Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Aengus Ó Snodaigh has described reports that the Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan has authorised the transportation of munitions of war through Shannon Airport as a "corruption of the democratic will of the Irish people" and "an act of political and moral cowardice".
Speaking after several Sunday newspapers reported that the Minister had only this week authorised the transportation of the munitions Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"It's becoming very clear that Irish laws were systematically broken with the connivance of the Government during the weeks and months prior to Seamus Brennan giving this authorisation. That he done so in secret without any publicity or fanfare or without the approval of the Dáil is a clear indication that this Government is out of step with the electorate on this very important issue.
"The Governments position on allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the US military in preparing for war on Iraq is a corruption of the democratic will of the Irish people. The prostitution of our neutrality by Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and now Seamus Brennan makes it obvious that those who voted Yes during the Nice Treaty referendum on the basis that neutrality would be protected were conned on a large scale.
"This move by the Fianna Fáil/PD coalition is a dishonest act of political and moral cowardice that clearly goes against the wishes of the majority of Irish people and must be reversed." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will tell the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle meeting in Dublin tomorrow, Saturday 25th, that republicans must be prepared to continue their essential contribution to the Peace Process. Mr Adams will say that Sinn Fein's approach to the upcoming negotiations will be on a principled and realistic basis. Mr. Adams will stress that:-
· The Good Friday Agreement is the only show in town.
· The IRA is not a threat to the peace process. The British government and the unionists know this.
· The IRA has given a fair wind to the Agreement.
· The unionists have not been selling the Agreement. Instead they have been seeking to dilute and renegotiate.
· The British and Irish governments have pandered to them and have encouraged them in this approach.
· Anti-Agreement unionist violence has been tolerated, and tacitly encouraged, by British securocrats.ic imperative must be given precedence both as a matter of principle and as a counter to a contrived strategy of instability. The requires that:-
· The elections scheduled for 1 May 2003 must go ahead.
· The British government must end its veto over the institutions. Their legislation to suspend the institutions which was enacted on unionist demands must be repealed.
· The stunted process to create an acceptable policing service must be got back on track and rapidly concluded.
· The justice system shaped by unionist domination and Britain's military imperatives in Ireland must be transformed.
· Equality must be realised and delivered.
· The demilitarisation of society must be brought forward rapidly.
"These are all requirements of the Good Friday Agreement to which the British government and the Ulster Unionist Party are signatories. There is nothing new about them save the British Prime Minister's acceptance that his government has not been fulfilling its obligations across the board on these issues.
"When I say that the IRA is not the cause of the crisis, this is not to suggest that allegations of IRA activities do not cause political difficulties in the unionist constituency. They do of course. And regardless of whether they are real or unfounded Irish republicans know that, because ongoing activities by British intelligence, the British Army, the police force and unionist paramilitaries cause political difficulties in our community. Particularly against a backdrop of unionist contrived
perpetual political crisis which is at the centre of attempts to wreck or renegotiate the Agreement.
"But these are problems to be addressed and resolved, not reasons for wrecking the Agreement.
"The British Prime Minister has put his finger on the route to doing this. His frank admission that his government has not been implementing the Agreement is a tacit acceptance of the analysis Sinn Fein has been making all along. The Agreement, the political contract and primary device for creating the conditions in which all armed groups can be removed from the political arena, has not and is not being implemented.
"Instead the failed politics of dealing with the symptoms of conflict rather than its causes looms large over the situation. It is a well worn route into cul-de-sac politics and usually involves making pre-conditions out of objectives of the peace process."
Concluding Mr Adams will tell the Sinn Féin Executive:
"Recognising all of the difficulties, and conscious of real concerns,as opposed to excuses for contrived scenarios and situations, Sinn Fein will explore any possibilities Mr Blair's current negotiation open up.
"While we welcome the British Prime Minister's acknowledgement that the British government is not and has not been implementing the Agreement. We are also mindful of their claims to the contrary over the past four and a half years and the politically debilitating effect of this. Nonetheless, we will explore with Mr Blair and the Irish government, their commitment to rectify this.
"The effect of this bad faith by the British government should not be underestimated. Their credibility in the republican constituency is low." ENDS
Sinn Fein spokesperson on Policing and Justice, Gerry Kelly, MLA, today called for the powers on policing and justice to be transferred to the Assembly and North/South Ministerial Council.
