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Sinn Féin Councillors in Wexford, Enniscorthy, New Ross and Gorey will vote against the annual estimates on all four local authorities in County Wexford this month. Speaking following a meeting of Councillors and local election candidates in Gorey on Sunday Cllr John Dwyer outlined Sinn Féin's position in relation to the local authority budgets.

Cllr Dwyer said:

"Sinn Féin are adopting a principled position of opposition to the estimates presented on all four local authorities in the county. As a matter of principle we cannot support any budget that includes a further rise in already unfair service charges. The system of Bin Charges as it presently operates in Wexford is wrong and unfair. Sinn Féin object to waste collection being used by local authorities as a revenue generating device and have presented proposals which outline a just and sensible alternative to the present system.

"Over the past twelve months Sinn Féin Councillors have endeavoured to pursue much needed reform to the present system of Differential Rents on Local Authority Housing and have proposed a cap to this scheme. Councillors from the other party's failed to second Sinn Féin motions dealing with this issue and thereby avoided even debating this important issue that impacts on the well being of so many households in this county.

"In addition, failure to carry out necessary repairs and to adequately maintain local authority housing is a matter of huge concern. This should be an issue of the highest priority but instead we have continued to witness the situation whereby local authorities act like commercial landlords in charging the highest possible rents to their tenants but have failed in their responsibility to properly maintain the local authority housing stock.

"We are aware that Sinn Féin are likely to be the only party to vote against the estimates in County Wexford. It is up to the other parties to justify their own positions. We would expect to be challenged on our alternative to the present system and indeed we do have a range of proposals to offer on the financing of Local Authorities that we have already consistently advocated.

"It is undeniable that Local Authorities throughout this State are underfunded by central government. Successive Governments over many years have created the present scenario where councils must operate on a shoe string budget and are coerced yearly to impose unfair service charges along with a whole range of new stealth taxes. All of the other party's have failed to present any real opposition to this present system and indeed have played their part in perpetuating it.

"Sinn Féin as a party has consistently highlighted the failures of local government in Ireland. The party has been strong advocates of real reform of local government - not the piecemeal gestures of successive Governments. Reform has been promised in each of the last four decades by central government. What has actually been delivered on each occasion is an ever more weakened and inefficient system.

"Sinn Féin will continue to demand real reform of local government, to fight the disempowering of local authorities and to call for greater public knowledge and discussion of the central funding process." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokespersons on Agriculture Martin Ferris TD and Councillor Gerry McHugh, have welcomed this morning's decision by an EU food committee not to approve a proposal to allow the sale of genetically modified maize. The proposal failed to secure a qualified majority among the representatives of the 15 member states. EU Agriculture Ministers will now have three months to decide whether to allow the sale of the Bt 11 maize manufactured by Syngenta.

"In welcoming this morning's vote, we also note that both the Irish and British representatives voted in favour of allowing the sale of GM maize. We do not believe that this represents the wishes of people, nor would the introduction of GM be of benefit to Irish agriculture. We will be calling on the Irish Government to change its stance and for Minister Joe Walsh to oppose the introduction. We will also raise it this afternoon when we meet with Minister Angela Smith at Stormont." ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU Candidates 2004

David Cullinane -South

David Cullinane is the Sinn Féin representative for Waterford and is a member of the party's Ard Chomhairle. He is also keenly involved in Munster Sinn Féin and is a leading player in its re-development.

He played a leading role in the first and second Nice Treaty referendum campaigns and is involved in the campaign to secure a radiotherapy unit in the South East.

David was educated at St Pauls Community College Lisduggan and later at the Dublin Institute of Technology studying management. He is currently employed as Assistant Spare Parts Manager at Autoboland Garage Waterford.

David is actively involved in community development. He is a Director and Management Committee member of the Larchville & Lisduggan Community Development Project. David is a committee member of Waterford Against Racism, a broad-based group set up to combat racism.

Bairbre de Brún - Six Counties

Bairbre de Brún is the Sinn Féin spokesperson on equality and human rights. She was the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and an Assembly member for West Belfast. She was born in Dublin and now lives in the Andersonstown area of Belfast. She is a teacher by profession and taught most recently in the growing sector of Irish medium education.

Bairbre began her political career as a member of the National Committee against the H-Blocks and Armagh Gaol in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She worked in the Women's Department and was head of both the Cultural and International Departments.

She is a fluent Irish speaker and an expert in human rights and equality issues.

She is a member of the Ard Chomhairle and of the Sinn Féin negotiating team and has travelled extensively both in Ireland and abroad to promote the peace process.

Elected as a Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Belfast in 1998, Bairbre was nominated by the party to the newly formed Executive as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety. She was elected as Assembly member for West Belfast in the recent elections.

Pearse Doherty - North West

Pearse Doherty, from Gweedore, is the Sinn Féin representative in Donegal South West.

