Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast and party spokesperson on Justice issues Gerry Kelly has welcomed the decision of the High Court in Belfast to allow the Finucane family to proceed with their case to force the British government to publish the Cory Report.
Mr. Kelly said:
"I welcome the decision of the High Court in Belfast this morning to allow the Finucane family to proceed with their case to force the British government to publish the Cory Report.
"However it is a disgrace that this family are being forced down this road by the British Government. After the Weston Park talks Tony Blair publicly committed himself to publishing Judge Cory's Report and more importantly acting on its recommendations.
"The British Government have been in possession of the Cory Report since last October. They are hiding behind security and legal matters in yet another stalling exercise to prevent the truth about their involvement in a collusion policy from coming out. This situation is not tenable. The British Government need to realise that the families of those killed through collusion will not simply stop demanding answers and demanding the truth." ENDS
Mid-Ulster Sinn Féin Assembly member Geraldine Dougan will tomorrow meet with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy as part of the party delegation discussing the forthcoming Review. Ms Dougan will be raising with Mr Murphy the Police Ombudsman report into the killing of Sean Brown in her constituency in 1997 and the continuing failure of the British Government to publish and act upon the Cory Report.
Ms Dougan said:
"Tomorrow's meeting with the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy is part of the ongoing engagement before the commencement of the Review of the Agreement due to commence in early February.
"In addition to this business it is my intention to raise with Mr. Murphy the damning report published yesterday by the Police Ombudsman into the killing of Sean Brown in my constituency in 1997 and the continuing failure of the British Government to publish or act upon the Cory Report.
"The killing of Sean Brown and the subsequent investigation raise very serious questions for the British government. The removal of files from PSNI barracks only took place once the Ombudsman began to investigate the case. These files were removed by members of the PSNI. There can be no other explanation.
"It is time for the British government to come clean on their decades long policy of collusion and cover up. The families of those killed are demanding answers and the British government cannot be allowed to stall on these matters any further." ENDS
Editors Note; The Sinn Féin delegation consisting of Mitchel McLaughlin, Bairbre de Brún, Geraldine Dougan and Philip McGuigan will meet with the British Secretary of State at 3pm at Hillsborough.
Speaking during the Dáil statements on the Irish EU Presidency, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that many in the political establishment are "more concerned with creating a United States of Europe than about achieving a United Ireland".
Deputy Ó Caoláin also said that, "The Government programme has disappointed Irish hopes for a distinctive and progressive Presidency that could be a source of pride for our people. This failure reflects the Government's characteristic lack of both vision and political will when it comes to Europe. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, believes that another Europe, a socially just and socially responsible Europe of Equals is possible."
He went on to say that the Government, in agreeing the defence clauses of the draft Constitutional Treaty had "failed to pursue a policy of positive neutrality in action"
The Sinn Féin Dáil leader called on the Irish Government during its presidency to ensure that the Irish language becomes an official working language of the EU. Welcoming the accession of nine new working languages from 1 May, Deputy Ó Caoláin said that Irish should be among them and urged the Government to formally process this through the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. The Sinn Fein TDs have tabled a Dáil motion to this effect.
Full text of statement by Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin during statements on the EU Presidency, 20th January 2004
Eighty-five years ago tomorrow on 21 January 1919 the First Dáil Éireann met and declared the independence of the Irish Republic. In its Message to the Free Nations of the World the Dáil stated that "the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing control of government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people".
Eighty-five years later it is a sad reality that many in the political establishment here are more concerned with creating a United States of Europe than they are about completing the work of the First Dáil and achieving a United Ireland. In the Irish Presidency programme the Government speaks of the historic ending of the post-war division of Europe. What about ending the division of Ireland?
The Government programme has disappointed Irish hopes for a distinctive and progressive Presidency that could be a source of pride for our people. This failure reflects the Government's characteristic lack of both vision and political will when it comes to Europe.
Sinn Féin, on the other hand, believes that another Europe, a socially just and socially responsible Europe of Equals IS possible, but remains to be built. In keeping with the Sinn Féin vision we have set out proposals for a positive Presidency and I urge the Government to adopt them and act upon them.
