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Sinn Féin President and West Belfast MP Gerry Adams will be holding a press conference in the Jubilee Room, Westminster, on Monday September 6th at 12 noon.

The press conference is to launch the paperback edition of Mr. Adams book Hope and History. The press conference will also provide an opportunity for Mr. Adams to speak about the current efforts to end the crisis in the peace process.

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Sinn Féin Economic Spokesperson and Foyle MLA Mitchel Mc Laughlin has said that his party is committed to the elimination of poverty and deprivation through developing and promoting integrated infrastructural, economic and social inclusion policies on an all-Ireland basis.

Mr Mc Laughlin said:

"The areas referred to as the 'border corridor' although not alone in suffering from poverty and deprivation can be used as an example of how the lack of integrated social and infrastructural planning has led to under-development and a lower standard of living than in those areas closer to the centres of decision making. I feel that a meaningful approach to eliminating poverty will, by necessity, have to adopt a human rights based approach and draw all sectors of Irish society closer together.

"Accepting that poverty and deprivation recognise no boundaries, within the context of North-South co-operation, it is generally accepted that the areas immediately adjacent to the border represent some of the most disadvantaged areas on the island. Additionally these areas suffer more directly from the negative effects that partition has had on development opportunities.

"If we concentrate on the 'border corridors' as an example, I believe that we can see how non-integrated planning by authorities on either side of the border has had a negative effect on the development and growth of our economy. We will also recognise how co-operation and integration at the planning stages is essential if we are to eliminate the disparity with other regions.

" I would suggest that the most appropriate framework for regional development is Integrated Area Plans.

" An Integrated Area Plan could be developed in each of the three border corridor zones (North West, Central and Eastern) taking account of the interdependent relationships between social, economic, environmental and spatial development in a dynamic and mutually reinforcing way.

"One area that springs to mind where co-operation and integrated planning would deliver major benefits is in road infrastructure and transport. Efficient and competitive integrated public transport services are critical to the development of trade, inward investment and tourism. It is also essential for the provision of equality of access to employment opportunities through providing improved means of mobility to major labour markets.

"I believe that through the provision of accessible and affordable public transport we can widen the areas of employment opportunities for those on low incomes and provide them with a route out of the poverty trap.

"Enhanced all-Ireland transport infrastructure offers the potential for major economic and social gains for the whole island and the structure for achieving this outcome is contained in the GFA.

"I consider that what should be a key aim of transport development policy in Dublin and Belfast would be to improve infrastructure and integration within and between road and public transport networks, in both jurisdictions, so as to provide a more coherent and sustainable strategic transport network for the island as a whole. The objective should be the generation of an all-Ireland co-ordinated transport and logistics plan.

" I believe that the developmental logic that would inform the Integrated Area Plans is based on the premise that it is simply not good enough to promote a purely economic driven process. Social, spatial and environmental initiatives need to be built into the plan. All of these essential considerations are interlinked and cannot be divorced one from the others - and so the regional development framework would be a totally integrated one. I am convinced that to be successful the integrated area plans should be participative and premised on co-operative planning by local government authorities and other stakeholders working comfortably together in a cross border 'power-sharing' environment." ENDS

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Speaking on the tenth anniversary of the IRA cessation, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that the cessation 'gave birth to enormous hope and expectation for the future'.

Mr Adams said:

" Ten years ago the IRA cessation gave birth to enormous hope and expectation for the future and the then embryonic peace process was given significant impetus.

" The length of the IRA cessations, its discipline in the face of ongoing British military and loyalist activities, and its initiatives to sustain the current process, show that it is genuinely interested in building the peace process.

" Ten years on and the peace process amounts to no more than the cessations, with many question marks over the loyalist cessations.

" The political institutions have been in suspension for well over a year and a half. The Good Friday Agreement has been breached repeatedly by the British government and much of the essential aspects of that agreement, on human rights and equality, on policing and justice matters and demilitarisation, have not been implemented.