A civil engineer by profession, Pearse is a strong supporter of the Irish Language and an avid GAA supporter. A member of Sinn Féin since 1994 he has served on the national executive of Ógra Shinn Féin.

He is an outspoken critic of the failure of successive governments to invest in the infrastructure of Donegal, something which is leading to job losses. He is involved in many campaigns to end the marginalisation of Donegal and to bring forward innovative proposals to develop the North West as a whole.

Pearse is a member of MIJAG, the national group that campaigns against the high cost of motor insurance and considers this issue to be central in the upcoming election.

Tá Piaras, atá cáilithe mar innealtóir sibhialta, ina bhall de Sinn Féin ó 1994. Bhí sé ar dhuine de chomhbhunaitheoirí Ógra Shinn Féin, áit a raibh freagrachtaí aige mar oifigeach feachtais agus slógaidh ar an Choiste Feidhmiúcháin ó 1998 go 2001.

John Dwyer - East

John is 37 years old and lives in New Ross with his partner Lorraine and family. A Trade Union official for 17 years, John was elected to New Ross Urban District Council (U.D.C.) in 1999.

As an elected representative he is involved in campaigns against incinerator proposals, dangerous phone masts, superdumps and low pay.

John has consistently made representations to New Ross U.D.C., Wexford County Council, the Department of Environment and the South Eastern Health Board on behalf of constituents from all over Wexford highlighting the poor state of roads, urban and rural disadvantage, housing problems and bad planning.

He has been publicly promoting creative solutions to a wide range of problems e.g. getting the local council to purchase private developments for social housing needs and a council levy on derelict sites.

He is a member of New Ross U.D.C.'s Industrial Development Committee; a board member of 'Future New Ross'; Tidy Towns PRO; a member of the Swimming Pool Committee and Vice Chair of Wexford Sinn Féin.

Mary Lou McDonald - Dublin

Mary Lou McDonald is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle and the party's candidate for Dublin in next years European elections.

She is married to Martin Lanigan and they have a baby daughter. Educated in Trinity College, Dublin, the University of Limerick and Dublin City University Mary Lou has studied English Literature, European Integration Studies and Human Resource Management.

She previously worked as a consultant for the Irish Productivity Centre, a researcher for the Institute of European Affairs and a trainer in the trade union sponsored Partnership Unit of the Educational and Training Services Trust.

She is the Sinn Féin representative for Dublin West and is keenly involved in many local community groups. She is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle and the party representative to the National Forum on Europe. She currently works for the party in co-ordinating the work of Sinn Féin elected representatives across the island.

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Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Arthur Morgan TD has said the Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, Noel Ahern should "hang his head in shame" in relation to house price inflation. Deputy Morgan made his remarks after the Minister announced that despite increased numbers of houses being built across the State that prices for the September Quarter were up 13.1% on last year, bringing the average cost of a new house outside of Dublin to €225,356 and €266,444 for a second-hand unit.

Deputy Morgan said: „Noel Aherns claim that the ŒGovernment will not shy away from a challenge to improve affordability of housing‚ is nothing more than arrant cant from a Minister who has done nothing to ease the plight of those crippled with massive mortgages or struggling to get a deposit on their first home. He and his Government colleagues have been primarily responsible for the chronic housing problem currently faced by the people of this State. It is because of their policies ˆ the latest of which is to force thousands of euro in costs on to the prices of a new home in the form of local authority levies that prices continue to spiral out of control.

"Noel Ahern should spare us his crocodile tears in relation to house price inflation and accept that he has failed to address the 48,000 families on local authority waiting lists, who haven‚t got a hope in hell of forking out the €300,000 being demanded for new homes in Dublin city or the €225,356 state-wide.

"Instead of gloating about increased numbers of house completions the Minister should be hanging his head in shame." ENDS

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Sinn Féin EU candidate for Dublin Marylou McDonald speaking at the party's EU candidate launch in Dublin today called on Bertie Ahern and the Government to use Ireland's upcoming Presidency of the European Union to pursue a social justice agenda across a range of areas. Detailing a 13-point plan of proposed priorities for the six month Presidency Ms McDonald called on the Government to make the drive for social justice and poverty eradication the main focus of its Presidency and ultimately its legacy.

Ms McDonald said: "The upcoming EU Presidency provides the Irish Government the opportunity to make a major impact on policies across a range of areas and sectors in Europe. It can choose to set the pace in relation to social justice and the eradication of poverty not just in Europe but around the globe.

"Sinn Féin is putting out the call here today - and we hope that the Government will take up the challenge - for Ireland to use it's term of the Presidency to push a positive social justice agenda and to promote positive initiatives on socio-economic, political and human rights.

