Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has challenged the HMRC this morning on its failure to actively engage with local businesses on preparing for life after Brexit, and has called on it to urgently make education and training resources available as soon as possible.
The Brexit Spokesperson said:
“It is becoming increasingly clear the border arrangements HMRC are putting in place for goods shipping between Britain and the north of Ireland will be almost identical to the system currently being developed for goods moving between Britain and France through the port of Dover.
“Yet unlike British businesses who can avail of HMRC’s new £50million Brexit training academy to help prepare for this new trading environment, businesses in the north are being ignored once again by the British Government.
“HMRC must urgently address this lack of constructive engagement with our local business community and establish tangible training opportunities to help guide local businesses when it comes to preparing for the significant changes to trade in the very near future.
“The message from local business representatives has been crystal clear in recent weeks.
“They don’t believe they are being listened to. They don’t believe there is enough time to make the necessary changes to their business model. And they believe it’s sensible to agree an extension to the transition period to give them a fighting chance of coping with the severe economic shocks of COVID19 and Brexit in tandem.
“HMRC and the British Government must not leave local businesses behind any longer.
“With only 6 months until the transition expires it's time to stop pretending these new border systems and processes will not apply in the Irish Sea and help our local businesses upskill and prepare urgently.”
Sinn Féin TD for Meath East Darren O’Rourke has called on the Minister for Transport to introduce a suite of measures to assist taxi drivers across the State with the costs around getting back on the road and also the need for financial supports to remain in place until the taxi sector gets back to normal.
Teachta O’Rourke said;
“Mary Lou McDonald TD, Paul Donnelly TD and I, met with taxi representatives to discuss the challenges facing their industry and listen to solutions they are now putting forward.
“The challenges workers in the sector are facing are huge. The costs associated with getting back on the road are proving prohibitive for many, while the lack of activity in the economy means business has collapsed for those who are back to work in the sector.
“The government need to move away from a one size fits all approach to re-opening our economy. We need sector specific plans that recognise some areas are going to take much longer to get back to normal, and therefore need targeted supports. The taxi industry needs to be recognised and treated as a key part of our public transport system.
“Taxi representatives have put forward concrete proposals they want to see introduced to help their sector.
“Extending the length of time a taxi can be in use from 10 to 12 years, restart grants to assist with insurance and vehicle adaptations costs, and an income support scheme that will allow taxi drivers get back on the road, but also provide financial assistance if fares simply aren’t there to allow them makes ends meet.
“In addition, the NTA need to look at buying back taxi plates from those drivers who now want to leave the job and review whether the issuing of new taxi licences should be temporarily stopped until demand returns to the sector.
“These are only some of the proactive proposals the industry is bringing forward themselves. It’s shameful the Minster hasn’t sat down with the industry yet to listen to their suggestions.
“We don’t want Minister Ross to kick this issue to touch, by setting up another committee or review. He needs to take a hands-on approach, meet with industry representatives urgently and bring forward solutions that will assist taxi drivers at this very challenging time.”
Sinn Féin MLA Fra McCann has welcomed moves to ease COVID-19 restrictions to allow people to move house.
The west Belfast MLA said:
“Buying or selling a house, looking for somewhere to rent or moving house can be among the most stressful things a person can do.
“The restrictions which were put in place to as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep people safe and save lives created additional challenges for those looking to move house, as well as placing strain on the housing sector.
“I welcome the face my party colleague, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has today moved to ease those restrictions.
“This will mean viewings, sales, letting of both private and public housing, house moves and mortgages can all resume.
“This will hopefully make the process easier for those seeking to move house as well as kick starting the housing economy again.”
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has said the local community have been left deeply frustrated and disappointed at the Infrastructure Minister’s decision to negatively reprioritise the Ballynahinch Bypass.
The South Down MP was responding to the announcement by Nicholla Mallon MLA this week on her budget priorities for the year ahead in which the Ballynahinch Bypass did not feature.
Mr Hazzard said:
“The Ballynahinch Bypass scheme is a relatively low-cost, yet strategically important infrastructure project that is shovel ready awaiting the commencement orders to be signed off by a Minister.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Minister has seemingly taken the decision to instead relegate this scheme when it is so close to delivery.
