Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness has said that moves by the two governments to implement commitments in the Joint Declaration on Criminal Justice, equality and the Irish language represent progress on these important issues.
Referring to the outcome of yesterdays British Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting, Mr McGuinness said:
"The most important issue facing us is the cancellation of the election and on-going suspension of the political institutions. There is widespread concern that the two governments have not set a fixed date for the cancelled elections.
"However, there has been progress on a number of key issues as a result of the commitments which Sinn Fein achieved in the recent negotiation.
"We will see movement on the issue of the Irish language and on equality matters. In addition, the entire issue of Criminal Justice has been opened up. There will be a new Bill to address some of the major flaws in the earlier legislation and this will cover the important issues of human rights and representativeness. It will also become an offence to interfere with or try to influence the prosecution service. This will have implications for cases involving agents or agencies of the state and there will be a new mechanism to deal with complaints against the prosecution service.
"All of this represents progress but much work remains to be done to ensure that the two governments deliver on their obligations under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein will continue to apply the Agreement as the essential benchmark in all of this." ENDS
Thirty years ago on the 3rd of February 1973 six nationalists were murdered in the New Lodge area.The British Army were directly responsible for the murder of four of the men while there is strong evidence to show that they were also deeply complicit in the murder of James Sloan and James McCann.
The British army maintains that they shot six gunmen in the area despite countless eyewitness accounts and forensic data countering these claims. There is also substantial evidence pointing to collusion between the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries.
This was premeditated mass murder of innocent Catholics in the New Lodge and shows clearly that Bloody Sunday was clearly not an isolated incident. For over thirty years of conflict British state forces have lied, impeded investigation, allowed forensic evidence to vanish without trace or reason, and have refused to co-operate outright with investigations into State killings. This tactic remains as strong today as it did thirty years ago.
The families of those murdered in hundreds of other such incidents through out the six counties must have justice and closure. They have faced the double injustice of having a loved one murdered and also facing a regime that is intent on denying them a voice or platform when they demand justice.
The British state is guilty of denying the most basic human right, that of the Right to Life through a myriad of actions. Whether it is shooting dead with a plastic bullet twelve-year-old Carol Anne Kelly with a plastic bullet as she went for milk for a neighbour; watching on as a young man from Portadown, Robert Hamill, was brutally kicked to death by a gang of loyalists; the shooting in the back of a nationalist father of two, Peter McBride, as he walked away from a British Army stop and search patrol or the shooting dead of three unarmed volunteers, Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage by the SAS as they held their hands in the air, this right was denied and lies were told to protect the perpetrators.
This however does not include the most sinister of actions. That of collusion and cover up. Slowly but surely the facts that republicans were already well acquainted with - that British state forces sanctioned, trained, armed and provided intelligence to loyalists deaths squads - is being opened up. MI5, The FRU, Special Branch and other such agencies have manipulated and maintained loyalism as a paramount counter insurgency method regardless of the right to life. The state is guilty, up to the highest levels, of covering up these actions in order to protect its own interests.
It is an indictment on the British government that the families of those murdered through the actions of the State have had to pursue justice on their own or through domestic campaign groups against a silent wall of securocrats and civil servants.
The Good Friday Agreement asserts, "It is essential to acknowledge and address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation." The British government must recognize this as an integral part of the agreement and move to fulfill its obligations.
There is no construction of a victim. Those killed by the British state forces are as equal in death, as they were in life, to any other victim of this conflict. The way in which the British government has approached and addressed this issue is criminal and downright insulting to the memories of those who have died at the hands of the State.
We as a party and all those within our communities who have lived this for over thirty years know what we have to do. The British government will not concede any acknowledgement of wrongdoing or release any information without pressure. At all levels we must continue to expose this and in the end win justice for those that the British government and their agencies have sough
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin has accused the British and Irish governments of pandering to unionism. Mr. McLaughlin said:
"A firm date for the cancelled Assembly elections should be the outcome of today's meetings of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference and between the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Anything short of this will be a disappointment.
"We need to see political progress. The political process needs to be restarted. The cancellation of elections and the continued absence of political institutions can only undermine confidence in politics.
"the establishment of an International Monitoring Body that is entirely outside of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement would be entirely the wrong focus. The idea of such a body is a sop to unionism and encourages negative unionism in its opposition to equality and inclusivity.