Launching a Sinn Fein discussion document on the issue Mr. Kelly said,
"Proper policing and justice structures are essential if we are to move away from the injustices and abuses of the past. The starting point for the new beginning to policing promised in the Good Friday Agreement has to be the full and faithful implementation of the Patten recommendations. The British government has not delivered Patten in full. This is the minimum threshold.
" In terms of the Criminal Justice system, the British government's position falls far short of the fundamental overhaul envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. The justice system must be radically reshaped to create a system which has the confidence of all our people. The British Government has not yet delivered this. As with the Patten recommendations these# changes are essential if we are to achieve an acceptable justice system.
" In line with the Good Friday Agreement and in the context of the full and faithful implementation of the Patten recommendations, Sinn Fein wishes to see the early transfer of powers on policing and justice to the Assembly and the North/South Ministerial Council.
* Transfer of powers in the areas of policing and justice to the Northern Assembly and Executive;
* Comprehensive North-South arrangements in relation to policing and justice
* Judicial transformation; and
* An end to repressive legislation;
" We need to see the institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement restored. In this context the issues of policing and justice should be matters for local democratic accountability.
" The principles in the Good Friday Agreement in respect of institutions established under the aegis of the Agreement - the safeguards, checks and balances and an All-Ireland character - need to be applied to structures governing the issues of policing and justice. This will entrench the democratic accountability which is critical to a new beginning to policing and justice in this society. " ENDS
Editors Note: Sinn Féin views on this issue have been given to the two governments. Sinn Féin will be circulating this discussion paper to the other political parties North and South, to the community sector and other interested bodies and we will welcome comments on it.
24th January 2003
Sinn Fein Discussion Paper
Transfer of Policing and Justice Powers.
Neither the police force nor the legal, judicial and administrative system in the north of Ireland have,historically, enjoyed the support of nationalists and republicans because of the overwhelming British and Unionist ethos and their overt political and cultural opposition to Irish nationalism and republicanism.
Achieving a police service and justice system which has the confidence and enjoys the support of the entire community will require a new attitude which breaks with the minimalist approach to change which has characterised this debate since the publication of the Patten Report.
Specifically it requires that the Patten recommendations be implemented in full. This is the minimum base line from which we can start to build a police service which is representative of our entire community.
As well as the Patten recommendations, the process of change in the Criminal Justice system is central to the process of achieving an acceptable police service and justice system. This process of change must be accelerated.
In line with the Good Friday Agreement and in the context of the full and faithful implementation of the Patten recommendations, Sinn Fein wishes to see the early transfer of powers on policing and justice to the Assembly and the North/South Ministerial Council.
· Transfer of powers in the areas of policing and justice to the Northern Assembly and Executive;
· Comprehensive North-South arrangements in relation to policing and justice consequential upon transfer;
· Judicial transformation; and
· An end to repressive legislation;
Both the Good Friday Agreement and the NI Act 1998 envisaged the transfer of powers on policing and criminal justice matters. This process was also envisaged both in the Patten Report and in the Criminal Justice Review. This matter should now be addressed.
Powers to be transferred
All relevant reserved and excepted matters relating to policing and criminal justice should be transferred.
Transfer of powers on justice and policing must be accompanied by all-Ireland institutional architecture under the aegis of the North/South Ministerial Council.
The imperative in relation to justice and policing issues, then, becomes "to develop [in the NSMC] consultation, co-operation and action on an all-island and cross border basis..."
This should be developed through the creation of two separate implementation bodies in relation to justice and policing. The remits of the two All-Ireland Implementation Bodies should include, among other functions:
· co-operation between accountability mechanisms
· development of Judicial Services Commission, the all-Ireland Constitutional Court, Law Reform Commission, and joint approaches by the Judicial Appointments Commission in the north and the Judicial Appointments Board in the south
· joint studies on restorative justice;
· harmonisation of accreditation in the legal profession;
· harmonisation of terms and conditions of service in matters of justice and policing;
· development of an all-Ireland police training college;
· co-operation on matters of public order policing;
· compilation of an all-Ireland sex offenders register and harmonisation of criminal investigation procedures and sentencing for sex offenders;
· joint studies on drug misuse and unified action on an all-Ireland basis to prevent, detect and prosecute drug-dealers.
