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ly to have a special sitting on the growing threat of war in Iraq."

Responding to reports that Shannon airport is benefiting financially from the build up to the war, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"It is disgraceful that potential financial gains to a war in Iraq are being used as a justification for the use of Shannon airport by US warplanes. The use of Shannon is wrong, is against our position of neutrality and should end immediately. It is imperative that a situation is not allowed to develop whereby the economic viability of the airport becomes dependent on such sources of finance."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP and Dáil Group Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD will meet Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte at the party's Falls Road office tomorrow afternoon, Monday 13th January. Speaking prior to the meeting Deputy Ó Caoláín said:

"We welcome the opportunity to meet with Pat Rabbitte on this his first visit to Belfast as party leader. Among the items for discussion will be the urgent need for all pro-Agreement parties on the island to work together to bring an end to the current political crisis and save the Good Friday Agreement.

"We will also be seeking Labour Party support on the issue of northern representation in the Oireachtas and the need to develop the all-Ireland approach enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.

"With the transformation in make up of the opposition in Leinster House following the last election we will be seeking to discuss possible areas of co-operation in order to put the demand for equality in health, housing and education centre stage."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson. West Belfast MLA Bairbre de Brún has described the need for the two governments to fully implement the Human Rights and Equality elements of the Good Friday Agreement as a fundamental part of the current talks process.

Ms de Brún said:

"Equality and Human Rights must be at the heart of any successful implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Resolving the failure to implement these areas of the Agreement is a central component of restoring the momentum of the Agreement and overcoming the present impasse.

"Sinn Fein has put Equality and Human Rights high on the talks agenda. We want to see substantive movement in the coming weeks on social and economic equality, the rights of vulnerable communities, language rights, victims and the process for taking forward a Bill of Rights. These will be discussed in the coming days as we face possibly the most crucial period in our history.

"Sinn Fein have raised these issues in detail, and we now need to see what progress can be made in implementing these key areas of the Agreement that to date have witnessed little progress. We will carry this forward in our discussions this week.

"We need to see timetabled monitored measures to eliminate the differential in unemployment rates between the two communities and we need to see economic development targeted towards areas of greatest need. We also need to see the protection and vindication of human rights and particularly the rights of vulnerable communities. The Human Rights Commission needs sufficient powers and funding to enable it to effectively carry out its remit and we all need to work on the process for taking forward on a Bill of Rights.

"The clearest way to see progress on these and other measures needed is for the two governments and all the local political parties to reaffirm the commitments made in the Good Friday Agreement and to work together to ensure the lull implementation of the rights and equality agenda. This is the task facing us now." ENDS

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Sinn Fein TD and Environment spokesperson Arthur Morgan has criticised coalition Environment Minister Martin Cullen for his "short sighted comments about Government failures to act on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change". Deputy Morgan said:

"Minister Cullen's claim that there is 'no get out of jail card' after his and previous governments spent years ignoring international commitments on green houses gases is pathetic. He seems to have forgotten that it is the job of government to govern and it was Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats who spent years ignoring their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We need real commitment to an environmentally sustainable future for Ireland, not the piecemeal approach currently being adopted. Yes we need to investigate the best way to introduce energy taxes, but with this government there is always the fear that it will be the weakest and least well off who end up being penalised not those who are actually creating the greatest amount of emissions.

"There is a need for a comprehensive approach to this problem. For example if minister Cullen has suddenly had a conversion to environmental principles will he commit himself to adopting a zero waste strategy for waste management and will he call on Finance minister McCreevy to rescind the decision in the budget to withdraw Tax relief for wind energy producers or raise the targets for generating electricity from renewable resources.

"We need a fulltime environment minister with real vision and commitment not a short-term short-sightedness." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA speaking following a day long meeting of the party's Ard Comhairle in Dundalk - the first of the new year - said there was deep concern expressed at todays meeting at the lack of urgency being placed by the two governments on the resolution of the current political crisis.

During the day long meeting Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness updated the Ard Comhairle on yesterdays meeting with Tony Blair at Downing Street and ongoing contact with the Irish Government. There was also a detailed discussion on the ongoing talks and the democratic imperative that the Assembly Elections go ahead in May. Mr McLaughlin said:

"Today republicans gathered in Dundalk from right across the country. There was deep concern expressed that given the narrow window of opportunity which exists to resolve the current political crisis that such little urgency was being placed on it by the two governments.

