Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín has expressed concern over reports that the addiction ward at Holywell is set to close today.
The North Belfast MLA said:
“I am deeply concerned at reports that the addiction ward in Holywell is set to close today which would mean six less beds for addiction in-patient services.
“Given the rising waiting lists and demand for addiction and mental health services within our communities, it’s vital that there is no reduction to services.
“I have written to the Health Minister for confirmation and clarity on this matter, and what steps the Department will take to address this deficit.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has criticised the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien for evading pre-legislative scrutiny on the controversial Land Development Agency (LDA) Bill.
Speaking today, Teachta Ó Broin said:
“Minister O’Brien brought his new LDA bill to cabinet on December 22nd, despite having published the general scheme of the Bill in autumn.
“He failed to bring his new version of the LDA bill to the Oireachtas Housing Committee to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny, ignoring a request from some of the Committee members to do so.
“This is a hugely significant piece of legislation. While Minister O’Brien made some cosmetic changes to the scheme originally published by his predecessor, the legislation is fundamentally flawed and will make it even more difficult for working people to access genuinely affordable homes.
“Some of the weaknesses of the Bill include a lack of meaningful land management functions and compulsory purchase order powers.
“The legislation allows for public land to be used for unaffordable, open market housing. This is coupled with a failure to prioritise the delivery of social and genuinely affordable homes.
“There is also concern that the planning role of the LDA may be used to bypass local authorities and deal directly with An Board Pleanála, which would undermine local democracy like the Strategic Housing Development legislation.
“There are also issues around the new agency’s transparency and a lack of accountability for its commercial subsidiaries as they will not be subject to the Freedom of Information Acts or the Lobby Register.
“The is a danger here is that the government is creating an entity that will bear all the hallmarks of a NAMA Mark II.
“This is why a detailed pre-legislative scrutiny process by the Housing Committee is so important. The gaps in the legislation need to be discussed and solutions put forward."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Defence John Brady TD today expressed his concern over predictions of food shortages due to confusion over new customs regulations at ports.
Speaking today, Teachta Brady said:
“I, along with many others, have been warning for months about the potential for food shortages following the introduction of Brexit.
"Unfortunately, we are now witnessing confusion and pending mayhem at Irish and British ports, where customs officers are keeping freight lorries waiting as they attempt to figure out the complexities of the new customs regime.
"It has been brought to my attention by hauliers that some lorries are being delayed by anything from four to 27 hours.
"To add to the woe of hauliers, revenue computer system has crashed for three days in a row last week.
"For 30 years, we have enjoyed the free movement of goods, now we have customs officers not quite sure how they should be handled.
"In one instance, a lorryload of hand sanitiser was held in Dublin port, awaiting Department of Agriculture inspectors. This is ridiculous.
"If the congestion and confusion is not addressed, we will be running into supply chain difficulties very quickly here, in a matter of weeks at most.
"The government needs to intervene here to ensure the smooth running of our ports, and to keep our hauliers moving.
"The sit-back-and-wait attitude that we are witnessing from government simply will not cut it."
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is set to meet this week to consider whether it will examine the appointment and significant salary increase of the new Secretary General of the Department of Health.
It was recently revealed that the new Secretary General will be paid a salary of €292,000, a salary which is €81,000 higher than the top pay scale.
Brian Stanley, Sinn Féin TD and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, has called for further examination of a number of questions about the appointment process and the substantial increase in salary for the role.
Speaking today, Teachta Stanley said:
“The recent appointment of the new Secretary General of the Department of Health is of significant public interest considering the importance of the role and the unprecedented salary attached.
“I believe that it is a matter of interest for the PAC and I will be asking members to consider it for our work programme.
“At a time when hundreds of workers are receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment and student nurses are being given a paltry €100 per week, this huge increase in salary for a Departmental Secretary General is in poor taste.
“We need to understand where this salary fits in with the public pay scale guidelines and whether it satisfies the Public Service Pay Commission.
“We need to know more about the appointment process - were individuals headhunted and encouraged to apply, how long was the role publicly advertised and how many individuals were interviewed?
“Did the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health play a role in the decision and did they sanction this pay increase?
“The PAC has an important role to play in teasing out the answers to these questions and it is my intention to obtain the agreement of the members this week to pursue the matter further.”
Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew has welcomed the announcement that joinery manufacturer, Woodmarque, intend to expand their business and create more jobs near Dungannon.