· progressive harmonisation of both Irish systems of law,
Following on from the transfer of functions in the justice field, the NSMC should also bring forward proposals to enable judges from either jurisdiction on the island to function in the other.
Proposals should also be brought forward under the aegis of the NSMC for the harmonisation of mechanisms for dealing with judicial misbehaviour or wrongdoing.
The judiciary in any society can play a key role in defining the parameters of acceptable police behaviour. The north of Ireland has long been particularly deficient in this regard given the close connection between Unionism and the judiciary, and the identification of Unionism with the RUC. The goal in this sphere must be the transformation of the northern judiciary from its present partisan position to one in which it is representative of this society in terms of political background, religion, gender and class.
The single most effective step that could be taken in this regard would be the creation of a new Constitutional Court for Ireland. This court should provide the final adjudication at national level on all constitutional and human rights questions. Its membership should be drawn from new appointees to the bench from the legal professions, from legal academics with expertise in the area, as well as from the ranks of the existing judiciary. A precursor should be the creation of a Constitutional Court for the north of Ireland which would include judges from the south. The constitutional court's functions should include:
· dealing with human rights issues arising from the bill of rights in the north and equivalent 26 county issues on appeal from lower courts,
· the interpretation of matters relating to the implementation of the GFA on an all-island basis,
· consideration of the impact of international human rights instruments.
Repressive legislation must be abolished. The relevant legislation is now the Terrorism Act 2000 (Part 5) which has unified the NI (Emergency Provisions) Acts and Prevention of Terrorism Acts into a composite piece of legislation.
The repeal of that part of the Terrorism Act 2000 (i.e. Part 5) relating to the 6 counties is required.
A number of other issues should be addressed. These include:
· legislation governing inquests,
· the standards governing the use of lethal force,
· freedom of information,
· the eradication of "criminal convictions" obtained under emergency legislation.
The final area to be considered in the context of transfer of justice and policing powers concerns those who will administer, advise and implement these most sensitive areas of authority.
· All representatives of the British intelligence services should be withdrawn from the civil service committees and from the civil service as a whole.
· A reform package should be put in place calculated to maximise rotation of posts as between those civil service units with responsibility in the areas of justice and policing and other units/departments.
· Arrangements to ensure community and gender balance at all levels of these important administrative sections are essential. As the Patten report pointed out, there is a pressing need to ensure that the composition of civil service units in the area of policing -- but it applies also to justice -- are broadly reflective of the political, religious and gender make-up of society.ENDS
Commenting on this mornings announcement that the PSNI is to begin recruiting to the part time reserve Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly said:
" The announcement this morning that recruitment to the part time reserve is to begin in unionist areas makes an already bad policing situation worse.
" Patten's intention was that the part time reserve would be used as a mechanism to recruit nationalists into a force which is currently unionist dominated. The announcement this morning is an attempt to circumvent Patten.
" The fact that the pilot schemes are in unionist areas ( Coleraine, Banbridge, Lisburn and Newtownabby) is proof that the PSNI do not enjoy the support of the nationalist community. The reason for this is clear - the British government have failed to deliver Patten.
" The urgent task for all of us is to get policing right. The British government know what is required to bring policing into line with the promise of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Féin will continue to engage with both governments on this issue and continue to demand that the Patten threshold is met." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor Nicky Kehoe has offered to mediate to help bring an end to the dispute, which saw 17 bricklayers arrested at a site on the North Circular Road in Dublin yesterday where they were protesting against the use of sub contracted labour. Cllr Kehoe said:
"This dispute is now going on for 18 months and shows little sign of coming to an end. Yesterday's arrest of 17 workers, on the back of a court injunction, has been the situation worse and could have long term damage to the future of labour relations in the city. Rather than engage in dialogue we have seen this company engage in megaphone diplomacy and resort to the courts.
"With bricklayers across the city now out in support of these workers it is critical that talks begin immediately to resolve this dispute. Yesterday I called on the Labour Relations Commission to appoint a mediator. If they are not in a position to do this I am willing to put myself forward as an honest broker to bring this dispute to a successful conclusion."ENDS
Commenting this evening in London on today's meeting between the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said:
" I will be in touch with the two governments this evening to get a read of today's meeting.