"It is now three months since the British government collapsed the political institutions at the behest of the UUP.

"It is not good enough for Tony Blair to merely acknowledge that the British Government have failed to implement the Agreement. What is urgently required is a plan to implement the Agreement and resolve all the outstanding issues.

"Sinn Féin believe that these issues can be resolved and that the Good Friday Agreement represents the best way forward."

The Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle also passed a motion of support for the IFA mobilisation in Dublin today. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Rural Development, Martin Ferris TD has claimed that An Post's proposal to end door-to-door deliveries may be in breach of an EU Directive on the provision of postal services. The Deputy for Kerry North says that he intends to raise this in the Dáil and in a submission to the Commission for Communications Regulation.

Deputy Ferris said; "If, as seems to be the case, that customers in rural areas are to be given a different standard of service depending on where they live, then the proposal is in breach of Article 5.1 of Directive 97/67/EU which guarantees ' -- an identical service to users under comparable conditions.' It also negates the commitment made to provide "- fair and non-discriminatory treatment.'

"Apart altogether from this being a further attack on the quality of life of people in rural communities, it is also clear that the Government's penny pinching will ensure that users of the postal service will be given different and unequal treatment depending on where they happen to live. That is an unacceptable practise in any public service funded from people's tax."ENDS

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Speaking today in Belfast in advance of his meeting with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said:

"The ability of the Sinn Fein leadership and the two governments to devise a plan to sort out political crisis' has happened quite a few times in the last four years.

"Maybe it can be done again but even if we do that, the bar which the unionists have raised is very, very, very high indeed. I don't see any sense at this time of any section of unionism running into the elections prepared to engage on a pro-Agreement axis.

"It is my belief that these issues can be resolved. That the Agreement can be implemented. However can this be done in the immediate time ahead? I don't know.

"The Sinn Féin leadership will continue to engage with the two governments and the rest of the parties. The onus however rests with the two governments and the British government in particular. We must see in the time ahead their plan to implement the Agreement in all its aspects." ENDS

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The Minister for Health and Children Micheal Martin has been urged to act to avert the closure of Accident and Emergency units throughout the State following the coming into effect of new training rules imposed by the College of Surgeons. Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD said this latest development "could see more hospitals in the same predicament as Monaghan".

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Changes in training rules now being implemented by the College of Surgeons, as signalled by the Irish Medical Organisation, have been in the offing for a long time. Yet the Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin has not acted to ensure that all existing Accident and Emergency services are maintained. On the contrary he has presided over a situation where in Monaghan the hospital has been off call for the past six months with accident and emergency cases being diverted to Cavan and Drogheda.

that existing A and E units are not closed or curtailed?

"Minister Martin must act to avert what could be a devastating blow to A and E services throughout the State. He is the responsible Minister and he cannot continue to hide behind the professional bodies or the health boards." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Foyle MLA, Mitchel Mc Laughlin has claimed that according to Census figures up to 200,000 people eligible to vote are missing from the Electoral Register.

Mr. Mc Laughlin is calling for an urgent investigation into the apparent discrepancy between the declared population of voting age in the recent Census Report and the number of electors registered to vote.

The Sinn Féin MLA said:

"A comparison between the latest census figures and the most recent electoral register would seem to indicate that there are around 200,000 people eligible to vote according to the census figures that are not on the register. This is a very worrying disclosure and is something that cannot be ignored. This critical issue should be of concern to all parties, as these missing voters must cover every political opinion.

"I intend approaching the Ombudsman's Office and the Equality Commission to request an investigation into how this discrepancy occurred and what steps can be taken to rectify the situation"

"The figure of 200,000 votes cannot simply be explained away as people failing to register nor is it entirely due to the new registration requirements. What we have is 200,000 people that have been disenfranchised and this will obviously have a major effect on the electoral process and is something that all parties should be concerned about. These figures require an urgent investigation to ascertain exactly how this situation came about."