We believe that the Presidency should initiate a Global Social Justice Agenda, equivalent to the Lisbon and Tampere Agendas, and whose priorities would include UN reform and fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals . The Irish Presidency should also initiate a process for human rights-proofing of all EU legislation and policies, focusing not only on aid and trade, but also in relation to the so-called EU Anti-Terrorism Roadmap measures and the Common Migration and Asylum Policies that this Presidency will be responsible for progressing. Sinn Féin commends to the Government the Trócaire recommendations on how the Presidency could be used for the greater good, the proposal from Dóchas to make HUMAN Security the priority for this Presidency, and the recently launched Amnesty International EU Presidency Campaign "Human Rights Begins at Home". There is no valid reason why these recommendations should not be accepted by the Government.
On the issue of the Tampere Agenda measures which the Government is responsible for progressing, the human rights concerns raised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles and Amnesty International, not to mention our own Human Rights Commission and Refugee Council, MUST guide the development of any Common Migration and Asylum Policy.
Such a policy will not be acceptable to Sinn Féin unless the human rights sector is satisfied that it is fully compliant with our international obligations and maximises protection of the rights of refugees and migrants, rather than effecting a downwards harmonisation as is the current trend. We demand a full Dáil debate on this critical issue.
We recommend two key environmental initiatives and they are to campaign to make the EU a GM-Free Zone and to initiate a programme for the targeted reduction of carbon emissions on an EU-wide basis.
To enhance social protection the Presidency should oppose the privatisation agenda in the Lisbon Agenda and defend public services. It should push for the EU-wide upwards harmonisation of workers' rights and for further EU equal rights instruments including a specific Gender Equality Directive and a Disability Directive.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an naoi teanga a mbeidh aitheantas acu mar theangacha oifigiúla oibre san Aontas Eorpach ar Lá Bealtaine 2004. Ba chóir go mbeadh an stadas céanna ag an Ghaeilge agus tá rún maidir le sin curtha os comhair na Dála inniu ag Teachtaí Sinn Féin. Deireann an rún:
Iarrann an Dáil
Go gcuirfeadh Rialtas na hÉireann in iúl do Chomhairle na nAirí gur mian leis an Rialtas go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina teanga oifigiúil oibre den
Aontas Eorpach, agus, Go n-iarrfadh an Rialtas ar Choimisiún na hEorpa an leasú cuí ar Rialachán 1, 1958, a dhréachtadh agus a chur faoi bhráid Chomhairle na nAirí.
We note that there will be great pressure on the Irish Government to conclude the fundamentally flawed Constitutional Treaty, the text of which has now been fully agreed save for the text on the vote-weighting formula. We urge the Government to stand up for the right of states not to be bullied into accepting the formula that the most powerful states will insist on.
By agreeing to the common defence text of the draft Constitutional Treaty the Government has not only acquiesced to the EU militarists but has also failed to pursue a policy of Positive Neutrality in Action as recommended by Sinn Féin.
Finally, we note with alarm that the Chair of the EU Military Committee General Hagglund has suggested that the agreements on Common Defence need not wait for the Treaty conclusion but instead should be progressed by the European Council. I cannot stress strongly enough that this would mean depriving the Irish and other populations of their right to a referendum on this issue, and cannot be allowed to happen under this Presidency or any other.
At a press conference chaired by Martin McGuinness today details were revealed of a mass picket by Firinne - the campaign group made up of families of victims of collusion - at MI5 headquarters in London. Speaking at the press conference, Martin McGuinness said:
"Yesterday's confirmation by the Police Ombudsman that there was no serious attempt to find those responsible for the murder of Sean Brown in May 1997 underlines the multi-layered nature of collusion. Today the Finucane family are in court in an attempt to have the murder of Pat Finucane properly examined. The lengths to which the British government has gone to prevent this is itself confirmation of how much the British system has to hide.
"Collusion - the control and direction of the loyalist death squads - was a British state policy endorsed at the highest political level of the British government. Investigating collusion, the head of the Metropolitan Police, John Stevens, confirmed that British state agents had been involved in collusion - including involvement in murder. British Intelligence recruited, or placed, large numbers of agents in the loyalist paramilitaries.