"Instead the two governments should defend the Agreement and demonstrate that politics and the political process is effective."ENDS
Sinn Féin Victim's Spokesperson, North Belfast representative Gerry Kelly has welcomed the publication of the Human Rights Commission report on victims but expressed concern at the failure to research the issue of state killings.
Mr. Kelly said:
"The Human Rights Commission identifies the need to meet the many and varied needs of victims. This may require a judicial response, a truth response, acknowledgement or resources. This is welcome.
"However, the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration specifically deal with the issue of acknowledging there is no hierarchy of victims. This report fails to adequately deal with the victims of the British government policy of killing citizens.
"The European Court of Human Rights, in its ruling yesterday, highlighted the failure of the British government to protect the rights of Pat Finucane. Article 2 of the European Charter of Human Rights demands action. The Human Rights Commission needs to address such issues in a comprehensive manner.
"A central component in addressing the needs of all victims is for the British government to commit to the full disclosure of all documents relating to state killings and collusion."ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Education Seán Crowe has said he is extremely disappointed at the Government's failure to deliver on its pledge to publish the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill before the end of this Dáil session.
The Dublin South-West TD said: "We have been waiting all year for this piece of legislation. Along with the Disabilities Bill, which the Government has also failed to bring forward, it was to provide the basis for real inclusion for the Disabled. I am extremely disappointed that Minister Smith announced today in the Dáil that the Bill would not now be presented before the summer. Another promise has been broken, another community has been betrayed.
"When the Government Chief Whip Mary Hanafin announced the legislative programme for this Dáil session, those two Bills were the first ones she mentioned and the Government's top priorities. The Disabled community and its representative organisations have been waiting a very long time for the Government to bring this legislation forward and get its act together on this issue.
"The Government has succeeded in publishing not only the deeply flawed Intoxicating Liquor Bill but also a massive array of amendments to the Immigration Bill and ramming them through the House with little debate and in double quick time. Clearly when a PD Minister feels strongly about an issue the Government swings into action, but the rights of the Disabled remain low down the list of this Government's priorities." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokespersons on Agriculture and Rural Development Martin Ferris TD and Assembly Member Gerry McHugh met today with members of the ICSA National Executive to discuss a number of issues including CAP reform and the development of an all Ireland approach to the problems facing Irish farmers. The Sinn Féin representatives also pledged their support for the ICSA's demand to be included in Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh's negotiations with the farming organisations on the implementation of the CAP reforms.
Deputy Ferris and Mr McHugh said:
"Now that the EU Ministers have agreed on the outline of the proposed CAP reform, we are about to enter into negotiations on the details of their implementation. Of particular importance will be the issue of decoupling. Sinn Féin will be urging that the Minister opt for full decoupling and we will also be outlining our detailed proposals on how we would like to see the overall package being implemented and how that should fit with overall strategy.
"We would also like to record our full support for the ICSA's right to be included in the negotiations. Although it is not currently recognised as one of the social partners, the ICSA has earned that right through its excellent record of engagement in the debate on the CAP reforms since they were first proposed in July 2002. Alone among the major farming organisations, the ICSA conducted a thorough analysis of the proposals and initiated a wide ranging debate among its members and the broader farming public.
"Having done so, it came to the conclusion that decoupling represented the best possible option for the future of Irish farming. We believe that it must now be given the opportunity to argue this position within the formal consultations on their implementation".
Deputy Ferris formally requested that the ICSA be included during his contribution to a debate on the Department of Agriculture's Statement of Strategy that took place at the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food held this afternoon. ENDS
Sinn Féin today tabled a motion in the Dáil seeking to strengthen the protection of human rights in the State in line with commitments made by the Irish government in signing the Good Friday Agreement. The Party's five TDs have called for the repeal of the Offences Against the State Acts 1939-1985 and accused the Government of refusing to live up to it's commitments to reform by dispensing with these draconian laws.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said:
"In signing the Good Friday Agreement this state committed itself to 'further strengthen the protection of human rights in this jurisdiction' and to 'initiate a widespread review of the Offences Against the State Act with a view to both reform and dispensing with those elements no longer required as circumstances permit'.
"It is now five years since the signing of that Agreement and instead of reforming the emergency legislation as required the Government has done the exact opposite and expanded the draconian measures in 1998.
"These laws have had a corrosive effect on human rights, civil liberties and democratic life in this state. They are not warranted and the Minister for Justice has utterly failed to demonstrate that the operation of this legislation is necessary for the security of the people.
