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Sinn Féin South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has been selected as Sinn Féin South Down candidate for the for the coming Westminster election. At the party's Westminster selection convention in Downpatrick Caitríona Ruane was selected unopposed to stand as Sinn Féin's candidate in the Westminster election.

Speaking at the convention Cllr Willie Clarke MLA congratulated Caitriona on her nomination believing it marks another historic landmark for Sinn Féin in County Down. Cllr Clarke said:

"We have put forward a candidate who I believe will give us a genuine opportunity to win this seat. South Down is clearly a key area of growth for Sinn Féin and we are fighting an election in what was once considered an SDLP stronghold. This is no longer the case and we are steadily building upon the foundation laid by people like Cllr Mick Murphy and Cllr Frank McDowell who have helped paved the way for our current success. Make no mistake, with hard work and dedication this seat is within our grasp ˇ a seat that until quite recently would have been considered untouchable.

Ms Ruane said:

"It is a privilege and with a sense of humility that I accept this nomination. This is a county with a proud Republican tradition dating back to the 1798 rebellion when men and women fought and died for Irish freedom. It is a history that links County Down with my home county of Mayo where the vision and beliefs of Wolfe Tone have influenced successive generations.

"Here in South Down we have achieved a number of significant breakthroughs with the election last November of myself and my party colleague Willie Clarke to the Assembly. We have put together a committed team of Council candidates in the hope of at least doubling are representation on Down District and Newry and Mourne Councils and we are also attempting to make an unprecedented electoral breakthrough in Banbridge. Our candidates are a blend of youth and experience with a gender balance which shows Sinn Fein is the one political party in Ireland trying to actively increase the representation of women in politics.

"My work as an MLA has taken me to many towns, villages and country hamlets where I have met students and first-time voters; pensioners terrified in their own homes; workers and the unemployed; small shopkeepers; farmers worried about the implications of a national park; people working in the fishing industry who are unsure about their future in the face of more EU reforms and restrictions and business people anxious to develop South Down, particularly the areas tourist potential.

"South Down has many social and economic problems. Not surprisingly, like anywhere else in the North, there are political divisions and competing aspirations but none that cannot be mutually accommodated within the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin has fought long and hard to reverse the injustices of partition. We were able to do so because the electorate has empowered us to do so. It is only now that the British and the unionists have started to take our community seriously.

"The events of the past three months prove the DUP have still some way to go before they are prepared to share power with Republicans. Yet massive progress has been made and Ian Paisley now leads a party that has accepted the fundamentals of the Good Friday Agreement and its all-Ireland architecture.

"For the past 17 years Eddie McGrady has held this seat in what has often been described as the SDLP's 'jewel in the crown'. That jewel has lost much of its sparkle and with the continued dedication, hard work and commitment we can, in the centenary year of Sinn Féin's formation, win next year's Westminster election and significantly increase our representation at Council level.

Notes for editors

Caitriona was born and raised in Mayo and lives in County Louth. She is married to Brian and has two daughters. A keen athlete, she played professional tennis from she was 17-21, was in the Junior Competition at Wimbledon and represented Ireland at many international events. She has played a wide range of sports including basketball, volleyball table tennis and GAA.

A fluent Spanish speaker, she worked for a US-based aid foundation from 1983-87 in Central America, living in dangerous war zones with indigenous people, documenting human rights abuses. Upon her return to Ireland she worked full-time for Trocaire before co-founding the Centre for Research and Documentation.

She was a member of the Committee on the Administration of Justice and organised the Belfast Forum on Policing conference in 1994 after the ceasefires. She has lobbied the UN and the EU on human rights in the North and was involved in organising inquiries and compiling reports into the deaths of Fergal Caraher (shot dead by a British soldier) and Patrick Shanaghan (a victim of collusion between loyalists and state forces).

From 1997-2001 Caitríona was the Director of Féile an Phobail and a founder of the St Patrick's Day Parade, during which time she took unionists in the city hall to court on grounds of funding discrimination. In 2000 President Mary McAleese presented Caitríona with the Aisling Person of the Year Award.

