Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has said the high percentage of positive COVID-19 tests could point to a need for increased testing.
Colm Gildernew said:
“Testing capacity and access to testing has been an ongoing problem since the start of the pandemic.
“I am deeply concerned by the trend this week of between 17% and 25% of all tests coming back positive. It is a clear sign we are not testing nearly enough.
"International best practice suggests a positivity rate of 4% of tests carried out demonstrates a sufficient provision of testing. We are a long way from delivering the number of test we need to help tackle the virus based on this weeks trends.
“There are serious questions that need to be answered as to why local testing capacity has not been scaled up to secure additional local capacity.
“We all know the importance of an effective testing and tracing system and I will be contacting the Health Minister to discuss concerns over testing capacity.”
Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Bay North Denise Mitchell has called on government to reverse the nonsensical ban on the sale of essential clothing for children.
Speaking today, Teachta Mitchell said: "While some can buy essential clothing online, the reality is that this is beyond the reach of many low income families.
"The government cannot just ignore the needs of these families - doing so risks undermining public support for necessary restrictions.
“I will be writing to NPHET asking them to explain the rationale behind the current approach.
"We are heading into a cold and trying winter, and parents need to be able to clothe their children appropriately.
"Instead, the public were once again left scratching their heads at nonsensical messaging from government with claims from Minister Damien English that 'clothes are not essential'.
"Such a statement invites ridicule, but the most important thing now is that the government realise their mistake and address the frustrations of parents.
"What we need is a common sense solution that allows parents to buy essential clothing for babies and children without opening up shops to browsing.
"Where a parent needs to buy a Babygro, a baby vest, socks or underwear for their children, shops should be able to sell such essential items directly to them without any browsing taking place."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Justice Lynn Boylan has today launched an online survey to see how rising energy prices are affecting energy poverty. Latest figures suggest electricity prices have risen by €90 per year.
Speaking as she launched the survey today, Senator Boylan said:
“The survey aims to capture the human cost of these price hikes. I want to get a sense of how the price hikes are impacting people as they struggle to warm their homes.
“Increasing electricity prices are one of the main drivers of energy poverty according to the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice.
“Energy poverty is usually defined as spending 10% of income on heating and electricity. However, the government does not consider this when means testing for the Fuel Allowance support.
“The cost of electricity is going up due to price hikes by suppliers and an increase in the 130% increase PSO levy. We know this will lead to more energy poverty for ordinary workers and families across the state.
“We have known for a long time that the Fuel Allowance is not up to the challenge of tackling energy poverty because it leaves too many people out in the cold.
“The means test is strict and only certain welfare recipients qualify. We want to hear from those who are left out by this government: working families, renters, and others impacted by the rising cost of energy.
“The Sinn Féin Energy Cost survey is hoping to capture some of the issues people are facing in order to put forward sensible, workable solutions.”
Sinn Féin’s Energy Survey can be viewed at the following link- https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YBWDCVX
Sinn Féin MLA Liz Kimmins has welcomed confirmation from Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín that local councils will be able to avail of the Job Support Scheme to help protect jobs.
Liz Kimmins said:
"I welcome that Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has confirmed that local councils will be able to avail of the Job Support Scheme to help protect the jobs of council workers.
"Many council workers and their families will have been anxious over the uncertainty about whether they could access this scheme so hopefully this will go some way to allay those concerns.
"This will mean that workers who had been on the Furlough scheme will now be able to avail of the Job Support Scheme.
"Council workers continue to perform essential roles during this pandemic and should be supported.
"The additional £15m given to local councils by Finance Minister Conor Murphy will also help support councils at this difficult time."
Speaking this afternoon Sinn Féin spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade, Employment, and Workers’ Rights, Louise O’Reilly TD, has said new data from the European Commission showing the effect of the Covid crisis on the Irish labour market highlights the need for the government to continue to support workers through Wage Subsidy Schemes and the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.
