Sinn Féin - On Your Side

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Defence, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has urged both the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Justice to publish guidelines for the deployment of "less lethal" weapons. Deputy Ó Snodaigh also welcomed the Minister for Defence's stated willingness to be open and transparent in relation to these "very crucial human and civil rights issues."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "I welcome the statement by the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea in response to my question that he is willing to consider publishing guidelines for the introduction and use of so-called less lethal weapons by the Defence Forces. His position stands in stark contrast to the Minister for Justice, who has deliberately set about concealing from public scrutiny and indeed accountability the report recommending the adoption and proposed guidelines for the use of these weapons by the Gardai."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also welcomed as positive the commitment by the Minister for Defence of his willingness to publish the list of weapons the Defence Forces are investigating and his findings on whether they are acceptable or not, saying "again, this contrasts favourably with the attitude of the Minister for Justice and his disregard for the human rights element, and the national sensitivity of this issue."

He went on to say, "Before any such weapons are adopted, never mind deployed, however, the Minister for Defence should consult with the Human Rights Commission on the issue. I would also urge him to look at the research conducted by groups like the Pat Finucane Centre and the Committee for the Administration of Justice regarding the experience of people in the Six Counties who have been at the receiving end of these weapons. And I would especially encourage him to talk directly to the relatives of the 17 Irish people, including eight children, who have been killed by so-called less-lethal weapons in the Six Counties." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor for North Belfast, David Kennedy, has slammed the BBC for ignoring anti-Irish remarks on its message boards. The BBC, after being made aware of this by a regular contributor, stated that they could find no instance where their rules had been broken despite being directed to the offensive comments.

Speaking today Cllr Kennedy stated:

"Irish people have for the past number of weeks been subject to defamatory and racist abuse on the BBC's internet message board with users of the site referring to Irish citizens as 'Paddies' alongside other defamatory stereotypical remarks. When contacted about it by several users of the site the BBC's reply was wholly inadequate and contradictory.

"The BBC's reply states that they could find no way in which their house rules for the message boards had been broken. This is despite the very same rules stating that defamatory, abusive and racially offensive material is not acceptable.

"Nationalists and republicans have long expressed serious concerns for many years about the manner in which the BBC operates and this will further compound their suspicions. For the BBC to ignore and not consider anti-Irish racism as a problem is as good as condoning it.

"Sinn Fein have highlighted on several occasions that the BBC still remain exempt from equality scrutiny under Section 75. It is exactly this kind of incident that proves the need for the BBC to be included under this law and face up to its responsibilities as a public body." ENDS

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Sinn Féin former Belfast Mayor, South Belfast representative Cllr Alex Maskey MLA will be the main speaker at a candle light vigil on Palestine Street in South Belfast commemorating the week's anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat tonight.

The vigil will assemble at the Spar Shop on University Avenue at 7pm.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture and Food, Martin Ferris TD, has criticised the fact that the Estimates released for the Department of Agriculture and Food will be insufficient to maintain the Teagasc research facilities which are being closed down. Earlier this week, the remaining workers at the Ballinamore dairy research farm were transferred to Ballyhaise. This represents a massive blow not only to the local economy but to the important research into local conditions that was carried out there.

Deputy Ferris said: "I am disappointed that Teagasc has not been given the necessary funding to both maintain its current level of operations and to expand at this time of radical change within Irish farming. This Government has decided, for political reasons, to close Ballinamore and there are threats hanging over a number of other centres. I am calling on the Minister to fight to ensure that the Teagasc estimate is increased so that the necessary research and development is there to allow Irish farmers to adapt themselves to changing conditions."ENDS

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Commenting on the publication of the Book of Estimates Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said it signalled "the start of Fianna Fáil's General Election campaign". While welcoming positive aspects of the Estimates, including increased spending in a range of areas, Deputy Ó Caoláin expressed concern that the huge increase for the National Treatment Purchase Fund would re-enforce the unequal two-tier system in our health services. He also questioned the adequacy of estimates for Child Benefit and Carers‚ Allowance.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"These estimates, taken in tandem with recent populist statements by the Taoiseach, signal the early start of the Fianna Fáil General Election campaign. Very belatedly they are addressing some of the promises they left unfulfilled, most notably the extension of medical card cover.