The Fermanagh South Tyrone MP said:
“I welcome today’s announcement by Joinery Manufacturer, Woodmarque, that they will expand their business near Dungannon with the creation of over 150 new jobs.
“The inclusion of a development centre will also create increased apprenticeship opportunities. This vision and commitment to develop locally young people is to be commended.
“Amongst producing many other products, Woodmarque is a leading manufacturer in fire safety doors and have been playing a significant role in increasing fire safety in buildings across this island and in Britain.
“At a time of huge uncertainty due to COVID and Brexit, this announcement will provide much-needed employment for the local area and a boost to our local economy.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection Claire Kerrane TD has said that the use of electronic signatures for those collecting their social welfare entitlements in the Post Office should be suspended once again amid high Covid-19 case numbers.
Speaking today, Teachta Kerrane said:
“I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are concerned at having to use an electronic pen to sign when collecting their State Pension in recent weeks.
“This practice had been suspended previously due to concerns over the spread of Covid-19. It seems bizarre that at a time when Covid cases have never been so high that the practice of every person coming into the Post Office having to use the pen for electronic signature would be continued at this time.
“I have contacted the Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection and An Post in relation to this and I have asked that this practice be suspended once again as part of efforts to minimise and stop the spread of Covid-19.
“We do not want a situation where older people in particular are worried about having to use the electronic pen when collecting their payment.”
“Irish fishery rights to Rockall must be protected” - MacManus
Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has called on the Irish government to work towards a settlement that ensures Irish fishing rights off Rockall.
MacManus’s comments were made in response to the news that an Irish fishing vessel was boarded by Scottish fishing authorities and told they could no longer fish off the uninhabited island.
Speaking from Brussels MacManus said:
“Rockall has been an historic fishing ground for generations of Irish fishers. The news that an Irish fishing vessel was boarded by Scottish authorities and advised it could no longer have access to those grounds is entirely unacceptable.”
The Midlands Northwest MEP called for dialogue on the issue. “Iceland, Denmark, Britain and indeed Ireland all claim to have access to fishing rights around Rockall, and I call on the Irish government to work with their Icelandic, Danish and British counterparts to work towards ensuring Rockall as a shared resource for us all and thus protect the rights of Irish vessels to continue fishing in these historic fishing grounds. Our fishing communities must not be subjected to this kind of harassment again.” ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has criticised the government for abandoning borrowers in its failure to secure Covid-19 payment break extensions for mortgage-holders and SMEs affected by the latest round of public health restrictions.
On January 8th, Teachta Doherty wrote to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Finance and the CEOs of the five retail banks requesting an extension to payment breaks under the EBA guidelines, which protect them from credit rating impairment and the charging of additional interest.
The Tánaiste confirmed that he would not be seeking Covid-19 payment breaks from the banks which would protect borrowers from the charging of additional interest and the impairment of their credit ratings. Instead, borrowers have been told they are on their own while it will be business as usual for the banks.
Speaking today, Teachta Doherty said:
“The government has abandoned borrowers, mortgage-holders and small businesses in the latest wave of the virus.
“There are now 400,000 people in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. This number is set to rise, with more than one in five to be unemployed by the end of the month.
“These are people who have lost their jobs as a result of public health restrictions. Thousands of them are mortgage-holders.
“On December 2nd, the European Banking Authority its payment break guidelines in light of the growth in infection of Covid-19 throughout Europe. They were reactivated to provide support and relief to borrowers.
“They would have allowed the government and banks to put in place payment break extensions for three months, for the duration of these latest public health restrictions.
“Crucially, this would have ensured that borrowers who availed of these breaks would not be charged additional interest or have their credit ratings impaired.
“Disgracefully, the government has refused to secure or even seek this extension for mortgage-holders and SMEs.
“Instead of securing relief for borrowers, the government has abandoned them.
“I wrote to the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance on January 8th setting out what is required - a three-month payment break extension without any increase in subsequent repayments. To date I have received no response.
“This inaction is denying much needed relief to thousands of workers, families and small businesses throughout the state.
“The Tánaiste and Minister for Finance must explain their refusal to even seek a payment break extension for these borrowers.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, Louise O’Reilly TD, has called on the Government and the relevant state agencies to engage with businesses, exporters, and the stakeholders to ensure that Brexit trade complications are rectified as a matter of urgency.
Speaking today, Teachta O’Reilly said:
“Businesses and exporters have been contending with the new trading terms between Ireland/EU and Britain which came into force on 1 January.
