ógra Shinn Féin will launch a nationwide campaign calling for voting rights to be extended to citizens in the Six Counties for the Irish Presidential election.

"This campaign will run the length and breadth of Ireland, from Kerry to Derry and will continue until we secure the first All-Ireland elections since 1918.

"We plan to organise rallies in support of this campaign, and more importantly, we will lobby every Council, Corporation and elected chamber in Ireland to get their backing for this campaign.

"While we do not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead, we are confident that by the end of 2004 we will have made history in achieving the first all Ireland elections in 86 years, and will have moved the prospect of Irish unity decisively forward"ENDS

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Commenting on media reports that Judge Cory has written to the families of the four cases into which he was investigating confirming to them that he has recommended inquires in all of the cases, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly MLA said:

"I would welcome the fact that Judge Cory has recommended to the British government that inquires in these cases take place.

"The British government must now as a matter of urgency publish the Cory Report and act upon the public commitments which they made to abide by its findings.

"Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Alex Maskey will meet tomorrow morning with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy and will be raising this matter then." ENDS

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Sinn Féin health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described as a "debacle" the threatened stand-off between hospital consultants and the Department of Health and Children over failure to reach agreement on a new insurance scheme for consultants. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The issue of insurance cover for consultants should have been resolved long ago as part of the promised revision of the consultants' contract. Instead negotiations have continued since 2001 with no end in sight. The Government's own target date for revision of the contract, as set out in the Health Strategy, was the end of 2002.

"The existing contract gives hospital consultants a privileged position whereby most are paid handsomely for practice in the public system without proper accountability while also carrying out lucrative private practice. It seems that they are now seeking renewed insurance cover from the State to cover liability from private practice in the past. This once again underlines the need to totally revise the consultants' contract and to create a new grade of hospital consultant who would work exclusively in the public system, as part of an overall effort to dismantle the grossly unequal two-tier public-private system."ENDS

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Sinn Féin's spokesperson on European Affairs Bairbre de Brún MLA today led a party delegation to meet Ulster Farmers Union president John Gilliland. The delegation included party spokesperson on agriculture Cllr Gerry McHugh. The meeting took place at the UFU headquarters in Belfast. The focus of the meeting was the issue of the British governments implementation of the reformed EU Common Agricultural Policy. DARD are currently in consultation on the mechanisms for implementation with a deadline of Friday January 16th.

Speaking after the meeting Ms de Brún said:

"The issue of CAP reform is of vital importance for farmers, rural communities and society as a whole. The outcome of the consultation will have a major impact on the future of our farming industry and the communities who rely on farming for their livelihood. It will in effect determine whether many farms continue to exist. As Ireland has a large number of small and family based farms this question is particularly important. It is undoubtedly one of the most important issues facing Irish society today.

"At the centre of the consultation is the issue of decoupling subsidies from production levels. Sinn Féin held a series of meetings with farmers to get a view of the model of decoupling which in their view would best suit the industry here. Todays meetings is part of that listening exercise for our party.

"It is our view that full decoupling is the best option for Irish agriculture and in the best interest of the industry.

"The meeting dealt with other aspects of the CAP reform process which have gotten little attention such as cross compliance, the use of modulation monies for rural development and the regulations covering animal welfare and food quality.

In conclusion Ms de Brún said

"It is important that we have a quick decision so farmers can plan for their future and put an end to the current uncertainty. It is also important that Irish farming has a strong and response lobby arguing for its interests within the European Union. Sinn Féin is committed to listening to the farming community and placing their concerns at the heart of our efforts to ensure a fair and equitable implementation of the CAP reform. Todays meeting has been both informative and constructive and will play a role in ensuring that our party fully understands the right way forward for Irish farmers."

The Sinn Féin delegation also meet with representatives of NIAPA including Lawrence Smyth.

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Sinn Féin Assembly team leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy has dismissed suggestion from UUP MLA David McNarry for the establishment of shadow committees and said that this proposal would provide no real accountability and indeed would provide cover for NIO ministers.

Mr Murphy said:

"What we need is suspension lifted We need to get the real Assembly committee structures in place that can hold ministers fully to account.

"This proposal actually lets ministers off the hook. A shadow committee structure would not have the statutory powers to hold people to account. There is no basis for it in legislation or in the Good Friday Agreement."ENDS

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