"I welcome the widening of medical card qualification. This is something Sinn Féin called for in our pre-Budget submission and it is an essential measure, especially for families with children.

"While the GP only Medical Card is a significant development, it still falls short of what the Government committed to in 2002 when they promised to extend medical cards without qualification to a further 200,000 people.

"It is very significant that the biggest percentage increase in the Health estimate is the 43% rise in spending on the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

While this Fund has yielded some short-term improvements in waiting times it is pouring millions of public funds into the already bloated private health business. This will receive an additional €20 million next year. In the meantime the public system is struggling to cope due to a shortage of nurses and other staff.

"This Government has re-enforced the two-tier nature of the health system and there is nothing in these Estimates or in the Health Bill to indicate any change in direction. The opposite is the case. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign for an end to health apartheid and for a public system with equal access for all based on need alone.

"I am very concerned at the drop of 9% in the estimate for building, equipping and furnishing of hospitals and other health facilities. Again these are public facilities which are not going to be developed at the same rate as in 2004 while private hospitals continue to be subsidised with generous tax breaks.

"I am also concerned that the allocation for Carer's Allowance has increased by just 2% and Child Benefit by 3%. These increases barely keep pace with inflation and offer little hope of the improvements necessary materialising in the Budget package on 1 December." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast representative Cllr Fra McCann MLA has written to the Direct Rule Social Development Minister John Speller demanding an urgent review of the housing selection scheme - more commonly known as the waiting list - saying that the scheme condemns people to years of waiting rather than helping people in housing need.

Cllr McCann said:

"I have been dealing with people who have been condemned to waiting in hostel accommodation for up to 4 years. In some cases these are people with serious long-term illness.

"Young people, who have no chance of being awarded enough points under this scheme, have little or no chance of being housed. The number of people trapped in these situations is endless.

"The bottom line is that the system needs fixed and the only way to do this is through a fundamental review of this scheme. Having discussed the situation with many within the Housing Executive and from housing associations there is clearly agreement that something needs to be done urgently.

"I am seeking an urgent meeting with the direct rule minister responsible for housing to press home the need for change, and to explain that there is an opportunity to help those in housing need and living in crisis situations with a short sharp focused review. It is vital that those who work at the coal face of housing issues are listened and that their advice is taken seriously." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor for North Belfast, David Kennedy, has slammed the BBC for ignoring anti-Irish remarks on its message boards. The BBC, after being made aware of this by a regular contributor, stated that they could find no instance where their rules had been broken despite being directed to the offensive comments.

Speaking today Cllr Kennedy stated:

"Irish people have for the past number of weeks been subject to defamatory and racist abuse on the BBC's internet message board with users of the site referring to Irish citizens as 'Paddies' alongside other defamatory stereotypical remarks. When contacted about it by several users of the site the BBC's reply was wholly inadequate and contradictory.

"The BBC's reply states that they could find no way in which their house rules for the message boards had been broken. This is despite the very same rules stating that defamatory, abusive and racially offensive material is not acceptable.

"Nationalists and republicans have long expressed serious concerns for many years about the manner in which the BBC operates and this will further compound their suspicions. For the BBC to ignore and not consider anti-Irish racism as a problem is as good as condoning it.

"Sinn Fein have highlighted on several occasions that the BBC still remain exempt from equality scrutiny under Section 75. It is exactly this kind of incident that proves the need for the BBC to be included under this law and face up to its responsibilities as a public body." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland speaking after a Department of Finance and Personnel briefing on the draft budget for 2005-08 has warned that there must be real increases in spending, beyond those swallowed up by inflationary and staff wages pressures, to meet the requirements particularly for greater investment in additional psychologists, teachers in special units and classroom assistants.

