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Sinn Féin Representative for Mid-Ulster and former Chairperson of the Assembly Finance and Personnel Committee, Cllr. Francie Molloy has held an hour long meeting with British Direct Rule Minister Ian Pearson to discuss a range of finance related issues. These included rates, industrial de-rating, water charges/tax, vacant property rates and the failure to deliver EU Peace II monies.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Molloy said:

" The meeting dealt with a range of key issues with particular relevance to the development of small to medium businesses. I left the Minister in no doubt that if the blanket industrial de-rating was to be removed a relief scheme needs to be put in place for all small businesses and not just those concerned with manufacturing.

" I also made the case for start-up grants which are not constrained by red tape. Small firms require hands on support in terms of finance and back-up. Rates Bills are the big issue for small business at this time. I lobbied Mr Pearson to abandon Mark Durkan's proposals to bring local rates into line with England. Such a scenario would cripple many local firms.

" The Vacant Property Rate needs to be given much more consideration and a period of extended consultation is required. Otherwise it will put developers off. Such a scheme must be linked to an incentive programme for regeneration and an appeals mechanism for those who wish to rent their property but who cannot find a tenant. There is no doubt that those who are land banking vital town areas need to be pressed into developing it.

" I pointed out to Mr Pearson that the proposals he inherited from Sean Farren would lead to water charges, increased rates, an end to industrial de-rating, rates on vacant property, and tolls. All this will inevitably lead to small businesses closing and resultant job losses." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance and Dáil leader Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin has described as 'astonishing' the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's claim that he does not support the privatisation of semi-state companies. Responding to the reported remarks of the Taoiseach at the Labour Relations Commission last night, in which he said he is not a supporter of privatisation 'even if that is not the view of my colleagues', Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"This is quite a remarkable statement for the Taoiseach to make. It is in fact astonishing and paints a very clear picture of a leader that is no longer in control of his government or the policy direction of that government. Sinn Féin has being saying for months now that the PDs are running the Government and that all policy decisions including the drive towards the privatisation of semi-state companies are being dictated by the right wing ideology of Mary Harney, Michael McDowell and their fifth columnists in the Fianna Fáil party, Charlie McCreevey Martin Cullen and Seamus Brennan.

"It has become patently obvious that Fianna Fáil's traditional policies, including support for semi-state companies have been swept aside by the PDs. In their rush to promote greed over justice and equality they have neglected the infrastructure of essential services, like health and education. And they have rewarded the corporate greed that was most recently evidenced with the announcement that the new owners of Eircom have paid themselves a dividend of almost €500 million. This despite the fact tens of thousands of ordinary people lost out massively when the Government conned them into buying the original shares which they were then forced to sell to the fat-cats led by Tony O'Reilly.

"The Taoiseach is the head of Government and he cannot wash his hands of the actions of any of his Ministers, like a bad football manager blaming his players." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Policing Gerry Kelly has said that it is 'hardly a surprise that the PSNI have recorded the worst detection figures for murders given the admission by PSNI Detective Superintendent Roy Suitters that despite knowing the killers of a young catholic he had decided not to take any action'.

Mr Kelly said:

" The admission last week by Roy Suitters that he knew the identity of the killers of Gerard Lawlor but had decided against raiding their homes in search of evidence or indeed arresting them at all was an outrageous public admission of collusion. Insult was added to injury when on Gerard Lawlor's first anniversary he appeared on television appealing for information, this after he had publicly admitted not investigating the killing properly.

" Given the admission that loyalist murders are not properly investigated and that those responsible are not arrested it is hardly surprising therefore that detection figures of around 8% are returned.

" Nationalists have no confidence in the PSNI investigations into loyalist activity. The Special Branch have manipulated the loyalist organisations for decades. The failure to investigate their activity is a clear example of the force within a force being transferred into the PSNI." ENDS

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Speaking at Press Conference this morning, Sinn Féin National Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin along with the four Lisburn City Councillors launched a campaign to expose discrimination on the Lisburn City Council.

Mr McLaughlin said:

"At Lisburn Council's AGM on the 26th June 2003 the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party excluded Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance Parties, from every senior position on the Council.

This has meant that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Lisburn City, are both unionists. All of the Chairs and Vice Chairs, of every Council Committee have also been taken up by the UUP and DUP. Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance Parties, have effectively been excluded from holding any senior positions on the Council.