"Loyalist paramilitaries were armed with modern weapons. In December 1987 over 300 weapons were brought into the north of Ireland, with the full participation and knowledge of British Intelligence, and distributed among the loyalist death squads.
British Intelligence updated and organised loyalist intelligence documents to ensure that targeting by the loyalist death squads was, to quote a British intelligence report, 'more professional'.
The British state created an efficient sectarian murder machine and set it loose on the nationalist community in the north of Ireland.
Hundreds of people were killed, and many more injured and maimed, in a vicious campaign of state-sponsored murder.
No member of the Special Branch or British military Intelligence has been indicted for these crimes in which they were centrally involved.
No political leader has been held accountable for this policy. Indeed, the policy of collusion has never been reversed. It remains intact.
The British agencies, which executed this policy, remain in place today.
"On February 4, 100 relatives of the victims of this policy will be in London to protest at this policy of state sponsored murder. The group will picket those directly responsible for the policy of collusion in Ireland - the Ministry of Defence, MI5 Headquarters and Tory party headquarters in central London.
"On behalf of Sinn Fein I want to endorse and support the families in their search for the truth and their campaign to expose these activities of British state agencies over the last three decades."ENDS
Firinne also held a picket at Belfast High Court this morning calling for the immediate publication of the Cory Report.
Sinn Féin's five TDs have today tabled a motion asking that Irish be included as one of the official working languages of the European Union to coincide with the accession of the new states and their corresponding official languages on May Day this year. The motion calls upon the Government to put a motion before the Council of Ministers to ensure that Irish will also be given recognition as a working language of the EU.
Speaking on the motion, spokesperson on the Irish Language Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said:
"It is imperative that the Government, during this important period of its EU Presidency, assert the right of its nation and its people to use our own national language in European affairs. There is absolutely no reason why we should not share the right, which other countries of the EU enjoy, in using our official language. The issue is not, nor should it be, how many people speak Irish in the EU when languages such as Maltese and Czech will also, naturally, be given official status in May.
"The campaign for Irish language status has gained much momentum in recent months and we strongly urge the Government to recognise the wishes and rights of the Irish-speaking community and of the Irish people as a whole." ENDS
Text of Motion follows:
Go gcuirfeadh Rialtas na hÉireann in iúl do Chomhairle na nAiri gur mian leis an Rialtas go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina teanga oifigiúil oibre den Aontas Eorpach, agus, Go n-iarrfadh an Rialtas ar Choimisiún na hEorpa an leasú cuí ar Rialachán 1, 1958, a dhréachtadh agus a chur faoi bhráid Chomhairle na nAiri.
The Dáil welcomes the nine languages which will be given recognition as official working languages of the European Union on May Day 2004 and the Dáil calls upon the Government to put a motion before the Council of Ministers proposing that official working language status be given to the Irish language from that date also.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD
Seán Crowe TD
Martin Ferris TD
Arthur Morgan TD
Molann Sinn Féin don Rialtas aitheantas don teanga Gaeilge a lorg roimh Bealtaine seo chugainn
Tá rún curtha síos sa Dáil ag Teachtai Dála Sinn Féin ag iarraidh go mbeidh Gaeilge mar teanga oifigiúl oibre den Aontas Eorpach nuair a thiocfaidh na ballstáit nua isteach san AE i mbliana. Tá siad ag súil go gcuirfidh an Rialtas in iúl do Chomhairle na nAiri go bhfuil an Rialtas ag lorg aitheantas anois don Gaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil oibre.
Ag labhairt faoin rún inniu, dúirt Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, úrlabhrai ar an Teanga Gaeilge:
"Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach anois, i rith Uachtaránacht an AE, go mbaineann an Rialtas a cheart amach agus cearta na ndaoine chomh maith ár dteanga féin náisiúnta a úsáid i ngnó an Aontas Eorpach.
"Nil aon fáth ar bith nach mbeadh an ceart sin againn, mar atá ag na ballstáit eile, chun ár dteanga oifigiúil a úsáid. Caithfidh go mbeidh an stádas ann nuair a a bheidh stádas ag teangacha Maltéis agus Seic tar éis 1ú Bealtaine.