"In the interests of justice and to honour the Governments own commitments under the Good Friday Agreement these laws must be repealed. Sinn Féin is seeking through this motion to have this done at the earliest opportunity." ENDS
Speaking during a Dáil debate on the Report and Final Stages of the Protection of the Environment Bill Sinn Féin Spokesperson on the Environment and Local Government Arthur Morgan T.D. called for an All Ireland environmental protection agency.
Deputy Morgan said: "I wish to address the issues of dumping and incineration in terms of waste management plans. Its central thrust is that we should avoid having a line of incinerators across the State that will require a constant feed of waste, thus providing no incentive for people to produce less waste. The incineration industry, as I have already outlined, is a dirty one. It is harmful to health and, more importantly, it is totally unnecessary. The Minister knows that communities and councils across the State recognise the futility of incineration and are opposed to it.
"A recent report demonstrated to the Minister that the worries about the safety of incineration have not been fully addressed. The report does not even consider the US Environment Protection Agency's findings in this regard.
"There is a need for an all-Ireland strategy for dealing with waste issues and for a single agency on the island to deal with environmental protection. The Minister is moving ahead of himself considerably by forcing his incineration policy on the people without having first considered the other safe options.
"There is an opportunity for the Minister to realise, at this late stage, that there is no need to poison the people through mismangement or to be so narrow-minded as to have an environmental protection agency with responsibility for a little over half of the island and another one with responsibility for the rest. There are waste streams and pollution crossing the Border. I dealt with an incident in this respect in Louth County Council last Saturday morning and I mentioned another incident to the Minister on the issue of waste pouring across the Border into County Fermanagh. If there were one agency, this issue could be dealt with very comprehensively."
Sinn Féin put forward amendments for the development and implementation of an All-Ireland waste management plan; the establishment of an All-Ireland Environmental Protection Agency; the prohibition of the inclusion of the option of incineration or thermal treatment in regional and central waste management plans and strategies; to delete the sections which provide for the imposition of the service charges and to transfer authority over waste management plans back to elected members of local authorities. ENDS
At 7:00 this evening, Sinn Féin will be staging a protest outside the gates of Leinster House. The protest will coincide with the debate on the Environment Bill.
Dublin EU Candidate Marylou McDonald, said that if passed the Bill will overturn the Supreme Court decision that Councils must collect household waste from those who have not paid the Bin Charges.
Ms McDonald said:
"If passed this Bill will overturn a Supreme Court decision stating that Councils must continue to collect household waste from those who have not paid the bin charges.
"It will also transfer more powers away from elected councillors to unelected city and county managers. Sinn Féin have put down a number of amendments to the Bill, and these need to be implemented.
"We will be protesting tonight against this Bill, and we are asking all those opposed to the bin taxes to join us." ENDS
Sinn Féin's Six County Agriculture Spokesman Cllr Gerry McHugh today warned of potentially heavy fines, which will be imposed on farmers, from Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Grants and Subsidies Division.
Mr McHugh said:
"Since the introduction of new EU regulations in 2002 for any irregular animal found in a cattle claim, the fine will be aggregated across all cattle claims, lodged by that farmer. In effect this means that if one animal is irregular then a fine will be imposed on the total amount the farmer claims, which could run into thousands of pounds.
"It has come to my attention that failure to notify DARD when purchasing cattle is creating fines. A No Notification (NNO), a No Movement Notification (NMN) and a Late Movement Notification (LMN) is also causing some farmers to lose hundreds of pounds.
"It is vital that before any farmer puts in a claim for Suckler Cow premium that they get a herd print out and check for the status of their animals. If the status cannot be changed then the farmer should not claim for that animal. This fine may also apply to Slaughter Premium and to Beef Special Premium.
"I have written to the head of the Grants and Subsides Division, with a series of detailed question's on this issue and will be requesting a meeting in the near future to demand that farmers are informed of these new rules; that they are told of the amount they will receive in the year and the amount of the fine imposed. It is totally wrong for a farmer to be fined across his or her total claim when only two or three animals are affected.
"This is another example of DARD's obsession, with oppressive and negative implementation of rules, at time when farm incomes are at £88 per week." ENDS
Newry/Armagh Sinn Féin Spokesperson, Conor Murphy said he has received numerous complaints from people living in south Armagh that British army bases are being refurbished despite the promise of a rolling programme of demilitarisation in this area.