Mr Hyland said:

"It is vital that the Education sector gets the funding allocations needed to improve and enhance the opportunities for all children across the six counties. On studying the draft budget it is clear that the Department is developing arguments based on declining numbers to support a decrease, in absolute real terms, in the Education budget.

"I hope that this is not been the case, as I believe the needs of our children should be paramount in determining such allocations. There should be no excuses and no hidden agendas that result in services and opportunities for our children and young people being eroded and denied. Special Needs Education in particular require significantly increased funding, in terms of supplying additional psychologists, teachers in special units and classroom assistants.

"The block grant fails to deliver a fair and just slice of the British budget and the continuation of unaccountable direct rule ministers deciding budgetary allocations for the Six Counties must come to an end. As we have seen in recent weeks there are already severe financial pressures within the education system that is leading to unacceptable cuts in schools maintenance, support staff and possibly even in hot school meals. Our children deserve more than scraps from the British Treasury table. We need to get firm control of our own finances once and for all and allocate them ourselves." ENDS

Note to Editors

SEN - £21.8 million more over the budget period including 300 more frontline staff

The new curriculum changes - £3 million has been obtained for the new curriculum

Implementation of Costello - £20.1 million - to take forward post primary reform

Proposed increases over the three years are:

2005/06 - 5.5%
2006/07 - 2.0%
2007/08 - 3.7%

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Wicklow Sinn Féin Chairperson David Gahan today confirmed that he had written to the Chairman of the Tribunal into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, Mr Justice Alan Mahon asking that the Tribunal investigate a number of very serious planning irregularities in County Wicklow.

David Gahan said

"Wicklow Sinn Féin has brought to the attention of the Mahon Tribunal irregularities and possible corruption in relation to Wicklow County Council and An Bord Pleanala.

"In our correspondence to the Chairman of the Tribunal we pointed out that these irregularities and possible corruption arise from the granting of planning permission by Wicklow Council/An Bord Pleanala to developers for the construction of hundreds of houses in exchange for those developers making a contribution to the amount of the full cost for the construction of a road linking Greystones and the N11. The construction of this road, under conditions of planning granted, should have been completed before completion or occupation of houses. This did not happen.

"I brought to Justice Mahon‚s attention a number of other alarming issues regarding the reason that the road is not yet completed. These included the discovery of an illegal dump on the route of the proposed road near the N11; Wicklow County Council‚s/An Bord Pleanala‚s knowledge of the existence of this illegal landfill prior to the granting of planning permission and subsequent awarding of a contract to construct this road knowing the difficulties that would arise; evidence of Wicklow County Council‚s/An Bord Pleanala‚s knowledge of the dump include allegations that Wicklow County Council actually used this landfill for a period of time and the fact that the illegal dump was the subject of circuit court planning and waste enforcement proceeding in 1998 and the fact that the consequence of this planning decision by Wicklow County Council/An Board Planala will result in an estimated cost of €21 million for re-routing the final section of the roadway.

"Sinn Féin believes that these issues and the possible corruption involved warrant investigation by the Mahon Tribunal and we believe that such an investigation would help tackle the culture of corruption and illegality in the form of illegal dumping which has thrived in Wicklow for far too long‰.ENDS

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Sinn Féin West Belfast representative Cllr Michael Ferguson MLA has said that comments made by Kieran Milnes today that the biggest mistake he made was contacting the PSNI and that he was let down by the criminal justice system is a damning indictement particularly of the PSNI.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Kieran Milnes believes that the biggest mistake he made was involving the PSNI. It is clear that the hour delay in attending the scene, the failure to take any evidence from the car and indeed the entire approach of the PSNI to this case have created a totally unsatisfactory situation that was compounded by serious errors within the Justice criminal justice system.

"Kieran Milnes should not be in jail today. All he did was protect his property yet as a result of serious flaws within the policing and criminal justice systems he is behind bars.

"I would urge everyone who wants to take a stand against anti-social behaviour within our community to support the Kieran Milnes.

