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Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has written to the leaders of the main political parties at Westminster to outline the huge damage the British government's Internal Market Bill would do to the Good Friday Agreement.

The Sinn Féin Brexit spokesperson said:

"The British government have been blatant in their intention to break international law by attempting to tear up the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Irish Protocol through the Internal Market Bill.

"Not only would passage of this bill break international law, it would also drive a coach and horses through another internationally binding agreement, the Good Friday Agreement.

"The bill would give the British government the power to unilaterally impose its rules and regulations on the Assembly, regardless of the views of the democratically elected MLAs and ministers in the Executive. This is a clear deviation from the Good Friday Agreement and the political institutions it created.

"It includes clauses that would give the British government powers to compel the Executive and Assembly to accept lower environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards, jeopardising our local agri-food industry and leaving the Executive powerless to act.

"It would also create an unelected quango with the ability to challenge the democratically elected devolved Assemblies.

"Crucially, it would undermine the all-Ireland aspects of the Good Friday Agreement as it completely sidelines north-south cooperation. This was a key element of the Good Friday Agreement for nationalists and republicans and cannot be set aside at will by the British government.

"I have now written to the leaders of the main political parties at Westminster flagging up the main breaches of the Good Friday Agreement arising out of the Internal Market Bill. It is important they understand the ramifications of this proposed legislation for the north of Ireland, relations on the island of Ireland and relations across these islands.

"The British government and British parliament cannot simply be allowed to undermine and hollow out the Good Friday Agreement and the decades of progress which has resulted from it."

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Sinn Féin MLA Emma Rogan has urged the public to avoid Ardglass Harbour due to an ongoing security alert which has seen the area evacuated this morning.

The South Down MLA said:

“There is an ongoing security alert at Ardglass Harbour today after a fishing boat brought in what is believed to be British munitions from the Irish sea.

“This is totally unacceptable and yet again this has placed our local coastal communities in danger and caused huge disruption to people's lives.

“The harbour has been evacuated and is currently cordoned off while investigations are underway, and I would urge the public to avoid the area this afternoon.”

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Sinn Féin MLA and Minister in the Executive Office, Declan Kearney has said it is essential that the whole community in the Crumlin and Glenavy areas pulls together in observing restrictions to reduce the growing numbers of positive cases of Covid-19.

The South Antrim MLA said:

“We are now halfway through the period of local restrictions introduced to help stem the rise in Covid-19 transmission across the BT28 and BT29 areas of South Antrim.

“The need for these new localised restrictions reflects the growing incidence of positive cases in the affected areas during recent weeks. It is therefore absolutely essential that the entire community pulls together to cooperate with and support all the relevant agencies working to reduce the ever-present threat of Covid-19 in our midst.

“I have been monitoring the local situation, and reports shared with me by business people and community leaders, as well as feedback from relevant agencies, indicate that not everyone is acting to effectively reduce the speed of virus transmission.

“This trend must be reversed if we are to avoid a continuation of restrictions beyond the immediate period, or another introduction of further restrictions.

“A particular responsibility rests with local retail and licensed premises to follow the existing regulations and guidelines in order to provide a safe environment for protection of their staff and the general public.

“I commend those citizens who have been acting with great responsibility, I am appealing for everyone to exercise caution and adhere to the health advice and the regulations and guidance in place.

“While most young people are playing their part in trying to halt the spread of the virus it is very worrying that sizeable numbers of them continue to gather in certain locations with no social distancing. This is putting themselves and their families at risk and threatening to undermine the efforts of the rest of the community. 

“On Friday I spoke with the PSNI district commanders with responsibility for BT29 and BT28 and requested that police bring specific focus to those premises and settings where there is evidence of regulations being breached, and, or a failure to observe guidance.

“In the meantime, everyone should also continue to practice regular hand washing, the wearing of face coverings and maintain social distancing. These measures remain essential behaviours in this critical period.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Liz Kimmins has raised deep concern at a sharp rise in Covid19 cases among health staff and further deaths at Daisy Hill Hospital.

The Newry/Armagh MLA said:

“I am deeply concerned that over 20 staff in the male medical ward at Daisy Hill hospital have now tested positive with Covid19 and sadly another three people have died.

“I extend my sympathies to the families of those who have died and wish those who are ill or self-isolating a speedy recovery.

“Since the outbreak last week, we have been highlighting the failure to test staff working at Daisy Hill and there is now a sharp rise in cases.

“I have raised the issue of testing with both the Health Minister and the Chief Executive and urged them to make testing available to workers.

