14 January 1999 Edition

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SF Constituency Office - building on success

By Ned Kelly

The workload of the West Belfast Sinn Féin Constituency Office, relocated from the Falls Road to the Twin Spires Centre in November, has grown by over 40% since 1996, according to its annual report released this week.

Dealing with the range of advice issues affecting individuals and families, the constituency office dealt with nearly 1000 housing and DHSS benefit enquiries and over 1800 complaints over the 12 months to 31 December 1998.

John Leatham, one of three full-time unpaid volunteers who staff the office said, ``we have built up a great deal of expertise in dealing with housing and benefit enquiries and a good working relationship with officials within the agencies. There are direct links with the DHSS up to management level.''

John added, ``Madden and Finucane are our legal advisors in all matters so what we don't know, we will seek professional advice about. We definitely go out of our way to help people no matter what their problem.''

Although primarily dealing with constituents within the Lower Falls ward for Sinn Féin councillors Fra McCann, Tom Hartley, Marie Moore and Sean McKnight and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, the area's MP and Assembly member, the office has dealt with enquiries as far afield as Carnlough and Fermanagh.

``We are open to anyone from the general public, regardless of background.''

John continued, ``we deal with a broad spectrum of people. The move to Twin Spires has also made us more accessible to people from the Protestant community and there has been an increase in enquiries, although we have always dealt with people from as far away as Sandy Row and Cregagh as well as the Shankill.''

Janice, another of the constituency workers, said, ``the work we do is very satisfying, especially the work with pensioners and the elderly. For example, we have a good record on getting benefits for older people who don't know they are entitled to Income support on top of their pensions, to bring them to the level of the cost of living.''

Local Sinn Féin councillor Marie Moore said, ``people need these constituency offices to help them deal with housing problems, the Housing Executive, the DoE and other statutory agencies. It is important that they are available.''

The councillor added, ``the offices are so successful because the staff are totally capable and totally committed. It is also important that staff are involved in community issues, such as traffic, roads, lighting and the Royal Victoria Hospital, it means they press these issues with the elected representatives.''

You can contact the West Belfast Constituency Office at:

Unit 8, Twin Spires Centre
155 Northumberland Street
Belfast BT 13 2FI
Tel & Fax (01232) 230227
Open 9.30 am - 4 pm every weekday

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1