" Sinn Féin welcomes the movement into more intense discussions. We have been calling for this since last October. For our part we have given a detailed menu to both Dublin and London and we would expect them to come forward with a plan for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
" Today's meeting between An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be judged by us on whether the basis for such a plan was agreed. It is crucial that the substance, timeframe and management of this phase of the process is got right.
" Essentially what London has to do - in line with Mr Blair's speech in Belfast last October - is come forward with an act of completion for the Good Friday Agreement." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice and Equality Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has expressed his "deep disappointment" at the ruling by the Supreme Court, which has cleared the way for the Government to deport non-Irish parents of Irish children. The Dublin South Central TD said the judgement made second-class citizens of some Irish children and would "encourage racism".
Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"This ruling by the Supreme Court is a deep disappointment to all of us who value the fundamental equal rights of all Irish children and indeed equality amongst citizens. Sinn Féin believes that all Irish children regardless of parentage are entitled to the care and company of their families. Rather than cherishing all the children of the nation equally the judgement in effect makes second-class citizens of some Irish children because of the ethnicity of their parents. I believe this will encourage racism in that it will give succour to those who feel that Irish children born to people of a different ethnic background are somehow less Irish.
"Sinn Féin believes that all Irish children are equal, regardless of parentage. We believe all Irish children are entitled to the care and company of their families as a right. The law must reflect this." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries, Martin Ferris TD, condemned yesterday's detention of Castletownbeare fisherman Mike Orpin, skipper of the Ardent. The boat was detained by the Navy because it had exceeded the monthly quota. Deputy Ferris claimed it was another example of the attempt to criminalise Irish fishermen who are striving to earn a living under increasingly difficult circumstances.
Deputy Ferris said; "This arrest confirms the feeling among fishermen that they are being unfairly treated. Not only are they forced to operate under increasing constraints with regard to quota and other regulations, but they contrast this with the opening up of the Irish Box to foreign fleets, and what they regard as the lenient manner in which the latter are treated when found to be in breach of regulations.
"I am calling on Minister Ahern to renegotiate the current regulations governing the fishing industry and to ensure that Irish fishermen are able to earn a living without being subject to this kind of harassment. I will be raising this issue in the Dáil next week and hope that the Minister will provide a satisfactory response to the concerns being voiced by fishing communities around our coast". ENDS
Sinn Féin delegate to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.Marylou McDonald speaking at today's session dealing with inter community relations has said:
"To try and suggest that the northern statelet was some kind of benign apartheid state is to turn reality on its head.".
She went on to say "Intercommuity relations cannot be crudely reduced to a matter of Protestant versus Catholic, it is a matter a fundamental social rights. There is a need to embrace the equality agenda and to adopt universal rights, as the Good Friday Agreement demands, across a range of issues including policing. These rights are due to all citizens whether they are Protestant or Catholic."ENDS
Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly speaking at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin today called on the UUP to take the political lead within unionism and re-engage in dialogue.' Mr. Kelly said:
"Today's meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation provides all of us with the opportunity to hear first hand the concerns and experiences of people living in interface areas.
"Sinn Féin has always promoted and encouraged inter-community dialogue as a necessary step to resolving our differences and we believe that today's meeting of the Forum will faciliate that process further. It is however regrettable that it is now taking place against the backdrop of the suspended institutions and the recent PUP descision to end its contact with my party.
"It is also regretable that Ann Bill of the Glenbryn Residents was unable to attend today's meeting of the Forum. But it is difficult to blame groups from within the unionist community for withdrawing from dialogue when the UUP's philosophy seems to be no dialogue.
"It is crucial to persist in dialogue and maintain contact if we are to resolve all the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and to build inter-community relations. Sinn Féin remains committed to reaching out and engaging in dialogue with the Unionist community. We need the leadership of Unionism to do the same." ENDS
"Sinn Féin has formally joined the Irish anti-war effort, and we will continue to support the building of a popular mass mobilisation against the Government's complicity in war preparations. We firmly believe that this Government must be held accountable for its actions. Sinn Féin will leave them in no doubt that they are not acting in the peoples name or interests by allowing Shannon Airport to be used as a staging post to an unjust war."