“While workers are now being tested, this cannot happen again. Our health workers are fighting the virus on the frontline and should be protected.

“Visiting at the hospital remains paused and I would urge people to keep following the public health advice to stop the spread of Covid19.”

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West Belfast MP Paul Maskey led a Sinn Féin delegation to meet with Communities Minister Carál Ni Chuilin on the Casement Park project today. 


The West Belfast MP said;

“Sinn Féin remain fully committed to ensuring West Belfast has a new state of the art Casement Park to showcase Gaelic games and for the use of the local community.

“The delivery of a redeveloped Casement Park remains a key priority for Sinn Féin.

“Today’s meeting with Communities Minister Carál Ni Chuilin was extremely positive and it was very welcome that the minister has reaffirmed her commitment to redevelopment of Casement Park.

“Gaels in Belfast and Antrim have waited too long already for the project. They should not have to wait any longer.


“Casement Park remains the last piece of sports stadia project not to be delivered, we need to see movement on this immediately and this starts with the Minister for Infrastructure making a decision on the current planning permission." 

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Pearse DohertySinn Féin spokesperson on Finance Pearse Doherty TD has today written to the Minister for Finance and the CEOs of the five retail banks calling for an extension of payment breaks for borrowers impacted by Covid-19.

Speaking today, the Donegal TD warned that unless these payment breaks are extended before the end of September, tens of thousands of borrowers risk falling into distressed debt in the coming weeks under European Banking Authority rules.

Teachta Doherty said: “This morning I have written to the Minister for Finance and the CEOs of the five retail banks requesting that a further extension is granted to borrowers who have taken Covid-19 payment breaks.

“Figures published this week by the Central Bank show that 74,000 mortgage payment breaks have been granted by the five retail banks since the outbreak of Covid-19.

“Banks and lenders provided a three-month payment break with the option of a further three-month extension without the risk of falling into default under emergency guidelines introduced by the European Banking Authority (EBA) in March.

“The Banking and Payments Federation say that 37,000 of these borrowers are already on the three-month extension with their breaks due to end in the coming weeks.

“With unemployment remaining high and cuts to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment yesterday, many of these households will be unable to resume their mortgage repayments.

“The situation is no less grave for small businesses, many of whom now face further restrictions in the days ahead.

“In short, we are facing a mortgage arrears crisis.

“Unless a further extension to these payment breaks is granted before September 30th, these borrowers will fall into default under the EBA rules if they cannot meet their full capital and interest repayments.

“In Germany, mortgage breaks have been extended until the end of 2020, and for 12 months in Spain and Italy.

“This virus, and its impact on jobs and income, will be with us for some time.

“To avoid an otherwise certain debt crisis, the government and banking sector must now extend payment breaks for Covid-impacted borrowers immediately, without additional interest accruing during the period of the break.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Emma Rogan has welcomed the announcement from the Infrastructure Minister that the opening of a 'park and ride' facility in Downpatrick will be a priority. 

The South Down MLA said:  

“Sinn Féin and the local community have been calling for a park and ride facility in Downpatrick for some time. 

“I welcome that the Infrastructure Minister has today confirmed a 'park and ride' facility in Downpatrick will now be progressed as a priority.  

“The 'park and ride' facility will be invaluable for the people of Downpatrick and the surrounding area. It would make it easier for people to make public transport their first choice for travel as we seek to decarbonise transport as part of our overall efforts to tackle the climate emergency.”  

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Sinn Fein spokesperson on Addiction, Recovery and Wellbeing, Thomas Gould TD, has today called on Taoiseach Michael Martin to clarify his comments that "the health authorities are against residential type addiction centres”.

Teachta Gould said:

“The Taoiseach’s comments today were extremely surprising given that the National Drugs Strategy recognises that, while most young people can be treated in the community, some need more ‘specialised services’ such as residential treatment.

“I would ask that he clarify when the decision was made by the Health Authorities to oppose residential treatment, who made this decision and why it does not appear to feed into policy or practice with the National Drugs Strategy, outlining that ‘HSE funding has also resulted in an increased number of residential addiction beds’.

“This government have already shown a serious disregard for people in recovery. The delay and confusion surrounding Recovery Support meetings, such as AA, and the failure of the Minister to, to date, address my concerns in relation to progress made on the Action Plan 2017-2020 in 2019.

"I would ask that the Taoiseach immediately recognises the stigma already surrounding those accessing residential treatment and the impact his comments will have on compounding this.

