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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has expressed concern at the Minister for Health’s lack of clarity and knowledge of detail in recent Dáil and media appearances.

Teachta Cullinane said that the Minister’s performance has been underwhelming and is undermining confidence in the vaccine rollout.

Teachta Cullinane said:

“The lack of clarity from the Minister for Health is highly disconcerting.

“His lack of knowledge of detail and the lack of clarity in his statements is undermining confidence in the vaccine rollout.

“Commitments were made that we would administer 250,000 vaccines a week this month, but that has been missed. 

“Mass vaccination centres were to be operational this month, but now the Minister is saying they won’t be at full-tilt until June.

“The Minister’s approach displays a lack of urgency and has been very underwhelming.

“There has been a lack of transparency or up-to-date information, and when it is provided, the Minister is not across it.

“When can we expect mass vaccination centres to be fully operational? When will we meet and surpass 250,000 vaccinations a week?

“There seems to be no clear plan and no clear timeframes, when these are the basics you would expect.

“We also need clarity now from the Minister and the HSE on the impact of the recent NIAC decision for the AstraZeneca vaccine on the rollout.

“As NPHET caution about a fourth wave and as restrictions are eased, it is vital that the Minister for Health is on top of the detail and effectively communicating it.

“This vaccine was sold as a gamechanger for the rollout, so it is disappointing to learn how limited its safe application is.

“There needs to be clarity on how this affects targets and how operational plans will be altered to ensure minimal disruption to the rollout.

“There are also many people under and over 60 who will need to be reassured about the safety of their second dose, and that needs to be communicated to them quickly.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has today called on the Department of Education to put the work in now, to ensure this year’s Summer Provision Programme can support as many children with additional needs as possible.
 
Speaking following today's Oireachtas Education Committee, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
 
“Children with additional needs are among those who missed out the most when schools were closed at the start of this year.
 
“Summer Provision is a vitally important programme. Given the difficulties of the last year, it is crucial that this year’s programme is the largest ever. Capacity planning needs to be done now to ensure those who lost out the most are given greater assistance, and to allow them to catch up over the summer months.
 
“At today’s session of the Oireachtas Education Committee, I called on the Department of Education to outline their plans to expand the programme even further this year.
 
“In terms of the DEIS summer programme, we need to go beyond the DEIS schools that have traditionally availed of the summer camps in tackling disadvantage. We should be asking all principals to submit names of children who need an extra bit of help, and we should start that process now, so we can identify interest and capacity required.
 
“One of the biggest obstacles for families is finding tutors to facilitate the programme. I urged the Department to put the work in now, into creating a centralised database of teachers and SNAs who are willing to provide tuition.
 
“This is a simple thing the Department of Education can do, that would make a massive difference to families of children with special educational needs.
 
“In-school summer provision is the largest component of this programme. It is essential that schools get both the resources and adequate time to plan for providing this.
 
“The government also needs to consider how it can incentivise staff to participate, and to resolve the issues from last year in terms of fair and timely pay.
 
“Children with additional needs have missed out hugely in the past year. The work needs to be done now, to make sure that this summer provides an opportunity for all children who need that additional support.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Jemma Dolan has said the party will oppose attempts by the DAERA Minister to undermine workers’ rights and to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board.

The party’s spokesperson on workers’ rights and employment said:

"The attempts by the DAERA Minister Edwin Poots is yet another attempt by the DUP to undermine workers’ rights and entitlements. 

“The Agricultural Wages Board has guaranteed minimum standards on pay, sick pay and holiday pay.

“This Board has ensured that workers starting out in this sector can be paid a wage above the minimum wage.

“We heard recently that the DUP Leader had not met Trade Unions for over four years, now we are learning that Edwin Poots intends to diminish representation for Workers through the Agricultural Wages Board.

“In response to this my party colleague Declan McAleer has secured an agreement from the DAERA to publish the Equality Impact Assessment and the Rural Needs Assessment which will help to provide further scrutiny on this matter.

“Sinn Féin remains committed to standing up for workers and ensuring that the Minister's plan does not succeed." 

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Social Protection Claire Kerrane TD has said that Local Employment Services, in their community-based and not-for-profit current form, must be protected.