More recently, Caitríona has been chairperson of the 'Bring Them Home' campaign.

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Sinn Féin Assembly member for South Down Caitriona Ruane has said that the remarks of SDLP MP Eddie McGrady yesterday in the British House of Commons accusing Sinn Féin of being the 'IRA in lounge suits' were remarks more at home on the DUP benches.

Ms Ruane said:

" Eddie McGrady's contribution yesterday in the British House of Commons including his disgraceful use of language in describing the party who represent the majority of nationalist opinion the six counties would have been more at home on the DUP benches.

" It is clear to those of us vigorously pursuing the United Ireland agenda that Mr McGrady has long departed from that path and instead is heading down the political cul de sac mapped out by former SDLP colleagues like Gerry Fitt.

" It is clear that Eddie McGrady has extreme difficulties in accepting the Sinn Féin mandate. Sinn Féin represent the majority of nationalists in the north and are the third largest party on this island. Just as we will defend the rights and entitlements of the nationalist and republican community in the face of attacks from rejectionist unionism and the British government we will do so in the face of attacks from Eddie McGrady.

" Sinn Féin are involved in this process on the basis of our mandate. The majority of nationalists in the north ensured that. Eddie McGrady needs to realise that those voters are not second class and that a vote for Sinn Féin caries the same weight as a vote for anyone else." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP will be available to speak to the media today (Wednesday 12th January) at 12.30pm at the party offices on Sevastopol Street on the current state of the political process.

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has this morning called upon the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union to "make a real difference to the lives of ordinary citizens".

Ms McDonald made her comments before the Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker was due to set out the political programme of its Presidency later this morning in the European Parliament, Strasbourg. Luxembourg will hold the EU Presidency for 6 months.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

"Sinn Féin is calling upon the Luxembourg Presidency to seize the opportunity to press for a progressive social justice agenda in the next six months, and to promote positive initiatives on socio-economic, political and human rights.

"During the Irish Presidency in 2004, an opportunity existed for the Irish Government to prioritise a Europe which protected its most vulnerable citizens, and in our view it failed. For too long, the EU has been obsessed with appeasing the agenda of big business and the larger, militarily superior states. Sinn Féin believes that a change of direction is required.

"In March 2005, the Luxembourg Presidency will conduct a mid-term review of the "Lisbon process" around its core priorities - economic, social and environmental. Sinn Féin has consistently argued that the social aspects of the agenda have been set aside in favour of exclusively promoting competitiveness and economic growth to the detriment of workers' rights. This must be the occasion to rebalance the Lisbon Strategy, placing greater emphasis on its social and environmental aspects. It is a scathing indictment of the Lisbon Agenda and the EU when more than 68 million people face poverty and social exclusion within its borders.

"Sinn Féin believes that the Luxembourg Presidency should promote a visible social inclusion strategy and prioritise initiatives which seek to promote social protections, including workers‚ rights. It should also reverse the trend toward increasing privatisation and move to secure the future of quality public services, particularly in relation to health and education services.

"Our party is happy to endorse the Social Platform Tests for the Luxembourg Presidency.

"I would also call upon the Luxembourg Presidency not to become a cheerleader for the EU Constitution in 2005. A number of referendums are due to held later in the year. They should remain impartial and allow the citizens to decide for themselves whether or not to ratify the EU Constitution.

"Along with my colleague Bairbre de Brún MEP, I look forward to working the Luxembourg Presidency in the coming months." ENDS

Note to editors: The Social Platform tests for the Luxembourg presidency is produced by a pan European platform of social NGOs. The tests can be found at www.socialplatform.org.

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Speaking today in response to the Department for Regional Development's Draft Accessible Transport Strategy, Sinn Fein Regional Development spokesperson, Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney expressed his concern that the development of an accessible transport strategy for older people and people with disabilities has been long overdue and reiterated the need for an All Ireland Accessible Transport Strategy.