"Tá an feachtas seo ag fás agus iarraimid ar an Rialtas tacú leis anois."DEIREADH
Iarrann an Dáil:
Go gcuirfeadh Rialtas na hÉireann in iúl do Chomhairle na nAiri gur mian leis an Rialtas go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina teanga oifigiúil oibre den Aontas Eorpach, agus, Go n-iarrfadh an Rialtas ar Choimisiún na hEorpa an leasú cuí ar Rialachán 1, 1958, a dhréachtadh agus a chur faoi bhráid Chomhairle na nAiri.
That the Dail urges the Government to:
Inform the Council of Ministers that the Government wishes the Irish language to be an official working language of the European Union; to request the European Commission to draft and put before the Council of Ministers the appropriate amendment to Regulation 1, 1958.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD
Seán Crowe TD
Martin Ferris TD
Arthur Morgan TD.
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe speaking at a press conference in Dublin this morning said "there is an even greater responsibility on the Irish government, now that they hold the Presidency of the EU, to ensure that the human rights of three Irishmen and EU citizens, currently being held in Colombia, are upheld." The press conference was held to announce that a parliamentary delegation comprising of Niall Andrews MEP, Caitriona Ruane MLA, Senator Mary White and Seán Crowe will be travelling to Colombia next week.
Deputy Crowe said:
"On several occasions last year the Irish government acknowledged that serious concerns exist in relation to the plight of three Irish men being held in Colombia and the fact that they have been subject to seriously prejudicial comments from people at the highest levels of the Colombian political and military establishment. It is clear, from these comments, that the Government believes that the men's trial has been prejudiced.
"While these comments are welcome, it is time that the government did more. They should be demanding the immediate release of the three men as it is very obvious that they cannot and will not receive justice in Colombia - no matter what assurances they are given by the Authorities there.
"I believe that there is an even greater responsibility on the Government to act, now that they hold the Presidency of the EU, to ensure that the human rights of Irish and EU citizens are upheld and this farce is brought to an end."ENDS
Sinn Féin County Councillor Toiréasa Ní Fhearaíosa has welcomed the support on Kerry County Council for her motion calling for Presidential voting rights for Six Counties residents. This follows the passing of a motion by Newry and Mourne District Council, last year, asking Councils throughout the island to support the extension of the franchise.
Speaking today Cllr. Ní Fhearaíosa said:
"Following our successful Assembly election Sinn Féin will continue to push for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. This will include getting An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to fulfil his commitments regarding all
Ireland representation. I am delighted with the support this motion received on Kerry County Council and it shows the growing support Sinn Féin is getting right across the political spectrum for our All-Ireland agenda.
"After the Good Friday Agreement, Mr. Ahern instructed the All Party Committee on the Oireachtas and the Constitution to consider how the people of the Six Counties might play a "more active part in national political life.
The Committee recognised in their recommendations that the most obvious, immediately inclusive area, would be in extending voting rights in Presidential Elections to all Irish Citizens living on the island of Ireland, in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Good Friday Agreement as contained in the amended Article 2 of the 1937 Constitution.
"It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born on the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation. That is also the entitlement of all persons otherwise qualified in accordance with law to be citizens of Ireland. By passing this motion today, Kerry County Council has supported this most basic right. Now Sinn Féin is urging the government to fulfil its promise and support this right also." ENDS
Motion passed: That this City Council urges the Taoiseach and the Irish Government to recognise the exclusion of Irish Citizens resident in the six counties from exercising their right to participate in Presidential Elections and calls on the government to bring forward the necessary legislation to allow them to vote in elections for the Office of President of Ireland
Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader, Newry Armagh MLA Conor Murphy will head Sinn Féin's Review team in the upcoming discussions. Commenting on the meeting today in London between the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern Mr Murphy said that the review agenda must ensure the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Murphy said:
"People voted in overwhelming numbers for the Good Friday Agreement five years ago. It is an important landmark on the road to resolving the age-old conflict here in Ireland. However, if the next five years are like the last five years then there is no doubt that we face stalemate, stagnation and eventual breakdown. No political process can be sustained that way.