"In our 13-point plan we are calling for the Presidency to be used to promote and pursue the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals and the eradication of poverty within EU borders and beyond. We are also calling for the introduction of Human Rights Proofing in relation to all EU law and policies focusing particularly on recent so-called anti-terrorist measures adopted by the Union, and the proposed Common Migration and Asylum Policies.

"To combat the negative impact of the economic constraints placed on Ireland and other states by EU rulings, especially in relation to the future development of infrastructure we are also calling on the Government to seek a renegotiation of the Stability and Growth Pact.

"We are calling for the full implementation of the CAP reform proposals agreed in Luxembourg last June and the placing on the agenda a proposition to completely reform the Common Fisheries Policy, which is continuing to have a devastating impact on our fishing industry, most recently evidenced by the ruling to allow fishermen on the Irish Sea fish only 15 days a month.

"Continuing with our policy of critical engagement with the EU we will push for further EU equal rights instruments including a specific Gender Equality Directive and a Disability Directive; and the development of a mechanism for equality- and poverty-proofing all EU legislation. We will push for the EU-wide upwards harmonisation of workers rights, including trade union recognition.

"Also in our top 13 recommendations is for the Irish Government to pursue with a vigour and determination which shamefully hasn't manifested itself to date a policy of ensuring the recognition of the Irish language as an official language of the European Union."ENDS

SINN FÉIN'S TOP 13 RECOMMENDATIONS

FOR POSITIVE INITIATIVES DURING THE IRISH EU PRESIDENCY

Prioritising Global Social Justice

  • Initiate a Global Social Justice Agenda (Dublin Agenda) equivalent to the Lisbon Agenda whose priorities would include UN reform, fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals including Developing Country Debt Cancellation
  • Initiate a process of Human Rights Proofing of all EU policies

Economic Sovereignty

  • Seriously address the problems caused for particular Member States by the fact that some States are in and some are out of the euro-zone.
  • Address the need for a renegotiation of the Stability and Growth Pact in order to allow member states to deal effectively with the specific problems facing their economies.

Implementing CAP Reform and supporting rural regeneration

  • Ensure that the CAP reform proposal agreed at Luxembourg in June is fully implemented including full decoupling; and ensure that the accession states enter the CAP on an equal basis.
  • To establish a full range of complementary rural development programmes to aid farmers and rural communities in adapting to the changes brought about by the CAP reform.
  • Put complete reform of the Common Fisheries Policy on the EU agenda

Protecting the Environment

  • Campaign to make the EU a GM-Free Zone
  • Reduction of emissions on an EU wide basis

Social Protection

  • Campaign against the privatisation agenda of the European Union in the Lisbon Agenda and for the defence of public services
  • Push for the EU-wide upwards harmonisation of workers rights, including trade union recognition, workers health and safety and protections for temporary and migrant workers.
  • Push for further EU equal rights instruments including a specific Gender Equality Directive and a Disability Directive while prioritizing commitments to eradicate poverty and homelessness within the EU

Irish Language

  • Ensure that Irish is recognised as an official and working language of the EU.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking at the launch of the party's candidates for next year's European Union elections said 'Building on the party's success in the Assembly elections and the General Elections Sinn Féin has for the first time a real opportunity to secure our first ever representation in the European Parliament.

Sinn Féin's candidates are: Mary Lou McDonald - Dublin, Bairbre de Brún - Six Counties, John Dwyer - East, David Cullinane - South and Pearse Doherty - North West.

Mr. Adams said:

"I am very pleased to chair this launch of Sinn Féin's candidates for next year's European election. This is an important election, probably the most important EU election that Sinn Féin has ever faced. Our party has been a leading voice in the debate on the future direction of the European Union. We played a leading role in both the Nice Treaty referendums and made a detailed submission on the draft European Union Constitution.

"We are also putting forward a clear demand for an all-Ireland approach towards the European Union and its institutions.

"The next six months will see the Irish government taking over the Presidency of the European Union. It is an important time for debate and consultation.

"For example, the proposed changes in EU structures and institutions envisaged under the new Constitution pose a significant challenge for us all and there is an opportunity for Sinn Féin and others to clearly explain why we don't want an EU that is a military or economic superpower.

"We do want an EU that can be a model for democracy and justice.

"We must ensure that there is a real debate and discussion about creating a democratic Europe that can be accountable and transparent in its policy making and decision taking.

"We want to be part of the best possible EU, a Union that works towards full employment, housing and the education of all its citizens with institutions that promote national and individual rights.

"We want to build a Europe that leads the way on the cancellation of debt in the developing world, that is nuclear free, that protects the environment and that welcomes and trades fairly with other regions.

"In the last decade Sinn Fein has gone from strength to strength as our agenda for change begins to have a real impact. We want to bring this agenda for change to the heart of Europe. We are contesting this election to win, to return Sinn Féin's first ever MEPs to Europe. This is a realisable goal."ENDS

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Speaking today at a Republican commemoration in Belfast, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said that the Irish government needed to make it clear to the DUP in their forthcoming talks that the Good Friday Agreement was not up for re-negotiation.

