Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone representative Cllr McHugh has welcomed the challenge of the Green Party's John Barry to councils to take forward the GM debate particularly in light of the fact that Newry and Mourne Council have already overwhelmingly supported a Sinn Féin motion seeking to ban GM crops and foods.
Cllr McHugh said:
"Sinn Féin is way out ahead in the GM debate. In July Sinn Féin called for an urgent debate on GM food and crops and issued a call to keep Ireland 'GM free'.
"Since then Newry and Mourne Council have already overwhelmingly backed a Sinn Féin motion on GM foods and in other council areas Sinn Féin will also be bringing motions to open up the debate on the whole issue. In Newry and Mourne the call was for legislation banning GM crops and foods and the council have now written to Ministers with responsibility for the issue both north and south.
"Since legislation on the regulation of genetically modified food and feed was passed by the European Parliament, along with further passing of co-existence guidelines which wish to prohibit national or regional governments in banning the use of Genetically Modified Organisms, the European Union has rolled over to the threats of the US and the profit hungry GM companies.
"It is vital that a full public debate takes place and that all of the issues surrounding GM are aired. Irish farmers and consumers are being denied the opportunity to voice their opinion. This debate must take place on an Island wide basis; it is nonsense for one part to opt for Genetically Modified Crops or Food, while the other part abstains. Cross contamination of hybrid plants and crops could contaminate the whole island.
"Farmers in particular have a lot to loose if Genetically Modified Food is grown in Ireland, they have no to control over the Hybrid nature of these plants. There is so little knowledge about the possible impact from cross contamination and the entry of new genes into the Irish. Crop gene pool. Local farmers will also be at the mercy of consumers if this technology goes wrong, they will be the ones who will suffer huge losses not the large corporations like Monsanto." ENDS
Sinn Féin representative for north Belfast Gerry Kelly has slammed the attack on Our Lady of Mercy Girls secondary school today. The attack has left five cars destroyed and another three damaged.
Speaking today Mr Kelly said:
"This is a completely unjustifiable attack. It has left both teachers and pupils distressed and shaken. There is no other reason for this attack other than blatant sectarianism and it is an attempt to target and intimidate the most vulnerable in the community.
"Schools are regarded by the vast majority of the community as revered and untouchable. Parents leave their children to school and believe it will be a safe and secure environment. Those responsible for these attacks are attempting to make this impossible.
"Attacks against schools, their pupils, and their teachers of whatever denomination are wrong. The recent escalation in the targeting of schools must cease immediately and they must be left as places of safety and education for our children.
"I am calling on all those with influence within the loyalist community including the UPRG and the Loyalist commission to do all in their power to bring these attacks to an end" ENDS
On the return of the Dáil for its autumn session the Sinn Féin TDs have tabled a motion demanding that the British government call Assembly elections in the Six Counties. Publishing the motion, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:
"The repeated collapse of the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement, and the repeated cancellation of elections by the British government is a cause of concern to all true democrats in Ireland. One of the last acts of the Dáil before the recess was to call for those elections to be held this autumn 'regardless of any other considerations'. The British government has still not called the elections and the Agreement which was supported overwhelmingly by people throughout Ireland is in limbo.
"This is not just an issue for people in the Six Counties. The all-Ireland basis of the Agreement has been undermined and the benefits for all our people, throughout the 32 Counties, in terms of rights, equality and economic development are being denied. The Dáil should make its voice heard loud and clear and I will be urging the Taoiseach to allow Government time to debate this vital issue."
That the Dáil:
- firmly reiterates its view as expressed by vote of the House on 28 May 2003 that it deeply regrets the decision of the British government to postpone the Assembly elections scheduled for 29 May 2003, a decision taken without the support of the Irish Government;
- strongly reiterates its view that those elections should take place quickly and, regardless of any other considerations, no later than the autumn;
- demands, therefore, that the British government calls Assembly elections without further delay.
- Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Seán Crowe, Martin Ferris, Arthur Morgan, Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
In a Dáil motion tabled today Sinn Fein's five TDs accused the Minister for the Environment and Local Government Martin Cullen of implementing policies that have led directly to a situation of confrontation in Dublin and the imprisonment of bin charge protesters. He is also accused of being anti-democratic by depriving elected representatives on local authorities the power to determine waste management policy.
The motion goes on to call for the immediate release of bin charge protesters and demands that the Minister bring forward legislation to amend the Protection of the Environment Act 2003 to ensure that local authorities fulfill their responsibility for public health and safety and provide a refuse collection to all householders.