This decision taken by the UUP and DUP at the Council's AGM, is an act of blatant discrimination against Nationalist and other political representatives on Lisburn Council. This abuse of power by Unionists on Lisburn Council must be strongly opposed by everyone. 'Lisburn Council no Catholic need apply' is the clear message Unionists sent out to the Nationalist community and others at the Council's AGM.

Lisburn Council must not be allowed to treat the political representatives of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance Parties in this way. We are calling for the political isolation of Lisburn Council until it gives Nationalists and others equal representation and full participation on the Council. Lisburn Council is not functioning as a normal democratic Council. We are seeking political support for our campaign to isolate Lisburn Council.

We want to see a more inclusive and representative Council which reflects the political composition of Lisburn City. We want to see all of the political parties on Lisburn Council working together and sharing power for the good of all the people of Lisburn." ENDS

SINN FEIN CAMPAIGN TO END DISCRIMINATION AT LISBURN COUNCIL

· Implementation of D'hondt system by Lisburn Council so that positions are allocated fairly. Sinn Féin have motion down for Monthly Council meeting tonight 22nd July calling on Council to implement d'hondt. Every other City in the North Belfast, Derry, Newry and Armagh have power sharing arrangements in place. The only city out of step is Lisburn City.

· Sinn Féin will put issue of nationalist discrimination on the agenda of every Council in the North and South of Ireland. We will be calling on Councils to pass motions opposing Lisburn Council and its exclusion of nationalist representatives and others on Lisburn Council.

· We will highlight the fact that this discrimination affects 17,000 voters in Lisburn City. Sinn Féin, SDLP and Alliance voters, are being discriminated against by this decision of the UUP and DUP. We will call upon the SDLP and Alliance Parties to support the campaign to end this discrimination against our voters.

· We will call upon both the British and Irish governments to support nationalists right to equal representation and full participation on the Council. The British government should consider dissolving Lisburn Council and bringing in an administrator to run the Council and take power out of the Unionists hands if Council refuse to implement d'hondt.

· We will call upon Leinster House, Westminster, the European Parliament, and US Congress, to debate this issue and pass motions in support of nationalists and others on Lisburn Council. We want TDs, MPs, MEPs and Congressmen, to support our campaign.

· Sinn Féin will not support the Council's campaign in relation to Lisburn City. This campaign is being run by the Council around the slogan Lisburn A City for Everyone. Sinn Féin will actively oppose this campaign and will highlight the fact that Lisburn is only a city for Unionists.

· Sinn Féin/republican activists will protest at any events that Lisburn Council are invited to, on both sides of the border. Whether it be trade fairs, tourism events or meetings of organisations, such as LAMA, which invites Lisburn Council to its annual conference every year.

· Sinn Féin will launch a poster and leaflet campaign around the theme Lisburn A city for Unionists. Sinn Féin will counter Lisburn Council's campaign around Lisburn being a city for everyone with posters/leaflets telling people it is a city only for Unionists.

· We will call upon the business, community and voluntary sector, to support our campaign by not using the Councils Island Civic Centre for conferences or any other events which promotes Lisburn Council. The message we are sending to these groups is, give no credibility to Lisburn Council until it ends this discrimination of Nationalist representatives.

· We will also be calling on nationalist community groups in places like Twinbrook, Poleglass and Lagmore, not to invite the Mayor or Deputy Mayor, into the area. We will be calling on them to show support for their political representatives, by refusing to ask the Mayor or Deputy Mayor to officiate at any events they are organising.

· Sinn Féin is also exploring the possibility of legal action against Lisburn Council. Our solicitors at present are seeing if we can get a judicial review of the Council's decision at the AGM. We want the courts to intervene and find Lisburn Council guilty of discrimination.

· Sinn Féin councillors on Lisburn Council will campaign both inside and outside the Council to bring about an end to this discrimination by Lisburn Council. We have no intention of boycotting Council meetings or any other meetings where the interests of out constituencies are being raised. We will continue to represent and fight for those who elected us to represent them on Lisburn Council.

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Speaking today in Derry at a party conference dealing with the NorthWest, the Sinn Féin Spokesperson Mary Nelis said 'an increasingly important area of work for our elected representatives is an engagement with all levels of unionist society'. Mrs Nelis said:

"Sinn Féin elected representatives have a number of guiding principles by which they conduct their business:

· Equality

· Reconciliation

· Fair Play

· Openness

· Inclusivity

These principles are more than simply words. Achieving elected office is not enough. It is about what we do when we get there. Sinn Féin will seek to use elected office to advance the work already being done to bring different and diverse sections of our community closer together.