This comes as the service is set to go out to tender, something which the government insist they are required to do in order to comply with EU procurement rules.

Speaking this morning, Teachta Kerrane said:

“The rollout of JobPath in 2015 signalled a move towards the privatisation of job activation services. Since then, there has been an emphasis on referrals to the JobPath providers, Seetec and Turas Nua, above all other existing schemes, including the Local Employment Service. This preference for JobPath has not gone unnoticed.

“Local Employment Services offer a unique service - not just to those referred to them but, crucially, through their walk-in service. The services provided are person-centred and additional wraparound services are also available. This is a service that we must protect.

“While it is welcome that the Local Employment Service is set to be expanded to parts of the state without such a service, through the first phase of the tendering process, it must be maintained in its current structure. There can be no dismantling of the community and not-for-profit ethos.

“There are legitimate concerns that the Department are moving towards a fully privatised model of job activation - this is not something we support.

"Considering the millions of taxpayers’ money handed over to the JobPath providers for very poor return for sourcing sustainable employment, we cannot allow this privatisation agenda to creep into community services like the Local Employment Services.

“I have met with the Irish Local Development Network and I’ve spoken with some Local Employment Service staff and I intend to meet with a SIPTU representative in the coming days.

“We will vehemently oppose any plans to change how the Local Employment Service is delivered. The service remains cost effective and extremely successful - this cannot be eroded to make room for private companies to line their pockets.”

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Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan Matt Carthy has described the continued determination of EirGrid to proceed with their proposals to develop the North South Interconnector via overhead pylon-supported high voltage powerlines as ‘egotistical & costly’.  

Teachta Carthy said that EirGrid have continually shown ‘complete disdain’ towards communities along the route of the Interconnector.

The Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture's comments come following an announcement that the Kildare-Meath 400kv line will now be undergrounded, making the North-South Interconnector the only element of EirGrid’s Grid 25 strategy which is intended to be completed using overhead technology.  

Teachta Carthy said:

“The dogged determination of EirGrid to proceed with their plans to overground the North South Interconnector is egotistical and costly.  Their position is causing immense undue stress and release in the local communities affected.

“The Interconnector will face continuing and expensive delays if they proceed with their current intent.  The affected communities across Monaghan, Cavan, Armagh, Tyrone and Meath have clearly demonstrated that they will not accept the imposition of high voltage pylon-supported power-lines, particularly because there is a credible alternative.

“Undergrounding the interconnector is feasible and practical.  This is in evidence once again as EirGrid have announced their Kildare-Meath 400kv line is set to be undergrounded.  It is obvious that EirGrid have learned from their experience with communities along the route of the North South Interconnector, albeit not yet on that actual project.

“The fact that EirGrid have expressed such determination to press ahead with overhead pylons and lines in respect of the North-South Interconnector shows their ongoing disdain for the people of our region.  It appears that their position is driven by ego and arrogance.

“In my view, this project will only ever be completed if the interconnector is undergrounded. If EirGrid refuse to adhere to the principals of public acceptance, deliverability and socio-economic impacts then the government must intervene.  

“Recently, the Taoiseach reportedly informed a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting that this project will be reviewed.  But, the Ceann Comhairle disallowed parliamentary questions I submitted in this regard to Minister Eamon Ryan, on the basis that they didn’t relate to Government policy.

“Urgent clarification is therefore required from government as to the form, timeframe and terms of reference of this review.  

“As the Dáil returns next week I intend to use every possible opportunity to seek assurances that the communities on the route of the North South Interconnector will finally be listened to”.

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Sinn Féin spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, Louise O'Reilly TD, has said that there is a need to monitor the current situation for SMEs and to ensure that ‘hidden debt’ does not affect their ability to bounce back to profitability in the medium-term, post-Covid.

Speaking this morning, Teachta O’Reilly said:

“From speaking with many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and family businesses, there is a fear that ‘hidden debt’, such as warehoused tax debts and commercial rent arrears, could hinder their ability to bounce back to profitability when we exit the current crisis.