"Clearly political parties who tell us that the PSNI is an acceptable policing service need to reflect on the serious problems that remain as demonstrated by the scandal of Kieran Milnes case." ENDS

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Speaking in advance of today's vote on the incoming European Commission, Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald said: "Sinn Féin believes another Europe is possible, where the rights of nations and peoples are respected and promoted, where quality health care and education are available to all, where civil liberties are protected, and where the EU plays a positive and progressive role in tackling developing world debt and promoting conflict resolution. Therefore Sinn Féin supported calls for a progressive EU Commission which would impact positively on those inside and outside Europe's borders in terms of democracy and social and economic policies. She said "Jose-Manuel Barosso has failed to bring forward such a European Commission and therefore myself and my colleague Bairbre de Brún MEP will not be supporting the European Commission - designate."

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"The European Union is going through a time of immense change and in the months ahead countries across Europe will be debating and voting on key issues such as the EU Constitution. We believe that there was a real opportunity, following enlargement to come forward with an EU Commission which was open and progressive and which could impact positively on those inside and outside Europe's borders. Unfortunately this did not happen.

"Last month Sinn Féin voted against the European Commission because we were deeply concerned with the political and policy complexion of the incoming Commission. For Sinn Féin MEPs, this was never about individuals or the personal convictions held by some within the European Commission.

"Our analysis is based on the manifesto, which we presented to the Irish electorate in this year's European elections. In this manifesto we set out a clear and radical vision of a Europe based on principles of equality, justice, and human rights. We also made clear our opposition to the continued erosion of public services and social welfare provision Europe wide and the role, which the EU is playing in this regard.

"During the September hearings with MEPs, many of the proposed Commissioners outlined support for social and economic policies which will actively undermine equality, justice and social solidarity. There are also a number of proposed European Commissioners who have serious questions to answer with respect to their roles when Ministers in their own countries.

"Since September, the European Commission President designate Jose-Manuel Barosso has announced minimal and cosmetic changes to his team. On this basis, Sinn Féin MEPs cannot support the European Commission team." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today welcomed a report outlining the work of the European Ombudsman for 2003. The EU Ombudsman is tasked with investigating cases of maladministration in EU institutions and bodies.

Ms McDonald was speaking in a debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg where she acknowledged the work of the EU Ombudsman, but cautioned that 'the work of the EU Ombudsman brings into sharp focus the wider debate on accountability, or more accurately the lack of accountability within the EU'.

Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is committed to an EU that is accessible to the people. We support measures which make the work of the EU more transparent, accountable, efficient and effective. The citizens of the European Union demand and deserve institutions, which deal with their concerns, and complaints in a professional and open manner, and which are prepared to adequately admit their failures and bring about adequate redress.

"The work of the EU Ombudsman brings into sharp focus the wider debate on accountability, or more accurately the lack of accountability within the EU. As welcome and necessary as the work of the EU Ombudsman is, that office is not a panacea for the EU's democratic deficit." ENDS

Full text of Ms McDonald's speech:

May I begin by welcoming both the European Ombudsman's report and the Rapporteur, Mr Proinsias de Rossa's report, on the activities of the European Ombudsman for the year 2003. I would like to acknowledge their work.

Sinn Féin is committed to an EU that is accessible to the people. We support measures which make the work of the EU more transparent, accountable, efficient and effective. The citizens of the European Union demand and deserve institutions, which deal with their concerns, and complaints in a professional and open manner, and which are prepared to adequately admit their failures and bring about adequate redress.

However, as the Rapporteur makes clear in his report, a number of bodies (including the European Commission) had not adhered to recommendations and regulations on access to public documents. It is both regrettable and unacceptable that a number of the institutions did not give full disclosure of documents to the Ombudsman's office. I want to reinforce the recommendation in the Rapporteur's report that 'the Ombudsman should have unlimited access to the documents in connection with his enquiries'.

The work of the EU Ombudsman brings into sharp focus the wider debate on accountability, or more accurately the lack of accountability within the EU. As welcome and necessary as the work of the EU Ombudsman is, that office is not a panacea for the EU's democratic deficit.

