Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP speaking in Belfast this morning extended a warm welcome to the ten accession states which become part of the European Union today. Mr Adams said "The EU is a rich and colourful tapestry of cultures and the new states will add to this. He said 'It is important that the good will which exists today continues into the future and these states have the same opportunities within the EU as current states and are not treated as second class states in Europe. The Irish government should recognise this in the upcoming Constitution talks and bring the process back to a Europe of equals and away from an EU superstate with its own army."
Mr Adams said:
"I want to extend a warm welcome to the ten accession states joining the EU today. They have much to offer the EU - a union which is already a rich and colourful tapestry of cultures. It is important that the good will which exists today continues into the future and these states have the same opportunities within the EU as the current states.
"When Ireland joined the EEC in 1973, it was considered a 'poor' country, one that might detract from the successful economic strides that the existing countries were making. But we joined the union with an equal voice at the table. The same is not true today. They are joining a two tier Europe. Whether it is in relation to unequal access to the CAP or how decisions are made, the accession states are not joining a Europe of equals. In the 26 Counties for example - while it is welcome that their citizens can come here to work freely - if they fall between jobs, the government has put a block on them claiming social welfare benefits. What sort of message does that send out?
"The current Draft EU Constitution reflects much of what is wrong with the European Union. Today, the EU represents and facilitates the agendas of big business and the powerful member states, to the detriment of the smaller nations, and particularly militarily neutral states. The Draft Constitution in its current form, will move us even closer towards an EU superstate with its own army.
"The current direction of the EU is not inevitable. It can and should be changed.Sinn Féin calls upon the Irish Presidency to use its influence to support an EU which protects its citizens and endorse a Constitution which places the sovereignty of member states at its core.
"I would like to say to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, from myself, and the Sinn Féin party and its supporters, Fáilte romhaibh go léir." ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP and Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness this afternoon met the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Minister for Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen in Dublin. Speaking following the meeting Mr. Adams said:
"We had a good meeting. Sinn Féin's focus is on making progress and resolving the issues that have bedeviled the process for so long."ENDS
Ógra Shinn Féin will join tomorrow's May Day protests, organised by Another Europe is Possible, at 12 noon at the Central Bank on Dame Street. Members of OSF will have a float with street theatre and music - at the Carnival and March, which will proceed to Phoenix Park.
Speaking prior to the march Ógra Shinn Féin Chairperson Mickey Bravender said:
"There has been a lot of unfounded hysteria in the media about the protests planned for May Day but little attention as to what the protests are actually about. Ógra Shinn Féin welcome the 10 accession states into the European Union but we also believe that new member states and old, need to have a debate about the kind of EU that we are building. We are opposed to a Europe written on terms dictated by big business and corporate lobbyists.
"We believe another Europe is possible. One where 55 million men, women and children are not living in poverty, where vital public services are not open to privatisation and where the ongoing militarisation of the EU and erosion of Irish neutrality is halted, and reversed.
"Tomorrow we will be protesting at the failure of the Government to make the Irish language an official working language within the European Union. We will also be supporting people from the Basque Country who are calling for support for Basque Independence.
"I am calling on people to see through the hype and the spin and join the march and carnival in Dublin on May Day." ENDS
A Sinn Féin delegation led by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, will attend the official ceremony to welcome the 10 new Accession states to the EU. Deputy Ó Caoláin will be joined by his colleagues, Arthur Morgan TD, Sean Crowe TD, and EU candidates Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin) and Bairbre de Brún (Six Counties).
The ceremony will be held in Dublin Castle at 11.30am.
Speaking today Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I wish to take this opportunity to welcome the 10 Accession states to the EU. May 1st 2004 is a unique day, and should be used to celebrate cultural diversity and tolerance.
Sinn Féin extends a warm welcome to the states of the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. ENDS
Immediately after the official Accession ceremony, Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald will be speaking at the Another Europe is Possible march on Dame Street, Dublin. The march is scheduled to commence at 12 noon.
The Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Natural Resources Martin Ferris has expressed disappointment at the decision by Mayo County Council to allow Shell to proceed with its planned development at Bellanaboy Wood, County Mayo. The company plans to construct facilities there to cater for gas to be brought onshore from the Corrib Field.
