Sinn Féin spokesperson for Finance Pearse Doherty has welcomed the announcement from Insurance Ireland that Allianz, AXA, FBD, RSA and Zurich are offering either premium reductions or rebates to their motor insurance customers.
Deputy Doherty called on Liberty Insurance and Aviva to offer the same supports, while warning that insurance companies are still using discriminatory pricing during the COVID-19 crisis.
Teachta Doherty said: "I welcome today's announcement by Insurance Ireland that a number of insurance companies are offering premium reductions or rebates to their motor customers.
"The test now is whether this promise will be delivered. The cost of claims have plummeted for insurance companies, it is essential that these savings are passed down by insurance companies to their customers.
"Liberty and Aviva should now follow suit.
“I raised this issue yesterday in the Dáil, and it is crucial that no company, insurer or bank, exploits the COVID-19 crisis for profit.
"Many insurers are still using unfair pricing practices since the COVID-19 outbreak, with loyal customers being offered renewal quotes higher than their previous premium despite not having made any claims.
"This is dual pricing and Sinn Féin will be introducing legislation in the 33rd Dáil to ban its practice."
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile has welcomed today’s announcement by Aire Deirdre Hargey that all those in receipt of a Líofa Gaeltacht Scholarship for 2020 will be given the chance to attend the Summer Colleges next year instead.
This is in light of the decision by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to cancel this summer’s Gaeltacht Courses as a result of the COVID-19 Health Crisis.
Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile said:
"This is a welcome decision by Minister Hargey and will go some significant way to ease the fears of parents and young people who thought they might be missing out on a course this year and potentially next year.
"All those who were successful this year will have the opportunity next Summer to attend a course.
"A trip to the Gaeltacht is a significant social, cultural and educational experience for countless young people; today's decision by Aire Hargey will ensure young people get to have those positive experiences next year.
"The decision to keep the deposits in the hands of the Colleges themselves will also go some way toward their running costs in what will no doubt be a difficult time for them.
"Sinn Féin will keep the pressure on Minister Kyne in Dublin to ensure he releases a timeline for the support packages to be released for the colleges and Mná Tí."
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has said information on all deaths from COVID-19 is needed in order to ensure the fight back is as effective as possible.
The Sinn Féin health spokesperson said:
“The figures released today on the number of deaths from COVID-19 in residential and care homes give an indication of the scale of the public health emergency we are facing.
“Each of these deaths is a tragedy for the family, friends and loved ones of each of those who have lost their lives and my thoughts and sympathies are with them all.
“It is essential we are able to get a full picture of the extent and scale of the spread of COVID-19 in order to fight back in the most effective way.
“In particular we need more information on the number of deaths outside of care and residential home and hospital settings.
“That will enable us to get access the full impact of this pandemic and inform the best response and provide better health care for our most vulnerable citizens."
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly TD has said that the government must ensure they can keep any new commitments they make regarding Covid-19 testing.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“It is being reported today that the government and the National Public Health Emergency Team are looking at possibly changing the case definition for testing for Covid-19 and increasing testing capacity.
“If this is to be the case, then it is a welcome move that the rigidity of the testing criteria will be reversed.
“The changes to testing criteria introduced last month meant that thousands of people who were previously scheduled for a test were told they would now not be tested; it also meant that people who developed some Covid-19 symptoms were not tested unless they fitted into narrow criteria.
“The World Health Organisation have been clear in their advice that States must 'test, test, test'.
“Indeed, yesterday Professor Paul Moynagh, Professor of Immunology and head of the Kathleen Lonsdale Institute for Human Health at Maynooth University said that we could be only picking up one in ten cases of Covid-19.
“Professor Moynagh said that we need to move from testing just for disease surveillance to actively testing in the community so we can identify the total spread and transmission of the disease.
“We need to test as many people as possible to uncover all positive cases. This means we have to have capacity to test and also capacity to identify and contact trace every person who has interacted with a positive case.
