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Sinn Féin Foyle MLA, Mitchel Mc Laughlin has claimed that according to Census figures up to 200,000 people eligible to vote are missing from the Electoral Register.

Mr. Mc Laughlin is calling for an urgent investigation into the apparent discrepancy between the declared population of voting age in the recent Census Report and the number of electors registered to vote.

The Sinn Féin MLA said:

"A comparison between the latest census figures and the most recent electoral register would seem to indicate that there are around 200,000 people eligible to vote according to the census figures that are not on the register. This is a very worrying disclosure and is something that cannot be ignored. This critical issue should be of concern to all parties, as these missing voters must cover every political opinion.

"I intend approaching the Ombudsman's Office and the Equality Commission to request an investigation into how this discrepancy occurred and what steps can be taken to rectify the situation"

"The figure of 200,000 votes cannot simply be explained away as people failing to register nor is it entirely due to the new registration requirements. What we have is 200,000 people that have been disenfranchised and this will obviously have a major effect on the electoral process and is something that all parties should be concerned about. These figures require an urgent investigation to ascertain exactly how this situation came about."

"Another area of concern is the fact that there appears to be a higher percentage figure for registration in constituencies and wards that could be described as unionist than in similar nationalist areas. But I do not want to labour this point, as it requires detailed investigation." ENDS

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Speaking before his meeting in London on Wednesday with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair the Mid-Ulster MP and Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator, Martin Mc Guinness said:

"The next six to eight weeks will probably be the most critical period the north has seen in the last thirty years. It is crucial that politicians here adopt a positive agenda and collective approach over the coming months to end the political impasse.

I would caution that the political process is entering a critical time ahead of the Assembly elections in May and urge all parties to move forward together. The elections must go ahead, any suspension would effectively be a suspension of the democratic process and would be very damaging indeed.

I think all of us at the heart of this process know the best way to go forward is to try and resolve our problems over the course of the coming six to eight weeks and to move forward together with a very positive agenda into those elections.

Politicians here must develop a positive and constructive frame of mind. It's going to require, I think, a collective approach over the course of the next couple of months that I believe will be the most critical period that we have seen in the course of the last thirty years." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, Martin Ferris TD has demanded that the Government take urgent action to address the crisis in farming. Deputy Ferris was speaking as farmers began a mass protest to draw attention to the fall in income and the threat to the survival of thousands of family farms and rural communities.

Deputy Ferris said; "The fact that farmers feel that they must embark on an action such as this is an indication of the depth of the frustration being felt by thousands of farmers whose livelihoods are under threat. While Minister Walsh may claim that most of the factors underlying the crisis are outside of the control of his Department, the cuts in the various agricultural and rural development programmes contained in the Estimates are an indication of the Government's lack of commitment to maintaining rural communities.

"I have raised this on numerous occasions in the Dáil and will continue to press for radical action to be taken to ensure that not only does farming remain a viable option for those wishing to remain on the land, but that real effort is made to ensure the balanced development of those communities currently facing economic collapse and social isolation." ENDS

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Speaking after it was reported that the Minister for Finance attempted to have water charges introduced state-wide in the budget Sinn Féin spokesperson on the Environment Arthur Morgan TD said:

"The reported attempts by Charlie McCreevy to impose water charges state-wide in the last budget provide yet another example of this government making ordinary people pay through the nose for the mess that he and his colleagues have made of the economy. It is clear that Mr McCreevy again sees the pay packets of the ordinary man and woman in the street as his own personal gravy train into which he can dip his increasingly scrooge like and greedy tentacles.

"We have already seen since the budget that people in general are less well off and in many cases actual incomes are in decline as a result of inflation, increases in VAT and the rise in costs of essential services like electricity, gas and health care.

"But this is not enough for greedy McCreevy. Not content with the fact that people already pay for services like water and refuse collections through their general taxation he is determined to make them pay twice. These water charges are nothing to do with improving water quality and sewage treatment - nor are they designed to protect resources. These are nothing more than unconvincing excuses to impose further taxation by stealth. Sinn Féin will continue to resist vigorously all attempts to introduce these unjust service charges.

"Charlie McCreevy will have to find other sources of revenue to balance his books. Perhaps he could start with his friends in the stud farm industry who pay little or no tax or those in big businesses whose Corporation tax was reduced from an already lowly 16% to a ridiculously low 12.5%." ENDS

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North Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly speaking about this mornings pipe-bomb discovery at Holy Cross Primary School.

Mr. Kelly said:

"The New Year has only begun and already we have a disgraceful attack on children by some faction of the UDA.