"Another area of concern is the fact that there appears to be a higher percentage figure for registration in constituencies and wards that could be described as unionist than in similar nationalist areas. But I do not want to labour this point, as it requires detailed investigation." ENDS

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Speaking before his meeting in London on Wednesday with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair the Mid-Ulster MP and Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator, Martin Mc Guinness said:

"The next six to eight weeks will probably be the most critical period the north has seen in the last thirty years. It is crucial that politicians here adopt a positive agenda and collective approach over the coming months to end the political impasse.

I would caution that the political process is entering a critical time ahead of the Assembly elections in May and urge all parties to move forward together. The elections must go ahead, any suspension would effectively be a suspension of the democratic process and would be very damaging indeed.

I think all of us at the heart of this process know the best way to go forward is to try and resolve our problems over the course of the coming six to eight weeks and to move forward together with a very positive agenda into those elections.

Politicians here must develop a positive and constructive frame of mind. It's going to require, I think, a collective approach over the course of the next couple of months that I believe will be the most critical period that we have seen in the course of the last thirty years." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD has demanded that the Government take urgent action to address the crisis in farming. Deputy Ferris was speaking as farmers began a mass protest to draw attention to the fall in income and the threat to the survival of thousands of family farms and rural communities.

Deputy Ferris said; "The fact that farmers feel that they must embark on an action such as this is an indication of the depth of the frustration being felt by thousands of farmers whose livelihoods are under threat. While Minister Walsh may claim that most of the factors underlying the crisis are outside of the control of his Department, the cuts in the various agricultural and rural development programmes contained in the Estimates are an indication of the Government's lack of commitment to maintaining rural communities.

"I have raised this on numerous occasions in the Dáil and will continue to press for radical action to be taken to ensure that not only does farming remain a viable option for those wishing to remain on the land, but that real effort is made to ensure the balanced development of those communities currently facing economic collapse and social isolation." ENDS

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Speaking after it was reported that the Minister for Finance attempted to have water charges introduced state-wide in the budget Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment Arthur Morgan TD said:

"The reported attempts by Charlie McCreevy to impose water charges state-wide in the last budget provide yet another example of this government making ordinary people pay through the nose for the mess that he and his colleagues have made of the economy. It is clear that Mr McCreevy again sees the pay packets of the ordinary man and woman in the street as his own personal gravy train into which he can dip his increasingly scrooge like and greedy tentacles.

"We have already seen since the budget that people in general are less well off and in many cases actual incomes are in decline as a result of inflation, increases in VAT and the rise in costs of essential services like electricity, gas and health care.

"But this is not enough for greedy McCreevy. Not content with the fact that people already pay for services like water and refuse collections through their general taxation he is determined to make them pay twice. These water charges are nothing to do with improving water quality and sewage treatment - nor are they designed to protect resources. These are nothing more than unconvincing excuses to impose further taxation by stealth. Sinn Féin will continue to resist vigorously all attempts to introduce these unjust service charges.

"Charlie McCreevy will have to find other sources of revenue to balance his books. Perhaps he could start with his friends in the stud farm industry who pay little or no tax or those in big businesses whose Corporation tax was reduced from an already lowly 16% to a ridiculously low 12.5%." ENDS

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North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly speaking about this mornings pipe-bomb discovery at Holy Cross Primary School.

Mr. Kelly said:

"The New Year has only begun and already we have a disgraceful attack on children by some faction of the UDA.

"I have no doubt that this attack is a cynical attempt by the UDA to draw attention away from the fact that they are involved in an internal feud.

"Unionist politicians and community workers must do all in their power to end such attacks. We have, in recent days, seen Unionist politicians be highly outspoken in their calls for loyalist to end their feud. Unionists need to be as vocal in their calls for attacks upon nationalists to end". ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has accused the PSNI of 'arming themselves with all available weapons of repression'. Ms. Gildernew's comments come after demands from the PSNI Chief Hugh Orde to be allowed to fire CS Gas. Ms. Gildernew said:

"Since the formation of the PSNI the current Policing Board has presided over the issuing of a new and more lethal plastic bullet. Now it is reported that they are to be lobbied by Huge Orde to be allowed to fire CS Gas.

"To many within the nationalist community who have direct experience of the PSNI and their predecessors in the RUC this development is undoubtedly worrying.