"The Agreement is not just about delivering sustainable institutions. It is about making things better for all of our communities.
"This places a heavy responsibility on us all, but particularly on the two governments and Mr Blair and Mr Ahern, to provide political leadership. With political will and the proper approach and strategies we can move this process forward.
"Sinn Féin have made it clear that this is a review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is not a substitute for working political institutions and it is not a renegotiation of the Agreement. The format and agenda of the review must be used as an opportunity to give a renewed impetus to the full implementation of the Agreement." ENDS
North Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Kathy Stanton has hit out after two suspicious devices were left outside Catholic schools in the area over night.
Ms Stanton said:
"This morning suspicious devices were found outside Holy Cross Primary School and St. Gabriels Secondary School. It is my firm belief that the UDA were behind these incidents and that they are the latest instalment in what has been a long campaign against Catholics in this area.
"Nationalists in areas like North Belfast are sick and tired of the phoney debate over the status of the UDA cessation. The reality is that the UDA is not on cessation and has not been on cessation for some time. They have remained engaged in a violent campaign against Catholics despite repeated announcements of cessations and initiatives.
"The British government has tolerated the UDA campaign for years. Its agencies control and operate agents within the leadership of this organisation, yet the violence and disruption is allowed to continue." ENDS
Commenting on the Police Ombudsman Investigation into the murder of Sean Brown Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster MP Martin McGuinness said that the report was 'a damning indictment of collusion and cover-up'. He went on to question the current role of former RUC Chief Ronnie Flanagan as a Policing Inspector given the content of today's report.
Mr McGuinness said:
"I have always held the belief that the murder of Sean Brown ten days after the 1997 Westminster election was a direct response by the unionist paramilitaries to the DUP MP Willie McCrea losing his seat.
"Today's report by the Police Ombudsman is a damning indictment of the policy of collusion and cover up. Files missing from a number of barracks, no effort to apprehend the killers, the family treated with contempt and the former RUC and PSNI Chief Ronnie Flanagan ignoring a request from the Coroner John Leckey for an outside investigation.
"It is my belief that serious questions remain over the current position of Ronnie Flanagan as a policing inspector given the detail contained in this report and other similar probes. There is also now an onus on the current PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde to state publicly if the individuals involved in the original investigation are still members of his force and to explain how files went missing from barracks where only his officers had access to them.
"I would like to pay tribute to Sean Brown's family who have refused to accept the lies and the half truths. They demanded to know the truth and they have pursued this matter relentlessly over the past six years.
"It is my hope that this Report can act as a catalyst to allow the family of Sean Brown to finally discover the truth around his murder." ENDS
Sinn Fein Cllr Joe Reilly has said that the decision of An Post not to pay the 3% National Wage Agreement and to renege on other pay agreements is wrong, unfair and unjust to the local postal workers.
Cllr Reilly said:
"I have been informed that An Post has informed over 35 Navan postal workers, in writing, that they are pleading "inability to pay" the national wage agreement of 3% increase due this month. They also stated their intent to renege on an agreement that was intended to compensate workers for a reduction in weekly income due to the closure of the Letter Forwarding Office (LFO) in Navan in the coming weeks.
"The decision by An Post to break agreements entered into is a disgrace. It was not An Post staff that has reduced this once fine company to the sorry mess it is today. It was management. They have run the company into the ground and they did in the full knowledge of government. The managements lack of vision, of direction and foresight was clearly in evidence when company representatives met with Navan Town Council some months ago. It was clearly evident that they knew little of Navan or its needs. They had no development plans, no new investment plans, nothing, to meet the requirments of a changing Navan. It therefore comes as no surprise to me that the company appears unwilling to meet its responsibilities to its employees.
"If the company it to overcome it present difficulties it is an imperative that it has the confidence of its workforce and the workforce are entitled to believe that the company keeps agreements it freely entered into.
"I therefore call on the company to pay the wage increase of 3%, and to stick to the agreement of compensating workers for their loss of income, when the LFO closes"ENDS
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP MLA flies to Washington tomorrow to meet senior US Government officials.
The visit comes at a crucial point in the peace process and shortly before the review of the Good Friday Agreement is scheduled to start.