"I have no doubt that this attack is a cynical attempt by the UDA to draw attention away from the fact that they are involved in an internal feud.

"Unionist politicians and community workers must do all in their power to end such attacks. We have, in recent days, seen Unionist politicians be highly outspoken in their calls for loyalist to end their feud. Unionists need to be as vocal in their calls for attacks upon nationalists to end". ENDS

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Sinn Féin MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Michelle Gildernew has accused the PSNI of 'arming themselves with all available weapons of repression'. Ms. Gildernew's comments come after demands from the PSNI Chief Hugh Orde to be allowed to fire CS Gas. Ms. Gildernew said:

"Since the formation of the PSNI the current Policing Board has presided over the issuing of a new and more lethal plastic bullet. Now it is reported that they are to be lobbied by Huge Orde to be allowed to fire CS Gas.

"To many within the nationalist community who have direct experience of the PSNI and their predecessors in the RUC this development is undoubtedly worrying.

"The vast majority of PSNI members have exempted themselves from the Human Rights oath and those who abused Human Rights in the past moved en-block into the new force. With this sort of background and make-up it is not surprising therefore that the PSNI is continuing to arm itself with all available weapons of resistance."ENDS

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Sinn Féin leader on Dublin City Council Cllr. Christy Burke, speaking after a meeting with City Manager John Fitzgerald said that Sinn Féin is deeply concerned at the prospect of the Council being dissolved by the government and described these bully boy tactics as an affront to democracy. "

Councillor Burke said:

"We made it clear to the City Manager this morning that we will be continuing to oppose unjust bin charges but we are calling for all party support for our alternative proposals for raising finance for Council services including:

  • rates on government buildings;
  • bed charge for city hotels;
  • enforcement of legislation in private rented sector - landlords must register

We believe that these proposals could save the Council from collapse.

"Given the grave crisis which this city is now facing Dublin Sinn Féin Councillors and party officer board members will be holding an emergency meeting, in advance of tonights sitting of the Council, at 5pm at City Hall. At this meeting we will be examining the options available to us to save the Council and also the options for the City if the government moves unilaterally and suspends the Council." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh speaking in Limerick this afternoon has accused the government of fundamentally undermining neutrality by allowing US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. He has called for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Over the last decade we have seen the abandonment of neutrality to the US and to the developing EU military structures. The most blatant example of this is government approval for US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. Prior to Christmas I raised this matter in the Dáil and sought clarification regarding how many US warplanes had landed and also how many overflights were taking place each week.

"The government is clearly acting in violation of this state's position of neutrality. It is time that they gave an assurance that will act at all times in accordance with their constitutional and legal obligations in relation to the granting of overflights or landing permission at Shannon.

"Sinn Féin is calling for neutrality to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution and codified in legislation and for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers."ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh speaking in Limerick this afternoon has accused the government of fundamentally undermining neutrality by allowing US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. He has called for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers. Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"Over the last decade we have seen the abandonment of neutrality to the US and to the developing EU military structures. The most blatant example of this is government approval for US warplanes to use Shannon airport as a base. Prior to Christmas I raised this matter in the Dáil and sought clarification regarding how many US warplanes had landed and also how many overflights were taking place each week.

"The government is clearly acting in violation of this state's position of neutrality. It is time that they gave an assurance that will act at all times in accordance with their constitutional and legal obligations in relation to the granting of overflights or landing permission at Shannon.

"Sinn Féin is calling for neutrality to be enshrined in the Irish Constitution and codified in legislation and for an immediate end to the use of Irish airports, airspace, or seaports for war preparation by foreign powers."ENDS

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WILL THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT SURVIVE 2003?

The Good Friday Agreement is a binding international treaty between the British and Irish governments.

It was endorsed in a referendum across this island in 1996. The vast majority of the people voted for its provisions. It is therefore the people's property. Their expressed wishes cannot be set aside by either government or political party.

It is obvious five years later that the Agreement has not been implemented in full. The primary responsibility for this failure lies with the British government and they have admitted this failure. Anti agreement elements inside the British government and the unionist parties are setting the agenda. They have filtered the proposed changes through a unionist view of the world. The dead hand of these forces has held back the pace and the extent of the changes promised in the Good Friday Agreement.

However the Irish government are joint co-equal partners with the British government in the shaping and the protection of the agreement. They have a joint co-equal responsibility for its implementation. They also have an onerous responsibility to promote and defend Irish national interests and the rights of all Irish citizens living in the six counties.

It is my view that there have been a number of occasions in the last few years when they should have been more vocal and assertive in ensuring the British government honored their commitments.