Mr Murphy said;
"The British army have almost completed the removal of two watch towers from Cloughogue and Tievecrum in south Armagh. However people are angry that whilst this work was being carried out the British army have begun to strengthen and refurbish other bases in this area. During the last week I have received numerous complaints from local people that a fleet of lorries and increased helicopter activity have been working at Forkhill Barracks. We are now lead to believe that 2 aerials have been removed but are being replaced by one larger aerial with satellite dishes and electronic equipment.
"The promise to implement a rolling programme of demilitarisation gave people hope that the British army presence in this area would be removed in it's entirety. However our experience to date has been that the watchtowers have now been replaced by frequent checkpoints on roads in the area. During the weekend residents reported helicopters landing in fields near Lisbeg Park, Crossmaglen in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning. People are justifiably angry that the British army leave one area but yet are engaged in strengthening their bases in other parts of south Armagh." ENDS
Commenting on the judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Pat Finucane, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that 'the verdict was a vindication of the position adopted by the Finucane family' and he called on the British government to end the stalling and set up the independent, judicial inquiry necessary to find the truth.
Mr McLaughlin said:
" The identities of those involved in the killing of Pat Finucane are well known. The fact that agencies of the British State used the UDA to carry out this killing is beyond doubt. What is required now is a full independent judicial inquiry to establish exactly who authorised and planned this killing - where the chain of command leads.
" Today's judgement is a further vindication of the position of the Finucane family and is the latest in a line of European Court Judgements against the British government regarding this issue of state collusion in the murder of citizens.
" Sinn Féin will continue to highlight this issue and will continue to support the Finucane and family and others in their demand for full disclosure and the lid to be lifted on the collusion scandal." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Social Affairs, Seán Crowe, speaking in the Dáil today called for an urgent debate about the mounting job losses taking place across the state. Referring to the fact that jobless figures have increased every month this year, Deputy Crowe said it was clear the Government had no plan to halt this decline and questioned the wisdom of abolishing 5,000 Community Employment places at a time of rising unemployment.
The Dublin South-West TD said: "The mounting job losses across the state particularly following the announcement yesterday of the closure of Navan Carpets with the loss of 200 jobs and Powerscreen Ltd in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, with the loss of another 118 jobs are bad enough, but the numbers seem set to increase. 190 jobs are now under threat in Gweedore in Donegal.
"In our own area we have seen the effects of these jobs losses with the closure of the HB plant in Rathfarnham and Gallahers factory. Unemployment figures have increased every month so far this year and there is no sign yet of the Government coming forward with a plan to halt this decline.
"The Government must face up to the fact that more and more people are being laid off and they must reveal what measures, if any, the Government is prepare to take to deal with rising unemployment.
"At a time of rising unemployment to be going ahead with widespread closing of Community Employment Schemes at the cost of 5,000 places seems little more than madness. Hundreds of families are being plunged into real hardship on a weekly basis now and the Government cannot be allowed to stand idly by." ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Arthur Morgan TD, reacting to the latest figures on house prices and mortgages, accused the main lending institutions of "fuelling the fires" of unacceptable house price increases. He said that the main banks, building societies and other lending institutions had a "moral and social obligation" to curb the excessive and potentially ruinous amounts that are currently being given out as mortgage loans.
Deputy Morgan said:
"The latest house price figures make for depressing reading as do the latest figures for mortgages. That the two are inextricably linked is not hard to see. The ever-spiralling house prices, with the exception of last months blip in the chart, shows that the lending institutions are continuing with a reckless if not criminal policy of providing excessive mortgages, especially to first time buyers. This is fuelling the fires of the unacceptable house price increases and cannot be allowed to continue. The banks, building societies and other lending institutions are giving away mortgages in some cases of up to five and six times the amount of annual income coming into a home.
"They must realise that their drive for profit and greed must be tempered by their social and moral obligation not to allow people to borrow beyond their means. The excessive and potentially ruinous amounts currently being given away as mortgages must be curbed. If the lending institutions aren't willing to police themselves in this matter then the Financial Ombudsman and the Central Bank must step in and take immediate action." ENDS
Sinn Féin Upper Bann representative Dr Dara O'Hagan has welcomed the determination of the Parades Commissions on the Orange Order march in Portadown.
Dr O'Hagan said:
"This is the right decision. The nationalist community living on Garvaghy Road have the right to live free from sectarian harassment. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not want Orange Parades through their area and past their homes.