The Sinn Fein leader will also be speaking to senior US political figures and will make a courtesy call on former US President Jimmy Carter in Atlanta. President Carter has a unique and distinguished record of work on human rights and conflict resolution matters.
Mr. Adams commenting today said:
"This visit will provide me with an opportunity to brief the US government and senior political figures on the situation in the north following November‚s Assembly elections.
"The United States has proved an invaluable ally in developing and sustaining the peace process. It is crucial that we continue to engage with it seeking its support and advice. Richard Haass was a key player in the past and contributed significantly to the efforts to resolve difficulties in the process.
"I am also pleased to have the opportunity to meet former US President Jimmy Carter. He has been a vocal and effective voice of reason arguing for human rights and justice and conflict resolution processes." ENDS
Ag an gcruinniú míosúil den Chomhairle Bhaile Thrá Lí, bhi rún ag Cllr. Risteárd Ó Fuaráin ag iarraidh ar An Post aitheantas ceart a thabhairt don Ghaeilge. At the monthly meeting of Tralee Town Council, Cllr. Risteárd O Fuarain tabled a motion calling an An Post to afford equal status to the Irish language.
In tabling the motion, Cllr. Ó Fuaráin said;
"The Official Languages Act 2003 places certain obligations on bodies to give equal status to the Irish language. However, An Post have failed to do this. I would like to make particular reference to Part 5 of the Act which states that public bodies must use both Irish and English forms of place names.
"The new signage erected by An Post has the placename in English only. This is totally unacceptable. This comes on the back of the practice by An Post to publish correspondence which is devoid of any Irish and even has 'Post Office' as it's heading with no trace of 'An Post'. 'An Post' must halt this unacceptable trend immediately and correct the mistakes that they have made. Those with a respect for the Irish language will accept nothing less".
The motion was passed unanimously. DEIREADH/ENDS
Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP has launched a stinging attack on the record of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and he challenged him over his record of acts of completion.
Mr. Doherty said:
"Mr. Blair has again raised the issue of 'Acts of Completion' by Republicans. He made no mention of unionist paramilitaries, at a time when they are creating havoc on the streets of Belfast and threatening more violence if they do not get their way in Maghaberry.
"There was no mention from Mr. Blair of the promised demilitarisation by British Crown Forces in Ireland.
"But perhaps more significant was no mention or sign that the Cory Report into the killings of citizens by the various British Agencies is to be published or acted upon.
"What about your acts of completion Mr. Blair?"ENDS
Sinn Féin MP for Mid-Ulster Martin McGuinness has repeated his party's support for the family of murdered Bellaghy GAA member Sean Browne. Mr. McGuinness's comments come on the eve of what is expected to be a damning report from the Police Ombudsman into the RUC investigation into the killing.
Mr. McGuinness said:
"The Browne family have been campaigning for a number of years in their search for answers surrounding the murder of Sean Browne at Bellaghy GAA club in 1997. There has been a widely held belief locally that the circumstances of the killing were not investigated properly.
"Sean Browne was killed within a month of DUP MP Willie McCrea who had shared platforms with the LVF leadership losing his Westminster seat. Many people felt at the time that this murder in the same constituency was the LVF response to that election.
"The family of Sean Browne deserve answers. It is my hope that tomorrow's report from the Police Ombudsman will be a step along that road."ENDS
Ógra Shinn Féin today launched their campaign to see voting rights in this year‚s Presidential election extended to Irish citizens in the Six Counties. They are also asking people to support their campaign by signing their online petition at www.apresidentforall.com. Speaking at the launch which took place at their National Congress in Dublin Ógra Shinn Féin spokesperson Eamon Conway said:
"Today at our National Congress more than 100 young people from across Ireland met to agree Ógra Shinn Féin‚s priorities for the coming year. One of our main campaigns will be to see voting rights for the 2004 Presidential election extended to Irish Citizens in the Six Counties.
"At present, we have a President who was born in Belfast; but the very people who grew up with her and still live in Belfast, could not vote for her. This must not be allowed to happen again.
"It is almost five years since the people of Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement, five years since the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that he would look at how people in the North could participate in national political life. But five years on the government has done nothing to bring this about. With the Presidential election due to take place this Autumn, the Government have an opportunity to do the right thing and we are going to work to make it happen.