“Data revealed to me by the Minister for Finance has shown that SMEs have warehoused over €1bn in tax liabilities under the Debt Warehousing Scheme, a support scheme for businesses affected by Covid-19 restrictions.

“This scheme is incredibly important for SMEs, microbusinesses, and family businesses. It has improved short-run cashflow for these businesses, however, the government must ensure that the level of tax debt that is being warehoused does not affect their ability to bounce back to profitability in the medium-term, post-Covid.

“SMEs are the backbone of our economy, especially in terms of employment, so the fact they have warehoused more tax debt than any other sector is a concern. 

“The government needs to look at this specific issue and assess the sort of structures that may need to be put in place for businesses to bounce back, and for people to re-enter employment, as we exit the crisis.

“I know that many businesses have suggested solutions, such as repayment of tax debt over an elongated period or reduced interest rates, which would ease the burden of these tax liabilities and ensure they can bounce back as we exit the Covid crisis.

“However, as is ever the case in these situations, a two-way dialogue between business and the state will inevitably uncover the most workable solution for both parties.

"I would encourage the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment, and the Minister for Finance, to begin these conversations immediately.”

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Writing in An Phoblacht to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin’s National Chairperson Declan Kearney MLA, has said the continuing political instability in the north requires the coordinated intervention of both the British and Irish governments.

He said: 

“The Good Friday Agreement’s 23rd anniversary should underline for both the British and Irish governments their joint responsibility as co guarantors for full implementation of the Agreement.

“The strategic lesson of the political process in the north since 2010 is that when the political and peace processes are taken for granted by the two governments, a context is created within which political instability emerges – and political crisis follows.

“The Tory government’s approach to the north has been characterised by negative mismanagement from 2010.

“The consistent bad faith and bad judgement of all Tory administrations during this period on handling issues from legacy to Brexit has been disastrous for the political process, and the Good Friday, and its successor Agreements. 

“Now the process is once again under huge pressure due to the reckless behaviour of, and lack of positive leadership from, the DUP and political unionism. The inflammatory language from senior unionist politicians and disproportionate influence of unionist extremists has once again resulted in violent street protests, at the same time as a ‘chaos plan’ has been brought into the midst of our political institutions by the DUP.

“The Good Friday Agreement is under renewed assault from those who have always rejected power sharing and the DUP is directly responsible.

“Bellicose rhetoric from DUP politicians about refusing to work north/south processes, blocking implementation of key New Decade, New Approach deal commitments, and demanding the resignation of senior police officers is a wrecker’s charter.

“The DUP’s political vandalism towards power sharing and the Good Friday Agreement framework is untenable and must be challenged by all democrats.”

The Junior Minister stated:

“The gravity of the current situation should not be underestimated and the wreckers should not be indulged any longer.

“This Tory government is not a bystander. It needs to become properly involved at the highest level jointly with the Irish government. ‘Flying in and out’ interventions are the opposite of what is needed.

“Unchanged British policy will only fan the flames of political destruction.

“Both governments should immediately reengage the substantial good will of the United States and European Union, and with their support, now double down on delivering full implementation of the GFA’s promise of proper power sharing, equality, parity of esteem, and inclusion.”

Read Declan Kearney's full blog here: https://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/28077

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Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has said businesses should have clarity on dates for reopening.

The party’s economy spokesperson said:

“Since the publication of the Executive’s pathway out of restrictions in March, very good progress has been made on the rollout of the vaccines, while hospital admissions and positives cases have decreased.

“I’ve engaged with businesses from various sectors over the past number of weeks. There is recognition of the need for a steady and cautious approach to reopening to ensure we continue to build on the positive progress made to date.

“As the Executive is formally reviewing the restrictions on Thursday, now is the time to give businesses as much clarity as possible to enable them to plan.

“I am hopeful that the Executive will be able to give businesses including close contact services, non-essential retail and hospitality, indicative dates for reopening.”

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Sinn Féin President and TD for Dublin Central Mary Lou McDonald has given a cautious welcome to the news that the HSE has paused the decision to remove in-school Speech and Language Services from special schools.

The decision had created huge distress for students, parents and staff at the Holy Family School for the Deaf on the Navan Road, and for special school communities across the state.