Mr McCartney said:

"This transport initiative comes almost ten years after the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act. Sinn Fein continues to work tirelessly to promote the equality and human rights agenda and to defend the rights and entitlements of all our citizens. I am amazed that transport legislation in the Six Counties, even with the advent of DDA, is non-existent. To think that the elderly and people with disabilities are protected under the law in this regard is huge human rights issue.

"The British Government are only now at this late stage introducing draft legislation to lift this transport exemption. The EU have set the precedence in its Transport Policy, which places users at the heart of transport policy and promotes the increased of forms of public transport accessible to all, including people with disabilities and older people. With statistics predicting by 2025, 26% of the population in the Six Counties will be aged 60+, and almost 1 in 4 people with a disability, the Department needs to deliver the transport services to those who need it most. The strategy must meet the needs of those in rural and urban centres, cover the entire journey time and be flexible and responsive to individual needs.

"While DRD state in their vision to have an accessible transport system that enables older people and people with disabilities to, "participate more fully in society, enjoy greater independence and experience a better quality of life". We have to ask what provisions have been made for the elderly during the last decade and specifically what about the learning disabled, wheelchair users, visually impaired and those who have hidden disabilities? Yet with so-called equality legislation, we are still seeing the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in our society further alienated."

Mr.McCartney has called on the Department to look carefully at the funding implications for the draft strategy. Finance Minister Ian Pearson has drastically cut the Budget Priorities for 2005 - 2008.

"In October of this year we saw the DRD budget like so many other Departments suffering at the hands of British Direct Rule Minister, Ian Pearson. The upgrading of the transport infrastructure to deliver an accessible transport network must include all forms of travel, road, rail, air and sea. Training for staff will be absolutely key in all of this. The question how the Minister believes that an accessible transport policy can be delivered by reducing the DRD budget by £41.9m on Objective A Investment in Transport, over the period 2005- 2005?

"This is not acceptable. For too long now the elderly and disabled have been victims." ENDS

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Sinn Féin will hold a major rally in the Round Room in the Mansion House in Dublin on Friday 14th January at 7pm to launch its programme of events for the 100th anniversary of Sinn Féin.

The event will be chaired by Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin MLA and Chair of Comóradh an Chéid Caitríona Ruane will announce details of many of the events which will take place over the year.

During the evening there will also be music and a multi media and dramatic presentation depicting key events of the last 100 years.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will also give a keynote address setting out the party's priorities for the time ahead and the current difficulties in the peace process. ENDS

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O Dowd speaking about the need for effective measures emanating from the World Health Organisations (WHO) European conference on Mental Health in Helsinki said:

"Mental health treatment needs to be properly resourced and the basic human rights of people with mental health problems need to be protected. Sinn Féin notes and supports Amnesty International call for 'inextricable links between respect for international human rights standards and national mental health systems be reflected in the action plan coming from the WHO Helsinki conference'.

"Governments and society must recognise the value of the individual with mental health problems. Sinn Féin believes that services for people with a mental health illness should be geared towards the needs and wishes of the individual, rather than the individual having to conform to the norms of the service or being locked into a prejudiced stereotypical image of people with mental health problems.

"For the WHO conference action plan to be effective on the ground it must tackle the widespread problem of the lack of a rights base for the services received (and in many cases, sought but not received) by mental health illness suffers and an even less certain provision of services for family carers.

"This should be based on the development of a range of effective policies and programmes directed towards increasing inclusion, in developing the abilities of people with Mental illness themselves, in meeting the aspirations of and acknowledging the determination of their family carers and other advocates and in the provision dedicated staff at all levels.

"In the North Mental health services have had too low a priority within Government planning and have depended on determined individuals for the service to survive. In the Investing for Health Strategy developed by the former Health Minister, Bairbre De Brún, the need for cross-departmental collaboration and co-operation was seen as vital, but true agency collaboration still remains a long way off. Collaboration is a commitment to meet together and to plan and work jointly. At its most developed, collaboration must include families and carers and people with Mental illness themselves all sharing and actively participating in the necessary decision-making process.

