Sinn Féin publishes Bill to reduce costs of Tribunals of Inquiry

Sinn Féin TDs Jonathan O’Brien and Pearse Doherty have today published a Bill which seeks to reduce the costs of Tribunals of Inquiry including the one set up last week to look into the alleged smear campaign against Garda Whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

Speaking today Teachta O’Brien said;

“The government has established a Tribunal of Inquiry rather than a Commission of Investigation into the alleged smear campaign against Garda Whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

“This is a decision that we welcome and last Thursday the Dáil passed the extended terms of reference for the Tribunal of Inquiry without opposition.

“While there was no opposition to the terms of reference, a number of Deputies raised the potential cost of a Tribunal given recent experiences with other Tribunals.

“While the Minister gave a commitment to examine whether that legislation could be progressed, Pearse Doherty and I have today published our own Bill, the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Bill 2017, which would address the issues of costs.

“We have submitted it to the Ceann Chomhairle today seeking leave to introduce it as soon as possible.

“We are hopeful that the Government will accept the Bill and allow its speedy passage through the Dail.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that the Charleton Tribunal is allowed to do the important job of work it has been allocated without incurring the types of exorbitant costs which we have seen associated with past tribunals.”

Cyber-safety is a major child protection issue of our time- Kathleen Funchion TD

Speaking today after a briefing from the ISPCC on cybersecurity for children, Sinn Féin’s TD for Carlow Kilkenny said that cyber-safety is a major child protection issue of our time.

She said:

“The dangers presented via the internet to children today have advanced significantly through the use of smartphones and what that brings; easier access to predatory behaviour, cyber bullying and inappropriate content for younger children. We also know that technology advances at incredible speed leaving many adults and parents naive or ignorant to what is accessible to their children online.

“The ISPCC are calling on government and policy makers to take heed and direct some much needed attention to this child protection issue. Current legislative and policy provisions need to be modernised.

“I fully support their call for the immediate development of a National Strategy on Children’s Cyber Safety and for this to be made a priority by government. This should include key education measures regarding online behaviour such as: 1. Reform of the legal framework regarding children’s cyber safety and 2. The establishment of an Office of the Digital Safety Commissioner and a regulatory policy framework.

“The ISPCC’s recent research carried out in 2016 showed that perpetrators often groom many young people simultaneously and within a relatively short space of time, with An Garda Síochána reporting that children are being groomed in 3-4 interactions.

“This is terrifying  information but valuable evidence that the risks to children online is escalating at a rapid pace and it further substantiates the need for government to tackle this growing issue immediately.”

Pearse Doherty TD says government has forgotten about mortgage crisis

Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson, Pearse Doherty TD, has said the government has forgotten about the 80,000 families in mortgage arrears. He said the promises in the programme for government have been watered down, put on the long finger or simply dropped altogether.

Speaking at a Public Meeting in Swords organised by Louise O’Reilly TD, Deputy Doherty said:

“In December the Central Bank published its latest figures on mortgage arrears. A total of 79,562 (11 per cent) of accounts were in arrears. This is still a huge crisis happening day in day out for the thousands of Irish people affected, yet it barely gets a mention any more from the government!

“421 properties were taken into possession by lenders during the third quarter of 2016. That is over 4 homes a day being taken over. The government think this issue is gone away, they think it’s in the past. They are wrong.

“Promises to review the insolvency thresholds and set up a new Special Mortgages Court sit on the legislative programme 6 months after they were due to be published. A commitment that the Central Bank would amend the Code of Conduct seems to have been rebuffed altogether by Governor Lane.

“The Abhaile MABS service is up and running but is only scratching the surface in the number of people in arrears it has helped out. This government in permanent crisis has well and truly taken its eye off the ball when it comes to mortgages.

“Sinn Féin will put in place real solutions, not promises.

“We will protect the Family Home in law to a greater degree. My legislation to do exactly that was voted down in 2013. We also do not accept that vultures are part of the solution. If we can’t get rid of them they need to be taxed, regulated and not fed by the State’s own banks.

“The 80,000 families in arrears deserve to be front and centre in political debate. This is not an issue that has gone away.”

John Brady TD to publish Bill calling for the abolition of mandatory retirement age

The Employment Equality (Abolition of Mandatory Retirement Age) Bill 2016 is being brought forward by Deputies John Brady and Denise Mitchell.

Sinn Fein spokesperson for Social Protection, John Brady TD, will be calling for the abolition of the mandatory retirement age when Sinn Fein’s Bill is debated in the Dail on Thursday, 23/02/17.

Teachta Brady said:

“Every year workers are forced to retire for no other reason than their age.

“This Bill seeks to put an end to this discrimination and gives workers a choice when it comes to their retirement.

“There are a number of exemptions in this Bill for those who work in security related employment such as An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces.

“This is a Bill about choice for older workers when it comes to their retirement. Instead of being obliged to retire without any choice whatsoever at 65 or 66 years old, workers will be able to decide if they would like to retire immediately or continue working.