" Against that there has been progress and much good work has been done. There is no gain saying this, and although progress has been too slow it has to be built upon. Therefore as we mark the10th anniversary of the IRA cessation there is a heavy onus on all of the political parties, though especially Sinn Féin and the DUP, and on the two governments, but particularly the British government, to agree measures within the terms of the Good Friday Agreement that can bring all outstanding issues to a definitive and conclusive closure. Not an easy task. But one nonetheless that those of us who want progress must bend our will to in the time ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe today expressed grave concern at the plight of a sixteen-year-old girl who has spent the past number of weeks in the adult psychiatric unit of Tallaght Hospital. The Dublin South West TD called for immediate support to be provided for the teenager as doctors prepared to discharge her from what he termed the "totally unsuitable adult psychiatric unit."

Deputy Crowe said, "This girl has serious behavioural problems which has resulted in her injuring herself and other members of her family. The family are at the wits end as they have come up against a brick wall in terms of getting treatment and support for her. They now find themselves in the heartbreaking situation of being forced to make a choice between allowing her home untreated and unsupported, with all the risks that that involves and leaving her in a totally unsuitable adult psychiatric unit.

"Having contacted the Department of Health and Children, Social Services, Community Care, Tallaght Hospital, her family doctor and many others I am dismayed that these agencies appear incapable of responding to the needs of this girl and her family. The State has a duty to care for and protect all the children of the nation and this child, like many similar cases, has been let down badly.

"That there is no place for this child to go is not an acceptable situation. If someone dies or is seriously injured due to the neglect of this child, who is responsible? The Government needs to take immediate action to address the severe lack of treatment and support services that are needed in this and similar cases." ENDS

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin MLA has appealed to everyone that is eligible to vote to complete the registration forms that will be delivered to homes in the next few weeks.

Mr Mc Laughlin said:

"The annual electoral canvass in preparation for the publication of the new Electoral Register on 1st December is now underway and registration forms will be delivered to homes in the coming weeks.

It is imperative that all those aged 16 and over be included on the new Electoral Register if you wish to make an impact on the direction in which politics develop in the immediate future.

"Electoral Office canvassers will deliver registration forms to all homes beginning today and will then collect them again by early October. I would appeal to those who may miss the Electoral Office canvassers to use the Freepost envelopes to return their forms and if there are not enough forms or you require assistance in completing the forms to contact the Electoral Office or any Sinn Féin Office and we will assist you in securing your vote.

"Remember each person eligible to vote must complete an individual Registration Form. It is particularly important that those eligible to go on to the Register for the first time or who have been removed from the register for any reason fill in the form and get registered. If additional Registration forms are required they will be available at schools, colleges, youth clubs, community centres and local Council Offices as well as all Sinn Féin Constituency offices

"The Local Government Elections will take place here in May of next year with a Westminster General Election also being possible within the next twelve months. If you are not included in the Electoral Register that will be compiled in the course of this registration drive then you will not be eligible to vote in these elections and you will have no say in who represents your political aspirations. I cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of anyone that is concerned about the future of this island getting on the register and using their vote. Your vote can make the difference in securing the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the changes that will guarantee equality and parity of esteem for all."

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The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Sport, Martin Ferris TD, has claimed that the current Government is hypocritical in its attitude towards sport. Deputy Ferris was referring to statements made by Minister for Sport John O'Donoghue on the performance of Irish athletes at the Athens Olympics.

Deputy Ferris said: "Today sees the return to this country of our Olympic team. Their performance has given rise to a mixture of harsh criticism, attempts to claim credit, and groundless forecasts of future success from an assortment of Government representatives including the Minister. Let us be clear. Many of the shortcomings of our representatives are a product of lack of state support, and few of their achievements can be claimed as evidence of such support.

"This weekend also saw the culmination of the Community Games in which tens of thousands of young athletes competed in a competition that relies almost exclusively on the efforts of volunteers. State support for the games amounts to something in the region of 50c per participant and yet if any of these young people excel to the stage where they represent Ireland internationally they will all of a sudden become the subject of great interest by whatever Government happens to be in power at the time. This will be despite the fact that they will have accomplished what they have despite the appalling level of state investment and support in comparison to the athletes with whom Irish representatives are expected to compete.