Speaking after tabling the motion Sinn Fein spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan TD said:
"The ongoing confrontations taking place in Dublin between anti-bin charge protesters and local authority management are a direct consequence of the anti-democratic stance taken and policies adopted by the Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen. It is because of his actions that two people are in prison for taking part in principled and peaceful opposition to the unjust bin charges. We are calling for the release of these protesters and the ending of court action against all others. We are also calling the Minister to end his anti-democratic drive by amending his controversial Protection of the Environment Act 2003 to allow the elected representatives on local authorities the power to decide on waste management policies and strategies instead of un-elected city and county managers."ENDS
Sinn Féin motion
That the Dáil:
Deplores the fundamentally flawed waste management policy of the Government as implemented by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government Martin Cullen which has
- led directly to the current situation of confrontation in Dublin and to the imprisonment of bin charges protesters, including elected representatives who should be released
- deprived elected representatives on local authorities of powers to determine waste management policy
- empowered and encouraged city and county managers to refuse to collect refuse from homes who have not paid the bin tax or who are in arrears, thereby creating a serious health hazard
- compounded the double taxation of refuse charges
- facilitated the privatisation of waste management and other local authority services
demands that the Minister bring forward without delay legislation to amend the Protection of the Environment Act 2003 to ensure that local authorities fulfil their responsibility for public health and safety and provide a refuse collection service to all householders and replaces refuse charges on householders with the proper application of the polluter pays principle to target the main producers of waste as part of a comprehensive and effective waste management strategy.
Arthur Morgan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Seán Crowe, Martin Ferris, Aengus Ó Snodaigh
Sinn Féin Fermanagh South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew has backed calls for full access to affordable childcare in the workplace and greater flexibility to challenge the barriers many people, and specifically women face in fully participating in the workforce.
Ms Gildernew said:
"Our record in providing affordable childcare is among the worst in Europe. This means that there is a significant barrier to full participation in the workforce. This barrier is unacceptable.
"The political consensus that has emerged on the important issue of childcare is very positive. Employers have taken important steps to develop employer supported childcare. It is vital that we build on these commitments. The Employers for Childcare objective to enable working parents to fully participate in the workforce deserves to be realised. It will benefit not just employers and parents but also the wider local economy.
"Sinn Féin is fully supportive of the work of the Employers for Childcare in improving childcare options and the development of the employer childcare voucher scheme. There is a role for all our government departments, agencies and as employers, to lead by example in turning around our poor record in the provision of affordable, accessible and reliable childcare places for working parents and also for parents in further and higher education." ENDS
Sinn Féin North Belfast Representative Gerry Kelly last night addressed the Agreed Ireland Forum at the British Labour Party Conference. Mr Kelly used the opportunity to call on the Labour Party to renew its commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and to rally in support of the holding of Assembly elections." Mr. Kelly said:
"The Good Friday Agreement is about rights and entitlements. It is about gaining rights and entitlements that have been denied to a section of our people since Partition. It is about bringing about political and constitutional change. It is about a new beginning to the political reality in the North of Ireland. It is full of promise.
"The last five years have not been dominated by delivering on this promise but on undermining it. Through four suspensions of the political institutions and the eventual cancellation of the elections to renew the mandates to those Institutions Tony Blair has continuously undermined that embryonic democratic process.
"The Agreement has to be implemented in full and in order to do that there needs to be an election. Tony Blair is the one that must call a date for the election and he must do it now. Rather than a process of implementation what we have is a process of undermining the Agreement by anti-Agreement unionists and faceless securocrats attempting to suck the momentum out of the Agreement."
In response to a question on the possibility of British Labour organising in the North Mr Kelly said:
"It would have no impact on Sinn Féin support but as an all-Ireland and a united Ireland Party our task is to see the end of British political intervention in any part of our country not an extension of it. ENDS
Sinn Féin County Councillor Gerry Murray has called on the Government to publish its comprehensive rights-based disability legislation in November 2003. Councillor Murray said he was amazed at how Government cuts backs were impacting on people with disabilities. Many Parents have contacted me in relation to resource teachers not been made available to their children, while even school transport has not escaped the wrath of the Government's cuts, and all of this in the aftermath of the Special Olympics.
Councillor Murray said:
"Following the debacle of its totally inadequate disability legislation which was rejected by people with disabilities and withdrawn last year, the Government has given a clear commitment to publish a new Disability Bill in November. This legislation must be rights-based. It must recognise that every person living with a disability has the legally enforceable right to have their whole person recognised, their capabilities valued and developed to full potential, and their dignity respected. People with disabilities must have the right to access appropriate, coordinated services. The state has the duty to provide such services, as well as proper individual needs assessments.
"Sinn Féin in the Dail will be holding the Government to its promise to publish such legislation in November. People with disabilities must not be disappointed yet again."ENDS
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP speaking at a conference hosted by Sinn Féin at BIFHE in West Belfast has highlighted the importance of increasing awareness of Breast Cancer.
Mr Adams said:
"I want to welcome Liz Atkinson, Action Cancer's Director of Services, Professor Patrick Johnston, Oncologist at the City Hospital to this mornings press conference.
"October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Campaigners and activists will be working hard this month to raise awareness about this disease and to specifically highlight the importance of early detection, research and the need for significantly increased resourcing.