Teachta McDonald said:

“While I welcome the confirmation that the HSE have paused this decision, the only acceptable solution is full retention of the in-school service.

"This is the outcome needed to relieve the distress of the school community at Holy Family School for the Deaf and for affected students and parents in schools across Ireland.

“It would be unacceptable for the government to push ahead with a model that sees children lose services that are vital to their progress and their education. The review of the PDS model must recognise how important in-school services are to these children.

“Over the last number of weeks, I have raised my serious concerns about the potential loss of in-school Speech and Language Therapist with An Taoiseach in the Dáil, and with Ministers Anne Rabbitte and Roderic O'Gorman.

“I have met with Olive Hanley, Head of Service for Disability for the HSE in this area, and with Holy Family Principal Eimear O'Rourke to ensure that the voices of students, parents and the school community are heard.

“Students and parents need to be told with absolute certainty that in-school speech and language therapy services will not be removed.

"I will continue to press this issue with the Taoiseach and with the relevant Ministers until the right outcome is achieved.”

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Mairéad Farrell TD, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Public Expenditure and Reform, has today blasted Robert Watt’s appointment as Secretary General to the Department of Health on a salary of €282k. Mr Watt will now be amongst the highest paid Civil Servants in the EU. 

Teachta Farrell said: 

"This entire debacle made a mockery of the process of top civil service appointments, a mockery of the Dáil committees (Finance & PAC) who had agreed a joint framework for reviewing the appointments process, and a mockery of the notion that we’re all ‘in it together’.  

"Minister McGrath came before the Budgetary Oversight Committee and told us that the recruitment for the position was to be an open and transparent process. In reality, when Robert Watt was appointed on an interim basis the writing was on the wall.

"The process by which the astronomical salary was arrived at was extremely opaque and poor by international standards. Almost no attempt at benchmarking seems to have taken place and there was little written correspondence of any consequence pertaining to this. 

"Civil service pay levels are based on relativities and differentials, so it should be clear that a salary jump from 211k to 282k, which means almost 120k in a difference between what the Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General, will have a cascade effect in terms of knock on pay claims for other top public and civil servants.

"The Minister said that the large salary was so that we could attract the very best talent from around the world. Yet when questioned about the number of international applications that the Top Level Appointments Commission (TLAC) had received, or the comparative salaries for similar kinds of positions abroad, he wasn’t able to answer.

"The whole thing smacks of the kind insiderism that we think of as ‘jobs for the boys’.

 "I am now seeking information from TLAC about the number of international applicants, their current positions and estimated salaries, and with regard to Irish applicants I would also like to know the breakdown of those applying from within the public service versus those coming from the private sector." 

Teachta Farrell added:  

"What is extremely frustrating about this situation is that it was entirely avoidable. If the Minister had simply adhered to the Public Service Stability Agreement’s (PSSA) salary rules on lateral movements none of this would have happened.

"Minister McGrath likes to talk about the need for fiscal prudence. In fact, it’s become a real watchword of his time as Minister. So, where’s the prudence here? I can’t see it.

"The provision in the PSSA was put there to help manage the costs of the public sector pay bill, meaning if the Secretary General of one department moves to another, staying on the same grade, then no pay increase would arise.

"I wrote to the Commission for Public Service Appointments (CPSA), which is the regulator for Public Service appointments, but I was disappointingly told that they couldn’t comment. I am calling on Minister McGrath to conduct an external review of the way in which top Civil Service appointments are made and salaries set.”

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Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan has called on the Minister for Agriculture to take immediate steps to protect meat factory workers.

Senator Gavan's comments come in light of serious allegations in a Sunday newspaper of breaches of employment law and renewed concerns regarding the spread of Covid-19.
 
Senator Gavan said:
 
“Representatives of the Meat Industry are before the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee tomorrow to discuss new legislation on work permits, and will also need to address shocking allegations regarding the treatment and status of vulnerable immigrant workers.
 
“Last year the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee made recommendations for the meat industry including provision for sick pay, and stated that this recommendation needed to be in place within 6 months.

"To date, no action has been taken by Government.
 