"If Irish sport is to be successful it requires a sea change in the attitude of the state. Not only for our prospects of winning at international level, but as an intrinsic part of strengthening the fabric of our communities. Investment, therefore, must shift away from large-scale prestige projects to support for local clubs and for sport within the education system. The Minister would be far better advised to direct his attention towards that than acting as a TV pundit on the performance of our hard working and under-supported international athletes". ENDS

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Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Killian Forde has today welcomed a recruitment campaign by the East Coast Area Health Board to house 260 young asylum seekers in the Dublin metropolitan area.

The health board is seeking Dublin-based carers, including naturalised citizens who may originally be from overseas to house the young people. Cllr Forde referred to the endeavour as "an opportunity to fully embrace multiculturalism, and to redress the negative perceptions some people have of asylum seekers".

Speaking today, Cllr Forde said:

"I welcome the recruitment drive by the East Coast Area Health Board to place 260 young asylum seekers with families throughout Dublin. I call on all potential Dublin-based carers to consider housing the young people who range from 13-17 years of age. The Health Board has admitted that some of the older children have been put in hostels until they are placed with families.

"I think that this is a wonderful opportunity for qualified carers to help embrace multicultural Ireland and to redress the negative perceptions some people have of asylum seekers. The government has a responsibility to ensure that carers have adequate support available to them.

"Asylum seekers provide Ireland with diverse cultures and experiences and we should continue to promote and support this. I offer my best wishes to those who take on this role, in keeping with the Irish fostering tradition. I sincerely hope that all the 260 children are paired with suitable, loving families throughout the city." ENDS

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o ensure the delivery of the equality agenda and to finally achieve parity of esteem for all. It is only as locally mandated Ministers that we will be able to remove the influence of the rejectionists and the securocrats in the NIO over every facet of our lives.

" Current British policy guarantees only continued division and undermines the efforts of those attempting to build non-threatening relationships that would encompass all of our divergent philosophies and aspirations in peace and harmony. " ENDS

Full Text of Mitchel McLaughlin speech to Michael Gaughan commemoration, Ballina, County Mayo.

" Thirty years ago in 1974, Ireland was engulfed in a spiralling and tragic conflict. In the Six Counties, the IRA was building up its campaign, internment without trial was in force and the British Army was on the rampage throughout nationalist areas. British forces were openly colluding with loyalists and had bombed Dublin and Monaghan in May, killing 33 people. That same month, the Sunningdale Executive collapsed after the British Labour Government capitulated to the so-called strike staged by the Ulster Workers‚ Council.

" Right-wing loyalist paramilitaries kept workers out of their workplaces and mounted patrols and checkpoints under the gaze of the RUC and British Army. Loyalist death squads carried out sectarian killings at will but in Dublin, the Fine Gael/Labour government was obsessed with republicans and demonstrated no concern for the behaviour of the British Government or its security agencies.

" Of the hundreds of republicans imprisoned at that time, the most vulnerable were those in English jails. Among them was a young man from Ballina. Twenty-four-year-old Michael Gaughan had emigrated from Mayo to London after he left school. In London he had joined the IRA and was eventually arrested and then convicted of possession of a weapon and conspiracy to rob a London bank. Michael Gaughan was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs, Albany and Parkhurst prisons.

" On 31st March 1974, Michael joined other republican prisoners, including fellow Mayo man Frank Stagg, on hunger strike demanding an end to solitary confinement, the provision of education facilities and transfer to a prison in Ireland. Michael Gaughan was repeatedly force-fed during his 65-day fast. The procedure involved forcing a wooden clamp into his mouth, through which a tube was passed. Liquid food was then poured through the tube, often entering the windpipe. Michael, as a result of this inhuman treatment, died on hunger strike in Parkhurst Prison, 30 years ago on the 3rd June 1974. In accordance with his wishes, Michael‚s body was brought home for burial in Ballina and many thousands turned out to pay their respects in Dublin and along the route to his final resting place in Mayo.