Teachta O’Reilly said:
“The pandemic has ripped through our society and economy, but new data from the Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistical division, has outlined how workers in Ireland were the second most likely to lose their jobs in the EU.
“The data further outlined how it is lower paid and younger workers who have been most significantly affected.
“It is clear that both the health and economic implications of the pandemic have disproportionately affected ordinary working people.
“We have seen throughout the past number of months how the highest incidence rates of Covid19 arose in working class communities – where workers generally work on the frontline and in essential services, and where people often live in overcrowded accommodation in apartments, flats, or in close proximity in housing estates.
“The economic consequences are no different, they have also disproportionally affected these communities – new EU data has shown how low-income earners in Ireland were three times more likely to have lost their job than those on higher salaries.
“Young Irish workers were also significantly and disproportionately affected – these workers faced the third highest level of job losses during the second quarter after young workers in Spain and Portugal.
“The data from the European Commission has highlighted the true nature of the fragile, low wage, and low growth economy that Fine Gael have presided over for the past decade.
“As we move through the crisis the government have to build back better, and build a more robust, progressive economy – a high wage and high growth economy that works delivers for workers and society.
“The data from the European Commission further reinforces the need for the government to guarantee certainty by extending wage subsidy schemes and the PUP. It also supports Sinn Féin’s call for the PUP to be maintained for affected workers at the current rate.”
Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald has criticised the British government’s planned legislation for a new permit scheme for cross-border workers.
Speaking after 16 organisations in the north signed a joint letter expressing concern about the planned scheme, the East Derry MLA said:
“This week the Committee on the Administration of Justice and 15 other groups sent a joint letter to the Secretary of State outlining serious concerns around the Frontier Workers Scheme. This scheme is intended to provide vital rights protections to those who travel over the border to work.
“Up to 30,000 people on the island of Ireland are cross-border workers. They will be losing access to vital EU protections next year, and the scheme intended to replace that is nowhere near up and running.
“No consultation was done before the legislation for this scheme was introduced. It is shameful that unions and rights groups have had to release a public letter in order to make their views known to the British government.
“As is often the case with Brexit issues, it is Ireland’s border communities who will suffer the most. Cross-border workers are a vital part of the border economy, and the least they deserve is a scheme that is delivered promptly and transparently.”
“I will be writing to the Minister for the Economy and the British Home Secretary to urge them to listen to the concerns of cross border workers."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children Kathleen Funchion TD has said that there should be no undue delay in publishing the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, which the Minister for Children will receive today.
Teachta Funchion said:
"I am extremely concerned that survivors of Mother and Baby Homes will have to wait an undue period of time to view the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
"In recent correspondence to my colleague Martin Browne TD, we were told by the Minister that when he receives the report there will be a delay before it is published.
"The Minister said that : '…there are a number of procedural matters which must be addressed before I can seek the approval of Government to publish it. This will necessitate engagement with the Attorney General as the Government’s legal advisor. Consequently, there will always be a time interval between receipt of such reports and the separate arrangements for their publication.'
"This process must be expedited.
"Having to wait so long for this report to be compiled and published only adds to the pain of survivors.
“Survivors must be central to this process and the Government must ensure they can have confidence in this report.
"They have been waiting decades for a full account of what went on at these institutions to be made public and for the abuse they suffered to be formally acknowledged. Any undue delay is unacceptable."
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport, Darren O’Rourke TD, has today published a Bill that would see a ban on domestic disconnections of electricity and gas during the winter months.
Speaking today, the Meath East TD said: “We welcome the CRU’s announcement earlier this week of a moratorium on disconnections until December 1st in line with the current Level 5 restrictions, but we feel this does not go far enough.
“The financial hardship faced by thousands of people as a result of the pandemic and resulting restrictions, will not end on December 1st.
“This Bill we published today gives the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, the power to direct the CRU to introduce a winter disconnection ban, that would run over the winter months.
“Consumers are facing significantly higher energy bills this winter as a result of the price hikes from providers, the PSO levy increase and the 30% hike in the Carbon Tax.