Deputy Ferris said: "I share the disappointment of many over this decision. Not only are there grave doubts regarding the environmental impact of the facility, but there are also strong economic arguments against allowing this project to proceed under the current licensing terms which mean that there is no long term benefit to the Irish people. Until the oil and gas multinationals are subject to royalties and until the state reclaims a 50% stake in any find, it is better that the gas is left where it is.
"I am also deeply unhappy with the failure to address the safety of the actualpipeline which will bring the gas onshore. Part of its route brings it below Dooncarton Hill where the landslide took place last September. Despite what was said by Shell at the time, and repeated by Minister Ahern, had the pipeline been in place it would have been severed by the landslide. That risk will remain." ENDS
Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh & South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has accused the SDLP of 'defending discrimination'. Ms Gildernew's comments come after the SDLP MLA Tommy Gallagher praised the new voting legislation was has led to over 200,000 people being disenfranchised.
Ms Gildernew said:
" The legislation which governs elections in the six counties was passed at the behest of the SDLP in alliance with the unionist parties. It has resulted in over 200,000 people being disenfranchised. It directly discriminates against those living in working class areas, the young and those with disabilities or learning difficulties.
" Indeed only a matter of weeks ago the SDLP MLA John Dallat criticised the regulations, now we have Tommy Gallagher praising them. The SDLP cannot have it both ways.
" The SDLP promotion of this discriminatory legislation is disgraceful. They need to review their position and begin to support the principle of one person one vote. Any examination of the current electoral register with the census figures clearly shows that this is not the case in the six counties. The SDLP stance has the potential to undo much of the efforts of the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The SDLP are in effect directly defending discrimination." ENDS
Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton has expressed alarm after the attempted abduction of a 14-year old school boy on his way to school in North Belfast this morning. Ms Stanton said:
"The 14-year-old St Patrick's College School pupil was on his way to school this morning at about 8.30 when he was approached by two men driving a red car as he made his way from the Cliftonville Road to school on the Antrim Road past Brookfield. The schoolboy was asked if he was a Catholic and then the men attempted to abduct him.
"This is the second attempted abduction of a Catholic in this area within the past week. The earlier incident, that also involved a St Patrick's college schoolboy, occurred in the Newington area less than 100 yards away from this latest incident.
"I would urge nationalists throughout North Belfast to be extremely vigilant as there appears to be a concerted effort by a unionist paramilitary group to abduct a Catholic.
"This appear to be part of a pattern increasing unionist paramilitary activity throughout North Belfast which will only increase tensions in the run up to the Orange Order marching season." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan has welcomed the findings of the E-voting Commission that the e-voting system to be introduced in this State is not yet trustworthy or proved secure. He also welcomed the Government's decision not to go ahead with the introduction of e-voting.
Deputy Morgan said, "Sinn Fein welcomes the findings of the Commission on Electronic Voting. It vindicates the position we adopted at a very early stage. Minister Martin Cullen attempted to stifle the debate around the introduction of electronic voting and its potential dangers and implications from the very beginning. He arrogantly dismissed concerns raised by computer science experts, members of the public and opposition parties. The absence of a verifiable voter trail and the failure to publish the source code represented fatal flaws in the Government's plans for the introduction of e-voting.
"The findings of the Commission are a clear indictment of Minister Cullen's inability to perform his Ministerial duties. He was determined to go ahead with electronic voting regardless of the genuine concerns which existed regarding its reliability and accuracy. During the course of the debate on the Electoral Amendment Bill 2004 Minister Cullen said he would accept responsibility if the system was proved to be flawed or insecure. It is clear now that Minister Cullen's position is completely untenable and he must go.
"The Government's statement that they will not now go ahead with E-voting is the first sensible decision taken in relation to this matter. Through their arrogance and bullying millions of euro of taxpayers money has been wasted on this seriously flawed project, which was neither necessary nor required."ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Arthur Morgan T.D. today castigated Minister of State with responsibility for Housing Noel Ahern for the Government's inaction in the face of the alarming decline in the level of local authority housing stock. Deputy Morgan accused the Government of having no strategy to house the 130,000 people currently on housing waiting lists. He was questioning Minister of State Ahern on the findings contained in the recent report of the Central Statistics Office on the 2002 Census 'Volume 13 - Housing' which shows that the number of Local Authority Housing rented dwellings has declined in every census since 1961 and has now hit an all time low of 88,000 or 6.9% of all housing units.