" The British Government were determined to criminalise the Republican struggle and seven years later 10 Republican POW‚s in the H-blocks echoed that defiance when they too died on Hunger Strike. The British Government are obviously very slow learners when it comes to dealing with Irish self- determination and this is the issue that I wish to address today.

" This weekend‚s press has been full of the events of ten years ago when the IRA declared a complete cessation of military operations. There was much analysis and not a little revisionism as we remember the howls of protest at that time of the prospect of negotiations in which republicans would play a key role. A lot has changed since that dramatic event but more needs to be done to achieve a stable and democratic future.

We have all, British and Irish, been victims of a historic tension that has poisoned relationships between our islands. Our history on this island, and our relationship with our closest neighbour, has been difficult and at times destructive. The shared history of tragic conflict is ample testimony to all of that.

" But what of the future and the achievement of a more peaceful co-existence?

" It is clearly helpful to attempt to place ones-self into Œother people‚s shoes‚ so as to apply a broader understanding to these vexed issues. But it is remains necessary to point out that the British government has effectively frustrated the creation of a more positive context by prevarication on key aspects of the Agreement.

" It seems obvious to me that the British government has a difficulty in accepting that its policy of upholding the Union constitutes an obstacle to a comprehensive resolution of the conflict. Sinn Féin negotiators will once again in the coming weeks, seek to persuade that so long as the British government holds to this position; it usurps both the spirit and substance of the Agreement and is a complete contradiction of its obligations on Equality and Parity of Esteem.

" Current British policy perpetuates an institutionalised inequality and many unionists consequently see no imperative to co-operate with or to promote the concept of reform or change. Unionism continues to depend on a Œprivileged access‚ with official government organs that share and reflect a unionist ethos.

" The unaccountable ŒNorthern Ireland Office‚ therefore, is a particular example of the need for urgent change. The NIO with its in-built Unionist bias runs the six-counties virtually as the old Stormont government. Direct Rule Ministers fly in for a few hours a week simply to rubber stamp decisions pre-formulated by senior Civil Servants.

" Too often, those who work within and for the NIO, demonstrate an unapologetic devotion to the unionist cause. The manifestation of Unionist government for the Unionist people is still preserved. Small wonder then that Unionist generally are in favour of the status quo, no matter how undemocratic, so long as it poses no threat to their interests. Tony Blair needs to rein in the NIO.

" Sinn Féin is intent on achieving the re-establishment of the Executive, the political institutions and the all-Ireland Bodies as a means to ensure the delivery of the equality agenda and to finally achieve parity of esteem for all. It is only as locally mandated Ministers that we will be able to remove the influence of the rejectionists and the securocrats in the NIO over every facet of our lives.

" Current British policy guarantees only continued division and undermines the efforts of those attempting to build non-threatening relationships that would encompass all of our divergent philosophies and aspirations in peace and harmony.

" Most objective observers of the situation in Ireland would accept that a stable and secure future would only be found in arrangements that are negotiated and agreed to by the people of Ireland and that is why the Good Friday Agreement is so vitally important. For this scenario to fully develop it is imperative that the British government takes immediate steps to change its policy to one based on Equality, Parity of Esteem and genuine self-determination for all of the people of Ireland.

Indeed Sinn Féin has argued that it is time that the British Government to build a strategic alliance with Irish nationalists.

" The Agreement is the blueprint from which we can map our path to the resolution of the constitutional question and sovereignty. Tony Blair and indeed any British Prime Minister are fully entitled to publicly declare a personal and political commitment to upholding the Union. That is their democratic right but that view should not take precedence over the Agreement.

" Under the terms of the Agreement the British government has a duty to guarantee that it is at all times and in all circumstances rigorously impartial in its dealings with Irish nationalism and Unionism. So far, the British government has failed to match that criterion.