“If we do not take this approach then we will not be in a position to lift restrictions any time soon.
“For this to be achieved we need to ensure capacity is in place to test significant numbers as quickly as possible.
“Whether the government have that capacity in place is a matter for debate considering they have consistently failed to reach the testing targets they have set for themselves.
“If the government are going to change the testing criteria that is to be welcomed, but they need to ensure they can keep the commitments they make to the public regarding Covid-19.”
EU must stand firm as Brits continue to disregard agreement - Chris MacManus MEP
“The EU must be wise to the old British trickery we’re beginning to see as Brexit now becomes reality” claimed Sinn Fein MEP Chris MacManus. “On the island of Ireland we’re all too aware of the historic conniving we’ve often come to expect from Westminster. It’s vital our European counterparts are keenly aware of this and stand firm if this perceived reneging on agreements continues.”
“The Midlands Northwest MEP was speaking in the wake of the latest round of post-Brexit talks this week. “Clearly the best thing for Ireland is that Britain and the EU negotiate in good faith about a close and mutually beneficial future relationship. However, from what we know of the negotiations this week it seems that the British government are not serious about the negotiations and are not really interested in an agreement. They want to have their cake and eat it!”
In a post-talks press briefing the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier was similarly pessimistic about developments. “We cannot accept selective progress on a limited set of issues only. We need to find solutions on the most difficult topics. The UK cannot refuse to extend the transition period and at the same time slow down discussions on important areas.”
MacManus was equally critical of the British “slow down” in discussions. “Now that they're out of the EU they also seem to consider the Withdrawal Agreement (a legally binding international treaty) to be optional. They're dragging their heels on the implementation of the Agreement – particularly the Irish protocol, which provides the bare minimum needed to avoid barbed wire and customs posts on the border. In a very petty and petulant move, typical of their whole attitude to Brexit, They're also refusing to allow the European Commission to open a technical office in Belfast.
MacManus concluded by drawing attention to the upcoming deadlines and the need for an extension. “In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis it's very clear now that there is no way that there will be sufficient progress by the end of June. If the British want to prove they are serious then they'll extend the transition period and get down to some serious negotiations. Either way, the EU has to be ready to take a very firm position on the full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. The British government cannot be allowed to get away with their usual trick of renegotiating something they have already agreed upon.” ENDS
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has said the Irish Protocol agreed by the EU and the British government must be protected during the Brexit negotiations.
The South Down MP said:
“Today the EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier has expressed his disappointment at the level of progress made in Brexit negotiations between the EU and British Government.
“The lack of progress on many issues, including access to the single market, justice and fisheries is a matter of great concern.
“During the upcoming round of talks in May, it is absolutely crucial that the protections agreed by both the British Government and the EU in the Irish Protocol are maintained.
“There is an obligation on the British Government to respect this agreement and for the EU to ensure that the British Government does not renege on these commitments.
“The protection of the all-Ireland economy, businesses and jobs against the threat of Brexit must be paramount.
"Sinn Féin will continue to work with the EU and the Irish government to make sure there is no reneging from the commitments made in the Irish Protocol.”
Sinn Féin Spokesperson for the Marine Brian Stanley TD has called on Minister Creed to avail of the EU temporary rescue scheme in an effort to support the Irish fishing industry.
Teachta Stanley said:
"It is very important that our fishing industry is provided with the necessary support it requires in order to preserve its existence and uphold our supply chains.
"With businesses and restaurants closed across Italy, Spain and France - where 64% if Irish fish exports go - closed, we are witnessing a huge drop in demand for Irish produce.
"Minister Creed has so far offered very few supports to small Irish fishing fleets who will struggle to survive the covid-19 crisis.
"There is growing frustration building in the fishing industry over a reluctance by Minister Creed to avail of EU funding to ease the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry.
"Last Friday, the European Commission set up a temporary relief scheme allowing EU member states to divert existing structural funds into compensation packages, including fleet tie-ups.