“We are about to lose 6 adolescents beds for residential treatment. This will be a significant loss to an already struggling and underfunded system. The Taoiseach needs to step up, clarify his comments and replace these beds immediately.”

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Sinn Féin Party Group Leader on Belfast City Council Ciaran Beattie has called on political parties to place efforts into reconciliation as opposed to divisive events.

Councillor Beattie said:

“This morning, the Alliance Party and DUP united in the Strategic Policy and Resource Committee to support a bid bringing ‘National Armed Forces Day’ to Belfast in 2022.

“This was unsuccessful”

“The hosting of this event is of no benefit to our city, it will compound the hurt of victims of British armed forces and cause division amongst citizens of Belfast.

“The role of the British army in Belfast and across Ireland is not one of glory, but one of brutality and oppression.

“This bid also comes at a time when nations across the globe are reflecting on their colonial past and the horrific injustices inflected upon citizens by the British army.

“Belfast City Centre is a neutral space - all sections of our community enjoy the shops, hospitality and entertainment on offer.

“The hosting of Armed Forces Day would undoubtedly politicise a neutral space.

“There is an obligation on all political representatives to act responsibly and to place their focus into peace building and reconciliation.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Jemma Dolan has today called for immediate action throughout society and in government to tackle pay discrimination against women. 

Speaking on International Equal Pay Day, the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA reiterated the party’s commitment to removing barriers and creating greater equality for women in the workplace. 

Jemma Dolan said: 

“The 2020 Women in Work index confirmed that there is a 16 percent pay gap between men and women in the private sector.  

“The gender pay gap is a critical indicator of gender inequality which is still rife across our society. 

“This is a frontline equality issue, and one of many financial barriers faced by women in the world of work. 

“Sinn Féin will be bringing forward proposals to help tackle the gender pay gap and the inclusion of women in the workplace. 

“I have written to the Executive seeking an update on what progress has been made to implement the regulations that govern the publication of gender pay gap information.  

“A key cause of the pay gap is that women often struggle to stay in full-time work due to care and family commitments, this can lead them to only seeking part-time work which inevitably impacts on their income. 

“Sinn Féin is committed to tackling the barriers, which affect female workers and workers in general and we are committed to bringing forward proposals that will give workers a break across our island.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection, Claire Kerrane TD, has today launched a survey on Household Debt. 

Teachta Kerrane said: “Over the last seven months, many people right across the State have lost their jobs and faced a sudden wipe-out of their income. Thousands have been laid off temporarily and placed on an income below what they were earning pre-Covid. 

“Households have seen their energy bills soar as they spend more time at home than usual. Supports introduced since Covid hit, such as the so-called ‘mortgage holiday’, did nothing but increase mortgage costs for families. 

“Workers and families have been under immense pressure and where they might have just been managing to get by before Covid, they are struggling now in an unprecedented way. 

“Before we ever heard of Covid, Ireland had the fifth highest household debt in the EU. Yet, this has never been tackled by Government. It isn’t even talked about. 

“We need to put household debt on the agenda and ensure that it gets the serious attention that it deserves. 

“My Household Debt survey seeks to establish the reality of household debt in Ireland, how it impacts on peoples lives and what needs to change to give people the support they need. 

“We need to support workers and families at this crucial time. Some may be struggling with day-to-day costs for the very first time. For others, life was already a financial struggle prior to Covid and the pandemic has only made it even harder. 

“I am asking people to take part in my Household Debt survey so we can ascertain the true level of household debt and establish what needs to happen to address this.”

Note:

The survey is available to view online by clicking this link
 

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Sinn Féin Education spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has raised concerns following reports that teachers who would be marked as close contacts by the HSE Covid Tracker app are now having that status removed by the Department of Health, and not being advised to isolate or seek testing.
 
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:

“This is very concerning news. Whilst it is important that schools are open, an essential part of keeping them open is safeguarding the safety of school staff.
 
"Teachers are just as susceptible to Covid-19 as any other user of the Covid tracker app.
 
"One would question the value of the HSE tracking app in the first instance, if its advice is disregarded so bluntly. If anything, it undermines the importance of the ‘close contacts’ notification, as the Department are telling certain cohorts of the public to ignore the app’s advice.
 
"We need an explanation here. It cannot be that there is one rule for the general public, and another rule for teachers. Surely, a close contact is a close contact, regardless of profession. It is completely unfair to have lower standards for school staff.
 
"Teachers, secretaries, SNAs, caretakers and all school staff have worked tirelessly across the country in the past weeks and months to ensure that kids could get back into the classroom. The Government must now show their thanks, by properly ensuring the safety of all school staff.
 