" If the British government has any obligation to unionists it is to use its influence to persuade unionists that they have nothing to fear and indeed much to gain from equality.

As Irish republicans, Sinn Féin has sought to engage our opponents, to understand their perspective and to develop ways to overcome difficulties and differences. And, in concert with others, we have had some success. The political landscape on the island has been transformed. The challenge now is to continue the forward movement and not allow the advance we have made to be undermined by complacency, intransigence or lack of imagination.

" Of course there are at present, deep difficulties in the peace process which must be urgently addressed and overcome. Instead of stable political institutions with the people‚s elected representatives making decisions on important 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. Most importantly we do not have the inclusive power-sharing institutions which are central to making politics work for the first time in the north and for the first time on an all-Ireland basis.

" Our task as politicians, as political leaders, is to find a resolution to all of these outstanding matters. There is no alternative. Sinn Féin believes completely in the need to build relationships with unionism. The results of the November election and the more recent European election brought a new political reality. Sinn Fein and the DUP are now the main political parties in the north. The new reality must bring with it a new political realism. It certainly places a huge responsibility on the two governments, the DUP and Sinn Fein to act responsibly to find a way forward.

" The best way to do this is through direct dialogue, including between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

" For Sinn Féin, the immediate objective is clear - to restore the political institutions and end the crisis in the process.

Our discussions need to focus on a number of key issues. These include:

  • full participation in stable political institutions;
  • the resolution of outstanding matters on policing and justice, including, critically the transfer of powers away form London;
  • armed groups and arms; and
  • human rights, equality and sectarianism.

" There are also matters which are clearly the responsibility of the two governments across the human rights, equality and demilitarization agendas. Progress on many of these issues has been obstructed and blocked by elements in the Northern Ireland Office which, despite the peace process, has adhered to a pro-Unionist and securocratic agenda. This was dramatically evident in the events around disputed loyalist parades over recent weeks which undoubtedly damaged our political project but which had the potential to do much greater damage. The British government needs to bring its system in Ireland under control.

" The reality is that if the political will exists then we can all collectively make progress. Sinn Fein believes that it is possible to achieve a comprehensive package, which deals with all of the outstanding matters in a way that is definitive and conclusive. The way to do this is through dialogue. We need to make politics work as a credible and effective alternative to conflict. That has been the lesson of the last 10 years when peace making replaced conflict. We need to build on what works. The enormous progress which we have achieved over the past 10 years is proof positive that an approach based on inclusivity; equality and mutual respect does work. It requires hard work and, at times, even harder decisions. But that is the nature of peace making. It is a mammoth task but it has to be finished sometime. Why not now?

" In a last message to his comrades, Michael Gaughan described his motivation: "I die proudly for my country and in the hope that my death will be sufficient to obtain the demands of my comrades.."

" And his comrade in struggle Bobby Sands in his final dying days issued a similarly generous proclamation: "I am making my last response to the whole vicious inhuman atrocity they call H-Block. But, unlike their laughs and jibes, our laughter will be the joy of victory and the joy of the people, our revenge will be the liberation of all and the final defeat of the oppressors of our aged nation." He later returned to this idea when he famously stated: "Our revenge will be the laughter of our children".

What better encouragement do we need? ENDS

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Sinn Fein Councillor for North Belfast, Danny Lavery, has slammed last nights sectarian attack on a group of bandsmen on the Shore Road. Speaking earlier Cllr Lavery said there is no justification for sectarianism in any form.

Speaking today Cllr Lavery said:

"What happened last night is clearly wrong and those perpetrating these acts need to know that there is no justification whatsoever for what occurred. There is no excuse for sectarianism in whatever form it manifests itself and from whatever community it arises out of.

"Those who carried out such attacks do not represent the nationalist community in any shape or form and the vast majority of the community would stand against such attacks.