Deputy Morgan said:
"Is the Minister of State and indeed the Government not alarmed that at a time when we have such a large number of people on local authority waiting lists that housing stock has fallen to an all time low? This is a clear indicator of the absolute failure of this government, which has been in office since 1997, to address the severe lack of social housing.
"The funding announced by the Minister last week was merely a typical Fianna Fáil election stunt and will only provide for the construction of 5,500 dwellings. This is pitiful when one considers that there are 48,000 or 130,000 families on the housing waiting lists. Ad hoc announcements of funding immediately prior to an election does not indicate that this Government has any real intention of providing for the housing needs of those people - many of whom have been waiting for years - on local authority waiting lists. It is scandalous that the Government does not have a strategy to tackle the housing crisis.
"Is the Minister aware that many Local Authorities are increasingly abandoning their responsibilities for housing? This is the case with Dublin City Council which has indicated its intention to get out of its responsibilities for housing altogether within the next ten years. Other local authorities are not replacing stock which is being sold to tenants, or they are handing over flat complexes to voluntary housing associations or are entering into Public Private Partnerships for regeneration projects which do not include any replacement social housing.
"This Government's record on housing is abysmal and it looks unlikely to improve as long as Minister of State Noel Ahern remains at the helm"ENDS
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams speaking from Cork today said he was pleased that the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach are meeting on Sunday and that the Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen is engaging with the DUP this evening in Belfast.
Mr Adams said:
"Tonight's engagement and Sunday's meeting, along with the ongoing contact between our party and the two governments is a sign of the more focused approach that is necessary to resolve the problems which have bedevilled the process".
"Sinn Féin is not naïve. We know there are profound difficulties. The government's need to make it clear to unionists that they need to engage in a meaningful way otherwise they will continue to make impossible demands on the rest of us. Tonight's meeting between the DUP and Brian Cowen provides an opportunity for this.
"If the process is standing still, if the governments and others are attacking republicans, then I can understand why unionism feels no reason to move forward.
"Obviously there is an onus on everybody collectively to make this process work. No party or government can avoid their responsibilities, but at this time, there is an onus on the two governments to create the conditions for forward momentum.
"Contrary to fiction pedalled by the SDLP leadership and others, this is not just an issue of paramilitarism and of unionism refusing to share power. These issues have to be tackled, but the key to tackling them is the governments fulfilling their responsibilities under the Agreement."
Mr Adams also spoke about the imminent accession of the 10 European states to the EU. The Sinn Féin President called on the Irish Government to "use its influence at this time to ensure that new states have the same opportunities within the EU as current states".
He said: "This should be a priority for the Irish Government in the upcoming constitution talks.
"The current Draft EU Constitution reflects much of what is wrong with the European Union. Today, the EU represents and facilitates the agendas of big business and the powerful member states, to the detriment of the smaller nations, and particularly neutral states. The Draft Constitution in its current form, will move us even closer towards an EU superstate with its own army.
"However, the current direction of the EU is not inevitable. It can changed. Sinn Féin will work hard to achieve this." ENDS
Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe, speaking in the Dáil this evening called on the Irish government to move heaven and earth to ensure the safe return to Ireland of the Colombia 3.
Deputy Crowe said:
"Last year I attended the trial of Jim Monaghan, Niall Connolly and Martin McCauley as an observer. It was clear from the outset that there was no case against them and that the prosecution case was a fraud. Last Monday I, like many people in Ireland, was greatly relieved to hear the verdict in the case and expected that the men would be quickly brought home to their families.
"That the men continue to be held in a Colombia prison is a disgrace. They should be released immediately and appropriate measures should be taken to ensure their security upon release and that of their lawyers and members of the Bring them Home campaign present in Colombia, especially in light of the grave danger to their lives. Many groups on the ground in Colombia, such as the UN and Red Cross, have verified that there is no safe place for the men in Colombia
"I am calling on the Irish government to move heaven and earth to ensure that the men are immediately released and brought home safely to their families."ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Bairbre de Brún this morning spoke with the British Home Office Minister responsible for Asylum seekers, Des Browne. The contact was part of Sinn Féin efforts to address an anomaly that has arisen in the regulations which will see those seeking asylum from the ten countries due to join the EU this weekend lose their entitlement to both their accommodation and living allowance.