Let me be clear, issues of transparency, accountability and trust will not be secured through the effective operation of the EU Ombudsman's office alone. What is required is significant political change, we must seriously go about the job of democratising the EU. What we must create is an EU which compliments the role of the member state - not one which undermines it. We need an EU which allows local and regional democracy to flourish. An EU that respects the sovereignty of member states.

It will take more resources to empower all sections of society to fully engage with the EU.

Sinn Féin will accept nothing less for Irish citizens, they deserve no less. ENDS

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Commenting on the second Barron Report published today Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said the British government must be forced to co-operate with inquiries on collusion. He said the British government was abusing its special relationship with the Irish government in order to avoid international accountability for its actions in Ireland. He said:

"The British government has again refused to co-operate with an inquiry established by the Oireachtas. It is abusing its special relationship with the Irish Government in order to avoid international accountability for the actions of its armed forces in Ireland. The Irish Government should not stand for this and should bring the issue of collusion before the court of world opinion.

"This report once more highlights the devastating results of British terror in Ireland. From the beginning of the conflict in 1969 the British government‚s forces carried out attacks in the 26 Counties directly and through their loyalist paramilitary surrogates. The December 1972 bombing of Dublin was clearly designed to swing public opinion and the Oireachtas towards repressive measures. The Government of the time allowed British terror to succeed when it passed draconian amendments to the Offences Against the State Act. The co-ordinated bombing of Clones, Pettigoe and Belturbet, where two teenagers died, were part of the same effort to change policy in this State.

"The British government failed to co-operate with the first Barron Report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974. They refused the invitation of the Oireachtas Committee which held hearings on that report. They have failed to act on the call of that Committee, unanimously backed by the Oireachtas, to establish a form of inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. They have failed to have a resolution to this effect passed in the Houses of Parliament as recommended by the Oireachtas Committee.

"It is well known that the Littlejohn brothers were British agents who carried out actions in this State designed to place the blame on republicans and to provoke a repressive response. They were convicted and their links with members of the Garda Special Branch were also exposed at the time. This was only the tip of the iceberg of British covert action in the 26 Counties in the period covered by this report of Judge Barron. The British must come clean."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy, who heads up the party's anti-water tax campaign has urged SDLP leader Mark Durkan to break the cycle of self-denial over the responsibility of those who negotiated the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative and opened the door to the imposition of water taxes and challenged him to come clean on the water tax deal in order that a united cross party opposition to the tax can be developed.

Mr Molloy said:

"Over the past year there has been much debate over who was responsible for the introduction of water taxes. Mark Durkan and David Trimble in refusing to come clean on the negotiations that led to the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative are hindering the development of a cross party opposition to the imposition of these unfair and unjust taxes.

"If Mark Durkan could find the courage to come clean on the water tax deal brokered in secret negotiations in London with the British Treasury it would enable us to develop a coherent strategy to stop the British governments plans dead in its tracks.

"I have repeatedly said that if every party within the Assembly and every party who would form any future Executive gave a joint undertaking to roll back this form of taxation that it would create huge difficulties for the direct rule ministers in pushing ahead with these plans." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today welcomed a draft resolution calling for a tighter EU code of conduct on arms exports and a tax levy on the arms trade in the EU. The resolution proposes that the revenue from such a tax would be paid into funds to help alleviate poverty.

Speaking from Strasbourg Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin wants to see a demilitarised Ireland and European Union. We want to see tighter controls on the production and export of arms. Our own experience of conflict resolution over the past 30 years has taught us of the need to dramatically reduce the arms industry in all its forms.

"We want to see a more effective EU Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers and the adoption of an international Arms Trade Treaty to prevent EU export of arms where they contribute to violations of human rights. We are also committed to working toward a demilitarised European Union.

"Sinn Féín welcomes the proposal to place levies on the export of weaponry and component parts throughout the EU and beyond. There is an enormous amount of money to be made in the international arms trade. Indeed, Ireland alone exported over 2.5 billion euro worth of military and dual-use goods in 2003.