“Having campaigned for this infrastructural improvement since the 1960s, the local community are again left frustrated, and question how a minister with a capital budget of more than £544million to be spent this year cannot move to commence works on a low-cost project that is shovel ready.
“Not only will this scheme greatly improve transport connectivity in the local community and wider South Down area, but in light of the severe economic impact of COVID19 and ongoing Brexit uncertainty, the successful delivery of this project would have been a vital step in improving both our local economy and the wellbeing of our local community in these difficult times.
“I would ask the Minister to urgently review her priorities, and find the budget space to sign off on the Ballynahinch Bypass as soon as possible.”
The West Belfast MP said:
“Across the North many schools have shown leadership and taken the decision to suspend academic selection transfer tests for the upcoming school year.
“I would urge schools in West Belfast to also suspend these unregulated tests.
“Academic selection is wrong, unnecessary and places pressure on young children.
“There is mounting evidence that academic selection has a detrimental impact on the development of young pupils.
“The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Equality Commission, Human Rights Commission, Children’s Commissioner, OECD, the trade union movement and the Catholic Church hierarchy have all called for an end to academic selection.
“The focus of local schools should be preparing teachers and pupils for a return to school when it is safe to do so."
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has reiterated the party’s call for an extension of the Brexit transition period following a warning from the CBI that businesses will not cope with a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking the party’s Brexit spokesperson said:
“This morning we heard the very real concerns of the head of CBI Carolyn Fairbairn on the threat posed by Brexit to businesses in Britain and the North.
“CBI has warned the British Government that businesses simply ‘cannot cope with no deal and virus’.
“Our economy is under enormous pressure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; it is clear then that this pandemic coupled with a no deal Brexit would cause a severe economic shock to businesses and our local economy.
“It is also concerning that the EU has been critical of progress made in Brexit negotiations, describing the lack of progress as 'disappointing'.
“As the Brexit deadline approaches, it is vital that the British Government does not continue to act in bad faith, and urgently moves to deliver upon the legal commitments contained in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Irish Protocol.
“Our local business community have also been scathing of the lack of engagement and technical detail being supplied to them from the British Government - it is imperative that the British Government work quickly to supply this information and establish education and training resources for local businesses in order to help them meet the demands of trading in the post-Brexit world.
“The Brexit deadline should now be extended to avoid a potential crash out, no deal Brexit at the end of the year, which would devastate our economy already weakened by the current pandemic."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice Martin Kenny TD has expressed concern that a vehicle kept as evidence in the case of the serious assault of Quinn Industrial Holdings director Kevin Lunney was “accidentally burned” while in the possession of gardaí.
Teachta Kenny said: “The whole country was shocked at the details which emerged last September when Kevin Lunney was abducted and viciously assaulted in Co Cavan.
"We were assured at the time that all necessary resources of An Garda Síochána would be devoted to finding and convicting those responsible.
“It emerged in court yesterday that a vehicle which had been seized by gardaí as part of the investigation of this crime was burned. I am asking the Minister for Justice and the Garda Commissioner to explain this bizarre event.
“I have also submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister regarding other incidences of evidence in the possession of the gardaí being destroyed before it could be presented in court.
“Since this report emerged of the burning of the vehicle, many people in my constituency have come to me and expressed serious concerns about this issue.
"I believe they - and more importantly Kevin Lunney - deserve an explanation.”
Sinn Féin Economy spokesperson Caoimhe Archibald has called on the Economy Minister to direct any unspent money from the Hardship Fund to those businesses and workers who have received no support to date.
The East Derry MLA said:
"According to reports in today's Irish New more than £10 million of the funding allocated to the Hardship Funds may remain unspent as we approach tomorrow's deadline for applications.
"Since the Hardship Fund was announced I have been critical of how it has excluded sole traders, social enterprises with charitable status and other businesses.
"This Fund was anticipated by many to resolve the gaps in support that existed for businesses who did not qualify for earlier grant support.
"The underspend shows that the Department should have widened the eligibility of the scheme in the first place, which is something that I have consistently called for.
