16 December 1999 Edition
Sinn Féin's Programme for Government
Governing Equally for Everyone
Sinn Féin is proposing a range of radical measures in its detailed programme for government in the Six Counties, a summary of which we carry here. In line with Sinn Féin's insistence on openness, the party will argue that all departments work in full transparency and accountability. Sinn Féin wants to see a full Department of Equality and an end to all unelected quangos, to be replaced by representative and accountable bodies. The party wants to see a dedicated social economy unit to promote community development, a women's emancipation unit and a national reconciliation unit.
A major emphasis in the party's proposals is in strengthening North/South cooperation and the all-Ireland dimensions of all departments.
Sinn Féin Education Minister Martin McGuinness will work to abolish the 11 plus, which, the party believes, is unfair to young children. He also wants a reorganisation of second-level education on a non-selective basis and to promote closer liaison between policy makers across Ireland with a view to creating greater commonality between the GCE A-Level/GNQV courses and the Leaving Certificate/National Vocational Certificate.
Health and Social Services Minister Bairbre de Brún will be working to resource existing hospitals to ensure optimum care standards and and will be looking to upgrade hospital provision west of the Bann.
A new era
As a result of the momentous political breakthrough the people and politicians of this country are entering a new era. This era will be characterised by compromise rather than conflict, a new beginning, a partnership of equals between nationalists and unionists.
The political landscape of Irish politics is changing rapidly and republicans are proud to be at the forefront of that change. In the times ahead we have a real opportunity to deliver change, a real opportunity to transform people's lives. This document - Governing Equally for All - forms the foundation of Sinn Féin's involvement in the negotiations on the Programme for Government.
It is based on policies which are republican, democratic and socialist and is the product of consultation, debate and reflection on what we need as a people and what is possible.
Republicans are now part of a larger political administration with political representatives of the people of this entire island. And we are determined to bring the same energy and commitment to the all-Ireland Ministerial Council, Assembly and Executive that we displayed during the peace process.
We believe that these new institutions can form the powerhouse that will shape a new political future for all the people of this island.
As a republican labour party, Sinn Féin wants to see a united Ireland. We want to see people determine their own future. We want social and economic justice, and political and cultural equality. We will also strive for national reconciliation, a healing of wounds and a growing understanding among all sections of our people.
Today Sinn Féin is at the centre of political power on this island and we have a considerable voice in shaping the future. We will be using that voice to provide a radical alternative.
Sinn Féin's Governing Equally for All is giving substance to that voice.
Gerry Adams MP
Policy statements by department
A freely available, accessible, high quality education system is a human right. Sinn Féin seeks to create a system that informs, enriches, enables and empowers. We hope to develop understanding and tolerance among all our people. Education is an investment in the future. It should encourage critical thinking and promote the quest for knowledge.
Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Everyone is entitled to access to a quality health service. Health is the cornerstone of our lives and those of all of our children. Resources have be restored and increased to expedite effective health and social services provision. The various forms of discrimination in hospital provision have to be reversed. All-Ireland co-operation at all levels will enhance the quality of the health service to the benefit of all.
Finance and Personnel
There is an obligation to provide fair, co-ordinated government which commands the confidence of all the people of the Six Counties. Policy makers, staff and administrations must reflect the political, cultural, religious, gender and racial diversity of the Six Counties. The criminalisation and political exclusion of large sections of Six-County society must be a thing of the past, over and gone forever. Transparency, inclusivity and equality must be the new watchwords.
Enterprise, Trade and Investment
The transformation of the war economy of the Six Counties into a productive and developed peacetime economy is central to Sinn Féin policy. That cannot be simply legislated into existence but requires fundamental change in the social and economic experience of our people. That process must empower and be led by local communities. We must promote the new concept of economic democracy. Sinn Féin believes that economic, political, social, environmental and cultural aspects of economic development in Ireland are inextricably linked. That is why we strive to create a truly all-Ireland economy that can provide sustainable and dignified livelihoods for all its citizens.