“Unfortunately, these businesses are now being exposed to the realities of a hard-Tory Brexit as we witness significant disruption to trading and supply chains that have been built over decades.
“The low level of freight entering and exiting the State during the early days of 2021 covered over the serious problems which were developing due to the complications of the new trading arrangement.
“In the past number of days these complications have caused havoc for exportation and importation of goods for Irish businesses.
“These problems are as a result of the complexity of the new trading arrangement and the paperwork and IT systems which now exist to deal with this new post-Brexit trade reality.
“Stakeholders and businesses groups, as well as State agencies such as Revenue, have highlighted many of the problems which have arisen, and they have also identified what needs to be done to rectify these.
“It is of the utmost importance that the Government brings all these groups together to identify the main difficulties and put solutions in place before the current public health restrictions are relaxed and trade increases exponentially.”
"In the time ahead the adults in the room will continue to identify and address the teething problems with the new trading environment - my advice to the DUP would be to stop trying to create needless panic and work constructively with others in finding practical and pragmatic solutions to whatever issues arise.”
Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Karen Mullan MLA has reiterated calls for the transfer test to be cancelled this year following concerns raised by the Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement.
The Foyle MLA said:
“The Centre for Research in Educational Underachievement has today raised very serious concerns around progressing with academic selection this year.
“Key to their concerns is how academic selection would widen educational inequalities on the basis of wealth.
“The emergence of a ‘lockdown learning gap’ based on wealth is extremely concerning, with children having different levels of access to technology, resources, parental availability and tutoring.
“Parents. schools, academics and a series of organisations have now come out in opposition to holding transfer tests as it would disadvantage many children and also be detrimental to their mental well-being.
“It is now time for the Education Minister to heed their advice and cancel these exams.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has welcomed long overdue support for parents who were struggling to keep a job while managing childcare without access to childcare and schools closed.
Speaking this evening, Teachta Kerrane said:
“I welcome that the Department for Social Protection has this evening confirmed that people who are unable to work due to childcare and schools being closed will now be eligible to receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
“I and my Sinn Féin colleagues have been calling for this policy change since May of last year.
“Far too many parents and families across the state have been put in impossible situations in needing to go to work to put bread on the table while trying to manage childcare. This was particularly challenging for lone parents where families, especially grandparents, have not been able to assist due to Covid restrictions.
“These families were then put in the unacceptable position of being told that they would not receive the PUP. The Government simply turned their back on these families.
“I welcome that this policy has now changed. However, I am concerned that the Government persisted for so long with this deeply flawed policy, which has caused considerable financial hardship for families.
“The Government must learn from this and ensure that in the future it takes a more compassionate and thought out approach to policies like this. Ordinary workers and families cannot be expected to suffer due to poorly planned policies like this again.”
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Transport, Darren O’Rourke TD, has called on the Government to immediately introduce strict protocols for all international arrivals to help stem the growth of Covid-19 here.
Speaking this evening, the Meath East TD said:
“Since the onset of this pandemic, Sinn Féin have been advocating for testing and proper monitoring of international arrivals, to combat cases of Covid-19 being imported.
“The Government ignored our calls and as a result the Covid-19 checks and controls at our ports and airports remain completely inadequate.
“Foreign travel should be restricted to only those cases that are absolutely essential and for those that do arrive, strict protocols are needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“The requirement of a negative pre-departure test must be extended to arrivals from all countries, not just those from Britain and South Africa as is currently the case.
“Testing post-arrival should also become mandatory, as the current system is simply not working.
“That fact that our self-isolation and quarantine regime is voluntary in effect and entirely unmonitored is equally unacceptable.
“We know Passenger Locator Forms are not being followed up. We need a system that is mandatory and enforced.
“This should include fines for those who flout the self-isolation rules.
“Our geographical advantage of being an island has not been realised, and the Government have shown little interest in pursuing this avenue.
“This is another key mistake in the Government’s response to Covid-19 on this island.
“We are in the eye of the Covid storm. Every day that passes without the introduction of stronger measures in our ports of entry is a day lost.
“We can’t afford for the inaction in this area to continue.”
Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady has called for increased support for workers transporting goods to the North.
The Newry and Armagh MP said:
“Since the end of the Brexit transition period, the import of goods into the North has been decimated with long queues and complex paper work resulting in 20% less goods being imported from Britain.
“Many of the lorry drivers transporting the goods have also been subject to appalling conditions with upwards of eight-hour waits and no access to the most basic of amenities, including toilets, hot food and drinks.