"Today's event is one contribution to this, and I am pleased to say that it also provides us with an opportunity to publicise the Action Cancer mobile clinic which will be visiting west Belfast and will be based at:
"This is an important initiative for women throughout this constituency. The statistics surrounding Breast Cancer are absolutely appalling - 300 women die each year in the north while almost a thousand new cases are diagnosed. But these figures give no sense of the trauma, pain and anguish that individual women and their families endure. Anyone who read Christine Bradley's account of her experiences in last week's Andersonstown News will have been given just a small insight into the enormous difficulties faced by individuals and their families.
"I know personally of this as it has affected friends and family members. My hope is that the initiative we are announcing today, coupled with the work of the coming month, will increase personal awareness among women and that lives will be saved.
"Prevention is the key to tackling breast cancer.I would urge women, but especially those in West Belfast where the mobile clinic will be visiting this month, to avail of its screening service.
"I would also like to commend those who have set up stalls this morning - The Ballymurphy Women's Centre, Tar Anall and Cancer Lifeline." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this evening expressed sympathy and solidarity to the family of Pronsias Mac Aonghusa, expecially to his wife Catherine, on his death. He described Proinsias as an outstanding Irishman and patriot and said he would be sadly missed."
Mr. Adams said:
"Proinsias was a outstanding Irishman, a patriot in the truest sense. He was imbued with a sense of national consciousness and a pride in Irish culture. He was an outstanding gaelgóir and made a huge contribution to Irish language movement, journalism and the life of the whole nation. He will be sadly missed."ENDS
Speaking after a meeting of the National Election Strategy Group in Dublin, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said:
" This mornings meeting of the National Electoral Strategy group was the first since Gerry Adams put the party on an election footing last week. Feedback from across the island was positive and preparations for the Assembly election are at an advanced stage.
" Clearly in recent months much of our focus has been on getting the British government to call an Assembly election. This has not yet happened and remains a priority. However there are a range of other issues which need to be addressed if the current crisis in the process is to be resolved and confidence is to be restored. We all know what these issues are - transfer of powers on policing and justice, demilitarisation, equality and human rights and the sustainability of the political institutions.
" Resolving the current crisis in the process is not simply a matter for republicans alone. It is a collective responsibility on all of us including the unionists and British government. Sinn Féin are committed to seeing these matters resolved and seeing the Agreement implemented in full and we will continue with our intensive engagements with the two governments and the other parties in the coming period." ENDS
Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness, North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly and former Six County Health Minister Bairbre de Brun are to attend this years British Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth. Central to the Sinn Féin agenda will be the need for democracy to be upheld and the Assembly elections to go ahead.
North Belfast Representative, Gerry Kelly travels to Bournemouth tomorrow, Sunday 28th September where he will address the Agreed Ireland Forum on the theme 'Good Friday Agreement through Thick and Thin'. He will also attend the Irish Embassy Dinner in the Royal Bath Hotel on Monday evening.
Chief Negotiator Martin Mc Guinness will arrive in Bournemouth on Tuesday morning where he will hold a Press Briefing for the North American Press Corps. He will also attend an Irish Embassy reception at the Royal Bath Hotel on Tuesday evening.
Former Health Minister, Bairbre de Brún will address the Sinn Féin Fringe Meeting in the Gresham Hotel, Grove Road, Bournemouth on Wednesday at 1.00 pm.
The Sinn Fein delegation will also attend the Breakfast reception hosted by Lord Dubs and Baroness Blood in the Highcliffe hotel on Wednesday morning.
For further information cantact Dominic Doherty @ 07074 267235 or Jayne Fisher @ 07940565123
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has called on the Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin to intervene to prevent the closure of the TB ward at Peamount Hospital. Deputy Ó Caoláin said he had written to the Minister for Health and Children during the past week to urge that he ensures the role of Peamount in TB treatment continues. He said:
"The proposed closure of the specialized TB and chest treatment service at Peamount should not go ahead. On the one hand the Government is proposing a move of many hospital services to 'centres of excellence', yet in the case of Peamount a centre of excellence is to be closed. A case of TB was confirmed in the past week in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry. We need to ensure that the best facilities are retained in order to combat this disease. I believe the closure of the specialized TB and chest treatment at Peamount would represent a diminution of services and would hamper our ability to most effectively contain and treat this disease.
"The Minister should intervene. I will be raising this matter in the Dáil in the coming week." ENDS
Following a visit to Mountjoy Prison today by a number of TDs to see bin charge protesters Joe Higgins TD and Clare Daly, Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe said that both were "in very good spirits despite the difficult circumstances they find themselves in". He said this was obviously a very difficult time for Clare Daly who has been separated from her young child. The Dublin South West TD went on to call for the release of the two protesters and demanded that all Dublin's local authorities lessen the tension around the whole issue of bin collections by pulling back from the confrontational approach they have adopted so far.
Deputy Crowe said: "Today's visit to Mountjoy by five TDs from a cross section of political opinion in Leinster House is a clear indicator of the depth of concern that exists around the whole issue of bin-charges and in particular the jailing of protesters. The reality of the situation is that neither Joe or Clare would be in jail now if it were not for the cynical manipulation of the laws of this State and the obvious waste problems that exist by both the Minister for the Environment Martin Cullen and the County Managers of each local authority. The Minister changed the law, with minimal debate in Leinster House, to bring about the conditions that led to the jailing of anti-charge protesters. This was done because he knew the depth of opposition that existed to his plans and he knew he could never secure popular support for them.