"It is also unrealistic to believe that a Mental health strategy, bringing real improvements in the range and quality of opportunities available to people, can be delivered without extra resources, a point which Dr David Bamford, the chair of the present Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability, made very forcibly and public through his open letter to the NIO minister of Finance, Ian Pearson.

"The WHO conference calls on Government delegates to follow on from the conference with meaningful change to lives of people with mental health illness, the Bamford Review is ongoing but as I have said earlier if its recommendations are not properly resourced then the British government will have failed the WHO and most importantly of all will have failed those people with a mental health illness. ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney will be meeting the DRD Roads Service today to discuss the tragic accident on Foyle Bridge yesterday that saw an articulated lorry plunge over its side killing the driver.

Mr McCartney stated,

"I will be meeting the DRD Road Service to discuss the circumstances of yesterdays tragic accident and to find out what lessons can be learnt in order to improve safety on the bridge".

"The Foyle Bridge is one of the main routes into the city and while it is important that this bridge remains opened as much as possible the safety of its users is a paramount concern. I will be meeting with officials from the DRD Road Service to find out what action is taken to ensure that this tragic accident is never repeated and that the safety of the road and pedestrian users of the bridge is improved".

"I am especially concerned that the safety barriers failed to keep the vehicle on the bridge and will be one of the issues I will be raising today"

"I would also like to offer my sincere condolences to the family of Peter McGuinness who died in the accident" ENDS

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West Tyrone Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty has accused the PSNI/ British Army of "blatant political harassment" following the detention of Omagh Council Chair Seán Clarke, Patrick O Hagan, (the son of Kathleen O Hagan who was murdered by the UVF through RUC collusion) and another man at a joint roadblock on the Carrickmore/ Creggan Road on Monday night.

He said,

"The three were stopped and harassed for around fifteen minutes as they were returning from our Party's Westminster Selection Convention in Carrickmore.

"While young Patrick O Hagan and the other man were subjected to a litany of petty questions and the car was thoroughly searched, the fact that they ignored Seán Clarke altogether shows that this was little more than a blatant exercise in political harassment.

"This latest incident follows on from extremely suspicious activity by crown forces around Seán Clarke's home on Christmas day.

"This present upsurge in crown force harassment of republicans coincides with a clearly defined strategy by securocrats and our political opponents to demonise Sinn Féin.

"Given the experience of past periods when such political climates were carefully fostered, I would urge all Sinn Féin members and republicans to be extremely vigilant in the days and weeks ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Arts, Leisure and Culture Spokesperson, East Derry MLA Francie Brolly has welcomed progress on plans to install a new transmitter for TG4 in Belfast to expand the coverage throughout the north.

Mr Brolly said:

"Making sure that TG4 is available right across the north is important in sustaining and promoting the Irish language.

"There has been widespread frustration both within the Irish language community and beyond that the commitment to promote the Irish language has been met with such internal resistance from within the NIO.

"Almost 170,000 people within the north have a knowledge of Irish and the promotion of the rights of Irish speakers is an important part of the Good Friday Agreement so it is vital that the momentum is maintained in order that we can deliver maximum progress in promoting the Irish language." ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEPs Bairbre de Brún (6 Counties)and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) will brief fellow MEPs in the GUE/NGL group on the current state of the peace process this evening. Members of the European Parliament have shown a keen interest in the peace process in Ireland and in the prospects for further forward movement in the time ahead.

The briefing to the GUE/NGL group also provided an opportunity to address the particular difficulties that have arisen in the wake of the unsubstantiated allegations being made against Republicans in recent days.

In a joint statement both Sinn Féin MEPs said:

" This evening's briefing provided an opportunity to explain in some detail the story behind the spin of recent days. The reality is that there are those within the British system hostile to the peace process and the Sinn Féin role in driving it forward.

" It is very clear that these elements have seized upon the raid on the Northern Bank in order to try and advance the failed unionist agenda of exclusion. This is the sort of politics that failed for decades.

" Sinn Féin have put unequalled effort into the Irish peace process. We are not going to be deflected from the business of making peace by the securocrats or by those within unionism who are still unable to accept basic principles of equality and democracy.