"Portugal and Latvia are among the first States to secure such a multimillion-euro scheme, while Britain announced a £10 million specific package last week, with £1.5 million for the North of Ireland.
"Minister Creed, however, has said he is not proposing a tie-up scheme for Irish fishing vessels at present. This is a decision which will leave many workers and communities in a very difficult situation during this crisis.
"Sinn Féin is calling on the Minister to investigate all possible avenues through which the fishing sector can be supported and to use all flexibility offered by the EU to give small Irish fishing fleets financial relief."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has commented on the Land Development Agency's plans for the delivery of more than 1,200 homes on the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum, Dublin.
Deputy Ó Broin said:
“The LDA has published an update on its housing plans for the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum, Dublin.
“The Agency estimates that the site can deliver over 1,200 new homes with their press release emphasising the delivery of affordable homes.
“This is a valuable State-owned site and it is my view that the site must be used to meet social and affordable cost-rental and affordable purchase need.
“Affordable rental affordable purchase homes must actually be affordable, with affordable rental from €900 per month and affordable purchase available from €250,000.
“I have written to the CEO of the LDA this morning asking for more information on the proposed tenure mix of the site in terms of social, cost rental, affordable purchase and open market sale.
“I have also asked if the LDA has established price points for any cost rental or affordable sale units.
“This is important, as we all known from the controversially surrounding the proposed 'affordable' purchase cost for homes on the redeveloped O'Devaney Gardens site - which were priced beyond the reach of households in need of affordable housing.
“I also restated my view that the open market sale of these houses is not a good use of such a strategic site and will not deliver homes that most people can afford - a need which is currently going unmet by private market operators.
“This is a State owned site and it should be utilised to deliver public housing that is accessible and affordable.”
Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has welcomed the announcement of financial support for ferry operators but has stressed that further support is needed for the logistics sector to ensure supply chains remain open during the Covid-19 crisis.
The Newry and Armagh MLA said:
“I welcome the joint initiative from the Executive and the Department of Infrastructure to provide financial support of up to £17 million for ferry operators.
“This is crucial to keep supply chains open during the COVID-19 emergency and will assist with the continued delivery of essential goods such as foods and medicines.
“Ferries, trucks, airports and ports are playing a vital role in ensuring the supply lines of essential goods are secure and shops are adequately stocked for the public.
“This is an important recognition of the significant work being done to continue to keep supply chains open.”
Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan has welcomed the news that the members of the five teaching unions have voted to support a deal which will settle the long running dispute over teachers’ pay.
The Foyle MLA said:
“Years of cruel and crippling Tory austerity have left a devastating impact on our public services but particularly on our education system and our frontline teaching staff.
“The substantial increase in the Department of Education’s budget by Finance Minister Conor Murphy for the coming year has made it possible to make this pay offer.
“The agreement is about far more than pay and it is welcome that a resolution has been found on the wider issues of workload and the inspections process.
“I’m hopeful that we can see the new arrangements that arise from this agreement in place across all schools from September.”
Sinn Féín MLA Órlaithí Flynn has welcomed plans announced by the Health Minister to put in place a Mental Health Champion but cautioned that the Minister himself must champion mental health services if real change is to materialise.
The party’s spokesperson for mental health and well-being said:
“The COVID-19 lockdown has led to added pressures and difficulties for those who suffering with a mental health condition and left many unable to access necessary services.
“The anxiety and stress generated by the crisis needs addressed.
“I raised my concerns with the Minister that mental health was being left behind during this public health crisis despite it being clear that now more than every we need to ensure that mental health is considered alongside physical health.
“The additional help and support that a Mental Health Champion could bring is to be welcomed as long as it compliments and adds to frontline services in a meaningful way.
“The Minister also needs to provide further detail in terms of the remit and function of the Champion.
“As chair of the All-Party Group on Suicide Prevention I have constantly raised the need to improve mental health services, this includes additional funding and a move towards parity of esteem for mental health services.
"Ultimately real improvements to services requires the Minister to be a Mental Health Champion."