"I would appeal for calm in the coming days and stress that there needs to be further work carried out to end sectarianism in our society. Unfortunately if anything this attack serves to highlight the need that all parties should not be deflected from the efforts to ease interface tensions that are ongoing in the area." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has said that the attack on an Orange Hall was wrong and added that it will only serve to undermine community relations.

Mr Hyland said:

"The attack on this Orange Hall in Newry is wrong. It will only serve to undermine community relations.

"Whether it is attacks on an Orange Hall, on Republican memorials or on Presbyterian graves these attacks contribute nothing to the work of those of us committed to brining about a just and lasting peace.

"Those carrying out these attacks, whether it is the work of mindless vandals or something more sinister, should understand that their actions will find no support in any community.

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This weekend marks the 30th Anniversary of the death of IRA Volunteer Michael Gaughan, who died while on Hunger Strike in Parkhurst Prison.

The annual commemoration parade will leave Humbert Monument in Ballina at 2.30pm on Sunday 29th August to march to Leigue Cemetery, and Michael Gaughan's graveside.

Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin will deliver the main speech.

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson dealing with the issue of Truth, North Antrim MLA Philip McGuigan has expressed concern at the lack of openness from the British government in undertaking a 'consultation process' on how to proceed with addressing the issue of Truth.

Mr McGuigan said:

"When Paul Murphy announced that he was going to initiate a 'consultation process' on Truth Sinn Féin was not alone in expressing concern at the arrogance of the British government in believing that it could assume a lead role in any consultation on Truth. They can't. They are a central protagonist to the conflict and to date the British state has refused to acknowledge any role in creating and maintaining the conflict.

"However recent correspondence with Paul Murphy has deepened my concern at the approach of the British government to this issue.

"Sinn Fein knows that finding a way of dealing with the past is vital if we are to build a bridge out of conflict and begin the healing process that is central to the changes and transformation of our society and that underpin the Good Friday Agreement.

"Yet in this so-called consultation the British government are refusing to say who, if anyone, they are consulting with and who they intend to consult with in the future. If we are to have any confidence that the British government are not attempting to use a truth process as a way of abdicating their own responsibility then it is vital that they come clean and make public who they are engaging with. Openness is clearly central to the debate on truth. The refusal of the British government to demonstrate any openness reinforces concerns that they want to use this 'consultation process' for their own purposes." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East, Councillor Daithi Doolan has today criticised the government for its "ineffectual and half-hearted approach to tackling Dublin's growing drugs epidemic."

Cllr Doolan made his comments after the director of a drug treatment centre in the city, the Merchants Quay Project criticised government handling of the drugs problem after it emerged that 600 new drug users had attended the centre in 2003.

Speaking today, Cllr Doolan said:

"Sinn Féin has been consistent in saying over a number of years that successive governments have failed local communities in their attitude to the growing drugs epidemic. What we are witnessing from the current administration is an ineffectual and half-hearted approach to the scourge of drugs.

"That the Merchants Quay Project witnessed an increase in 600 drug users in 2003 is testament to government failure. Surely this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are many more drug users failing to present themselves at rehabilitation centres throughout the city.

Noel Ahern, as Minister responsible for the National Drug Strategy is peddling untruths. Speaking on radio this morning, Minister Ahern said that health boards were receiving full and adequate funding. The Minister also claimed that health board personnel when leaving their posts were replaced immediately. Anyone involved in tackling the drugs problem in our city is fully aware of the resource problems facing both the health boards and community-based projects. Let us be clear, funding requirements are not being met nor are personnel being replaced immediately. I am seriously questioning the Minister's abilities to carry out the duties of his office.

"The causes and consequences of drug addiction are having a massive negative impact on Irish society and are doing untold damage to users, their families and communities. Local communities will not be surprised that government is being criticised over their failure to effectively tackle drug abuse. Throughout the darkest days of the 1980's and 1990's, local communities found themselves tackling the problems by themselves, with very little help from state bodies or the gardaí.