“This all comes at a time when we have hundreds of thousands of people unemployed due to the pandemic, and their financial pressures do not finish on December 1st when the current moratorium will lapse.
“Last year 5,008 electricity and 2,424 gas customers were cut off for non-payment.
“We can’t have a situation where those facing financial difficulty have their gas or electricity cut off in the middle of winter for failure to meet their bills on time.
“Even having the threat of disconnections hanging over families is incredibly stressful.
“Our Bill would give these households breathing space and allow them come to a payment arrangement with their supplier, while ensuring their lights and heat are not cut off over the cold winter months.
“Other European countries such as the Netherlands, Finland and Belgium all have similar winter disconnection bans, and we believe this is a protection that should also be introduced here.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Mental Health Mark Ward TD has urged the public to act responsibly and to stay safe this Halloween weekend.
Last month, Teachta Ward called on all TDs to stand up for communities and support Sinn Féin’s call for increased investment to combat anti-social behaviour and the misuse of fireworks. This call fell on deaf ears with government parties.
Speaking today, Teachta Ward said: “Halloween is a fun time but also a time to act responsibly. As well as the lingering environmental impact, the cost that some Halloween activities, such as bonfire clean-ups, place on our councils is immense.
“Our emergency services are already stretched and under-resourced. Any additional pressure on their resources over Halloween could impact public safety.
“Last month I had a motion defeated by government parties that would have increased investment to combat anti-social behaviour and the misuse of fireworks.
“This is an annual issue across the state in the weeks leading up to Halloween, but this year it started earlier and in some areas as far back as mid-July.
“The misuse of fireworks has been an issue in many areas for the past number of weeks and months, particularly in urban areas of Dublin and Cork.
“Cuts to Garda numbers on the beat, and community Gardai, have exacerbated this issue. The Sinn Féin motion sought increased Garda resources, including a minimum of 800 new recruits to the force per annum, with priority deployment in community safety.
“This call fell on deaf ears with the government parties.
"In addition to the traditional challenges, we have also seen the unscrupulous act of unregulated waste collectors using bonfires in our communities as a way of dumping material they have collected.
“There has also been an increase in people dumping household waste on bonfires. All of this needs to stop - the impact it has on our communities in the weeks and months after Halloween is devastating.
“It is very natural that people will be excited about Halloween. But I am asking that people be mindful of their communities and emergency services, and recognise that many people are even more isolated now due to Covid-19 and fearful of some Halloween activities.
“Please enjoy the occasion - but stay safe and stay apart.”
Sinn Féin culture arts and sports spokesperson Sinéad Ennis MLA welcomes £15 million support package for our sports sector:
Sinead Ennis said;
"This is extremely positive news for our sporting sector.
"Our sports sector has been to the forefront in protecting many during these extremely challenging times.
"These funds will allow our sporting sector to continue to survive during this Covid 19 pandemic and will go a long way to making up the income that this sector has lost over the last six months.
"The sporting sector has been there for many during this crisis and this £15 million support package will allow many of them to continue to be there for communities after the crisis.
"I commend Minister Ní Chuiín for bringing this vital package forward in support of sporting organisations across the north."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD has expressed frustration at following reports that a further 52 products have been removed from the recommended list of products for use in schools, due to further safety concerns.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
"I am dismayed and frustrated at this evenings reports. However, I would imagine that principals and school leaders are absolutely furious. This simply isn't good enough.
"It is welcome that the Department is reviewing all products. This decision is a consequence of that.
"However, yet again schools are finding out very late in the day, on the Thursday before a Monday reopening, and schools will now be scrambling to find replacements. Indeed, given the range of products involved, then it may be even more difficult that it was with Virapro.
"This is a huge number of items from a list that schools were actively encouraged to buy from.
"I understand that all sanitiser providers were asked to provide product samples which were then assessed and evaluated by a team with the necessary technical competencies.