Much focus in recent times has been on the party‚s approach to outreach work with unionism. Alex Maskey the first Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast, has been appointed to head up this important area of our political activity But the work initiated by him will be continued in Councils across the North that have Sinn Féin Mayors and Chairpersons. Of course all of our councillors and activists will promote and develop this work.

But reaching out to unionism is a two way street. Unionism has a journey to make also. Unionism must accept that there is no going back to the days of inequality and second class citizenship. We want a relationship built upon mutual respect and equality. No one should rationally fear equality.

However implementing an equality agenda has not proved easy. It has presented and continues to present political challenges. But it is an indispensable part of the Good Friday Agreement and the changes, which flow from it. We as Irish republicans have to come to terms with the cultural identity of the unionist and protestant people and the manner in which they express their identity.

Equality is indivisible. We need to seek as much agreement as possible and where that is not achievable then peaceful co-existence in disagreement. Sinn Féin is serious about our project of engagement with the unionist community. We are individually and together going through a period of change in our society. It is important that unionism joins with the rest of us in managing that process." ENDS

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Speaking at a news Conference in Derry's Millennium Theatre today outlining Sinn Fein's plans for economic regeneration in the North West, Party Chairperson Mitchel Mc Laughlin said:

"It is becoming more and more apparent that if we are to avoid stagnation then we must plan our economic and political future on an all-Ireland basis. I believe that it is imperative that we see a re-establishment of the political institutions so that we can concentrate on expanding on the all-Ireland bodies that already existed and were bringing benefits to the people throughout the island.

"Today in our deliberations we have identified avenues that should be explored in attempts to reinvigorate the economy of the North West region through co-operation by Councils in Derry, Donegal, Tyrone, Sligo, Fermanagh and Leitrim. But although there are areas that councillors can concentrate on, the absence of working political institutions and all-Ireland bodies restricts the scope of what can be achieved in the short term. Democracy cannot be put on hold and economic regeneration be expected to flourish in a political vacuum. While a multitude of strategic reports have been produced there has been no willingness by those making the key investment decisions to deliver on these nor a concerted campaign by those living in the North West to consistently pressurise for their full implementation.

"I am calling on all people of influence from whatever walk of life to bring the strongest pressure possible on the British Prime Minister to name a date now for the holding of elections. Politicians need to be given a mandate to concentrate on resolving the economic and political problems that beset us. Tony Blair must be made realise that he can not keep democracy here in cold storage indefinitely in the hope that David Trimble can get his act together and out poll the rejectionists in his own Party."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP speaking in Derry this morning following a meeting of the party's elected representatives from the North West - Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Sligo, Leitrim and Fermanagh - said that radical and dramatic action was urgently required to bring about the economic and political regeneration of the North West. Mr. Doherty issued a call to action and called on people throughout the North West to work together to ensure its needs were put at the top of the political agenda. Mr. Doherty said:

"For the last number of years Sinn Féin has been to the fore in campaigning for the regeneration of the North West and for bringing together agencies and elected representatives in these six counties to work together to make this happen. We organised a number of economic conferences and initiatives and worked hard within our communities, in the Assembly and in Leinster House. Today Sinn Féin representatives in the North West met as a group to step up this work.

"There is a lot of anger and frustration that despite the bounty created for some by the Celtic Tiger economy and the peace dividends of recent years serious underdevelopment persists in the North West region while newly-generated wealth remains concentrated on the eastern seaboard. We all know that poor road quality, lack of sufficient energy and telecommunication facilities are serious deterrents to investment in the Northwest but little has been done by the Irish or British governments and indeed their partitionist approach has seriously exacerbated the problem.

"Sinn Féin has been working for an all-island solution to the structural discrimination of the North West. What is required is a strategy to create and develop an efficient and effective infrastructure, including a proper road and rail network, telecommunications and education services for the region.

"Radical and dramatic action is urgently required to bring about the economic and political regeneration of the North West. We need to harness the political will, which exists to ensure delivery on the long-promised investment, infrastructure, and job creation. I want to make a call to action and call on people throughout the North West to work together to ensure its needs are put at the top of the political agenda."ENDS

Sinn Féin agenda 2003 for the North West

· We demand the re-establishment of the political institutions in the Six Counties and demand that the Irish government moves forward on Northern representation in the Oireachtas

· Mayor of Sligo Sean MacManus will host a major economic conference later this year which will bring together all of the chairs and mayors of councils in the North West and INI, IDA and Intertrade Ireland. This will be followed by a conference in Omagh in the spring, which will also include community groups.