"In a time of unprecedented financial difficulty it is difficult to comprehend why the Minister would exclude sole traders who have not had any support to date.
"Those who have become self-employed in the last year are also unable to access support from the Self Employed Income Support Scheme.
"The Economy Minister must extend grant support to those businesses and entrepreneurs.
"If the £10 million underspend in the Hardship Fund materialises, then it should be re-directed to provide support to those who have been excluded from any support to date by the Department for the Economy."
Amid rumours that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael intend to bury any meaningful reform of housing policy into a Housing Commission, Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin has urged the Green Party ‘not to be fooled by such a ruse.’
Deputy Ó Broin said:
“Housing reform should not be put on the long finger and buried in a pointless commission in order for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to get their way and maintain the status quo.
“People desperately waiting on affordable homes to rent and to buy cannot wait for a Commission to tell us what we already know.
“Housing is too expensive, and the government must step in to deliver affordable homes to rent and to buy on public land.
“Kicking the reform of housing to a commission is a typical Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael political fudge.
“Neither party wants reform. This is exemplified by the commitment in the confidence and supply agreement to explore the right to housing.
“However, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael colluded to take this away from the Housing Committee and buried it in the Finance Committee where it never saw the light of day.
“Fianna Fáil's efforts to be in both government and opposition during the last Dáil term talked a good game but when push came to shove failed to support any progressive changes that could have been made.
“This included a failure to support a bill on the right to housing and supporting Fine Gael budgets that did little to support the delivery of genuinely affordable homes.
“In fact, we are still waiting on Fianna Fáil to publish any policy on affordable housing.
“The idea of a commission for housing came from well-meaning lobbies during the general election campaign. However, for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to now jump on this proposal to avoid adopting any progressive programme for government housing policies is cynical politics at its finest.
“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael cannot be trusted to deliver on housing. Their records speak for themselves and now they are hoping to bury any meaningful change such as a constitutional right to housing and a new public housing policy that would meet social and affordable need in a commission that we don’t need.
“I would urge the Green Party, Fianna Fáil Councillors and TDs and members not to be taken in by this ruse and to reject any deal that fails to deliver real change on housing.
“Housing was the key issue during the last general election and voters will not forgive politicians who squander the opportunity to deliver meaningful change.”
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said that news of up to 600 redundancies at Bombardier comes as a devastating blow to workers, their families and the local economy.
The Sinn Féin economic spokesperson said:
“News that up to 600 jobs at Bombardier could be made redundant is terrible for the workers and their families.
“This will impact on 400 direct employees and 209 subcontractors.
“It also comes as a bigger blow to the local economy, particularly when it is already under intense strain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At a time when we are planning the economic recovery this announcement today is devastating.
“I would urge management at Bombardier to engage immediately with trade unions and workers’ representatives and keep staff updated on all developments.
“The workers involved should also be offered retraining and upskilling opportunities to help them in their search for other employment.
“I will be seeking an urgent meeting with management at Bombardier to discuss the situation and to ensure that the concerns of workers are heard.”
Sinn Féin representative Mairéad O’Donnell has called on Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon to urgently engage with the Short Strand community’s campaign for the relocation of the Translink Bus Depot away from the area.
Speaking today Ms O’Donnell said:
“I welcome the Minister’s commitment to a ‘green recovery’ - any such recovery has to include the relocation of large pollutants out of residential communities.
“As a result of a motion I brought to Belfast City Council, officers recently concluded a search that identified six alternative sites for this depot.
“While pedestrianising a number of city centre streets is welcome, action is needed in the Short Strand area which has had the highest rates of new cancer diagnoses in the whole of the East Belfast parliamentary constituency as well as identified problems with respiratory and other associated diseases.
“I have written to the Minister to invite her to visit the area - once safe to do so - and meet with the campaign here, the youth, community and sporting groups, as well as local residents, who want to see this site positively transformed for the welfare, health and prosperity of people here.
“I look forward to working with the Minister and hope she will appreciate and understand the very real and immediate need to relocate the depot to a more suitable site so that the people in the Short Strand can finally have a breather.”
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has said there can be zero tolerance for attacks on ambulance staff and other health workers.