Economic empowerment is crucial to the process of urban regeneration and to the social and physical well-being of communties. All regeneration strategies must be based on a clear commitment to democratic accountability and community participation. The elimination of poverty and the stigma of dependency can be achieved. All citizens have the right to expect the state to ensure the provision of good quality housing. The public housing programme needs to be directed at individuals and areas where needs are greatest.
Culture, Arts and Leisure
Delivering a comprehensive and fully inclusive programme for the provision of culture, arts and leisure will help to develop social cohesion, individual and personal development, community empowerment, identity, imagination and visions, creativity, health and well-being. All these qualities are fundamentally important so that our children can grow up to be confident, articulate adults as we create a new society based on equality and respect.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Farming in Ireland is in crisis. Comprehensive all-Ireland policies in consultation with rural communities are urgently required. Sinn Féin wants to keep as many farm families on the land as possible. We support diversification within agriculture. We see the benefits of mixed and organic farming methods and we will work to create alternative employment within the rural community to supplement farm income.
The efficient development of our cities, towns and townlands must be guided by transparent and measurable equality targets. Commitments to inclusion must be established and backed up by effective research and monitoring of social needs and must be regularly assessed. The strategic planning of roads, railways, water resources, energy supply and distribution, ports, airports and telecommunications all lend themselves to an island-wide approach. This will ensure economic and social development for the whole country and will eliminate duplication and other damaging problems long recognised by the European Union.
We need a vibrant, empowered system of local government. In Ireland, local government is one of the most disempowered, neglected and abused in Europe. As a party, we commit ourselves to the principle of a sustainable development that does not threaten our own or future generations. We support policies and legislation that seek to minimise or eliminate the release of pollutants that may cause environmental damage to air, water, earth or its inhabitants.
Higher and Further Education
Higher education plays a crucial role in personal development and in the creation of an open and enlightened society. As economic activity is increasingly skills-based, individual and community success depends on access to adult educational opportunities. Opportunities have to be widened to include sections of society traditionally excluded and regions of the Six Counties under-represented by higher education institutions.
Office of the Centre
Among the key attributes which are required to develop good government are openness, accountability and transparency and allied to these are the need for consultation and co-ordination between departments. These principles must be promoted and implemented in the operation of the Office of the Centre and the actions of the First and Deputy First Minister.
Openness, Accountability and Transparency
Sinn Féin has made a number of recommendations regarding the need for openness and transparancey in government. The party says that all minutes of meetings should be placed on public record and information regarding the workings of government must be open to public scrutiny, including that gathered ostensibly for security reasons. The establishment of a scrutiny comittee for the Office of the Centre is recommended. Sinn Féin also supports the establishment of a Department of Equality with full government authority and dedicated resources, but in the interim, the party proposes that the Equality Unit report directly to the Executive.
Summary of Sinn Féin's Recommendations
Open, transparent and accountable government must be everyone's goal
Equality proofing in all departments, supported on a statutory basis
Support the establishment of a Department of Children's Rights
Resource existing hospitals to ensure optimum care standards
Upgrade hospital provision West of the Bann
Re-organisation of second-level education on a non-selective basis
Teacher training to allow greater mobility for teachers throughout Ireland
Gaeloiliúint to be given statutory authority as the Council for Irish-Medium Education
Harmonisation of financial incentives and corporation tax across Ireland
Abolition of all unelected quangos and their replacement with fully-representative and accountable bodies
Creation of Priority Action Zones for urban renewal
Restore the central role of the Housing Executive as main provider of new-build housing
Produce a White Paper on rural development
Promote all-Ireland agricultural policies
Establish accountable and representative regional assemblies to deal with rural development
Bi-lingual language environment throughout the new institutions
St. Patricks Day to become a national holiday in the North
Increased investment in public transport
Promote policies aimed at promoting social inclusion
Pro-actively work to close Sellafield
Review student loans and the financial implications of returning to a policy of student grants
Establishment of common entrance procedures for universities throughout Ireland
Appointment to Civic Forum to be agreed by the Executive
The workings of government must be open to public strutiny
The establishment of a Department of Equality with full government authority and dedicated resources
Measures to meet the requirements of the Good Friday Agreement with regard to the reintegration of politically motivated ex-prisoners
Production of a programme to neutralise or equalise symbols and emblems displayed by public bodies
In the new political situation that is unfolding, Sinn Féin views the Good Friday Agreement as transitional in character. We are working to build a bridge to unity and independence.
