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14 September 2006 Edition

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Howth meeting - Planning for negotiations and elections

Seeking a mandate for change

The mood was upbeat, confident and forward looking as Sinn Féin candidates for the forthcoming 26 County general Election joined TDs, MPs MLAs and MEPs aswell as members of the party's Ard Chomhairle for a key planning meeting in Howth County Dublin last Friday.

Energetic election candidates from every part of the 26 Counties, many hotly tipped to take Leinster House seats for the first time at the next general election, gave media interviews in the grounds of the Deerpark Hotel and contributed to planning for the important political months that lie ahead.

The day-long meeting was hosted by the party's Dublin North East representative Larry O'Toole.

Speaking before the meeting Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP said that Sinn Féin would go into the General Election determined to increase its representation and to deliver real change across Ireland. "Sinn Féin is ready for government but only on the basis of a programme for change. In or out of government Sinn Féin is looking for a mandate to deliver on a republican agenda", he said.

Major policy platform

Adams said that at the core of Sinn Féin's campaign will be proposals for ending the crisis in the health service, advancing the peace process and Irish unity and building a strong economy that delivers for all. "In the coming months we will be putting a major policy platform before the people and taking our campaign to every corner of Ireland", he said.

He went on: "The vast majority of people are angry because the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat government has completely failed to use the wealth of the economy to provide a proper health service, sufficient housing and a decent education system.

"And Fine Gael/Labour is trying to get into power on the mantra of 'anyone but Fianna Fáil' - without any credible political platform.

"Sinn Féin's platform is a genuine republican one based on a belief that a rights based approach is essential to ensure equality in Irish society and deliver on the commitments of the 1916 Proclamation and 1919 Democratic Programme.

Ending privatisation

"This means a change of political direction, a change that only Sinn Féin is prepared to lead. It means implementing policies that will end inequality and the privatisation of key public services. We believe that a quality public health system is a basic prerequisite of any civilised society and can be provided.

"Things can be better. Economic growth can be used to serve the people, and not the other way round. Promoting workers' rights and investing in public services will help the ongoing development of the economy. They are not mutually exclusive. A health service that cares for all regardless of income will not bankrupt the economy, in fact it is an investment.

"In the coming months we will also be setting out a far reaching policy platform including: - job creation, enterprise and regional development, workers rights, public finances, healthcare, housing and rural regeneration. These alongside the peace process and building Irish unity will be at the centre of Sinn Féin's Programme for Government."

Health rally for Dublin

Among the key items discussed at the conference were the health service crisis, upcoming peace talks and the economy.

Gerry Adams opened the meeting by setting out the challenges facing the party in the coming year.

During the morning session elected representatives received a detailed report from the Sinn Féin negotiations team and discussed the party's approach to the upcoming negotiations.

In the afternoon Sinn Féin Dáil Group leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD opened a discussion on a number of political campaigns for the year ahead. These included the crisis in the health service and promoting Sinn Féin's comprehensive economic and enterprise proposals.

The day-long meeting also saw Sinn Féin concluding its discussions on the policy areas which will form the centrepiece of the General Election campaign in the 26 Counties and the ongoing roll-out of the party's mass voter registration campaign formally launched in Dublin two weeks ago.

Following the Howth meeting Sinn Féin Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald MEP announced that the party would be holding a major rally to push for radical action to address the crisis in the health service. The rally is to take place in Dublin on 21 October.

Building support for political way forward

The Sinn Féin Assembly team met at Stormont on Tuesday to discuss the campaign to build support for the Good Friday Agreement, the return of the Assembly and Executive and for greater all-Ireland integration.

Newry Armagh MP Conor Murphy MLA said that Sinn Féin would take the campaign onto the streets and talk to ordinary people about the issues that effect their live such as rates, water charges, cuts to education and health services, rural planning, jobs and the economy. He said the party was committed to building on the widespread support that exists for the Agreement, the return of the Assembly and Executive and all-Ireland integration.

"This is about engaging with people on the ground, with business people, trade unionists and people who are being marginalised and challenging the devastating effects of ongoing British direct rule in this part of Ireland and campaigning for the maximum amount of change", said Murphy.

"There is an opportunity for peace and prosperity that will be lost unless people begin to realise that we need to build on the momentum of the peace process and the political process. We need to show political leadership and we need to listen to what people outside of places like Stormont are telling us', he said.

Murphy added that no-one should be under any illusions that the current political drift is not good for society. "The long-term consequences will be to close down opportunity, to cut off economic growth and to limit the chances that people have to reach their full potential", he said.

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