"The Orange Order either fail to understand or refuse to understand how objectionable nationalists find their insistence that they march through nationalist areas.
"It is unacceptable that this issue raises its head year after year. The Orange Order should abandon their attempts to seek a march through Garvaghy Road. If they persist with a demand for these marches then they must engage with the residents and seek to persuade them of their case.
"Ultimately a resolution to disputes of this kind can only be achieved through agreement between the parades organisers and the host communities. This requires direct dialogue between the residents and the Loyal Orders. This is the very minimum requirement of a process premised on mutual respect."
Commenting on weekend media speculation about this specific issue, Dr O'Hagan
"Sinn Féin has been involved in a range of meetings with a range of people and I am not going to get involved in the detail of this.
"But, lets be absolutely clear, there has been no effort by the Orange Order in Portadown to talk directly to nationalist residents to date, so it is fairly clear that the media suggestion that agreement on a march was close was not just totally wrong but most likely an exercise of mischief making,
"Our position on Orange Order marches is well known. We support their right to march. But where there are contentious parades, and there are only a small number, there is an onus on them to get the agreement from the host communities." ENDS
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Fisheries Martin Ferris TD has welcomed today's decision by the Minister for the Marine, Dermot Ahern, to defer the imposition of the massive planned increases in harbour rates and charges.
Deputy Ferris said:
"I asked Minister Ahern to withdraw the Fishery Harbour Centres (Rates and Charges) Order three weeks ago in view of the added burden which the 500 and 800% increases would impose on fishermen. I am glad to see that he has decided to defer the imposition of these charges pending a review of submissions from those involved in fishing. I have already called on Minister Ahern to consult the fishing organisations prior to any change and hope that he will now take their recommendations on board". ENDS
"Early this last month the southern employers organisation IBEC has said that the removal of economic and social barriers between the north and south could create 3,000 jobs.
"We need to urgently address the removal of all social, economic and geographical barriers which act as an impediment to the development of all-Ireland trade. We also need to see the synchronisation of professional qualification and harmonisation of tax, wages, transport and housing costs on both sides of the border." ENDS
Sinn Féin Health Spokesperson Cllr Sue Ramsey has said that the Royal represents the only logical option for the site of the new maternity hospital.
Cllr. Ramsey said:
"The new maternity hospital should be built at the Royal site. It is the only logical option and represents the best option for parents and new born babies.
"This decision has taken far too long. The campaign by groups and politicians in South Belfast, that delayed Bairbre de Brún's original decision, has in my view only served to put back the start date of work on building the new maternity hospital.
"The staff who have been working throughout this uncertainty have maintained the highest standards. It is vital that the decision taken today is not again frustrated by groups, whose concerns I understand, but which have held back progress.
"The department must, in taking this decision, publish a timetable for the completion of the new maternity hospital so that everybody knows when the work will be completed."ENDS
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said the Minister for Health and Children Micheál Martin should not authorise the 8% fee increase being sought by VHI. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"This proposed hike of 8% would add greatly to the burden of those families with little choice but to take out health insurance because they do not qualify for the medical card. Providing such cover for themselves and their families is a major challenge for those on lower incomes. Having broken its promise to extend medical card cover to a further 200,000 people the Government must not allow what would in effect be a 26% rise in VHI fees since the General Election - 18% last year and 8% this year. Such increases will leave more people in the income gap where they do not qualify for a medical card but cannot afford health insurance." ENDS
Sinn Féin newly appointed Irish language spokesperson, Magherafelt councillor Sean Mac Giolla Cheara has called on the British government to act on implementing its' commitments on the Irish language. Speaking after a protest organised by Irish language groups outside the Headquarters of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure at the Interpoint today, Cllr Mac Giolla Cheara said:
"Both the Irish government and the British government made specific commitments to support and promote the use of Irish language in the Good Friday Agreement and the Joint Declaration. We now need to see action, particularly from the British government.
"Cuts to the budget of Foras na Gaeilge must be reversed. Irish Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv has already indicated that the Irish government will reverse the cuts it made to the budget of Foras. We now need to see similar commitments from the British direct rule minister.
"Five years after the Agreement was signed we also need to see resolute action to promote the language. This requires a sea change in the attitude of the British government. It means that they must act to ensure extension of coverage TG4 throughout the north. It means a fund for Irish language TV, radio and film production. It also means that all government forms and communications be routinely available in Irish." ENDS