“New revelations have shown the use of fake identities with regard to vulnerable workers in the sector. In one raid on a meat plant last year, 19 workers were found to be in breach of work permit and immigration rules.  

"There are also serious concerns about the potential spread of the P1 Covid variant across the meat industry in Ireland.

"We are talking about very vulnerable workers here, often with little or no English, and in many cases without the right of trade union representation within their workplace.
 
“The HSE issued their own document on the meat industry last month with various recommendations as the meat processing industry has seen over 25% of workers within the sector having contracted Covid-19, with many clusters across meat plants.
 
“We have to ask why is the Minster continuing to stand by, and to take no action on the Covid-19 Committee report and to protect these workers? Irelands largest trade union SIPTU, which represent 6,000 workers in the industry, has already called for urgent action, and Sinn Féin fully supports this call.
 
“We need to ensure that meat factories provide sick pay, and we also need to see a ban on the use of agency staff in meat factories, as has been applied in Germany.

"Above all we need to ensure that work permits are only provided in cases where the employer provides decent terms and conditions, including proper sick pay provision.

"I am calling on the Minster to make these immediate changes for workers in meat processing.”

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MacManus calls for EU funds to be used for a Northwest investment package

 

Sinn Féin Midlands Northwest MEP Chris MacManus has called on the government’s plan relating to the EU Recovery Fund to specifically focus on the Northwest region. The needs of the Northwest were outlined in a Sinn Féin submission to the plan by MacManus and by Sinn Féin’s Public Expenditure spokesperson Mairéad Farrell TD.

 

MacManus said:

 

“Ireland stands to gain up to €1.2bn from the EU’s €750bn Recovery Fund. The Northwest must be prioritised within the plan and utilise synergies with other funds to maximise a North West investment package. I am pleased that Sinn Féin has proposed this initiative.”

 

The Recovery Fund along with PEACE Plus, Sinn Féin’s proposals on regional aid guidelines, structural funds and the Brexit Fund offer the opportunity to put together a comprehensive investment plan for the North-western region.”

 

“This region has actually slipped in relative terms from being a ‘developed region’ to a region ‘in transition’. It begs the question – in transition to what?  It is appalling that this has come to pass but it highlights deep structural and investment issues in the north, west and border area of the Irish state.”

 

“Brexit brings an even deeper problem. The distance from Galway, the largest city in the West of Ireland, to Brest in France, our nearest EU landpoint, is over 800km. The need for investment has never been greater.”

 

MacManus concluded, “The North West Regional Assembly must be involved in this plan and the Recovery Fund must be the linchpin in an investment plan that maximise the synergies these funds.” ENDS

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Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan has welcomed a return to school for all children.

The party’s education spokesperson said:

“It’s welcome news that children have returned to face-to-face learning today in schools across the north.

“This has been a really difficult time for children, parents and school staff as they adapt to new ways of learning and I commend parent, pupils and schools for their great work during home schooling. 

“It’s vital that we do everything possible to support our school staff with the safe reopening of schools.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has welcomed the launch of a consultation to take forward proposals following the hyponatremia deaths inquiry.

The party’s health spokesperson said: 

“The launch of this consultation on duty of candour is welcome, however, it shouldn’t have taken three years after the O’Hara report to make progress on this issue.

“These proposals would create a legal responsibility on healthcare organisations and staff to be honest when things go wrong. 

“The families who lost loved ones to hyponatremia deserve progress, not more delays and frustration. 

“It is now vitally important that the Department of Health implement the O'Hara recommendations in a timely and compassionate fashion. 

“Openness, transparency and support for health and social care staff to drive improvement is crucial to improving delivery of health services.” 

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Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan has said there can be no place for armed criminal gangs after reports of loyalist attacks on the homes of nationalist families in Carrickfergus. 

Philip McGuigan said: 

"Reports of attacks on the homes of nationalists in Carrickfergus by armed loyalist criminal gangs are very concerning. 

"I have called for a meeting with the local PSNI commander to discuss what is being done to protect local communities and to apprehend those behind these attacks. 

"I have also tabled an urgent question in the Assembly to the Justice Minister asking what is being done by the paramilitary taskforce to tackle the scourge of these armed gangs and their illegal activity. 