Ms de Brún said:
" Since this serious problem became apparent earlier this week when those seeking asylum from the accession countries received letter telling them to vacate their homes I have been in touch with a variety of agencies seeking a resolution to this problem.
" This morning I spoke with Des Browne the Minister responsible for asylum issues in the British Home Office. He advised me that he is not legally in a position to continue making the same subsistence arrangements for those from the accession countries who had been previously claiming asylum.
" However the Minister has told me that he will ensure that people caught in this loophole are permitted to remain in their current accommodation for a period provided they are able to pay their own rent. This is clearly not ideal but is nevertheless some progress. It removes the need for a deposit and advance rent for new accommodation to be required immediately.
" We now need to see swift progress in processing work permits and registration allowing these people to become self supporting as quickly as possible." ENDS
Speaking at the opening of the National Forum on Europe this morning, Sinn Féin Dublin EU candidate Mary Lou McDonald said the hysteria over the May Day celebrations was "a bogus crisis generated by the government to suppress legitimate protest".
Ms McDonald also called on the Irish government not to 'go with the flow' on the draft EU Constitution. She said the draft Constitution will merely serve to accelerate a euro super-state, accountable to no one but the EU power elites.
The event entitled "Will the Draft EU Constitutional Treaty change the balance of power between Brussels and Member State"‚ is being held in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, at 10.30am. The Forum will deal specifically with the relationship between Member States and the EU institutions, such as the Commission, Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
Speaking before the event, Ms McDonald said:
"The attitude of the government, Gardaí and certain sections of the media surrounding the May Day celebrations are nothing more than a bogus crisis generated to suppress legitimate protest. The government have hyped these events out of all proportion in order to create fear and intimidate people into not paricipating in the May Day events. People have a right to voice their concerns over the current direction of the EU, and no amount of intimidation should prevent people from protesting in a democracy.
"At today's meeting of the National Forum Sinn Féin will address the serious and fundamental flaws of the current EU model. We have argued consistently that the institutions of the EU do not reflect the aspirations and concerns of European citizens. On the whole the EU institutions, are solely responsive to big business and the powerful nations of the EU.
"The Draft Constitution in its current form, will lead to a greater erosion of national sovereignty, and propel this state even closer towards an EU superstate with its own army. The forging of an EU Common Foreign and Security Policy is a prime example of this. In many areas of policy, EU laws will have primacy over national law.
"The current direction of the EU is not inevitable. It can and should be changed. Once again, Sinn Féin calls upon the Irish Presidency to use its influence to support an EU which protects its citizens and endorse a Constitution which places the sovereignty of member states at its core." ENDS
Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has called on the UUP leader David Trimble to immediately clarify his party's position regarding the intimidation of Catholics from their homes in the Village area. Mr Maskey's remarks come after UUP Councillor Bob Stoker said that Catholics should not be living in the area and that Catholics living in the area should leave or 'suffer the consequences'.
Cllr. Maskey said:
" Bob Stoker's remarks in my opinion touch on incitement to hatred. There can be no justification for attacks and intimidation of the kind witnessed in the Village area. Catholics have as much right to live in the Village area as anyone else.
" The ongoing intimidation and the protest last night raises serious questions about the role of the UUP in all of this. Is the justification of attacks on Catholics and the intimidation of people from their homes UUP policy? Does David Trimble support the ongoing activities in this area? We need to hear a clear answer from Mr. Trimble as UUP leader.
" The UUP are very good at lecturing republicans and others about democracy and peace. Yet they see no contradiction in justifying and encouraging intimidation and violence against vulnerable Catholics. If any other party was engaged in such activity there would be a media outcry." ENDS
Commenting on the publication today of the Electoral Commission Report into the conduct of the November Assembly election, Sinn Féin Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that the report missed the point when it claimed that no fraud took place during the campaign.
Mr Murphy said:
" The Electoral Commission is reporting today that no fraud took place during the November election. This completely misses the point. The fact is that a massive electoral fraud took place in the lead up to the election with the preparation of the register.
" Due to this well over 100,000 were disenfranchised and the Electoral Commission themselves indicated that a further 30,000 were disenfranchised through the photo ID requirements. This has continued to the point where up to 211,000 people are currently disenfranchised and we would expect the situation to become even worse when the latest register is published next week.