"The vast majority of PSNI members have exempted themselves from the Human Rights oath and those who abused Human Rights in the past moved en-block into the new force. With this sort of background and make-up it is not surprising therefore that the PSNI is continuing to arm itself with all available weapons of resistance."ENDS

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Sinn Féin leader on Dublin City Council Cllr. Christy Burke, speaking after a meeting with City Manager John Fitzgerald said that Sinn Féin is deeply concerned at the prospect of the Council being dissolved by the government and described these bully boy tactics as an affront to democracy. "

Councillor Burke said:

"We made it clear to the City Manager this morning that we will be continuing to oppose unjust bin charges but we are calling for all party support for our alternative proposals for raising finance for Council services including:

  • rates on government buildings;
  • bed charge for city hotels;
  • enforcement of legislation in private rented sector - landlords must register

We believe that these proposals could save the Council from collapse.

"Given the grave crisis which this city is now facing Dublin Sinn Féin Councillors and party officer board members will be holding an emergency meeting, in advance of tonights sitting of the Council, at 5pm at City Hall. At this meeting we will be examining the options available to us to save the Council and also the options for the City if the government moves unilaterally and suspends the Council." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh speaking in Limerick this afternoon has accused the government of fundamentally undermining neutrality by allowing US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. He has called for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Over the last decade we have seen the abandonment of neutrality to the US and to the developing EU military structures. The most blatant example of this is government approval for US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. Prior to Christmas I raised this matter in the Dáil and sought clarification regarding how many US warplanes had landed and also how many overflights were taking place each week.

"The government is clearly acting in violation of this state's position of neutrality. It is time that they gave an assurance that will act at all times in accordance with their constitutional and legal obligations in relation to the granting of overflights or landing permission at Shannon.

"Sinn Féin is calling for neutrality to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution and codified in legislation and for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers."ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh speaking in Limerick this afternoon has accused the government of fundamentally undermining neutrality by allowing US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. He has called for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Over the last decade we have seen the abandonment of neutrality to the US and to the developing EU military structures. The most blatant example of this is government approval for US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. Prior to Christmas I raised this matter in the Dáil and sought clarification regarding how many US warplanes had landed and also how many overflights were taking place each week.

"The government is clearly acting in violation of this state's position of neutrality. It is time that they gave an assurance that will act at all times in accordance with their constitutional and legal obligations in relation to the granting of overflights or landing permission at Shannon.

"Sinn Féin is calling for neutrality to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution and codified in legislation and for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers."ENDS

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WILL THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT SURVIVE 2003?

The Good Friday Agreement is a binding international treaty between the British and Irish governments.

It was endorsed in a referendum across this island in 1996. The vast majority of the people voted for its provisions. It is therefore the people's property. Their expressed wishes cannot be set aside by either government or political party.

It is obvious five years later that the Agreement has not been implemented in full. The primary responsibility for this failure lies with the British government and they have admitted this failure. Anti agreement elements inside the British government and the unionist parties are setting the agenda. They have filtered the proposed changes through a unionist view of the world. The dead hand of these forces has held back the pace and the extent of the changes promised in the Good Friday Agreement.

However the Irish government are joint co-equal partners with the British government in the shaping and the protection of the agreement. They have a joint co-equal responsibility for its implementation. They also have an onerous responsibility to promote and defend Irish national interests and the rights of all Irish citizens living in the six counties.

It is my view that there have been a number of occasions in the last few years when they should have been more vocal and assertive in ensuring the British government honored their commitments.

I believe this is particularly relevant in at least two crucial areas: the development of the all-Ireland institutions and the implementation of the Patten recommendations on policing.

On the issue of the all-Ireland institutions. They are a pale reflection of the Assembly and the Executive when they were functioning. Yet to republicans and nationalists this particular institution is the one they are most keen to see developed to its maximum extent.

We expected the Irish government would use their considerable resources as a government to advance this institution. They failed to do so.

When it came to the issue of policing they were also found wanting. What was required was a united nationalist position to pressurise the British government to ensure Patten was implemented without amendment.

They also failed to honour their commitment to the release of all political prisoners. They have no justification for the continuing imprisonment of those republicans in Castlerea prison. They should be released immediately.

This reality however does not in anyway invalidate the agreement or the proposed solutions it brought forward to the many political problems facing this country as a result of partition, unionist misrule and the last thirty years of conflict.