“This Bill will also address two major pension issues:

1/ It will end the current practice of those forced to sign on for Jobseekers payments at 65 for one year until they are eligible for the State Pension at 66.

2/ It will give people who have insufficient contributions for the State Pension an opportunity to continue at work to make up the additional contributions to avoid a reduced pension if they so wish.

“Last month, Minister Varadkar announced that it was his intention to make mandatory retirement ages illegal. Fianna Fáil have been consistently in favour of the abolition of mandatory retirement and also tabled a similar Bill after this once it was introduced last December.

“I am calling on both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to support this Bill for the benefit of all workers.”

Crowe raises case for North to have special status within the EU in Brussels meetings

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Seán Crowe TD, continually raised the case for the North achieving special status in EU in a series of meetings in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Crowe was part of a cross party Oireachtas Joint Committee on EU Affairs delegation which met with Michel Barnier (Chief Negotiator on Brexit for the EU Commission), Guy Verhofstadt MEP (European Parliament Representative on Brexit), Emily O Reilly (European Ombudsman), Phil Hogan (European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development), and MEPs from Scotland, Cyprus, and Malta.

Speaking at the end of the two day programme, Deputy Seán Crowe said:

“In all our meetings, I detailed how forcing the North out of the EU against its democratic wishes would be a disaster for the entire island of Ireland and have implications for the Good Friday Agreement.

“I continually raised the case for the North to have special status within the EU and that the EU has shown itself to be flexible in coming forward with pragmatic arrangements for dealing with other complex territorial situations.

“Both Mr Barnier and Mr Berhofstadt were keenly aware of the unique and difficult situation that Ireland is in and the role that the EU has played in the peace process.

“Sinn Féin will continue to press the Irish Government and the EU to ensure designated special status for the North to remain within the EU.”

Government must ensure maximum protection for Workers’ pensions – John Brady TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Social Protection John Brady TD has said when it comes to protecting workers’ pensions, Minister Varadkar does not want to know. 

Deputy Brady was speaking last night during Fianna Fáil’s Private Members Business on the need to tackle the issues around defined benefit pension schemes. 

The Wicklow TD said: 

“Last week, Sinn Féin launched a Bill to ensure that no company with positive net revenues or which has a parent company with positive net revenues would be allowed to close a defined benefit scheme unless this scheme has reached a minimum 90% funding standard.   

“Our Bill would prevent a similar situation to what happened last November in Independent News & Media. This would send a clear message to profitable companies that you will not be allowed to simply decide to renege on and walk away from your obligations to your employees. 

“Minister Leo Varadkar’s excuse for doing nothing to protect employees is for fear of ‘threatening a company’s financial stability’ or ‘rendering some employers insolvent’. However, we are talking about companies who are profitable and therefore, the Minister’s argument makes no sense. 

“The Minister’s rhetoric of his Department scrutinising issues around defined benefit pension schemes is achieving nothing and this is not good enough for workers in this State. 

“The inaction by Government sends out a message to companies right across this State that they are free to consciously wind down defined benefit schemes and walk away from their pension obligations. Sinn Féin absolutely oppose this. 

“Despite some concerns, Sinn Féin will support this Bill, but we will be looking at ways to improve this Bill to ensure maximum protection for workers.”

EU Commissioner demolishes Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s arguments on Apple tax – Kevin Brunnick – Chair, Cahir Sinn Fein

In an appearance before the Finance Committee, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager robustly defended her judgement that €13billion plus interest of back taxes is owed to Ireland by Apple. It is absolutely clear that the government must not proceed with wasting taxpayer’s money appealing the EU Commission’s decision.

Speaking on this  Kevin Brunnick – Chair, James Connolly Cumann, Cahir said:

“Point after point put up by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil around so called fantasy money, Ireland acting as a tax collector for the world and arguments around selectivity and tax sovereignty were not only dismissed but destroyed by evidence from the commissioner. Both parties engaged in a concerted effort to misinform the Irish public that this back tax was not due to us, which is shocking.

“It’s is clear from the Commission’s 130 page report, that they have left no stone unturned in arriving at the decision. The report is objective, well researched and the authors have shown a clear understanding of the minutia of Irish tax legalisation.

“Engaging the appeal process would be an abuse of public ownership of these taxes given what we heard in the proceedings of the committee and it is hard to believe that the government would fight this case, which is clearly watertight.

“Cutting through the technicalities, it seems hard to arrive at the conclusion that the EU Commission believes what happened was a misunderstanding or a misapplication of procedure. Rather it appears to be that the Commission is suggesting a calculated, contrived and unique arrangement that was put in place to favour Apple at the expense of other companies such as indigenous companies.

“The government should immediately stop it’s wasting of taxpayers money on the appeal process, from which the only winners, it seems, will be the lawyers and accountants paid by the State.

“This debacle centers  on a dodgy deal whereby Apple were able to decide what tax they would pay on an arbitrary basis, not in any accordance with Irish tax legislation.