· We will meet with the Irish and British governments and campaign in Brussels on proposals surrounding infrastructure, rural regeneration, investment and jobs for the North West.

· We will reach out to unionism both in terms of re-building the peace process and building new relationships on the island for the future.

· We will campaign to expand the work of the All Ireland implementation bodies

· We will support the demand for truth on collusion

· We will work with communities across Ireland in support of rural regeneration and an end to the withdrawal of essential services.

· We will campaign for an end to international calls on the island for fixed and mobile communication.

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Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has described as "scandalous" the situation that has been allowed to develop at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital. He deplored the statement of the Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin's spokesperson that the situation was "an operational matter" for the hospital's authorities and the Department "could not interfere". Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The Government's so-called Health Reform programme was launched with great fanfare last month but it does not make one whit of difference to people who continue to suffer on trolleys in overcrowded A&E units. Crises such as those at Beaumont at the weekend will recur because of the underfunding and inequitable delivery of our health services.

"The Government should drop its plans to close more A&E units in hospitals throughout the State. This is a recipe for further crises such as those at Beaumont, with patients forced to travel to centres which cannot cope. Are we to have a combination of the threatened A&E closures in local hospitals and bed closures in the bigger centres like Beaumont and the Mater which led directly to the appalling situation at the weekend? That is the way this Government is heading. It must be stopped." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on energy Dr. Dara O'Hagan has welcomed the weekend announcement from NIE, Premier Power and the ESB on energy provision. She said that it is another small step in the right direction but now is the time to set up an all-Ireland energy agency.

Dr. O'Hagan said:

"In recent years we have seen the increased capacity of interconnection between NIE and ESB. This announcement is another small step in the right direction towards the establishment of an all-Ireland energy market.

"There is a pressing need for an all-Ireland energy supply that is affordable, environmentally sustainable and nuclear free. We believe that the best way for this to occur is through the establishment of an all-Ireland energy agency in public hands which should come forward with plans to:

· develop all-Ireland electricity generation plans along with gas distribution proposal

· set up a single transmission operator across the all-Ireland market

· increase energy efficiency

· reduce greenhouse gas emissions

· research into the development of forms of renewable energy

· gas network extensions

· ensure that major infra-structural developments reflect all-Ireland strategy

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, responding to speculation that the British government are examining the possible establishment of the Civic Forum to allow for consultation in the absence of political institutions said that there can be no substitute for the holding of Assembly elections.

Mr. McLaughlin said:

"Sinn Féin supports the establishment of the all-Ireland Civic Forum and the all-Ireland Inter-Parliamentary Forum which were agreed under the Good Friday Agreement. But there can be no substitute for the holding of the Assembly elections and the re-establishment of the political institutions. That is what the British government should be focusing their attentions on.‰ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP this afternoon backed calls for the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, to make Debt Cancellation one of his priorities when he takes over the EU Presidency in January 2004. Mr. Adams said 'each of us has a real role to play in the coming months to turn the Irish government's support for the 100% debt cancellation into an active priority.'

Mr. Adams said:

"I am calling on the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to use Ireland's Presidency of the European Union to call on world leaders to work together to achieve the cancellation of foreign debt. Twelve months on, the Irish government needs to take a more pro-active role on this issue, and honour their commitment to 100% debt cancellation, both in the European Union and in the United Nations.

"The debt burden faced by developing countries is overwhelming. The UN has estimated that if the funds to pay off debt were diverted back into health and education the lives of seven million children a year could be saved. That is two million more than the entire population of this island.

"We share a collective responsibility to end this nightmare and I am calling on people to make their voices heard on the issue of world debt in the months ahead. I believe that political leaders who take risks and give leadership will win the backing and gratitude of people throughout the world. "ENDS

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Newry & Mourne District Council Deputy Mayor, Elena Martin said there is mounting anger within the community at the size and scale of a huge new pylon recently erected in Forkhill British Army Barracks.

The Deputy Mayor said;

"Following intensive activity at Forkhill British army barracks local people have complained that a huge new pylon equipped with sophisticated surveillance cameras has been erected during the past week. Local people also complain about the increase in roadside checkpoints in the area.

"There has been considerable opposition in this area to the erection of mobile phone masts sited in close proximity to occupied dwellings and people living in the shadow of these barracks have questioned why the same restrictions and rules do not appear to apply to these British army installations. There is mounting anger within the community at the size and scale of this new pylon in Forkhill Barracks. Newry & Mourne District Council have adapted a policy of opposition to the siting of mobile masts within a radius of 700 metres to occupied dwellings yet these monstrosities appear overnight without any consultation in defiance of the wishes of local people.