“This is a disgraceful treatment of these frontline workers who continue to play a crucial role in transporting goods during these uncertain times.
“The ports and haulier businesses must work together to ensure that the rights of workers are protected.
“Sinn Féin will continue to work to protect families and workers from the very real and serious consequences of Brexit."
Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has expressed serious concern at the British governments attempt to move away from EU regulations on food standards.
Declan McAleer said:
“The transition period has just ended and the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs has opened a consultation on gene editing. This is a worrying indication that food production rules will be changing.
“Gene editing or GMOs involves changing the properties of a plant to make it more resistant to things like pests. Due to food safety concerns, the use of GMO plants is highly restricted in the EU and in the north under EU protocol.
“What Britain appears intent on doing is removing restrictions on GMO plants where the hybrid plant, even if it was created in a lab, could technically have been created through natural breeding methods. This differs from EU rules and Britain may very soon be producing or importing food which was created using methods not authorised in the EU.
“This could have a serious impact for our local farmers as it would distort the British market and make it more difficult for our farmers to compete in it. Greater divergence will also create additional challenges for Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks at our ports.
“This is another potentially disastrous consequence of Brexit which could result in disruption to our export volumes to the British market and damage the cause serious economic damage to local agrifood businesses."
Uachtarán Shinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald TD has said today that the British and Irish governments must honour all commitments of the New Decade, New Approach document.
The Sinn Féin President was speaking following a meeting today with the British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and representatives of the DUP, the UUP, the SDLP and the Alliance party.
Teachta McDonald said:
"Today, Michelle O’Neill and I met with the British government's Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and representatives of the other Executive parties.
“At the heart of the Executive’s return a year ago today was a commitment to power-sharing and equality to deliver better and accountable government for all of our people.
“The public want and expect us all, despite our distinctly different outlooks, to work together to provide political leadership and improve public services.
"We discussed the work of the Executive, all-island bodies and the implementation of commitments made in the New Decade, New Approach document.
"Throughout the last year, Ministers have used the political space and opportunity created last January and have shown repeatedly they are best placed to act in the interests of our people. At times there is sharp and legitimate disagreement between the parties, who bring differing approaches to the table.
“We must accept this is the reality and I do not doubt the sincerity of any minister doing difficult work on behalf of the public we serve.
"The Executive has faced unprecedented challenges with the impact of the global pandemic, a reckless Tory Brexit which has flown in the face of the will of the people of the north and the huge difficulties facing the health service and workers and families across the island.
“Notwithstanding the difficulties within the Executive, which we must collectively address, Sinn Féin remains resolute in our determination to do what is right as political leaders through genuine power-sharing. That is why legislation to ensure respect and protection for the Irish language and identity is so important and needs to be enacted as soon as possible.
“The British and Irish governments must also honour outstanding commitments of New Decade, New Approach. This includes meeting their financial commitments and honoring and implementing commitments, in New Decade New Approach and in the Stormont House Agreement on dealing with the legacy of the past.
"Challenges remain, but by working together and by working with Ministers across the island through the north-south bodies, the Executive can continue to deliver better government to the north as we move towards a new, inclusive united Ireland."
“Huge commercial value of Western Rail Corridor ignored by EY Report” – Chris MacManus MEP
Sinn Féin MEP for Midlands Northwest Chris MacManus has accused the EY Report published on Friday of being ‘too narrow in its appraisal of the Western Rail Corridor.’
MEP MacManus said:
“The long awaited EY Report into the Western Rail Corridor has now been published, and it’s finding that the WRC should not be reopened is hugely disappointing, but not surprising given the narrow focus of the report.”
“For any appraisal of the Western Rail Corridor to be accurate, it must be looked at in a wider, regional context and properly consider rail freight capability. Unfortunately, this report does not do that. The report is extremely limited and seems to focus solely on the prospect of reopening the passenger route from Athenry to Claremorris, disregarding how the rail corridor could fit into a national strategy for rail development.”
“This is a major oversight, given that road freight is becoming more and more expensive as we try to fight climate change and will continue to do so in the future as the EU intends to rigidly apply the polluter pays principle. Road freight will be effectively taxed off the roads and onto rail, giving communities located alongside rail routes an edge in attracting investment and employment.”
The Midlands Northwest MEP said the report failed to recognise the enormous commercial benefit of the Rail Corridor in a post-Brexit world. “As Britain has now left the EU, exporters who once used the British landbridge are seeking alternate routes. The WRC when reopened would be able to offer a tariff-free, low-cost, low carbon route to the heart of the European market, through its connection to the deep-water ports in Foynes and Waterford. This would make towns in the west of Ireland very attractive locations for foreign and indigenous investment.”