I believe this is particularly relevant in at least two crucial areas: the development of the all-Ireland institutions and the implementation of the Patten recommendations on policing.

On the issue of the all-Ireland institutions. They are a pale reflection of the Assembly and the Executive when they were functioning. Yet to republicans and nationalists this particular institution is the one they are most keen to see developed to its maximum extent.

We expected the Irish government would use their considerable resources as a government to advance this institution. They failed to do so.

When it came to the issue of policing they were also found wanting. What was required was a united nationalist position to pressurise the British government to ensure Patten was implemented without amendment.

They also failed to honour their commitment to the release of all political prisoners. They have no justification for the continuing imprisonment of those republicans in Castlerea prison. They should be released immediately.

This reality however does not in anyway invalidate the agreement or the proposed solutions it brought forward to the many political problems facing this country as a result of partition, unionist misrule and the last thirty years of conflict.

The fundamental reality facing the people of these islands and the two governments is that partition has failed. The Good Friday Agreement is a clear recognition of that fact.

That is why we have three interlocking and interdependent institutions: the all Ireland Ministerial Council, the northern Executive and the Assembly. These institutions seek to give political expression and legitimacy to the nationalist and unionist interests in the short to medium term.

That is why we need a new police service which nationalists and republicans can support and join.

That is why we need irreversible and transparent legislation securing human rights and justice for everyone.

That is why we need parity of esteem for cultural rights and identity across society.

Much publicity has been given and rightly so to the revelations in the British Cabinet papers of thirty years ago. These papers not only show the absurd and shallow nature of British government thinking and policy at the time they also highlight the colonial nature of the problem here.

This crisis management approach to the situation in Ireland has perpetuated the crisis itself.

The Good Friday Agreement provided an opportunity for this approach by the British government to 'over, done with, a thing of the past'. Now however the spectre of crisis management is coming to the fore.

Quick fix solutions like repartition in 1972 were and are as unworkable as the partition of Ireland in 1920.

But there is another reality where this thinking is evident today and that is in how British military policy has assisted the forced movement of many thousands of Catholics because they have failed to deal with sectarian violence by loyalist paramilitaries.

Nationalists and Catholics in Belfast's Ardoyne, New Lodge and Short Strand and other parts of Antrim, in north Armagh and north Down are being targeted and forced to leave their homes and find security among other nationalists.

This is a form of hidden repartition. It is the blind eye approach by the British military authorities, which leaves Catholics and nationalists vulnerable and uncertain about where to live in their own country.

The Good Friday Agreement offers everyone on this island a peaceful future. It offers everyone equality and the opportunity to begin again. An opportunity to reshape Irish politics within the six counties, within Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

It has withstood the pressures and there have been many over the last five years. I am satisfied with the proper will on all sides it can not only withstand the pressures of this year it can grow in strength and prove for the first time in centuries that the people of this island and Britain can work out their difficulties peacefully and politically.

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Sinn Féin Waterford Representative David Cullinane has described the proposed 100% increase in service charges as a disgrace and labelled any oppostion councillors who supported such massive increases as 'cowards'.

David Cullinane said:

"The people of this state have already been hit hard by Government cutbacks in the latest Book of Estimates and budget. Cutbacks have been met with price hikes in TV licenses, ESB, Motor Tax and other services. Now the people of Waterford are faced with a massive increase in bin charges."

"This government is starving local authorities of funding in order to force local councillors to balance the books by hiking up service charges. This is unacceptable. The people of Waterford already pay for essential services through direct taxation. Service charges are a double taxation which must be abolished."

"Sinn Féin has consistently argued that once such a charge was introduced it could be increased every year with no limit on the amount that can be charged. This is now being brought home to the people of Waterford by the proposed doubling of bin charges"

"What is most dissapointing is that labour Party Councillors look set to back these increases. As a party which proclaims to be a socialist party this is shameful. Even at this late stage I appeal to Labour Councillors not to do the dirty work of Fianna Fail by supporting these 100% increases."

"Sinn Féin seeks to work with residents groups, progressive political parties and the trade union movement in a campaign to oppose these charges." ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe this morning said that it came as no surprise that Mary Harney had tried to wield the axe on 13,000 Community Employment places last year, despite public commitments to the contrary during the election campaign. Deputy Crowe has called on the government to clarify their position in relation to such schemes immediately. Deputy Crowe said:

"The Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat coalition have proven time and again that their interest in the unemployed is non-existent. This years budget dealt a devastating blow to those who want to return to full time employment by reducing eligibility to such schemes to those who have been unemployed for five years instead of 15 months as had been the case.