"People are naturally losing faith and patience with empty British army promises to implement a rolling programme of demilitarisation in south Armagh. We are shown some bases being dismantled but refurbishing and refortifying other existing bases continues unabated. Demilitarisation must involve the complete removal of all British army personnel and equipment." ENDS

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Dublin South Central TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh has today described the comments of Fine Gaels Olivia Mitchell, in which she called for the costs of today's no fares actions by CIE unions to be taken from the pay packets of the workers as "reactionary half-baked lunacy" from an "inept opposition party".

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh said: "Just when people thought Fine Gael's ideological confusion couldn't get any worse we are treated to a bitter attack on public

sector works by Olivia Mitchell. Her call to take the cost of today's no-fares protest out of the pay packet of workers, pay packets a lot smaller than the one Ms Mitchell receives for attacking them, is the kind of reactionary half-baked lunacy Trade Unions had to face in the 19th century

"The responsibility for the no fares action today rests squarely on the shoulders of Minister Seamus Brennan and the right-wing ideologues in the Progressive Democrat government who are set on breaking up CIE with a half-baked plan to emulate the disastrous private owned London transport model. If the Olivia Mitchell and the Minister want to have the cost of today's protest taken out of their bloated pay packets I have no objection.

"Fine Gael is anti-Union and anti-worker. We already have a Government with those policies, we don't need an inept opposition party to function as Minister Brennan's cheerleaders on the other side of the House.

"The actions of the Trade Unions today are to be applauded. They registered their opposition to the proposals being brought forward by the Government and did so with no disruption to passengers and consumers. Seamus Brennan should show similar common sense by reopening negotiations on his privatisation plans for public transport." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Vice President and MP for West Tyrone Pat Doherty this morning announced that the party representatives for the North West - Donegal, Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Sligo and Leitrim - will be meeting in the Millennium Theatre in Derry on Monday 21st July to bring forward Sinn Féin's plans for the region.

Sinn Féin will hold a press conference at 12 noon on Monday 21st in the Millennium Theatre which will be attended by Pat Doherty MP, Mitchel McLaughlin MLA, Mayor of Sligo Sean MacManus and Limavady Mayor Anne Brolly.

Speaking beforehand Mr. Doherty said:

"For the last number of years Sinn Féin has been to the fore in arguing for the regeneration of the North West and for agencies and elected representatives in these six counties to work together to make this happen.

"On Monday Sinn Féin representatives in the North West will be meeting as a group to continue with this work and to set out our programme for the time ahead. This is an important initiative for the party and among the issues to be discussed will be the economic regeneration of the North West, the need for the re-establishment of the political institutions in the Six Counties and the ongoing work of reaching out to unionism."ENDS

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Commenting on the decision of the WEF to cancel its planned meeting in Dublin Sinn Féin EU candidate Marylou McDonald said:

"The cancellation of the World Economic Forum summit, scheduled to be held in Dublin this October, is to be welcomed. And indeed a secret sigh of relief must be echoing through the corridors of Government buildings this afternoon after it was announced that the Summit was unexpectedly cancelled. Despite Mary Harney's expression of regret at the WEF decision its clear that the summit would have provided the perfect focus for the increasing numbers of Irish people voicing their opposition to the global economic policies espoused by Mary Harney's Government and the summit organisers.

"If the last two weeks are anything to be judged by then thousands more workers will have been made redundant and the unprecedented anger across a broad cross-section of progressive forces in Ireland would hav

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Commenting on the escalating job losses, Sinn Féin Dail leader and Finance spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said they showed the failure of the Government's PD-led economic strategy and the need for new thinking on the economy. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"The response of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Mary Harney to the daily toll of job losses is a mantra that each factory closure or workforce cut is 'devastating'. This has now become meaningless. Workers and their families do not have to be told how grievous a blow it is to lose employment. What they want to hear from the Tánaiste and her Government colleagues is how lost jobs will be replaced and how sustainable employment will be put in place for the future.

"The Tánaiste boasts that the Irish economy is the most globalised in the world. But it is the over-reliance on the globalised market and on inward investment by multinational companies that is leading to the dramatic drop in jobs that we are

now seeing. The escalating losses show the failure of the PD-led economic strategy of this government. They have failed to put in place the type of mixed economy we need to maintain employment with the State, small enterprises, the community sector and inward investors playing their part.