Deputy Ó Snodaigh concluded by saying "we were encouraged by the large turnout for the protest last Saturday in Shannon and especially the massive protests that took place around the globe and in the US itself. The protests in the US put pay to some of the more mischievous comments that have sought to define the anti-war movement as anti-American." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this morning led a party delegation to meet with the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen. Also on the Sinn Féin delegation were Martin McGuinness MP, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA and Ard Chomhairle member Rita O'Hare.
Speaking following the meeting Mr. Adams said "Thursday's meeting between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister will probably be the most crucial meeting yet in the peace process." During the meeting Mr. Adams spoke to the Taoiseach about 'unhelpful' briefings which he believed were coming from government sources in relation to current difficulties. Mr. Adams said:
"We were very pleased to have met the Taoiseach this morning to discuss the urgent need to re-instate the political institutions and end the current impasse in the peace process. Other items which we discussed this morning were the recent government cutbacks in Irish language funding and the Electoral Office fiasco in the Six Counties which has led to the disenfranchisement of almost 200,000 people.
"We are at a very important point in the process and we are very concerned at the lack of progress and lack of substance in the discussions to date. The British government haven't shown a willingness, beyond rhetoric, to deal with outstanding matters. There is still no evidence that they are going to fulfil their obligations on a range of issues including policing, demilitarisation, human rights and equality.
"Thursday's meeting between the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will probably be the most crucial meeting yet in the peace process.
"The outcome of this meeting will be pivotal in indicating whether it will be possible to move forward in the process at this time. And there is a huge responsibility on Tony Blair in this regard. We need to see an action
plan from the British government for the implementation of the Agreement, including the substance of outstanding issues, timeframes and the management of the process to bring all of this about.
"There is a lot of work to be done and Sinn Féin's commitment to securing the successful implementation of the Agreement is absolute. Others need to engage in the process with the same urgency."ENDS
Commenting on the rejection by the North Eastern Health Board of the Service Plan for 2003, Health Board member and Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD, said it gives the Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin the opportunity to restore services at Monaghan and Dundalk hospitals. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"Under the 1996 Health Act the Minister is empowered to require the Chief Executive of the Health Board to prepare and submit a Service Plan if the Board fails to adopt a plan within a given period. Following the rejection of the Service Plan by the North Eastern Health Board the Minister should now provide the necessary increased funding and require the Chief Executive Officer to prepare and submit an amended plan which would restore maternity, accident and emergency and other lost services to Monaghan and Dundalk hospitals."
Deputy Ó Caoláin, who seconded the motion for rejection of the Service Plan presented by the CEO to Monday's Health Board meeting, said:
"The Service Plan has been quite rightly rejected as it does not meet the growing needs of the people of the North-East region comprising Counties Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath. The budget allocated by the Minister for Health and Children is totally inadequate. The region has the lowest per capita funding of the 11 health board areas in this State. The 10% increase sought by the Board from the Minister is the minimum required.
"This is not just a funding issue. I voted against the plan also because of the proposed deployment of resources. The Plan fails to provide for the restoration of essential services to Monaghan and Dundalk hospitals.
"The North East region has a growing population, including many people moving into these Counties because of overcrowding in Dublin. Health service needs are therefore becoming greater and more complex. The budget from the Minister and the rejected plan failed to recognise that reality. Not only would it not provide for increased need, it would prevent existing services being properly maintained.
"The ball is now in the Minister's court. He must secure additional funding and direct that those services axed in Monaghan and Dundalk, including maternity and accident and emergency units, are restored. Nothing less will be acceptable in this neglected region." ENDS
A Sinn Fein delegation of party Vice President Pat Doherty MP MLA, Dail Group leader Caoimhghin 6 Caolain TD, Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy MLA will meet British Secretary of State Paul Murphy tomorrow (Tuesday 21st January 2003) at 9.30 am at Castle Buildings to discuss the operation of the All Ireland Implementation Bodies.
Speaking ahead of the meeting Conor Murphy said:
"Across the whole area of the All Ireland Strand of the Good Friday Agreement Sinn Fein are seeking to ensure that the work in progress is taken forward.