"The Back to Work initiative has been one of the few schemes that have given a sign of hope to those who find themselves and their families trapped in a cycle of unemployment and poverty. The fact that almost 100,000 families have already benefited from this programme shows the very real impact that it can have in tackling poverty. This obviously means little to Mary Harney who was willing to wield her axe so quickly.

"Todays revelations will increase concerns that this government is on a course to remove such schemes entirely thereby depriving communities of badly needed services and the opportunity to make the transition from welfare to work for many people. I am calling on the government to immediately clarify their position on these schemes so as to end the uncertainties being faced by many people heading in to the new year." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Councillor Joe Reilly has welcomed today's announcement that there is to be a government investigation into the collapse of An Post's delivery system in the run up to Christmas. He said that it is imperative that any such investigation include the impact of the closure of five of the eight Letter Forwarding Offices last year and not merely the inability of new equipment to deal with different style mail.

Cllr. Reilly said:

"During Christmas week it was clear that there was a serious backlog in the delivery of post, particularly but not solely relating to the Dublin Mail Centre. It is not good enough for An Post to now apologise for the lateness of delivery. The public need answers in relation to what went wrong and why the head of An Post John Hynes waited so long to inform the public that hundreds of thousands of letters posted in December would not be delivered until the New Year.

"Central to any investigation into the matter must be impact of the closure of five of the eight Letter Forwarding Offices last year and the pressure that this is putting on the postal system."ENDS

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Dublin City Sinn Féin Councillor Christy Burke has called on people to attend a protest opposing bin charges at City Hall this evening where Dublin City Council is due to meet to vote on the Estimates and bin charges. This is the second meeting to discuss the Estimates because no one proposed them at the last meeting of the Council. Cllr. Burke said:

"Tonight, at what is the second meeting of Dublin City Council called to try and push through the estimates, not only will City Management attempt to keep the bin charges there are huge concerns that they will be substantially increased.

"Sinn Féin fought tooth and nail against the introduction of bin charges in this city because they are an unfair form of double taxation and we will strongly oppose their inclusion in the Estimates going before the Council tonight.

"In their place we are recommending that a range of measures be introduced to fund such services in the city including:

  • rates on government buildings
  • bed charge for city hotels
  • enforcement of legislation in private rented sector -- landlords must register

Cllr Burke said that he hoped we would not see a situation similar to that in 2001 when Environment and Local Government Minister Noel Dempsey made a nonsense of local democracy when he bullied councillors into bringing a bin tax under threat of replacing them with a Government appointed commissioner.

"Sinn Féin remains absolutely opposed to bin charges as a solution to the waste management problems of Dublin and we are committed to having them overturned. I am calling on people to join with us in this campaign by attending the protest at City Hall this evening."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has called on the Israeli government to lift the ban on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attending Christmas Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and end its occupation of the city. Mr. McLaughlin said:

"This is the second year that the Israeli authorities have prevented Yasser Arafat from travelling the twelve miles form Ramallah to Bethlehem to attend Christmas Mass. Over the last twelve months they have repeatedly targeted the Palestinian leader and his Presidential compound has been destroyed after months of sustained bombing. This is wrong and should stop.

"Ariel Sharon has effectively torn up the 1993 Oslo Accord that sought to secure a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. And the violence which has resulted from the pursuance of such strategy is making the task of building a sustainable peace in the Middle East all the more difficult.

"The suicide attacks, the killing of civilians, the invasion by Israel of Palestinian territory and the deliberate targeting for assassination of Palestinian leaders should end.

"What is required is genuine dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian people and this must be based on equality and justice. The ban on Yasser Arafat travelling to Bethlehem should be ended immediately."ENDS

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Sinn Féin TD for North Kerry Martin Ferris today returns from a week-long trip to the 51st ANC National Conference, which took place in the Western Cape of South Africa last week. Speaking prior to his departure from Cape Town Deputy Ferris said:

"Over the last week myself and Martin Spain, Editor of An Phoblacht, held a series of meetings with senior members of the ANC including party General Secretary Kgalema Motlanthe and National Executive member Cyril Ramaphosa. We also met with South African President Thabo Mbeki on the final day of the conference.

"During our visit I updated senior members of the ANC on the current difficulties in the Irish peace process and the need for the two governments to bring a renewed focus and urgency to the discussions which are taking place.

"The ANC assured us of their ongoing support for the Irish peace process and said that they would do everything in their power to see the Good Friday Agreement implemented in full.

