3 February 2005 Edition

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Sinn Féin unveils border-busting Strategy

Martina Anderson and Barry McElduff

Martina Anderson and Barry McElduff

The official launch of Aontú, the Sinn Féin strategy group for cross-border integration, took place in the Clinton Centre, Enniskillen on Friday last. It is one of the party's major initiatives to advance the all-Ireland agenda and prepare for Irish re-unification.

Aontú was set up by the party leadership to bring forward and implement plans for the integration of services, developments and infrastructure throughout the border region.

The meeting, hosted by Sinn Féin spokesperson on All-Ireland Integration, Barry McElduff, pulled together almost 40 representatives from the three cross-border corridor groups, the North West Region Border group, the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) and the Eastern Region Border group, along with Sinn Féin councillors from Sligo and Donegal where the party has been denied access to the corridor groups. Local Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew, along with party chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin, also attended the launch.

"Life along the border for many people is characterised by poor planning, inadequate transport systems, insufficient energy supply and ICT (broadband) networks and, critically, by a duplication of services that is uneconomic and inefficient," said McElduff.

"Only co-ordinated cross-border integration that creates common systems and shared infrastructures and services will deliver the balanced development needed for people living and working within the Border Corridor. The need for greater integration will require local government councils and departments working together for the benefit of all communities."

He said that Sinn Féin, as the only all-Ireland party with a dedicated cross-border strategy and councillors in every county in the Border Corridor Area, is ideally placed to develop the dynamic cross-border links between councils - links that are essential for the development and long-term prosperity of the region.

Mitchel McLaughlin described the launch as a ''very valuable exercise", saying the party's work on the various border groups and bodies was a perfect "strategic fit into our overall objectives" as republicans. He dismissed the work of the "so-called constitutional nationalists" on the various bodies as being "fine on rhetoric but miserable on action".

"Sinn Féin is and will be the potent driving force in all of this," he said. "It is part of our project to achieve unity and sovereignty as well as to make the lives of those who live along the border better."

Many of the representatives present told of the practical difficulties people suffered as a result of the border. Michelle Gildernew spoke of the problems faced by working parents in accessing childcare services when taxation issues arose, with Revenue on one side of the border not recognising payments for services on the other. Gerry McHugh spoke of the problems faced by the farming community on the northern side of the border, who receive grants in euro but are forced to transfer them to sterling accounts at a significant loss. Currency harmonisation was a key feature of many of the contributions.

The poor provision of health services and the "appalling" lack of public transport were also highlighted.

Telecommunications and the issue of mobile phones and roaming charges in particular were also raised. One representative complained that it is "ridiculous" that using mobiles along the border often means people are charged to be told they are leaving or entering Ireland.

Councillor Pádraig Mac Lochlainn from Donegal said for him, "this was the most important work he could be involved in" and he urged his fellow councillors to make it their priority."

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