Mr Adams said:

"Much has been said since the election about the rise in support for the DUP, and rightly so, for they were successful in increasing their mandate and swallowing up the smaller rejectionist parties. However as republicans well know with an increased mandate comes an increased responsibility to use it wisely.

"The DUP need to reflect upon this and indeed they need to reflect upon the wave of attacks on republicans homes in this city on Friday night.

"The DUP who are now in the political leadership of unionism, and who are refusing to engage with our party have to reflect upon the message they are sending to the violent wing of unionism. If unionist political leaders constantly send out a message that they will not engage with Sinn Féin or respect the mandate of that party, then they have to expect that those within the paramilitary section of unionism will respond in the manner we witnessed on Friday night.

"I would urge those within the DUP leadership to review their position in the wake of last nights attack and reflect seriously on the effect that the position which they have adopted is having on the unionist paramilitaries.

"This message also needs to be made clear to them when they meet with the Irish government in the time ahead, and they will meet with the Irish government, the fact that the Good Friday Agreement is not up for barter, nor for re-negotiation. The Agreement has the support of the overwhelming mass of people on this island. Our task is to see it implemented not renegotiated. That must be the task of the two governments also in the time ahead." ENDS

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Sinn Féin will hold a press conference on Monday 8th December at 11am in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street to announce its all Ireland team for next year's European Union elections. Sinn Féin will also set out the party's recommendations for positive initiatives during the Irish EU Presidency.

Attending the press conference will be Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and the party's five candidates.

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has said that those within the political leadership of unionism who refuse to talk to Sinn Féin must now reflect upon their position and the message they are sending to the unionist paramilitaries in the wake of the attacks on the homes of eight republicans in West Belfast last night, including MLA Gerry Kelly and Councillor Paul Butler .

Mr. Adams said:

" Firstly I am obviously relieved that nobody was injured in last nights gun attacks. However last night's shootings raise very serious issues, particularly for the unionist parties who have up until now remained silent on the matter.

"The DUP who are now in the political leadership of unionism and who are refusing to engage with our party have to reflect upon the message they are sending to the violent wing of unionism in the wake of attacks like the one on the home of Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Butler and the home of MLA Gerry Kelly last night.

"If unionist political leaders constantly send out a message that they will not engage with Sinn Féin or respect the mandate of that party, or exclude representatives like Paul Butler from civic positions, then they have to expect that those within the paramilitary section of unionism will respond in the manner we witnessed last night.

"I would urge those within the DUP leadership to review their position in the wake of last nights attack and reflect seriously on the effect that the position which they have adopted is having on the unionist paramilitaries.

"Sinn Féin remain committed to dialogue with our political opponents and we respect and recognise the mandates of all of the other parties. Such an inclusive approach is the only realistic option for the DUP to adopt if the peace process is to be bedded down and inclusive political institutions are to be re-established."ENDS

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It has now emerged that as many as eight separate houses belonging to republicans were attacked last night by a loyalist gang in West Belfast. These homes included those of Sinn Féin Representatives Gerry Kelly and Paul Butler. Mr. Kelly this afternoon visited the Butler home in Lenadoon.

Speaking from there Mr. Kelly said:

"As the day has progressed it has become clear that last night's loyalist operation against republican homes in West Belfast was extensive. At least eight separate homes were attacked with gunfire.

"Paul Butler's home was attacked and my own home also came under fire. This was an extensive operation and a number of the shootings took place within sight of PSNI bases. Despite this the shooting attacks were allowed to continue unhindered.

"These sorts of incidents are a throw back to the days of very obvious collusion when loyalist gangs were allowed to pass freely in and out of republican heartlands safe in the knowledge that they would not be apprehended.

"I am in no doubt that the details of the homes attacked last night were passed to this loyalist gang directly from the PSNI Special Branch. What other explanation can be given for co-ordinated nature of the attacks and the fact that the PSNI at no time attempted to intervene to arrest those responsible." ENDS

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Lagan Valley Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Butler has said that he is in no doubt that loyalists were behind the gun attack on his West Belfast home last night. Cllr. Butler's home which is within sight of Woodbourne PSNI Barracks was hit by at least three shots late last night.

Cllr. Butler said:

"Last night's attack was a murder attempt, not just on me, but on my partner and children. I was not at home at the time but a young child was in the living room when the shots hit the window. Thankfully the security glass prevented the shots entering the house.

"This is the second attack on my home in recent months. The last time an incendiary device was thrown at the front of the house. It must also be said that all of this has taken place directly under cameras on Woodbourne PSNI Barracks. After the last attack the PSNI claimed that they had turned the cameras off. I suspect that I will hear the same response this time as well.