" The current crisis in the process comes after a massive effort by the Sinn Féin leadership late last year to see the process put back on track. The IRA outlined very clearly the sort of historic contribution that it was prepared to make. Unionism failed to rise to the challenge once again and walked away from an agreement.

" Sinn Féin will stand over our record in this process. We represent the majority of nationalist political opinion in the north. We will not allow our voice to be sidelined or excluded in the time ahead." ENDS

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Speaking in London after the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy made his statement to the British House of Commons concerning the unsubstantiated allegation made by securocrats alleging IRA involvement in the robbery at the Northern Bank, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:

"Sinn Féin will stand over our record in the peace process.

"Sinn Féin's participation in this process and in any government is based entirely on our substantial electoral mandate and nothing else. We are the largest nationalist party in the six counties and the third largest party on this island. In contrast Paul Murphy has no mandate from the Irish people and we will not tolerate attempts by him to sanction or demonise the Sinn Féin electorate.

" Furthermore Sinn Féin will not take lectures from any British government on criminality when successive British governments engaged in a policy of state sanctioned murder against the nationalist community through their control and direction of the unionist death squads. The current British government of which Paul Murphy is part continues to cover-up this activity." ENDS

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Sinn Féin representative for Dublin South East Councillor Daithí Doolan has said, "Any development of the South Bank/Poolbeg Peninsula must be done in full and open consultation with the residents of Ringsend and the wider community."

Speaking in Dublin Today he said:

"The plans for the redevelopment of the area of the South Bank/Poolbeg Peninsula in Ringsend were put on public display by Dublin City Council yesterday and submissions are being requested. I would urge all residents of Dublin South East to get involved with this project and I hope to see as many submissions as possible.

"Any development of the South Bank/Poolbeg Peninsula must be done in full and open consultation with the residents of Ringsend and the wider community. The development of the peninsula must provide social and affordable housing for the people of Dublin South East while protecting the cultural and historical aspects of the area. The environment also has to be protected and this means standing by the decision not to place an incinerator in Poolbeg.

"I would also call on Dublin City Council to immediately carry out a study into the health and social impact of high rise buildings.

"I look forward to working closely with the community and listening to their ideas and proposals so that together, we can create the best plan for the development of the South Bank/Poolbeg Peninsula. I also plan to put forward a submission myself to reflect the concerns and ideas of constituents that I represent." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty was unanimously re-selected as the Sinn Féin Westminster Candidate for West Tyrone at a packed party convention in Carrickmore last night.

The sitting MP was nominated and seconded by Councillors Jarlath Mc Nulty and Seán Clarke, the Council Chairs of Strabane and Omagh respectively.

In his acceptance speech Mr Doherty said that he was honoured to have been re-selected to carry the flag for Sinn Féin in West Tyrone and paid tribute to the dedication and hard work of the party organisation throughout the constituency.

Continuing he said,

"Our objective in these forthcoming elections is to consolidate the 4 Westminster seats that we secured in 2001 and to win additional Westminster seats. In terms of the local elections our aim is to win a substantial number of additional Council seats including here in West Tyrone.

"We are not building political strength for the sake of it. We are building political strength throughout this island as part of a strategy to bring about Irish re-unification and true equality for all the citizens on the Island.

"For differing reasons our political and securocrat opponents are united in the objective of attempting to put the brakes on Sinn Féin's electoral and organisational growth.

"The NIO's top securocrat Joe Pilling stated, at what he thought was a private meeting in the US in October, that the worst case scenario would be that Sinn Féin would become the largest party in the north and that the priority was to stop this happening.

"The full frontal onslaught now being rolled out against Sinn Féin is therefore no co-incidence.

"However, what our political and securocrats opponents have not learned, despite all the lessons from history, is that republicans thrive on adversity.

"It is expected that both the Westminster and local elections will be held on May 5th. No one here needs to be told the significance of this date in the republican calendar. The British failed to undermine or criminalize the republican struggle in 1981 it will fail again. " ENDS

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Sinn Féin education spokesman, Newry Armagh MLA Davy Hyland has met with representatives from Unison and NIPSA to discuss the threatened closures of libraries and reductions of opening hours of libraries in the SELB area.