"I want to thank the ANC for inviting us to their conference and sharing their experience of conflict resolution. On our return to Ireland we will be making a full report to the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle."ENDS

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Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has written to British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressing Sinn Féin's opposition to European Commission plans to restrict the number of days Irish whitefish trawlers can go to sea. Mr. Adams said:

"European Commission proposals with regard to restricting the number of days Irish whitefish trawlers will be allowed to spend at sea could effectively destroy the local fishing industry. While there is quite clearly a need to protect and to rebuild Cod stocks in the Irish Sea, the introduction of measures, which could destroy much of the European and Irish fishing industry are unacceptable.

"The reality is that in the course of the last three years measures, which have been introduced to conserve cod stocks, have already reduced the Irish fishing effort by an estimated 40%. Local fishermen have not only complied with these measures but have demonstrated a willingness to advance additional measures aimed at conceiving and rebuilding Irish Sea stocks.

"As the fishing industry has repeatedly asserted no group of people has a greater interest in preserving healthy fish stocks than fishermen themselves. The most cursory examination of their performance in the last three years will show that Irish fishermen have behaved with the utmost degree of responsibility.

"However, we have reached the point where the additional extreme measures now proposed by the European Commission could quite literally bankrupt much of the local fishing industry. These proposals must be opposed with vigour. There is clearly a need to balance requirements relating to stock conservation with the needs of the fishing industry. The EC proposals totally ignore the latter.

"I have written to Tony Blair, and party colleagues Martin Ferris TD and Arthur Morgan TD have already raised these matters with the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, highlighting our concerns with regard to the implementation of these proposals.

"The European Council of Ministers must now decide whether to apply these measures or not. In the time still available every effort must be made to impress upon them that these proposals should not be applied." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness MP has accused the two governments of 'pandering to David Trimble'. Mr McGuinness made the remarks following the meeting today of the British Irish Inter Governmental Conference after which the two governments announced that they would 'not retain' the All-Ireland structures in the absence of other parts of the Agreement functioning.

Mr McGuinness said:

" In October the British government, stepping outside the terms of the Agreement, suspended the political institutions again at the behest of Mr Trimble. Since then he has failed to turn up to any of the round table negotiations aimed at restoring the Assembly and Executive.

" Despite this it seems that the two governments are intent on pandering to Mr Trimble and placing the continued future of the remaining Good Friday institutions in doubt.

" Todays joint statement comes at an early stage in the negotiations and sends out completely the wrong signal and undermines confidence in our collective ability to reach an agreement which will see the political institutions restored. It will also encourage anti-Agremeent elements to continue with their efforts to wreck the Agreement." ENDS

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Sinn Féin Criminal Justice Spokesperson, North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly has cautiously welcomed the announcement that open recruitment is to begin in the New Year for a Justice Oversight Commissioner but expressed concern that the remit may be restricted by the current legislative proposals. Mr. Kelly said:

"Sinn Féin has consistently argued for an Oversight Commissioner since the outset of the review of the Criminal Justice System in March 2000. However, today's announcement can only be cautiously welcomed because the remit of the Oversight Commissioner is entirely restricted by the recommendations of the review which did not go far enough.

"While the proposals for the Oversight Commissioner allow powers to scrutinise the implementation of the recommendations of the Criminal Justice review, Sinn Féin is concerned that the review fell a long way short of what was required to address some of the fundamental flaws in the justice system and the way it has operated over the past 30 years.

"Sinn Féin is also deeply concerned that the Oversight Commissioner will not be independent, given the approach to the review which became an in-house NIO driven process. The lack of independence of the review ultimately led to it falling short of what was required.

"The remit of the Commissioner is restricted by the review recommendation but Sinn Féin will continue to push for both greater changes within the criminal justice system and a wider remit for the Commissioner."ENDS

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Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Social and Family Affairs Seán Crowe TD has described the government's Traveller housing policy a shambles after a response to a parliamentary question revealed a complete system-wide failure of the State to tackle the issue of Traveller accommodation.

The Dublin South-West TD said:

"The government's plans to provide decent housing for the Travelling community are left in tatters. Local authorities estimated they needed 3,785 units for Traveller housing as part of their five year programmes.

"A mere 328 units were built in 2001 and there are plans for only 172 in 2003. Five years after the Traveller Accommodation Act was passed the government's record on the issue is one of complete and abject failure.

"Last week we saw the government surrender policy development in housing to the developers as the removal of 20% social housing provision came before the House. At a time when there is a housing crisis the likes of which this state has never seen, this government can do no more but look after the interests of their friends in the building industry instead of the 48,000 households on the waiting lists, the 6,000 homeless and the almost 4,000 households on the Traveller

accommodation list." ENDS

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