"The UDA have been involved in a long running campaign against myself and my colleagues who sit on Lisburn Council. They will not however succeed in intimidating Sinn Féin from representing our growing constituency in Lagan Valley and they will not succeed in deterring us from highlighting their ongoing activities." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has pointed out a gross misrepresentation in the Dáil this morning by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Minister McDowell stated that Sinn Féin sought to increase the top rate of taxation to 50%. It was said quite deliberately to give the impression that all who are paying the current top rate of 42% would pay 50%. This is completely and calculatedly false. We have called for a new top rate of 50% for people with an income of over E100,000 per annum. We are calling for this band to ensure that the highest paid will contribute their fair share.

"It is Minister McDowell and his colleagues who have in this Budget pushed some 60,000 more ordinary workers into the top rate of 42%.

"Minister McDowell and his party are the best friends of the super-rich whom they have rewarded again and again in every Budget since 1997. That they have to indulge in gross misrepresentations and falsehoods of this kind is ample illustration of the bankruptcy of their policies."

Relevant extract from Sinn Fein Pre-Budget Submission:

"Sinn Féin proposes that the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners investigate the formulation of a super tax on the highest earners. This should happen in tandem with the elimination of tax avoidance measures which they enjoy and which are out of reach of the average worker. We propose a new 50% tax band for individual income in excess of E100,000."

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, has strongly criticised the latest EU proposals to further reduce the number of days Irish fishermen can spend at sea. The measures would prevent Irish Sea fishermen from spending more than 15 days at sea, or 10 days in the case of some categories. The proposals come as part of an overall reduction in quotas based on new claims on the level of fish stocks in the Irish Sea, North Sea and off the coast of Scotland.

Deputy Ferris said: "The situation regarding the restrictions on Irish fishermen is rapidly reaching the stage where it will be impossible to make a living. The most disappointing aspect of the latest dictat is that it completely ignores the evidence on stocks, and the proposals for conservation, submitted here and in Europe by the fishermen themselves. Surely the knowledge of those involved in the sector has to be worth something. When I met Fisheries officials in Brussels last May, they claimed that fishermen did not participate in studies on stock levels. Yet, when they do, they are treated with contempt.

"This latest proposal must be fought tooth and nail by the Irish Government. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it again emphasises Sinn Féin's demand that the entire basis of the administration of the Irish fisheries be re-negotiated to reverse the shameful give away that took place in 1973. That deal has cost this country billions of Euro. Now it threatens the very future of every person involved in fishing and fish processing." ENDS

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Sinn Féin South Down MLA Willie Clarke is demanding that British Nuclear Fuels explain why sections of discharged pipe from the Sellafield Processing Plant have been found washed up on local beaches.

Mr Clarke said:

"Sections of discharge pipe, over two metres in length and described by BNFL as being 'lightly radioactively contaminated' were being removed from the seabed as part of the Sea Line Recovery programme when they broke free from their retaining cages. This most recent 'mishap' is just the latest in a catalogue of accidents and near disasters which has plagued the Cumbria plant since its opening in 1947.

"Radioactive discharge pipes are now being washed up on our beaches and it is highly unlikely that local people will be reassured by the claims of BNFL that these pipes pose no health risk.

"The operation to remove the redundant pipes began earlier this year and was being used as a method to test the system before attempting to salvage the more heavily contaminated steel pipelines historically used for the highly radioactive reprocessing charges. BNFL has a number of serious questions to answer. If these steel reprocessing pipes had broken loose during their removal then there was a real risk of serious radioactive contamination.

"I will demanding a full explanation from BNFL - what exactly is missing in the Irish Sea, and what is the extent of the contamination caused. I will also be seeking an urgent meeting with the present direct rule British minister for the Environment, Angela Smith.

"The long-term impact of Sellafield on our environment has been very negative, the health risks major and the potential it has for causing a catastrophe cannot be overstated. This incident highlights yet again its abysmal safety record and illustrates the dangers of the nuclear industry in Britain. Sellafield must be closed and there must be an immediate end again to the dumping of nuclear waste in the Irish Sea." ENDS

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Speaking during the debate on the Budget, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on Natural Resources, attacked those who claimed there is no alternatives to current economic thinking. As an example of this, he pointed to the scandalous give away of Irish oil and gas reserves, with the massive loss in revenue which that entails.

Deputy Ferris said: "One thing that is regularly thrown at anyone who advocates radical alternatives to current economic policies is that we do not present any other coherent means of financing a different approach. I do not accept that there are no alternatives, nor that the revenue to finance them could not be found.

"The Sinn Féin pre-Budget submission details some of these, but I would like to cite one particular example and it is an area that has once again come under some scrutiny in recent weeks. That is, the control and taxation regime that governs our natural resources. Or rather, and to be more specific, the lack of control and taxation over our oil and gas reserves. It is my contention that if the State exercised its proper role on behalf of the people in that sector, that oil and gas revenue could play a major part in financing future progressive developments.