“Balanced regional development provides the strongest economic case for the WRC. However, the report fails to take into account the need to develop the Atlantic Economic Corridor along Ireland’s western seaboard. This woulddrive regional development by creating sufficient scale in the west of Ireland to compete with other regions in attracting Irish and multi-national investment, growing jobs and supporting local communities.The west of Ireland is in decline and we need vital economic infrastructure such as rail, roads, airports and broadband to drive economic growth. Otherwise, rural communities here will not have a sustainable future in terms of employment. That this critical matter has been overlooked in the report brings into question its credibility.”
“In addition to these crucial oversight, there are several issues with the content of the report. The expected cost of reopening the line is gold-plated, estimated to be over twice the cost of opening phase one from Ennis to Athenry. The report has also ignored the potential economic and social benefits of reopening the WRC, as well as the large number of strongly supportive submissions from state bodies, business and community groups from across the west of Ireland.
MacManus concluded by asking why the EY report failed to make a broader examination of the Western Rail Corridor’s benefits.
“Due to the failures of this report, Minister Ryan has committed to holding an all-Ireland rail study that will look at the Western Rail Corridor taking cognisance of the need for balanced regional development and cross-border connectivity, and this is welcome. However, it must be asked why the EY Report could not have done this. It means a further delay in making a decision on reopening and more public money spent. It is also time that the western seaboard joined the rest of the country in the TEN-T core network so that the Government can use EU transport funding to invest in rail in the region that needs it most - the west of Ireland.” ENDS
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has responded to the Minister for Housing’s comments in The Irish Times this morning regarding rent pressure zones and wider reforms of the rental sector.
Teachta Ó Broin said:
“I welcome that the Minister for Housing has finally accepted that rent pressure zones were not the solution to tackle rising rents and that the 4% annual increase permitted was seen as a target for many landlords, as opposed to a limit.
“While linking rents to the Consumer Price Index is a better way to manage rent price changes, rents are currently too high so we need to see a three-year rent freeze first.
“No one measure will tackle the crisis in the rental market and while a three-year rent freeze is necessary to stop rents rising further we need to see a major investment in affordable cost rental housing by this government.
“We know the private rental market cannot meet the needs of low to middle income workers and families and the State must step in to deliver these rental homes.
“The Minister must also urgently legislate for tenancies of indefinite duration to provide tenants with more security as promised in the Programme for Government.
“I also note in the Minister’s comments that he has finally acknowledged that an increasing number of landlords are leaving the market.
“According to data from the Residential Tenancies Board we have lost almost 20,000 tenancies from the rental market since 2017.
“I have asked Minister O’Brien on numerous occasions that his plan deals with this disorderly exit of accidental and semi-professional landlords from the market.
“The rental market needs urgent, comprehensive changes. I hope the Minister is serious about implementing real rental reforms and we will not see a repeat of his ham-fisted attempts at banning co-living."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has said that the Covid-19 virus surge poses a major risk as hospitals reach capacity. He has urged the HSE to revise emergency contingency plans in light of heightened understaffing.
Teachta Cullinane said:
"The Covid-19 virus surge poses a major risk as hospitals reach capacity.
"We saw patients waiting and being treated in ambulances at Letterkenny yesterday.
"This is a serious problem across the island with increasing Covid-19 hospitalisations threatening to outstrip general bed and ICU availability.
"The deals with private hospitals are welcome but it is not a panacea.
"Worker representatives such as the INMO believe that there needs to be new critical emergency protocols put in place urgently.
"There is a need to reduce footfall to the minimum possible level to keep workers safe and we must ensure access to childcare for frontline hospital staff.
"The closure of schools, while necessary, presents difficulties for parents who must physically attend work, especially those working in hospitals.
"It is unfortunately likely that hospitalisations and Covid-19 related deaths will continue to increase over the next two weeks, despite an expected downturn in case numbers.
"The number of available ICU beds is still short of the 305 promised, with 291 available as of today and if surge capacity is used it will result in further delays and missed care.
"While that cannot be avoided and is necessary, it is a reminder that we can no longer afford to underinvest in healthcare.
“As we work to bring the community transmission rate down it is obvious that a huge amount of non-Covid care has been lost and will continue to be lost in the time ahead.
“We need to start planning now to ensure that missed care is caught up with as soon as possible.”