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23 September 1999 Edition

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SF strength on show at town councils conference

The growing strength of Sinn Féin in the 26 Counties was reflected at the annual conference of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland in Thurles, County Tipperary, last week. Sinn Féin had six delegates at the conference, who will continue to represent their respective councils for the next five years.

Loud applause from delegates across the political spectrum followed the contribution of Sligo Sinn Féin Alderman and County Councillor Seán MacManus. Clones Fine Gael Councillor Peter Mulligan had spoken on a motion calling for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and an end to ``all punishment beatings and murders''. The Fine Gael man attacked republicans on the basis of the second part of the motion but made little reference to the need for implementation of the Agreement. In response, Seán MacManus made a passionate speech which silenced the conference hall. He traced the recent history of the peace process, saying he was one of those involved in the negotiations leading to the Agreement. He pointed to the culpability of the Unionist Party for the present crisis. Speaking as a man whose son had been killed in the conflict, he said he wanted demilitarisation as opposed to selective decommissioning, so that no family would ever again go through the trauma they and many others had experienced.

MacManus was loudly applauded as he left the platform. Delegates at the conference are broken up into groups according to their political affiliations and hitherto Sinn Féin had been in the `Independents' grouping. Seán MacManus was selected as negotiator for the group with the other groups and he later won unanimous support for a proposal that the group be now called the `Independent and Small Parties Alliance'. Seán pointed out that Sinn Féin now represented the largest party within the group. The Sinn Féin delegates in Thurles were: Seán MacManus (Sligo Corporation), Seán Conlon (Monaghan UDC), Cionnaith O Súilleabháin (Clonakilty UDC), Jackie Crowe (Castleblayney UDC), John O'Dwyer (New Ross UDC), and Seán Kenna (Dundalk UDC). Sinn Féin Councillors Arthur Gibbons (Sligo) and Christy Burke (Dublin) also attended as guests.

Cionnaith O Súilleabháin is the outgoing Munster vice-president of the AMAI and one of the most vocal delegates at the conference. He won endorsement for a motion opposing the development of genetically modified plants and foods in Ireland. ``These crops fly in the face of all that is natural,'' he said. ``There are thousands of Irish consumers who have very real concerns about GM plants and food ingredients.'' The Clonakilty councillor said multinational companies were attempting to monopolise world food supplies through control of GM crops and they must be opposed. Seán Conlon spoke in support and the motion was carried.

Seán Conlon spoke in support of a motion calling on the Minister for Health and Children, Brian Cowen, to extend medical card entitlement to all asthma sufferers. He said that assistance provided under the Drugs Refund Scheme was totally inadequate. Low income families who do not qualify for the medical card have to pay £42 per month for asthma medication. While costs above this are met by the health boards, the outlay still represents a heavy burden on many families, said Councillor Conlon. ``There is evidence to suggest sadly that people with asthma overuse the cheaper relieving inhalers rather than incur the cost of more expensive preventative inhalers'' he explained. He told delegates: ``For a country in the top four in the world for rates of asthma among our people we are at the bottom of the league for state entitlements. Those afflicted are excluded from the Long Term Illness scheme, they pay in full for GP services and in excess of £500 per annum in medical costs.''

Councillor Conlon read to the conference a reply from Minister Cowen to Caoimhghín O Caoláin in which the minister said that asthma sufferers were receiving ``comprehensive support'' under existing schemes. Councillor Conlon concluded: ``This is absolute drivel, minister. I say to you minister, take your hands out of your pockets and take effective action to alleviate the burden on asthma sufferers.'' The motion was passed unanimously.

The AMAI annual conference for 2000 is to be held in Clonakilty, County Cork, recent winner of the Tidy Towns awards, after Cionnaith O Súilleabháin successfully sought the support of delegates.
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