“It is now time for the government to stand up for citizens and ensure that the money owed to the state is paid without obstruction or unnecessary delays.

“Whatever share of the tax that is due to Ireland would go some way to solve the health and homeless  issues  we have in Tipperary.”

Lynn Boylan MEP lambasts EU Commission plan to scrap anti-corruption report

Speaking this morning, Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan has news that the EU commission’s Vice-president Franz Timmerman stated that a planned anti-corruption report on the Member States is to be dropped.

MEP Boylan said;

“It is beyond comprehension that this report, which was due to be released last month, has now been scrapped altogether. The actions of the EU commission in this regard not only discredits how people view the EU, but it undermines accountability and democracy, and undermines faith in the EU to do what is right and in the benefit of the people.

“While such actions by the EU commission are hardly surprising, that they have the audacity to row back on such an important issue shows the contempt with which they treat the people of the EU.

“The report was a promised follow-up to a similar anti-corruption report from 2014. It intended to take stock of how far things had moved forward in relation to combatting corruption, however, this follow up report has now been shelved.

“The 2014 report said member states needed to strengthen controls, put in place more “dissuasive sanctions”, and improve transparency in order to combat corruption. While that report gave a good outline of issues and recommendations to overcome problems, this report was to be a concrete follow up assessment of progress and continuing problems.

“Furthermore, the Commission was also supposed to look at the EU institutions but that report has also been dropped until a “further date”.

“But Mr Timmermans letter states that there is no need to publish any more reports. It states that the first report in 2014 was good enough because it provided an overview and created a basis for further work.

“Such a statement is beggars be belief, especially when one looks at the situation surrounding NAMA and accusations of corruption in Ireland, both north and south.

“My shock at this move increased with the widespread protests in Romania after the government de-criminalised low-level corruption, and the unfolding scandal in France where presidential contender Francois Fillon is facing allegations of fraud after paying his wife almost €1 million for fictive work from the public funds.”

MEP Boylan added:

“The most sickening aspect in all of this is the EU commissioners speaking out of both sides of their mouths. Earlier this week Mr Timmermans and EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker issued a joint-statement on Romania stating that “the fight against corruption needs to be advanced, not undone.””

MEP Boylan concluded:

“As always, the gap between the rhetoric from the unelected bureaucrats in the EU commission and the reality on the ground in different states is striking.”

Sinn Féin question Minister over Disability Bill – Jonathan O’Brien TD

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice and Equality Deputy Jonathan O’Brien welcomed a Government Bill on ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, but said the Minister has questions to answer regarding the lack of consultation around the bill and that clarity is needed regarding many of its provisions.

The Cork North Central TD said:

“Sinn Féin support this Bill and have campaigned for years for full ratification of the UNCRPD, and it was a source of great disappointment that the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities was not ratified before the end of last year in line with the promises made by the Government that this would happen.

“I commend the work of the organisations such as Inclusion Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland who have worked tirelessly campaigning for the ratification of the Convention.

“However, we believe the Bill before the House this evening could have gone further in many respects and we have some very serious concerns about what the Bill has left out. We share the concerns flagged by many NGOs that there has been no public consultation with these organisations or with persons with disabilities on many aspects of the legislation.

“We are extremely concerned that the issue of deprivation of liberty will not be addressed until Committee stage as this is a core aspect that needs to be included in order to comply with the UNCRPD. This is unacceptable and we will be tabling amendments that address our concerns.”

Sinn Féin introduce Bill to prevent companies from reneging on pension obligations – John Brady TD

Sinn Féin spokesperson for Social Protection John Brady TD has today introduced a Bill to ensure an end to solvent companies walking away and reneging on their pension obligations to their employees.

The Pensions (Amendment) Bill 2017 was introduced today by Deputy Brady and is co-sponsored by Deputies Denise Mitchell and David Cullinane.

Teachta Brady said:

“In recent years, there has been a concerted effort to close defined benefit schemes regardless of the health of the company. We know this is happening; we saw it most recently in Independent News & Media.

“According to the Irish Association of Pension Funds, the number of active defined benefit schemes has fallen from just over 1,200 at the end of 2006 to less than 500 today. The number of active members in those schemes has dropped from 270,000 to 126,000 at the end of last year.

“In reviewing our pension system in 2012, the OECD clearly identified the allowing of healthy sponsors to walk away from DB pension plans, shutting them down, as another weakness of Irish legislation.

John Brady TD (Wicklow/East Carlow) and David Cullinane TD (Waterford).

“If we, as legislators, do not address what Independent News & Media have done then we

are allowing other companies to do the same. We are saying that this is acceptable and we are actively leaving the door open for other companies to do the same.

“This Bill implements the OECD recommendation which, had legislation been strengthened at that time, the wipe out of members’ pensions at Independent News and Media would not have been allowed.

“I am calling for cross-party support for this Bill so we can send a very clear message to companies that they will not be allowed to consciously wind down their defined benefit pension plans and renege on their pension commitments to members.”