"We have heard Minister McCreevy explain why even minimal changes to the taxation regime such as broadening the 20% tax band to exclude more of the lower paid, was not possible at the present time. And yet his party has proven itself in the past to be more than capable of introducing tax benefits for others which have been far more radical and costly in terms of lost revenue. The terms governing the exploitation of our natural resources - and exploitation is indeed what it should be described as - are a good case in point.

"It has long been known that there is massive potential in the oil and gas that lies beneath Irish waters. When that first became a major issue in the mid 1970s Sinn Féin was one of those groups which argued that the reserves ought to be taken under state control in the interests of the Irish people as a whole. Instead of this, and instead of the state proactively seeking to develop what was there, and investing the necessary finance and skills, they were content to auction them off to multi-national corporations. While initially there may have

been some attempt to maintain the public interest, gradually over the years the terms and conditions have been further eroded to the extent that we now have almost no real stake in what lies off our shores.

"Some of the major changes introduced to the benefit of the corporations have been as follows; In 1987 the then Minister for Energy the famous Ray Burke, decided to do away with royalties; In 1992 Finance Minister, and current Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, reduced the tax on oil finds to 25%, the lowest in the world. Not only that but the companies can even write that off; Also in 1992, frontier licences were introduced which mean that oil companies can sit on areas of likely reserves for up to 20 years

"Ever since then, when these terms have been challenged, successive Ministers have claimed that they are necessary to encourage the development of the oil and gas sector. And yet the opposite had taken place and the number of exploratory drills declined after 1987. Right up until the present time when I have asked questions regarding these terms, and the likely benefits to accrue from recent finds such as that at the Dooish Well off Donegal, I am told the same thing.

"Well, where is the proof that all these great benefits, such as those referred to in this House by An Taoiseach two weeks ago, will come on stream? Does the state even know what is there or what the exploration companies themselves know lies in the sectors under their control. Because it has been admitted that the state actually has no means of independently verifying what the likes of Shell tell them.

"This is important because when the Corrib field was discovered in 1996, Irish rig workers knew that the find was massive. This was confirmed by a report by WoodMacKenzie which claimed that the field could contain up to seven trillion cubic feet of gas. At current prices this is worth €21 Billion. The Dooish reserve has been estimated to be worth 10 Billion. How far would even a minority share of this go to solving some of the fiscal problems cited by this Government as an excuse for imposing cuts on those least well able to bear them?

"Indeed we do not have to speculate because we have the example of Norway which by maintaining some control over its natural mineral resources has been able to channel the benefits into economic growth and prosperity for its own people and not allow it to be sat on by unscrupulous corporations like Shell.

"Last year alone the Norwegian Government earned €34 Billion from the state oil company Statoil. And that is not even to take into account the huge revenues it earns from the multi-nationals, which far from refusing to operate in Norwegian waters because of high tax rates - as is claimed here - are quite happy to pay the price for access to what is not called black gold for nothing.

"If this state had done what the Norwegians had done and put in place the proper structures and taxation and royalties scheme, we would be in a far stronger position and wouldn‚t have to be tinkering around the margins of direct and indirect tax rates and social welfare payments for those who can least afford it.

"I, along with every other Deputy here has thousands of constituents who have to count every Euro and cent in order to budget for their own and their families future. And yet, any improvement they ever see is in that range, one Euro here, 5 Euros there. And they are expected to be grateful for that, even in the knowledge that what is given in the pension or tax credits will be more than taken back in price rises, increases in payments for public services, and a whole range of new taxes including service charges.

"And yet the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat Government that will expect people to be grateful, or to put up and shut up when things begin to bite, are only too happy to dispense massive gifts to their rich friends. The sort of friends like the President of Shell who can summon the Taoiseach and senior Ministers to meetings to threaten that they won't proceed with the Corrib Gas development unless the Government introduces new legislation to take them outside of the planning process.

"And remember that besides rejecting the pipeline planning application on environmental grounds, one of the authors of the report, Kevin Moore also pointed to the lack of economic benefits for the region. But I suppose if the proposed Critical Infrastructure Bill that Shell is seeking is passed, then they will no longer have to worry about the objections of those who are well aware of what they are at.

"To conclude, I make no apologies for going outside the limits of what is contained in the Budget. I do not accept that the current economic thinking which dominates this Government has, or even wants to, explore other means of not only balancing the State‚s books, but actually bringing in the kind of revenue that would ensure that all of our people could have a prosperous and secure future. And that that future will no longer be auctioned off to the kind of people whose only contribution to the Irish economy probably takes place at the Galway Races." ENDS

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Speaking in the Dáil Budget debate Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said social welfare increases and alleged tax benefits for the lower paid had already been eaten up by welfare cuts and stealth taxes. On taxation he said Minister McCreevy had "done nothing to reform, nothing to target the highest earners, nothing to tackle multi-millionaire tax exiles or tax evasion. There will be more people on the higher rate of PAYE after yesterday's budget".