The fundamental reality facing the people of these islands and the two governments is that partition has failed. The Good Friday Agreement is a clear recognition of that fact.

That is why we have three interlocking and interdependent institutions: the all Ireland Ministerial Council, the northern Executive and the Assembly. These institutions seek to give political expression and legitimacy to the nationalist and unionist interests in the short to medium term.

That is why we need a new police service which nationalists and republicans can support and join.

That is why we need irreversible and transparent legislation securing human rights and justice for everyone.

That is why we need parity of esteem for cultural rights and identity across society.

Much publicity has been given and rightly so to the revelations in the British Cabinet papers of thirty years ago. These papers not only show the absurd and shallow nature of British government thinking and policy at the time they also highlight the colonial nature of the problem here.

This crisis management approach to the situation in Ireland has perpetuated the crisis itself.

The Good Friday Agreement provided an opportunity for this approach by the British government to 'over, done with, a thing of the past'. Now however the spectre of crisis management is coming to the fore.

Quick fix solutions like repartition in 1972 were and are as unworkable as the partition of Ireland in 1920.

But there is another reality where this thinking is evident today and that is in how British military policy has assisted the forced movement of many thousands of Catholics because they have failed to deal with sectarian violence by loyalist paramilitaries.

Nationalists and Catholics in Belfast's Ardoyne, New Lodge and Short Strand and other parts of Antrim, in north Armagh and north Down are being targeted and forced to leave their homes and find security among other nationalists.

This is a form of hidden repartition. It is the blind eye approach by the British military authorities, which leaves Catholics and nationalists vulnerable and uncertain about where to live in their own country.

The Good Friday Agreement offers everyone on this island a peaceful future. It offers everyone equality and the opportunity to begin again. An opportunity to reshape Irish politics within the six counties, within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

It has withstood the pressures and there have been many over the last five years. I am satisfied with the proper will on all sides it can not only withstand the pressures of this year it can grow in strength and prove for the first time in centuries that the people of this island and Britain can work out their difficulties peacefully and politically.

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Sinn Féin Waterford Representative David Cullinane has described the proposed 100% increase in service charges as a disgrace and labelled any oppostion councillors who supported such massive increases as 'cowards'.

David Cullinane said:

"The people of this state have already been hit hard by Government cutbacks in the latest Book of Estimates and budget. Cutbacks have been met with price hikes in TV licenses, ESB, Motor Tax and other services. Now the people of Waterford are faced with a massive increase in bin charges."

"This government is starving local authorities of funding in order to force local councillors to balance the books by hiking up service charges. This is unacceptable. The people of Waterford already pay for essential services through direct taxation. Service charges are a double taxation which must be abolished."

"Sinn Féin has consistently argued that once such a charge was introduced it could be increased every year with no limit on the amount that can be charged. This is now being brought home to the people of Waterford by the proposed doubling of bin charges"

"What is most dissapointing is that labour Party Councillors look set to back these increases. As a party which proclaims to be a socialist party this is shameful. Even at this late stage I appeal to Labour Councillors not to do the dirty work of Fianna Fail by supporting these 100% increases."

"Sinn Féin seeks to work with residents groups, progressive political parties and the trade union movement in a campaign to oppose these charges." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe this morning said that it came as no surprise that Mary Harney had tried to wield the axe on 13,000 Community Employment places last year, despite public commitments to the contrary during the election campaign. Deputy Crowe has called on the government to clarify their position in relation to such schemes immediately. Deputy Crowe said:

"The Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition have proven time and again that their interest in the unemployed is non-existent. This years budget dealt a devastating blow to those who want to return to full time employment by reducing eligibility to such schemes to those who have been unemployed for five years instead of 15 months as had been the case.

"The Back to Work initiative has been one of the few schemes that have given a sign of hope to those who find themselves and their families trapped in a cycle of unemployment and poverty. The fact that almost 100,000 families have already benefited from this programme shows the very real impact that it can have in tackling poverty. This obviously means little to Mary Harney who was willing to wield her axe so quickly.

"Todays revelations will increase concerns that this government is on a course to remove such schemes entirely thereby depriving communities of badly needed services and the opportunity to make the transition from welfare to work for many people. I am calling on the government to immediately clarify their position on these schemes so as to end the uncertainties being faced by many people heading in to the new year." ENDS

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