"There is no space for armed crime gangs in our society and they should go away immediately."

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Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy, has said that the appointment of Robert Watt as the permanent Secretary General of the Department of Health with the significantly increased pay package of €282,000 per annum would undermine the public sector salary recruitment process and the political system.  

Teachta Carthy, a member of Dáil’s Public Account Committee, said the refusal of government to heed the PAC calls to stop the recruitment process, pending a full review of the remuneration offered for the post, has reinforced the view that this appointment was been an ‘old-fashioned stroke of the highest order’.

Teachta Carthy said: 

“There has been no justification provided for the additional €81,000 provided in remuneration for this position.  The Public Accounts Committee has called for the recruitment process to be stalled pending a full review of the renumeration package. 

“That the Dáil’s Public Accounts and Finance Committees had agreed a joint framework for reviewing this unprecedented salary hike signalled the public concerns in this process. 

“Reports that the government is set to proceed with the appointment of Robert Watt as the permanent Secretary General, while undoubtedly undermining public sector recruitment processes and the political system, will be of little surprise to many. 

“This process has had all the hallmarks of an old-fashioned stoke of the highest order.  That the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure, who had responsibility for managing public sector pay scales, could move to another department with a substantial salary hike for which there was no process, no rationale and no justification would signal that this government has learned nothing from the lessons of Celtic Tiger extravagance. 

“Even at this stage the government should stop this recruitment process and review the salary on offer before any appointment is made."

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Sinn Féin National Chairperson Declan Kearney MLA has called on everyone to work together to end sectarianism. 

The junior minister was speaking after launching the party’s document, titled Inclusion and Reconciliation in a New Ireland which proposes a series of actions and initiatives to tackle sectarian divisions and advance national reconciliation and healing.  

Declan Kearney said: 

“While many people are now beginning to contemplate a future no longer defined by partition, the divisions and fault lines caused by past events remain unresolved. 

“Irish society has been deeply scarred by political conflict. Enduring hurt and division have never been healed. 

“There are major challenges today for all who seek fundamental constitutional, political and societal change in Ireland.

“Events of the past week have reiterated the need to tackle sectarianism and the damaging impact it has on our society and moving forward.  

“Parties must stand united against this violence and appeal to all concerned to refrain from further threats or use of violence and call on those directing it to stop. 

“The need for a reconciliation process in Ireland is beyond dispute. We need to work together to end sectarianism.

“The development and implementation of new initiatives and strategies to tackle sectarianism and bigotry, and to advance reconciliation and healing, is critical to our future.

“The Good Friday Agreement set out a vision of a rights based non-sectarian future, and it gave all our citizens the opportunity to decide their future together. 

“Overcoming division is a priority for all those who are genuinely committed to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. 

“Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to challenging sectarianism in all its manifestations and ensuring the development of a culture of respect for all identities, cultures and traditions. 

“I am calling for agreement on the introduction of a clear legal definition of sectarianism as a hate crime within anti-sectarianism legislation with appropriate legally enforceable sanctions, and against actions which are motivated by sectarianism. 

“Reconciliation and healing must be the antidote to past conflict and hostility. 

“Practically, this means dealing with sectarianism in all its manifestations and embedding an anti-sectarian ethos, culture and commitment at the heart of politics and public life.

“Our proposals also include the incorporation of a citizens’ anti-sectarian charter into the pledges of Ministers, MLAs, TDs and local councillors across the island, and the full implementation of the Together: Building a United Community strategy in the north. 

“Sinn Féin will seek the establishment of a civic forum in the north as a platform to encourage cross-community and anti-sectarian solidarity within civic society, and the introduction of an all-island reconciliation strategy under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council. 

“Together let’s end sectarianism, and together let us commit ourselves to reconciliation as something that is essential for building a better future for all.”

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Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has said that the latest data from the National Treatment Purchase Fund shows health waiting lists are continuing to spiral out of control, describing the figures as 'very concerning'.

Teachta Cullinane said:

"The acute hospital waiting lists published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund today show a record 628,756 people now on outpatient waiting lists - an increase of over 66,000 in the past year.

"The total number of outpatient and inpatient patients waiting is 881,621, but even these numbers don’t tell the full story.