"If that happened, then how did these tests fail to identify that some products such as Virapro were actively harmful? In the case of several other products, the paperwork wasn't in order. Does the Department have any comeback against the companies?
"Last week I raised this with the Minister in the Dáil last week, expressing my deep concern and asked her to make a statement to reassure parents and give clarity.
"I regret that she did not take the opportunity. I also wrote to the chair of the Committee seeking she attend the committee this week. She did not do so.
"The Minister must address this and answer the key questions immediately.
"The Department of Education urgently need to get a handle on Covid-19 safety measures in schools because it is falling short of the mark in several ways."
Sinn Féin MLA Cathal Boylan has welcomed the forthcoming scheme for the taxi sector, but has called on the Minister for Infrastructure to bring forward additional support to deal with COVID-19.
The Newry and Armagh MLA stated:
“I welcome the package on the basis that drivers need support immediately but more needs to be done, as for many drivers this support will not be enough.
“Taxi drivers have sustained a massive loss of business over the past seven months and during this period, drivers invested in safety measures while still facing significant overheads.
“The Minister for Infrastructure needs to engage directly with the taxi sector, listen to their concerns and look at bringing forward additional support at this time.
"Sinn Féin will continue to press for support for our taxi drivers to help them get through this pandemic."
Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew has welcomed the reintroduction of free car parking for health and social care staff at hospitals and Trust facilities, but has called on the Health Minister to end hospital parking charges permanently.
The Sinn Féin health spokesperson said:
I welcome today's announcement of the reintroduction of free car parking for health and social care staff at hospitals and Trust facilities as they carry out tremendous work to save lives and keep people safe during this pandemic.
"However hospital car parking charges, which amounts to a cut to workers pay, needs to end permanently.
"Health care staff have been dealing with huge pressures in the system for years even prior COVID-19 and they should not have to face what are sometimes considerable daily parking charges just to provide vital frontline services to the public.
"Hospital parking charges also place a considerable burden on the most vulnerable such as those with serious health conditions, their families and carers who frequently attend hospital for their treatments.
"Parking charges also place an unfair burden on patients and health workers from rural areas who live considerable distances from hospitals and who have very limited access to public transport to get to hospital.
"My Sinn Féin colleague MLA for West Belfast Fra McCann is bringing forward a Private Members Bill to abolish hospital charges across the north.
"This is an important step forward in supporting our health care workers and protecting our most vulnerable from the unfair financial burden of parking charges."
Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard has today pushed the British Government to ensure citizens living in the north of Ireland will continue to enjoy EU benefits such as the EU Health Insurance Card, Horizon 2020, and Erasmus+ programmes.
The South Down MP was meeting with the British Government’s Michael Gove MP, who provided an update on ongoing Brexit negotiations and the work of the Joint Committee.
Mr Hazzard said:
“Sinn Féin have been clear since the Brexit referendum in 2016 that the protection of full and equal access to EU benefits, such as the EU Health Insurance Card, Horizon 2020 research funding and Erasmus+ programmes, are vital in protecting the rights of Irish citizens living in the north of Ireland.
“I reiterated the importance of this issue to Michael Gove today, and pushed him to ensure that the British Government recognise their responsibility in proactively contributing to EU programmes in order to protect the rights of Irish citizens living in the north of Ireland.
“Whilst I welcome the fact that Michael Gove was receptive to this ask today, and indeed confirmed that work is ongoing in this regard; it will be vitally important that the Irish Government remain vigilant and committed to ensure these promises are fulfilled by the British Government in the weeks ahead.”
Sinn Féin MP John Finucane has welcomed an announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy that a further £7m will be distributed to hospices in the North.
The North Belfast MP said:
“I welcome the announcement by Finance Minister Conor Murphy that a further £7m will be distributed to hospices across the North.
“This will bring the total support for Hospices during the pandemic by Minister Murphy to around £14m.
“Hospices and their staff are an invaluable asset to our society and provide high quality and compassionate care to the vulnerable and those in need.