"Over the next six months we will be bringing this campaign to every county in Ireland. We will be distributing thousands of leaflets and posters and asking people to sign out on-line petition, to lobby elected representatives, including the Taoiseach and to attend our public rallies.
"We are confidant that this campaign will be successful and that we will have the first election since 1918 where all Irish citizens on the island will be eligible to vote." ENDS
Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast Gerry Kelly today attended the launch of Ógra Shinn Féin's campaign to secure voting rights for Irish citizens in the Six Counties in this year's Presidential election campaign. Mr. Kelly said "the Irish government had stalled long enough. It is long past time that they bring forward the necessary legislation to allow Irish citizens in the Six Counties to vote in the 2004 Presidential election."
Mr. Kelly said:
"One of the most significant consequences of partition has been the effective disenfranchisement of the nationalist population living in the Six Counties.
"People in the Six Counties cannot vote for the President of Ireland; indeed, the current President, Mary McAleese, could not vote for herself. People in the Six Counties cannot vote on any proposed change in the constitution, which includes them. And they have not been afforded representation in the Dail, which frequently holds debates and takes decisions, which directly impact on their lives. Furthermore tens of thousands of people in the Six Counties elect their parliamentary representatives as Irish legislators and they are currently denied access to a parliamentary forum.
"For many years now Sinn Féin has been lobbying intensively for Northern participation in the political life of the nation. We raised the matter during the Good Friday Agreement discussions and following the signing of the Agreement the Taoiseach instructed the All-Party Committee on the Constitution to look into the various issues involved.
"It took the Committee from 1998 to 2002 to report on the issue and even their cautious recommendations recognised that the most obvious first step would be to extend voting rights in Presidential elections to all Irish citizens living on the island of Ireland. And several years on there has been no action from the Irish government.
"People from all over Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish constitution was changed on the understanding that the Agreement would be implemented and change happen. The Irish government has failed to act on this issue for long enough. It is long past time that they bring forward the necessary legislation to allow Irish citizens in the Six Counties to vote in the 2004 Presidential election. It is an important part of the peace process and a natural outworking of the Good Friday Agreement.
"I want to commend Ógra Shinn Féin for launching this campaign and it will be getting the full backing of the party. And we will continue to campaign and negotiate until we secure:
* The right to vote in Presidential elections for citizens in the Six Counties
* Right of attendance at the Dáil for the 18 Westminster MPs elected in the Six Counties.
* Reform of the Seanad to include election by a national list system with people in the Six Counties having the right to vote." ENDS
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy has said that Ian Pearson is wrong to reject criticism of the Barnett formula that is used to calculate our Budget allocation from the British Treasury and question whether his judgement is based on what the British Treasury want or what people here need.
Cllr Molloy, former chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, said:
"Ian Pearson is wrong to reject criticism of the Barnett formula, especially when the man who devised the formula has himself rejected it as a fair basis for allocating our Budget because it is only a head count that takes no account of the levels of need that exists here, our age profile or the rural nature of the Six Counties.
"Our elderly population is increasing at a faster rate than in Britain, we have a younger population and our birth rate is higher. This means that we have significantly higher health and social care costs. We also have greater relative deprivation and associated higher levels of illness and early death. We also have a much lower proportion of people in employment compared to England and a much higher level of benefit dependency.
"For Ian Pearson to refuse to publish the Needs and Effectiveness evaluations that were carried out for the locally accountable Executive as flawed is a disgrace. These studies were initiated as part of a campaign initiated by Sinn Féin Ministers in the Executive who also secured the Programme for Government commitment to challenge the Barnett formula.
"Is Ian Pearson now going to live up to those Programme for government commitments and challenge the unfair Barnett formula? Is he going to recognise the priorities already identified by putting more resources particularly into the provision of health services.
"Despite his assertion that he will not publish the Needs and Effectiveness Evaluations because they are flawed, there is obviously a communication breakdown between Ian Pearson and his direct rule colleague running the Health department because the Health study has been available on the Health website since December 2nd.