The health spokesperson said:
“Any attacks against paramedics, ambulance staff or other health workers are nothing short of despicable.
“These are people who go above and beyond on a daily basis to keep us safe and their own safety should never be in question.
“Our ambulance staff are working tirelessly to protect us from this pandemic and it is a terrible indictment they now have to consider measures such as cameras and body armour to protect them from attacks.
“There can be zero tolerance of attacks, threats and intimidation against ambulance staff and health workers.
“Those responsible must be apprehended, brought before the courts and dealt with in a manner that reflects the seriousness of this crime in order to deter others and keep our frontline health workers safe.”
Sinn Féin MLA and vice chair of the Agriculture, Environment and Rural affairs committee, Philip McGuigan has criticised DUP Minister, Edwin Poots, for labelling an assembly supported call for increased support for beef and sheep farmers as divisive.
Mr. McGuigan said;
"The Minister has been given a £25million package to support our agriculture and horticulture sectors through the Covid19 pandemic. It was clear from the Assembly committee's consultation across the farming sectors that the Minister's initial proposals for the allocation of the money to diary and beef finishing sectors was totally unsatisfactory.
“Sinn Féin brought a motion to the Assembly calling on the Minister to include sheep and beef farmers in any financial package. Financial loses as a result of reduced prices, particularly at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis as a result of mart closures as well as a reduced market along with higher input prices have meant many beef and sheep farmers are struggling at the minute.
"The motion was an attempt to convey to the Minister that any financial package must be fair and equitable to all farming sectors who have experienced loses as a result of the pandemic. It was quite ludicrous for the Minister to label the Assembly debate divisive and seemed to be an attempt by him to distract from the lack of support for his initial proposal which in reality could be deemed divisive.
"The fact that the motion succeeded and was supported by Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance, Greens, UUP and PBP is evidence that not only was the Ministers comments way off the mark but so to was his initial proposal on how to allocate this £25million financial package."
Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has said it’s ‘highly frustrating’ that work to upgrade the A5 has faced another delay via a late submission of the public inquiry report.
The Foyle MLA said:
“At the start of the year, it was understood that work on the first phase of this A5 from New Buildings could begin in late 2020/early 2021.
“Today, the Infrastructure Committee was told that the report on the public inquiry is expected later than planned, and that construction cannot begin in the current financial year.
“The Department was then unable to give a date as to when construction is expected to commence on this vital road upgrade.
“This is highly frustrating. We have been waiting far too long for a scheme which is crucial to making one of Ireland’s most dangerous roads safer, in turn saving lives.
“Completion of the A5 would be another major step towards redressing decades of regional inequalities alongside the £210 investment and the Magee medical school.
“I will continue to push the Minister to give clarity on when people can expect this crucial scheme to finally get started.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children and Youth Affairs Kathleen Funchion TD has said that there will be huge disappointment at the childcare plan brought forward by the government today.
"If we are to re-open the economy, then parents returning to work need to be able to access affordable childcare in a way that is safe for staff and children alike. This requires an investment from the government beyond small capital grants and the paying a proportion of the wages of some childcare workers until the end of August.
"The reality is that without proper support, many childcare providers will be forced to either close their doors in September or we will see a situation where there is a massive hike in fees for parents. This is unacceptable.
"The reality is that many families will be unable to afford the exorbitant childcare costs they have faced for the last number of years without meaningful investment.
"Sinn Féin is calling for:
Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin has said the Agriculture Minister must ensure the north’s 20,000 sheep and beef farmers are properly supported during the Covid19 crisis.
The Mid Ulster MLA was commenting after the Assembly backed a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Minister to include hill farmers in the £25m Covid19 Support Scheme.
Emma Sheerin said:
“Our farmers are facing huge challenges as a result of the current health pandemic.
“The closure of hotels and restaurants has led to a reduction in demand and a collapse in prices. And at the same time cost of feed and fertiliser has risen.
“There are 20,000 beef and sheep farmers in the north, and it is they who will be hardest hit.
“I welcome the support of the Assembly for our motion calling on the Agriculture Minister to properly fund our sheep and beef farmers through the £25m scheme announced by Finance Minister Conor Murphy.