"Sinn Féin would view any such tax as merely a stop gap measure. In September 2004 I called for the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports to be revised with immediate effect to prevent European arms suppliers from using loopholes in the Code of Conduct to export arms to internationally recognised human rights abusing regimes.

"I also welcome the proposal that the capital generated from any such venture, would be placed in funds for the victims of armed conflict and the alleviation of poverty. Both myself and my colleague, Bairbre de Brún MEP will be supporting this motion in the European Parliament today." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew speaking at a debate in UCD on the motion that 'That Moderate Parties No Longer Have A Role To Play in Northern Politics' with SDLP leader Mark Durkan and British Secretary of State Paul Murphy has said that Sinn Féin are committed to challenging the status quo.

Ms Gildernew said:

"We do not accept that the majority of Northern nationalists who voted for Sinn Fein in the last election are extremists.

"We do not accept the basic premise of that the Ulster Unionists and SDLP are moderates.

"We support women's rights; we support gay and lesbian rights; we support the rights of the travelling community. We support the rights of disabled people; we support the right to a decent health service regardless of ability to pay We support the right of people to buy a home at a reasonable price; and we support the idea of an equitable taxation scheme where millionaires are made to pay their fair share of the tax burden.

"The reason that our critics like to give the impression that we are just two sets of Extremists fighting it out 'up there' doesn't have anything to do with the North. It is because the establishment fears the growth of Sinn Fein and because it fears real change. And they are right.

"The motion of this debate implies that just a few years ago, there were loads of moderates in the six counties - but just who were these moderates? The Orange Order is one of the lifebloods of Unionism and it can hardly be described as moderate.

"Then there are those other moderates, the British Government. The British Government have portrayed themselves as honest brokers but are they as moderate as they would have us believe? The British state is heavily implicated in state violence and collusion.

"If by moderate you mean keeping the status quo, then Sinn Fein are not moderate. We do want change.

"If moderation is not wanting change then I am no moderate - and I have no problem being a radical, wanting equal opportunities, wanting Unionist councils to end discrimination, wanting playgrounds in Catholic areas as well as Protestant ones, wanting to see an end to police harassment." ENDS

Full text of speech

That This House Believes That Moderate Parties No Longer Have A Role To Play in Northern Politics.

It's a great pleasure to be here tonight.

It is also a pleasure to discuss a motion which, in however a backhanded way, acknowledges the great successes that Sinn Fein has made in the Six Occupied Counties which by the way if we keep growing as a party will soon be that statelets official name before it becomes part of a United Ireland.

We have now more than 200 elected representatives across the island - 4 MPs elected to Westminster, 5 TDs in the Irish Parliament, 2 MEPs to the European Parliment, 24 MLAs in the Six County Assembly and over 250 representatives on local Councils. In terms of the popular vote in the North we have won almost everything but Big Brother, although given that British Securocrats ensure that everything we do, from holding a meeting, to going to the toilet is kept under constant audio and video surveillance I wouldn't rule us out of success in even that arena.

However ladies and gentlemen we do not accept the basic premise of this motion: that the Ulster Unionists and SDLP and of course the Alliance are the only moderates in the Six Counties.

We do not accept that David Trimble, a man who supported the Ulster Workers Council strike, a man who threw himself into the activities of Vanguard, a right wing Unionist pressure group of the Seventies, and a man who danced his way down the Garvaghey Road hand in hand with Ian Paisley, is a moderate while we, we, are the extremists.

We do not accept that majority of Northern nationalists who voted for Sinn Fein in the last election are extremists.

Indeed Sinn Fein's supposed extremism is a strange kind of extremism indeed:

  • We support women's rights
  • We support gay and lesbian rights.
  • We support the rights of the travelling community.
  • We support the rights of disabled people.
  • We support the right to a decent health service regardless of ability to pay
  • We support the right of people to buy a home at a reasonable price
  • We support the idea of an equitable taxation scheme where millionaires are made to pay their fair share of the tax burden
  • And we support the right of people who have fled persecution abroad to find sanctuary here.