"I have raised this today with the Ministers for Education and Health, seeking an explanation on how this came to pass."

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Sinn Féin MP John Finucane has called for the Home Office to reverse a decision which has led to a young asylum seeker from north Belfast being denied a university place. 

The North Belfast MP said:  

“Arezki Yachir came to Belfast in 2014 and has excelled in education – achieving two A* grades and an A grade in his A-level results. 

“He has lived here for four years and views the North as home,  but upon turning 18 Arezki was refused asylum seeker status, a decision he is now appealing.

 “As a consequence, the Home Office have advised the Education Authority against permitting Arezki financial assistance for third level education. 

“I have spoken with the family and their solicitor over recent days to offer my support in anyway that I can. 

“I have also contacted Queen's University to ask that they show leadership, and in the absence of financial support from the EA, provide the necessary financial support to allow Arezki to continue along his academic path.

“The decision by the Home Office not to permit asylum seeker status to Arezki is wrong and they must reverse this decision.

“Arzeki and the Yachir family were forced to flee Algeria due to threats on their life – there is an obligation on us all to provide them with the maximum support in their new home."

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Eoin Ó BroinSinn Féin spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin has expressed his disappointment at the silence of the Green Party during last night’s debate on his Ban on Rent Increases Bill 2020.

Teachta Ó Broin said: “The silence from the Green Party last night on renters' rights was deafening.

“While Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael spoke and attempted to justify their own failings to support renters, the Green Party TDs stayed silent.

“A ban on rent increases is a policy that the Green Party previously supported as recently as last December when they voted to support our Rent Freeze Bill.

“The fact that nobody from the Green Party spoke last night to explain their position will be seen by many as the beginning of a substantial shift in housing policy from the Green Party, which is hugely disappointing.

“The vote on the Ban on Rent Increases Bill takes place next week, and I hope that the Green Party will stick with renters or at the very least explain their position to voters.”

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Sinn Féin Seanad Health spokesperson, Senator Elisha McCallion, has raised concerns for cross-border workers over a lack of communication between the HSE and the HSC in terms of contact tracing when cross-border workers test positive for Covid-19.

Senator McCallion has written to the Health Minister Stephen Donnelly for clarity on the issue.

Senator McCallion said:

“It has come to my attention that protocols for cross-border workers who test positive for Covid-19, and their employers, have not been communicated clearly on both sides of the border.

“Employers have found that when they contact the relevant  agency for information on how to proceed with contact tracing for an employee who lives in the South but works in the North, they haven't received a satisfactory response.

“It is vital that employees and employers are made aware of the exact protocols that should be followed in this situation, so I have written to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly asking for the protocols to be made clear and communicated accordingly. I have also highlighted this issue with my colleague Colm Gildernew, who will be pursuing the issue with the Health Minister in the North.

“As we all know, this virus does not recognise borders, therefore our strategy must be the suppression of the virus in the workplace on an all-island basis.

“Many people cross the border for work every single day, so the only way for us to be able to live with the virus is if we deliver a testing and tracing system on an all-island basis that is fit for purpose.

“Testing, contact tracing and so forth must be carried out seamlessly through fully cooperative efforts.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said economic recovery plans must be strategic and ambitious.

As official figures show the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and restrictions have resulted in record falls in output for the services and production sectors, the party's economy spokesperson said:

"While these figures are stark, it is unsurprising given the restrictions that were in place and this has had a particular impact on these sectors.

"Services include everything from bars, restaurants, gyms, beauty salons to leisure and communications, while production is also diverse and includes things like manufacturing and mining.

"Many of these businesses had to cease operating and are only slowly resuming operations.

"The furlough scheme has been key to preventing wide scale job losses but is due to end at the end of October.

"We now need to be planning for the economic recovery that is going to support businesses in the short term as they are navigating reopening, likely on a smaller scale than pre-lockdown, and also look at how the economy more broadly recovers in the months and years ahead.

"An extension or replacement of the furlough scheme needs to be part of that, it has helped keep workers in contact with their employers but we now need to be looking at the employment landscape and helping those workers get back into employment and that may require training and re-skilling.

"The economic recovery strategy needs to take account of that by putting in place training opportunities; this means working with the further and higher education providers as well as businesses and industry to ensure programmes put in place are being met with demand.

"Interventions for young people will be vital as youth unemployment is expected to hit 25%, so we need to see both training and employment supports.