Deputy Ó Caolain pointed out that there were "huge variations within that higher tax band —from workers on average industrial wage to the top executives who awarded themselves 50% wage increases last year".

The Sinn Féin leader said the Budget was "a blank page" as far as Health is concerned: "This Budget has again spurned the Fianna Fáil promise to extend medical cards to a further 200,000 people because this Budget was totally silent on health".

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Minister McCreevy has repeatedly asked us to judge him on all of his budgets. We do. Since 1997, this Government has increased inequality in Irish society and widened the gap between rich and poor. In 1997, some 18% of people were living on incomes of less than half the average. The figure today is nearly 21%. After six years of unprecedented economic growth, that should have been reduced to single figures.

This is a Budget of inequality which does absolutely nothing to narrow the gap between wealth and poverty maintained by Minister McCreevy in every Budget since 1997.

The Government's own National Action Plan Against Poverty and Social Exclusion says nearly 25% of children are living in poverty — that‚s about 300,000 children. 70,000 children are in consistent poverty where there is real daily hardship such as lack of a hot meal or lack of proper clothing. That is obscene in a small country like ours where there is so much conspicuous wealth. And it is a reality which was denied by the Taoiseach in the days leading up to the Budget and in the face of all the agencies who are working on a daily basis with marginalized communities.

That denial of the reality of economic hardship for so many in our society was clearly manifest in the Budget presented yesterday.

The Government has broken its promises to deliver substantive increases in Child Benefit and Old Age pensions to levels that will meet the National Anti-Poverty Strategy targets. An increase of €1.50 and €2 per child per week is an insult from a Government that has repeatedly claimed to be addressing child poverty.

Increasing child benefit for the first and second child to €142 per month and to €176 per month for third and subsequent children would have cost an estimated €216 million. The totally unnecessary and gratuitous cut in Corporation Tax from 16% to 12.5% in Budget 2003 cost the exchequer €305 million according to the government's own figures. That speaks volumes about the thinking that dominates this right-wing coalition.

The social welfare increases in this Budget are totally inadequate and are already undermined by stealth taxes such as local authority charges, the savage 16 cuts to welfare entitlements, and the cuts in CE schemes. It is disgraceful that the government did not use its increased revenue to reverse these cuts, especially the miserly and dangerous Rent Allowance cut.

The Rent Allowance cut is a Fianna Fáil/PD Catch 22 — you can't get Rent Allowance if you haven't been in a flat for six months but you can't afford to rent a flat if you don't have rent allowance.

The social welfare increases have already been undermined by inflation, by stealth taxes, by the savage 16 cuts, which remain in place, and by the loss of community services provided with the help of CE schemes. The Budget was delivered on the very day when this Government voted against a Dáil motion to reverse those CE cuts.

The minimal tax measures in the Budget have been presented as good news for the lower paid but they are no such thing. The Minister has done nothing to reform, nothing to target the highest earners, nothing to tackle multi-millionaire tax exiles or tax evasion. There will be more people on the higher rate of PAYE after yesterday's budget. There are huge variations within that tax band — from workers on average industrial wage to the top executives who awarded themselves 50% wage increases last year.

Last year in our Budget submission Sinn Féin asked the Finance Minister to undertake a survey that exposed the minuscule tax take from the super rich in Irish society. The Revenue Commissioners did the survey, as they had previously done in 1997, and the results for 2002 were just as damning. Of the top 400 earners surveyed, 117 had an effective tax rate of less than 30%, in a system where over 500,000 PAYE workers are paying the top 42% rate of income tax. 18% of the top earners were paying less than 15% tax. Some were paying no tax at all.

It is appalling that there are some 20 tax relief schemes where the exact cost to the State of the lost tax revenue is not actually known. In many cases it is simply putting money into the pockets of the wealthy such as the millionaire operators of the bloodstock industry. Nor do we have a proper assessment of the actual benefit to the economy of reliefs or an evaluation of whether direct State investment of funds in many cases would provide a better social and economic return.

We do know the benefit of Section 481 relief for the film industry and I welcome its retention.

It is workers on average and below average incomes who are being hit hardest by stealth taxes. Those taken out of the tax net with great fanfare yesterday are already having that benefit wiped out by increased health charges, ESB bill rises, local authority charges, bus fare rises (if you are lucky enough to have access to a bus) and motor tax and fuel rises if you depend on a car to get to work.

This Budget has again spurned the Fianna Fáil promise to extend medical cards to a further 200,000 people because this Budget was totally silent on health. And it was equally silent on housing.