"It is further estimated that between last year and so far this year over 200,000 hospital appointments were not scheduled due to the suspension of many services due to Covid-19.

"Our hospitals are now faced with record high wait times and a tsunami of missed care.

"The crisis in respect of waiting lists precedes Covid but the volume of missed care is now staggering. These figures are very concerning - behind the numbers are patients waiting for badly needed care.

"I echo the call from the IMO, the IHCA, the INMO and SIPTU for more resources and capacity to address waiting times, as well as urgent delivery on pay equality issues.

"We cannot ask frontline workers to continue to operate with one hand tied behind their backs.

“We need to get real about investing in health or we will continue to cause more suffering and hardship for people in need of urgent treatment.”

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Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has said no one should be organising illegal protests designed to raise community tensions. 

The Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA said: 

"Messages circulating on social media calling for an illegal loyalist march from Moygashel to Dungannon are very concerning, particularly given the violent events in Belfast in recent days. 

“There are also reports of a counter protest being planned by Saoradh. 

"No one, whoever they claim to represent, should be holding illegal protests which are only designed to raise community tensions. 

"Whoever is behind these protests should call them off immediately and we need to see the leaders of political unionism coming out and calling for these and other illegal protests to be called off. 

"The PSNI also have a responsibility to police in a proactive and preventative manner which keeps communities safe." 

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Sinn Féin South Antrim MLA, Declan Kearney has welcomed a PSNI initiative on drug crime in Ballydonaghy Meadows. It is the latest in a series of agreed initiatives designed to provide support and reassurance to residents in the neighbourhood following recent criminal activity.

 Speaking after joining the PSNI during its anti-drug crime leaflet drop in the estate, Declan Kearney said;

 “Immediately following the recent circulation of social media images of masked criminals brandishing weapons, at the entrance to Ballydonaghy Meadows, and the deep fear this caused within the estate and wider Crumlin community, I convened a meeting of relevant partner agencies.

 “It is obvious that a small criminal gang is active in Crumlin and Glenavy, and that locally based criminals are in conflict with each other over drug distribution and other forms of criminality in this part of South Antrim.

 “Councillor Anne Marie Logue and I have now held a series of joint meetings with Clanmil Housing Association staff, the PSNI, and Community Restorative Justice Ireland (CRJI) to address the fears and concerns of Ballydonaghy residents.

“As a result of our first meeting I wrote to all residents in Ballydonaghy Meadows to inform them of a planned door to door engagement with residents by Clanmil Housing Association staff, to assist in designing a Clanmil action plan, which will be supported as appropriate by PSNI, CRJI and Sinn Féin. I also reassured residents that everyone is entitled to live free from duress or intimidation, and that anyone with information about criminal or anti-social activity should feel confident in bringing that forward.

“In the intervening period Clanmil Housing officers have completed a very successful consultation with Ballydonaghy residents. A neighbourhood clean-up has been carried out and a more significant environmental improvement scheme is being planned in the estate by the Housing Association.

“Additionally, the PSNI has committed to ensuring a higher profile by local neighbourhood police officers in the surrounding area. CRJI has also agreed to make its restorative justice services available as part of this unfolding strategy.

“The most recent agreed intervention undertaken was on drug crime awareness by PSNI officers in Ballydonaghy Meadows. I was pleased to fully support, and be present during this ‘silent guardian’ leaflet drop, along with local Party Councillor Anne Marie Logue and Niamh Quinn from Clanmil Housing Association.

“No one in Ballydonaghy Meadows and the wider Crumlin community should be subjected to coercive control or intimidation by criminals, drug dealers, and their toxic activities. Local people can be assured of Sinn Féin’s continued support, and the coordinated efforts of the PSNI, Clanmil and other agencies to ensure community safety and quality of life is protected.

“I repeat my call that any Ballydonaghy Meadows tenants with fears about criminal and anti-social behaviour which is infringing on their tenancy rights, personal safety, or is detrimental to their overall quality of life, should make contact with the PSNI directly, or alternatively with myself, Cllr Anne Marie Logue, CRJI, or Clanmil Housing Association representatives.”

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