"Ian Pearson refusal to publish these studies and refusal to challenge the Barnett formula that means we are worse off and have less money for our services is a matter of deep concern. Is Ian Pearson's judgement based on what is best for his political masters in Downing Street and the British Treasury or is it based on what is best for people who live here all year round."ENDS
Note to Editors
1. By 2010 the population aged 65 and over here is expected to increase by 15% compared to 8% in England and 7% in Scotland. Growth in the most needy population aged 85 and over is even greater, by 2025 this group is expected have increased by 72% here compared to 47% in England.
2. 30% of our population is 20 or under compared with 25% in England. The birth rate is still 11% higher than England, although the gap is narrowing.
3. The Standardised mortality Ratio for persons under 75, as a measure of early death, is 7% higher here than in England.
4. In deprivation terms we have a far lower proportion of people in employment - 66% here compared to 76% in England. The level of income support benefit recipients is 68% higher here than in England and the proportion of lone parent families is 38% higher here than in England.
Speaking today before meeting the International Monitoring Commission Sinn Féin MLA Bairbre de Brún said that the delegation would be making it 'very clear to the Commission that the remit they operate under is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement'
Ms de Brún said:
"This afternoon we will meet with the International Monitoring Commission. We will be making it very clear to them that their remit is outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The legislation gives the power of exclusion to the British Secretary of State. Such powers contradict the democratic norms and the rights of the electorate.
"The IMC reports will be based upon information supplied by securocrats. and it is our firm belief that they are a smokescreen to validate arbitrary acts of exclusion by the British Secretary of State." ENDS
Editors Note: A Sinn Féin Delegation consisting of Bairbre de Brún, Conor Murphy and Alex Maskey will meet with the IMC today at 5pm at the IMC offices, Adelaide Street, Belfast
Speaking in advance of the planned closure of the Curragh Place of Detention on Monday as part of the Minister for Justice's prison restructuring plans, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called for the scrapping of the Minister's plans as they "do not tackle the real sources of overspending on the prison service and bear no relation to the need for comprehensive reform." Sinn Féin are calling on the Minister to embark on systematic, comprehensive, evidence-based reforms and restructuring following a transparent review process.
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"There are a number of unanswered questions about the Minister's plans, not least of which is whether they will ultimately cost less than present configurations.
"For example, the Minister has made a commitment that no prison officer jobs will be lost as a result of the restructuring. But he has also indicated that Shelton Abbey and Loughan House will be reopened under new management. If they are not going to be run by prison officers, this will mean paying for additional staff. He has decided to outsource the prison escort service against the recommendation of his own expert group who were unconvinced that private contracting would cost less. Indeed, the Minister admitted to me that comparative costing for this service had not been done. In addition, his closure plans do not affect the two most expensive prisons to run - much less those actually recommended for closure by the Prison Inspectorate. If the Minister cannot conclusively demonstrate that his overall package will save the taxpayer money, then his plans make no sense. At minimum, he must publish a full comparative costing of his plans and present arrangements to let the public judge for themselves.
"In the long run, the Minister's plans may even cost us more. For example, in contrast to his guarantees on prison officer jobs, he has said he will make no guarantees for the jobs of those who work in rehabilitative services in these institutions. Employment and training workshops in some prisons are already closing and prison educators being laid off due to budgetary cutbacks imposed by the Minister. Despite the critical role rehabilitation, education and training services for prisoners play in reducing repeat-offending, and thus medium to long-term costs, the Minister has refused to ringfence any overtime savings for redeployment to these services. But if repeat-offending is not reduced, prisoner numbers will stay stable or increase and the service will cost more.
"It is true that we are spending too much on Prison Officer overtime, but we are also spending far too much on imprisonment generally. Overtime is a factor, but it is not the only factor. The two real sources of the prison budget overspending are over-incarceration and high prisoner-staff ratios.
"There is no question that the prison service needs to be restructured, and its high costs tackled. In fact, it needs a comprehensive review and reform with a view to modernisation and to bring it in-line with best international practice. This is what Sinn Féin is calling for. However the Minister's plans to restructure the service are not based on evidence or expert review and recommendation and bear no relation to the need for comprehensive reform. They should be scrapped." ENDS