"We need clarification that the work of the North South Ministerial Council is taken forward and developed, we need to see the work in the designated areas of co-operation such as agriculture and transport progress and that the operation of the All Ireland Implementation Bodies will not be frustrated in any way. Sinn Fein also want to see what work has been done on the establishment of both the All Ireland parliamentary Forum and the All Ireland Civic Forum." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin MLA speaking during a meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle in Dublin today has called on the UUP to come clean on their strategy to stop the Assembly elections going ahead on May 1st. He said that it was entirely unhelpful, at a time when all attention should be focused on ending the deadlock and re-instating the political institutions, that there were those working behind the scenes determined to undermine democracy and prevent elections taking place. Mr. McLaughlin said:
"It is now three months since the power sharing government was brought down by the British government and with every day that passes the deepening political vacuum is having a dangerously corrosive effect right across society. With all momentum being sucked out of the process it is imperative that the political institutions are re-established urgently. We need a clear commitment from the British government that the Assembly elections planned for the 1st of May will go ahead on time and as planned. It would be very welcome to hear David Trimble today supporting this call in the interests of the democratic process."
In relation to the Electoral Office fiasco and disenfranchisement of almost 200,000 people across the north Mr. McLaughlin said:
"Every day more and more people are coming forward who are not currently eligible to vote, due to the deeply flawed process of registration which has taken place. It is incredible that it was Sinn Féin and not the Electoral Office who informed the public that up to 200,000 people had been disenfranchised in this process. Time is moving on and with less than eight weeks to turn this situation around the Electoral Office need to urgently put in place a strategy to rectify the situation. They need to let those who have registered know that their vote is secure and set in place a publicity and information campaign encouraging those who have still to register to do so now."ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris is this afternoon joining Anti-War protesters at Shannon in opposition to the governments decision to allow the US military to use the 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. The Kerry North Deputy will be joined by Sinn Féin activists from across the island.
Speaking from Shannon this afternoon Deputy Ferris said:
"The large crowds gathered here today reflect the concern right across Ireland at the government's decision to allow US warplanes to use Irish airports and airspace on their way to the Gulf. The majority of Irish people do not support the drive to war against the Iraqi people. We do not support the use of Shannon airport as part of US war preparation.
"I came here today to stand in solidarity with the protesters who have been taking part in the 'Peace Camp'. The courageous and selfless actions of these people stands in stark contrast to the lies and actions of the Irish government.
"It is time that the government listened to the people and stop allowing Irish airports, airspace, or seaports to be used for war preparation by foreign powers."ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking at today's meeting of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin titled 'Political issues in and affecting Northern Ireland - views of Unionists and Protestants - said: "We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. All of this requires a willingness on our part to explore and to be open to new concepts." Mr. Adams said:
Sinn Féin has been engaging in dialogue with members of the Protestant and Unionist community particularly in the Six Counties for many years now. This engagement took on an added intensity and gained added importance with the public emergence of the embryonic peace process in 1993; in a few short weeks it will be ten years since John Hume and I issued our first public statement in April of that year.
The engagement takes place at a number of different levels: with the Churches and business people; with mainstream political parties and individuals from these parties; with loyalist representatives and people from the community and voluntary sector. Many of these exchanges are ongoing and remain an important part of our work.
We have sought through this dialogue to get to the root of the deep-seated misunderstanding and mistrust that separates nationalists and unionists and which contributes to the divisions on this island; and to pursue this as an essential element of the desired and required process of reconciliation.
We also came face to face with the human legacy of pain and hurt suffered by unionists over the last thirty years of the conflict. I have acknowledged this in the past and I do so again here today. Much hurt was inflicted on all sides and by all sides in the conflict.
I would describe the engagement with unionists and Protestants as a journey of discovery and understanding for all involved.
It has not been an easy process. It is also not possible to come to a political understanding of the complexities involved without taking into account the influence of British policy and the British connection.
Sinn Féin has brought an Irish Republican perspective and analysis to all of this. In our dialogue we sought to develop a comprehensive appreciation of the complexity of the people who live on this island.
I believe that one example of this is to be found in the actions of Belfast's Mayor Alex Maskey. In his time as Mayor Alex Maskey has made a good faith attempt to be a Mayor for all the people of Belfast.