“Hospices operate with fundraising efforts and the financial support of local communities.
“The COVID19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on the capacity of hospices to continue with their fundraising efforts.
“In the absence of these fundraising opportunities, we must provide maximum support to enable the hospices to continue their work.
“I have been liaising closely with Hospices in North Belfast and working on their behalf to highlight their financial situation and the need for urgent support.
“This much needed cash injection will assist hospices and alleviate many of the pressures they face.
“I want to pay tribute to all the hospice staff who have done tremendous work throughout this pandemic in the face of the most difficult of circumstances."
Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD has this afternoon said that 'on Monday and Tuesday, the Sinn Féin leadership established that three party offices incorrectly received money under the Small Business Grant scheme in the north.'
She continued: 'Last night I accepted the resignations of the three individuals responsible for these accounts and for not returning the money - Senator Elisha McCallion, the Chair of Upper Bann Comhairle Ceantair and a party official in West Tyrone. The failure to immediately return grants erroneously paid into Sinn Féin accounts is a most serious situation. As party leader I wish to acknowledge and apologise for these failures.'
Full statement is below:
“Over the course of Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Sinn Féin leadership established that three party offices incorrectly received lodgements of £10,000 under the Small Business Grant scheme established by the Department of Economy in March 2020.
“The payments were not applied for and were automatically received as part of the round of grant payments in late March/early April from the Land and Property Service.
“Payments were paid into constituency accounts in West Tyrone and Lurgan, and into Elisha McCallion’s account in respect of her former Westminster office.
“In each case the grant money has been returned in full, with repayments made on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
“These monies should have been returned immediately as no political offices qualified for this grant. The fact that this did not happen is unacceptable.
“The party has established in each case where responsibility lay for the administration of the accounts in question and for the reimbursement of these monies.
“The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met last night and censured all those involved.
“Last night I accepted the resignation of Senator Elisha McCallion. She accepts full responsibility for the failure to return the grant immediately.
“The party also accepted the resignation of the party official in West Tyrone who had responsibility for the administration of the account and failed to promptly return the grant money despite being requested to do so by Maolíosa McHugh MLA.
“The Cathaoirleach (Chairperson) of the Upper Bann Comhairle Ceantair (Constituency Organisation) has also tendered his resignation in recognition of their failure to return the grant payment in a timely fashion.
“The Small Business Grant scheme was established to support struggling businesses in times of extraordinary hardship.
“The failure to immediately return grants erroneously paid into Sinn Féin accounts is a most serious situation.
“As party leader I wish to acknowledge and apologise for these failures.”
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly has described the decision today by the Public Prosecution Service not to charge state agents as a slap in the face to victims and campaigners.
Gerry Kelly said:
“The decision by the PPS not to take forward charges against state agents is yet another slap in the face to victims of state violence and campaigners.
“This decision places immunity for state agents over the right of victims to access truth and justice.
"The PPS has said this decision was taken in the public interest but the only interest served by concealing the truth is that of the British state, its agents and proxies under the pretext of British national security.
"Establishing the truth and holding those responsible for some of the most heinous crimes to account is in the public interest.
“It is extremely concerning that this decision was also taken in direct consultation with the British Government.
“This seriously undermines the concept of independence for the PPS which is a key component of the criminal justice review following the Good Friday Agreement.
"No one should be above the rule of law and accountability.
“The British Government must stop this denial of truth and justice.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has expressed concern at shortages of influenza and pneumonia vaccines in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Teachta Cullinane said: “There are widespread reports around the country today that the pneumonia vaccine - Pneumovax 23 – is in short supply.
“I will be raising the matter of vaccine shortages with the Minister for Health on Tuesday. It is extremely worrying.
“There are also reports in Europe of shortages of Prevnar 13, which together with Pneumovax 23 are two of the major pneumonia vaccines.
“There are also problems of shortages and delays with the influenza vaccines.