If that is extremism then yes ladies and gentlemen we are extreme and I pray to God that you are too!

However it is in our critics interests to portray us as some sort of mirror image of the DUP, to suggest that Gerry Adams is a Catholic version - if you can in fact have such a thing - of Ian Paisley.

This is despite the fact that Dr. Paisley doesn't have what you would call a great record on women's rights, isn't interested in house prices in Stillorgan, loathes homosexuals and despite his title hasn't even done much for sick people.

But the reason that our critics like to give the impression that we are just two sets of Extremists fighting it out "up there" doesn't funnily enough have anything to do with the North. It is largely because of the politics of this state. The southern establishment fears the growth of Sinn Fein in this state - because it fears real change. And they are right ladies and gentlemen. For make no mistake about it the Ireland that we want to pass on to the next generation is not an Ireland that has been shaped by Michael McDowell, ladies and gentlemen.

Nor - and this goes double - is it an Ireland shaped by Paul Murphy or any other British Secretary of state - no matter how nice their accent.

The motion of this debate also implies that just a few years ago, there were loads of moderates in the six counties - but just who were these moderates? The Orange Order is one of the lifebloods of Unionism and it can hardly be described as moderate. In the past few days it has emerged the Orange Order has been linked to an organization whose sole purpose is to buy land to prevent Catholics buying it. Members of the Orange Order believe it is their right to walk down the "Queens Highway" as they call it, but it is not their right to put communities under siege which is what they have been doing. Nor is it right that on the 12th of July the vast majority of Catholics have to clear out of the six counties so that Unionists can dominate the place like they did in the golden days of bigotry. So much for Moderate Unionism.

Then there are those other moderates, the British Government. The British Government have portrayed themselves brilliantly as honest brokers but are they as moderate as they would have us believe? The British state is heavily implicated in state violence and collusion and it's not just bloody Sunday we're talking about here, it's thousands of others, not least the suspicion of collusion in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. Of course I'm not saying that every piece of dirty tricks is ratified in 10 Downing Street, but the fact is that British PM after British PM allowed the Unionist administration of the six counties to continue on it's merry way of discrimination and bigotry towards Catholics in housing, jobs and just about every sphere of life. Many British Prime Ministers were just Pontius Pilates who simply allowed the execution of innocents, but there are others with more to answer.

Christy Moore sings a song called Ordinary Man and just like lots of Ordinary Irishmen he was stopped by the British security forces at a port and held for two hours - as was his driver. I won't speak for Christy Moore he's much more eloquent than I could ever be but I will speak for my constituents who, on a regular basis are stopped on their way to matches or business appointments and held for hours on end, often with the intention of stopping them going to games or meetings.

If by moderate you mean keeping the status quo, then Sinn Fein are not moderate. We do want change, we don't want to see the border blighting lives and we don't want to see continued police harassment.

There are some people in the 26 counties who wish Nationalists in the North would just shut up and get on with our Unionist neighbours. Well we do want to get on with our Unionist neighbours but we won't shut up. The National Statistics Office has just published figures which reveal that both Catholic men and women are twice as likely to be unemployed than their Protestant counterparts. We won't just accept this because it was accepted for so long.

If moderation is not wanting change then I am no moderate - and I have no problem being a radical, wanting equal opportunities, wanting Unionist councils to end discrimination, wanting playgrounds in Catholic areas as well as Protestant ones, wanting to see an end to police harassment. If you want to see change I ask you to vote Sinn Fein in the next elections North and South, vote for the only All-Ireland party in this country."

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún (6 counties) and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) have today extended a warm welcome to the South African President Thabo Mbeki to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In a joint statement they paid tribute to "the positive role South Africa has played in assisting in the resolution of conflicts".

Speaking from Strasbourg the Sinn Féin MEPs said:

"Sinn Féin extends a warm welcome to the South African President, Thabo Mbeki to the European Parliament. We recognise the importance of strong links between the African continent and the European Union and call for them to be built upon in the coming years.