"I am calling the county managers to put an end to their gung-ho attitude to anti-bin charge protesters. They need to pull back from the brink and lessen the tensions around the whole issue by adopting less confrontational approaches. There is no justification for the continued detention of Joe Higgins and Clare Daly and they should be immediately released. Civil disobedience is a legitimate form of non-violent protest. It is especially so in cases where laws have been cynically changed to get past the democratic wishes of the people.
"Just as the water rates of the 80s and 90s were an unjust form of double taxation that were defeated by popular resistance so too are the bin charges. People have a legitimate right to protest against them and Sinn Féin will continue to support people in that opposition." ENDS
Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Marylou McDonald has called on people to join anti-war rallies taking place in Dublin and Belfast tomorrow, Saturday 27th September, as part of an International Day of Action for an end to the occupation of Palestine and Iraq.
Ms. McDonald said:
"Last February people across the world took to the streets to oppose the US/British war in Iraq. Here in Ireland there was also huge anger at the covert decision of the government to support the invasion of Iraq and allow our ports and airports to be used.
"It is important that people come out again tomorrow and join anti-war rallies in Dublin and Belfast and put pressure on the Irish government to use their voice in the United Nations and their role in the upcoming Presidency of the European Union to work for an end to the occupation of Iraq and for the return of power to the Iraqi people. We also believe that tomorrow gives us an opportunity to extend our solidarity to the Palestinian people. UN resolutions are being flouted openly and with devastating and deadly consequences for the Palestinian people every day. It is time that the government and the EU stood up and did more.
"Ireland and its people can play an important role on the international stage. Sinn Féin believes that this should be on the basis of a strong, independent foreign policy. That is what we will be calling for tomorrow."ENDS
Note to editor: The Anti war march begins at Parnell Square, Dublin at 2.30pm on Saturday 27th. Marylou McDonald will be speaking at the rally. The Belfast march will commence at 2pm from the Art College and proceed to Belfast City Hall
Sinn Féin representative Gerry Kelly alongside the north Belfast Sinn Fein Councillors have laid out their proposals for a site to accommodate a new leisure centre planned for north Belfast. The plan, which is to be initiated by 2006, will provide a much needed leisure facility that is accessible to nationalists living in north Belfast.
Speaking today Mr Kelly said:
"The need for a leisure centre that is accessible to nationalists in north Belfast has been ignored for over thirty years and one is greatly need. What we have are centres in the Shankill, Ballysillan and the Grove on the Shore Road and this will hopefully go some way in redressing the balance.
"Sinn Fein have consulted widely around this issue and the site on the bottom lake of the Waterworks is the most appropriate. Other areas looked at were either inaccessible or had insufficient acreage. There is also the benefit of this land already belong to Belfast City Council which would negate the need for other land to be acquired
"On the environmental side the main concern, following consultation, lies with the top lake of the Waterworks. It is the main habitat for both feeding and breeding for over 200 swans that use both the Waterworks and Victoria Park.
"If done sensitively, taking in one whole natural season, there would be minimum disturbance to the life of the swans. Indeed swans loose their flight feathers once a year and this would be an appropriate time for moving them.
"It would also go some way to resolving the problem of the swans being fed by visitors to the park. The main food given to the swans is bread. This has an adverse affect on the water quality as it is not the swan's natural food type and is poisoning the lake.
"What we would recommend is a further management programme for the upper lake with extra resources for walkways, jetties and information boards to encourage visitors to use the park and accommodate other pass-times, such as fishing, without having an adverse affect on the local habitat.
"If managed in the right way and sensitive architectural considerations were followed it would result in a leisure facility that was in harmony with the natural beauty of the park and the local surroundings. Indeed the leisure centre could become a feature of the park and north Belfast as a whole." ENDS
Sinn Féin's call to action against the Thatcherisation of Ireland
The Government's long list of broken promises are now well-known, but underlying them is a shift to the political right which, if it is allowed to continue, will do lasting damage to Irish society and the Irish economy.
The terms "right" and "left" are not just meaningless political labels, they are a useful shorthand for the policy agendas that affect people's everyday lives.
What are "left" policies?
As a left republican party, Sinn Fein believes that equality must be the cornerstone of our society and our economy. People should be treated as citizens with rights, not just consumers with more or less spending power. Government policies should be driven by the needs of citizens, not the demands of the market.
What are "right" policies?
Right-wing parties believe in survival of the fittest, which means they favour individualism and private enterprise, and the privilege of the establishment and the market. They believe in freedom and rights for the wealthy and for business first, and they see true equality for all as a threat. They believe the state should have minimal responsibility to the people. The policies of the right-wing Thatcher government are a classic example of the logic of this agenda: lower taxes (at all costs) and withdraw public services; privatise state businesses and assets; deregulate sectors and industries; make all other policies subservient to fiscal constraint. Sound familiar?