" That is electoral fraud on a massive scale. It has come about as a direct result of the new legislation which was actively encouraged by the SDLP in alliance with the unionists. They must bear a heavy responsibility for the mess we are now in.
" The Electoral Commission cannot continue to ignore the massive problems which currently exist and the effect that this is having in public confidence in the overall electoral process." ENDS
Gerry Adams will today launch a young voters registration drive in Cork. He will launch the drive outside the College of Commerce in Morrisons Quay at 12.45 .
A recent survey found that 20% of 18 - 25 year olds have not registered to vote for the elections in June. This amounts to 100,000 people not voting out of an estimated 500,000 eligible voters in this age range.
According to the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) the main cause of non-voting by young people is non registration. The system is cumbersome, inconvenient and time consuming. It is Sinn Féin policy to encourage as many people as possible ˆ no matter who they vote for ˆ to register for the elections in June.
Gerry Adams will be available to the Press outside the School of Commerce, Morrisons Quay at 12.45.
Sinn Féin has today welcomed the announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Martin Cullen T.D. that he has signed regulations extending the list of documents that are acceptable as ID for voting to included the Temporary Registration certificate and Garda National Immigration Card.
Sinn Féin EU candidate for Dublin Mary Lou McDonald said
"Sinn Fein welcomes the Minister's announcement regarding the change in voting regulations. There were very serious concerns that a large number of people were going to be disenfranchised in the forthcoming elections because of the failure to include the Garda National Immigration photo card on the designated list of acceptable forms of identification. These concerns were raised in the Dáil by Deputies Aengus O Snodaigh T.D. and Arthur Morgan T.D.
"Sinn Fein would encourage all those who are entitled to vote to register and to use their vote in the forthcoming elections. We still have concerns that the requirement to have supplementary registration forms stamped by the Gardaí will act as a severe disincentive to many asylum seekers and refugees who will not feel comfortable going to a Garda station as a result of having experienced police persecution in their home countries. Sinn Féin will be seeking to amend the electoral laws to remove this requirement or at the very least to allow this to be done at the post office." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris, has accused the major supermarkets of helping to drive down farm incomes by refusing to pay farmers an adequate price for their produce. Deputy Ferris made specific reference to statistics that reveal the massive difference between the price paid to farmers for apples, and the price charged to consumers.
Deputy Ferris said:
"According to statistics given to me by the Department of Agriculture, the average price per kilo paid to farmers for their apples last year was 39c. In December 2003, the average price per kilo in the supermarkets was €2.16. That represents a 554% mark up! That is an outrageous difference and it is one that to a lesser or greater extent is repeated across all areas of food production. The figures also show that the average price paid to farmers has fallen by 23% since 1995. It is no wonder that many farmers are finding it difficult to survive.
"While the supermarkets capture a larger share of the market, and are able to dictate terms in this way, neither the farmer nor the consumer is benefiting. It is significant indeed that the smaller greengrocer and fruitseller was charging 24c per kilo less than the supermarkets at the end of last year. It is clear that the power of the multiples needs to be tackled. It is all the more worrying therefore that the Tánaiste Mary Harney continues to refuse to state that she will maintain the ban on below cost selling, the abolition of which is a key demand of the multiples." ENDS
Commenting on the actions of the British government in pressing ahead with the recommended discriminatory sanctions against Sinn Féin, Assembly Group leader Conor Murphy said that his party would continue to oppose the IMC, its role and its negative influence over the peace process.
Mr Murphy said:
" It is time people stopped pretending that the IMC is anything other than a proxy for the securocrats. The securocrats wrote the script and the IMC delivered it. Sinn Féin predicted that this would happen at the time when others enthusiastically welcomed it and some acquiesced to it.
" The IMC has no part of the Good Friday Agreement and it like the British government have no mandate to discriminate against political parties in Ireland. Sinn Féin is the third largest party in Ireland and the largest nationalist party in the six counties. We will continue to resist attempts by the British government to discriminate against our party and our electorate.
" At a time when the British government continues to block an inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane it is worth reflecting on the fact that the individuals who provided the information for the IMC Report are the very same people within the Special Branch and other British agencies who for years planned and operated the collusion policy." ENDS