“As farmers face the prospect of the looming Brexit and the severe, it is essential this funding should go where it is most needed – the Agriculture Minister must heed the wishes of the Assembly before any scheme is finalised.”
Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that he is deeply concerned that the Department may not be in a position to deliver anything like the Summer Provision Programme it has announced.
Speaking today, in a debate with the Minister, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said;
“Children with Special Educational needs and educational disadvantage are among those who have lost the most from school buildings being closed and must be the top priority for Minister McHugh’s Department.
“Parents are under unbelievable strain. Children feel in many instances isolated, frustrated and sad.
“Despite the best efforts of everyone, including teachers, many feel these children are being forgotten and left behind by the State. Many children have regressed, and we are all inundated with heartbreaking stories from parents
“These children need support and socialisation, and Summer or July Provision must be central to that.
“The elephant in the room is that people are beginning to doubt if it will happen at all.
“It seems to me from talking to people in the sector, that Minister McHugh and his Department are not on the same page.
“A consultation with the Department suggested that this summer scheme would be for children in special schools and classes, excluding the 65% of autistic children in mainstream schools. He has contradicted that since then. Meanwhile, the public are remain in the dark.
"There is a heavy emphasis on the school based programme. However, most schools do not feel safe to sign up, they have no protocols, no transport can be organised, they are unsure of insurance. It's the 10th of June, only a handful of schools have signed up, and I fear that very few more will.
"The Minister is talking about expanding the scheme significantly, yet he has given no indication how he intends to find the teachers needed, when in fact, many teachers who have done it otherwise may not be in a position to do so.
"The Scheme is vitally important, and it is welcome that children with Downs Syndrome will be included. We need support for children who have lost out so much.
"However, he needs in the next few days to demonstrate how he intends the Department will do this because if these issues cannot be resolved, then I am concerned that we could have a repeat of the failed childcare scheme and the SNA reassignment."
Sinn Fein MLA and spokesperson for Children and Young People Catherine Kelly MLA has said that children with special educational needs attending mainstream schools must be treated fairly and any disciplinary action fully explained and registered.
Speaking the West Tyrone MLA said:
“Today Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma highlighted concerns to the Education Committee around special educational needs in mainstream schools, and in particular the lack of understanding of these needs and inadequate explanations for disciplinary action.
“It is concerning that many mainstream schools fail to appropriately support and cater for those with special educational needs.
“The practice of imposing exclusions and suspensions on children with special educational needs attending mainstream schools without any formal system of registering explanations is totally unacceptable.
“The exclusion of pupils with special educational needs from education, whether permanent or temporary, has a detrimental impact on their academic development and must be a last resort.
“It is also unacceptable for some school principals to simply cite a lack of resources for not adequately registering explanations for disciplinary action.
“I am calling on the Department of Education to investigate the frequency of these ‘informal’ measures and to introduce a formal register, as well as appropriated oversight and a mechanism to allow parents to appeal any decision to deny or limit access to education for their child.”
Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson has welcomed a commitment from the Minister for Infrastructure to conduct an updated feasibility study on the Derry-Coleraine phase 3 rail upgrade.
The Foyle MLA who sits on the Infrastructure Committee said
“This is a welcome step towards ensuring that Derry has a modern and sustainable rail infrastructure that is fit for purpose.
“I questioned the Minister on this last month and I was informed that the department has severe budgetary constraints but that options were being considered.
“I am glad that since then, the Minister has committed to getting the Phase 3 rail upgrade back on track and that an updated feasibility study will be conducted. It is absolutely vital that this takes place and upgrade work finally begins as scheduled in 2021.
“Developing a comprehensive transportation network is essential for economic growth and helping to address regional inequalities.
“Currently, only one train leaves Derry in the morning and arrives in Belfast before 9am- it is completely unsuitable for those working in Belfast.
“3 million people travelled on the Derry-Belfast line last year and when an hourly service was finally facilitated from Derry to Belfast passenger numbers leapt by a massive 40%- there is enormous local demand for rail infrastructure.
“After decades of economic neglect, improved rail links will help transform the economic fortunes of the North West, and provide a more sustainable mode of travel fit for the 21st Century.”