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2 October 2003 Edition

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Call Assembly elections now - Daíl returns

On the return of the Dáil for its autumn session, the Sinn Féin TDs tabled a motion demanding that the British government call Assembly elections in the Six Counties. Publishing the motion, Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:

"The repeated collapse of the institutions established by the Good Friday Agreement, and the repeated cancellation of elections by the British government, is a cause of concern to all true democrats in Ireland. One of the last acts of the Dáil before the recess was to call for those elections to be held this autumn 'regardless of any other considerations'. The British government has still not called the elections and the Agreement, which was supported overwhelmingly by people throughout Ireland, is in limbo.

"This is not just an issue for people in the Six Counties. The all-Ireland basis of the Agreement has been undermined and the benefits for all our people, throughout the 32 Counties, in terms of rights, equality and economic development are being denied. The Dáil should make its voice heard loud and clear and I will be urging the Taoiseach to allow government time to debate this vital issue."

Child abuse deal 'extraordinary'

Speaking during statements on the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse in the Dáil on Wednesday, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin rejected Minister Dempsey's earlier accusation that those who were critical of the government had offered no alternative. "We did not have to," he said, as "the government itself had the alternative". The Cavan/Monaghan TD described the agreement reached between the Department of Education and the Religious, against the Department of Finance's 50/50 liability recommendation, as "one of the most extraordinary agreements ever entered into by any government".

"The resignation of Justice Laffoy from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse must rank as the most serious breakdown of any inquiry ever established by this Oireachtas," he added. "I say this because, like the issue of contamination of blood products, and unlike some of the other tribunals, the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse deals with matters of life and death, the health and wellbeing of thousands of our citizens and a system of deplorable abuse amounting to a catalogue of crimes carried out over decades. The system of abuse claimed the lives of many children; we may never know exactly how many children died of neglect and ill-treatment in these institutions.

"Our first and last concern should be the survivors of abuse and, indeed, the memory of those who did not survive. There are many living survivors who are so marginalised and damaged by their abuse that they will never be able to avail of the Commission or the Redress Board. We know that many of them ended up homeless on the streets of London and other foreign cities. Our focus now should be to see that the debacle which has been created is sorted out, that the lessons are learned and that we move forward.

"In her resignation letter to the Government Justice Laffoy revealed that the Commission had 'never been properly enabled by the government to fulfil satisfactorily the functions conferred on it by the Oireachtas'. If that charge is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, it means that the government has thwarted the purpose of the Oireachtas in setting up this inquiry. Adequate resources were not provided. The review process initiated by the Minister for Education has caused delay and confusion and we now have a chaotic situation with the work of the Commission effectively shut down."

Justice Laffoy resigned because she said the reviews made her position untenable as it was unclear if the remit of the Commission was going to change and its work had been stalled by the uncertainty created by the reviews.

There is no new legislation yet and it will take until next spring for this to be sorted out, as the Christian Brothers have taken a court challenge to the Commission, which will go to the Supreme Court next spring. "The government is using this as an excuse for delay - in the meantime the Commission is in limbo," said Ó Caoláin.

"Confusion has been added to since the resignation of Justice Laffoy by the floating of ideas by the Minister for Education and Science such as the hearing of sample cases by the Investigation Committee, the withdrawal of this idea, and then the floating of the proposal to summon alleged abusers to the Confidential Committee. Most survivors have expressed opposition to these proposals.

"As I said when I spoke at a survivors meeting in Liberty Hall last March, this is not a matter of euros and cents, it is a matter of justice and rights. At that time, I also described the deal done by Minister Michael Woods with the religious orders as disgraceful. Everything we have learned since reinforces that description."

Ó Caoláin pinted out that Minister Dempsey stated that those who were critical of the Michael Woods deal offered no alternative. "We did not have to," he said. "The government itself had the alternative. The Department of "Finance recommended a 50/50 approach to liability between the Church and the State. Yet that recommendation was ignored and Minister Woods went ahead and concluded one of the most extraordinary agreements ever entered into by any government.

"At the Education Committee on Monday the Minister attempted to separate the issue of the resignation of Justice Laffoy and the now totally discredited indemnity deal. But in justification of their conduct in this debacle the Minister and the Taoiseach have cited the cost of the entire process - a cost added to hugely by their decision to allow the religious orders off with only a fraction of the liability which they should bear.

"My colleague Councillor Larry O'Toole attended the meeting of survivors here in Dublin last Sunday. It was a pity that neither the Minister nor his party were represented there to hear both the real concerns and the deep anger among survivors. Survivors have challenged the role of the Department of Education and Science and they want to see real progress and real justice done. And that, as legislators, is our demand too."

Government reinforcing scandalous two-tier health system

Speaking during leader's questions in the Dáil on Wednesday and referring the previous night's Fianna Fáil parliamentary meeting, Sinn Féin's Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin accused the government of being "obsessed" with the question of whether the smoking ban should be extended or not while ignoring the chronic state of ourhealth care system.

Ó Caoláin asked was "it not strange that the largest party in this Dáil should be obsessed with the question of whether a smoking ban should extend to all or to part of a public house when the Irish Nurses Organisation is appealing to the Health and Safety Authority to immediately investigate the risks to patients and staff of overcrowding in A&E departments."

He highlighted a litany of problems associated with the 26-County health care system, including the fact that more and more patients are suffering on trolleys in A&E wards, with 35 on trolleys in James Connolly hospital in Dublin on Tuesday; the fact that during the summer trolleys had to be taken out of ambulances to treat patients in corridors; that health boards are facing financial crisis and are cutting services to the elderly and to people with disabilities; and that almost 30,000 people are on hospital waiting lists.

He called on the government to confirm "that there is absolutely no chance that Fianna Fáil's pre-election promise of eliminating hospital waiting lists within two years will be fulfilled".

Ó Caoláin also described it as an "obscenity" on the United Nations International Day of Older People, that "our older citizens who are public public patients must wait months or years for procedures that will give them some comfort in their twilight years while those with access to the private system can be treated in a matter of days or weeks".

He ended by asking the government to "stop reinforcing the scandalous two-tier system and start treating people on the basis of need and not wealth"?

TDs accompany Symphysiotomy survivors to Ministerial Meeting

Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan, who has been to the forefront of the campaign on behalf of Survivors of Symphysiotomy, and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health and Children, formed part of a delegation that met with Minister for Health and Children Mícheál Martin on Wednesday.

The delegation, which comprises of the two Sinn Féin TDs and representatives of Survivors of Symphysiotomy will ask the Minister to establish a sworn public inquiry into the carrying out of symphysiotomy in hospitals in the 26 Counties from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Speaking in advance of the meeting, Arthur Morgan said:

"Hopefully this meeting will enable the Minister to understand the importance of a sworn public inquiry. These women who have suffered so much deserve answers and must not be fobbed off by the Minister or his Department. Minister Martin must address the complete inadequacy of the report on the use of symphysiotomy from the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who appear to have no accurate information on how many symphysiotomies were carried out in this State in the period concerned let alone information regarding individual hospitals.

"Significantly, the Institute have been unable to provide any information on the number of procedures which have resulted in life long painful health implications as a result of procedure. This meeting is only a first step. I look forward to the announcement of an inquiry in line with what the victims are calling for."

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