"Mr Mbeki made reference in his speech to the struggle to eradicate poverty within Africa. Global poverty remains one of the greatest challenges facing us today. Within the EU, more than 68 million people continue to live in poverty. We pledge our support to policies and initiatives designed to combat global poverty, particularly in relation to the African continent.

"Working through the African Union, South Africa has also played an important role as an honest broker in conflict situations throughout Africa. We also recognise and commend the positive contribution South Africa has played and continues to play in relation to the Irish peace process." ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil today Sinn Féin leader, Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin, joined with other party leaders in offering condolences to the husband and family of murdered Irish Iraqi aid worker Margaret Hassan.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "I join with all the other party leaders in extending on my own behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, our sincere sympathy to the husband and family of murdered Irish Iraqi aid worker Margaret Hassan.

"Her cruel captivity and death serve no cause. Her dedicated service to and embrace of the Iraqi people for over 30 years only emphasises the outrage of her murder.

"An opponent of the US/British invasion of Iraq, Margaret Hassan represented the views of the overwhelming mass of Irish opinion. We have lost someone of whom we, as a people, can be justly proud.

"Her death demands a re-evaluation of this State's shameful assistance for and association with the US-led war in Iraq - not in response to her murder but because it is the right thing to do and because that is what Margaret Hassan would have wished." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún has highlighted the importance of reduction, re-use and recycling in helping the environment and dealing with packaging and packaging waste.

Ms de Brún was speaking after she had addressed a European Parliament debate in Strasbourg to set target dates for the implementation of the Packaging Directive for the 10 states that joined the EU in May 2004.

Speaking from Strasbourg, Ms de Brún said:

"The revised EU Packaging Directive is another important step towards environmental strategies and policies which focus on waste minimisation, recovery, re-use and recycling.

"Throughout Ireland, similar directives have already had a positive impact on changing government practice and public mindsets with respect to both domestic and commercial waste management. Clearly there is much work to be done, both in Ireland to meet existing EU directives, and across the EU to continue the process of managing waste more effectively and in more environmentally sensitive ways.

"I also want to stress the importance of deadlines for ensuring that member states reach the targets agreed by the EU, including deadlines for the newest member states.

"At local government level, the directive deadlines for shifting from landfill to recycling has meant that local authorities from Belfast to Dublin are actively pursuing new forms of waste management. Likewise government departments have been moved by the setting of deadlines to concentrate their efforts.

"Sinn Féin recognise that the right to a clean environment requires both EU and national investment in sustainable development. A clean environment is not only a public good but a fundamental social right in need of protection." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Equality, Human Rights and Women's Spokesperson South Down MLA Catríona Ruane has called on the British government to introduce the proper range of powers required by the Human Rights Commission.

The call comes in advance of hearings being carried by the United Nations Committee on Torture this week which will scrutinise the British government's treaty obligations and in many instances, its failure to comply with human rights and equality issues in the North of Ireland.

Ms Ruane said:

"It is unacceptable that six years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed that that the Human Rights Commission has again had to make representation to the United Nations about the British government's obstruction of its work by its refusal to provide the Commission with the appropriate powers.

"Issues such as state collusion, the continuing use of non-jury courts, plastic bullets and repressive legislation should have been relegated to the dustbin as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. Yet the British government is eroding individual and collective rights by maintaining them.

"Sinn Féin raised these and issues such as the need for accountable and representative policing and criminal justice systems with the United Nations during its last hearing and only last week we met with the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner to voice our concerns across similar matters.

"Sinn Féin has consistently called on the British government to provide the Human Rights Commission with the proper range of powers it requires to fulfil its remit to protect and promote human rights in an effective way. This failure has plagued the Commission since its inception. The danger is that any incoming Commission will inherit many of the same problems.

"One of the issues being tabled at the UN is the situation of women prisoners held at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre which the Commission cannot access because it does not have this specific power. How can a Human Rights Commission protect human rights in such circumstances when access is blocked by the Prison Service and it has no power in its own right to overturn such decisions? Without these basic powers any incoming Human Rights Commission will be undermined before it begins." ENDS

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