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly has called for necessary supports such as additional staff and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be provided to nursing homes as a matter of urgency as most of the private nursing home sector is still in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking today, Teachta O’Reilly said:
“The nursing home sector, and the private nursing home sector in particular, is still in the grips of the COVID-19 crisis.
“A survey from Nursing Homes Ireland has shown a high level of staff vacancies, especially among nurses and healthcare assistants.
“Latest figures show that there has been a sharp increase in the number of nursing home residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has revealed the increasing case rate across the sector, while the number of nursing home residents who have died from the coronavirus has also been rising.
“Despite this, the sector, and particularly the private nursing home sector, are desperately short of staff and Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE).
“The sector has been gripped in crisis and desperately in need of supports for some time and the government need to move with might and main on this issue.
“Medical and nursing staff need to be seconded to the private nursing home sector from the HSE in their hundreds, including consultant geriatricians.
“The sector is lacking hundreds of staff due to some being infected, but also because staff have left and enlisted to work in the acute hospital sector when the government started recruiting at the beginning of the crisis.
“Both of these issues have left the sector devoid of the necessary staff to run the homes, but also to treat sick residents.
"This must be urgently addressed, and HSE staff need to be released to work at the frontline of the crisis in our nursing homes.
“The nursing home sector is still seriously lacking PPE – masks in particular.
“We need to ensure that additional PPE is distributed to the nursing home sector. They are the epicentre of this crisis at the moment and we have to deliver the necessary supports and resources in order to fight the virus in the homes and break the chain of transmission.”
Israeli Unity Government Annexation Plans must be denounced by the EU – MacManus
Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has denounced a deal between Israeli political parties which would annex parts of West Bank. He confirmed that he is raising the matter with the European Commission.
MEP MacManus, a member of the EU’s Delegation to Palestine said:
“The deal struck by Israel’s two biggest political parties will see the pair share power for the next few years. The deal is one that should concern the international community as it contains plans to implement the controversial plans of US President, Donald Trump, which would see the annexation of parts of the Palestinian West Bank.”
“The international community must strongly condemn any such move and demand that any plans to annex Palestinian land be abandoned.”
“I have written to the European Commission asking them if they are prepared to make take the courageous step in condemning this Programme for Government which violates international law.
“I will use my position as an MEP and as a long-time campaigner for Palestinian sovereignty to raise awareness about these potential violations and to express international solidarity with the Palestinian people, in the face of relentless Israeli oppression. ENDS
Sinn Féin MLA Órlaithí Flynn has raised concerns following reports that frontline psychiatrists are struggling to access suitable PPE and COVID-19 testing.
The party spokesperson on mental health said:
“There are many people who are struggling with anxiety due to the the impact of isolation to date and the prospect of it moving forward.
“Our frontline mental health services continue to remain open but staff have been raising concerns over access to PPE and testing.
“Staff in frontline mental health services deserve access to PPE and testing especially considering the nature of their work. Whether it is providing one to one services or within inpatient units, much of the work is face to face.
“I would call on the Health Minister to ensure that inpatient units are not left behind when it comes to accessing PPE and testing. Vulnerable mental health inpatients and staff need the same support as those in care home settings require.
“I have called on the Health Minister previously to ensure that talking therapies and counselling were considered core services.
"I was glad my suggestion for a dedicated online resource for mental health was taken forward. However digital services will only be able to complement the face to face services being provided in the middle of this crisis and thereafter.
“The Department of Health must ensure that mental health is not left behind as a Cinderella Service. The impact of Coronavirus will see new mental health challenges emerge and now is the time to plan and prepare mental health services for those challenges.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD has called Eoghan Murphy’s statement on the regulation of short-term letting platforms 'an astonishing U-turn'.
Deputy Ó Broin was responding to comments made by the Minister for Housing yesterday in relation to regulation of the short-term letting sector.
“When I heard the Minister for Housing yesterday calling for the next government to regulate short-term letting platforms I thought I was hearing things. This is quite possibly the most insincere statement of his tenure as Minster for Housing.