I know there is deep concern among unionists about the future and in particular about a threat to their identity. I want to assure them that republicans are committed to a future based on democratic principles and to creating a pluralist society on this island.
I know from my own personal experience as a citizen denied by successive British and Unionist governments the right to express my cultural identity how much this type of discrimination fanned the flames of conflict.
Let me make it quite clear it is not our intention to put unionists into the political space that nationalists and republicans have long sought to escape from. There is of course much that is wrong and much injustice remains to be eradicated. But I am convinced if the leaders of unionism, nationalism and republicanism work together then the causes of conflict will be resolved peacefully. However difficult, I am committed to intensifying the required dialogue. The Good Friday agreement emphasises respect for cultural diversity. It creates a political framework in which there can be peaceful co-existence with Britain and on this island. The cornerstone of such diversity is equality. Political, social, economic and cultural equality; equality of opportunity; equality of treatment and parity of esteem. These remain both objectives and ingredients of peace.
Peace will emerge through dialogue, through negotiations. No one should be afraid of peace. No one should be afraid of dialogue.
Talking especially to those who have different political views can be a liberating process. It can also be an empowering process.
Irish republicans believe that Irish unity, on the basis of equality, offers the best future for all the people of this island. Therefore there is a responsibility on republicans to spell out to unionists what sort of united Ireland we seek. We need to look at ways in which the unionist people can find their place in a new Ireland. All of this requires a willingness on our part to explore and to be open to new concepts.
Republicans are also happy to engage with unionism on their vision for the future. We're open to listening to unionism about what they believe the union offers citizens. The opening up of a public debate around these key issues can only be a positive step forward.
In negotiations we all try to change each other's perspectives. In doing so there is the prospect and very often the reality that the negotiations will change everybody.
Possibilities not seen before begin to emerge. New ways of seeing an old problem begin to take shape.
New solutions have their seeds in such dialogue and engagement. This is how the future is shaped. This is how republicans want to shape the future with unionists.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality, and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called for the Minister for Justice to scrap the Government's present European Convention on Human Rights Bill and introduce a new bill incorporating the Convention directly into domestic law.
Speaking following the resumption of the Oireachtas Joint Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights Committee consultation process on the Bill, Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:
"Legislative incorporation would make the Convention superior to ordinary laws but still subject to the Irish Constitution, and this is the approach Sinn Féin favours. It is crucially important that we get this legislation right ? for the sake of all Irish people, but particularly those who are discriminated against. Under the Bill currently in front of the Dáil Irish people would still have to travel all the way to Strasbourg to avail of an effective remedy under the Convention. This is neither fair nor right. I am also concerned that the current Bill would undermine the effectiveness of the new Human Rights Commission.
"I appeal to the Minister for Justice to heed the criticism that has been leveled by human rights groups and legal experts against the legislation as drafted, to scrap the bill in its present form, and table a new bill that directly incorporates the ECHR directly into Irish law. We cannot afford to accept anything less." ENDS
"In our Pre-Budget submission last November we in Sinn Féin highlighted this waste of €12 million and called for the immediate introduction of electronic patient records and/or unique person identifier numbers. This would reduce inaccuracies in the Health Board/GMS databases and avoid such huge waste of resources. This element of the National Health Strategy should be brought forward as a matter of urgency. Any attempt to delay it because of budgetary restrictions would be totally counter-productive, costing the system dearly in the long run."ENDS
Sinn Féin TDs Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Martin Ferris, Arthur Morgan, Seán Crowe and Aengus Ó Snodaigh have called on Environment Minister Martin Cullen to end his bully boy tactics and remove his threat to give Dublin City Council the chop and replace it with unelected and unaccountable government appointed Commissioners.
Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
"The very survival of Dublin City Council hangs in the balance tonight as Environment Minister Martin Cullen has signaled that he intends to abolish the Council if Councillors don't give into his threats and impose increased service charges on the people of Dublin.
"It is scandalous that any democratically elected local authority can be threatened in this manner. It completely undermines the constitutionally recognised position of Local Government and sends the wrong message to an already disillusioned electorate. The power to abolish local councils should be done away with immediately.
"I am calling on Minister Cullen to remove this threat and allow Dublin City Councillors - who were elected by the people to run this city - to get on with their jobs."ENDS