The result in other cases of rightward drift has been that the state grows increasingly unaccountable except to those that line their party's pockets, people's rights are eroded, economic growth is not sustained, and the gap widens between rich and poor. Sound familiar?
In the past six years of FF/PD government, relative poverty has grown very significantly; in other words the gap between rich and poor has widened. The better off have benefited disproportionately from the tax policies of Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, thus setting a headline across all government polices.
The Government Coalition between the avowedly right-wing Progressive Democrats and the allegedly more centrist Fianna Fail coincided with a period of unprecedented economic growth that cushioned the worst of the impact of their policy agenda. Now that the boom is over, however, it is more obvious that the poorest and weakest are being made to pay.
After one year of the Government's new mandate -- regardless of their penchant for pseudo-consultation and Fianna Fail's sympathetic-sounding "lefty" spin -- it has become clear that they are bent on adopting more and more right-wing policies. They have gone on a privatisation binge, given the wealthy all the tax breaks, favoured their developer, industry and big business friends, introduced a range of draconian laws, and to facilitate all of this they have gutted the Freedom of Information Act to ensure that they operate in greater secrecy. This "Thatcherisation" agenda represents a very negative development in Irish politics and will exacerbate the problems of gross inequality and injustice that exist in the state already.
We must not forget the damage that was done by Thatcherism and Reaganomics to other societies in the 1980s. They gutted whole communities with their austerity measures while the rich got richer. We cannot allow this Government to take Ireland down this same road to ruin.
It is open to question whether the people REALLY voted for these policies -- as the Government now claims -- or were instead deceived. While some of their right-wing measures were signalled in the Programme for Government, many others were not, and have been brought in by stealth. While their "right-turn" is a reality, the Government has never announced its intention as such.
We in Sinn Féin will hold this Government accountable for their litany of deceptions since they took office. We will join with others in our communities to campaign inside and outside the Dáil against their right-wing policies.
But in order to fight these policies we need to be able to identify them and recognise where they fit in an overall right-wing agenda.
Come election time, Fianna Fáil will sell you the lie that the PDs are to blame. But we cannot blame the PDs alone. With Fianna Fáil's large majority, claims to domination by the PDs just don't ring true. Sinn Féin has therefore produced this informal audit of the right-wing policies of each Government Minister -- whether PD or Fianna Fail. We conclude that Fianna Fail itself has shifted to the right, and is taking our future with it. This must be stopped.
The Government will also sell you the false claim that there is no alternative. Sinn Féin knows that there IS an alternative, and we have outlined other policy options that we believe are better for the people, and will contribute to a socially just Ireland for everyone.
Gross inequality in the Health Services
Health Minister Micheál Martin has published a package of proposals which promises reform of the health system but really offers only bureaucratic change. It fails to tackle the basic inequality in the system. Here, above all, the right-wing ideology that dominates this Government is preventing real reform based on the equal right of all to the best healthcare, regardless of ability to pay.
It is a tragedy and a scandal that healthcare is delivered by means of a fundamentally flawed two-tier public-private system. The Government's Health Strategy opted to retain this system. There is now a vicious cycle. Waiting lists and bed closures in the public system have meant that more and more people who can afford it - and many who cannot - have opted for private health insurance and private care. The public system suffers as a result. Health apartheid divides our society on income lines. Many hospital consultants very profitably straddle the two systems and it is the public patient who loses out.
The two-tier system is inherently unjust and inefficient and no amount of better financial management or administrative restructuring can change that reality. The report of the top-level National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) on 'Equality of Access to Hospital Care' clearly demonstrated the failure of government health policy and confirms Sinn Féin's view that the two-tier system within the health services must go.
The vision and the political will to truly reform that fundamentally unequal and inefficient system is absent from this Government. Sinn Féin offers that vision and the determination to make it a reality. We will campaign for an end to the two-tier system and its replacement with a truly national health service with free care for all at the point of delivery and funded from general taxation.
Housing driven by profit not by need
One of the greatest problems currently facing Irish society is the housing crisis which has seen escalating house prices, rising numbers on housing waiting lists, increased numbers of homeless, an unregulated private rented sector and un-addressed traveller accommodation needs. Rather than acting to address these problems the government has taken measures which have worsened the crisis. At the root of the problem is the Government's right-wing, totally market-driven approach to housing championed by Environment and Local Government Minister Martin Cullen and his predecessor Noel Dempsey. These regressive policies have been implemented by the current Minister of State Noel Ahern and his predecessor Bobby Molloy. .
• Following pressures from speculators and developers the end of 2002 Martin Cullen introduced legislation to repeal Section V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Developers can now offer local authorities either other sites or money for not having to have social housing on their developments.
• The ending of the first-time home buyers' grant has made the prospect of owning their home even more remote for young people.