Meeting a delegation from the two unions, Mr. Hyland and Sinn Féin councillor, Brendan Lewis, acknowledged concern about proposed reductions in library services and the effects these would have not only for library staff but also for the public.

Mr Hyland said:

"It is vital that senior management in the SELB consult more fully with library staff and with their union representatives to ensure that those most affected by any proposed changes would have an opportunity to have their voices heard.

"It is important that the views of the library staff on the ground are taken into account by senior management. Sinn Féin would advocate a through consultation process that would allow for better communication between all concerned. There has been considerable disquiet about the proposed changes and it is imperative that concerns that have arisen are addressed in a straightforward manner for good relations to prevail.

"The impact of the loss of libraries and restriction in access to library services is bad news. Not only is it the loss of an important community resource there are also implications for young people accessing books and the other services that our libraries now provide. There are also serious implications of people trying to tackle the serious problems of adult literacy that we face." ENDS

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Sinn Féin's Employment & Learning Spokesperson Michael Ferguson MLA has expressed his outrage at the DEL's decision to slash the Learndirect programmes as 'Ministerial Madness'.

The news dreaded by Training Organisations across the Six Counties was announced on the 5th and signals the end of a programme that many saw as a complementary method of learning that enhanced the literacy and numeracy of learners especially when supported by the warm body presence of an experienced engaging tutor/facilitator.

The slashing of the Learndirect Budget comes on the back of the decision to also end the Worktrack programme, a wage based training programme that placed learners in employment and skilled them up on the job building confidence and self esteem.

New Deal is also to be cut from a 26-week training programme to 13 weeks begging the question as to what if any qualification could be got in such as a short time.

Commenting upon the cuts and his forth coming meeting with the DEL Michael Ferguson said,

"The common thread throughout the proposed Government Skills Strategy is the issue of addressing the skills deficit in regards to Numeracy, Literacy and ICT.

The Department also contend that they will reduce this skills deficit by 12% over the next two years yet it has either cut the budget to all the programmes or reduced their ability to deliver the Level 2 targets sought.

The Skills Strategy is worthless unless underpinned by investment in Training programmes.

The Department have the audacity to call these cuts 'Efficiency Savings' but what they are really doing is reducing investment in training and destroying the Training Network of Community based Organisations best placed to address the Numeracy, Literacy and ICT skills deficit.

This is a message that I and representatives from Training Organisations will bring to the Department next week." ENDS

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Wexford Sinn Féin County Councillor, John Dwyer, has strongly criticised the Differential Rents Schemes as they presently apply to local authority tenants in County Wexford.

Speaking in Wexford on Tuesday Cllr. Dwyer said:

"Two years ago in February 2003 Sinn Féin Councillors in Wexford, Enniscorthy, New Ross and Gorey put motions to all four Town Councils calling on the local authorities to set a cap to the Differential Rents Schemes in order to determine a limit to the maximum amount of rent payable by local authority tenants. Unfortunately none of the other political parties supported the Sinn Féin motions at that time and so the present system of differential rents remains unreformed.

"Sinn Féin recognise that real and undue hardships have been placed on households under the current scheme whereby there is no set limit to the maximum rent that local authorities can charge their tenants.

"Another important point is that neither is there any uniform standard in the quality of housing provided by the local authority. A considerable number of homes are undeniably sub-standard. However under the present system there is no consideration when assessing rents, of the quality of accommodation provided. Tenants of a 30 - 40 year old, substandard, 3 bedroom house are treated exactly the same as tenants of a brand new 3 bedroom home, despite the vast difference in the quality of the accommodation. Rent payable continues to be assessed at the maximum amount that the local authority considers that it can recover from tenants.

"Local councils are behaving in a manner more akin to a commercial enterprise, seeking to maximise revenue, rather than fulfilling their social function in providing housing for a fair and reasonable rent.