"Sinn Féin is calling for the doubling of funding to the Drugs Taskforce. The current allocation is woefully inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem. We are also calling for the formulation, funding and implementation of new strategies for dealing with cocaine addiction, with an emphasis on community-based pilot projects using international best practice. The provision of childcare facilities for those who wish to get involved with rehabilitation programmes and a commitment to long term funding, rather than on a 12 month basis are also essential." ENDS

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Reacting to last night's expulsion of three Irish citizen children with their families and the news that one woman being deported felt compelled to leave her child behind in Ireland, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, described the Government's policy as constituting "a grave violation of the constitutional rights of citizens and the rights ofchildren."

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "The children in question are a legitimate part of the Irish nation. They are full citizens with equal rights. It is not acceptable that, through dependency on their parents, they should be forced to leave the country. Neither is it acceptable that they be deprived of the care and company of their parents if it is in their best interests to remain in Ireland. These expulsions are offensive to natural justice and cannot be allowed to continue. We must now each do our part to stand up for the rights of our fellow citizens, and to ensure that all children of this nation are cherished equally.

"Sinn Fein is calling for an immediate moratorium on these deportations and for the regularisation of these families in keeping with the assurances the Minister for Justice gave me personally in advance of the citizenship referendum." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy, who heads the party's campaign against water charges has welcomed the call from the Federation of Small Businesses for British direct rule ministers to scrap their plans to introduce water charges.

Mr Molloy said:

"I welcome this move from the Federation of Small Businesses calling for the

scrapping of NIO plans to impose water charges. Direct rule ministers must scrap the current plans to impose water charges. The British government are guilty of failing to invest properly in our services for decades. Now, the NIO are determined to force us to pay for their failures.

"These plans will hit the most vulnerable in our society hardest and they will damage small businesses that are already struggling with high rates, electricity and insurance costs.

"British NIO Ministers are showing their true undemocratic colours in trying to force through the water taxes in the face of almost total opposition from across the political spectrum, from trade unions and from the public. But then again they have no mandate to take any of the decisions that they are currently forcing on us.

"It is time for the NIO and British direct rule Ministers to listen to people here. While I accept that they are completely unaccountable even the permanent government within the NIO and the imported British Ministers can understand that to proceed with the water tax plans and privatisation plans is both untenable and would be a political disaster.

"In comparison to other models of managing water services the British government stands accused of treating everyone who lives in the North of Ireland as a second class citizen. If the British government continue with these plans Sinn Féin will lead a campaign against their introduction. We will also ensure that in the negotiations next month that the entire issue of British Treasury financing of all of our services is on the agenda." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Seán Crowe TD, today cautioned Aer Lingus trade unions against facilitating the destruction of the state airline. Deputy Crowe also accused Willie Walsh and other executives of putting personal ambition and enrichment before the interests of the Irish people.

The Dublin South West TD said, "While I understand that the primary concern of trade unions is the welfare of their members I would call on them to take in to consideration the wider implications of the proposals before them. I would caution the trade unions against been bullied or bribed in to facilitating the destruction of Aer Lingus.

"This is more than just about how much more profit can be squeezed from an already profitable airline. Aer Lingus is the national airline, which despite Willie Walsh's personal ambitions still belongs to the people of Ireland, and as such is a vital component in the transport infrastructure of this small island nation.

"It is becoming clearer that the real motivation behind the dramatic changes that are taking place at Aer Lingus is the positioning of the company for a management buy-out and the personal enrichment of its executives. It is not about securing the airlines future as a state owned company benefiting the people of Ireland.

"In aping Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, Aer Lingus management seem hell-bent on reducing what was and still just about is a proud company with a dedicated workforce to just another here today gone tomorrow low fair airline, devoid of any social, economic or strategic value to the people of Ireland." ENDS

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Sinn Fein national Chairperson, Foyle MLA Mitchel McLaughlin has welcomed the announcement that agreement has been reached between Phoenix Gas and the Energy Regulator Douglas McIldoon to alter the licensing agreement from 25 years to 40, and said that Phoenix gas and the regulator must ensure that this leads to long-term price stability.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"The expansion of the gas industry has been supported by government and political parties as a cheaper, more efficient form of energy. The extension of the licensing agreement from 25 years to 40 must lead to long-term price stability. The result must be lower prices to the end user - the customer.