Sinn Fein believes that the fundamental role of a house and a home in a person's life cannot be overstated. A lack of adequate housing and homelessness are inextricably connected to increased levels of mental illness, marginalisation and disenfranchisement. Sinn Fein is calling for a constitutional right to housing; a Minister for Housing with a full cabinet position; a properly funded national housing strategy; the establishment of a National Housing Agency to coordinate all aspects of housing provision; the capping of the price of building land and wider powers for local authorities to use CPO's to procure land for housing. Sinn Fein is also committed to the abolition of ground rents.
Environment neglected - Local Government disempowered
Martin Cullen, a former member of the Progressive Democrats, since his appointment as Minister for the Environment and Local Government has driven the right-wing agenda.
The man who once said "I am not interested in more great debates" has used his first year at Cabinet to demonstrate his disregard for democracy.
• During the last year Minister Cullen has further centralised power in an already excessively centralised system of local government. The Local Government Bill 2003 further diminished local democracy by deleting the provision in the Local Government Act 2001 for the direct election of Cathaoirligh of city and county councils.
• Under the PD/Fianna Fail Protection of the Environment Bill 2003 which was rammed through in the last Dáil term local councilors no longer have any function in deciding on household waste charges or regional waste management plans. Unelected county and city managers will be able to impose increased waste charges on people without any discussion at council level.
Sinn Féin is committed to the reform of local government to bring about an accountable, properly funded local government with active community involvement. Sinn Fein is opposed to the double tax that bin charges represent. Building on Sinn Féin's proposed amendments to the Protection of the Environment Bill in 2002 which sought to ban incineration, we will continue to campaign for sustainable and environmentally friendly waste management. The closure of Sellafield is also a priority.
Transport chaos costs us dearly
Since the Cabinet was appointed few Ministers have matched Seamus Brennan in his gung-ho single-minded devotion to a blinkered right-wing economic agenda. With a condescending attitude to workers evident in his policy of little or no consultation or debate with unions he seems set to continue privatising semi-state bodies involved in public transport
• He proposes to break up Aer Rianta, a profitable state company, which successfully manages the State's airports, including Dublin Airport, one of the three highest growth airports in Europe.
• He proposes to break up CIE and leave tens of thousands of Dublin commuters at the mercy of a poorly thought out replica of the failed 'London Model' of public transport, while funding the break-up through selling off property owned by CIE to developers.
Sinn Féin wants vibrant, dynamic well run public sector companies in control of an All-Ireland public transport system. Public transport in Ireland is improving, but the subvention must be brought up to at least European levels. Such a system will benefit all of the economy not private sector concerns driven by short-term profits and little focus on the bigger picture. For the limited amount of support provided by the State and the relatively low fares in comparison to the rest of Europe, our public transport system represents real value for money.
Education hamstrung by funding shortfall
Rather than challenge the lack of funding for education at all levels by a Government for whom tax cuts for the rich are more important than classrooms for children, Education Minister Noel Dempsey has turned right in a desperate attempt to make up for years of neglect. This neglect has resulted in sub-standard school buildings and persistent inequality of access to education.
• Minister Dempsey supports the use of Public Private Partnership to build schools, at a cost of E214 million over 20 years for five schools, despite the negative experience with such schemes in Britain and the dubious safety record of the company involved. Nowhere is the failure of this privatisation by stealth more evident than in the debacle taking place over the Cork School of Music.
• He also seems determined to bring back fees, if not openly following massive opposition from students and the Opposition, covertly, through massive increases in the student registration charge, up 70% last year alone to 670 Euro.
Sinn Féin remains the only party absolutely opposed to the use of Public Private Partnership and committed to the idea that schools are not a place for companies and businesses to make money. They are places of learning, education and empowerment. Investment in education, especially at primary level, can transform society and liberate a people but must be sourced from the State, through a tax system that will truly redistribute the wealth created by our educated workforce.
Ministers Cowen and Smith
Irish Neutrality abandoned
Ministers Brian Cowen and Michael Smith publicly pride themselves on their progressive foreign policies, and sell this state as a world leader on the promotion of peace and human rights. They have repeatedly assured us that this Government supports neutrality. The Programme for Government specifically commits to UN primacy and promises that Ireland will only participate in UN-mandated or endorsed operations. But on many occasions since their election this Government has both contradicted and violated their own stated policies.
• Far from standing firm on Irish neutrality, they involved Ireland in supporting the illegal invasion of Iraq based on concocted evidence. They repeatedly denied this was so, and refused to put any decision before the Dáil until it was too late. Then they claimed that Ireland does not need to conform to internationally accepted definitions of military neutrality and publicly signalled their intention to review the policy.
• Far from asserting and supporting UN primacy, they recently said that a UN mandate "may no longer be necessary" for the deployment of Irish Defence Forces overseas.
• They have also avoided stating their position on the Common Defence provisions of the draft EU Constitutional Treaty. We don't know whether they will accept or challenge those Articles that will further militarise the EU by building an EU military industrial complex, enabling deployment of an EU Army within and beyond EU borders, and expanding its remit beyond humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks.