“It is more important now than ever that people are protected against serious respiratory illnesses, as contraction would leave them extremely vulnerable to Covid-19.
“Even normal-level outbreaks would put further strain on our hospitals.
“Vaccine availability is central to this year’s campaign to reduce circulation of the flu and protect hospital capacity for Covid.
“They are stretched with Covid care and catch-up care and could not cope with any serious outbreaks of other diseases.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Transport, Darren O’Rourke TD, has said inaction from the government on the school transport system has left one in four applicants without a seat on the bus this year.
The Meath East TD says new figures released to him in response to a parliamentary question confirm that despite Covid-19, there have never been more applications for school bus transport, but there have also never been more refusals.
Teachta O'Rourke said;
“Figures I’ve received from the Department of Education show that while 97,644 tickets for school transport have been issued this year, this falls well short of the 130,144 applications.
“This has left a shortfall of 32,500 seats in the school transport system, meaning one in four students have not gotten a place on their school bus this year.
“Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for school bus transport is up year-on-year, but the supply from the state has not kept up with this demand, in fact it has reduced. In 2019, for example, 104,034 tickets were made available to 128,580 applicants.
“We should not be having this annual struggle for places each year. It’s not fair on families or students. School transport is a vital service, and it needs to be properly resourced.
“This year’s shortfall has caused serious disruption for parents and working families who rely on the school buses to ferry kids to and from school.
“It’s particularly acute in rural Ireland where cycling and walking simply aren’t options given the distance and safety issues on rural roads, and because neighbours cannot share lifts as they normally would due to Covid-19.
“While public transport changed to 50% occupancy almost immediately, the government waited until late August before doing anything about the school transport network.
“This caused chaos and confusion in the first weeks of term. Many parents are still trying to secure a seat on their local bus for their child.
“It’s clear the school transport system needs a complete overhaul to ensure those children who want a place on a school bus, to whatever school they attend, can get one.
“But in the short term, action needs to be taken immediately to get these kids on school buses, for both eligible and concessionary applicants.
“The capacity issues in the system are causing huge problems for families, and parents and students cannot afford any more delays in this area.”
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Children, Kathleen Funchion TD, has today sought an urgent opposition briefing with the Children’s Minister to discuss the timeframe and implementation plan for the commitments contained within last night’s Government’s statement on Mother and Baby Homes.
Speaking today, Teachta Funchion said:
“I want to commend the survivors for their tireless campaigning on this crucial issue. It is their strength and commitment that has resulted in the Government’s belated acceptance that survivors have a legal right to access their own records.
“Over the last two weeks, wider society has demonstrated a collective outrage at how survivors and their families were treated by Government as they rushed their flawed legislation through the Dáil and Seanad.
“The Government has committed to consulting with survivors, their families and advocates in advance of publishing the Commission’s final report, upholding the right to access personal records, on outstanding legislative commitments on Information and Tracing and the necessary actions at the Tuam burial site.
“I am today calling on the Government to expediate the outstanding health and wellbeing commitments as recommended by the Consultative Forum in 2018. Counselling supports were to be rolled out at the beginning of 2020, yet no support has been put in place to date.
“With the imminent publication of the Commission’s report and public debate over the last two weeks survivors and families need urgent access to counselling services and the dedicated patient advocacy liaison service promised by Government.
“I have today written to the Minister seeking an urgent briefing for opposition spokespersons with the Children’s Minister to discuss the timeframe and implementation plan for the commitments contained within last night’s Government’s statement on Mother and Baby Homes.
“The Minister needs to confirm the publication date of the Commission’s report and set out the process by which he will ensure an inclusive consultative process for survivors, families and their advocates in advance of its publication.
“Government must also ensure that it provides the resources necessary to put in place the Data Protection experts needed to copper-fasten the access rights of individuals as set out in domestic and European law.
“Sinn Féin will work with all parties to ensure the voices of survivors and families are not only heard but acted on, that their rights are upheld and that their experiences will never be forgotten.”