"This commercial approach to local authority housing, while at the same time failing to use monies collected to properly upgrade and improve the current housing stock is an example of the worst form of landlordism.

"The fact that local authorities in Wexford are seriously underfunded by central government should not be an excuse to penalise family homes in order to raise much needed revenue. Sinn Féin have consistently argued that all parties need to agree and to lobby central government to properly fund our local councils so that they can carry out their duties and meet the social needs of our communities." ENDS

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The Sinn Féin Group Leader on Lisburn Council Cllr. Paul Butler has said that the DUP and UUP reaction to a motion demanding power sharing to be put before the Council tonight will send a clear signal to nationalists about unionist intentions in the overall peace process.

Cllr. Butler said:

" Tony Blair was unequivocal at the weekend when he claimed that the unionist parties had accepted the need to share power with nationalists and republicans. I have to say that I have never seen any evidence of this in my time on Lisburn council.

" Tonight a motion will go before the council demanding that power sharing be introduced to Lisburn. The reaction of the unionist parties to this motion will send to nationalists a very clear signal of overall unionist intent in the peace process.

" It will also confirm if Mr Blair's assessment of the current thinking within unionism is indeed correct or if in fact the case remains that much of political unionism remains wedded to a desire to see a return to the days of exclusion, discrimination and second class citizenship." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson, Seán Crowe TD has called for Minister for Education, Ms Mary Hanafin to "make public the criteria she used when making decisions to prioritise certain schools for funding for major projects."

Speaking in Dublin today he said:

"While I welcome the announcement of 122 major school projects it is unclear how schools were prioritised. Schools that were previously listed as priorities have not been selected for funding while some schools seemed to have jumped to the top of the list. If there are new criteria for prioritising schools then this needs to be made public.

"Many schools are in dire need of funding with many students being taught in damp unheated classes. Some schools are lacking basic facilities such as libraries, PE halls and even proper toilet facilities. Hygiene problems also plague many schools and it is not unknown for rats to be seen in school property. These are the schools that should be prioritised.

"I would urge the Minister for Education, Ms Mary Hanafin to make public the criteria she used when making decisions to prioritise certain schools for funding for major projects and to prioritise on the basis of need any future funding for schools."ENDS

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Sinn Féin MEP for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald has today called for a real debate on the proposed EU Constitution. The call was made during a debate in the European Parliament today, on the Corbett/Mendez de Vigo report on the Constitution. The report recommends that the European Parliament take a formal position on the Constitution prior to member states holding a referendum on the issue.

Speaking today Ms McDonald said:

'The proposed EU Constitution is one of the most significant social, political, economic and constitutional issues facing Ireland and the other EU member states today. Sinn Féin wants to see a full and frank debate on the EU Constitution in each member state leading up their respective referenda. The European Parliament and Commission have a role to play in this process by providing information to citizens in member states. Awareness raising of any kind makes a positive contribution to debate so long as the information provided is balanced and impartial.

"However the European Parliament and Commission must not interfere with the democratic process in each member state. Citizens must be entitled to assess the Constitution on an open and fair basis, listen to all sides of the argument, and decide for themselves.

"The Corbett/ Mendez de Vigo report is unfortunately such an interference. Calling for the wholehearted endorsement of the European Constitution and urging member states to achieve ratification by mid-2006 makes the European Parliament as an institution, a partisan player within each referendum. MEPs should not support any such call, and Sinn Féin will therefore vote against this report.

"Sinn Féin is currently discussing the detail of the European Constitution within the party and will formally take our decision at this years Ard Fheis in early March. We have already expressed serious concerns with the content of the proposed EU Constitution. Issues of democratic accountability, national sovereignty, neutrality and militarisation, the centralisation of powers within the EU, and the neo-liberal agenda are all key areas of concern.

"The EU Constitution is not a charter for an EU of Equals. Sinn Féin made clear that unless significant changes were made along the lines that we recommended to the Irish Government nearly a year ago, Sinn Féin would be unable to support the proposed constitution, and would once again have to campaign on the NO side in the referenda north and south." ENDS

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