• At a time when the state is bleeding from cuts in healthcare and education, they plan to spend E100 million in property divestment revenues on retooling the Defence Forces to make them EU-compliant.
We can only conclude that the Ministers have not been honest with us about their real future intentions. Their track record leads us to believe that their plan is to abandon neutrality and UN primacy and commit Irish soldiers to an EU Common Defence. Ultimately their
There is an alternative. Sinn Féin believes that true security is universal, and based on social justice, fully meeting human need, and respecting human rights and human equality.
Sinn Féin supports full foreign policy independence, underpinned by support for UN primacy and complemented by positive neutrality in action. We therefore believe that neutrality must be enshrined in the Constitution. We see our commitment to demilitarisation of the EU and universal nuclear disarmament as an extension of our commitment to demilitarisation of conflict at home.
Sinn Féin are calling on this Government to end their secrecy, come clean to the people and submit to their will by referendum on this untested policy shift away from neutrality that was never signalled in their Programme for Government.
Employment on PD terms
Mary Harney has infused the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with the right wing ideology of the PDs and this has been the driving force behind the majority of decisions taken in that Department.
• Mary Harney cut 5000 places on Community Employment thus adding to the rising level of employment. The cutbacks in CE schemes has represented one of the most vicious elements of the coalition government's offensive against the poor and vulnerable in Irish society. The government fails to understand the value these schemes bring to the community, as they are uninterested in anything that doesn't make a quick buck.
• The current agreement Sustaining Progress has been scripted to a right wing agenda and represents a poor deal for Irish workers and the low paid. It offers nothing on real issues facing workers -- health, childcare, education. The Government and Employers organisations are increasingly forcing workers to bargain for rights which are rightfully theirs as part of the wider social partnership deal.
Sinn Féin supports the role played CE schemes in providing badly needed services to local communities and in giving many people an opportunity to make the transition from welfare to work. Sinn Féin calls for an economic development strategy that creates a balance between inward and indigenous investment; a trade policy which promotes poverty reduction and respect for human rights and labour and environmental standards and legislation to protect the health and safety of workers.
Natural Resources squandered
The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dermot Ahern, has refused to consider any changes to the current licensing conditions governing oil and gas exploration. The enormous loss which this represents for the Irish people was most recently highlighted by the announcement of a major find in the Dooish Basin off the coast of Donegal. As we pointed out at the time, this will bring almost no benefit to the Irish economy unless the state revises the current scandalous terms available to the multi-nationals. In pursuit of this, Sinn Féin will continue to demand:
• the restoration of the state's 50% stake on all oil and gas finds;
• the re-establishment of a state exploration company to carry out research and generally supervise the sector;
• that all companies are required to pay adequate royalties;
• that exploration companies pay the full rate of Corporation Tax;
• that so-called 'frontier licences' are abolished;
• that all gas pipelines are built with full regard to the concerns of local communities; with least impact on the natural environment; that they are integrated into a long term plan to supply cheap and safe fuel, and that any pipeline will be capable of integration into an all Ireland grid
Rural Development undermined
The Government has completely undermined the commitments made in the Programme for Government to rural communities by a range of cutbacks. Not only are people feeling the effects of the cuts in public services but also experiencing the economic effects of cutbacks in the Agriculture budget. These have forced the scaling back of schemes such as Early Retirement and Installation Aid, and have also led to a programme of closures of Teagasc centres. Sinn Féin demands:
• an immediate reversal of all cuts in Agriculture and Rural Development programmes contained in the last
• that the current Dublin Government establish a Commission to examine the farm crisis to be representative of all involved in the sector as well as independent experts and researchers
• that the Dublin Government plays a more proactive role in the development of cross border harmonisation of animal health, food promotion, pricing, and subsidies
• that all EU funded rural development programmes are made representative of the communities in which they operate, and that they are designed to be self-sustaining
• that rural proofing be applied in such a manner as to ensure that people living in rural communities are entitled to the same level of public service and provision as any other citizen
• that positive steps are taken to encourage the participation of rural women in community development programmes and that this entails the provision of adequate childcare, transport, meeting places and information technology resources
Attacking citizens' rights
Nowhere is the Government's rightward shift more evident than in its so-called "justice" policy. They have adopted a classic Thatcherite "law and order" agenda that expands state and police powers while reducing hard-won rights and safeguards for the people. And PD Minister Michael McDowell is not shy about his plans: he has openly and publicly declared war on a rights-based society.
The Minister's escalating War on Equal and Human Rights is directed at all those in this state who stood to gain most from the equality and human rights provisions in the Good Friday Agreement. Not only has the Government "downsized" their commitment to equality and human rights by stalling, minimising, or rolling back on virtually every rights-related provision it signed up to, but the Minister has actively made it his business to pass laws and authorise actions that attack the most vulnerable groups. Nothing illustrates this approach better than his plan to deny 11,000 Irish children their full citizenship rights by expelling them from Ireland with their non-national parents. .