"In shaping and planning for the economic recovery, we need to be strategic and ambitious - that means doing things differently and not returning to the normality of low productivity and precarious work.

"We have the opportunity to strive for better and we need to take it.“

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has tonight commented on the proposal to stop indoor dining in pubs and restaurants in Dublin.

Teachta Cullinane said:

"The increased incidence rate of Covid-19 - particularly in Dublin - is very worrying and has been for some time. Despite this, the government refused to act in a timely manner on public health advice to try and take control of the situation in the capital.

"This, we were told, was because the government was preparing a new five level plan; with clearly set out restrictions at each level.

"This plan was published on Tuesday, yet tonight it is being reported that a recommendation will go to government tomorrow for Dublin to be placed at level 3, but with further restrictions to stop indoor service in pubs and restaurants. This is not in line with the government's own plan, it makes no sense and will only lead to further public confusion.

"Pubs and restaurants are not the problem. They are controlled environments, and the latest figures identifying clusters show that there were just three clusters associated with pubs and restaurants across the State last week.

"It is clear that pubs and restaurants are not a major contributing factor to the spread of the virus and could, in fact, have a very negative impact by not providing social outlets for people, who may continue to gather in private settings; which are contributing massively to the spread of the virus at present."

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Elisha McCallionSinn Féin Seanad spokesperson for Higher Education Elisha McCallion has called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney to come in front of the Seanad to provide clarity on the progress of the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

Minister Coveney was due to address the Seanad this week until Tuesday’s Covid scare in government caused upheaval to the Oireachtas schedule.

Speaking today, Senator McCallion said: “The New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement was signed in January following a year of extensive discussions with all the parties in the North, and the Irish and British governments.

“It provided a lot of hope in the North, in spite of the uncertainty and instability caused by Brexit. But the British government defaulted in their financial commitments before the ink was even dry on this agreement.

“Sinn Féin played a key role in ensuring that Derry and the North-West featured heavily in the agreement to address the real need for strategic investment.

“The Irish government committed to exploring opportunities to invest in the Derry/Strabane and North-West inclusive growth deal, which currently comprises investment of £105 million via the Northern Executive, £105 million from the British government and £50 million investment from Derry City and Strabane District Council and Ulster University. 

"The insertion of the Ulster University Magee campus expansion was absolutely essential for Sinn Féin to buy into this agreement.

“The agreement states that the government would update and enhance the National Development Plan to committee to joint funding cross border investment in infrastructure once the Executive was formed in the North. The Northern Executive was established in February, so an update is long overdue.

“I welcome the fact that the government committed £75 million but they previously agreed to fund 50% of the entire project, and clarity must be given here.

“This government must give assurances to people and businesses in the North, that the targeted funding that is discussed in the document, for those sectors most affected in the event of a crash out, specifically looks at a way of that funding being made available for usage in the Northern side of the border specifically in border areas.

“The Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is on record as saying that northern nationalists would never again be left behind. Actions speak louder than words.

“This cannot be another false dawn for Derry and the North West, and we need clarity on whether the Irish government is fulfilling its commitments to the region.”

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Darren O RourkeSinn Féin spokesperson on Transport Darren O’Rourke has said that testing and tracing will be key going forward as international travel opens up.

Deputy O'Rourke's comments come as countries on the green list were updated, while the advice against travel for holidays is set to be removed.

Speaking today, Teachta O’Rourke said: “I welcome the updating of the green list as, inexplicably, it hasn’t been updated since the beginning of August.

“However, I am deeply concerned at the total lack of testing capabilities at our airports or even more basic checks such as temperature screening.

“This is an issue Sinn Féin have raised throughout the pandemic, citing the urgent need for measures to be put in place in our airports.

“While other countries used the past few months to introduce testing facilities and safety measures at their ports of entry, the Irish government just about managed to get the Passenger Locater Form put online.

“It’s simply not good enough.

“With these changes to the green list, and the expected EU-wide approach from the middle of next month, we can expect a significant increase in the number of people travelling abroad and travelling to Ireland.

“It’s imperative we have the testing and tracing capabilities in place to prevent international travel contributing to a rise in coronavirus here.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Declan Kearney has expressed his condolences following the death of a woman in a road collision near Toomebridge.

The South Antrim MLA said: 

"I am saddened to hear of the death of a woman in a road collision on the Roguery Road outside Toomebridge earlier today.

"Any death on our roads is one too many. 

"My thoughts and sympathies are with the family, friends and loved ones of the woman who has tragically lost her life." 

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