“In April 2019, when the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 was in Committee Stage, I asked the Minister if he was open to moving forward with broader regulations for short-term letting platforms.
“The Minister’s response was that regulating these platforms was not something he could do and that it should fall to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or maybe the Department of Finance.
“On at least three different occasions over the last year I again called on him to regulate these platforms as it became clear that short-term letting providers were flouting new planning rules and continuing to let properties on a short-term basis without seeking the required planning permission.
“Fast forward a year later, and the very same Minister - when he has no power to legislate - is now calling for the next government to make regulating short-term letting platforms a priority.
“It is remarkable that the Minister has the nerve to call for something to be done that he repeatedly refused to do himself when he had the power to do so.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Brian Stanley TD has criticised the European Commission's announcement of an €80million package to be spread across 27 Countries as well below what is required to protect the Agri-food sector in Ireland.
Teachta Stanley said:
"Farmers and all those who work in the food supply chain have done an incredible job so far to keep food on the table during the Covid-19 crisis, but we are now facing into a period of potential crisis for beef farmers and dairy markets.
"Yesterday's announcement by the European Commission falls well short of the bare minimum expectations of the Irish Agri-food sector.
"The package comes to a total of € 80million to be spread across all 27 EU states. The ICMSA has calculated that this will equate to a paltry €8 per farmer in the EU.
"The only real measure to welcome as part of this package is the limited access now available to Irish farmers through Aids to Private Storage, which will ensure that dairy and meat producers can store excess produce for up to six months.
"Farmers have waited patiently since the beginning of this crisis for the EU to bring forward proposals and they deserve much greater support than this.
"I am calling on Minister Michael Creed to engage with his European counterparts and to negotiate a stronger EU aid package for farmers."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health Louise O’Reilly TD has called the government's childcare plans for healthcare workers 'embarrassingly poor' and has said they come nowhere near close to delivering what is needed.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“On Wednesday, 11th March I asked the government to put in place a plan to address childcare issues for healthcare workers once schools would close.
“When this happened, I again asked for a workable solution to be found and I have reiterated that call countless times over the past month. However, it took until yesterday for the government to make any move to address this issue.
“Unfortunately, the plan they have produced is embarrassingly poor and comes nowhere near close to delivering what is needed.
“The plan to give paid leave to public sector staff whose partners are healthcare workers as a means to address childcare issues will not rectify the problems faced by the vast majority of healthcare workers.
“The INMO have called the government's plan “worse than irrelevant” and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment.
“The plan does nothing for the vast majority of healthcare staff and actively discriminates against single parents.
“The government need to sit down with Unions and workers and come up with a solution that addresses this issue in a meaningful way.”
Tá éilithe ag ionadaithe Shinn Féin Karen Mullan MLA agus an Seanadóir Niall Ó Donghaile go dtabharfaidh an tAire Peter Weir súil ar na pacáistí acmhainní a d'fhoilsigh an tÚdarás Oideachais trí mheán aon teanga déag éagsúla, seachas an Ghaeilge, agus réiteach a fháil.
Ag labhairt di inniu dúirt Karen Mullan;
“Scríobh mé chuig an Aire aréir ag iarraidh cruinniú práinneach leis an fhaillí mhillteanach seo a phlé. Le linn na tréimhse seo tá tábhacht agus úsáid ar leith ag baint le hacmhainní oideachias, mar sin, tá sé dochreidte go bhfoilseodh an tÚdarás Oideachais na hacmhainní seo gan an Ghaeilge san áireamh.
“Ábhar misnigh is ea an fháilte a chuireann an Roinn roimh an ilteangachas, ba chóir an ceart a bheith ag achan tuismitheoir a bheith cinnte de go bhfuiltear ag freastal ar riachtanais oideachais agus teangeolaíochta a gcuid páistí; ní mór a lua go bhfuil páistí den uile chineál cúlra mionlach idir theanga agus eitneacht a fhaigheann a gcuid oideachais trí mheán na Gaeilge.
Dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile;
“Tá dualgas reachtúil ar an Roinn Oideachais an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn agus tá dualgas ar an Aire a chinntiú go bhfuil riachtanais oideachais achan páiste comhlíonta. Ní ghlacfaidh an pobal le haon chéim siar a dhéanfaidh pobal na Gaeilge a imeallú agus a ísliú.
“Faoi láthair tá os cionn 7000 páiste ag fáil a gcuid oideachais trí mheán na Gaeilge agus tá siad i dteideal acmhainní agus tacaíochta ar chomhchéim le haon phobal nó teanga eile.
“Ní mór don Aire agus a Roinn a gcuid dualgas reachtúil a chomhlíonadh."
Sinn Féin representatives Karen Mullan MLA and Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile have called on Minister Peter Weir to address and rectify the exclusion of the Irish language from Education Authority education resource packs which are available in eleven other languages.
Speaking today Ms. Mullan said:
“I have written to the Minister seeking an urgent meeting to discuss how this overt failure was allowed to take place.
“At a time when educational resources are of massive importance and use, it beggars belief that the Education Authority would publish these resources and not include the Irish language.
“Multilingualism within the department is welcome and encouraging, every parent should have the right to know that the linguistic and educational needs of their children are being met; there are of course many children from minority ethnic and language backgrounds who are also being educated through Irish Medium Education.”
Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile said:
“The department of education has a statutory obligation to promote the Irish language. The Minister also has an obligation to ensure that the educational needs of our children are met.
“The community will not tolerate any steps back which disrespects or disregards the Irish language and those who speak it.
“Over 7,000 children are currently going through Irish Medium Education in the north and are as worthy of resourcing and supporting as those within any other sector or language.
“The Minister and his department must live up to their statutory responsibility.”
Speaking following the announcement that Age Action and the Red Cross have been forced to close the application process for the Covid-19 Hardship Fund due to the volume of applications, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection John Brady TD has said that the government must step up and provide increased supports for older people affected by Covid-19.
Teachta Brady said:
“The Age Action and Red Cross Covid-19 Hardship Fund received over 10,000 applications on behalf of older people in just a few short weeks.
“Unfortunately, due to the volume of applications and the lack of funding available, these bodies have had to take the difficult decision to close the fund to new applicants from next week onwards.
“The original deadline was the end of August and it is clear that even Age Action and the Red Cross did not anticipate the level of hardship currently being experienced by older people in this crisis.
“Earlier this month, Sinn Féin criticised the exclusion of over 66s from the financial supports available to other workers as the government refused to allow over 66s access the Covid-19 Unemployment Payment.
“While I commend Age Action and the Red Cross for their very worthwhile initiative and efforts in securing funding, it is clear that it is now time for the government to step up to the plate and provide additional financial supports to vulnerable older people that are struggling through this crisis.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has said that the Minister for Education needs to clarify the eligibility criteria for SUSI grant applications for those whose incomes have been affected as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He made his remarks as the SUSI grant application process opens tomorrow (23rd April).
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“Hundreds of thousands of workers have had their incomes reduced through no fault of their own as a result of the impact of Covid-19.
“While we hope that the impact of this will be short lived for these workers and families, it is clear that many will struggle with the financial burden of sending children to third-level in a few short months.
“However, it appears that the Department of Education has made no provision for these families as the SUSI grant application process opens up and it appears that the Department will make a determination on grant applications based on incomes earned in 2019; ignoring the new reality for thousands of families.
“The SUSI application process only allows for a change of circumstances to be taken into account where the change is 'permanent, or for the foreseeable future'.
“I am calling on the Minister to clarify what arrangements are in place to support students from families that have seen a significant drop in income to meet the costs of third-level education for the new academic year.
“It is clear that the criteria applied in previous years is not fit for purpose and the Minister must take account of these realities to ensure that those who require financial support can access it.”