The Government has decided that Rights for All are "too costly". This conclusion explains many of their most shameful recent decisions, including the Laffoy Commission debacle, their continued stalling on a rights-based Disability Bill, their gutting of the public's right to Freedom of Information, and now, their proposed privatisation of prisons (a policy which has proved a failure in other jurisdictions).
While stalling on urgently-needed Garda reform and deployment of adequate Garda resources to working class areas that need them most, the Minister has been very busy expanding police powers of intrusion and repression both here and at EU level.
There is an alternative.
• We want this Government to live up to its own commitments under the Good Friday Agreement, including a repeal of the Offences Against the State Acts, dissolution of the Special Criminal Court, and release of the remaining political prisoners qualifying under the Good Friday Agreement.
• Indeed, we want the protection and promotion of equal and human rights to go even further than the Good Friday Agreement. We want adoption of legislation making the promotion of equality and protection of equal rights a statutory duty. We want mandatory equality and human rights-proofing of all existing and proposed legislation. We want a rights-based Disability Bill and the abandonment of the "Fortress Ireland in a Fortress Europe" policy in favour of a positive and compassionate immigration policy that will strengthen our economy and society.
• Sinn Féin also wants to see a comprehensive, preventive approach to crime that recognises and redresses underlying social and economic factors, urgent comprehensive Garda reform in-line with the Patten Principles, and targeting of Garda resources in the areas where they are most needed.
• Sinn Féin calls on this Government to halt its rightward march and embrace social justice -- to return to the rights-vindicating and rights-maximising approach signalled under the Good Friday Agreement, and make a vigorous and unambiguous commitment to civil liberties and transparent accountable government.
Sinn Féin Chairperson, Mitchel Mc Laughlin responding to comments earlier this evening in Lurgan by David Trimble said:
"I am disappointed but not surprised at the defensive tone of Mr Trimble's comments.
"Earlier this week Gerry Adams urged the British and Irish governments to be 'reasonable and rational' about what could be achieved in the coming weeks. Perhaps Mr. Trimble should heed that advice also and recognise just how much common ground exists.
"The Sinn Féin position has been consistent; the GFA is as good as it can get for Unionists. Despite the challenges, if it is implemented in full, then all of us can look towards living in a society where there won't be any armed groups, including the IRA. We will have an entirely demilitarised and peaceful situation. What is there to fear in that or in a process based on Equality and Parity of Esteem?
"Of course we have also consistently argued that elections and the right to vote is a matter of political principle and that Mr Blair should not have cancelled the elections.
"Mr. Blair should now set a date for an autumn election so as to liberate the political process."ENDS
Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, former chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, Mid Ulster representative Francie Molloy has said that the DUP are missing the point on the debate opening up around the need for greater economic sovereignty.
Cllr Molloy said:
"Unless the people running the DUP are complete morons I fail to understand how they could have missed the fact that the money in people‚s pockets is already being assailed from all directions. Very shortly unless we can build the political momentum to stop it, they will also have to dig deep to pay for the imposition of water charges and massive rates increases to meet the demands of the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative.
"The fundamental reason why decent hard working people here are being put in this position is that being tied to the British Exchequer requires us to mirror a British government obsession with indirect taxation, double taxation, back door taxation or whatever you want to call it.
"This means that down the line we will have more taxes that are not linked to either what people earn or their ability to pay. This means that people on low and medium incomes are being forced to pay a significantly higher proportion of their disposable income and are consequentially poorer as a result.
"Greater economic sovereignty would put a local Executive in a powerful position. It would enable them to roll back these unfair forms of indirect taxation. Mr Robinson derides the use of targeted tax breaks as a vital tool to support employment and sustain and develop the strength of the local economy yet such mechanisms have been shown to be effective in many places throughout the world.
"If we are to really challenge the poverty in our society, to transform our divided society and to address the infrastructure deficit created by decades of massive under investment the reality is that we need to spend money but we need to spend it wisely because we have such scarce resources.
"However Peter Robinson fails to address the issue of a peace dividend and the need for the British government to transfer expenditure on the British war machine to rebuilding a society emerging from conflict.
"The British government are no doubt delighted that they managed to con people into the Reform and Reinvestment Initiative while not coming under any pressure to put the money spent on maintaining the British war machine to more productive use.
"The reality is that we have a relatively small tax revenue base that is unsustainable without substantial subvention from the British Exchequer. However, the costs of maintaining the British war machine eat into that subvention. That is way the British government is looking to take ever increasing amounts from local people to pay for the investment that successive British administration have failed to deliver." ENDS
"The Minister must restore childcare support for VTOS participants, and not just in some of the hardest hits VECs but right across the board. It would be extremely unfair if people in one VEC were able to get support and people in another denied it as the Minister seems to be implying might be the way forward." ENDS
Note to Editors: The letter from Minister Dempsey can be faxed to newsrooms on request and digital photographs are available from the protest yesterday outside the Department of Education on Marlborough St. Contact 01 8722609
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will launch his new book Hope and History: Making Peace in Ireland at 11am on Friday 26th September 2003 in the Roddy McCorley Club, Moyard House, 203 Glen Road, West Belfast.