On disabilities, the €25 million increase in current expenditure in support of people with disabilities is welcome. But much more was needed — especially if the promised rights-based Disability Bill is to be implemented. The Government has again failed to meet its own commitment to increase Disability Allowance to the level of Contributory Old Age Pension. And it has again failed to even recognise a key requirement of people with disabilities — that is a Cost of Disability Payment Scheme to help meet the many extra costs people with disabilities incur as a result of their disability. These people are still assessed on the basis of means rather than needs.

This Budget was an empty package wrapped in tinsel paper marked 'decentralization'. Decentralisation is not a Budget measure but something which has been promised by Minister McCreevy every year since 1999. I welcome plans to move Departments out of Dublin but we must ask how long it will take to deliver these promises. There is no timescale for this programme but it is obvious that the main time period the government has in mind is run-up the local elections of June 2004.

When we will see actual delivery of the promised decentralization programme is another question. The surprised reaction of trade union representatives is ominous. The Fianna Fáil backbenchers who have been given this shiny present by Santa McCreevy might very well find that the shine will go off it after the June local elections.

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Responding to the announcement of the rise in hospital waiting list figures, Sinn Féin health spokesperson Sue Ramsay criticized Health Minister Angela Smith for the spin she is attempting to put on the figures.

Cllr Ramsey said:

'It is very good news that in-patient waiting figures are falling. This is a reflection of the work put in to improving health services over the last five years. However, in her statement, the Minister fails to inform us that, overall, waiting lists have started to rise again.

'The Minister's refusal to look at anything but the good news smacks of complacency. That is a dangerous attitude to take - a lot of work still needs to be put in to ensuring that our hospital services can look after people promptly. To ensure that they do so requires more investment in front line services, and requires root and branch reform of the structures.

'Rather than avoiding the problem, we need a full-time minister that is prepared to roll her sleeves up and get on with the very difficult task of developing a health service that we can all be proud of." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew MLA has accused the British government of failing working mums living in the Six Counties after a sharp rise in the number of complaints from constituents about the delays in processing working family tax credits and the impact on meeting childcare costs.

Ms Gildernew said:

"When the legislative changes moving responsibility for working tax credits into Inland Revenue were discussed in the Assembly‚s Social Development Committee, Sinn Féin warned that it was a disaster waiting to happen.

"Increasing numbers of people are coming to Sinn Féin to complain that they are facing delays of over 6 months in getting payments. This is hitting working mums hardest. It is impacting on their ability to meet childcare costs.

"The British government is failing working mums. It is undermining mothers returning to work and making it harder for them to move into the workplace. The situation is totally unacceptable.

"The sooner we get working institutions up and running the better. Those standing in the way of working institutions should realise that they are standing in the way of local politicians delivering local solutions. We need to be in a position where we can break away from British government policy decisions that are bad for local people."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Mid Ulster MLA Cllr Francie Molloy speaking ahead of meeting British direct rule Finance Minister Ian Pearson has warned the British government that it should not be talking crucial decisions above the heads of locally elected representatives.

Mr Molloy said:

"Sinn Féin will be making it clear to Ian Pearson that not only was it wrong to issue a draft programme for government and to expect consultation on it to be completed on the very day that election results are announced but that it is nothing less than a denial of democracy.

"Direct Rule Ministers have no right to slip this blueprint for government through under the cover of an election campaign. What right do they have to set the agenda for the new Assembly before that Assembly has even been elected?

"It is the business of locally elected representatives to decide what their priorities will be for the next three years. It is not the business of the Secretary of State to decide those priorities for them.

"Sinn Féin have called on the British government to withdraw immediately this consultation document ˆ we need to create the space so that the priorities determined by locally elected representatives and the communities they represent can set the agenda." ENDS

Note to Editors

Francie Molloy and Economy Spokesperson Dr Dara O'Hagan will meet Ian Pearson tomorrow, Friday 5th December at 2.45pm, at Castle Buildings.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Irish Language issues Bairbre de Brún has welcomed the announcement in the 26 County Budget today that Foras na Gaeilge is to be relocated to Gweedore and that income received by families who host people learning Irish in Gaeltacht areas will no longer be taxed.

Ms de Brún said:"The announcement that Foras na Gaeilge is to be decentralized to the Donegal Gaeltacht is very welcome. This must happen and happen quickly. Sinn Féin will do its utmost in the time ahead to ensure that this happens."

Commenting on the decision to remove taxation from the income received by families who host Irish learners in Gaeltacht areas, Ms de Brún said:"I very much welcome the fact the fact that the income generated by families who host the many people who travel to Gaeltacht area to learn Irish will no longer be subject to tax.

"This measure taken with the decentralisation of Foras na Gaeilge will go some way to alleviating the very real difficulties which have been faced by those living in the Gaeltacht areas in recent times." ENDS

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