"The Tánaiste herself has failed to deliver on her commitment to reduce insurance costs. She and her colleagues have also failed to put in place the essential infrastructure needed to sustain industry and to decentralise economic development from the east and south. These failures are major contributory factors to the job losses.

"New thinking is needed on the direction our economy should take and Sinn Féin will be taking up that challenge while resisting the plans of the Government to impose further cuts and to privatise State enterprises." ENDS

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Speaking after a meeting of senior party activists from across the island in Dublin this morning, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that 'there was now a real need for the British Government to come forward with a definitive date, without qualifications or conditions, for the Assembly elections to proceed'.

Mr McLaughlin said:

" There is a deep sense of frustration among people following the cancellation of elections by the British government and the on-going pandering to negative unionism.

" Despite this there has been a lot of work done and is continuing to be done to ensure that the summer months remain relatively calm, particularly for people in interface areas who have had to endure totally unacceptable conditions over recent years.

" At a political level, the institutions will have been suspended for a year in October and there is now a real need for the British Government to come forward with a definitive date, without qualifications or conditions, for the Assembly elections to proceed." ENDS

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Commenting on the release of figures showing a massive increase in the use of plastic bullets by the British Army last year Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said:

"When the office of the Police Ombudsman was established Sinn Féin stated our view that the PSNI would in future direct the British Army to fire more plastic bullets as a practice to dodge accountability mechanisms. These figures are a vindication of this.

"Sinn Féin‚s position on plastic bullets is well known - we are absolutely opposed to their use and have campaigned for many years on this issue. We have made the issue of the continued use of plastic bullets a crucial part of our discussions with the British government." ENDS

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Sinn Féin spokesperson Bairbre de Brún has written to both the British and Irish governments seeking urgent meetings in light of the resignation of Patrick Yu from the Human Rights Commission and the Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights Report.

Ms de Brún said:

"Patrick Yu is the fourth person to resign from the Human Rights Commission. Both Inez McCormack and Prof. Christine Bell who have previously resigned also cited serious disaffection within the Commission and the actions of some Commissioners in undermining the equality provisions of the Agreement as the reasoning behind their resignations. Inez McCormack and Prof. Bell expand further upon this in today's press.

"Earlier this week the Westminster Joint Committee Report expressed concern at the lack of independence, representativeness, resources and powers of the Commission. Sinn Féin shares those concerns.

"Of particular concern was the interference by former PSNI Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan in the work and independence of the Commission regarding the Holy Cross issue last year. It is unacceptable for Ronnie Flanagan to attempt to get the Commission to disengage from upholding the human rights of the Holy Cross children. The Chief Commissioner's response to this interference is equally unacceptable.

"With regard to the Bill of Rights, we welcome the recommendation of the Joint Committee that a round table forum should be convened to drive forward the Bill of Rights process. This should happen immediately. We are also concerned at actions by the Commission which could impact on existing legal equality provisions. I have written to the Chief Commissioner in relation to this.

"These are serious matters of concern to Sinn Féin and the wider human rights community. We are seeking to meet with both the British and Irish government at the earliest opportunity to discuss the current situation regarding the Human Rights Commission. The Commission is a cornerstone of the Agreement and we will continue to support a Human Rights Commission which is in a position to drive forward the human rights based society demanded by the Agreement."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture and Rural Development Martin Ferris TD has highlighted the growing frustration of people in rural Ireland over the planning process. Deputy Ferris was speaking at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food which heard a presentation from An Taisce on once-off rural housing.

Deputy Ferris said:

"While I understand and support the need to protect the environment, I also feel that I must give voice to the many people in rural communities who are becoming increasingly frustrated with the planning process. That frustration has reached the stage where many are now prepared to bypass the planning process altogether and build houses without permission. At the moment in my own county of Kerry there are a number of cases where the Council is taking action against people in that situation.

"There has to be enough flexibility to allow people to build houses in their own communities or those communities will continue to decline as they have done up to the present time. If you look around the country there are numerous derelict sites which could be built on and yet when people try to do so, there are invariably objections. Where the objections are valid that is all well and good but we also have the situation where there are what I might term 'serial objectors' who object to any and every attempt to build in rural areas. Unfortunately An Taisce has become closely associated in the public mind with this trend.

"While every effort must be taken to ensure that the rural environment is preserved there must also be scope for people to build and to live in the communities in which they were born. The alternative to that is the increased forced urbanisation with all the social problems which that gives rise to". ENDS

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