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22 July 2004 Edition

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Sinn Féin settles into Strasbourg

BY JOANNE CORCORAN

Sinn Féin made history this week when its newly-elected MEPs attended their first sessions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In a tightly packed schedule, Bairbre de Brún (Six Counties) and Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin), familiarised themselves with their new offices in the French city, made their maiden speeches to the European Parliament, participated in a busy day of voting which saw a new President of the Parliament elected, and attended countless receptions and press gatherings.

The two MEPs began their four packed days with a meeting with Irish Farmers' Association President John Dillon on Monday.

Both women promised to make the revitalisation of Irish agriculture and rural communities on an all-Ireland basis a priority for Sinn Féin in Europe.

On Tuesday, the two MEPs attended the inaugural session of the EU Parliament to vote in the election of the President of the EU Parliament.

McDonald and de Brún registered votes for GUE/NGL group leader Francis Wurtz (Sinn Féin's group in Europe). Wurtz, however, was beaten by Socialist grouping nominee Josep Borrell.

Speaking about their memorable first day in Parliament, Dublin MEP McDonald said it provided an opportunity to bring Sinn Féin's vision for positive change in Ireland and throughout Europe to a new institution.

"Yesterday morning, we made a positive contribution to the first session of the EU Parliament, when we voted for the position of President of the EU Parliament," she said.

"Josep Borrell, the nominee from the Socialist grouping, was elected on the first count and we wish him success as the new EU Parliament President."

On Wednesday, the two MEPS made their first address to the Parliament, during a debate on the Irish Presidency.

Speaking in both Irish and English, de Brún brought the issue of the Peace Process directly to the European stage, when she called for the Dutch presidency to focus on the issue.

"In Ireland we are engaged in a Peace Process to which the European Union, the United States and others have contributed greatly," she said. "I welcome the Council's call for the Commission to examine the possibility of extending funds for PEACE II and the International Fund for Ireland. I would ask the Dutch Presidency and my colleagues here to focus on the Irish Peace Process."

The Six-County MEP, who is also an MLA for West Belfast, said that despite much progress, the Peace Process still faces great difficulties while the democratic institutions remain suspended.

"Just last week, people in my home city of Belfast were penned into their communities while a sectarian unionist parade was forced through," she added.

McDonald addressed the need for a new direction for the EU.

While acknowledging the work of the Irish Presidency, she said: "Sinn Féin believes that the enlarged EU must adopt a new set of priorities.

"We oppose attempts to turn the EU into a superstate or a military and economic superpower. We support EU reform which gives power back to the people, the elimination of poverty, support for public services, revitalised rural economies, and reform and strengthening of the United Nations."

Also speaking in both languages, McDonald paid tribute to Bobby Sands, saying: "As Irish republicans, following in the tradition of Bobby Sands MP, we are committed to the politics of equality, justice and freedom."

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