Sinn Féin's aim in relation to the peace process and to all of the new institutions is one based on rapprochement, co-operation and democracy.
To actively extend the work of the All-Ireland Implementation Bodies to the mutual benefit of all those living on the island
To bring a republican analysis into the heart of institutional politics throughout Ireland
To work to ensure that those elected at parliamentary elections in the Six Counties have the right to attend and participate in the proceedings of Leinster House.
Legal eagles urge amnesty for refugees
There were calls from students and lawyers for an amnesty for asylum seekers at a debate chaired by the Chief Justice Liam Hamilton in the Kings Inns on Wednesday, 8 December 1999.
Wesley Farrell, the auditor of the Law Students Debating Society of Ireland, stated that there is now a backlog of 8,000 asylum cases. While 90% of asylum applications fail at the first stage, about one third of these applicants are successful on appeal. ``The backlog must be dealt with and a backlog clearance programme must be implemented. In this regard granting an amnesty may be the best plan available,'' said Farrell. Criticising the delays that build up in the system, he said: ``It is unfair for the asylum seeker to be left in limbo, not knowing his or her status.''
``Plans to replace cash welfare payments to asylum seekers with a scheme of `direct provision', which may include vouchers for food and accommodation, were given the go-ahead by the cabinet last month,'' said Farrell. H epointed out that this proposal might be unconstitutional, in that it breaches the guarantee in Article 40 (1) of the 1937 Constitution which states that all citizens shall ``as human persons,'' be held equal before the law. ``Put simply, would it be fair that an asylum applicant were not given any cash whereby he wouldn't even have any loose change in his pocket, even 20p for a phone call?''
Referring to concerns about the Refugee Legal Service he said: ``Many fill in the questionnaire without consulting the Refugee Legal Service, a body related to the Legal Aid Board. This Board is appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In this regard, questions have been raised regarding its independence, which should be addressed''
John Hurley, Principle Officer with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, defended Minister John O'Donoghue's record and the independence of the Refugee Legal Service.
He asked, ``Why do we get such a large number of applicants given that we are on the periphery of Europe?'' The reasons, he claimed, were that the system of income support is generous, that asylum seekers frequently disclose that they were advised to come here, and that any child born in the state is automatically a citizen and may therefore be entitled to the `society of its parents'.
The Minister opposes an amnesty as it would ``encourage bogus applications,'' he said.
Derek Stewart, solicitor and spokesperson for the Irish Refugee Council, echoed concerns expressed by Farrell about the quality and independence of the legal service available to refugees. ``It is one thing to be in accord with fingerprinting and Fortress Europe, but at the same time we need to be in accord with the principles of fair treatment,'' he said.
Barrister Peter Finlay SC, and a member of the Refugee Appeals Authority also addressed the meeting. While over 30% of those coming here are fleeing persecution and violence, Finlay stated that his concern was with immigrants, many of whom had to wait for up to three years for their cases to be determined. ``They are not fleeing persecution - but they are fleeing extreme poverty.''
Citizens from China, Hong Kong, South Africa, Romania, Thailand and Pakistan have all been deported, but never once has a citizen of the US, Australia, New Zealand or Canada been so treated. ``I am satisfied that there has been an inherently discriminatory approach to those who come here.''
He recalled judgments which have been handed down by the Chief Justice Liam Hamilton, saying: ```Rights exist, not because people are citizens of the state, but because they are human beings.' It would be advisable for the Minister to take some bearings from those decisions.''
Supporting calls for an amnesty, he said: ``If we have had two amnesties for tax dodgers - people who have committed a criminal offence - why not asylum seekers, who are responsible for no greater offence than putting their trust in us?''
BY PROINSIAS O MAOLCHALAIN