"There was widespread concern and the erosion of trust in this energy sector as a result of the uncertainty created by the proposed price hike last year. Customer confidence will be further eroded if there is any repeat performance.

"Now that the Centrica contract has been resolved and with the extension licensing agreement allowing for a longer-term repayment of investments, people will be closely monitoring the annual price review in October to ensure that customers continue to get value for money.

"Sinn Féin has argued for the creation of an all Ireland energy market. The signing of the memorandum of understanding between the energy regulators north and south should put in place the framework for the establishment of a single all Ireland energy market by 2007. The Phoenix monopoly ends at the end of this year and their Centrica contract ends in 2006. This must herald the emergence of a low cost energy market and the ability to access all Ireland gas supplies." ENDS

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Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has condemned the damage caused to a number of gravestones at the graveyard belonging to the First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Saintfield.

Ms Ruane said:

"This is a despicable attack. Whether it is an act of vandalism or motivated by something more sinister makes no difference.In recent months there have been attacks on graves and monuments for people from all communities in County Down and Armagh. People engaged in these mindless acts of vandalism should stop."

In a pointed message to those engaged in this vandalism Ms Ruane added: "How would you feel if the grave of a member of your family was attacked?" ENDS

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North Belfast Sinn Féin Councillor Eoin O'Broin has accused the PSNI Special Branch of actively engaging in an anti-Sinn Féin campaign. Cllr. O'Broin's comments come after the arrest of a party member yesterday after an early morning raid only for him to be released a few hours later.

Cllr. O'Broin said:

" Yesterdays early morning raid by heavily armed PSNI members accompanied by Special Branch members was not about investigating any offence. It was political policing at its most blatant. It was the PSNI Special Branch asserting itself and continuing with its anti-Sinn Féin and anti-peace process agenda.

" Since the first IRA cessation ten years ago elements of the NIO through their agents within Special Branch have been openly hostile to the development of a peace process and openly hostile to the advances made by Sinn Féin.

" At crucial times throughout the last ten years we have seen the hand of the Special Branch and NIO attempting to subvert this process. That is what yesterday's raid and accompanying media briefing to selected journalists was all about.

" It is a reminder to those of us who wish to see an acceptable and accountable policing service developed of the work that still has to be done to remove this malign influence both from policing and indeed from the process itself." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, West Belfast MLA Michael Ferguson has warned the Queens University hierarchy against pursuing an anti-Irish agenda after it emerged that the Student and Learning pro-Chancellor Ken Bell is attempting to block the unanimous decision Students Union Executive to publish its' Student Handbook in English and Irish.

Mr Ferguson said:

"The Executive of the Students Union is entirely within its rights to publish its' annual students handbook in English and Irish. I am deeply concerned that it now appears that senior members of the Queens establishment, including the student and learning pro-chancellor Ken Bell are attempting to block the unanimous decision of the Executive. This move has clear implications for the relationship and independence of the Students Union Executive.

"I would warn, in the strongest terms, Queens against pursuing an anti-Irish agenda. Increasing anti-Irish bigotry is rearing its ugly head within our society; throughout the Six Counties there is almost daily evidence of sectarian attacks on nationalists coming from the unionist community. It is an agenda being pursued by some of the most intolerant elements within our society and Queens if it continues with its current approach to this bilingual handbook will not only be guilty of caving into an anti-Irish sentiment will also stand accused of fostering sectarianism.

"The Agreement and international and EU convention that have precedence make it clear that there is a duty on Queens to promote the use of Irish language. The agreement makes explicit commitment to remove barriers to the use of Irish.

"Given the huge growth in Irish medium education and the resurgence in the use of Irish there is clearly a duty on Queens to meet the needs of the growing numbers of Irish language speakers studying at Queens." ENDS

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